US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced yesterday that beginning on May 31, 2017, it will email reminders to Visa Waiver Program travelers notifying them of their “last possible departure date from the US”.  In addition, CBP added a feature to its website https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home so that travelers may check their last possible departure date online.

 For now, only those admitted to the US under the Visa Waiver Program can benefit from the new features, but CBP indicated that it will incorporate additional nonimmigrant travelers with future updates. 

 To check their last possible date of departure, Visa Waiver Program travelers can enter the www.cbp.gov.  Then, click on Get Most Recent I-94.  From there, click on View Compliance. When I tried the system, sometimes the screen which included the View Compliance option appeared directly without having to click Get Most Recent I-94.  Either way, ultimately the option that is needed is View Compliance.  In the next screen after clicking View Compliance, a traveler may enter his/her name, birthdate, passport number and country of passport issuance to find the number of days remaining in the period of stay and end date of admission.  For Waivered Tourists, the next screen should indicate the number of days remaining before their last date of departure.

 

Ali Brodie, Counsel, Fox Rothschild LLPFox counsel Ali Brodie, who heads Fox’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Services practice, has written a piece for Law360 providing a comprehensive view of reform efforts centered on the EB-5 program. Extended to September 30, 2017, there are now bipartisan discussions to update and improve the program. Changes being discussed include reclassification of Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs), increases to minimum investment amounts, and stricter integrity and oversight measures. Lawmakers are also considering changes to the number of visas available annually, and more efficient processing to address the application backlog.

We invite you to read the full piece “Potential EB-5 Changes Ahead,” originally published by Law360 on May 16, 2017.

Today, Congress submitted a proposed omnibus spending bill to extend funding to the government through September 30, 2017.  The EB-5 Regional Center Program is included in the bill which proposes a clean extension without any of the much-debated reforms.  If approved, the EB-5 Regional Center Program will be extended through September 30, 2017, offering lawmakers and stakeholders additional time to reach a long-term legislative solution.

Today, Congress extended the EB-5 Program for 1 week through May 5, 2017.  The Program was extended as part of a continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government through May 5, 2017, thus preventing a government shutdown.  The EB-5 Program would have otherwise sunset today.  The President has until midnight tonight to sign the CR.

This is welcome news for EB-5 industry stakeholders as the program is alive for another week and allows more time for negotiations with lawmakers, with the ultimate goal of reaching a deal that would reform the program with a long-term reauthorization.

In our continuing series of reports, Charles (“Charlie”) Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, U.S. Department of State, shares his most recent analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories with AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association).

Below are highlights from the most recent “check-in with Charlie” (April 16, 2017), reflecting his analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories.

This month, Charlie offers his analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories for the beginning of the next fiscal year (May 2017) and beyond.                                                                      

Check-in with DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim: April 16, 2017

FB-4 Worldwide. FB-4 Worldwide should be watched closely. Following aggressive movement of the final action date in April, this category is not expected to advance. The April movement seems to have stimulated applicants to take action, and increased demand may require a temporary retrogression in this category later this fiscal year. Should retrogression occur, the category would recover completely in October, the first month of the new fiscal year. The final action dates for all other family-based categories are expected remain stable.

EB-1 and EB-2 Worldwide. As noted in the May 2017 Visa Bulletin, EB-1 and EB-2 Worldwide demand at USCIS has increased dramatically over the past six weeks, signaling the possibility of a future correction to the final action date. Charlie explained that number usage in both of these categories for January and February was about 1,000 higher than earlier months and he expects that it will be at least that high, if not higher, in April. While this is positive in the sense that USCIS is clearing out and approving cases, it may limit the ability for the agencies to take final action on pending cases towards the end of the summer if a correction is required.

EB-1 India and China. Charlie has been predicting the imposition of a final action cut-off date for EB-1 China and India for several months and echoes that warning in the May Visa Bulletin. Charlie tells AILA that the only reason a final action cut-off date has not already been imposed is that thus far, India and China have been able to benefit from “otherwise unused numbers” not currently required for other countries. The use of “otherwise unused numbers” by these two countries will soon end in order to ensure that other countries who have not yet reached their EB-1 per country limit can remain “current.” The worldwide demand and heavy use of EB-4 and EB-5 numbers, which in earlier years had remained unused and had “fallen up” to EB-1, has resulted in the restriction of EB-1 number use strictly to those numbers available to that category on an annual basis.

