USCIS recently issued a reminder for F-1 students that transferring to another education institution or beginning studies at another educational level automatically terminates Optional Practical Training (OPT) as well as the corresponding employment authorization document (EAD).  The requirement to maintain status is important due to the proposed USCIS Policy Memorandum on the Accrual of Unlawful Presence for F, J. and M nonimmigrants whereby they will lose Duration of Status designation by engaging in an unauthorized activity.  F-1 students must make certain to not work with a terminated EAD and should be certain to work closely with their school’s International Student office.

On May 11, 2018, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a Policy Memorandum for Public Comment, with the comment period set to end on June 11, 2018.  The proposed change would affect those individuals and their dependents in the following statuses:  Student (F-1 Academic Student and F-2 Spouse or Child of F-1 nonimmigrant); Exchange Visitor (J-1 Exchange Visitor and J-2 Spouse or Child of J-1 nonimmigrant); and Vocational Student (M-1 Vocational Student or non-academic Student and M-2 Spouse or Child of M-1 nonimmigrant).  The new policy memorandum would change the way F, M, and J visa holders accrue unlawful presence.   A person is unlawfully present in the United States if he or she is present “after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security or is present in the United States without being admitted or paroled” according to INA §212(a)(9)(B)(ii).  If one is unlawfully present for greater than 180 days, a three year bar is placed upon the individual to return to the United States.  If the person is unlawfully present for greater than one year, a 10 year bar is placed upon the individual to return to the United States.

The current policy memorandum dated May 6, 2009, entitled “Consolidation of Guidance Concerning Unlawful Presence for Purposes of Sections 212(a)(9)(B)(i) and 212 (a)(9)(C)(i)(I) of the Act”, USCIS recognized that a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stamp of Duration of Status (D/S) meant that those individuals with this admittance into the United States did not accrue unlawful presence until the day after USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation or on the day after an Immigration Judge ordered exclusion, deportation or removal.  Those who were admitted until a specific date as shown on their Form I-94 Entry Record would start accruing unlawful presence on the day after this form expired.

USCIS now proposes that effective August 9, 2018, those F, J. or M nonimmigrants granted admission as D/S, Duration of Status, who failed to maintain their status before August 9, 2018 will start accruing unlawful presence at that time and will no longer be deemed to be in Duration of Status.  If a nonimmigrant in these statuses has been found in violation prior to this date or had their Form I-94 expire previously, they will start to accrue unlawful presence on the earlier date.  This is a significant change in policy and the understanding of duration of status and changes the requirement that only a finding by USCIS of being out of status when adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit or a finding by an immigration judge triggers unlawful presence.  Now simply being out of status as of August 9, 2018, would trigger the start of the calculation of unlawful presence.

As of August 9th if the policy becomes procedure, students will begin to accrue unlawful presence if they are not in lawful nonimmigrant status on or after August 9, 2018, defined by no longer pursuing the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after he or she engages in an unauthorized activity.  Additionally, the day after completing the course of study or program (including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period (as outlined in 8 CFR 214.2)), they will begin to accrue unlawful presence.

8 CFR 214.2 allows an additional 60-day period to prepare for departure from the United States or to transfer.   An F-1 student authorized by the DSO to withdraw from classes will be allowed a 15-day period for departure from the United States. The Regulations also allow for what is commonly known as “Cap Gap” wherein an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a Cap Subject H-1B petition with a change of status request is automatically extended until October 1st of the fiscal year in which the H-1b is filed.   As many immigration practitioners know, H-1b petitions often are not adjudicated by October 1st and this will put those F-1 students who would have been allowed to stay in the U.S. in reliance of Duration of Status after the Cap Gap period has ended at risk of accruing Unlawful Presence if they remain in the United States.  As such, this change in policy is fundamentally unfair because it was made after the filing of the fiscal year H-1B applications and will impact numerous students.

Furthermore, it is not clear how the government will allow for Re-instatement of Student status, as per the regulations at 8 CFR 214.2(f)(16), where a student who has been out of status for less than 5 months or shows an exceptional circumstance can be re-instated by USCIS and re-enrolled in school.  Re-instatement requires that the student does not have a record of repeated or willful violations of USCIS regulations.  However, if the Unlawful Presence has started to accrue, it is questionable whether USCIS will approve such requests.

