U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Statue of Liberty
Copyright: dvrcan / 123RF Stock Photo

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

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

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.

___________________________

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.

___________________________

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.

Statue of Liberty
Copyright: dvrcan / 123RF Stock Photo

On our Emerging Companies Insider blog, Fox associate Alex Radus published an excellent piece covering a proposed new rule by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The rule would grant limited entrée to entrepreneurs establishing stateside startups. The rule would permit the Secretary of Homeland Security to offer parole (temporary permission to be in the U.S.) to individuals whose businesses provide “significant public benefit.” That means the startup should have a substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation, and that the entrepreneur’s parole would significantly help the startup conduct and grow its business in the U.S.

Alex outlines the qualifications that foreign entrepreneurs will have to meet when seeking to benefit from the program, as well as the investor requirements and timespan involved. He also notes some of the practical concerns surrounding the rule as proposed. We invite you to read his valuable discussion and join the debate during the public comment period provided by DHS.

In a continuation of its effort to encourage eligible immigrants to become U.S. citizens, the Obama administration is proposing adjustments to the immigration benefit fee schedule that would raise the cost of some benefits but reduce naturalization fees for certain low-income immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its proposed changes to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fee Schedule on May 4, 2016, affecting its fees for services.  The proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register (81 FR 26904, 5/4/16) and is open for comment. Comments are due by July 5, 2016. The proposed changes are likely to go into effect this fall.

According to USCIS, it conducted a comprehensive fee review, after refining its cost accounting process, and determined that current fees do not recover the full costs of the services it provides.  Accordingly, it has stated that adjustment to the fee schedule is necessary to fully recover its costs for services and to maintain adequate service levels.  DHS proposes to increase USCIS fees by a weighted average of 21 percent and add one new fee.  In addition, DHS proposes to clarify that persons filing a benefit request may be required to appear for biometrics services or an interview and pay the biometrics services fee, and make a number of other changes.  USCIS last adjusted its fee schedule in 2010.

This chart summarizes the proposed changes.  The range of fee changes varies, for example, increasing by $45 for an application for naturalization and by $195 for an application for a fiancé visa. The rules also include a new fee of $3,035 to recover the full cost of processing the Employment Based Immigrant Visa, Fifth Preference (EB-5) Annual Certification of Regional Center, Form I-924A.  In addition, the DHS proposal would clarify that people who apply for a benefit may be required to appear for biometrics services or an interview and to pay the biometrics services fee, among other changes

Largely exempt from the increases, however, are low income immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens.  Under the proposed rule, “DHS would charge a reduced fee of $320 for naturalization applicants with family income greater than 150 percent and not more than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.”

“DHS is proposing this change to increase access to United States citizenship,” the proposed rule explains.  The allowance effectively cuts in half the current cost of naturalization — $680, including the $85 biometric fee for these individuals while seeking an additional $45 increase in the cost of naturalization applications for those immigrants who can afford it.

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), who has been promoting naturalization and voter registration across the country as a means for immigrants to “Stand Up to Hate,” cheered the rule.  “Right now, a lot of immigrants face a difficult choice: pay $700 or so for the chance to take all the tests and apply for citizenship, or pay $450 to renew a green-card for five years,” Gutiérrez said in a statement.

“Now, the math is much better,” he continued. “You can apply for citizenship and a fee waiver and become an American citizen – with all the rights, duties and honor of citizenship – for a more attainable price or maybe even for free.  The new calculation is going to mean that millions of those who are already eligible can finally take the step and apply for citizenship.”

Applicants can apply for a fee waiver if their income is below or 150 percent of the poverty line, they are receiving a means-tested benefit, or they are experiencing “financial hardship.”

In recent years the Obama administration has put an emphasis on encouraging the estimated 8.8 million eligible legal permanent residents in the U.S. to naturalize and become citizens. Immigration activists, like Gutiérrez, have also embarked on campaigns to help immigrants naturalize and register to vote in a bid to influence the upcoming 2016 election.

___________________________

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.

Moving quickly along, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informed the public that it completed data entry of all “winning” fiscal year 2017 (FY2017) H-1B cap-subject petitions (i.e., petitions that were selected in the computer-generated random process).  The announcement was made on May 2, 2016.  Considering that approximately 236,000 H-1B cap-subject petitions were received by USCIS in early April, it is quite a feat that the Immigration Service conducted the lottery and completed data entry on the selected petitions so fast.

