**Earlier in 2019, USCIS quietly changed its policy regarding eligibility to make an expedite request, also known as the “traditional expedite.” The current USCIS webpage, last updated on May 10, 2019, reveals that three prior grounds for an expedite request have been excluded: no longer listed are “extreme emergencies,” “nonprofit entities seeking to further the cultural and social interests of the U.S.,” and “compelling interests of USCIS.” Arts advocates are seeking immediate reinstatement of the traditional expedite option. Until notified otherwise, the only other option for requesting faster processing is to pay for Premium Processing service.
The first rule is to file long enough in advance to avoid having to request an expedite. However, the USCIS has the capacity to handle O and P petitions on an expedited basis, free of additional charge, and it has special procedures for doing so. The USCIS has set a specific standard for granting expedites.
Since the advent of Premium Processing, only bona fide nonprofit organizations with a 501(c)(3) letter, or who can document that they qualify for exemption from taxation under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), retain the ability to request traditional expedites. Such organizations must provide a copy of their nonprofit documentation when requesting an expedite. All others must resort to Premium Processing in an emergency. Not making money on the activities in question, or generally losing money, does not a bona fide nonprofit organization make! Moreover, petitioning on behalf of bona fide non-profits makes no difference if the petitioner lacks the appropriate tax status.
In theory, the service centers are bound by the expedite criteria promulgated by USCIS headquarters. A USCIS November 30, 2001 memo concerning traditional expedites, lists the following criteria:
- Severe financial loss to a company or an individual;
- Extreme emergencies;
- Humanitarian considerations;
- Nonprofit entities seeking to further the cultural and social interests of the U.S.;
- Defense or national interest considerations (supported by the statement of a U.S. government official asserting that delay would be detrimental to the U.S.);
- USCIS error;
- Compelling interests of USCIS.
Even so, service center interpretation of these criteria varies from case-to-case.
In order to request a traditional expedite, you must first file the petition and contact the USCIS Contact Center upon receipt of the I-797 receipt notice. The Contact Center will transmit the expedite request to the Service Center and it will decide within 5 business days whether or not your petition meets the criteria for expediting. (Note, this does not mean approval will be issued within 5 days - this is simply whether the service center will accept your petition for traditional expedite, which can reportedly take up to 45 days depending on the circumstances. You can find the criteria used to determine if an expedite request is approved or denied on the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov). The Contact Center will assign a service request number (Example: T1B.305.10.03037.VSC) to use as a reference for any additional inquiries on the expedite request. In certain cases, though, the nature of the expedite requires faster consideration and, in these instances, petitioners are encouraged to follow up with the Service Centers directly -- please inquire with the USCIS Contact Center how best to follow up in such cases.
In all cases, remember that the most compelling cases are those that involve a last-minute emergency such as illness, injury, etc., that the petitioner can somehow document, combined with significant potential financial harm. Expedites requested because the service center has gone well beyond the estimated processing times stated on their website are iffy. Expedites justified on the grounds that it now is taking even longer to get visas issued at the consulates are iffier still. Try to address, if not document, every criterion possibly applicable to your case, including those in the November 30, 2001 USCIS memo and those on the respective service center web site.
Congressional offices may be of assistance. Petitioners should first contact the case worker for their respective congressional representative by phone, then follow up with a short fax explaining the nature of the emergency, authorizing that office to contact USCIS on the petitioner's behalf, and enclosing a copy of the I-129 form and any beneficiary list. Use this option only when desperate!
Finally, if USCIS agrees that an O or P petition merits expedited handling, it does have emergency procedures for obtaining the labor consultation if required. Even in a dire emergency, the petitioner should still try to obtain the labor certification first, to save USCIS processing time. Otherwise, though, the petitioner should make it clear in the accompanying letter and on the O/P Classification Supplement that it wishes to invoke these procedures, by asking USCIS to obtain the consultation under the emergency procedures, citing 8 CFR § 214.2(o)(5)(i)(E) for O petitions, and 8 CFR § 214.2(p)(&)(i)(E) for P petitions.