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.

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.

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.

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.

What DACA Recipients & Employers Need to Know About The End of DACA

President Trump has announced his plans to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides “temporary relief from deportation” and work authorization for certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. when they were minors. There are over 800,000 DACA beneficiaries across the country, the majority of whom are legally employed by U.S. employers.

As of September 6, 2017, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) will no longer be accepting new DACA applications, however, current DACA recipients will be permitted to retain both the period of deferred action and their employment authorization until they expire. Individuals who currently have an initial DACA request pending with USCIS will have their cases adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. Those individuals with their deferred action expiring before March 5, 2018 must apply to renew their DACA (for a two-year period) before October 5, 2017. After March 6, 2018 no more DACA renewal applications will be accepted by USCIS.

WORK AUTHORIZATION

Through the DACA program, beneficiaries receive Employment Authorization Documents (also known as “work permits” or “EAD” cards) which provide lawful work authorization with U.S. employers. These cards are issued for limited periods of time and have expiration dates. Despite this new policy which will terminate the ability to renew EAD cards, current valid EAD cards will continue to provide lawful work authorization for those beneficiaries, until the EAD expires. This means DACA beneficiaries are allowed to legally continue working for U.S. employers with their EAD card until the expiration date on the card. While employers may not be aware of their employees who are on DACA until it comes time to reverify an employee’s work authorization in the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification process, employers are not legally obligated to terminate an employee until after their EAD card has expired. 

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS, DRIVER’S LICENSES, AND ADVANCE PAROLE CARDS

Social security numbers for DACA recipients will remain valid and can continue to be used for banking, education, housing, and other reasons. Driver’s licenses should also remain valid until the expiration date of the card (but double check with your State’s motor vehicle department to confirm). While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated they will still honor valid Advance Parole documents, which provide immigration officers with discretionary authority to permit an individual to return to the U.S. after foreign travel, DACA beneficiaries are advised not to travel internationally, due to the risk of being denied re-entry into the U.S. upon return.

IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT

Information which DACA recipients provided to DHS in their DACA applications will not be proactively provided to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), or shared with other law enforcement entities for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings, unless an individual poses a risk to national security or public safety. ICE has said that it has no plans to target DACA holders as their permits expire and that they will continue to remain low enforcement priorities. 

OTHER IMMIGRATION OPTIONS

DACA recipients may be eligible for other immigration relief either through family or employment. Employers with overseas offices may be able to employ affected individuals abroad. DACA recipients may be able to obtain work authorization and/or lawful residence in another country and may even be able to do so from within in the United States. 

Individuals and employers should contact qualified legal counsel to understand their options. As always, we will continue to monitor this recent DACA update and continue to provide additional analysis as information continues to become available. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Immigration Guidance for Trump's Executive Orders

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes A Great Immigration Attorney?

I recently shared why I think immigration is important to the strength of the United States, which got me thinking about how I measure myself, as an immigration attorney, to make sure I’m doing right by the people I represent and who need my help. 

While most people might take to Consumer Reports when buying a car or CNET when buying new electronics, there unfortunately isn’t an easy and reliable resource for finding the “right attorney” for your needs, especially when it comes to finding the right immigration attorney who can help you navigate the complex U.S. immigration system.  Most U.S. companies and foreign nationals know that U.S. immigration laws are strict and that failure to have your petition or application approved the first time can lead to future complications in trying to work and live in the U.S.  I’m therefore often asked, what makes me the right attorney for helping foreign individuals obtain their desired immigration goals.

While there are many factors to consider when choosing any professional to work with, I believe that choosing the right immigration attorney comes down to three things: (1) does the attorney communicate with you in a way in which you fully understand what is going on; (2) does the attorney manage your expectations; and (3) does the attorney treat you with respect and try to understand you?

Communication

The number one complaint against attorneys is not that they did a bad job, its that they failed to communicate with their client.  You’re paying a lot of money to hire a lawyer, and its your right to expect to be kept informed about your situation in a way which you fully understand what is going on at all times.  Are you able to communicate easily with your attorney?  Are you comfortable asking your attorney questions?  Do you understand the immigration process in which you are engaging in?  I am aware of the effort, time, and money my clients are investing in me to achieve their desired outcome, and I believe I owe a duty to personally take every phone call and answer every email in order to educate, inform, and communicate with them about their case.

Manage Expectations

More important than just communication is honest communication.  It is the duty of an attorney to act as a facilitator to help clients reach their goals.  Ask yourself whether the attorney has presented and educated you on all of your immigration options or whether the attorney has made you feel like you are making the most informed decision.  The relationship I have with my clients involves trust and honesty, and most importantly candor.  I provide my clients with a frank evaluation of their possible immigration options, how long processes will take, and how much everything will cost.  In some cases that may mean there are no options or the desired outcome might take longer than thought.  Each and every immigration case is different.  Knowing exactly what to expect in your case will help you plan for your future and avoid surprises.

Respect & Understanding

People are not things, and everyone has the right to be treated with dignity.  A respectful person is an attentive listener, treats others with consideration, and provides honest guidance for people to make informed decisions about their lives.  Do you feel like the attorney (assuming you’re not speaking to a secretary or paralegal) is giving you the attention you deserve?  Does the attorney truly understand what you’re telling them?  Does the attorney even want to get to know you?  By taking the time to listen to my clients, talk with them about their long term immigration goals, and give them the personalized attention they deserve, they feel respected, that their priorities are understood, and that we will be able, together, to achieve their desired goals. 

Finding the right attorney is more of an art than a science.  Follow your instincts and feelings.  My clients have ranged from large businesses to small start-ups to individual entrepreneurs and families.  In each case, I realize that these are real people facing real immigration issues.  Choose an immigration attorney who truly understands the impact of your situation and will give you the respect, understanding, and attention your case deserves.