Due to volume and to balance the workload, USCIS stated that it will be transferring some of the selected petitions from the Vermont Service Center (VSC) to the California Service Center (CSC).  Employers whose petitions are transferred will be notified via mail and should communicate with the indicated Service Center going forward, including for such things as upgrading to premium processing.

USCIS will return the “unselected” cap-subject H-1B petitions to employers, but could not provide a time frame for this due to the large number of petitions for which there were no available H-1B numbers.  USCIS stated that it will issue an announcement after all of the unselected petitions are sent for return.

__________________

Catherine Wadhwani is a Partner in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Immigration Practice Group.  She may be reached at (412) 394-5540 or cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com.

 

Congress in 2015 tried to tackle new EB-5 reform legislation, but instead chose to extend the program without any changes until September 30, 2016. This was a result of an impasse on issues relating to increase in the capital threshold amount and the change in the metrics used to determine what is a (“TEA”) targeted employment area. The contentious debate on these issues provided both developers and regional centers one more year of status quo in the program.

What will happen this year is anyone’s guess. What we do know is that Congress is holding hearings on EB-5 reform. These hearings provide the opportunity for individuals in the EB-5 industry to voice their opinion as to the future of the program.

On Wednesday April 13th 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its second hearing of 2016 on the EB-5 Program titled, The Distortion of EB-5 Targeted Employment Areas: Time to End the Abuse.  The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from several witnesses including the Executive Director of IIUSA, Peter Joseph.  IIUSA is the national non-profit trade association representing EB-5 developers, regional centers and other professionals that are in the EB-5 space. Peter Joseph in his testimony pointed to several critical issues that the Committee should consider in the long term reauthorization of the EB-5 legislation. Those issues include:

  • Increase visa capacity to enhance economic impact of EB-5 and address the backlog of

investors currently waiting for visas to be available.

  • Staff commercially viable processing system at USCIS that addresses existing backlogs

and prioritizes predictability and length of processing times for EB-5 related petitions and

applications.

  • Avoid retroactive application of new law and reform to protect the existing EB-5

investors and their families and the billions of dollars in financial commitments and

contractual obligations.

  • Ensure all EB-5 investors with petitions currently filed, or at a later stage in the EB-5

process, are guaranteed adjudication (not approval) and eligibility for immigration

benefits throughout the entire EB-5 process (I-526 petition, EB-5 visa issuance, and I-829 petition)

regardless of future reforms, lapses, or expiration of the program.

  • Continue to allow economic impact models including indirect/induced job creation to

count for EB-5 purposes (using the same econometric models that are generally accepted

as economic policymaking tools by government, academia, and business).

  • Improve program integrity, including through enhanced oversight and reporting

requirements of Regional Centers that are not unduly burdensome, such as site visits

funded by user fees.

  • Clarify geographic (including targeted employment areas (TEAs)), structural, and

industry project characteristics that enable consistent adjudication of EB-5 petitions and

applications.

The issues that Peter Joseph mentioned in his testimony on Capitol Hill clearly mirror the position that most in the EB-5 industry have taken on EB-5 reform. The program has been largely a success with a substantial amount of foreign capital being invested in job creating projects in the United States. Everyone in the EB-5 space would like to see an extension of the EB-5 legislation for at least a five (5) year period.

Since 2008, the Program’s annual contribution to foreign direct investment inbound into the U.S. grew over 1,200% to total almost $5 billion in fiscal year 2015 alone. This investment capital is creating tens of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers in diverse communities by funding projects in a wide variety of industry sectors across the country.

Will Congress take any action this year to reform the current EB-5 legislation? I believe not.

This is a Presidential election year. It is very likely that Congress will defer on making any substantive changes to the EB-5 program until 2017. Immigration reform legislation has never passed both houses of Congress in an election year.

The economic benefits of the EB-5 program are not in dispute. The major issue that Congress needs to address is improving the compliance portion of the legislation. This will provide transparency to the program. Something that is much needed.

 

As anticipated, the number of cap-subject H-1B petitions filed by U.S. employers exceeded the 65,000 general cap and the 20,000 master’s degree exemption for fiscal year 2017 (FY2017).

Yesterday, April 7, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS or the Immigration Service) announced that the FY 2017 H-1B cap had been reached and that it had also received more than 20,000 petitions under the master’s or higher degree exemption.

At this point the Immigration Service will turn its attention to initial intake on the H-1B petitions that it received before the cap was reached.  Due to the high volume of petitions received, USCIS stated that it cannot yet say when it will implement use of its computer-generated H-1B Lottery process to determine which petitions will be processed.

