Form I-129 is frequently used by employers because it covers several very popular employment-based visa categories, such as H, L, O, P, E, TN, and R. These submissions are handled primarily by USCIS’s California and Vermont service centers. Increasing backlogs and extended processing times have delayed adjudication and can frustrate employers, but the risk can be even greater to a beneficiary who has been working for months if the I-129 is ultimately denied.

For H-1B extensions and amendments sent to the California Service Center, the current processing time is eight months, according to the USCIS website, but other visa categories are being processed between two and five months. The Vermont Service Center (VSC) is taking even longer for H-1B extensions and amendments, and is experiencing processing delays for L visa petitions as well.  Even O and P petitions sent to the VSC are taking six months, which is longer than usual. This is particularly problematic because the beneficiary’s work authorization is automatically extended for 240 additional days when an extension or amendment filed. When adjudication exceeds eight months, it leaves the beneficiary unable to work legally.

Unfortunately, employers cannot pick and choose which service center to submit their I-129 petitions, as they are bound by geographic location. But, for those with a pending H-1B extension or amendment request, they no longer have to wait until their petition has exceeded the posted processing times to submit a service request.  Now, employers (or their attorneys) are now able to reach out to USCIS after 210 days (seven months) have passed since filing, which flags the delayed H-1B petition between one and three months earlier than current processing times. Hopefully, this new policy will help the USCIS service centers to identify pending cases that are nearing the expected deadline and to prioritize these cases so they can be adjudicated within the posted processing times — and, more importantly, before the extended grant of work authorization expires.