Alternative Work Visas to the H-1B

Just as it has done the past four consecutive years, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it has received enough H-1B petitions to fulfill its annual H-1B quota and will no longer accept new cap-subject H-1B petitions until April 1, 2018.  This is to say, in the first week of April 2017, USCIS received in excess of both 65,000 general H-1B cap petitions for individuals with at least a Bachelor's degree and in excess of 20,000 U.S. Master's degree H-1B petitions.

USCIS will therefore conduct a computer-generated random lottery of those H-1B petitions received between April 1 - April 7, 2017 to determine which petitions will be selected for processing.  If selected and approved in this lottery beneficiaries may begin working in H-1B status for their employers starting October 1, 2017.  Petitions not selected in the lottery will be returned to employers along with the filing fees.

USCIS, however, will continue to accept H-1B petitions year-round from employers who are exempt from the H-1B cap, as well as petitions to extend H-1B status or change employers for those individuals currently in H-1B status.

Alternative visa options are available, though, for those employers and employees who fail to receive an H-1B visa.  The following visas are available throughout the year, without numerical caps, for qualifying foreign nationals:

  • TN Visa:  For Canadian and Mexican citizens employed in certain professional categories seeking to engage in U.S. employment
  • L-1 Visa:  For intracompany transferees who have worked for a foreign entity for one year and seeking to transfer to a U.S. subsidiary, affiliate, parent, or branch office in the U.S. in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity
  • E-1/E-2 Visa:  For international investors or traders from certain treaty countries looking to engage in substantial trade between the U.S. and their foreign country or to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which the foreign national has invested
  • O-1 Visa:  For foreign nationals of extraordinary ability who have achieved national and international recognition for extraordinary achievements in their field of endeavor
  • H-3 Visa:  For foreign nationals coming to the U.S. to engage in a course of training
  • E-3 Visa:  For Australian citizens who will be employed in a specialty occupation in the U.S.

If you have questions about the H-1B visa cap or any of these work visa options, please contact our office.

Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order 

President Trump signed an Executive Order on April 18th, which directs the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, and Secretary of Homeland Security to propose new rules and issue new guidance to “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”  The Executive Order also directs these agencies to suggest reforms to prioritize “the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries” in awarding H-1B visas.

While the Executive Order does not provide any specific details or actions to change any visa program, it does indicate that the administration is considering such changes to the H-1B visa program as giving greater weight to H-1B applicants with advanced degrees and higher wages in the H-1B lottery and increasing application fees.

This Executive Order does not have any impact on this year’s H-1B visa process or lottery.

Increased Visa Scrutiny Announced

The U.S. Secretary of State has directed all U.S. consulates to take all possible steps to increase scrutiny of all visa applications and applicants themselves for security threats.  These diplomatic cables direct officers to ask more detailed questions about the background of all applicants and requires applicants whose nationality or background may raise security concerns to provide additional information, including: travel history over the last 15 years; names of siblings, children and former spouses not already recorded in the DS-160/260 or NIV/IVO case notes; addresses over the last 15 years; prior passport numbers; prior jobs and employers, including brief descriptions if applicable, for the last 15 years; any phone number the applicant has used in the last five years; email addresses and social media handles the applicants has used in the last five years.  The cables also will now limit consular officers to no more than 120 interviews per day, a change that will likely cause backlogs and processing delays.

These additional stricter screening requirements, along with the limits on interviews are likely to result in potential administrative processing delays for some applicants.  Additionally, these new directives will likely cause slowdowns in visa issuance and an increase in visa denials.

USCIS Announces Rules to Combat H-1B Visa Fraud & New Policies for Computer-Related H-1B Occupations

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it will begin taking a “more targeted approach” in site visits to the workplaces of U.S. companies sponsoring H-1B visa employees.  The measures described in the USCIS announcement include focusing on-site visits on H-1B-dependent companies, employers that cannot be validated with commercially available data, as well as employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organization's location (i.e. outsourcing companies, who typically petition for workers of other organizations).  These site visits will allow USCIS "to focus resources where fraud and abuse of the H-1B program may be more likely to occur, and determine whether H-1B dependent employers are evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers." These random and unannounced visits will continue nationwide, except there will now be a clearer focus on making sure the employer is legitimate. 

