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.

Winning The H-1B Visa Lottery

Starting April 2, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2019. As in years past, if USCIS receives more than the available 85,000 H-1B visas in the first few days of April, they will use a computer-generated random lottery to select the petitions they will process. Based on the number of petitions received in the first few days of April last year (over 199,000) and the previous year (over 236,000), combined with the current market demand for high-skilled labor and reports of possible changes to visa programs in the future, many our anticipating that USCIS will receive over 200,000 H-1B petitions in the first few days of this April. 

Accordingly, time is running out for employers to timely prepare their H-1B petitions for submission to play in this H-1B lottery on April 2nd. Generally, it takes at least 10-14 days to prepare and file an H-1B petition, due to the prerequisite filing requirements of the Labor Condition Application (LCA), which takes up to 7 business days to certify. Therefore, if you are responsible for your businesses' immigration planning and processing and you have already identified your H-1B candidates, please initiate the H-1B visa process in the next two weeks to ensure it is timely filed. 

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

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

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

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

H-1B Visa Season Starts NOW

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

Demand by U.S. employers for H-1B visas on behalf of “highly-skilled” foreign employees was, once again, at high levels last year and is expected to remain high this year. Because it is expected that the 85,000 available H-1B visas will be gone within the first week of April, U.S. businesses should file their H-1B visa petitions on April 2, 2018. Due to prerequisite filing steps which must be completed before the H-1B petition can be submitted to USCIS, however, employers should begin preparing their petitions now to ensure they are ready to submit on April 2nd.

Despite rumors of potential changes to the H-1B visa program, the H-1B filing process and procedures will remain the same as they did in previous years.  Therefore, employers should assess their upcoming workforce needs and identify whether any foreign national employees will require H-1B visa sponsorship. These individuals may include:

  • New graduating foreign students in the U.S.
  • Overseas individuals seeking to start work in the U.S.
  • Foreign individuals in the U.S. already working under a different nonimmigrant status for a different employer and are seeking to change jobs

Failure to file your H-1B petition on April 2nd may jeopardize your chance at securing an H-1B visa for your employee. After the 2018 H-1B visas are gone, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2019 to file H-1B petitions again, and foreign employees may lose their lawful status and authorization to work. The clock is ticking…don't delay!

If you have any questions about the H-1B visa process, contact me.

Massive Workforce Compliance Inspections Coming

Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ordered the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit to “quadruple to quintuple” the current number of routine workplace investigations of U.S. employers in the coming year.  While the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement efforts have thus far mostly focused on undocumented individuals, the goal of ICE’s new strategy is to target employers.  In particular, these workplace investigations will focus on audits of employers Employment Eligibility Verification, Forms I-9 and other employment records to determine whether employees (be they U.S. citizens or foreign nationals) are lawfully work authorized.  

ICE’s plan to ramp up worksite investigations increases the risk of significant civil penalties and possible criminal prosecution for employers who fail to comply with U.S. employment laws.  Additionally, business owners, executives, and Human Resources staff may personally face increased risk for simple Form I-9 “paperwork” errors.  

All U.S. employers must complete a Form I-9 for all of their employees in order to verify their identity and work authorization.  An employer who fails to properly complete and retain a Form I-9 for each and every employee, faces fines and penalties ranging from $539 to $2,156 for each paperwork violation.  Therefore, employers should take this opportunity to evaluate their current I-9 policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with the latest I-9 and E-Verify rules. In particular, employers should:

  • Review current I-9 policies and practices with qualified counsel.  This includes careful analysis of all workforce compliance practices to mitigate errors and mistakes on the form;
  • Develop formal I-9 and E-Verify protocols for detecting, preventing, and improving against I-9 violations.  For example, store an employee’s Form I-9 separate from other personnel records and separate current from terminated employees;
  • Mitigate historical I-9s with qualified counsel to help avoid against fines and penalties for certain technical or procedural errors on the forms.  Only certain I-9 deficiencies can be mitigated, but must be done accurately so as not to make deficiency worse;
  • Develop, implement, and maintain compliance policies for worksite raids and for managing CE Fraud Detection & National Security (FDNS) visits for nonimmigrant visa employees.

For any questions on employment eligibility or workforce compliance issues, please feel free to contact us.

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.

The End of the International Entrepreneur Rule

The Trump administration announced this week their intent to delay and ultimately rescind the International Entrepreneur Rule.  The rule, which was created by President Obama’s administration and which was set to go in to effect on July 17, 2017, would have allowed certain international entrepreneurs to be considered for parole (temporary permission to be in the United States) in order to start or grow their businesses in the U.S..  Applicants would have to show they met minimum requirements for capital investments and demonstrate that their startup would have been of benefit to the public via job creation in the U.S.

While the current administration is delaying the effective date of the International Entrepreneur Rule until March 14, 2018 and taking public comment on the rule, their intention is to rescind the rule.

For questions about this policy change, please feel free to contact us.  Foreign entrepreneurs and startups seeking alternative immigration options to the U.S. should read our article on entrepreneur visa options.  

Supreme Court Allows Partial Travel Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to partially unblock President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travel to the U.S. from the following predominantly muslim countries: Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  The ruling will keep in place part of the lower court injunction, but will reinstate a travel ban for foreign nationals “who lack any bona fide relationship” with any person or entity in the United States. 

The practical upshot of this is that foreign nationals of these 6 countries should expect that the travel ban will now be enforced against them, thereby barring their travel to the U.S. for a period of 90 days, unless they are able to demonstrate a relationship with a person (e.g., a family member) or an entity (e.g., school, employer, host organization) in the U.S.  In other words, the travel ban may not be enforced against individuals from these 6 countries so long as the individual can prove they have a family relationship with someone in the U.S. or a relationship with a U.S. entity, (i.e. attendance at a U.S. university or employment with a U.S. employer).  While other relationships may also qualify, none were specifically mentioned in the decision.

Foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. from Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen should now plan to travel with evidence of their family relationships in the U.S. (i.e. affidavits, birth certificates, marriage certificates), or evidence of their enrollment in a U.S. school (i.e. student visa, Form I-20), or employment (work visa, visa petition approval notices, pay stubs, letters verifying employment).  Additionally, travelers from these countries should be prepared to answer questions about their U.S. family members or employment.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the merits of the executive order in October 2017.  In the meantime, if you have any questions on how this ruling may impact you or your employees, please feel free to contact us.