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In new immigration twist, U.S. suspends option to pay for faster H-1B visa processing

Kim Raymoure, Reuben Mikes, and Anastasia Xenos took part in a protest by tech workers in downtown Seattle last week. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Companies that bring software engineers and other highly skilled workers into the U.S. under H-1B visas will not be able to pay for faster processing of their petitions, under a temporary suspension of the “premium processing” option by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Related: How President Trump could make Vancouver, B.C., a tech boomtown

These visas are used extensively by tech companies, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple. President Trump has been reported to be considering larger restrictions on the H-1B program, to address concerns that the program is taking jobs away from domestic tech workers.

The suspension of the premium processing option, announced Friday, means that companies and H-1B workers will need to wait two to six months to learn the outcome of their petitions. Under the premium processing option, they got 15-day expedited processing for an extra $1,225 fee.

The suspension will begin April 3 and last as many as six months. Here’s the agency’s explanation.

This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times. By temporarily suspending premium processing, we will be able to:

  • Process long-pending petitions, which we have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years; and
  • Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark.

H-1B petitioners will still be able to ask for expedited processing in exceptional situations.

According to the earlier draft memo obtained by Bloomberg News, Trump’s larger overhaul would require companies to attempt to hire American workers first. If they did recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the highest-paid, in an effort to open entry-level positions to Americans.

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