Non-Immigrant Visas (other than Es, Ls and H-1B)

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the filing fee for premium processing will increase from $1,225 to $1,410, beginning on October 1, 2018.  According to USCIS, this 15% increase in price is in step with inflation since DHS last adjusted premium processing rates in 2010 and will allow USCIS to more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain service to petitioners.  The new rule was published in the Federal Register on August 31, 2018.

Premium processing is an optional expediting service that is currently authorized for certain employment-based petitioners filing Forms I-129 or I-140.  The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.  Under premium processing, USCIS has 15 days to process these specific types of employment-based immigration benefit requests.  Without premium processing, adjudication can take upwards of 4 months.

“Because premium processing fees have not been adjusted since 2010, our ability to improve the adjudications and service processes for all petitioners has been hindered as we’ve experienced significantly higher demand for immigration benefits.  Ultimately, adjusting the premium processing fee will allow us to continue making necessary investments in staff and technology to administer various immigration benefit requests more effectively and efficiently,” said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Moore.  “USCIS will continue adjudicating all petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations.”

Premium processing is available for certain employment based nonimmigrant visas, including H-1Bs, L-1s, O-1s and Ps, as well as some employment base permanent residency categories.  Earlier this year, USCIS suspended premium processing for all H-1B petitions subject to the annual quota on H-1 visas (i.e. “cap cases”).  This suspension was initially slated to end on September 10, 2018, but USCIS has now pushed that date back to February 19, 2019.  Additionally, USCIS also announced that, as of September 11, 2018, it will expand the suspension to include H-1B petitions seeking to amend existing H-1B status, to request a change of employer, or to change status.  Only H-1B petitions seeking an extension of status (with no change in circumstances or employer) or H-1B petitions filed under the H-1B Cap Exemption will be able to file under premium processing beginning September 10, 2018.  In the absence of premium processing, USCIS may take four to six months (or longer) to complete the processing of an H-1B petition.

Employers and employees alike will have to take into consideration the impact of processing times and increased fees when planning to file nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions.  The unavailability of premium processing can impact the timing of employment and prolong restrictions on international travel.

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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.

On May 21, 2018, I posted a blog regarding the then Proposed USCIS Policy Change for F, J, and M Nonimmigrants and Unlawful Presence implications.  On August 9, 2018, USCIS issued a revised final policy memorandum, effective that day.  USCIS made changes to its proposed policy after considering feedback the agency received during the public comment period mentioned in the prior blog post.

Effective August 9, 2018 (last Thursday), F and M nonimmigrants who timely file for reinstatement of status with USCIS after falling out of status will have the accrual of unlawful presence suspended while their application for reinstatement is pending.  The reinstatement application is considered timely if filed within a five month window of the student falling out of status. If the reinstatement is ultimately denied, unlawful presence will start accruing on the day after the denial.

J nonimmigrant reinstatement requests are administered by the Department of State (DOS) and if the J-1 reinstatement applicant’s request is approved, unlawful presence will not accrue.  Likewise, Unlawful Presence would start to accrue in the instance of a denial, although DOS has not weighed in at this time as to when it will begin to accrue.

USCIS will host a stakeholder meeting on August 23rd.  Please refer back to this blog as more information becomes available.

 

What’s a “Notice to Appear” (NTA)?  How about “unlawful presence”?  Phrases such as these may be a new for many following business/employment based immigration matters.  Because of new USCIS Policy memoranda, these removal terms are now added to our business immigration lexicon and concern.

 NTA is the charging document issued by an authorized agent of the US Department of Homeland Security initiating in adversarial proceedings.  Once an NTA is filed with the immigration court, jurisdiction vests in the Immigration Court and noncitizens enter into removal (fka deportation) proceedings to determine whether they may be removed from or stay in the US. The Immigration Court is part of the Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)

 Neither an employer, nor the nonimmigrant whose employer is seeking an immigration benefit such as an extension or change of their status wants an NTA!

