The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has resumed processing of EB-5 Regional Center applications/petitions.  The EB-5 Regional Center Program has been authorized and extended for three weeks in connection with the short-term spending bill signed by President Trump, thereby ending the government shutdown.  The continuing resolution (CR) reopens the government through February 15, 2019.   The CR also lifts the suspension on other immigration programs including E-Verify, religious workers programs, and Conrad 30 Waiver Program for J-1 physicians.

Cap-subject US employers and their prospective employees alike have been waiting on edge to find out whether the FY2020 H-1B Cap Season would proceed as before or whether US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS’s) recently proposed significant changes would be implemented to take effect before April 2019.  The result:  the Registration requirement will not take effect in April 2019, but the lottery will be held with the selection process reversed 

What does this mean?  In effect and as anticipated, US employers should proceed as before to have their H-1B cap cases analyzed, prepared and filed during the first week of April. For FY2020, cap-subject employers will not be required to electronically register their intended H-1B petitions in the lottery. In order to test and refine the system, USCIS decided to suspend the electronic registration requirement for this fiscal year.  Before implementing the electronic registration requirement in the future, an announcement will appear in the Federal Register to notify the public.

There will, however, be an important change this cap season.  That is, cap-subject petitions will first be chosen from the regular cap of 65,000 and only then will the 20,000 advanced degree exemption petitions be selected.  USCIS believes that reversing the selection process will result in a significantly higher number (16% or 5,340 workers) of petitions being chosen on behalf of beneficiaries who possess a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. higher education institution.  USCIS states reversing the selection order is in support of the President’s April 18, 2017 Buy American and Hire American Executive Order which directed the Agency to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”  Unfortunately, the Rule change doesn’t seem to consider the potentially negative impact on US employers who rely on professionals who possess less than a master’s degree nor employers whose workers are offered an appropriate wage for their profession, but are not the most highly paid overall.

When the electronic registration requirement is implemented, cap-subject US employers who want to file H-1B petitions, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, will have to electronically register with USCIS during a specifically designated registration period.  Notice of the electronic registration period is to be provided at least 30 days in advance to the start date.  USCIS will then select from the electronic registrations to determine which employers may proceed to file their H-1B petitions.  For more on this topic, please see my blog post H-1B Cap Season: Important Proposed Changes dated December 4th on Fox Rothschild’s Immigration View blog.

As in prior years, USCIS will post H-1B cap information on its website at www.uscis.gov in advance of the time for filing cap-subject H-1B petitions.

E-Verify has resumed operations following the government shutdown.  This federal government system used by many employers to confirm eligibility of employees to work in the United States had been closed during the 35-day shutdown.

While enrolling in E-Verify is mostly voluntary, once an employer is enrolled in E-Verify, it is critical to follow the rules and associated timelines with creating E-Verify cases for new hires.  During the shutdown, employers were unable to create E-Verify cases for new hires including those employees hired just before the shutdown and those hired during the shutdown.  It is important to remember during the shutdown, employers were still required to timely complete Form I-9.  Now that the shutdown is over, it is imperative employers take the following steps immediately:

  • Creating E-Verify Cases: Create an E-Verify case for every employee hired during (or just prior to) the shutdown by February 11, 2019.  Use the date of hire from the employee’s Form I-9.  If the E-Verify case creation date is more than three days after the date the employee began working for pay, select the option for “Other” in the drop down menu and enter “E-Verify Not Available” as the reason.
  • Handling TNCs:  If an employee received a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC) before E-Verify resumed, and the employee has notified the employer of his or her intention to contest the TNC by February 11, 2019, the employer should revise the date by which the employee must contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to resolve the TNC.  Specifically, the employer should add 10 federal business days to the date on the “Referral Date Confirmation” notice and provide the revised notice to the employee (the employer may revise the dates on the hard copy of the notice after printing a copy).  Federal business days are Monday through Friday and do not include federal holidays.  This  extended deadline does not apply to TNC cases referred after E-Verify resumed operations.
  • Advising Federal Contractors:  DHS guidance is that any calendar day during which E-Verify was unavailable during the shutdown should not count toward the federal contractor deadlines.  Federal contractors must consult with their contracting officer as to how to proceed.