The announcement also encourages people to report suspected fraud of abuse in the H-1B program, and provides a new hotline phone number and email address for people to report such things as wage disparities between H-1B workers and other workers performing the same or similar duties, and H-1B workers not performing duties specified in the H-1B petition.

These new initiatives follow USCIS’ recent policy memorandum narrowing the H-1B visa eligibility for certain computer-related occupations.  U.S. employers who filed H-1B petitions for employees in programming occupations described in the memo may receive a requests from USCIS to submit additional evidence showing that the position is complex or specialized and requires a professional degree.

Court Temporarily Blocks Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

A federal judge in Hawaii issued a temporary restraining order the practical effect of which is to put a stop to those portions of the presidents revised executive order that are keeping affected individuals from predominantly muslim countries (Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) from entering the United States.  Based on that temporary restraining order, U.S. Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) posts around the world are being authorized to notify airlines to allow such affected individuals to board aircraft bound for the United States. 

The practical upshot of all this is that there may now be a short window of opportunity for any affected individuals to enter the U.S.  To the extent this short window of opportunity may benefit any of your friends or employees, I urge you to communicate this information to them as soon as possible.  

This is clearly a fluid situation and subject to change on very short notice.  I will continue to keep you apprised of any developments.

In the interim, please call me if you have any questions.  

Guidance for Trump’s Revised Travel Ban

President Trump signed an Executive Order today, which has replaced the January 27, 2017 travel ban for citizens of certain countries and limitations on refugees.  The revised Executive Order will take effect March 16, 2017 and will temporarily suspend visa issuance to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.  The Executive Order now also contains the following revisions:

  • All visas that are currently valid (even if from one of the 6 countries) will remain valid.
  • U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (“Green Card” holders) are exempt from the order.
  • A foreign national’s nationality will be determined based on the passport they present while traveling, which means dual nationals from one of the six countries should be admitted if they can present a passport from a country not covered by the order.
  • Iraq nationals are removed from the list of countries subject to the temporary ban.
  • The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program will be suspended for 120 days.
  • The new Executive Order does not give priority to religious minorities and does not specifically target Syrian refugees.
  • The Department of Homeland Security may grant waivers on a case-by-case basis if the foreign national can prove his/her entry is in the national interest of the United States, does not pose a threat to national security and that denying entry would cause undue hardship.  If the waiver is approved for visa issuance, it would remain in effect for the validity of the visa. 

Once again, as a result of these actions, many in the immigrant community are confused and scared – I understand!  Despite all that you read or hear in the news or from your friends and family, this is not a time to panic or to make hasty decisions.  It is a time for calm, rational thinking and for informed, conservative and proactive planning.  In that regard, I suggest the following:

  1. If you are a citizen of one of the “six countries” listed on the Executive Order, do not travel out of the U.S.  The Executive Order does not apply to you if you merely visited one of the “six countries”.
  2. If you are a citizen of any other country which has a predominantly Muslim population, do not travel out of the U.S. without consulting with an Immigration Attorney first.
  3. If you have a non-immigrant visa (even if you are a citizen of a country which is not predominantly Muslim) and you plan to travel out of the U.S. please consult with an Immigration Attorney first.  In this climate of enhanced enforcement it is prudent to be able to document your status as much as possible in the event you are subject to additional scrutiny by an overly aggressive immigration officer upon your return.
  4. Consideration should be given to accelerating any immigration planning (eg; extensions of status, green card processing, etc.) in order to take advantage of the existing laws and regulations. It is possible that these may become more restrictive as the policies of the current administration continue to evolve.

It is my belief that more executive orders will be forthcoming - which are likely to add to the fear and uncertainty that many may be feeling.  I sympathize with what you may be feeling right now - I come from a family of immigrants.  It pains me that the country whose doors gave my family refuge in their time of need is now trying to close those same doors to others.  I believe that these times too shall pass and that better times lie ahead.  Until then I will do everything I can to ease your fears and help you through this difficult period.

Please sign up for updates on the current situation and I will provide you with developments as they take place.  In the interim, please feel free to call me any time to discuss any of your concerns.

USCIS Will Temporarily Suspend Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions

USCIS has announced that starting April 3rd, 2017 premium processing for all H-1B petitions will be temporarily suspended. This suspension may last up to 6 months. While H-1B premium processing is suspended, petitioners will not be able request premium processing for H-1B visa cases.

The temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017.  Meaning, this will apply to ALL petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”). The suspension also applies to petitions that may be cap-exempt.

All H-1B petitions filed with a request for premium processing will be rejected.

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.

The reason for the temporary suspension will allow USCIS to reduce overall H-1B processing times. 

Considerations for Applying for Naturalization

Based on the rapid changing immigration landscape many Lawful Permanent Residents (“green card” holders) are seeking to obtain the benefits of U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.  Lawful Permanent Residents who are eligible for U.S. citizenship are afforded equal protection under U.S. laws regardless of their birth in another country.  

In order to be eligible for naturalization the applicant must:

  1. Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing;
  2. Possess Lawful Permanent Resident status (“green card”) for the last 5 years, or for the last 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen;
  3. Live in a state where you claim residence for at least 3 months prior to filing;
  4. Be physically present in the U.S. for at least half the time of the residency requirement (i.e. 30 of the last 60 months or 18 of the last 36 months if married to a U.S. citizen);
  5. Have no continuous absence of more than one year from the U.S., irrespective of the protection of a re-entry permit or SB-1 visa;
  6. Have filed U.S. income tax returns each year after becoming a lawful permanent resident;
  7. Have basic knowledge of U.S. history and government and the ability to read, write, speak, and understand basic English;
  8. Have good moral character (meaning you are not a habitual drunkard; polygamist; a person associated with prostitution, narcotics, or illegal entry of aliens; convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or of two or more non-political offenses for which the sentence imposed was 5 years or more; a gambler; committed an immigration fraud; convicted of murder or an aggravated felony; a non-support of dependents).

Demand For H-1B Visas This Year May Exceed 300,000

Starting April 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018).  As in years past, if USCIS receives more than the available 85,000 H-1B visas in the first few days of April, they will use a computer-generated random lottery to select the petitions they will process.  Based on the number of petitions received in the first few days of last year (over 236,000) and the market demand for high-skilled labor, our office anticipates USCIS receiving over 300,000 H-1B petitions in the first few days of April. 

Accordingly, time is running out for employers to timely prepare their H-1B petitions for submission on April 3rd.  Generally, it takes at least 10-14 days to prepare and file an H-1B petition, due to the prerequisite filing requirements of the Labor Condition Application (LCA), which takes up to 7 business days to certify.  Therefore, if you are responsible for your businesses' immigration planning and processing and you have already identified your H-1B candidates, please initiate the H-1B visa process in the next two weeks to ensure it is timely filed.  

Court Temporarily Blocks Trump’s Travel Ban, and Airlines Are Told to Allow Passengers

Late yesterday (Friday), a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order the practical effect of which is to put a stop to those portions of the presidents executive order that are keeping affected individuals from predominantly muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) from entering the United States.  Based on that temporary restraining order, earlier today (Saturday), the Port Director of U.S. Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) at JFK airport advised that all CBP posts around the world are being authorized to notify airlines to allow such affected individuals to board aircraft bound for the United States.  Late today (Saturday), the Department of Justice indicated that it intends to file an emergency stay of this order.  

The practical upshot of all this is that there may now be a short window of opportunity for any affected individuals to enter the U.S.  To the extent this short window of opportunity may benefit any of your friends or employees, I urge you to communicate this information to them as soon as possible.  

This is clearly a fluid situation and subject to change on very short notice.  I will continue to keep you apprised of any developments.

In the interim, please call me if you have any questions.  

The Future for U.S. Work & Student Visa Programs Under Trump’s Next Executive Order

In follow up to last week’s Executive Orders, President Trump may be gearing up for his next round of Executive Orders which look to tighten U.S. work visa programs (including the H-1B visa), impose stricter limitations on foreign students, eliminate the International Entrepreneur Rule, and enact measures that will severely curtail the options for U.S. employers (especially in the tech sector) to attract the smartest and most innovative minds to our country. These proposed rules do not appear to suspend or terminate any foreign national’s current work authorization or visa status, but it does direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review all immigration regulations that allow foreign nationals to wok in the United States. Let’s look at what this could mean for visa holders, employers, and all foreign travelers to the U.S. in the future:

How will this impact the H-1B work visa?

