Potential Immigration Changes in 2019

 

The Trump administration’s future immigration intentions were recently announced in their semi-annual Unified Agenda. The Unified Agenda lists possible regulations under development by federal agencies for the coming year. The announcement indicates the administration’s plans to impose tighter restrictions on employment-based immigration benefits, such as the H-1B, H-4, and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 students.

The agenda specifies the administration’s intent to make the following policy changes in connection with Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order:

  • H-1B Eligibility: Redefining what a “specialty occupation” is for H-1B visa purposes to “increase the focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest.” The proposal would also “revise the definition of employment and employer-employee relationship to better protect U.S. workers and wages.” This includes “additional requirements to ensure employers pay appropriate wages to H-1B visa holders.” The rule would also impose additional restrictions on H-1B dependent employers that rely on large H-1B workforces and those employers who have H-1B employees working off-site.

  • H-1B LotteryRevising the H-1B visa lottery system to establish an electronic pre-registration program for cap-subject H-1B applicants.

  • H-4 Work Authorization: Elimination of the regulation that allows H-4 visa holders (spouses of H-1B visa holders) to apply for work authorization. The Trump administration has already proposed a rule to remove this Obama rule which has provided work permits to thousands of H-4 spouses.

  • Fee Increases:  Increasing USCIS filing fees for employers and applicants filing for employment-based immigration benefits (including H-1B registration fees) and international students and U.S. universities.

  • Periods of Stay for F-1 Students: Limiting the maximum periods of stay for F-1 students and other nonimmigrants.

  • Adjustment of Status: Changing the process and procedures for foreign nationals to adjust from nonimmigrant status to lawful permanent resident status.

  • International Entrepreneur Rule:  Eliminating President Obama’s International Entrepreneur Rule which allowed qualifying foreign startups and entrepreneurs to apply for U.S. work authorization to grow their startup and create jobs.

These announcements do not currently modify or rescind any of the above mentioned immigration programs, and any changes to immigration policy can only be accomplished through notice and comment of proposed rulemaking in the federal register. This means that individuals and companies that may be affected by potential policy changes will have an opportunity to submit comments to the government before the policy becomes effective. 

As always, individuals and employers who may impacted by any of these potential changes should contact us with questions on how to best prepare.

Didn’t Get An H-1B Visa? Here Are Your Alternative Immigration Options.

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it reached the annual 85,000 H-1B visa cap in the first five days of April 2019.  Specifically, USCIS received 201,011 H-1B cap cases (an increase from last year), which means that once again, USCIS will conduct a computer-generated lottery in the coming weeks to determine which petitions they will process. Employers who have their petitions selected in the lottery will receive a receipt notice from USCIS, and if approved, can have their employees begin working for them in H-1B status on October 1, 2019. Petitions that are not selected in the lottery will be returned to the employers with their money back.

USCIS will continue, however, to accept H-1B petitions year-round from employers who are exempt from the H-1B cap (such as universities, nonprofits affiliated with institutions of higher education, or nonprofit research organizations), as well as petitions to extend the status of those currently in H-1B status or for those in H-1B status seeking to change employers.

While no more new H-1B visas will be available for employers and foreign nationals seeking to apply in 2019, many candidates may be eligible for other alternative visa options. The following visa categories are available throughout the year, without numerical caps, for qualifying foreign nationals:

  • L-1 Visa: For intracompany transferees who have worked for a foreign entity for one year and are 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. The E-1/E-2 visa is a great option for foreign entrepreneurs seeking to work in an essential capacity for their U.S. entity.

  • O-1 Visa: For foreign nationals of extraordinary ability who have achieved national and international recognition for extraordinary achievements in their field of endeavor.

  • TN Visa: For Canadian and Mexican citizens employed in certain professional categories seeking to engage in U.S. employment. Examples of qualifying TN professional occupations include, but are not limited to Engineer, Accountant, Architect, Computer Systems Analyst, Geologist, Geophysicist, Graphic Designer, Management Consultant, Scientific Technician, Engineering Technicians, and many occupations in the medical and allied health field.

  • 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. (similar requirements to the H-1B visa).

Watch our immigration videos for additional information on these visas and to learn more about the eligibility requirements. As always, if you have questions about the H-1B visa cap or any of these work visa options, please contact our office.