As a result of the lengthy shutdown, E-Verify anticipates there will be delays in processing times and in responses to requests for assistance.  Employers who utilize E-Verify will need to remain alert in the event there is another government shutdown in February.  Please contact your Fox Rothschild Immigration Attorney with any questions.

The co-chairs of Fox Rothschild’s Immigration practice group will be making presentations in many Fox offices on Immigration Compliance: What Employers Need to Know over the next few months. These presentations include an overview of immigration and workplace compliance, including Form I-9 and government inspections.

Topics:

  • Specifics about executing the I-9 under current rules
  • Documenting employees without violating anti-discrimination laws
  • Identifying and reviewing documents for authenticity
  • Auditing and correcting I-9 forms
  • Navigating pitfalls in the process
  • Understanding the penalties for noncompliance, including simple clerical errors
  • Handling the receipt of Social Security no-match letters
  • Best practices for developing a companywide compliance program
  • Live Q&A

These Fox offices are currently scheduled for live programs on the following dates:

Ali Brodie – Los Angeles, California  January 16, 8:30am

Alka Bahal – Princeton, New Jersey  January 17, 12:00 noon

Alka Bahal – Morristown, New Jersey  January 25, 12:00 noon

Alka Bahal – New York, New York  January 29, 8:30am

Ali Brodie – Seattle, Washington  January 31, 8:30am

Ali Brodie – San Francisco, California  March, 5, 8:30am

Alka Bahal & Catherine Wadhwani – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania March 25, 11:30am

Follow the links to the cities above to register for these programs. You may also register by calling 1.877.778.7369 or by emailing the events team at events@foxrothschild.com. Check back here for additional dates and times as more programs are added.

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” (December 17, 2018), reflecting his analysis of current trends and future projections for the various immigrant preference categories.

This month, Charlie’s comments on the first quarter of this fiscal year are limited due to insufficient data, but we look forward to more specific predictions on demand trends and date movement in the coming months.    

Check-in with DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim: December 17, 2018

Final Action Date Movements Largely Track Those of Q1 FY2019

With only modest movement in the employment-based preference categories for the first quarter of the fiscal year, we were hoping to see more dramatic forward movement in some of these categories starting with the January 2019 Visa Bulletin.  However, movement tracks similarly to what we experienced during the first quarter.

As of now, Charlie does not have sufficient data to know whether the current demand trend will continue into January so he is unable to comfortably predict final action date movements in the near term.  While Charlie initially hoped to publish specific projections in the January Bulletin, he now expects to publish projections in the February Visa Bulletin.

Since final action dates in several employment-based categories retrogressed during the final months of FY2018, demand in the first quarter was generally high across these categories, and applications which were unable to be processed for a few months are now coming through the pipeline.  Charlie is concerned that demand data may be artificially high and not reflect the true level of future demand.  He will continue to cautiously monitor demand levels over the next few weeks to assess whether this is a true trend and will make predictions accordingly.

Strike While the Iron is Hot!

It has been fortunate that USCIS has decided to accept adjustment of status applications based on the “Dates for Filing” through the first quarter of FY2019. It is Charlie’s understanding that USCIS will announce as early as Monday, December 17, that it will continue to follow the Dates for Filing for applications in January, but that the Final Action Dates may apply as early as February after that.  (Editor’s note: USCIS’ site on dates of filing appears to continue to track the dates for filing in the January 2019 DATES FOR FILING OF EMPLOYMENT-BASED VISA APPLICATIONS.   Therefore, applicants wishing to take advantage of the more liberal “Dates of Filing” should do so while that window of opportunity is open.  Interestingly, for both EB-3 China and India, the Dates for Filing for surpass those for EB-2.  This creates the potential for downgrade filings which may not be available after January.

Note: As always, as final action date movements can be unpredictable, it is critical for clients to file their applications to adjust status or to respond to the NVC Agent of Choice letter as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Programs that Will Sunset if Not Reauthorized

The EB-4 Religious Workers (SR) and EB-5 categories (I5 and R5) will sunset on December 21, 2018 unless reauthorized by Congress.  They are therefore listed as unavailable for January 2019.  The Visa Bulletin lists the final action dates that will apply to these categories, should they be reauthorized.