Charlie predicts that a final action cut-off date will be imposed for EB-1 China and India no later than July. When that occurs, both countries will have the same final action date. While these categories will not technically become “unavailable,” the date that is imposed will effectively shut off the use of additional numbers.

EB-2 India. March demand for EB-2 India doubled from February. Based on this spike in demand, Charlie can no longer say with confidence that this category will recover to last year’s level. However, there may still be some room for the date to advance further, and based on current demand patterns, the absolute best case scenario would be for the final action date to reach December 2008. The wildcard factor is whether EB-3 upgrades will subside or continue at the same or faster pace. Charlie lacks visibility into EB-3 upgrade demand until a visa number is requested, and therefore cannot plan final action date movements with as much precision as he would like.

The China EB-3 Downgrade Phenomenon. The gap between EB-2 China and EB-3 China continues to widen in May, with EB-3 China advancing six months to October 1, 2014 and EB-2 China advancing less than one month to February 8, 2013. Consistent with this trend, AILA members should not expect any significant advancement in the final action date for EB-2 China this fiscal year. By contrast, we may continue to see a healthy advancement of EB-3 China until or unless the expected EB-3 downgrade phenomenon materializes.

Based on current data, Charlie predicts that the final action date for EB-2 China may advance as far as a date in spring or summer 2013 before the end of this fiscal year.

EB-4 Religious Workers and EB-5 Investors (I5 and R5). Both the EB-4 Religious Worker and EB-5 Investor Programs will sunset on April 28, 2017 unless reauthorized by Congress. As such, the May Visa Bulletin notes that both of these categories will be unavailable in May unless Congress acts. Should Congress reauthorize both programs, EB-4 will return to current with the exception of EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, which would be subject to a July 15, 2015 final action date. With regard to these countries, and despite healthy demand, Charlie maintains that it is still possible that the final action date may advance before the end of the fiscal year.

If the Investor Program is reauthorized, all countries except China would become current, with a final action date of June 1, 2014 for EB-5 China (I5 and R5).

You may access the May 2017 Visa Bulletin here, the April 2017 Visa Bulletin here, and the March 2017 Visa Bulletin here.

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, President Donald Trump signed a new Executive Order, “Buy American and Hire American.” The new Order states that its first purposes is to focus on conducting studies and putting forth plans for federal agencies to immediately maximize the use and procurement of materials and products made in the U.S. (“Buy American”).

The second stated purpose of the Order focuses on a review of current immigration policies and regulations, specifically at H-1B visa program, and non-immigrant visa categories (for skilled foreign national workers) (“Hire American”).

The Order also directs government agencies to tighten up on visa fraud and abuse in the particulate with the H-1B visa program. The Order also directs that the government will fully prioritize the use of American companies and goods in federal projects.

The government has reported that 199,000 H-1B applications were submitted for the 2018 fiscal year, according to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, compared with the 236,000 H-1B cap petitions filed during the prior year.

In an interview earlier today with Snap On’s CEO, Nicholas Pinchuk, who said in a statement “The upskilling of the American workforce is the seminal issue of our time. We must refocus on technical education, restore our respect for the dignity of work, and celebrate technical jobs not as the consolation prize of our society, but as what they really are — a national calling essential to our ongoing prosperity.”

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Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Corporate Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP. Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide. You can reach Alka at (973) 994-7800, or abahal@foxrothschild.com.

On April 17, 2017,  USCIS alerted stakeholders concerning a glitch on the Form I-9.  The glitch specifically relates to any Form I-9 downloaded between November 14, 2016 and November 17, 2016 and the employee’s Social Security number.  Employers who downloaded Form I-9 during this brief period should ensure the employee’s Social Security Number appears correctly in Section 1.  As explained by USCIS, numbers inserted in Section 1- Social Security number field were transposed when the Form I-9 was completed and printed.   Forms completed after November 17, 2016 are not of concern as USCIS repaired the technical error and reposted Form I-9 on November 17, 2016.

Employers who detect a mistake in their employee’s Social Security numbers as written in Section 1 should request the employee draw a strike through the transposed Social Security number, write the correct Social Security number, and write their initials/date in the margin next to the change in Section 1.  It is also recommended that employers attach a written explanation to affected Form I-9s as to the reason for the correction as a safeguard in the event of an audit.