The Executive Order does not propose immediate changes to the upcoming (April 3, 2017) H-1B visa program, but it does indicate the administration’s intent to revise the H-1B work visa lottery system in the future to prioritize applications for those who are paid higher wages and/or have advanced education. 

How will this impact the F-1 OPT student programs?

The Executive Order directs DHS to “reform practical training programs for foreign students to prevent the disadvantaging of U.S. students in the workforce, better protect U.S. and foreign workers affected by such programs, … and improve monitoring of foreign students.” While this would seem to indicate that steps will be taken to curtail current Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) programs available to F-1 students, it is not clear how DHS will modify the regulations.

How will this impact current visa-case processing and/or Green Card priority dates?

The Executive Order directs DHS to “restore the integrity of employment based visa programs to better protect U.S. and foreign workers” affected by those programs. While this guidance is vague, this could signal an increase in Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny in immigration cases, as immigration officers may begin to apply stricter adjudication standards. This may also mean the introduction of new employer obligations as it pertains to recruiting and/or prevailing wages. Any changes to the Visa Bulletin system could result in a retrogression in Visa Bulletin priority dates.

How will this impact the International Entrepreneur Rule?

While the proposed Executive Order does not single out the recently published International Entrepreneur Rule (set to go in to effect this summer), it does call for the elimination of any use of parole that “circumvents statutory immigration policy,” which essentially would end the rule.

How will this impact L-1 intra-company transferee visa holders?

The Executive Order directs DHS to conduct site visits to all places where L-1 visa holders (international executive and managers) work, including third-party worksites. It also directs DHS to begin conducting site visits for all visa categories within two years.

How will this impact business / tourist (B-1/B-2 visa) visitors?

The Executive Order directs DHS to clarify the types of activities that are and are not permissible for B-1/B-2 visa visitors. Individuals entering the U.S. on B-1/B-2 visitor visas, should anticipate more comprehensive scrutiny at all ports-of-entry.

 

These Executive Orders also direct the Department of Labor to investigate more abuses of work visa categories, and require more employers seeking to sponsor foreign workers to participate in the E-Verify employment authorization program.

Businesses, foreign workers, and international students considering filing for an H-1B work visa this year should begin preparing their H-1B visa petitions NOW. Demand for H-1B visas on behalf of foreign employees is expected to reach record levels this year. Due to lengthy prerequisite filing steps which must be completed before the H-1B petition can be submitted to USCIS on April 3rd, employers should begin preparing their petitions NOW to ensure they are ready on time.

Employers, foreign nationals, and international students who may be impacted by changes to any of these proposed regulations should contact an Attorney immediately to begin evaluating legal strategies.  If you have any other questions, please contact me.

Immigration Guidance for Trump's Executive Orders

Three Executive Orders were issued by President Trump last week – one related to the building of a wall along our border with Mexico, one related to enhanced immigration enforcement and one related to a travel ban for citizens of certain countries and limitations on refugees.  These actions have been drastic in terms of their impact as well as vague in terms of how they will be applied.  As a result of these actions, many in the immigrant community are confused and scared – I understand! 

I am writing this to help you navigate these turbulent waters.  Despite all that you read or hear in the news or from your friends and family, this is not a time to panic or to make hasty decisions.  It is a time for calm, rational thinking and for informed, conservative and proactive planning.  In that regard, I suggest the following:

  1. If you are a citizen of one of the “seven countries” listed on the Executive Order (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen), do not travel out of the U.S.  The Executive Order does not apply to you if you merely visited one of the “seven countries”.
  2. If you are a citizen of any other country which has a predominantly Muslim population, do not travel out of the U.S. without consulting with an Immigration Attorney first.
  3. If you have a non-immigrant visa (even if you are a citizen of a country which is not predominantly Muslim) and you plan to travel out of the U.S. please consult with an Immigration Attorney first.  In this climate of enhanced enforcement it is prudent to be able to document your status as much as possible in the event you are subject to additional scrutiny by an overly aggressive immigration officer upon your return.
  4. Consideration should be given to accelerating any immigration planning (eg; extensions of status, green card processing, etc.) in order to take advantage of the existing laws and regulations. It is possible that these may become more restrictive as the policies of the current administration continue to evolve.

