On March 20, 2020, USCIS announced the suspension of premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 petitions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There is now a plan in place for premium processing to resume.
The temporary suspension of premium processing included petitions filed for the following categories:
- I-129: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.
- I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.
The suspension was a major setback for many who were relying on premium processing for a speedy response from USCIS. The premium processing service guarantees 15 calendar day processing of certain petitions or applications. Requests for premium processing can be made by filing Form I-907. The filing location for the form depends on whether the applicant or petitioner is requesting premium processing for Form I-129 or Form I-140.
The premium processing program was originally established in June 2001 to allow for expedited processing of certain employment-based applications. In 2001, the filing fee was $1,000.00. At the time, the additional revenue from the filing fees was needed to hire additional adjudicators, contact representatives, and support personnel to provide immigration services. Over the years, the amount of the filing fee has increased and as of December 2, 2019, the filing fee for premium processing is $1,440.00. The filing fees are a major source of revenue for USCIS. Between FY 2014 and FY 2019, USCIS collected approximately $2.39 billion in premium processing fees. So, not only did the move to suspend premium processing delay adjudications, it also had a major financial impact on the agency who suffered a loss of funding.
With a reduction in funding and other coronavrius related obstacles, USCIS is now facing some difficult decisions. There are reports that over 10,000 employees could face furloughs.
During these strenuous times, the agency is looking to Congress for assistance. In May of 2020, reports came out that USCIS requested approximately $1.2 billion in supplemental funding from Congress to address a significant shortfall in resources. Approximately $570 million of the funds would go towards payroll, rent, office contracts, fingerprint and background check processing and IT services. The other $650 million would be used to ensure sufficient resources are available moving forward.
The American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association sent a letter to congressional appropriators urging Congress to respond with caution and appoint an independent auditor to conduct a review of the agency’s funding. The letter claims that USCIS’ cash-flow issues are not solely the result of COVID-19, but also a result of mismanagement. The letter further claims that from 2015 to 2018 USCIS personnel grew by approximately 24 percent while the total number of immigration petitions and applications that the agency processed increased by only approximately 10 percent, and that from FY 2017 to FY 2019 the total volume of cases filed with USCIS dropped by more than 10 percent.
What will help in the immediate will be the reinstatement of the premium processing program. Recently, it was announced that USCIS will be bringing it back in 4 phases.
- Phase 1 begins on June 1, 2020. Form I-140 for all categories except EB-1 Multinational Executive/Manager and EB-2 National Interest Waiver.
- Phase 2 begins on June 8, 2020. Form I-129 for H-1B cap-exempt petitions filed before June 8 and all other Form I-129 petitions filed before June 8.
- Phase 3 begins on June 15, 2020. Form I-129 for H-1B cap-exempt petitions filed on or after June 8.
- Phase 4 begins on June 22, 2020. Form I-129 for H-1B cap-subject petitions and all other Form I-129 petitions filed on or after June 8.
Resuming premium processing will bring in immediate revenue for USCIS but the concerns remain that USCIS will have difficulty managing the backlog without support from Congress. Furthermore, there are additional reports that USCIS is considering a 10 percent surcharge on almost all applications and petitions.
We will await Congress’ response and provide updates as they come.