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It is our pleasure to announce that USCIS has now published the Final International Entrepreneur Rule in the federal register. The final rule is estimated to benefit approximately 2,940 foreign entrepreneurs on an annual basis beginning July 17, 2017. The rule will make it easier for eligible start-up entrepreneurs to obtain temporary permission to enter the United States for a period of 30 months, or 2.5 years, through a process known as “parole,” for the purpose of starting or scaling their start-up business enterprise in the United States. The foreign entrepreneur’s stay may be extended for an additional 30 months to allow the entrepreneur to continue to oversee and grow their start-up company in the United States. The decision about whether to “parole” a foreign entrepreneur under this rule will be a discretionary determination made by the Secretary of Homeland Security on a case-by-case basis (INA Section 212(d)(5), 8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(5)).

The goal of this final rule is to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to create and develop start-up companies with high potential for success in the United States, and enhance economic growth through increased capital spending and job creation.  Under this rule “parole” will be granted to eligible entrepreneurs who can demonstrate that their company’s business operations are of significant public benefit to the United States by providing evidence of substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Such demonstrated potential for rapid growth and job creation may be evidenced by: (1) significant capital investment from U.S. investors with established records of successful investments or (2) attainment of significant awards or grants from certain Federal, State, or local government entities.

The final rule will allow up to three entrepreneurs to seek “parole” per-start up entity, as well as their spouses and children. Entrepreneurs who qualify for “parole” may only work for their start-up business entity in the United States. Their spouses in turn will be eligible to apply for employment authorization once in the United States.

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The H-1B visa is one of the most coveted visas in the United States for several reasons. One of the biggest perks of the H-1B visa is that it is granted for a period of three years, and can be extended for an additional three years. Recipients of the H-1B visa can also bring their dependents to live with them in the United States on an H-4 visa. The H-1B visa is also a popular option because it gives workers the flexibility of accepting and entering new employment, made possible by the portability provision of the H-1B program (8 U.S.C. § 1184(n)). The portability provision allows an H-1B worker to change jobs without having to risk falling “out of status.” Recently, USCIS also improved its portability provision with the passage of a new law that will give H-1B workers who have been laid off a 60-day grace period to transfer to a new employer. But perhaps the greatest upside to the H-1B visa however, is that it is one of the few visas that allows a nonimmigrant to apply for permanent residency as a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition, without the immigrant petition having any negative affect on their H-1B status. This privilege is recognized in the law and is known as “dual intent.” Foreign nationals holding a “dual intent” visa such as an H-1B visa are allowed to file a green card petition, while continuing employment under the terms of their visa, and may also travel on their visa without seeking permission from USCIS.

In this sense, the H-1B visa is one of the few visas that opens a direct path to permanent residency. Other popular employment visas such as the E-2 treaty investor visa do not create a direct path to permanent residency and are not considered “dual intent” visas.

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Today, January 12, 2017 the President announced that the Department of Homeland Security will be ending the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy in a statement about Cuban Immigration Policy. Previously, Cuban nationals were allowed to apply for permanent residency within one year of reaching American soil without the need to enter the United States with a visa. After decades of making an exception for Cuban nationals, the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy will be no more. From this point forward, Cuban nationals will be required (like all other foreign nationals) to obtain a visa in order to be lawfully admitted to the United States. Effective January 12, 2017, Cuban nationals caught attempting to enter the United States without proper documentation, who do not otherwise qualify for humanitarian relief, will be subject to removal, in accordance with the immigration laws of the United States. This change in policy comes as an effort to “normalize” U.S./Cuban relations and to make the immigration policies of the United States more consistent. As you may know, diplomatic relations between U.S. and Cuba were severed in 1961, and were only re-opened until recently. For their part the Cuban government has reached an agreement with the United States to accept Cuban nationals ordered removed from the United States.

In addition, the new policy states that effective immediately the Department of Homeland Security will terminate the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program under the rationale that this program no longer serves the interests of the United States and the Cuban people. The parole program was viewed as controversial from the very beginning because it provided preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel. Cuban medical personnel and others will be eligible to apply for asylum at United States embassies and consulates worldwide, as has been customary for all other foreign nationals.

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As many of you know the H-1B visa lottery for fiscal year 2018 is fast approaching. As usual, the competition will be fierce, as hundreds of thousands of highly skilled professionals prepare to file their H-1B visa petitions beginning April 1st through the April 7th deadline. While filing by April 1st (the first day that applications are accepted) certainly gives applicants greater peace of mind, filing before the April 7th deadline does not necessarily increase an individual’s chances of being selected in the lottery. Throughout the years, our office has seen the selection of many petitions that were filed on or close to the April 7th deadline.  With that being said, we expect the competition this year to be even more intense, that is why we want to give you our top tips about what you should be doing NOW to prepare for H-1B season and increase your chances for success.

