General Immigration News and Updates

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.

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.

 

Words matter.  The words of President Trump as President of the United States and as candidate Trump have been heard by the Courts, not of public opinion, but of the US District Court of Hawaii.  In the Court Order enjoining the implementation of the Administration’s second travel ban Executive Order, the words  “Muslim Ban” used by Mr. Trump and his surrogates were found to be a true and impermissible purpose of the ban.  That provides some relief for the citizens of the 6 countries targeted by the ban as does a decision in the District Court of Maryland, HIAS v Trump.  The HIAS case focused on the Order suspending all refugee resettlement for 120 days.  The Court enjoined the application of that ban as well.   

 The President’s response to the Court Orders in the Hawaii and HIAS cases has been stinging, with a vow to fight on.  There is some relief in the immigrant and refugee communities, but that may be short-lived as a level of unpredictability will likely remain.  Among business immigration attorneys, the relief from the ban eliminates one of the pressing issues with which we are dealing…it’s H-1B season!

 This H-1B season is different than those of the past.  For now, natives of the 6 previously banned nations, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen, have a chance to be sponsored by US employers interested in employing them as cap-subject H-1B workers.  Of course, with the expected multitude of H-1B petitions, their prospective employers’ chances are no greater than any others racing to file on April 3, 2017.  Last year, in the “H-1B season” which lasts 5 business days, approximately 240,000 applications chased fewer than 85,000 visas.  Last year, the results began to trickle in by early May, then those lucky enough to be chosen would have their application adjudicated—many using Premium Processing which produced a result within 2 weeks.  Not this year.  Premium Processing has been suspended for all H-1B filings beginning April 3.   USCIS has said that the suspension may last up to 6 months.

Because the start date of a cap-subject petition cannot be earlier than October 1st regardless of whether Premium Processing is used or not, the lack of premium processing is of less concern to those filers whose cases are subject to the lottery than to those which are cap-exempt—filed by academic institutions, non-profit affiliated health care providers and others. The concern is that a professor or medical resident and others may not be start when the semester or residency program begins.  Aside from timing of adjudication, there is concern that applications from all employers will undergo greater scrutiny, which in turn further delays an approval. In addition, it is anticipated that personnel at the various government agencies will be reduced in number.  This includes agencies that process immigration and related applications—further reason for processing delays.  Fortunately, those waiting will include people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen who are eligible to be included among other highly skilled workers who have offers of professional employment that pay at least the prevailing wage.       

 

USCIS published the updated M-274, Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9. The Handbook for Employers provides employers with detailed guidance for completing Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. This version, published on Jan. 22, 2017, replaces the previous version which was published on April 30, 2013. It reflects revisions to Form I-9, which was revised on Nov. 14, 2016. You can review highlights of the changes in the Table of Changes for Revised M-274.

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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 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.

The Trump Administration issued a revised Executive Order on travel with an apparent desire to survive a court challenge by modifying some of the elements that judges found troubling in the January 27 travel ban.

The White House - Washington D.C.
Copyright: pigprox / 123RF Stock Photo

Issued March 6, the new ban, captioned “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” has an effective date of Thursday, March 16 — allowing a 10-day window for foreign nationals, federal agencies and others to prepare for the changes.

The Executive Order imposes a 90-day “temporary pause” on entry into the United States by nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Notably, Iraq has been removed from the list, but “additional scrutiny” measures in the new ban will apply to those from Iraq.

Subject to certain “categorical exceptions and case-by-case waivers,” the new travel ban is narrower than the previous broad-sweeping measure and applies only to those from the listed countries who:

  • are outside the United States on the effective date, Thursday March 16
  • did not have a valid visa by 5 p.m. (U.S. EST) on Jan. 27, 2017
  • do not have a valid visa on Thursday, March 16.

Exceptions Recognized

In contrast to the prior Executive Order on travel (Executive Order 13769, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States), which this new Order revokes as of March 16, the revised ban also recognizes six categories of individuals from the listed countries:

  • Lawful permanent U.S. residents
  • Any foreign national admitted to or paroled into the U.S. on or after the effective date, Thursday, March 16
  • Any foreign national who has a document (other than a visa) that is valid on or issued on any date after the effective date, that permits the holder to travel to, and seek entry or admission to, the US such as an advance parole travel document
  • Any dual national of one of the six countries when travelling on a passport issued by a non-designated country
  • Any foreign national travelling on a diplomatic-type visa, NATO visa, C-2 for UN travel, or G-1 – G-4 visa
  • Any foreign national who has been granted asylum, any refugee already admitted to the United States, or any individual who has been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

Presumably, these exceptions will reduce concern by the larger group of travelers, including nationals of countries not listed in the Executive Order. Yet, the new Executive Order leaves open the possibility that restrictions may be imposed on nationals of additional countries at some point in the future.