 On June 28, 2018, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a Policy Memorandum updating its policy on the issuance of NTAs consistent with the January 25, 2017 Executive Order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” 

Effective July 5th, :” USCIS , along with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border  Protection (CBP), has legal authority under current immigration laws to issue NTAs.  This policy Memorandum updates the guidelines USCIS officers use to determine when to refer a case to ICE or to issue an NTA.  The revised policy generally requires USCIS to issue an NTA in the following categories of cases in which the individual is removable:

..Cases in which, upon denial of an application or petition, an applicant is unlawfully present in the United States”

 USCIS is the part of DHS which adjudicates immigration petitions for benefits such as H-1B status, L-1 status, greencard applications, etc.  Until recently, USCIS was the “service” providing agency.  It did not issue NTAs only due to the denial of a petition and the start of unlawful presence for the beneficiary.  But, what is “unlawful presence” and what does it mean?

 “Unlawful presence” is a legal term defined under section 212(a)(9)(B)(ii) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  It refers to a person who is ”present in the United States after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General or is present in the United States without being admitted or paroled.”  The consequence of being unlawfully present is that after 180 days of unlawful presence, a person who departs the US generally is barred from reentry for 3 years.  More is the pity for a person whose unlawful presence is for a year or longer—that person is barred for a decade.  There are possible waivers, but the 3/10 year bars have proven to be quite an effective deterrent against being “unlawfully present”. 

 Of course, the next question is: How does that phrase apply in the context of lawful, business/employment based immigration?  

 As a general statement, nonimmigrants entering the US lawfully are inspected and admitted into the US and are given a specific amount of time by the CBP officer to remain in the US in that visa category.   For example, an H-1B worker entering the US from a trip abroad would receive a stamp and an I-94 record would be created to indicate entry on a certain date in H-1B status until a fixed duration or end date.  After the expiration date (plus 60 days for the H-1b visa holder in our example), if neither employer, nor employee files an application to extend the H-1B status or to change to another status,  the unlawful presence clock would begin to run. 

 Until the most recent Policy Memorandum, USCIS would not begin removal proceedings against this person if, for some reason his/her visa request was denied and the denial was after the I-94 expiration date.  But if, unexpectedly an H-1B extension is denied and USCIS institutes removal proceedings, the worker can no longer work, apply for permanent residence or any other visa.  Moreover, the worker cannot even depart the country: failure to appear before the Immigration Judge results in an “in absentia” order of removal.  And, the employer loses a valuable employee who may not be able to return to the US for a decade.

 That’s not all: when “unlawful presence” became the law, it didn’t apply to most students.  F-1, F-2, M-1, J-1 and J-2s  generally enter the US with permission to remain until they have completed their education, not until a specific date, through the duration of their status.  Entry on “Duration of Status” or “D/S” did not trigger unlawful status if, for some reason, the nonimmigrant stayed in the US beyond the period authorized by their program or otherwise violated their status—for example, not being able to find constant employment during a period of Optional Practical Training.  As of August 9, 2018 –unless enjoined by a court—any time a nonimmigrant with “D/S” is out of status, he/she is unlawfully present—and is at risk of being placed in removal.

 As of May 31, 2018, there was a backlog of more than 700,000 removal cases. The Immigration Court is overwhelmed with a docket that will take many years to clear.  When a person is put into removal proceedings, when the NTA issues, as mentioned that person is not free to depart the US without a resolution of the removal matter.  These new Policies could dramatically clog the Immigration Court system that is already overwhelmed. Just as importantly, these policies intimidate students and workers from coming to the US, deter employers from hiring skilled foreign workers and discouraging foreign employers from investing in the US.

 

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.

 

If Congress cannot resolve FY2018 funding issues by December 8, 2017, it will result in another federal government shutdown. Such a shutdown will impact immigration services across a number of different government agencies, affecting many of the systems and processes employers rely on to facilitate employment, including E-Verify, visa petition processing, labor certifications and other government services that corporations and individuals rely upon.

We will closely monitor the circumstances and provide updates as they become available. Individuals with pending applications or who are planning to travel abroad to secure a visa should consult with their Fox Rothschild immigration attorney, prior to travel.

