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.

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.

H-1B Visa Cap Met. What 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 2018.  Specifically, USCIS received 190,098 H-1B cap cases (a 4% drop 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, 2018. 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 2018, 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.

Visa Extensions Will Face Higher Scrutiny

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has annouced updated policy guidance, which now instructs immigration officers to apply the same level of scrutiny to both initial visa petitions and visa extension petitions in certain nonimmigrant categories, including the H-1B visa.  This new policy rescinds the current practice which instructs officers to give “deference” to the findings of a prior approved visa petition when adjudicating petition extensions (i.e. visa renewals), as long as the key elements were unchanged and there was no evidence of a material error or fraud related to the prior determination.

This new policy will impact all employers who are seeking to file an extension of a nonimmigrant visa for any of their international employees.  In particular, those individuals who may currently be on an H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, O-1, E-3, or other nonimmigrant visa will likely face increased scrutiny in the adjudication of their petition to extend/renew their visa.  Based on this new USCIS guidance, employers should prepare to demonstrate and document each and every eligibility criteria for a particular visa, as if they are filing a new petition.  This new policy, along with the recent announcement requiring in-person interviews for individuals seeking employment-based green cards, may also continue to lead to delays in visa processing.

This change, once again, appears to fall in line with President Trump’s “extreme vetting” immigration plans.  Nevertheless, it should always be the practice of a qualified immigration attorney to file all visa petitions (including visa extensions) as a standalone petition, evidencing how the Beneficiary and Petitioner meet the eligibility criteria for the visa.  Even more so now that USCIS may use this policy to essentially re-adjudicate the initial visa petition when adjudicating visa extension petitions.  Employers and applicants should therefore work closely with counsel to provide substantial documentation of compliance with the current terms of employment (i.e. worksite information, salary, job duties, etc.), along with evidence of maintenance of immigration status and the job that will be performed during the requested visa extension time period.   Our office will continue to monitor the rollout of this new policy. For questions or help in preparing your visa extension petition, please contact us.

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.

Alternative Work Visas to the H-1B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

H-1B Visa Cap Closed. Alternative Work Visas Available.

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

USCIS will therefore conduct a computer-generated random lottery of those H-1B petitions received between April 1 - April 7, 2016 to determine which petitions will be selected for processing.  If selected and approved in this lottery beneficiaries may begin working in H-1B status for their employers starting October 1, 2016.  Petitions not selected in the lottery will be returned to employers along with the filing fees.

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

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

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

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

Immigration Update

This week has seen the announcement of some potential changes to U.S. immigration laws affecting the Visa Waiver Program, EB-5 Visas, increases in H-1B and L-1 filing fees, and expansion of Optional Practical Training. Check out all the recent immigration news and updates, along with some helpful holiday immigration tips in our final Newsletter of 2015.  Sign up for our immigration newsletter to keep up to date on all the latest immigration news.

We wish you a happy holidays and healthy new year!

Visa Options For Foreign Entrepreneurs & Investors

International entrepreneurs have a variety of immigration options available to them to establish startup companies in the U.S.  While there is not yet a specific U.S. entrepreneur visa available, there are a number of visa options which allow entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in the U.S.   This article will focus on a few (but not all) of the main visa options available to individuals to begin working for a startup in the U.S.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa

Generally, the L-1 visa is available to executives and managers, working for a company abroad, that will open a new branch, affiliate, or subsidiary U.S. company.  The foreign worker to be transferred to the U.S. must have spent at least one continuous year out of the preceding three years working for the affiliated foreign company; obtain a physical premises for the new U.S. office; and within one year the U.S. enterprise should be able to support an executive or managerial position.  L-1 status is granted for a one year period, after which the company must demonstrate that it is doing business in order for the petition and worker’s stay to be extended beyond one year.  Extensions are available up to a maximum time in the U.S. of 7 years in L-1 status.

E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

This visa option is for business owners that wish to start a company in the U.S. and who want to actively manage and direct the operations of the business in the U.S..  In order to qualify for an E-2 Visa, you must either start or buy a business that you plan to run, and you must invest a certain amount of money in the business.  The actual investment amount depends on the type of business you start.  Additionally, the investment must create jobs (no specific number of jobs) for more than just you and/or your family.  Finally, you must be a foreign national from one of the treaty countries (see list) (note that India and China are not on this list).

O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa

This visa option is available to entrepreneurs with extraordinary talents in the sciences, arts, education, or business.  Generally, an entrepreneur able to demonstrate that (1) there are published articles about their business/skills in major media; (2) they will receive a high salary evidenced by contracts; and (3) they will be employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations with distinguished reputations, may be able to obtain this visa to work for their own start-up company.  The full list of qualifications to be proved can be seen here.  This visa is available for 3 years initially with one year extensions thereafter.  

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa 

The EB-5 immigrant visa is the only option that provides a “green card” (i.e. U.S. permanent residency) directly.  The EB-5 visa is a great visa option if you have a large amount of capital (either $500,000 or $1,000,000) that you would like to invest in a new commercial enterprise.  Generally, to get an EB-5 visa you must: (1) invest or be actively in the process of investing either $1,000,000 USD in a commercial enterprise or $500,000 USD in a targeted employment area (an area that has experienced unemployment of at least 150% of national average rate or a rural area); (2) show that the funds come from a legitimate source; (3) prove the entire amount of the investment is active or at risk (this means that you cannot just be thinking about buying a business and you have to actually put capital up that could be lost); (4) make the investment in a “new” or “existing business enterprise” (this allows you to create your own business or buy one); and (5) demonstrate that the investment directly or indirectly results in the creation of 10 full time jobs.

As the U.S. realizes the need to enhance the immigration options for entrepreneurs and investors, there continues to be debate centered around options for investors and entrepreneurs.  To learn more, please contact our office and visit USCIS website on entrepreneur pathways.