It is my belief that more executive orders will be forthcoming - which are likely to add to the fear and uncertainty that you may be feeling.  I sympathize with what you may be feeling right now - I come from a family of immigrants.  It pains me that the country whose doors gave my family refuge in their time of need is now trying to close those same doors to others.  I believe that these times too shall pass and that better times lie ahead.  Until then I will do everything I can to ease your fears and help you through this difficult period.

Please sign up for updates on the current situation and I will provide you with developments as they take place.  In the interim, please feel free to call me any time to discuss any of your concerns.

The International Entrepreneur Rule

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has officially annouced the final version of the International Entrepreneur Rule, which will allow certain international entrepreneurs to be considered for parole (temporary permission to be in the United States) so that they may start or grow their businesses here in the United States.

The rule, which is set to take effect on July 16, 2017, will grant foreign entrepreneurs of startup entities created within five years of application, temporary stay in the U.S. for up to 2 1/2 years, with the option to extend the stay by an additional 2 1/2 years.  To qualify initially, founders must own at least 10% of their companies and have raised at least $250,000 from U.S. investors with a track record of U.S. investments, or at least $100,000 from federal, state, or local government agencies.  To be eligible for the extension, founders must continue running their U.S. business, retain at least 5% ownership, and either raise at least $500,000 from U.S. investors, generate $500,000 in annual revenue with 20% year-over-year growth, or prove they've created at least 5 full-time jobs for U.S. workers. 

The rule will also provide the foreign entrepreneur’s dependents (spouses and children under 21) with U.S. parole entry and allow them to apply for unrestricted U.S. work authorization.  The parolee, however, will only be eligible for employment with his or her USCIS-approved startup. 

The International Entrepreneur Rule has been broadened from the proposed rule made in August to accommodate more foreign entrepreneurs.  For more information on the new rule, please feel free to contact us.

H1B Visa Season Starts NOW

Even though we’ve just entered 2017, its time to start focusing on one of the most important dates of the entire year: April 3, 2017 - the date when U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting new H-1B visa petitions. While that may still be several months away, the time to start getting the visa petition ready is NOW

Demand by U.S. employers for H-1B visas on behalf of “highly-skilled” foreign employees reached unprecedented levels last year and is expected to remain high this year. Because it is expected that the 85,000 available H-1B visas will be gone within the first week of April, U.S. businesses should file their H-1B visa petitions on April 3, 2017. Due to prerequisite filing steps which must be completed before the H-1B petition can be submitted to USCIS, employers should begin preparing their petitions now to ensure they are ready to submit on April 3rd.

Employers should assess their upcoming workforce needs and identify whether any foreign national employees will require H-1B visa sponsorship. These individuals may include:

  • New graduating foreign students in the U.S.
  • Overseas individuals seeking to start work in the U.S.
  • Foreign individuals in the U.S. already working under a different nonimmigrant status for a different employer and are seeking to change jobs

Failure to file your H-1B petition on April 3rd may jeopardize your chance at securing an H-1B visa for your employee. After the 2017 H-1B visas are gone, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2018 to file H-1B petitions again, and foreign employees may lose their lawful status and authorization to work. The clock is ticking…don't delay!

If you have any questions about the H-1B visa process, contact me.

 

New Requirements for EB-2 National Interest Waiver Green Card

Last month, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) announced new, less subjective, requirements for foreign individuals seeking U.S. lawful permanent residence (“green card”) under the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) category.  The NIW category allows foreign nationals in the second employment-based immigration category to bypass the lengthy and sometimes difficult “labor certification” process, if they can show that their immigration to the U.S. is in America’s “national interest.”  

In order for a foreign national to prove “national interest” under the new criteria, he or she must demonstrate that:

  1. the proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance;
  2. he/she is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and
  3. on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus of a labor certification.

In order to prove these criteria, the foreign national will have to show their work has national or global implications.  One example of this can be proof that the foreign national’s work “has significant potential to employ U.S. workers or has other substantial positive economic effects, particularly in an economically depressed area…”.  The applicant will also have to show that he/she is able to succeed with their plan by demonstrating that they have the ”education, skills, knowledge and record of success in related or similar efforts; a model or plan for future activities; any progress towards achieving the proposed endeavor; and the interest of potential customers, users, investors, or other relevant entities or individuals."  Lastly, the foreign national will have to prove that “in light of the nature of [their] qualifications or proposed endeavor, it would be impractical either for the foreign national to secure a job offer or for the petitioner to obtain a labor certification."  