A Guide For Winning The H-1B Visa Lottery

Starting April 1, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting this year’s H-1B visa petitions. 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.  Even though the H-1B lottery selection process will change this year, based on the number of petitions received in the first few days of April last year (over 190,000) and the previous year (over 199,000), combined with the current market demand for high-skilled labor and reports of possible changes to visa programs in the future, many our anticipating that USCIS will receive over 200,000 H-1B petitions in the first few days of this April. 

Accordingly, time is running out for employers to timely prepare their H-1B petitions for submission to play in this H-1B lottery on April 1st. 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. 

In spite of recent reports of proposed changes to the H-1B work visa program by the Trump administration, the H-1B filing process and procedures will remain largely the same as it has in previous years. Nevertheless, as indicated by the massive increase of Requests for Evidence (RFE) and denials of H-1B petitions issued by USCIS over the past year, employers and foreign nationals should be prepared to evidence the following, in order to increase their chances of getting their visa petitions approved:

  1. Document the specific scope and educational requirements for the position to show that the position is one which requires a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum to enter the occupation.

  2. Review the prevailing wage rates for the occupation through the Department of Labor’s Wage Surveys to determine whether the wage level is appropriate for the professional position you are hiring for.

  3. Document the nexus between the foreign national’s degree and the occupation they will be hired for.

Needless to say, the H-1B visa petition can be a technical and cumbersome application to file.  Working with qualified counsel will help to ensure technical mistakes are avoided and that a comprehensive petition will have the best chance at winning in the H-1B visa lottery.  If you have any questions about the H-1B visa process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

H-1B Visa Lottery Changes & The Return of Premium Processing

In follow up to last month’s announcement of proposed changes to the H-1B visa selection process by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security has finalized its rule reversing the order in which USCIS will select H-1B cap-subject petitions in the H-1B visa lottery. 

While the H-1B cap will remain at 85,000, this new regulation will reverse the lottery order in which USCIS selects H-1B petitions for adjudication, in order to increase the amount of H-1B visas awarded to foreign nationals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher.  Under the previous lottery system, USCIS would first conduct a lottery for 20,000 H-1B visas for individuals with a U.S. master’s degrees and higher (the “advanced degree cap”), and then those individuals with advanced degrees who were not selected in that lottery were added to the pool of 65,000 H-1B visas (the “regular cap”), for another chance to be selected with individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree.  In accordance with this new rule, USCIS will now conduct the regular cap lottery first and include all advanced degree holders.  Those with advanced degrees not selected in the“regular cap” will thereafter be placed in a second lottery (the “advanced degree cap”), if there are enough advanced degree holders to meet the advanced-degree lottery.

In accordance with the Trump administration’s previous announcements for employment-immigration reforms, USCIS believes this change to the lottery system will increase the chances of H-1B visas being awarded to individuals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher.   

While USCIS announced that this change to the H-1B visa selection process will be implemented for this year’s H-1B visa lottery, USCIS will be postponing its proposed mandatory online registration for U.S. employer’s filing H-1B petitions.  As such, employers and foreign nationals should be preparing their H-1B visa petitions NOW (as they have done in previous years) in order to timely have those petitions filed on April 1st.

Additionally, USCIS announced this week they have resumed “premium processing” for all H-1B visa petitions that remain pending from the April 2018 lottery.  USCIS had temporarily suspended premium processing for most H-1B petitions last year, but has removed the suspension, as of now, for only H-1B visa petitions that remain pending from the April 2018 lottery.  While premium processing is still currently unavailable for H-1B transfers, amendments, and extensions with different employers, we may see premium processing for these cases resume around February 19th.

Employers seeking to hire foreign national employees this year should assess their upcoming workforce needs and identify those who will require H-1B visa sponsorship NOW. 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 1st may jeopardize your chance at securing an H-1B visa for your employee. After the 2019 H-1B visas are gone, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2020 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.

Temporary Suspension & Increased Costs for "Premium Processing"​ of Visas

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced two major changes to their "premium processing" programs, which allows employers and foreign nationals to pay an optional USCIS filing fee to guarantee a response on their petition within 15 days.  The first announcement is an increase in the premium processing fee.  Beginning October 1, 2018 the premium processing fee will increase from $1,225 to $1,410.  

USCIS' second announcement is an extension of their ongoing suspension of “premium processing” for most H-1B visa petitions until February 19, 2019.  USCIS had previously announced that they were temporarily suspending premium processing for new, cap-subject H-1B visa petitions until September 10, 2018.  This new announcement, however, extends the previously annouced temporary suspension through February 19, 2019.  Additionally, beginning September 11, 2019, USCIS will also stop accepting premium processing for any H-1B petition seeking new employment, transfer (i.e. “change of employer”), or amendment which are filed with either the Vermont or California Service Centers until February 19, 2019.