Additional highlights of the Order include:

  • A call for enhanced vetting procedures during the adjudications process
  • 120-day suspension of the US Refugee Admissions Program for FY 2017, subject to waivers, and with a call for enhanced vetting
  • Expedited completion of the biometric entry-exit tracking system
  • Suspension of the “visa interview waiver program”
  • A review of visa reciprocity agreements
  • Making certain data available to the public
  • Clarifications regarding visa revocations, and more

On March 3, The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that it will temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B petitions starting on April 3, 2017 until further notice. This suspension is anticipated to last for a period of up to 6 months. During this suspension, Petitioners are unable to file Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service for a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker which requests the H-1B nonimmigrant classification. USCIS has indicated that it will notify the public before resuming premium processing for H-1B petitions.

Who Is Affected

The temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017, which is the date FY18 cap-subject H-1B petition filings begin.  Therefore, the suspension applies to all petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption (the “master’s cap”) as well as to petitions that may be cap-exempt.

While premium processing is suspended, USCIS will reject any Form I-907 filed with an H-1B petition. If the one combined check for both the Form I-907 and Form I-129 H-1B fees is included, both forms (i.e. the entire filing) will be rejected.

USCIS will continue to premium process H-1B petitions properly filed before April 3, 2017, however, USCIS will refund the premium processing fee if:

  1. The petitioner filed the Form I-907 for an H-1B petition before April 3, 2017, and
  2. USCIS did not take adjudicative action on the case within the 15-calendar-day processing period.

Requesting Expedited Processing

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.  It is the petitioner’s responsibility to demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, and we encourage petitioners to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request. USCIS will review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and requests will be granted at the discretion of USCIS leadership.

Why USCIS Is Temporarily Suspending Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions

According to USCIS, the temporary suspension will help it reduce overall H-1B processing times by enabling it to:

  • Process long-pending petitions, which we have currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years; and
  • Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark.

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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 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.

 

Statue of Liberty
Copyright: dvrcan / 123RF Stock Photo

On our Emerging Companies Insider blog, Fox associate Alex Radus provided an update on the new International Entrepreneur Rule by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The rule, which would grant limited entrée to entrepreneurs establishing stateside startups, has undergone a public comment period. Slated to become effective July 17, 2017, the rule would permit the Secretary of Homeland Security to offer parole (temporary permission to be in the U.S.) to individuals whose businesses provide “significant public benefit.” That means the startup should have a substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation, and that the entrepreneur’s parole would significantly help the startup conduct and grow its business in the U.S. As a result of public comments, USCIS generally made it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to establish startup companies in the U.S. via the program.

Alex outlines the changes made in the final rule since his previous discussion, including the timeframe for startup formation, the definition of “entrepreneur,” the minimum investment amount and other aspects. He also notes that with the change to the Trump administration, the future of the role, which was spearheaded by former President Obama, is uncertain. He also notes some of the practical concerns surrounding the rule as proposed. We invite you to read his valuable discussion.

A unanimous three-judge panel has rejected the Trump Administration’s bid to revive a travel ban that would have blocked most travel into the United States by natives of seven Middle Eastern and African countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

For businesses, universities, individuals and others potentially affected by Trump’s executive order, the situation remains far from certain because the government has vowed to take the fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its Feb. 9 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by a federal judge in the state of Washington. As a result, the lower court’s TRO – which restrains implementation of Trump’s executive order – continues in effect for now.

But the TRO is, by definition, only temporary, so travel abroad by noncitizens from these countries is still potentially dangerous, even for those who have dual citizenship.

The legal battle over the ban is far from over. The Trump Administration could pursue an immediate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or could opt instead to ask for a rehearing at the Ninth Circuit before a much larger panel of judges. However the courts rule at this stage, the case could ultimately find its way back to the trial judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington for more in-depth hearings.

On February 3, 2017, a Seattle federal court judge granted Washington State and Minnesota’s emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in its challenge to President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.”

In accordance with the court ruling, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the EO, including actions to suspend passenger system rules that flag travelers for operational action subject to the EO. DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure. Further, the Department of State (DOS) has lifted the provisional revocation of valid visas of nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

According to DOS, those visas are now valid for travel to the United States may travel if the holder is otherwise eligible. However, DOS also stated that “individuals whose visas are expired or were physically cancelled, must apply for a new visa at the a U.S. embassy or consulate, absent a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) decision to grant parole or waive the visa requirement at the port of entry”. DOS has also resumed processing those immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications that were halted by the EO.

All CBP Field Offices have been instructed to immediately resume inspection of travelers under standard policies and procedures, and that all airlines and terminal operators have been notified to permit boarding of all passengers without regard to nationality.

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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.