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.

H-1B Visa Lottery Changes & The Return of Premium Processing

In follow up to last month’s announcement of proposed changes to the H-1B visa selection process by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security has finalized its rule reversing the order in which USCIS will select H-1B cap-subject petitions in the H-1B visa lottery. 

While the H-1B cap will remain at 85,000, this new regulation will reverse the lottery order in which USCIS selects H-1B petitions for adjudication, in order to increase the amount of H-1B visas awarded to foreign nationals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher.  Under the previous lottery system, USCIS would first conduct a lottery for 20,000 H-1B visas for individuals with a U.S. master’s degrees and higher (the “advanced degree cap”), and then those individuals with advanced degrees who were not selected in that lottery were added to the pool of 65,000 H-1B visas (the “regular cap”), for another chance to be selected with individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree.  In accordance with this new rule, USCIS will now conduct the regular cap lottery first and include all advanced degree holders.  Those with advanced degrees not selected in the“regular cap” will thereafter be placed in a second lottery (the “advanced degree cap”), if there are enough advanced degree holders to meet the advanced-degree lottery.

In accordance with the Trump administration’s previous announcements for employment-immigration reforms, USCIS believes this change to the lottery system will increase the chances of H-1B visas being awarded to individuals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher.   

While USCIS announced that this change to the H-1B visa selection process will be implemented for this year’s H-1B visa lottery, USCIS will be postponing its proposed mandatory online registration for U.S. employer’s filing H-1B petitions.  As such, employers and foreign nationals should be preparing their H-1B visa petitions NOW (as they have done in previous years) in order to timely have those petitions filed on April 1st.

Additionally, USCIS announced this week they have resumed “premium processing” for all H-1B visa petitions that remain pending from the April 2018 lottery.  USCIS had temporarily suspended premium processing for most H-1B petitions last year, but has removed the suspension, as of now, for only H-1B visa petitions that remain pending from the April 2018 lottery.  While premium processing is still currently unavailable for H-1B transfers, amendments, and extensions with different employers, we may see premium processing for these cases resume around February 19th.

Employers seeking to hire foreign national employees this year should assess their upcoming workforce needs and identify those who will require H-1B visa sponsorship NOW. 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 1st may jeopardize your chance at securing an H-1B visa for your employee. After the 2019 H-1B visas are gone, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2020 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.

New H-1B Visa Lottery Process

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services  (USCIS) has announced a proposed rule that will dramatically shift how H-1B visa petitions are selected in its H-1B cap lottery selection system.  The proposed regulation would create a mandatory online preregistration system for employers to register each individual’s H-1B cap petition and reverse the order in which USCIS selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap and advanced degree exemptions.

Currently, the H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign nationals with a bachelor’s degree or higher in occupations that require a theoretical and practical body of highly specialized knowledge.  Each year, on April 1st, USCIS makes 85,000 H-1B visas available.  If USCIS received more than 85,000 petitions, they institute a computer-generated lottery system to randomly select the petitions that will be adjudicated. 

Employer Pre-Registration System

Under this proposed rule, USCIS would create a mandatory online preregistration process whereby those employers who intend to file H-1B cap petitions would be required to submit an online registration for each potential H-1B beneficiary, during a designated registration period before April 1st.  USCIS would then conduct a lottery and select registrations to meet the H-1B visa cap.  Those registrations that are selected will be notified and given a 60-day window in which to file their H-1B visa petition on behalf of the foreign worker named in the original registration.  According to the proposal, an employer could potentially wait until they have been notified of selection before filing a Labor Condition Application and preparing the corresponding H-1B petition for the intended beneficiary.

The online registration would request information about the employer (i.e. company name, address, Federal Employer Identification Number, etc.), along with information about the intended H-1B worker (i.e. name, date of birth, citizenship, passport, and education credentials).  There will be no fee to register an H-1B worker, but employers would be limited to one registration per individual per year.

The preregistration period would begin at least 14 days before April 1st and last for at least two weeks.  USCIS would announce the dates for the preregistration period online at least 30 days before it starts.   