USCIS will, however, continue to accept premium processing for H-1B petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer,” and premium processing for H-1B cap-exempt petitions (such as university, nonprofit research institutions, government research organizations) which are filed only with the California Service Center.

While this temporary suspension of premium processing now impacts most H-1B petitions, it does not affect premium processing for other nonimmigrant visa petitions (including L-1, O-1, TN, and others).  Additionally, USCIS will continue to accept premium processing for H-1B petitions filed prior to September 11, 2018 (when the suspension goes into effect).

This announcement is likely to have a major impact on U.S. employers, international students, and most immigrants seeking U.S. work visas.  First, this news likely means that USCIS processing times for all USCIS filings may increase, causing delays in visa issuance.  Even though, in cases of an H-1B transfer, an H-1B employee can begin working with a new employer upon the filing of the transfer with USCIS, many H-1B employees prefer to wait until they actually receive their H-1B transfer approval notice from USCIS before starting employment with a new employer.  As a result, this may cause delays for employers seeking to onboard new employees.

Additionally, international students currently availing H-1B “cap gap” extensions of their OPT and still awaiting USCIS approval of their cap-subject H-1B petition will need to be mindful of their authorized stay in light of USCIS’ recent unlawful presence memorandum for foreign students.  

In light of this news, H-1B employers and foreign nationals seeking to file any H-1B petitions should plan accordingly.  For assistance in preparing for these or delays, please feel free to contact us.

USCIS Policy Change Regarding Deportation Proceedings for Visa Applicants

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced a sweeping new policy, effective immediately, that instructs USCIS officers to initiate removal (deportation) proceedings if, upon denial of an application or petition, an individual is unlawfully present in the United States. This new policy requires USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) – a document issued to a foreign national instructing them to appear before an immigration judge for removal proceedings – in the following circumstances:

  • Where fraud or misrepresentation are substantiated or where an applicant abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits;
  • Criminal cases where an applicant is convicted of or charged with a criminal offense, or has committed acts that are chargeable as a criminal offense, even if the criminal conduct was not the basis for the denial or the ground of removability;
  • Where USCIS denies an Application for Naturalization on good moral character grounds because of a criminal offense;
  • Upon the denial of an application or petition, when an applicant is unlawfully present in the U.S.

This new policy is expected to dramatically impact a wide range of foreign workers, students, and U.S. employers. While historically NTAs have rarely been issued to employment-based visa applicant’s after the denial of an application, this policy shift appears to fall in line with President Trump’s executive orders focused on immigration enforcement and prosecution

Examples of employer-sponsored foreign nationals who may now be subject to removal proceedings include:

  • Individuals who have their application to extend or change to H-1B, L-1, or other nonimmigrant visa status denied, and whose visa status has expired while waiting for USCIS to adjudicate their application.
  • Individuals who have their application to change employers denied, and whose visa status has expired while waiting for USCIS to adjudicate their application.
  • Students who have their applications to extend their F-1 status or applications to change status to H-1B denied, and who have now fallen out of status under their student visa.
  • Individuals who have their application for either employment-based or family-based adjustment of status to permanent residence denied, and who now no longer have any nonimmigrant status.

While it is not clear how USCIS will implement these new guidelines, this change will nevertheless likely affect the lives of many individuals who have lived and worked in the U.S. lawfully for years. Foreign nationals that receive an NTA are advised to speak to qualified counsel to handle this sensitive matter. For questions on this or any immigration matter, please feel free to contact me.

Winning The H-1B Visa Lottery

Starting April 2, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2019. 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 April last year (over 199,000) and the previous year (over 236,000), combined with the current market demand for high-skilled labor and reports of possible changes to visa programs in the future, many our anticipating that USCIS will receive over 200,000 H-1B petitions in the first few days of this April. 

Accordingly, time is running out for employers to timely prepare their H-1B petitions for submission to play in this H-1B lottery on April 2nd. 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. 

