U.S. Temporarily Suspends 'Premium Processing' Of H-1B Visas For Foreign Workers

Guam and CNMI to be affected by change: Petitions that used to 15 days could now take up to 3 years

By Jon Perez

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 8, 2017) – The decision to temporarily suspend the premium processing of H-1B visa petitions also covers the CNMI.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services informed the public last week that they would briefly stop premium processing of petitions beginning April 3, 2017 everywhere in the U.S. That means petitions that used to take 15 days to process will now take up to three years. The suspension lasts six months and will start on April 3.

The suspension is not connected to President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration and USCIS said the temporary suspension would allow them to clear their backlog of processing longstanding petitions.

“The temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times. We will be able to process longstanding 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,” said USCIS in a statement.

Premium processing is a service offered by USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security where processing time of H-1B petitions takes only 15 days. Submitting a completed and signed I-907 form, and paying $1,225 is the process for applying for the premium petition.

[PIR editor's note: On March 8, 2017 Marianas Variety reported that 'The current labor shortage “is impacting our lives in many ways,” including “access to affordable, quality homes” for our local people Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres said on Wednesday. ... The challenge the Northern Marianas Housing Corp. is facing right now with regard to its housing program, he added, “is a notable example” of how the lack of an adequate workforce is affecting the CNMI people. ... “The issues NMHC is experiencing…highlight the wide-ranging difficulties that will occur if we do not provide our private sector with the necessary access to workers,” the governor said.']

Thirty-two individuals in the CNMI had been approved for an H-1B visa for fiscal year 2016. The CNMI and Guam, however, are not covered by the numerical cap for H-1B visa applications based on Public Law 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008.

CNRA was implemented in 2009 and would have ended in 2014 if not for a five-year extension. Foreign workers admitted to the H-1B and H-2B visa class in the CNMI and Guam are exempted from the numerical limitation.

USCIS, in fiscal year 2016, approved 32 H-1B applications in the CNMI. All H-1B applications received before April 3 will still be processed and would not be affected by the blanket delay.

It is not yet known how would the CNMI be fully affected by the temporary suspension, especially for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which is trying to apply some of their medical staff in the H-1B visa category.

The CNMI and Guam have been experiencing labor issues, with the latter encountering problems with the numerical limit of the CW-1 visa program.

CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP) had filed House Resolution 339, which hopes to increase the CW-1 numerical cap to 15,000 only in 2017. HR 339 is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate after passing the House early this year.

Addressing the CNMI’s labor and immigration issues is also part of the 902 report agreed on by both the Commonwealth and federal government panels. The report was transmitted to the U.S. Congress this January.

Saipan Tribune
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