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.

 

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.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on April 20, 2016 that that for two weeks after premium processing resumes for H-1B cap-subject petitions (scheduled to start on May 12, 2016), USCIS will temporarily suspend use of Pre-Paid Mailers. This means that USCIS will not use any provided pre-paid mailers submitted with H-1B cap petitions to return the final notices for premium processing subject H-1B cap petitions.  USCIS will instead use regular postal mail.

USCIS has stated that they have instituted this procedure due to resource limitations as they work to process all premium processing petitions in a timely manner.  After the two week period, USCIS will resume sending out final notices in pre-paid mailers, if provided by petitioners.

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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 December 22, 2015, DHS filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 60(b)(6) requesting that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia extend the stay of vacatur of the 2008 STEM OPT interim final rule for 90 days, in order to give the government additional time to analyze the more than 43,000 comments that were received in response to the agency’s October 19, 2015, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In this Leadership Blog post, AILA President-Elect William Stock outlines the government’s options for delaying the February 12, 2016, deadline, and explains the upshot of this legal maneuvering.

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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.

USCIS has announced that it received approximately 172,500 H-1B petitions during the filing period, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption.  On April 10, 2014, USCIS completed its computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption.  For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees, unless it is found to be a duplicate filing.  See USCIS’ Announcement here.

USCIS will begin the process of issuing receipt notices for those petitions accepted for processing and returning the complete filings of those petitions rejected/not selected.  Until the receipt notice or rejection package received by the attorney or petitioning employer, it is not possible to know whether any particular application has, in fact, been accepted for processing.  Given the volume of cases USCIS has to process, it is reasonable to expect that it will take at least several weeks to be fully completed/all packages or receipts to arrive at their destinations.

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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.

USCIS announced today that it has received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap for fiscal year (FY) 2015, including more than 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the advanced degree exemption.   Today was the last day USCIS would accept H-1B petitions subject to the FY 2015 cap (including the advanced degree exemption).  See USCIS’ Announcement here.

Before running the computer-generated process which will randomly select those petitions to be accepted for processing , USCIS must complete initial intake for all filings received during the filing period (April 1 – 7, 2014).  Due to the high number of petitions, USCIS is not yet able to announce the date on which it will conduct the random selection process.

After the random selection process is complete, USCIS will reject and return the filing, with fees, for all cap-subject petitions that are not selected, unless found to be a duplicate filing.  Until this process is complete, it is not possible to know whether any particular application has, in fact, been accepted for processing.

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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.

As many are aware, the filing period for H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year 2015 numerical cap begins in less than one week, on April 1, 2014. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) currently reports again this year that it anticipates receipt of more than the allotted quota of 65,000 cap-subject H-1B petitions (including more than 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher). This means that the H-1B cap will most likely be met in the first five business days of the filing season, between April 1 and April 7, 2014. In short, if you are looking for a shot at an H-1B visa this coming year, your properly completed, signed and supported petition must be received at USCIS no later than April 7, 2014.

There are only a limited number of new H-1B visas available each year (65,000 total), and the next allotment becomes available when the federal government’s fiscal year begins on October 1, 2014. An employer may file an H-1B petition as early as six months in advance of the anticipated start date, which means that an employer may file an H-1B petition for a cap-subject worker as early as April1, 2014.

Under the current law, if more than enough petitions are filed to reach the numerical limit (as expected), USCIS will include all petitions filed in the first five business days in the random selection process to choose those petitions that will be accepted for processing. This means that the window for filing is anticipated to close on the fifth business day of April (April 7, 2014). USCIS will then run a random selection process to choose those petitions that will be accepted for processing, rejecting those petitions not selected.  It will first conduct the selection process for the 20,000 allotted U.S. master’s/advance degreed petitions, and then will include any advanced degree petitions not selected in the second random selection process for the remainder to meet the 65,000 limit. Last year, USCIS received approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions during the first five business day of April.

