USCIS has expanded premium processing for F-1 students to pending Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) applications based on Optional Practice Training (OPT) and STEM OPT. On April 3, 2023, the same will be extended to new EAD applications for OPT and STEM OPT. The cost for this premium processing will be $1,500 and the timeframe will be 30 calendar days. These applications may be filed by mail or online.

This expansion of premium processing should help students and their employers who otherwise might be dealing with a lack or a gap in employment authorization. Timely filed STEM applicants have been eligible for a 180-day extension of their initial EADs, but given USCIS delays, that has not always been long enough.

In January 2023, USCIS announced that all I-140 immigrant visa petitions in the EB-1 category (including international executives and managers) and EB-2 National Interest Waiver categories are eligible for premium processing. The associated fee is $2,500 and the guaranteed timeframe is 45 days. While this, too, is longer than the “usual” 15 days, making premium processing available to international executives and managers and national interest waiver petitioners will move these green card cases forward and make it possible for certain spouses to apply for employment authorization once the I-140s are approved.

These changes are all part of a plan set out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2022. At that time, DHS said it would make premium processing available to Form I-140 petitions, I-539 applications to change or extend status, and I-765 applications for employment authorization. This plan delighted petitioners and applicants (although costs were raised and timelines expanded), but it was not clear how long it would take to implement. DHS explained that the new premium processing would be put into effect when the revenues existed to cover potential costs (such as hiring staff) without adversely affecting other processing times, and that DHS would effectuate the new benefits “as soon as feasible.” DHS noted that some of these changes would not be available until 2025.

In May 2023, premium processing may become available for certain exchange visitors with pending I-539 applications.

If you have questions about the new premium processing, Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist.