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.

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.

Considerations for Applying for Naturalization

Based on the rapid changing immigration landscape many Lawful Permanent Residents (“green card” holders) are seeking to obtain the benefits of U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process.  Lawful Permanent Residents who are eligible for U.S. citizenship are afforded equal protection under U.S. laws regardless of their birth in another country.  

In order to be eligible for naturalization the applicant must:

  1. Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing;
  2. Possess Lawful Permanent Resident status (“green card”) for the last 5 years, or for the last 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen;
  3. Live in a state where you claim residence for at least 3 months prior to filing;
  4. Be physically present in the U.S. for at least half the time of the residency requirement (i.e. 30 of the last 60 months or 18 of the last 36 months if married to a U.S. citizen);
  5. Have no continuous absence of more than one year from the U.S., irrespective of the protection of a re-entry permit or SB-1 visa;
  6. Have filed U.S. income tax returns each year after becoming a lawful permanent resident;
  7. Have basic knowledge of U.S. history and government and the ability to read, write, speak, and understand basic English;
  8. Have good moral character (meaning you are not a habitual drunkard; polygamist; a person associated with prostitution, narcotics, or illegal entry of aliens; convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or of two or more non-political offenses for which the sentence imposed was 5 years or more; a gambler; committed an immigration fraud; convicted of murder or an aggravated felony; a non-support of dependents).

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.

The Reality of Trump's Proposed Immigration Policies

The dust has still not settled since Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. presidential election last week, but we are already starting to see some details regarding his campaign pledges as it pertains to immigration.  Despite there still be overwhelming uncertainty as to the specifics of his immigration policies, the general cornerstones seem to call for an increase in immigration enforcement and a decrease in the amount of immigration to the United States. That said, how realistic is Trump’s agenda?

Undocumented Immigrants

The deportation of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States is almost impossible. In fact, earlier this week Trump dialed back his campaign rhetoric to express his intention to prioritize the removal of around 2-3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records, which is a position that is actually in line with the current administration’s priorities.  

Deporting all undocumented immigrants from the U.S. will require incredible amounts of new resources and funding. While many congressional Republicans might support Trump’s policies, would they support the cost?  Politico estimates it would cost $166 billion to deport all of the undocumented immigrants in our country and complete a border wall.  (No, by the way, Trump can’t force a country to spend money on something it does not want).  The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that Trump’s immigration attrition policies could increase projected deficits by about $800 billion over the next 20 years.  By keeping immigrants in this country working, creating businesses, and making the goods and services that people want to buy we are ultimately increasing wages and employment opportunities.  Would Republicans really be so foolish as to actually spend money on large-scale nationwide attrition programs?

DACA

Trump has pledged to end President Obama’s deferred deportation program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)), which has provided “temporary relief from deportation” and work authorization to over 650,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. when they were minors.  While it is certainly possible for the next President to overturn this executive action, it remains unclear whether he would simply prevent future renewals of the U.S. employment authorization documents for DACA individuals, or whether he would cancel and revoke existing employment authorization documents for DACA recipients.  A more substantial concern, is whether DACA recipients would be more vulnerable to deportations based on the personal information they previously provided to the government as part of their application process.

Assuming, as Trump hinted earlier this week, that DACA recipients may not fall under his 2-3 million criminal aliens enforcement strategy, what economic benefit would arise from revoking the work permits of over 650,000 young immigrants who have been residents of the U.S. for decades, who are working and participating in the economy and attending college?  What might be the harm to U.S. employers lawfully employing workers with employment authorization based on DACA?  There may be severe consequences to our economy by eliminating valuable employees from our workforce, not to mention creating a humanitarian crisis by deporting these individuals.  

H-1B Visas

During Trump’s campaign he expressed a desire to make it harder for American companies to obtain employment-based visas for immigrant workers.  In particular, Trump called for policies to increase the regulatory costs for American businesses hiring skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations, particularly in the H-1B visa category.

While it is reasonable to expect that the new administration may add new statutory restrictions, institute stricter U.S. recruitment requirements, or increase USCIS filing fees, it is also possible that they may not make any changes to the existing employment-based visa program.  As U.S. businesses are increasingly in need of high-skilled labor (especially in STEM fields), what benefit would the U.S. achieve by limiting the amount of intelligent, professional-level foreign nationals into this country?

TN Visas

Canceling the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) treaty with Mexico and Canada was a major talking point in Trump’s campaign.  Doing so would most likely eliminate the TN visa for Canadian and Mexican nationals.  Again, the elimination of a visa, like the TN, for high-skilled immigrants in the U.S. does not seem to be in the best interest of American businesses.  Furthermore, scrapping NAFTA would also eliminate reciprocal visa options Canada and Mexico provide to U.S. workers seeking to engage in professional activities in those countries.

F-1 STEM OPT

Recent changes to the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for foreign students on F-1 student visas and who graduated with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), allow for an additional two years of U.S. work authorization.  This new rule could be a target under the new President.  Again, though, with U.S. employers in desperate need for STEM employees, cancelling the STEM OPT extension rule, would severely injure American companies.

“Extreme Vetting”

Trump’s most controversial policy called for some type of “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals from certain countries or certain religions.  While it is not clear what he means by this type of vetting, the possibility of increased screening could have serious consequences for U.S. employers and employment-based visa holders, due to stricter scrutiny on visa petitions and longer visa application times.  It might also make it harder for individuals to obtain U.S. citizenship.

In the end, it is realistic to expect some changes to the U.S. immigration system.  Whether all the broad promises of Trump’s campaign will become reality is a different story.  In less than 60 days, though, Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States.  Therefore, employers and individuals considering whether to seek certain immigration-related benefits, should act sooner than later.  In the meantime, please visit our website and sign up for our newsletter for the latest news regarding any changes to U.S. immigration laws.