H-1B petitions may be filed under the USCIS’ expedited processing service called “premium processing.” However, in anticipation of a high number of premium processing filings and in order to facilitate the prioritized intake of these petitions, USCIS has temporarily adjusted its current premium processing practice. Now, premium processing on H-1B cap subject petitions will begin no later than April 28, 2014 (instead of immediately upon filing).

Petitioners may request premium processing at the time of filing and are also able to upgrade a pending H-1B cap petition to premium processing after a receipt notice is issued, per usual procedures, although the service will remain, technically, unavailable until April 28, 2014. Note that theForm I-797 receipt notice may indicate the date that the premium processing fee is received, but the 15-day processing period set by 8 CFR 103.7(e)(2) will not begin, at the latest, until April 28, 2014.

Remember that irrespective of when an H-1B cap subject petition is filed, if/when the application is approved, the employment start date of the visa will not be earlier than October 1, 2014. In some circumstances, the filing of an H-1B cap subject petition can extend certain employees’ status and work authorization to enable them to bridge a common gap between when work authorizing documents issued to recent graduates expire in the spring or early summer until the effective date of the H-1B visa on October 1.

If you have an employee who requires an H-1B petition in order to remain employed, please contact Fox Rothschild immediately.  It MAY still be possible to prepare and file a petition before the window for filing closes, but this opportunity diminishes with each passing hour.

If Fox Rothschild is assisting you with the filing of an H-1B petition subject to the cap, we will automatically notify you upon the filing of the petition and upon its acceptance for processing (i.e., selection in the lottery) or rejection.

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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.

You’re a Human Resources guru.  A few years ago, your employer petitioned for H-1B status for a foreign student.  The H-1B employee is working out really well and is in the middle of a project that is critical to the company.  You just became aware that the employee’s H-1B status expires on September 30th of this year.  Of late, you’ve been hearing a lot of news about the H-1B cap and the need to file H-1B petitions on or about April 1st for an October 1st start date.  The H-1B employee is concerned and you aren’t really sure whether all the urgency relating to the April 1st filing target applies to your company.  The dates seem to match up with what everyone is talking about, but does this need attention right away?  Is your company subject to the H-1B cap?  Is the employee subject to the cap?  What exactly does that mean…to be “cap subject”?  Could you lose the worker?

Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is call your friendly immigration attorney for advice.  But, here are a few points to keep in mind: 

  • Within each federal government fiscal year (10/1 to 9/30), there is a limit on the number of certain H-1B petitions that USCIS may approve.  For the coming fiscal year, the limit is 65,000 with an additional 20,000 for petitions involving a master or higher degree. There are also separate numbers for citizens of Chile and Singapore.
  • Some H-1B petitions count against this annual fiscal year limit or “cap” and some do not.
  • Those which USCIS counts against the cap are of course referred to as “ cap subject”.  Those which are not counted against the H-1B cap are typically referred to as “ cap exempt”.
  • An exemption to the H-1B cap can apply to a petitioning employer or to an employee. 
  • A good place to find a summary of the exemptions is on the H-1B petition form.  Like most legal concepts, the exemptions are of course subject to interpretation.
  • When the exepcted or actual demand for H-1B workers exceeds the total number of H-1B petitions that can be approved in a given fiscal year, there is an urgency to filing a cap-subject H-1B petition within a prescribed time period or as early as possible beginning on April 1st (depending on how USCIS decides to manage the anticipated over-abundance of H-1B petitions in a given year).
  • An H-1B petitioning employer that is cap-exempt may file an H-1B petition at any time of the year, whether for a new employee or to extend the H-1B classification of a current employee.
  • A foreign national who is exempt from the H-1B cap may be sponsored at any time of the year.
  • Those who do not qualify for an exemption are the ones who must be mindful of the highly sensitive timings.

The H-1B cap-subject/cap-exemption analysis can be complex.  Rather than guess, if you have questions about the H-1B cap, now is a good time to seek resolution, figure out a strategy with your immigration attorney, and move forward.

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Ms. Wadhwani is a partner in the Immigration Group at Fox Rothschild LLP.  She may be reached at cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com.