Expedited, Premium Processing Finally Available for Immigrant Worker Petitions, including Registered Nurse Filings
August 31, 2006

A couple months back, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) announced a plan to extend “premium,” expedited processing to a variety of new immigration filings, including the I-140, Immigrant Worker Petition. As of August 28, 2006, the plan has been put into action for 2 categories of I-140 petitions, and employers seeking to facilitate permanent residence/immigrant visa processing for its employees in these categories can have an I-140 petition decided in less than 14 days. The implementation of this new program is especially significant for healthcare facilities seeking a relatively speedy avenue to bring on board foreign registered nurses or physical therapists.

In the past few years, companies seeking to employ foreign workers in a variety of temporary work visa categories (including H-1B, L-1 and R-1) have had the option to pay an extra $1,000 filing fee in order to have their visa petition processed in 15 days or less. Approximately 2 months ago, CIS announced their plan to expand this program for most categories of I-140 immigrant worker petitions, I-539 applications to change or extend nonimmigrant visa status (such as to extend B-1/B-2 visitor status, or change from visitor to F-1 student status) and I-765 – applications for Employment Authorization Document. Now, as of this writing, premium processing is being implemented for 2 categories of I-140 petitions, the Employment Based, Third Preference (EB-3) for 1) professionals and 2) skilled workers.

Practically speaking, premium processing in these categories will not be of much use to most employers and employees, regardless of whether the employee is in the U.S. or not. That is because the visa backlog for most workers in these categories goes back more than 4 years. And the 4 year visa backlog is the last remaining obstacle for permanent residence/immigrant visa processing of workers in this category, notwithstanding the issuance of approvals for the alien labor certification filing and I-140 petition.

Not impacted by the visa backlog for the Employment Based Third Preference, are registered nurses and physical therapists. Workers in these professions are in a special sub-category known as “Schedule A.” For the time being, and perhaps a few months into the future, there is no visa backlog affecting permanent residence/immigrant visa processing for RN’s and PT’s. That means, employers seeking to facilitate the entry of a foreign RN or PT could accomplish their goal in as little as 3 to 4 months, with most of the processing time taking place at the State Department/U.S. Embassy scheduling end, and not from the CIS side (which again, completes its processing in less than 2 weeks).

This development is especially significant given the continuing unavailability of the H-1B temporary work visa option for practically all R.N.’s and the very limited availability of H-1B’s (due to the small annual allotment) for P.T.’s.

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