USCIS Suspends Premium Processing, Relaxes Signature Requirements Due to Pandemic

Effective March 20, 2020, USCIS announced it has suspended all I-129 and I-140 Premium Processing requests. Petitions not receipted in by March 20th will have the I-907 Premium Processing application and $1,440.00 fee returned, although properly submitted I-129 and I-140 petitions will continue to be processed.  This announcement follows the suspension of Premium Processing on all FY 2021 Cap-Subject H-1B petitions just days earlier.  In recent years, it is not uncommon to see several categories, including H-1B Cap-Subject petitions, H-1B extensions, and other non-immigrant categories temporarily cut off from Premium Processing, but it is rarer to see all I-129 and I-140 categories suspended at the same time.  The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly reduced the ability to achieve the 15-day turnaround required of Premium Processing, after which the additional fee must be returned to the petitioner.  Petitioners are reminded that, although Premium Processing is not currently available, many non-immigrant categories are granted an automatic 240-day extension of work authorization if the petition is timely filed (i.e., prior to the prior petition’s expiration date).  There may be other provisions available to allow workers to continue or begin employment, such as “portability” for example, and legal counsel can provide guidance on these options.  Additionally, USCIS and other federal agencies are rolling out new ad hoc guidance to help ease the burden on petitioners and beneficiaries.

For example, USCIS has taken measures to offset the burden of submitting an original “wet” signature on petition forms.  For submissions dated March 21, 2020 or later, the copy of the document(s) must be of the original document containing an original handwritten signature.   Documents may be scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced.  USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency. This temporary change only applies to signatures, and petitioners or individuals who choose to submit electronically reproduced original signatures must retain copies of the original documents containing the “wet” signature.  USCIS may, at any time, request the original documents, which if not produced, could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.

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