E-Verify

E-Verify, the Internet-based system that allows employers to determine the eligibility of prospective employees to work in the United States, would be unavailable during a shutdown. Although employers must still complete the Form I-9 on a timely basis, in the past, U.S. Department of Homeland Security has suspended E-Verify’s 3-day rule and extended the time for responding to Tentative Non-Confirmations. Federal contractors are recommended to contact their contracting officers to confirm time frames.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

As a fee-based agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will continue to process applications and petitions for immigration benefits during the shutdown; however, processing delays are likely, as a certain portion of the staff will be furloughed. Further, delays may occur if adjudication of a petition/application is dependent on support from nonessential government functions that are suspended during the shutdown—for example, if a petition requires a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL).

In the past, USCIS has relaxed its rules and accepted H-1B filings without certified LCAs when DOL operations have been suspended or delayed, however, USCIS has not yet announced whether it will do so during the current shutdown.

Department of Labor

The Department of Labor (DOL) will suspend all immigration-related functions during a shutdown, affecting PERM Labor Certifications and Labor Condition Applications. Filed and pending applications will not be processed, nor will filings be accepted during a shutdown.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The majority of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) employees are expected to stay on the job at the borders and ports of entry. CBP is deemed an essential function and will likely continue operations at near normal capacity, including the adjudication of applications/petitions for TN and L-1 status that are normally processed at the border.

The Department of State

In the past, The Department of State’s (DOS’s) consular operations have remained operational, although services may be limited. It is expected that U.S. Consulates abroad will continue to process visa applications as long as funds are available. This funding is expected to last only for a few days, at which point the State Department will likely cease processing visas and focus solely on diplomatic services and emergency services for American citizens.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Office U.S. Passports

The Bureau of Consular Affairs is a fee-based agency; therefore, the Passport Office should continue to operate normally during a shutdown. However, some those passport offices that are located in federal buildings, which themselves may have to shut down, restricting access to those passport offices.

Social Security Administration

While The Social Security Administration (SSA) is expected to remain open during a shutdown, it will not accept or processing Social Security Number (SSN) applications. Although an employee may begin work without a social security number, the lack of an SSN could affect the individual’s ability to secure a U.S. driver’s license, open a bank account, secure credit or obtain other benefits.

State Department of Motor Vehicle Agencies

Although driver’s license and state identification cards are issued by state governments, applications by foreign nationals could be delayed during the shutdown because local agencies must access a federal database to verify the foreign national’s immigration status before it may issue a driver’s license or identification card. This database, known as SAVE, could be suspended during a shutdown.

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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.

 

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.

Today, December 23, 2016, USCIS posted a large number of new form versions. The forms all have an effective date of today, December 23, 2016, and the website indicates that no other versions of the forms are acceptable, with the exception of Form I-129.  It appears USCIS is continuing to accept prior version of Form I-129. No prior notice of these changes was given, and there was no alert sent to stakeholders today.

Because USCIS elected to deviate from its normal procedures and did not provide notice to stakeholders or provide any grace period during which prior form versions could be submitted, it will pose some challenges to form vendors who will not have time to reprogram the case management software systems and applicants/petitioners who may remain unaware. 

USCIS has indicated to The American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA) that ,while it strongly encourages people to use the new version of the forms, it is aware that there may be older editions of the forms that have already been completed and are in the queue to be mailed and/or filed. USCIS said that it will be flexible and will apply discretion when receipting forms, rather than rejecting them outright.

Affected forms include the following: I-90, I-102, I-129, I-129CW, I-129F, I-130, I-131, I-131A, I-140, I-191, I-192, I-212, I-290B, I-360, I-485, I-485 Supplement A, I-525, I-539, I-600, I-600A, I-601, I-601A, I-612, I-690, I-694, I-698, I-751, I-765, I-800, I-800A, I-817, I-824, I-910, I-924, I-924A, I-929, I-942, I-942P, N-300, N-336, N-400, N-470, N-600, and N-600K.

Please also note that regardless of the form edition submitted, applications and petitions postmarked or filed on or after December 23, 2016, must include the new fees or USCIS will reject the submission.

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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 October 24, 2016, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) published a final rule confirming an increase to the processing fees for most of the applications and petitions it handles. This is a result of USCIS’ comprehensive review of the fee schedule for the fiscal year 2016/2017 the first USCIS fee increase since November 2010. The new fees will go into effect on December 23, 2016, which means that all applications or petitions postmarked on or after this date must include the new fees, or they will not be accepted by USCIS for processing.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS’ operational funding comes almost entirely from the user fees, and the current fees do not cover the full cost of services provided by the agency; the average fee increase of 21% is necessary to recover costs and maintain adequate level of services to the immigration benefits seekers.