National Visa Center Filing Statistics Released

The January Visa Bulletin cites to an NVC report of immigrant visa applicants for both family-based and employment-based preference categories that were registered at the NVC as of November 1, 2018.

You may access the December 2018 Visa Bulletin here and the January 2019 Visa Bulletin here.

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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.

After the USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna revealed that USCIS will end the practice of denying pending I-131 applications when an applicant travels overseas, USCIS recently updated its website with detailed information. Under the “Special Instructions” section of Form I-131, Applications for Travel Document, it states, “an individual may have an approved advance parole document while a second one is pending. Individual may travel on the approved advance parole document, provided the document is valid for the entire duration of the time abroad.” In this situation, USCIS confirms that the pending Form I-131 will not be considered abandoned. However, USCIS also notes that if the individual files Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, to request an advance parole document and departs the United States without possession of a valid advance parole document for the entire period the individual is abroad, the application of I-131 will still be considered abandoned in this situation.

 

Congressional negotiations on federal spending for the remainder of FY 2019 remain very active. If Congress and the President can’t come to an agreement on a spending bill or continuing resolution by midnight Friday, December 21, 2018, approximately 25 percent of government functions will shut down. Such a shut down 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 the Department of Homeland Security and its immigration-related components (CBP, ICE, USCIS, CIS Ombudsman), the Department of Justice (EOIR), and the Department of State. However, unlike years past, the Department of Labor (DOL) would not be impacted by a government shut down because on September 28, 2018, President Trump signed a minibus appropriations bill funding DOL through the end of September 30, 2019.

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.

Generally, if the government shuts for budgetary reasons, all but “essential” personnel are furloughed and are not allowed to work.

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 shut down.  Although USCIS has not yet confirmed how cases will be processed post-shut down, 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 due to a federal shut down.  Federal contractors are recommended to contact their contracting officers to confirm time frames.  Employers must still complete the Form I-9 on a timely basis.

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 shut down; however, processing delays are likely, as a certain portion of the staff will be furloughed.  Note, however, that myE-Verify services would be unavailable, including myE-Verify accounts, Self Check, Self Lock, Case History, and Case Tracker. 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 shut down.

Department of Labor

The Department of Labor (DOL) will continue normal operations as it has been funded through the end of September 30, 2019 by a minibus appropriations bill.

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, however, there may be delays or other issues with the adjudication of applications/petitions for visa status that are normally processed at the border.

The Department of State

The Department of State’s Visa and passport operations are fee-funded and should not be impacted, however, consular operations may be limited.  It is expected that U.S. Consulates abroad will continue to process visa applications for a limited period, 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 shut down.  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 shut down, in the past, it has stopped acceptance or processing of Social Security Number (SSN) applications during the shut down.  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 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 shut down 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 shut down.

___________________________

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.

President Trump signed a spending bill thereby averting a government shutdown.  The continuing resolution (CR) provides for a short-term extension of the EB-5 Regional Center Program through December 21, 2018.  The CR also extends the E-Verify and Religious Workers programs.   The CR extends the EB-5 Regional Center Program without any changes.  We will be closely following activity on Capitol Hill surrounding EB-5 reform and/or extension efforts.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend USCIS Regulations relating to cap-subject H-1B petitions filed under both the regular cap and advanced degree exemption. Comments from the public may be submitted to the agency within the next 30 days.  This does not affect cap-exempt H-1B petitions.

 While the proposed changes are subject to possible modification, be aware that the upcoming H-1B cap season will likely be dramatically different from past years.  Highlights of the proposed changes include:

Pre-Registration

Electronic Registration/Pre-Registration
There is a proposed requirement that all cap-subject H-1B employers first register each intended petition electronically with USCIS during a designated period rather than directly filing complete H-1B petition packets with USCIS.  Basic information relating to the petitioner and beneficiary would be required in order to register. An employer would be limited to one registration per beneficiary within the same fiscal year.  USCIS does not plan to impose a registration fee at this time.  Only those employers whose registrations are selected (selected registrants) would be eligible to file cap-subject H-1B petitions during the particular filing period. 