New Lottery Selection Process

While the H-1B cap will remain at 85,000, USCIS intends to reverse the lottery order in which it selects H-1B petitions for adjudication, to increase the amount of H-1B visas awarded to foreign nationals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher.  Currently, USCIS first conducts a lottery for 20,000 H-1B visas for individuals with a U.S. master’s degrees and higher (the “advanced degree cap”).  Those individuals with advanced degrees not selected in that lottery are added to the pool of 65,000 H-1B visas (the “regular cap”), for another chance to be selected with individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree.  Under the proposed rule, USCIS would conduct the regular cap lottery first and include all advanced degree holders.  Those with advanced degrees not selected in the regular cap would be placed in a second lottery, if there are enough advanced degree holders to meet the advanced-degree lottery.

In accordance with the Trump administration’s previous announcements for employment-immigration reforms, USCIS believes this change to the lottery system would increase the chances of H-1B visas to be awarded to individuals with U.S. master’s degrees and higher.   

Implementation

Currently, these are only proposed rule changes.  While USCIS has stated their intention to have these new rules in place before the April 1, 2019 H-1B visa season, the proposed regulations also would allow USCIS to temporarily suspend the registration process due to technical challenges with the registration process or online system.  In the meantime, employers and foreign nationals should submit their public comments on this proposal HERE, before January 2nd.

What Employers & Foreign Nationals Should Do Now

Regardless of whether USCIS will be able to implement these changes before the April 1st H-1B filing deadline, employers and foreign nationals should begin preparing H-1B petitions NOW for the possibility that they will need to submit their complete H-1B visa petitions on April 1st.   

For any questions on the H-1B visa process or these changes, please feel free to contact me.

Registration Information for Diversity Green Card Lottery

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

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

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

Temporary Suspension & Increased Costs for "Premium Processing"​ of Visas

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced two major changes to their "premium processing" programs, which allows employers and foreign nationals to pay an optional USCIS filing fee to guarantee a response on their petition within 15 days.  The first announcement is an increase in the premium processing fee.  Beginning October 1, 2018 the premium processing fee will increase from $1,225 to $1,410.  

USCIS' second announcement is an extension of their ongoing suspension of “premium processing” for most H-1B visa petitions until February 19, 2019.  USCIS had previously announced that they were temporarily suspending premium processing for new, cap-subject H-1B visa petitions until September 10, 2018.  This new announcement, however, extends the previously annouced temporary suspension through February 19, 2019.  Additionally, beginning September 11, 2019, USCIS will also stop accepting premium processing for any H-1B petition seeking new employment, transfer (i.e. “change of employer”), or amendment which are filed with either the Vermont or California Service Centers until February 19, 2019.

USCIS will, however, continue to accept premium processing for H-1B petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer,” and premium processing for H-1B cap-exempt petitions (such as university, nonprofit research institutions, government research organizations) which are filed only with the California Service Center.

While this temporary suspension of premium processing now impacts most H-1B petitions, it does not affect premium processing for other nonimmigrant visa petitions (including L-1, O-1, TN, and others).  Additionally, USCIS will continue to accept premium processing for H-1B petitions filed prior to September 11, 2018 (when the suspension goes into effect).

This announcement is likely to have a major impact on U.S. employers, international students, and most immigrants seeking U.S. work visas.  First, this news likely means that USCIS processing times for all USCIS filings may increase, causing delays in visa issuance.  Even though, in cases of an H-1B transfer, an H-1B employee can begin working with a new employer upon the filing of the transfer with USCIS, many H-1B employees prefer to wait until they actually receive their H-1B transfer approval notice from USCIS before starting employment with a new employer.  As a result, this may cause delays for employers seeking to onboard new employees.

Additionally, international students currently availing H-1B “cap gap” extensions of their OPT and still awaiting USCIS approval of their cap-subject H-1B petition will need to be mindful of their authorized stay in light of USCIS’ recent unlawful presence memorandum for foreign students.  

In light of this news, H-1B employers and foreign nationals seeking to file any H-1B petitions should plan accordingly.  For assistance in preparing for these or delays, please feel free to contact us.

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.

Immigration Policy Changes for Foreign Students & Exchange Visitors

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently issued two updates that may have major consequences for foreign students and exchange visitors.

