• USCIS Ombudsman Highlights H-1B Processing Delays
  • October 4, 2016
  • Law Firm: Fragomen Del Rey Bernsen Loewy LLP - New York Office
  • In a teleconference with immigration stakeholders Wednesday, the USCIS Ombudsman characterized processing delays in H-1B extensions and employment authorization document (EAD) applications as among the most significant problems facing the agency today. The Ombudsman confirmed that the agency is frequently taking more than eight months to process H-1B extensions, causing serious disruptions to U.S. employers and foreign workers. The Ombudsman also used the teleconference to reemphasize persistent EAD delays, which were extensively analyzed in its annual report released to Congress in June.

    Extent of H-1B Extension Delays

    USCIS’s official processing times indicate that the Vermont and California service centers are taking between eight and ten months to adjudicate H-1B extensions. In an effort to reduce these backlogs, the agency recently transferred some of its extension workload to the Nebraska Service Center, however, it remains too early to know whether this shift in workload will result in improved processing times.

    Lengthy processing delays often mean an interruption in employment authorization and other consequences. Though foreign nationals in H-1B status receive a 240-day automatic extension of status and work authorization following the timely filing of an H-1B extension petition with USCIS, processing times frequently extend beyond this grace period, forcing employers to remove foreign nationals from their payroll and benefits programs on the 240th day. Processing delays also impede a foreign national’s ability to renew a driver’s license if the prior H-1B period of stay has expired, regardless of whether a timely extension was filed.

    What This Means for Employers and Foreign Nationals

    The teleconference confirmed stakeholder concerns about lengthy processing delays and their negative impact on U.S. businesses and foreign nationals.

    In an effort to avoid business disruptions resulting from the delays, employers and foreign nations are advised to plan ahead and submit H-1B extensions as early as possible, keeping in mind that the earliest an H-1B extension can be filed with USCIS is six months prior to its expiration. Employers can request USCIS premium processing service for an additional $1,225 fee, though even premium cases can be delayed by agency requests for evidence (RFEs).