This decision is fantastic news for U.S. employers, international entrepreneurs, startups, and professionals, and provides greater flexibility for foreign nationals seeking to qualify for EB-2 National Interest Waivers.

For more information, feel free to contact us.

New Rules For Employment-based Immigrant & Nonimmigrant Visa Programs

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published new regulations to provide greater flexibility for high-skilled foreign workers who have an approved employment-based immigrant visa petition, while they wait for a green card.  The intent of these new rules will better enable U.S. employers to sponsor and retain high-skilled foreign workers, increase the ability of such workers to seek promotions, accept lateral positions, change employers, or pursue other employment options.  

The highlights of this rule change, include:

  • Retention of Approved Immigration Visa (I-140) Petitions:  Immigrant petitions submitted by U.S. employers to request permanent employment on behalf of a foreign national (Form I-140) may no longer be automatically revoked based on a request by the employer to withdraw the petition.  Additionally, the immigrant petition will not be revoked if the the request to withdraw is based on the termination of the employer’s business 180 days after either the I-140’s approval or the filing of an I-485 application for adjustment of status.  While the I-140 would remain valid, the foreign national would need a new job offer or new petition in order to apply for a green card.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Grace Periods:  A one-time grace period of up to 60 days whenever employment ends, will allow for greater job portability for nonimmigrant workers (especially H-1B, E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1, O-1 and TN visa holders).  During the grace period the nonimmigrant worker may apply for an extension of stay or change of status.  While the nonimmigrant will not be authorized for employment during the grace period, it will provide flexibility to allow for new employment in case of sudden termination.
  • Employment Authorization in Compelling Circumstances:  In compelling circumstances, DHS will allow certain individuals with an approved I-140 petition, who are unable to obtain an immigrant visa because of numerical limits, to apply for a one-year employment authorization document (EAD).  This new rule would only apply to individuals in E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1 or O-1 status.  DHS has identified “compelling circumstances” as serious illness or disabilities, employer retaliation, other substantial harm to the applicant, or significant disruption to the employer.
  • Employment Authorization Document Processing:  Certain individuals may be granted automatic EAD extensions for up to 180 days, so long as they timely renew their EAD and it is based on the same employment authorization category as the existing EAD.  The extension is available only to certain foreign nationals, including adjustment of status applicants and individuals filing for renewal of Optional Practical Training (OPT) based on a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) field. This provision does not apply to H-4, L-2, or E nonimmigrant spouses seeking an EAD renewal.

The new regulation will become effective January 17, 2017, three days before Donald Trump takes office.  These regulations should remain in place, unless Congress acts to cancel them.  Please contact our office for further questions or clarification.

New Form I-9 to Verify Employment Eligibility

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a new Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification form.  The new Form I-9 takes employment eligibility verification out of the realm of paper documentation and provides new electronic enhancements, such as:

  • Drop-down functionality for filling in lists and selecting dates;
  • Prompts on certain fields to ensure information is entered correctly;
  • Additional room to allow for multiple preparers and translators;
  • Embedded instructions for completing each field;
  • Buttons that will allow users to access the instructions electronically, print the form, and clear the form to start over;
  • A dedicated area to enter additional information that employers currently have to jot in the margins of the form;
  • A barcode unique to each form to identify it for audit purposes.

Employers may continue to use the current version of the Form I-9 (the one with a revision date of 3/8/2013N) until January 21, 2017.  After January 21, 2017, all previous version of the Form I-9 will no longer be valid.

These changes, in addition to the recent increase in penalties for employment verification errors, are of significant importance to employers and Human Resources professionals. 

The Reality of Trump's Proposed Immigration Policies

The dust has still not settled since Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. presidential election last week, but we are already starting to see some details regarding his campaign pledges as it pertains to immigration.  Despite there still be overwhelming uncertainty as to the specifics of his immigration policies, the general cornerstones seem to call for an increase in immigration enforcement and a decrease in the amount of immigration to the United States. That said, how realistic is Trump’s agenda?

