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.

Registration Information for Diversity Green Card Lottery

The annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, which makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas ("green cards") to natives of countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the U.S., is now open for online registration until November 6, 2018.  The Diversity Lottery is FREE and applications must be filed online through the official Department of State Diversity Lottery website.  Please visit the State Department Diversity Immigrant visa information site for eligibility information and to apply.  

Only applicants from certain eligible countries can apply in the Diversity Lottery, and must meet certain educational or work requirements (i.e. having a high school education or having worked in 2 of the last 5 years in a qualifying occupation).  

Lottery winners will be selected at random next year and can check whether they have been selected starting May 1, 2019.

New Immigration Policy to Deny Cases Without Issuing RFE or NOID

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released a new policy that gives immigration adjudicators discretion to deny any and all visa applications or petitions without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) in cases where initial evidence is missing or does not establish eligibility. This new guidance, which becomes effective September 11, 2018, replaces a prior policy which instructed adjudicators to request additional evidence in a case, unless there was no possible way that additional evidence could fix a deficiency in the case.

The intent of this guidance is to provide immigration officers with more discretion to deny a visa application without requesting further information first. This policy has even greater implications in light of USCIS’ other recent announcement instructing officers to initiate removal (deportation) proceedings if, upon denial of an application or petition an individual is unlawfully present in the United States. 

As USCIS continues to shift away from a focus on immigration benefits to a focus on immigration enforcement and stricter standards for approval of visa petitions, employers and foreign nationals should consider the following strategies to avoid consequences imposed by these new rules:

  • Take all precautions to ensure visa petitions and applications are filed with the requisite documentation and evidence. This includes overdocumenting how the employer and employee meet all of the visa eligibility requirements.
  • Applications to extend nonimmigrant visa status (including H-1B, L-1, O-1, and others) should be filed as early as possible (up to 6 months before expiration) to avoid any lapses in nonimmigrant status.
  • Employer’s should continue to extend the nonimmigrant status of their foreign national employees until their applications for lawful permanent residence are approved, in order to avoid situations where the employee is in unlawful presence and could be deported.
  • Employer’s should consider utilizing USCIS’s “premium processing” program when filing “change of employer” visa petitions to quickly obtain work authorization for a candidate and not have a candidate risk changing employers without an approval.

These new USCIS policies reinforce the importance of ensuring all visa petitions and applications include the required evidence to show the applicant meets the visa eligibility requirements. The chances of having a family or employment-based visa petition or application denied are significantly reduced when working with qualified immigration counsel to prepare a comprehensive application.

For more information or advice on how to navigate these or any other immigration policy changes, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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.

Diversity Visa Green Card Lottery Is Accepting Applications

The annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, which makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas ("green cards") to natives of countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the U.S., is now open for online registration until November 7, 2017.  The Diversity Lottery is FREE and applications must be filed online through the official Department of State Diversity Lottery website.  Please visit the State Department Diversity Immigrant visa information site for eligibility information and to apply.  

Only applicants from certain eligible countries can apply in the Diversity Lottery, and must meet certain educational or work requirements (i.e. having a high school education or having worked in 2 of the last 5 years in a qualifying occupation).  

Lottery winners will be selected at random next year and can check whether they have been selected starting May 1, 2018.

Guidance for Trump's New Travel Ban

President Trump has rolled out a new travel ban, after the previous 90-day travel ban expired yesterday.  This new policy continues the existing travel restrictions to the U.S. for most citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, and now adds the countries of Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.  The new restrictions range from full travel bans on nationals from countries like Syria, Chad, and North Korea to more targeted restrictions for Venezuela, Iran, Libya, and Yemen.  For example, the suspension of nonimmigrant visas to citizens for Venezuela, applies only to senior government officials and their immediate families.  Iranian nationals will only be allowed to enter the U.S. using valid student and exchange visitor visas, but such visitors will have to undergo "enhanced screening and vetting requirements."

These news restrictions, which will take effect on October 18, 2017 and will be in place for an indefinite period of time.  The order does not apply to lawful permanent residents, existing visa-holders, or foreign nationals currently within the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security may also grant waivers on a case-by-case basis for students and workers with significant U.S. ties who happened to be outside the country when the order was enacted, among others.