Today, USCIS announced it has completed the H-1B cap FY 2018 random selection process (also known as the H-1B lottery).  This means USCIS has completed the lottery and has selected enough petitions to meet the 65,000 regular-general cap and the 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption.   USCIS will reject and return all unselected H-1B cap petitions.  The government reported receiving a total of 199,000 H-1B cap petitions during the H-1B cap FY 2018 filing period, which started on April 3, 2017. This is remarkably less when compared with the 236,000 H-1B cap petitions filed during the FY 2017 period, which started on April 1, 2016.

As a reminder, effective March 3, 2017, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions for up to six months.  As such, no H-1B cap FY 2018 petition will be processed using the expedited premium processing, commonly utilized in prior years.  We will report back once USCIS has reinstated premium processing for H-1B petitions.

In the last few days, there have been a number of government announcements concerning the popular H-1B Temporary Worker status. Of course, these announcements come after this year’s crop of new H-1B visa applications have been sent to USCIS. Some of the linked announcements are warnings and others are disquieting.

What does all of this mean?

The Department of Justice cautions that employers seeking H-1B visas may not discriminate against US workers. The focus is on H-1B workers whose employment intentionally displaces US workers.

USCIS announced that it will take measures to detect H-1B fraud and abuse. No one is in favor of fraud or abuse in the system. USCIS warns/advises that it will make site visits particularly where it can’t verify the employer’s business information, where the employer is H-1B dependent or where the H-1B will be working off-site at another firm’s location. The takeaway is that employers should have their I-9 Employment Verification records and Public Access files in order so that if someone wants to see them, they see that everything is in order and hopefully fines and other penalties are avoided.

In its March 31, 2017 Memo, USCIS announced that it rescinded a memo from 2000 that provided guidance on H-1B computer-related positions. Recognizing that the world of computer-related positions has changed dramatically in the last 17 or so years, the year 2000 guidance that recognizes most programmers are working in “specialty occupations” is declared obsolete. The memo raises the question of what will be required to secure H-1B visas for computer programmers and others in the computer field.

This memo restates the law that H-1B rules require that the beneficiary must be working in a position that is a “specialty occupation”; having a Bachelor’s degree and being a programmer just isn’t enough.

To quote: “…while the fact that some computer programming positions may only require an associate’s degree does not necessarily disqualify all positions in the computer programming occupation (viewed generally) from qualifying as positions in a specialty occupation, an entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation because the plain language of the statutory and regulatory definition of “specialty occupation” requires in part that the proffered position have a minimum entry requirement of a U. S. bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty or its equivalent…”

The memo goes on to explain that to prove that a computer programmer is in a “specialty occupation”, the employer: ”must establish that the particular position is one in a specialty occupation as defined by 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(ii) that also meets one of the criteria at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)”.

These criteria are that a Bachelor’s or the equivalent is required to enter the field; that the degree requirement is common in the industry; that the employer normally requires the degree or that the duties are sufficiently complex that a Bachelor’s level education, at least, is required to perform them.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) comments that the memo recites criteria that are the same for all H-1B applications, not just computer programmers. They also observe that : ” …the memo supports the proposition that a position cannot simultaneously have a job classification and pay rate at the low end of the industry salary range, while at the same time listing specific job requirements and skill that are more complex and specialized.”

To make a long story short, petitioners may need to provide additional detail to satisfy the “specialty occupation’ requirement when seeking a computer programmer or computer-related H-1B worker. These memos also provide notice of what uses of H-1B workers will be scrutinized and not be tolerated.

During this time of increased unpredictability in US immigration law, it was good to see that the US Citizenship and Immigration Service had confirmed that the upcoming FY2018 H-1B random lottery will be conducted in the same manner as in past years.  Kudos to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) for publishing the following:

 USCIS confirmed that the process for receiving and receipting H-1B cap cases for Fiscal Year 2018 will be the same as with prior years, including a random lottery. Therefore, a lottery will be conducted if, during the period of April 3-7, 2017, enough petitions are received to reach the 65,000 statutory H-1B cap and the 20,000 cap for petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption, often referred to as the master’s cap. As in the past, a random computer selection will be run first for those petitions under the 20,000 master’s cap exemption. Any petitions not selected for the master’s cap will then be included in the random selection process for the 65,000 regular cap.