In light of recent reports of proposed changes to the H-1B work visa program by the Trump administration, USCIS has confirmed that it intends for the H-1B filing process and procedures to remain the same as it has in previous years.  Nevertheless, as indicated by the massive increase of Requests for Evidence (RFE) and denials of H-1B petitions issued by USCIS over the past year, employers and foreign nationals should be prepared to evidence the following, in order to increase their chances of getting their visa petitions approved:

  1. Document the specific scope and educational requirements for the position to show that the position is one which requires a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum to enter the occupation.
  2. Review the prevailing wage rates for the occupation through the Department of Labor’s Wage Surveys to determine whether the wage level is appropriate for the professional position you are hiring for.
  3. Document the nexus between the foreign national’s degree and the occupation they will be hired for.

WATCH my conversation on how to overcome issues with H-1B RFEs

Needless to say, the H-1B visa petition can be a technical and cumbersome application to file.  Working with qualified counsel will help to ensure technical mistakes are avoided and that a comprehensive petition will have the best chance at winning in the H-1B visa lottery.  If you have any questions about the H-1B visa process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

H-1B Visa Season Starts NOW

In light of recent reports of proposed changes to the H-1B work visa program by the Trump administration, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has confirmed several important details about the upcoming H-1B visa filing season, which will commence on April 2, 2018. Most importantly, USCIS intends for the H-1B filing process and procedures to remain the same as it has in previous years. This is to say that there will be no "preregistration system" and if the petitions received by USCIS exceed the 85,000 numerical cap, a lottery will be used to select the petitions for processing. USCIS also hinted that they may impose a "short" suspension of "premium processing" for H-1B cap petitions (but not non-cap H-1B petitions), as they did last year.

Demand by U.S. employers for H-1B visas on behalf of “highly-skilled” foreign employees was, once again, at high 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 2, 2018. Due to prerequisite filing steps which must be completed before the H-1B petition can be submitted to USCIS, however, employers should begin preparing their petitions now to ensure they are ready to submit on April 2nd.

Despite rumors of potential changes to the H-1B visa program, the H-1B filing process and procedures will remain the same as they did in previous years.  Therefore, 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 2nd may jeopardize your chance at securing an H-1B visa for your employee. After the 2018 H-1B visas are gone, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2019 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.

Potential Changes to High-Skilled Immigration Programs in 2018

The Trump administration’s future immigration intentions were recently announced in their semi-annual Unified Agenda. The Unified Agenda lists possible regulations under development by federal agencies for the coming year. The announcement indicates the administration’s plans to undo Obama administration immigration benefits and impose tighter restrictions on nonimmigrant visa categories, such as the H-1B, H-4, and Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 students.

The agenda specifies the administration’s intent to make the following policy changes in connection with Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order:

  • H-1B Eligibility: Redefining what a “speciality occupation” is for H-1B visa purposes to “increase the focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest.” The proposal would also “revise the definition of employment and employer-employee relationship to better protect U.S. workers and wages.” This includes “additional requirements to ensure employers pay appropriate wages to H-1B visa holders.” The rule would also impose additional restrictions on H-1B dependent employers that rely on large H-1B workforces and those employers who have H-1B employees working off-site.
  • H-1B Lottery: Revising the H-1B visa lottery system to establish an electronic pre-registration program for cap-subject H-1B applicants, and tweaking the electronic lottery selection process to award visas to the “most skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”  
  • H-4 Work Authorization: Elimination of the regulation that allow H-4 visa holders (spouses of H-1B visa holders) to apply for work authorization. The Trump administration has previously indicated its intent to remove this Obama rule which has provided work permits to thousands of H-4 spouses.
  • OPT for F-1 Students: Reforming the OPT program for foreign students (which allows international students to work in the U.S.) in order to reduce fraud and improve protections for U.S. workers who may be impacted by employment of foreign students. Plans include limiting student work opportunities and terminating Obama’s STEM-OPT extension rule, which provides extended work authorization for foreign students with U.S. STEM degrees, from 17 months to 24 months.  

These announcements do not currently modify or rescind any of the above mentioned immigration programs, and any changes to immigration policy can only be accomplished through notice and comment of proposed rulemaking in the federal register. This means that individuals and companies that may be affected by potential policy changes will have an opportunity to submit comments to the government before the policy becomes effective. The notice/comment process can typically take in excess of 6 months, which means the administration may not have enough time to enact changes to the H-1B visa program in time for this year’s filing season (which begins on April 2, 2018). 

As always, individuals and employers who may impacted by any of these potential changes should contact us with questions on how to best prepare.

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.  

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.

 

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.

 

Understanding the New STEM OPT Regulations for Students & Employers

Beginning today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) will be expanding Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) extensions for students on F-1 visas enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”) degree programs. The new regulations authorize OPT for up to 36 months for F-1 students with a qualifying U.S. STEM degree.  Meaning, F-1 STEM degree students will now be eligible for 12 months of initial OPT plus an additional 24-month extension of OPT.  This new rule does not apply to the standard 12-month OPT program, which will remain the same. 