Most recently, USCIS issued a policy memorandum which changes the way USCIS will interpret and calculate unlawful presence for F-1 and J-1 visa holders (including their dependents).  Generally, a foreign national who remains in the U.S. beyond the expiration date of their I-94 Arrival/Departure Record begins to accrue unlawful presence, and in certain circumstances, may be subject to a 3-year or 10-year bar to re-admission to the United States.  Under the previous policy, however, foreign national students and exchange visitors who are granted duration of status (D/S) would not begin to accrue unlawful presence until either USCIS made a formal determination that a status violation had occurred or an immigration judge ordered a foreign national deported.

Under the new policy, starting August 9, 2018, F-1 and J-1 visa holders will begin to accrue unlawful presence on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after the student/exchange visitor no longer pursues the course of study or authorized activity, or the day after the person engages in unauthorized activity
  • The day after the grace period, after completing the course of study, program, or practical training (OPT/CPT)
  • The day after the person’s Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record expires;
  • The day after an Immigration Judge orders the person deported or removed.

Simply put, this new policy, will have a dramatic impact on F-1 and J-1 nonimmigrants who are not vigilant with respect to maintaining valid status and/or are engaging in “unauthorized activity.”  

Additionally, last month, USCIS updated its website regarding STEM OPT extensions , which allow F-1 STEM gradates to obtain an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization to work for employers that participate in the E-Verify program.  The new USCIS guidance no longer permits students to engage in STEM OPT at third party worksite locations (even if the employer maintains the requisite employer-employee relationship with the STEM worker).

This new guidance changes previous policy which only required the student be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the I-983 training plan.  Now, any employees performing duties at sites not controlled by the E-Verify employer could risk being in violation of their status.

These updates are very nuanced and complex, especially when it comes to when and whether someone is in violation of their status or engaged in unauthorized activities.  As always, if you have questions on these issues or how to maintain status, please don’t hesitate to contact me

USCIS Will Temporarily Suspend Premium Processing for New H-1B Petitions

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has once again announced that starting April 2nd, 2018 premium processing for new, cap-subject H-1B visa petitions will be temporarily suspended.  With premium processing, employers can pay an optional USCIS filing fee to guarantee a response on their petition within 15 days.  This temporary suspension is expected to last until September 10, 2018. While H-1B premium processing is suspended, petitioners will not be able request premium processing for new, cap-subject H-1B visa cases.

This suspension of premium processing (similar to the one last year) applies only to new H-1B petitions filed, generally, by for-profit companies that are subject to the 85,000 annual H-1B visa cap. Meaning, this will apply to ALL petitions filed for the FY19 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”) and any of these petitions filed with a request for premium processing will be rejected.

The premium processing suspension will NOT, however, apply to petitions that may be cap-exempt (i.e. H-1B workers who will work for or at a university or affiliated nonprofit or research institute), nor will it apply to H-1B extension or change of employer petitions. This temporary suspension of premium processing does NOT apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129, either.

Even though premium processing is temporarily suspended, employers may still submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.  The reason for the temporary suspension will allow USCIS to reduce overall H-1B processing times. 

If you have further questions on the H-1B visa process, please feel free to contact me.

Winning The H-1B Visa Lottery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for H-1B Cases

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that, it will resume “premium processing” for all H-1B visa cases, including pending H-1B visa cap-subject petitions.  USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing of all H-1B petitions in April 2017, however, this new announcement means that all H-1B cases, including pending petitions pursuant to both the 65,000 “regular” H-1B cap and the 20,000 “advanced degree” cap, H-1B extension petitions, and H-1B change of employer petitions are now eligible to take advantage of premium processing.  

With premium processing, employers can pay an optional USCIS filing fee to guarantee a response on their petition within 15 days.  Employers seeking to expedite the processing of a pending H-1B cap-subject case, including cases which require responses to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) from USCIS, should contact an attorney to take advantage of this program.

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.