First some statistics on fiscal year 2017:

  • For fiscal year 2017, USCIS received over 236,000 H-1B petitions, which included petitions counting toward the general cap and advanced degree exemption; approximately 3,000 more petitions when compared to H-1B petitions received for fiscal year 2016. This trend is likely to continue, giving you all the more reason to prepare for the H-1B season early on.
  • For fiscal year 2017, the H-1B cap was reached within the first 5 business days of the H-1B filing period (April 1 to April 7). We expect this trend to continue as in previous years. During fiscal year 2017, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption. This number will undoubtedly increase for fiscal year 2018.
  • For fiscal year 2017, USCIS conducted the randomized computer-generated lottery on April 9, 2016 beginning the selection process for the 20,000 available visas counting toward the advanced degree exemption first. Then, unselected advanced degree petitions were given a second chance of being selected by being placed in the lottery toward the general 65,000 cap.  Individuals holding an advanced degree from the United States thus have two shots at being selected for the lottery.

Chances of selection

The chances of being selected in the lottery for fiscal year 2017 ran at roughly 65% for foreign workers holding a U.S. advanced degree, and roughly 35% for foreign workers holding a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Compare this to the chances of being selected in the lottery during fiscal year 2016 which ran at 60% for U.S. advanced degree holders, and 30% for bachelor’s degree holders or the equivalent. We expect the percentage of selection to continue to increase for U.S. advanced degree holders and foreign workers holding bachelor’s degree or equivalent, by roughly 5% according to recent statistics. This of course will depend on the demand for the H-1B visa for fiscal year 2018.

Office Stats

For fiscal year 2017, 35%  of H-1B cap-subject petitions that were filed by our office were selected in the H-1B randomized lottery that took place early April 2016. 13% of those petitions were filed with premium processing, while 22% were filed with regular processing. In total our office filed 55 H-1B Petitions: 15 advanced degree petitions and 40 bachelor’s cap or equivalent petitions. Of these, 46 were filed with regular processing and 15 with premium processing. The majority of these petitions were filed with the California Service Center. Of selected petitions for fiscal year 2017, the top specialty occupations included: Applications Developer, Market Research Analyst, and Software Engineer.

H-1B Overview

As in previous years H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018 will begin to be accepted by USCIS on April 1, 2017 up until April 7, 2017. Foreign workers in specialty occupations and their employers will compete for one of the coveted 65,000 H-1B visas available each fiscal year. The H-1B visa program is limited to a 65,000 congressionally mandated visa cap. Foreign workers holding a U.S. Master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 cap, however only the first 20,000 advanced degree petitions received by USCIS will qualify for the cap exemption. In addition, certain foreign workers such as foreign workers who have been offered employment under U.S. Chile or U.S. Singapore free trade agreements, and foreign workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam are exempt from the cap, according to the Consolidated Natural Resource Act of 2008 (CNRA). Advanced degree petitions received after the 20,000 spots have been allocated will count toward the regular cap along with foreign workers holding bachelor’s degrees (or equivalent including work experience in lieu of formal education). USCIS will receive more than the 65,000 petitions for the H-1B visa program during the first five business days that the application period is open, from April 1st to April 7th. When the cap has been reached, USCIS will make an announcement, in recent years this announcement has been made on April 7th and begin the selection process to fill the 65,000 cap through a randomized lottery system. Petitions that are not selected will be rejected along with their filing fees. Duplicate H-1B petitioners during the same fiscal year, are not allowed, and may be subject to sanctions. Employers may not file an H-1B petition on behalf of an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. Once an H-1B visa worker has been selected and approved, the foreign worker may begin employment on October 1st of that fiscal  year. The H-1B visa is issued for a three-year period that can be extended for an additional three years.

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On December 27, 2016 in Matter of Dhanasar, 26 I&N Dec. 884 (AAO 2016) the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) handed down a groundbreaking decision which has changed the analytical framework for determining eligibility of national interest waivers. This new decision will affect foreign nationals who are pursuing a green card based on employment in the EB-2 category, and who are eligible for a “national interest waiver.”

The national interest waiver is a discretionary waiver of the job offer and labor certification requirement made possible by subparagraph (A) of section 203(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This section of the INA states that the Secretary may, when it deems it to be in the national interest of the United States, “waive the requirements of subparagraph (A) that an alien’s services in the sciences, arts, professions, or business be sought by an employer in the United States.”  In addition to meeting a three-prong test of eligibility, to obtain a national interest waiver, the foreign national must be a member of a profession holding advanced degrees or their equivalent or prove that “because of their exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business they will substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare of the United States.”

Without this discretionary waiver, EB-2 applications must be accompanied by a labor certification and their employer must go through the process of advertising the position to prove to immigration that there are no other applicants who are qualified, willing, and able to fill the position that the foreign national is expected to fill. Employers must also meet prevailing wage requirements as established by law. Establishing the national interest waiver in other words made it easier for qualifying foreign nationals in the EB-2 category to skip the job offer and labor certification requirement, streamlining their path to permanent residency.