While some applications see a relatively slight increase of $30 or $45, the cost of others, such as the Application for Adjustment of Status (I-485), Application for Naturalization (N-400), and Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (I-129) will go up by more than $100, which undoubtedly may affect certain applicants and petitioners, such as households with limited incomes or small employers. As a relief measure, simultaneously with the overall increase of the cost of services provided by USCIS, the agency now offers a reduced filing fee for the naturalization applicants (N-400) whose family income falls between 150% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which is adjusted annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to determine eligibility for certain federal programs. An additional benefit of the new rule is that USCIS will no longer automatically reject an immigration or naturalization benefit paid with a dishonored check or missing the required biometrics fee. Instead, applicants will be provided an opportunity to correct the deficient payment (i.e., USCIS will attempt to resubmit the insufficient check to the applicant’s bank once again) or by paying the required biometrics fee during their biometrics appointments or immigration interview. The new rule will not affect charge free services provided to refugees and asylum applicants, as well as other customers eligible for fee waivers or exemptions.

This chart lists some of the key new USCIS’ fees effective December 23, 2016. Applications and petitions postmarked or filed on or after December 23, 2016, must include these new fees or USCIS will reject the submission.  You can find the complete new fee schedule here.

Immigration Benefit Request New Fee ($) Old Fee ($)
I–90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card 455 365
I–102 Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document 445 330
I–129/129CW Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker 460 325
I–129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) 535 340
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative 535 420
I-131/I-131A Application for Travel Document 575 360
I–140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker 700 580
I–290B Notice of Appeal or Motion 675 630
I–360 Petition for Amerasian Widow(er) or Special Immigrant 435 405
I–485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status 1,140 985
I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (certain applicants under the age of 14 years) 750 635
I–526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur 3,675 1,500
I–539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status 370 290
I–600/600A Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative/Application for Advance Petition Processing of Orphan Petition 775 720
I–751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence 595 505
I–765 Application for Employment Authorization 410 380
I–824 Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition 465 405
I–829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions 3,750 3,750
I–924 Application for Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program 17,795 6,230
I–924A Annual Certification of Regional Center 3,035 0
N–400 Application for Naturalization* 640 595
N–470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes 355 330
N–565 Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document 555 345
N–600/N–600K Application for Certificate of Citizenship 1,170 600/5503
USCIS Immigrant Fee 220 165
Biometric Services Fee 85 85

*Certain low-income naturalization applicants may pay a filing fee of $320 plus the $85 biometric services fee. For eligibility details and filing instructions, see Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee and Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

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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 November 18, 2016, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule to “improve aspects of certain employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs.” This final rule also “amended regulations to better enable U.S. employers to hire and retain certain foreign workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions and are waiting to become lawful permanent residents.” The final rule will take effect on January 17, 2017. We will provide more in depth analysis and information in future posts and today we’ll provide an overview of this comprehensive rule.

First, the final rule clarifies and improve policies and practices related to the following areas:

  • H-1B extensions of stay under AC21. The final rule addresses the ability of H-1B nonimmigrant workers who are being sponsored for LPR status (and their dependents in H-4 nonimmigrant status) to extend their nonimmigrant stay beyond the otherwise applicable 6-year limit pursuant to AC21.
  • INA 204(j) portability. The final rule addresses the ability of certain workers who have pending applications for adjustment of status to change employers or jobs without endangering the approved Form I-140 petitions filed on their behalf.
  • H-1B portability. The final rule addresses the ability of H-1B nonimmigrant workers to change jobs or employers, including: (1) Beginning employment with new H-1B employers upon the filing of non-frivolous petitions for new H-1B employment (“H-1B portability petition”); and (2) allowing H-1B employers to file successive H-1B portability petitions (often referred to as “bridge petitions”) and clarifying how these petitions affect lawful status and work authorization.
  • Counting against the H-1B annual cap. The final rule clarifies the way in which H-1B nonimmigrant workers are counted against the annual H-1B numerical cap, including: (1) The method for calculating when these workers may access so-called remainder time (i.e., time when they were physically outside the United States), thus allowing them to use their full period of H-1B admission; and (2) the method for determining which H-1B nonimmigrant workers are “cap-exempt” as a result of previously being counted against the cap.
  • H-1B cap exemptions. The final rule clarifies and improves the method for determining which H-1B nonimmigrant workers are exempt from the H-1B numerical cap due to their employment at an institution of higher education, a nonprofit entity related to or affiliated with such an institution, or a governmental or nonprofit research organization, including a revision to the definition of the term “related or affiliated nonprofit entity.”
  • Protections for H-1B whistleblowers. The final rule addresses the ability of H-1B nonimmigrant workers who are disclosing information in aid of, or otherwise participating in, investigations regarding alleged violations of Labor Condition Application (LCA) obligations in the H-1B program to provide documentary evidence to USCIS to demonstrate that their resulting failure to maintain H-1B status was due to “extraordinary circumstances.”
  • Form I-140 petition validity. The final rule clarifies the circumstances under which an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140 petition) remains valid, even after the petitioner withdraws the petition or the petitioner’s business terminates, including for purposes of status extension applications filed on behalf of the beneficiary, job portability of H-1B nonimmigrants, and job portability under section 204(j) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1154(j).

Second, the final rule made the changes consistent with the goals of AC 21 and ACWIA to further provide stability and flexibility in certain immigrant visa and nonimmigrant visa categories in the following areas:

  • Establishment of priority dates. To enhance clarity for the regulated community, the final rule provides that a priority date is generally established based upon the filing of certain applications or petitions. The new regulatory language is consistent with existing DHS practice in establishing priority dates for other Form I-140 petitions that do not require permanent labor certifications (labor certifications)—such as petitions filed under the employment-based first preference immigrant visa (EB-1) category.
  • Retention of priority dates. To enhance job portability for workers with approved Form I-140 petitions, the final rule explains the circumstances under which workers may retain priority dates and effectively transfer those dates to new and subsequently approved Form I-140 petitions. Priority date retention will generally be available as long as the approval of the initial Form I-140 petition was not revoked for fraud, willful misrepresentation of a material fact, the invalidation or revocation of a labor certification, or material error. This provision improves the ability of certain workers to accept promotions, change employers, or pursue other employment opportunities without fear of losing their place in line for immigrant visas.
  • Retention of employment-based immigrant visa petitions. To enhance job portability for certain workers with approved Form I-140 petitions in the EB-1, second preference (EB-2), and third preference (EB-3) categories, but who are unable to obtain LPR status due to immigrant visa backlogs, the final rule provides that Form I-140 petitions that have been approved for 180 days or more would no longer be subject to automatic revocation based solely on withdrawal by the petitioner or the termination of the petitioner’s business.
  • Eligibility for employment authorization in compelling circumstances. To enhance stability and job flexibility for certain high-skilled nonimmigrant workers in the United States with approved Form I-140 petitions who cannot obtain an immigrant visa due to statutory limits on the number of immigrant visas that may be issued, the final rule allows certain beneficiaries in the United States in E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, or O-1 nonimmigrant status to apply for separate employment authorization for a limited period if there are compelling circumstances that, in the discretion of DHS, justify the issuance of employment authorization if: 1) They are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140 petition; 2) An immigration visa is not authorized for issuance for their priority date and; 3) they can demonstrate compelling circumstances exist that justify DHS issuing an employment authorization document in its discretion. This employment authorization may only be renewed in limited circumstances and only in one year increments.
  • 10-day nonimmigrant grace periods. To promote stability and flexibility for certain high-skilled nonimmigrant workers, the final rule provides two grace periods of up to 10 days, consistent with those already available to individuals in some nonimmigrant classifications, to individuals in the E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1, and TN classifications.
    • The rule allows an initial grace period of up to 10 days prior to the start of an authorized validity period, which provides nonimmigrants in the above classifications a reasonable amount of time to enter the United States and prepare to begin employment in the country.
    • The rule also allows a second grace period of up to 10 days after the end of an authorized validity period, which provides a reasonable amount of time for such nonimmigrants to depart the United States or take other actions to extend, change, or otherwise maintain lawful status.
  • 60-day nonimmigrant grace periods. To further enhance job portability, the final rule establishes a grace period of up to 60 consecutive days during each authorized validity period for individuals in the E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1 or TN classifications. This grace period allows high-skilled workers in these classifications, including those whose employment ceases prior to the end of the petition validity period, to more readily pursue new employment should they be eligible for other employer-sponsored nonimmigrant classifications or employment in the same classification with a new employer. The grace period also allows U.S. employers to more easily facilitate changes in employment for existing or newly recruited nonimmigrant workers.
  • H-1B licensing. To provide clarity and certainty to the regulated community, the final regulations codify current DHS policy regarding exceptions to the requirement that makes the approval of an H-1B petition contingent upon the beneficiary’s licensure where licensure is required to fully perform the duties of the relevant specialty occupation. The final rule generally allows for the temporary approval of an H-1B petition for an otherwise eligible unlicensed worker, if the petitioner can demonstrate that the worker is unable for certain technical reasons to obtain the required license before obtaining H-1B status. The final rule also clarifies the types of evidence that would need to be submitted to support approval of an H-1B petition on behalf of an unlicensed worker who will work in a state that allows the individual to be employed in the relevant occupation under the supervision of licensed senior or supervisory personnel.

