There were several big announcements in the immigration world last week. One was the end of Title 42 at the border (which will stop using COVID as a reason for keeping asylum-seekers outside of the US. Another announcement involved processing time improvements (which, while they sound great, we probably won’t see any meaningful change for quite a while). The one, though, that I want to talk about today is the announcement on premium processing.

Premium processing has generally only been available in employment-based immigration cases. It allows certain applicants (right now, those with pending I-129s or I-140s) to pay an additional fee to obtain a decision or Request for Evidence within 15 calendar days.  The fee ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 -and that’s in addition to the standard filing fees. Paying the extra fee helps people move forward with their lives with more certainty and helps people avoid gaps in status – gaps which could make them ineligible to get ultimately approved.

USCIS now wants to expand premium processing to more forms in more areas of immigration. One of the first forms that will be added is the I-539, Application to Extend/Change Status. Right now, it can take over a year to get a decision on a I-539, yet the extension itself is only valid for six months, meaning it’s already expired by the time it’s granted.

The biggest news, though, in my opinion is adding the I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to the list of filings eligible for premium processing. In the past, USCIS had a regulation requiring them to adjudicate an I-765 within 90 days and they generally did a good job. However, USCIS removed this regulation and processing times spiraled out of control. It’s now taking 10 months or longer to get an I-765 approved. People are losing their jobs, they are unable to renew their drivers’ licenses, and I’ve had several clients lose their homes because they can’t pay rent. Getting a decision on a work card within 30 days (the announcement says 30 instead of 15 for these types of cases) sounds great, but it comes at such a high cost – $1,500. Work card applications already cost over $400 and some clients struggle to pay this. How on earth are they going to afford $1,500 every year or two just to be able to continue to work? I worry that people who don’t apply for premium processing will move further and further down the list for an adjudicator because premium processing applicants will just cut in line (which is their right to do under this policy – I’m not knocking anyone for using premium processing).

It seems to me that USCIS wants people to pay an extra $1,500 for them to simply do the job they are required to do. They used to adjudicate I-765s in 90 days without extra fees. Why can’t we get back to that? 90 days was reasonable. 30 days under premium processing is amazing, but it shouldn’t cost an extra $1,500. Let’s go back to the happy medium – there’s no need to go from a very slow extreme to a very fast and expensive extreme. It’s like going from riding a bicycle to getting a Ferrari. The Ferrari would be amazing, but most people are good with a Honda or Ford or any other  type of reliable vehicle. I appreciate that USCIS is trying to improve, but there have to be more equitable ways to do it.