As the Policy Memorandum proposes a material change in the accrual of Unlawful Presence for Students, Exchange Visitors and Vocational Students, it is sure to bring legal challenges.  The proposed change will essentially ensure that those who come here to study face additional challenges beyond their studies.

Please keep tuned in to this blog for further information as it becomes available.

 

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 13, 2018), reflecting his analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories.

This month, Charlie examines the dramatic final action dates movement in the April Visa Bulletin, which hold steady for May, and provides his predictions on final action date movement in the coming months.

Check-in with DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim: June 13, 2017

Given that USCIS takes roughly five months to process I-485 applications to completion, the dramatic final action date advancements in the April Visa Bulletin were not completely unexpected as the objective is to spur more applications in May and June in order to ensure that the full visa numbers will be used by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2018.  Since it is unlikely that most May I-485 filings will be processed to completion before the end of the fiscal year, many employment-based preference categories hold their April final action dates in the May Visa Bulletin, with only modest advancements in a few select categories.  These advancements were made in an abundance of caution, based on data Charlie received from USCIS regarding the number of pending cases.

Categories in which final action dates will remain the same include:

  • EB-1 China and India;
  • EB-2 India;
  • EB-3 China and Philippines;
  • EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and
  • EB-5 China.

There are only five categories with modest advancements-

  • EB-2 China will move forward one month to September 1, 2014;
  • EB-3 India will advance three months to May 1, 2008;
  • EB-3 Other Workers China and India will advance one and three months respectively, to May 1, 2007 and May 1, 2008; and
  • EB-4 Mexico will advance roughly five weeks to October 22, 2016.

As Charlie predicted, EB-5 Vietnam became oversubscribed, due to high demand, and will assume a final action date of July 22, 2014 in May, tracking to EB-5 China.

 Most family-based preference petitions are processed through the National Visa Center and U.S. consulates abroad, which accept applications based on the “filing date” rather than the final action date.  As a result, Charlie has excellent visibility into demand in these categories, enabling a slow and steady progression of the final action dates with much less volatility than is seen in the employment-based preference categories.  Final action dates advance modestly in May for all family-based preference categories, except FB-1 China, India and Worldwide, which hold at the April dates. T here is no retrogression in any of the family-based preference categories in May.

What can be expected in the coming months?

It is likely that most employment-based final action dates will hold at their May dates for the month of June with some changes possible in July.  What occurs is entirely dependent on demand that may materialize, and continuing consultations with USCIS.  The wildcard this year that could cause unanticipated fluctuations in the final action dates is the pace of USCIS field office processing of I-485s.

With regard to EB-1 China and India, it is too early to know whether the high worldwide EB-1 demand seen over the past few months is the result of a processing glut or sustained demand.  It is likely that EB-1 China and India will hold for at least another month, but Charlie will continue to watch demand to determine whether any advancements may be possible.

While Charlie is hopeful that the advancements made in April to EB-2 China will be sufficient to exhaust the visa numbers in this category, he continues to monitor China EB-3 downgrades and is likely to hold the final action dates in these categories for at least another month.  However, there still remains the possibility of some advancement later this fiscal year if the anticipated demand does not materialize.

As noted above, EB-4 Mexico advanced five weeks in May.  Although Charlie predicted a summer retrogression of this category to track to the final action date of EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, if demand lightens it may be possible to avoid or perhaps delay retrogression for EB-4 Mexico.

You may access the April 2018 Visa Bulletin here and the May 2018 Visa Bulletin here.

___________________________

Alka Bahal is a Partner and the Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice of Fox Rothschild LLP, specializing in corporate immigration law and compliance.  Alka is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, 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.