Last, this final rule also automatically extends the employment authorization and validity of existing employment authorization documents (EADs) issued to certain employment-eligible individuals for up to 180 days from the date of expiration, as long as: (1) A renewal application is filed based on the same employment authorization category as the previously issued EAD (or the renewal application is for an individual approved for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) whose EAD was issued under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(19)); (2) the renewal application is timely filed prior to the expiration of the EAD (or, in accordance with an applicable Federal Register notice regarding procedures for renewing TPS-related employment documentation) and remains pending; and (3) the individual’s eligibility for employment authorization continues beyond the expiration of the EAD and an independent adjudication of the underlying eligibility is not a prerequisite to the extension of employment authorization. Additionally, DHS eliminates the regulatory provisions that require adjudication of the Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765 or EAD application) within 90 days of filing and that authorize interim EADs in cases where such adjudications are not conducted within the 90-day timeframe. These changes provide enhanced stability and certainty to employment-authorized individuals and their employers while reducing opportunities for fraud and protecting the security related processes undertaken for each EAD application.

A copy of the final rule can be found 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.

Recently, the American Immigration Council (Council) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) teamed up on a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) seeking to “obtain the information needed to provide the public with an understanding of the operating procedures and Defendant USCIS follows when administering the H-1B lottery. AILA seeks declaratory, injunctive and other appropriate relief under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, to compel the release of records …”

As stated in the complaint, with an annual limit of 65,000 visas for new hires, and 20,000 additional visas for professionals with an advanced degree from a U.S. university, employer’s demand for H-1B visas has exceeded the statutory cap for more than ten years. As a result, U.S. employers seeking highly skilled foreign professionals have to submit petitions to USCIS on the first five business day of April for the limited pool of H-1B nonimmigrant visa numbers that are available for the coming fiscal year. If USCIS determines at any time during the first five business days of the filing period that it has received more than enough petitions to meet the numerical limits, the agency will use a computer-generated random selection process (or “lottery”) to choose those petitions that will be accepted for processing according to the statutory limits, taking into account a percentage of the petitions selected which will be denied, withdrawn, or otherwise rejected. Petitions not selected will be returned to the petitioning employers.

“When petitions are submitted to USCIS in April, it’s as if they disappear into a ‘black box,’” said Melissa Crow, Legal Director of the American Immigration Council. “This suit is intended to pry open that box and let the American public and those most directly affected see how the lottery system works from start to finish, and to learn whether the system is operating fairly and all the numbers are being used as the law provides.” As stated by Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director, “Despite the Obama Administration’s public commitment to the values of transparency and accountability, frankly, our attempts to see into this process have been resisted. Instead of responding to our requests for information about how the lottery is conducted, how cap-subject petitions are processed, and how the numbers are estimated and tracked, USCIS has kept the process entirely opaque. This litigation is intended to shine a necessary light on an important process in America’s business immigration system. ”