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The Department of Homeland Security has released its end of the year statistics for fiscal year 2016 reflecting immigration enforcement priorities for convicted criminals, threats to public safety, border and national security. The report found that during fiscal year 2016, 530,250 individuals were apprehended nationwide, and a total of 450,954 individuals were removed and returned to their countries of origin. For their part, the U.S. Border Patrol reported a total of 415,816 apprehensions nationwide, an increase in 78,699 persons, when compared to fiscal year 2015. For their part, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 114,434 individuals during fiscal year 2016, a decrease in 10,777 persons, when compared to fiscal year 2015. During fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations identified 274,821 inadmissible individuals at ports of entry nationwide, an increase in 21,312 persons, when compared to fiscal year 2015. Lastly, ICE reported that during fiscal year 2016 they removed or returned 240,255 individuals, an increase in 4,842 individuals when compared to fiscal year 2015.

The report highlighted that the Department of Homeland Security has successfully honored the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement priorities announced in November 2014, which prioritize the deportation of national security threats, individuals attempting to enter the United States unlawfully, and convicted criminals. As evidence of this, the report states that during fiscal year 2016, ninety-eight percent of initial enforcement actions involved individuals which fell into one of three enforcement priority categories. The report indicates that ninety-one percent of apprehensions fell within the top priority for individuals who either presented a national security threat, attempted to enter the United States unlawfully, or were convicted of a crime (including gang members).

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26417675520_2b93773995_zLast week, we reported that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had updated a large number of forms that were to be used immediately from December 23, 2016 forward. USCIS published the updated versions of the forms following the implementation of a new fee schedule affecting certain immigration and naturalization petitions which went into effect on December 23, 2016. USCIS did not notify the public prior to the publication of the new form editions, and no alerts were sent out to interested parties regarding compliance with the new form editions. At the time the new form editions were released, the USCIS website indicated that, apart from the form I-129, older versions of the affected forms would not be accepted.

Today, December 29, 2016, USCIS announced that previous editions of affected forms will continue to be accepted by USCIS until February 21, 2017, except for the N-400 Application for Naturalization. N-400 Application for Naturalization must be filed with the 12/23/16 edition date. No prior editions of form N-400 will be accepted by USCIS. Despite this update, please remember that the new fee schedule will continue to be enforced. Forms filed with previous editions must include the new fees. New form editions will contain an edition date of 12/23/16. Updated forms can be found at uscis.gov/forms. The complete fee schedule can be found at uscis.gov/forms/our-fees.

USCIS has released new form editions of the following forms: 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.

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On December 28, 2016, the Department of State announced that original or “wet ink” signatures are no longer required on Form I-864 Affidavit of Support for immigrant visa petitions. This new measure also applies to I-864 supplements such as the I-864A, I-864W, and I-864EZ. Beginning January 1, 2017 the National Visa Center will begin to accept photocopies and scans of signed I-864 affidavit of support forms. The I-864 will still need to contain the affiant’s signature, however the signature no longer needs to be a “wet ink” signature. Typed names and electronic signatures are not acceptable. Petitioners will be required to submit an amended I-864 form to the National Visa Center if the sponsor’s name and personal information is missing and there is no signature or missing pages. Petitioners who will need to send an amended I-864 will receive a “checklist” containing the information that must be corrected on form I-864. If you receive a checklist letter prior to January 1, 2017 asking for an original signature on form I-864 please contact the National Visa Center.

Such requests will contain the following language:

[ x ] In Part 8. Sponsor’s Contract, please correct the following…

[ x ] Item 6.a. You must sign the form and your signature must be original (in ink).

These improvements will simplify the immigrant visa “consular processing” by streamlining the submission of financial evidence in support of an immigrant visa application. The Department of State hopes that this new measure will reduce the amount of immigrant visas rejected at the interview stage. The NVC will continue to use an assessment type of letter to address other inconsistencies and errors found on the I-864 form. This assessment letter indicates which issues if any appear on the affidavit of support which could potentially delay the adjudication of the immigrant visa petition. Typically, this letter will indicate either that the sponsor has completed the form incorrectly or did not provide sufficient financial documentation in support of the affidavit of support. For example, if the petitioner does not meet the income requirement based on their household size, the assessment letter will indicate that more evidence is needed to establish that the income has been met, or a joint sponsor will be required. The assessment letter asks the petitioner to correct the issues before the immigrant is scheduled for their immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. If NVC sends an assessment letter, follow the instructions on the letter. Typically, the immigrant is instructed to bring a corrected affidavit of support to the interview with the suggested documents.

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For years you have 8276375308_d5f2721898_zput your trust in our office for all of your immigration needs and for that we thank you. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to serve you and your families. Throughout the years, we have helped thousands of immigrants from all over the world attain their American dream. Learning about their lives and their struggles has

always been an important part of our practice. Although many challenges lie ahead for immigration, we are confident that important changes will come about in the new year. Do not despair and know that our office will be with you every step of the way. We wish you and your families the happiest of holiday seasons.

UPDATE: Today, December 29, 2016, USCIS announced that previous editions of affected forms will continue to be accepted by USCIS until February 21, 2017, except for the N-400 Application for Naturalization. N-400 Application for Naturalization must be filed with the 12/23/16 edition date. No prior editions of form N-400 will be accepted by USCIS. Please remember that the new fee schedule will continue to be enforced. New form editions will contain an edition date of 12/23/16. Updated forms can be found at uscis.gov/forms. The complete fee schedule can be found at uscis.gov/forms/our-fees.

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