As has become common under the present Administration, yet another country is losing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation.  On April 26, 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Neilson announced that Nepal will lose TPS designation on June 24, 2019.  As in past terminations, there is a delay of 12 months to allow for transition.  The April 2015 earthquake and aftershocks decimated the nation and necessitated the designation of TPS for the nation.  The Department of Homeland Security reviewed the disaster relief remediation process and determined that Nepali nationals can now safely return to the country.  Outreach efforts will be made to notify the affected individuals to advise them of the change and that they may still receive other protections under the United States immigration system for which they are eligible.  Nepali citizens with current TPS registrations will be required to re-register for TPS and additionally apply for Employment Authorization in order to legally work until the effective date of the termination on June 24, 2019.

Today, USCIS announced it has completed the H-1B cap FY 2019 random selection process on April 11. This year, USCIS received a total of 190,098 H-1B cap petitions during the H-1B cap FY 2019 filing period, which started on April 2.  The announcement means USCIS has completed the computer generated random selection process and selected enough petitions to meet the 65,000 regular cap and the 20,000 cap under the U.S. advanced degree exemption, known as the master’s cap. Next, USCIS will reject and return all unselected H-1B cap petitions with their filing fees.

As a reminder, USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap.

 

Yesterday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the launch of a new and expanded E-Verify website, E-Verify.gov.  The website, which is in both the English and Spanish languages, includes sections for Employers, Employees, About E-Verify and myE-Verify.   E-Verify is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify employers can verify the identity and employment eligibility of newly hired employees by electronically matching the information provided by their employees on the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, against records available to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On the website, employers will find information on Using an E-Verify Employer Agent, For Federal Contractors, Web Services, Enrolling in E-Verify, Verification Process and Monitoring & Compliance.  Employees can find specific information on E-Verify Overview, Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC), Employee Email Notifications, Employee Rights and Responsibilities, Correct Your Immigration Record and Reporting Violations.  E-Verify is free and all employers and employees should explore and be familiar with this system since USCIS is encouraging all employers to enroll.  The attorneys at Fox Rothschild are available to assist both businesses and employees alike with any questions regarding the E-Verify system.

The EB-5 Program has been extended for six months, through September 30, 2018, as part of the omnibus spending bill funding the federal government. Congress passed the spending bill early Friday morning and President Trump signed the bill today. The extension of the EB-5 Program does not include any of the controversial reforms.  Potential reforms include increasing the minimum investment amount, creating additional safeguards, and instituting a visa set-aside for rural projects.

I invite you to read my May 2017 article published by Law360 explaining some of the reforms being discussed. Without the omnibus bill, there would have been a government shutdown and the EB-5 Program would have expired. We will be closely following industry dialogue and activity on Capitol Hill surrounding EB-5 reform and/or extension efforts in the coming months.

Today, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the temporary suspension of premium processing for all FY 2019 cap-subject petitions. USCIS expects this suspension to last until Sept. 10, 2018. During this time, USCIS will continue to accept premium processing requests for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the FY 2019 cap.

On March 6, 2018, the US Department of State announced a change in the location of certain greencard interviews in India.

In summary, for interviews scheduled on or after April 1, 2018:

  • The US Embassy in New Delhi will no longer conduct interviews for US Permanent Residence for the spouse (IR1/CR1) and the unmarried minor child(ren) (IR2/CR2) of a US citizen
  • The US Consulate General in Mumbai will begin conducting interviews for US Permanent Residence for the spouse and the unmarried minor child(ren) of a US citizen.

The change includes cases already in process and going forward. The National Visa Center will notify applicants of the specific location of their interview, along with details relating to visa interview preparation.

This change is for the purpose of consolidating visa processing of this type in Mumbai.

Recently, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) changed the language in the agency’s Mission Statement.    Previous language recognized that the United States is a “nation of immigrants”.   USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna provided a statement to explain the reasoning behind the change.

New Mission Statement:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.

Old Mission Statement:
USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.

However, immigration advocates see this change as further demonstration that this administration does not recognize the importance of immigration to the history and growth of this nation.  By ending DACA, restricting Refugees and ending TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras among other actions, this administration appears on a pathway to make more changes to the U.S. immigration landscape than any recent administration.  The language of the Statue of Liberty from Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus so eloquently reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It does not appear that USCIS’ change in Mission Statement adheres to this vision of America nor our long history of welcoming immigrants and their significant contributions.