According to a statement from the USCIS, the suspension may last up to six months, and will help the agency to "process long-pending petitions, which we have now been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years; and prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark".
Under the H-1B and L1 Visa Reform, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have additional oversight authority to investigate fraud and abuse as well as to increase penalties for companies that violate the bill's requirements. Meaning that the government might extend it further, too.
Premium processing was used by some companies to expedite visa processing by paying a fee.
The "premium processing" option, first introduced in 2001, allowed companies to pay an extra $1,225 to have their petitions reviewed in two weeks, rather than the usual two to three months. The reason for the temporary suspension is meant to help the agency clear the backlog and reduce overall H-1B processing times.
The United States now caps H-1B visas at 65,000 a year, with an additional 20,000 allowed for those who have earned advanced college degrees in the United States.
The Indian IT industry, which spends over 60 percent of its total exports to the USA, will be hit particularly hard if the bill is enacted into a law, as it heavily relies on H-1B visa workers for sustaining its American operations. The suspension also applies to petitions that may be cap-exempt. "Process long-pending petitions, which we have now been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years", it said. Facebook is classified as an "H-1B dependent" company, with more than 15 percent of its employees relying on the program. According to the New York Times, the vast majority of applicants turn out to be from India. But, for this they need to meet certain criteria as explained on the USCIS webpage.
However, if petitioners what to request for expedited processing they could submit a request.