Under the new regulations, certain students will qualify for the OPT extension based on a prior eligible STEM degree obtained in the U.S., and F-1 students who enroll in a new STEM academic program and earn a qualifying advanced STEM degree will be able to apply for one additional extension. The rule also adds fields of study that qualify for a STEM extension (click here for the list). 

STEM OPT Extension Eligibility

The new rules will not apply to STEM OPT extension applications that were filed and approved before May 10th (i.e. they will be evaluated with the old STEM OPT extension rules and will be issued only a 17-month extension).  If, however, a STEM OPT extension application was filed prior to May 10th and remains pending on May 10th, DHS will send a request for evidence ("RFE") to the applicant to see if they meet the requirements for the new 24-month extension.  F-1 students who already have a 17-month OPT may be eligible to apply for an additional 7 months of STEM OPT, provided they meet the following requirements:

  • The F-1 student's STEM degree meets the new requirements of the regulation;
  • The F-1 student has at least 150 days remaining on the 17-month STEM OPT Employment Authorization Document ("EAD") on the day USCIS received the petition;
  • The employer and the F-1 student comply with the new STEM OPT extension rules (see below);
  • The F-1 student files for a 7 month extension on Form I-765 between May 10, 2016 and August 8 2016.  (Application for a 7 month extension will not be accepted after August 8, 2016).    

New Employer Obligations

Along with this good news, there are, however, new reporting requirements and obligations for students, designated school officers ("DSO"), and employers.  Under the new rule, students and their employers seeking STEM OPT extensions must now work together to draft the new Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, in which the employer must attest: they have sufficient resources and personnel available and are prepared to provide appropriate training in connection with the specified opportunity; the student on a STEM OPT extension will not replace a full or part-time, temporary, or permanent U.S. worker; and the student’s opportunity assists the student in reaching his or her training goals.  Employers must also ensure that the F-1 student's compensation and other working conditions are commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. employees.

Employers may now also be subject to compliance inspections conducted by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and will be required to notify the DSO within 5 business days if the student ceases employment.   Students will be required to submit annual self-evaluations to the DSO and confirm the validity of the information provided in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) every six months.

Employment & Unemployment During STEM OPT

OPT employment during the 24 month period is limited to certain employer and employment opportunities.  The STEM OPT employer must have a Federal Employment Identification Number (FEIN) and must be enrolled in and using E-Verify, hiring the student in an employer-employee relationship (i.e. a staffing agency, labor-for-hire, or volunteer opportunities will not qualify).  The employment opportunity must be directly related to the student's qualifying STEM degree and the student may not work concurrently for multiple employers during the STEM OPT period.

Students who obtain the 24-month STEM extension may be unemployed for up to 90 days during the initial 12-month OPT period, and an additional 60 days during the 24-month extension. 

As the new rules roll out, we will continue to keep you informed about any issues with the program.  As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Possible Expansion of Program to Hire Foreign Students

The number of international students in the U.S. hit a record high in 2014, with more than 880,000 students.  The stakes are therefore high for international college students who are concerned about choosing their majors and finding jobs for after graduation.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aware of this issue and has proposed a new regulation which would allow F-1 nonimmigrant student visa holders science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees from U.S. universities to extend their initial 12 month optional practical training (OPT) period by 24 months.  The proposed rule would increase the current STEM OPT extension from 17 months to 24 months (for a total of up to 36 months).

Like the current STEM OPT extension regulation, the proposed rule would only allow STEM OPT extensions for students employed by employers enrolled in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.

Under the proposed rule, “cap-gap” relief will still be available so as to allow students to automatically extend their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1st, if they timely file an H-1B petition.  Additionally, the proposed regulations seeks to clarify the STEM field to studies in mathematics, natural sciences (including physical sciences and biological/agriculture sciences), engineering or engineering technologies, and computer/information sciences and related fields, in order to address current STEM needs in the U.S. economy while balancing the potential for future changes.

There will be a 30-day comment period, which will end on November 18th, at which point DHS will be required to review and consider all comments prior to implementing the final regulation.  If approved, this new regulation would allow certain students already working under the STEM extension to request the additional time that would be allowed under the new rule.   U.S. employers and foreign STEM graduates should continue to monitor this situation as it continues to evolve.