H-1B Premium Processing Suspension Announced

On the afternoon of Friday March 3, USCIS announced it would be suspending the Premium Processing program for all H-1B filings (Cap, non-cap extension/ amendment, etc.) as of April 3 for a period of up to six months.
This impacts H-1B foreign nationals and employers in a variety of situations. H-1B Cap filers will need to wait longer to see if they were selected in the lottery process, and those eligible for H-1B cap-gap extensions of Optional Practical Training may have trouble requesting these in time if not informed of Cap selection.
For extension and change of employer cases, employees with timely-filed petition (one filed before the expiration of the existing H-1B petition) can remain and work with their current employer for extensions or port to (begin working for) a new employer for change of employer petitions. However, they would not be able to travel internationally as they would need the new Approval Notice to reenter (and possibly to obtain a new visa stamp prior to reentry).
With regular-track processing taking approximately a year, this is a very long time to be prevented from travel – inconveniencing H-1B workers and employers alike.
The given reason for the suspension is to free USCIS’ H-1B premium processing adjudicating officers to assist in reducing the backlog in traditional/regular-track H-1b processing – in itself a valid goal. It remains to be seen, however, whether diverting these officers for six months will be sufficient to reduce the backlog.
We suspect an extension of the Premium Processing moratorium, or at the least a phased reintroduction at the end of the six-month period on October 3, 2017.