Undocumented Immigrants

The deportation of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States is almost impossible. In fact, earlier this week Trump dialed back his campaign rhetoric to express his intention to prioritize the removal of around 2-3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records, which is a position that is actually in line with the current administration’s priorities.  

Deporting all undocumented immigrants from the U.S. will require incredible amounts of new resources and funding. While many congressional Republicans might support Trump’s policies, would they support the cost?  Politico estimates it would cost $166 billion to deport all of the undocumented immigrants in our country and complete a border wall.  (No, by the way, Trump can’t force a country to spend money on something it does not want).  The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that Trump’s immigration attrition policies could increase projected deficits by about $800 billion over the next 20 years.  By keeping immigrants in this country working, creating businesses, and making the goods and services that people want to buy we are ultimately increasing wages and employment opportunities.  Would Republicans really be so foolish as to actually spend money on large-scale nationwide attrition programs?

DACA

Trump has pledged to end President Obama’s deferred deportation program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)), which has provided “temporary relief from deportation” and work authorization to over 650,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. when they were minors.  While it is certainly possible for the next President to overturn this executive action, it remains unclear whether he would simply prevent future renewals of the U.S. employment authorization documents for DACA individuals, or whether he would cancel and revoke existing employment authorization documents for DACA recipients.  A more substantial concern, is whether DACA recipients would be more vulnerable to deportations based on the personal information they previously provided to the government as part of their application process.

Assuming, as Trump hinted earlier this week, that DACA recipients may not fall under his 2-3 million criminal aliens enforcement strategy, what economic benefit would arise from revoking the work permits of over 650,000 young immigrants who have been residents of the U.S. for decades, who are working and participating in the economy and attending college?  What might be the harm to U.S. employers lawfully employing workers with employment authorization based on DACA?  There may be severe consequences to our economy by eliminating valuable employees from our workforce, not to mention creating a humanitarian crisis by deporting these individuals.  

H-1B Visas

During Trump’s campaign he expressed a desire to make it harder for American companies to obtain employment-based visas for immigrant workers.  In particular, Trump called for policies to increase the regulatory costs for American businesses hiring skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations, particularly in the H-1B visa category.

While it is reasonable to expect that the new administration may add new statutory restrictions, institute stricter U.S. recruitment requirements, or increase USCIS filing fees, it is also possible that they may not make any changes to the existing employment-based visa program.  As U.S. businesses are increasingly in need of high-skilled labor (especially in STEM fields), what benefit would the U.S. achieve by limiting the amount of intelligent, professional-level foreign nationals into this country?

TN Visas

Canceling the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) treaty with Mexico and Canada was a major talking point in Trump’s campaign.  Doing so would most likely eliminate the TN visa for Canadian and Mexican nationals.  Again, the elimination of a visa, like the TN, for high-skilled immigrants in the U.S. does not seem to be in the best interest of American businesses.  Furthermore, scrapping NAFTA would also eliminate reciprocal visa options Canada and Mexico provide to U.S. workers seeking to engage in professional activities in those countries.

F-1 STEM OPT

Recent changes to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for foreign students on F-1 student visas and who graduated with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), allow for an additional two years of U.S. work authorization.  This new rule could be a target under the new President.  Again, though, with U.S. employers in desperate need for STEM employees, cancelling the STEM OPT extension rule, would severely injure American companies.

“Extreme Vetting”

Trump’s most controversial policy called for some type of “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals from certain countries or certain religions.  While it is not clear what he means by this type of vetting, the possibility of increased screening could have serious consequences for U.S. employers and employment-based visa holders, due to stricter scrutiny on visa petitions and longer visa application times.  It might also make it harder for individuals to obtain U.S. citizenship.

In the end, it is realistic to expect some changes to the U.S. immigration system.  Whether all the broad promises of Trump’s campaign will become reality is a different story.  In less than 60 days, though, Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States.  Therefore, employers and individuals considering whether to seek certain immigration-related benefits, should act sooner than later.  In the meantime, please visit our website and sign up for our newsletter for the latest news regarding any changes to U.S. immigration laws.

 

Immigration Filing Fees Increasing

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has annouced that starting on December 23, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) filing fees for temporary visa petitions, family and employment-based visa petitions for lawful permanent residence (“Green Cards”), and applications for adjustment of status, naturalization, and waivers will increase.

