USCIS announced March 3 that it will suspend 15 day premium processing of all H-1b petitions for up to six months starting April 3, 2017. The late Friday afternoon announcement applies not only to FY2018 petitions for "new" H-1b employees, but also to those requesting H-1b amendment and extension. During the suspension, USCIS will continue to consider requests to expedite adjudication of H-1b petitions based on, for example, "severe financial loss to company or person", and emergency and humanitarian situations.
USCIS' stated purpose for the suspension is to clear the backlog of long-pending petitions and to prioritize extension petitions for employees subject to the 240 day maximum for post-expiration date employment. Given the substantial revenue generated by USCIS' $1225 premium processing fee, one wonders why these objectives could not be met simply by assigning more personnel to premium processed H-1b cases.
The effect of the suspension may be felt most acutely where an employer is required to secure petition approval prior to commencement of an H-1b worker. Examples include new H-1b hires who are not subject to the annual lottery but who are unable to "port" because they are in the US in a different nonimmigrant status or have failed to maintain H-1b status. Prior approval is also required for new employees who had been in H-1b status in the past but are now outside the US.
The suspension may also impede international travel by employees who require approval of a long pending extension petition so they can apply for a visa abroad.
The suspension announcement will not affect start dates for employees "porting" to new jobs, or continuing employment where an extension petition has been timely filed. Both situations permit employees to work pending H-1b petition adjudication. (For some extension petitions, there is a 240 day maximum to employment pending adjudication.)
One hopes USCIS will require less than six months to complete its backlog reduction, and act generously in exercising its expedite discretion. The business necessities compelling premium processing often arise unexpectedly and on very short notice.