Initial Registration/Random Selection 
An initial, time-limited registration period would be created with a start date at least 14 days prior to April 1st, which is the first date when cap-subject petitions may be filed each year. During the initial registration period USCIS would determine whether sufficient employer registrations were received to reach the regular cap for the new fiscal year.

  • If not, USCIS would notify all registrants that they may file their H-1B cap-subject petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries and registration would remain open to employers.

    • On a rolling basis, USCIS would continue accepting and selecting electronic registrations until the regular H-1B cap is met, checking registration numbers at the end of each day to determine when there are enough to meet the cap.
    • A random selection may or may not be conducted as determined by USCIS.
  • If so, USCIS would close the registration period and randomly select enough registrants to meet the regular cap.
  • USCIS would notify the selected registrants of the applicable H-1B petition filing period and where to file their H-1B cap-subject petitions.
  • After the selection process is completed for the regular cap, USCIS would determine whether there are enough remaining eligible registrants to meet the 20,000 advanced degree exemption.
    • If not, USCIS would notify all registrants that they may file their H-1B cap-subject petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries and registration would remain open to employers.
    • USCIS would continue accepting and selecting electronic registrations until the advanced degree exemption is met. A random selection may or may not be conducted as determined by USCIS.
  • If so, USCIS would close the registration period and use a computer-generated random selection process to meet the advanced degree exemption.

Petition Filing for Selected Registrants Only
USCIS would notify the selected registrants when and where they may file their H-1B petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries.  Only the selected registrants would be permitted to file cap-subject H-1B petitions.

  • An employer that registers to file multiple petitions (each on behalf of a different beneficiary) may be selected to file some of its petitions and not selected for others.

Unselected Registrations
Unselected registrations would remain on reserve for the fiscal year so that if USCIS determined that it must increase the number of registrations to meet the regular cap or advanced degree exemption (presumably in case some of the selected registrants fail to file or their H-1B petitions are denied), then USCIS would select from among the reserve registrants and if needed re-open the registration until the regular and advance degree exemptions are met. 

  • If the registration period is re-opened, USCIS would announce the re-opened registration period start date on its website and accept additional registrations sufficient to meet the new projected amount of registrations needed to meet the regular cap and/or advanced degree exemption. 

 Selection Process

Regular Cap Exhausted First
With the goal of maximizing approvals for the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries, the proposed regulations would change the sequence for considering petitions filed for beneficiaries counted against the regular cap or beneficiaries counted under the advanced degree exemption.

  • USCIS would select registrants toward the regular cap first until that cap is reached.  This would include all registrants (that is, those seeking to employ beneficiaries with only bachelor degrees or equivalent as well as those with advanced degrees from US education institutions).
  • Only when the projected number of registrations needed to meet the regular cap is reached would USCIS select registrants who are eligible for the advanced degree exemption.

The proposed rule states that by changing the selection order, USCIS believes that the total number of petitions selected under the regular cap for H-1B beneficiaries possessing a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education will increase overall each fiscal year.


If you wish to discuss your plans for the upcoming H-1B cap season or the proposed rule, please contact your Fox Rothschild attorney or any of the firm’s Immigration Practice Group co-chairs.

Employers large and small need to understand how immigration policy updates and enforcement affect their workplace compliance status. In a time of ramped-up government inspections, lack of preparation or information can leave businesses facing penalties. In fact, common structural changes like mergers, reorganizations, downsizing, relocations and layoffs require employers to reassess documentation for visa-holding employees and potentially notify government agencies. Knowing what to do is half the battle.

Immigration Practice Co-Chairs Alka Bahal, Ali Brodie and Catherine Wadhwani offer a free webinar on November 13, Immigration Compliance: What Employers Need To Know, that focuses on key issues facing employers who hire personnel from all corners of the globe.

•   The immigration landscape in 2018 under the Trump administration

•   Current Form I-9 requirements – avoiding potential pitfalls

•   Organizational tips and best practices

•   Proactive steps to improve your compliance program

•   Audits and inspections by ICE and Department of Homeland Security

The event is open for registration through November 11.