The key employment-based petitions and applications that will see fee increases are as follows:

  • Petitions filed on behalf of non-immigrant workers, such as H-1B, L-1, O-1, E-2, P-1, TN, etc. (Form I-129): increase from $325 to $460.
  • Immigrant petitions filed on behalf of alien relatives (Form I-130): increase from $420 to $535.
  • Fiance(e) petitions (Form I-129F): increase from $340 to $535.
  • Immigrant petitions on behalf of alien workers (Form I-140): increase from $580 to $700.
  • Immigrant petition by alien entrepreneur under the EB-5 program (Form I-526): increase from $1,500 to $3,675.
  • Application for Regional Center Designation under the EB-5 program (Form I-924): increase from $6,230 to $17,795.
  • A new filing fee of $3,035 for the Form I-924A, which is used for applications under the EB-5 Regional Center program.
  • Application for adjustment of status (Form I-485): increase from $985 to $1140 (plus $85 biometrics fee).
  • Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) (Form I-765): increase from $380 to $410.
  • Application for naturalization/U.S. Citizenship (Form N-400): increase from $595 to $640 (plus $85 biometrics fee), but USCIS will reduce the fee to $320 for certain applicants with low income. 
  • Application for a certificate of citizenship (Form N-600): increase from $600 to $1,170
  • USCIS Immigrant Fee for individuals entering the U.S. on immigrant visas issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad: increase from $165 to $220.

To view all of the USCIS filing fee increases, please visit https://www.uscis.gov/forms/our-fees

Those wishing to apply for immigration benefits should therefore submit petitions and applications as soon as possible to take advantage of the current fees.  Employers should also take these changes into consideration when budgeting for the immigration costs of their employees.

What Your Vote Means for Immigration

As I discussed almost a year ago, immigration has become one of, if not the, key issue in the U.S. Presidential election.  As we reach the final stretch of this election season and voters finally get to go to the polls to cast their votes, its important to consider what your vote might mean for U.S. immigration policy.  Whether you’re for stiffer enforcement of our borders, new options for more highly-skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants to work in the U.S., or pathways for legalization of undocumented immigrants, the future of millions of people will be shaped by your vote in the next few weeks.

Nearly everyone agrees that the U.S. immigration system needs to be overhauled, but there is a lot that goes into that.  Yes, its a broken system, but fixing it is not easy…it involves actual people, families, careers, futures.  So what would the Democrat and Republican presidential contenders do to tackle these challenging issues?

Visas and Green Cards

Trump says that allowing foreign nationals to work in the U.S. weighs down salaries, keeps unemployment high and makes it difficult for American workers to earn a middle-class wage.  He would put an end to the H-1B work visa program and suspend the issuance of green cards to require U.S. employers to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.

Hillary has called for providing lawful permanent residence (“green cards”) to foreign students who earn advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities.  She has also voiced support for visas for international entrepreneurs who come to the U.S. to establish tech companies and who have financial support from U.S. investors.  She would provide pathways to permanent residence for foreign nationals who create jobs for U.S. workers and meet certain other performance criteria.  

Undocumented Immigrants

Hillary would like to expand the DACA and DAPA programs to defer the deportation and provide work authorization for undocumented individuals who are either children or the parents of children born in the U.S., while deporting undocumented immigrants who are violent criminals and terrorists.  Clinton also seeks to get rid of the 3 and 10 year bars to re-entry when undocumented immigrants leave the country as part of the process to legalize their status.

Trump’s plan calls for the deportation of all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., allowing some to return to the U.S. under a more stringent legal process.  His plan would impose criminal penalties on immigrants who stay longer than their visa departure date.

Border

Trump intends to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and have Mexico pay $5-10 billion to build the wall.  Clinton, on the other hand, has called for increasing enforcement of our borders, but opposes a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Clinton and Trump clearly seem to be taking opposite roads on their quest for immigration reform.  Clinton’s immigration reform plans stress her commitment to keeping families together, giving undocumented immigrants a chance to get right with the law, and provide new pathways for immigrant integration and employment opportunities.  Trump’s immigration reform plans focus on American workers and suspending benefits and immigration options to foreign nationals.  

Regardless of where you stand on these issues, your vote will have a dramatic impact on the social, cultural, and economic future of our country.