Department of State’s Plans for “Extreme Vetting”

The U.S. State Department has announced new visa vetting procedures it plans to put into effect on May 18th, as part of President Trump’s “extreme vetting” visa policies.  Applicants subject to the vetting provisions would be required to provide the following information:

  • Travel history during the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel
  • Address history during the last 15 years
  • Employment history during the last 15 years
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings
  • Name and dates of birth for all children
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners
  • Social media platforms and identifiers/handles used during the last 5 years
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last 5 years

Furthermore, the State Department explained that individuals may be selected for additional screening based on “individual circumstances” that may “lead U.S. consular officers at posts around the world to conclude the applicant warrants enhanced screening that takes into account” information from the additional questions listed above.

These additional stricter screening requirements are likely to result in potential administrative processing delays for some applicants.  Additionally, these new directives will likely cause slowdowns in visa issuance and an increase in visa denials.

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.

Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order 

President Trump signed an Executive Order on April 18th, which directs the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, and Secretary of Homeland Security to propose new rules and issue new guidance to “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”  The Executive Order also directs these agencies to suggest reforms to prioritize “the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries” in awarding H-1B visas.

While the Executive Order does not provide any specific details or actions to change any visa program, it does indicate that the administration is considering such changes to the H-1B visa program as giving greater weight to H-1B applicants with advanced degrees and higher wages in the H-1B lottery and increasing application fees.

This Executive Order does not have any impact on this year’s H-1B visa process or lottery.

Increased Visa Scrutiny Announced

The U.S. Secretary of State has directed all U.S. consulates to take all possible steps to increase scrutiny of all visa applications and applicants themselves for security threats.  These diplomatic cables direct officers to ask more detailed questions about the background of all applicants and requires applicants whose nationality or background may raise security concerns to provide additional information, including: travel history over the last 15 years; names of siblings, children and former spouses not already recorded in the DS-160/260 or NIV/IVO case notes; addresses over the last 15 years; prior passport numbers; prior jobs and employers, including brief descriptions if applicable, for the last 15 years; any phone number the applicant has used in the last five years; email addresses and social media handles the applicants has used in the last five years.  The cables also will now limit consular officers to no more than 120 interviews per day, a change that will likely cause backlogs and processing delays.

These additional stricter screening requirements, along with the limits on interviews are likely to result in potential administrative processing delays for some applicants.  Additionally, these new directives will likely cause slowdowns in visa issuance and an increase in visa denials.

USCIS Announces Rules to Combat H-1B Visa Fraud & New Policies for Computer-Related H-1B Occupations

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it will begin taking a “more targeted approach” in site visits to the workplaces of U.S. companies sponsoring H-1B visa employees.  The measures described in the USCIS announcement include focusing on-site visits on H-1B-dependent companies, employers that cannot be validated with commercially available data, as well as employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organization's location (i.e. outsourcing companies, who typically petition for workers of other organizations).  These site visits will allow USCIS "to focus resources where fraud and abuse of the H-1B program may be more likely to occur, and determine whether H-1B dependent employers are evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers." These random and unannounced visits will continue nationwide, except there will now be a clearer focus on making sure the employer is legitimate. 

The announcement also encourages people to report suspected fraud of abuse in the H-1B program, and provides a new hotline phone number and email address for people to report such things as wage disparities between H-1B workers and other workers performing the same or similar duties, and H-1B workers not performing duties specified in the H-1B petition.

These new initiatives follow USCIS’ recent policy memorandum narrowing the H-1B visa eligibility for certain computer-related occupations.  U.S. employers who filed H-1B petitions for employees in programming occupations described in the memo may receive a requests from USCIS to submit additional evidence showing that the position is complex or specialized and requires a professional degree.

USCIS Will Temporarily Suspend Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions

USCIS has announced that starting April 3rd, 2017 premium processing for all H-1B petitions will be temporarily suspended. This suspension may last up to 6 months. While H-1B premium processing is suspended, petitioners will not be able request premium processing for H-1B visa cases.

The temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017.  Meaning, this will apply to ALL petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”). The suspension also applies to petitions that may be cap-exempt.

All H-1B petitions filed with a request for premium processing will be rejected.

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.

The reason for the temporary suspension will allow USCIS to reduce overall H-1B processing times. 

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.