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.

USCIS Announces New Visa Bulletin System for Employment-Based and Family-Sponsored Permanent Residence

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) have announced that beginning with the October 1, 2015 Visa Bulletin, USCIS will be following a new system for determining immigrant visa availability for applicants waiting to file for employment-based or family-sponsored permanent residence.  This new system will allow eligible foreign nationals to file an application for adjustment of status to permanent residence before an immigrant visa becomes available to them; however, the application for adjustment of status still cannot be approved until an immigrant visa becomes available (i.e. the "priority date" becomes current).

Previously, in order for foreign nationals to apply for adjustment of status to permanent residence, individuals would have to wait until their priority date was listed as current in the monthly Visa Bulletin, which for most employment-based applicants would be the filing date of their PERM labor certification application.  That date would be considered current if it was prior to the cut-off date listed in the monthly Visa Bulletin for the individuals country of chargeability and employment-based preference category.

Under this new system, USCIS will begin accepting applications to adjust status to permanent resident according to a new Visa Bulletin filing date chart, which will establish two separate cut-off dates: 

  • “Application Final Action Dates” (the date when visas may finally be issued); and 
  • “Dates for Filing Applications” (the earliest date when an applicant may be able to apply).

Foreign nationals with qualifying priority dates according to the “Dates for Filing Applications” chart will be able to file their applications to adjust to permanent resident status.  While the foreign national will not yet be eligible to receive permanent residence until an immigrant visa becomes available according to the “Application Final Actions Dates” chart, this new ability to actually file the adjustment application will allow qualifying individuals and their dependents to be eligible to apply for employment authorization (EAD card) and travel documents (Advance Parole), while waiting for their “Application Final Actions Date” to become current.  Additionally, certain individuals may be eligible for I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition “portability” once their adjustment of status application has been pending for more than 6 months, which will provide many individuals with greater employment mobility.  

While the adjudication of all I-485 applications to adjust status will still be subject to the same per-country and per-category quotas, and respective visa backlogs (especially for immigrants from India and China waiting under the employment-based categories), this new policy will provide immigrants with benefits while they wait for their immigrant visa “Application Final Actions Date.” 

This Visa Bulletin change acts upon the recent White House report on “Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century” to provide greater certainty to foreign nationals and their families seeking permanent residency.

Employment Authorization Now Available to Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses of H-1B Nonimmigrants

Effective May 26, 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. 

Eligible individuals include certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who:

  • Are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition; or 
  • Have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. The Act permits H-1B nonimmigrants seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit on their H-1B status.

Under the rule, eligible H-4 dependent spouses must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with supporting evidence and the required $380 fee in order to obtain employment authorization and receive a Form I-766, Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  USCIS will begin accepting applications on May 26, 2015.  Once USCIS approves the Form I-765 and the H-4 dependent spouse receives an EAD, he or she may begin working in the United States.

The cards will be issued within approximately 90 days of receipt of the application, so in all likelihood those who qualify will be able to get employment authorization by August 26, 2015.