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 countries listed in this new travel ban, do not travel out of the U.S.  The Executive Order does not apply to you if you merely visited one of these countries.
  2. If you have a non-immigrant visa 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.
  3. Consideration should be given to accelerating any immigration planning (i.e. extensions of status, green card processing, etc.) in order to take advantage of the existing laws and regulations. It is possible that these policies may continue to become more restrictive.

As evidenced by the prior travel bans, the current administration is intent on restricting travel to the U.S..  Once again, I sympathize with the fear and uncertainty many 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.

New Immigration Interviews for Employment-Based Green Cards

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that beginning October 1st in-person interviews will be required for individuals seeking to adjust from an employment-based nonimmigrant status (i.e. H-1B, L-1, O-1, etc.) to lawful permanent residence (or “green card”) status in the United States.  Interviews will also be required for family members of refugees or asylees who are seeking to join a principal asylee/refugee applicant.  While current policy generally waives interviews for employment-based adjustment of status applications, the new change is part of President Trump’s “extreme vetting” immigration policies.  

According to the USCIS announcement, immigration officers will interview employment-based green card candidates to verify the information provided in their I-140 applications and/or to discover new information and assess the credibility of the applicant in the interview.  In cases where an applicant may have ported his/her employment to a new employer, an immigration officer may seek to confirm whether the new employment is in the same or similar occupational category.

Employers and applicants should prepare for substantial delays in the adjudication of I-485 Applications to Adjust Status as local USCIS offices brace for the surge of now mandatory interviews.  Moreover, employers and applicants may soon see an increase in the costs associated with the permanent residency process, either in the form of increased application fees to cover the costs of hiring more USCIS officers to handle interviews, or through increased legal fees or employees needing to take leaves of absences to handle immigration processing issues.  

Applicants with pending I-485 or I-730 applications should anticipate being called into a local USCIS office for an in-person interview.  Applicants should be prepared in the interview to discuss the immigration benefit they are applying for and should have a complete understanding of the application that was filed on their behalf.  Employment-based green card applicants should be able to discuss the position they are working in, including where they work, what their pay is, and what their specific job duties are.  Family members of refugees/asylees should be prepared to prove their family relationship.  

This new change to the permanent residency process is expected to be onerous.  Employers and applicants should work closely with counsel to prepare for this interview process.  Our office will continue to monitor the rollout of this new policy.  For questions or help in preparing for these interviews, please contact us.

Diversity Visa Winners Annouced

The 2018 USA Diversity Visa Lottery winners have been announced. If you applied, confirm if you've won a "green card" and lawful permanent residence at dvlottery.state.gov.  You will need your entry confirmation number, last name, and year of your birth to check the results.

If you are selected in the lottery, you will be given instructions in Entrant Status Check about how to apply for your immigrant visa for yourself and family members.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program provides U.S. lawful permanent residence to 50,000 individuals each year from countries with historically low levels of immigration to the U.S.  Applications for the 2018 fiscal year were open from October 1 - November 3, 2016.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Diversity Visa (Green Card) Lottery is Open

The annual Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, which makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas ("green cards") to natives of countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the U.S., is now open for online registration until November 7, 2016.  The Diversity Lottery is FREE and applications must be filed online through the official Department of State Diversity Lottery website.  Please visit the State Department Diversity Immigrant visa information site for eligibility information and to apply.  

Only applicants from certain eligible countries can apply in the Diversity Lottery, and must meet certain educational or work requirements (i.e. having a high school education or having worked in 2 of the last 5 years in a qualifying occupation).  

Lottery winners will be selected at random next year and can check whether they have been selected starting May 2, 2017.

Diversity Visa Lottery Winners Announced

The 2017 USA Diversity Visa Lottery winners have been announced. If you applied, confirm if you've won a "green card" and lawful permanent residence at dvlottery.state.gov.  You will need your entry confirmation number, last name, and year of your birth to check the results.

If you are selected in the lottery, you will be given instructions in Entrant Status Check about how to apply for your immigrant visa for yourself and family members.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program provides U.S. lawful permanent residence to 50,000 individuals each year from countries with historically low levels of immigration to the U.S.  Applications for the 2017 fiscal year were open from October 1 - November 3, 2015.

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.