As in prior years, petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption will be selected first.  Thereafter, presuming that there are in excess of 20,000 advanced degree petitions, the remaining advanced degree petitions will be added into the 65,000 general cap for consideration.

Petitions that are not selected and are not duplicate filings will be rejected and returned (with unused filing fees) to the petitioner.

___________________

Catherine Wadhwani is a partner in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Immigration Practice Group.  You can reach Catherine at (412) 394-5540 or cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com.

 

As you likely know, April 1st was the first day when cap-subject H-1B petitions could be accepted for Fiscal Year 2017.  Now that the filings have started, here is a quick summary of some key information provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS or Immigration Services) in a March 16, 2016 release captioned, “USCIS Will Accept H-1B Petitions for Fiscal Year 2017 Beginning April 1, 2016”:

  • The congressionally mandated H-1B cap remains at 65,000 for FY 2017 along with the cap exemption for the first 20,000 petitions received for those with a U.S. master’s degree or higher (the latter being commonly referred to as the “Master’s Cap”).
  • It is again expected that USCIS will receive more than 65,000 petitions during the first 5 business days of April 2016.
  • USCIS will monitor the number of petitions received and let public know when the H-1B cap has been reached.
  • The H-1B Lottery system (computer-generated lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions required to meet the cap) will again be used if as expected, during the first 5 business days of April, USCIS receives more cap-subject H-1B petitions than there are numbers available.
  • If your petition isn’t selected in the Lottery or is received after the cap is closed, USCIS will reject it.
  • An H-1B petition is “accepted” only on the date when USCIS receives a properly filed petition with the appropriate fees.
  • Premium (15-day) Processing of cap-subject H-1B petitions is expected to be delayed, but begin no later than May 16, 2016.  This is to allow personnel time to enter data on the massive number of petitions that are expected during the first 5 business days of April.
  • USCIS provided special instruction for employers whose H-1B workers will work in different locations as follows:  “H-1B petitioners are reminded that when the temporary employment or training will be in different locations, the state where your company or organization’s primary office is located will determine where you should send your Form I-129 package, regardless of where in the United States the various worksites are located. Please ensure that when temporary employment or training will be in different locations, the address on page 1, part 1 of Form I-129 is for your organization’s primary office. Please note that when listing a “home office” as a work site location on Part 5, question 3, USCIS will consider this a separate and distinct work site location.”

Let the data entry begin…

________________________

Catherine Wadhwani is a Partner in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Immigration Practice Group.  Catherine is situated in Fox Rothschild’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania office though she practices throughout the United States and at Consulates worldwide.  You can reach Catherine at (412) 394-5540 or cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com.

 

Since September 30, 2015 Congress has considered several immigration bills that would have completely overhauled the EB-5 program. All of us in the space, especially attorneys, had prepared ourselves for the inevitable change of the current EB-5 regulations. We all knew that the minimum capital threshold requirement would increase to $800,000. In addition, the targeted employment area (“TEA”) definition would change, thereby eliminating important metropolitan areas such as New York City from consideration. All of this was occurring against the backdrop of Congress trying to pass the appropriations bill so that our government would not run out of money.

Congress has been wanting to revamp the EB-5 program for a significant period of time. All of the recently introduced EB-5 bills contained measures to increase compliance and make the program safer for foreign investors that were seeking a “Green Card”.  Developers and attorneys lobbied for reform that would not be onerous and would provide a certain amount of compliance. Most of us did not want the new legislation to be the “death knell” of the EB-5 program.

Well, we all got our wish. Congress voted to renew the EB-5 program in its present state until September 30, 2016.  What will happen between now and the expiration of the legislation is anyone’s guess.  But I think the writing is on the wall. Congress seeks to reform the EB-5 program on two fronts. The first is the minimum investment capital threshold requirement. It is a foregone conclusion that prior to September 30, 2016 Congress will pass EB-5 legislation that increases the minimum investment in a targeted employment area (“TEA”) to $800,000. The second is on the compliance front. Congress will include provisions in the new bill that require “on-site audits” of projects and regional centers.  In addition, Congress will require all principals that have equity in a regional center to submit to a Federal background check. This will ensure that the players in the EB-5 space are not unscrupulous characters.

All in all, the changes would be welcome by most in the industry. The impact that the higher investment amount would have in China and other markets is something that is yet to be seen. All of us though are breathing a sigh of relief for the EB-5 extension.