A continuing appropriations bill signed into law last night that will fund the federal government through Dec. 11 makes changes to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) premium processing service. The legislation requires the agency to increase premium processing fees and expand the service to other benefit categories. Premium processing is an expedited service that certain filers may request by paying an additional fee. These provisions aim to increase revenue for USCIS, which is experiencing a budget shortfall.

Key provisions:

  • The premium processing fee will increase from $1,440 to $2,500 for categories that are currently designated for the service ($1,500 for H-2B and R-1 petitions). The legislation does not change the 15-day time frame for adjudication.
  • The legislation still allows USCIS to suspend premium processing, but “only if circumstances prevent the completion of processing of a significant number of such requests within the required period.”
  • The legislation requires USCIS to expand premium processing to nonimmigrant work visa petitions and associated dependent applications; EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 immigrant petitions; applications to change or extend nonimmigrant status; and employment authorization document applications.
  • USCIS may establish premium processing for these named categories without going through the regulatory process if it meets certain fee and timeframe requirements outlined in the legislation. If the agency cannot meet those requirements, it must go through formal rulemaking.
  • USCIS may also extend premium processing to other categories not named in the legislation through the regulatory process.

Additional provisions:

  • The premium processing clock would start only when USCIS receives all required materials for adjudication.
  • Premium processing fees may be adjusted for inflation every other year without rulemaking.
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security must report to Congress within 180 days with a five-year plan that includes electronic filing for all application types, electronic payment at all locations, electronic issuance of decisions and requests, and improvement of all processing times.

BAL Analysis: Although the appropriations law takes effect immediately, USCIS is expected to provide guidance regarding the increases in the premium processing fee. Expansion of premium processing to other benefit categories will not happen immediately, and the agency’s next steps toward implementing those requirements are not yet known. BAL continues to monitor the agency’s response to the legislation and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@bal.com.

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