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Today February 15, 2019, USCIS announced that the agency will resume premium processing services on Tuesday February 19, 2019, for all H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018.

Premium processing service remains suspended for H-1B petitions filed on or after December 22, 2018. USCIS will make an announcement at a later date when USCIS plans to resume premium processing for the remaining categories of H-1B petitions as agency workloads permit the agency to resume these services.

USCIS has provided the following guidance for petitioners who received a transfer notice for a pending H-1B petition, who are interested in upgrading their petition to premium processing:

If you received a transfer notice for a pending H-1B petition, and you are requesting premium processing service, you must submit the premium processing request to the service center now handling the petition.

You should also include a copy of the transfer notice with your premium processing request to avoid possible delays associated with the receipt of your premium processing request.

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Now is the time to begin preparing for the upcoming H-1B visa lottery. USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2020 beginning Monday, April 1, 2019. Please note: employers cannot file an H-1B petition for an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. If accepted, H-1B visa workers can begin employment by October 1st. The H-1B visa is issued for up to three years but may be extended for another three years.

By law, a congressionally mandated cap exists which limits the issuance of H-1B visas to 65,000 per year. That is why the H-1B visa is commonly referred to as a ‘lottery’ visa.

Individuals (such as F-1 students) who hold advanced degrees (U.S. master’s or higher) are exempted from the 65,000 visa cap. Such applicant’s must demonstrate that they have obtained an American master’s degree or higher to be exempted from the cap, however only the first 20,000 petitions received by USCIS will benefit from this cap exemption.

In order to qualify for an H-1B visa:

  • a foreign worker must possess both a theoretical or practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge;
  • an employer-employee relationship must exist. Only a U.S. employer can petition the entry of a foreign employee by filing USCIS Form I-129 Petition for Non-immigrant Worker. An employer-employee relationship exists if the U.S. employer has the right to hire, pay, fire, supervise or control the work of the employee;
  • the foreign worker must possess a bachelor’s degree, its foreign equivalent, or relevant work experience. If the foreign worker does not have formal education, but has at least 12 years of relevant work experience related to the specialty occupation, they may still qualify for an H-1B visa;
  • the foreign worker must be employed in a specialty occupation related to their field of study. A specialty occupation is an occupation that requires a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent;
  • the foreign worker must be paid at least the prevailing wage for the specialty occupation in the area of intended employment;

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As you gear up for a chance to win one of the 65,000 coveted H-1B visas that will be up for grabs beginning April 1, 2019 through April 5, 2019, we bring you our top frequently asked questions—H-1B edition—to help you make the most of your H-1B filing. As always, to determine whether you qualify for an H-1B visa, please contact our office to schedule a free first time consultation.

When will USCIS begin to accept H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2020?

USCIS will begin to accept petitions for fiscal year 2020 beginning on April 1, 2019 and from then on will continue to accept H-1B petitions during the first five business days until USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to fill the regular cap and advanced degree exemption. An H-1B petition may be filed no more than six months before the employment start date requested for the beneficiary.

How long is the H-1B visa valid for?

The H-1B visa is issued for a three-year period that can be extended for an additional three years. Spouses of H-1B workers may live and work in the United States on an H-4 visa, for as long as the H-1B worker remains in lawful H-1B status.

What happens after USCIS receives the necessary petitions to meet the regular cap?

Once USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to meet the regular cap, USCIS will conduct a computer-generated lottery to select the petitions needed to meet the general cap and the advanced degree exemption.

Last H-1B season, USCIS announced that the cap was reached within the first 5 business days of the H-1B filing period.

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A new policy brief published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) analyzing USCIS processing times reveals that the agency has reached “crisis” level delays in processing immigrant and non-immigrant petitions. These delays have worsened during the Trump administration.

According to the report the most vulnerable populations include immigrant families, domestic abuse survivors and their children, traumatized and threatened persons seeking humanitarian aid, and U.S. businesses.

Specifically, the report finds that USCIS data released for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 reveals that USCIS is failing to adjudicate cases in a reasonable and timely manner:

  • The overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014.
  • USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types—from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers—more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014.
  • Case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease
  • Data revealed a “net backlog” exceeding 2.3 million delayed cases at the end of FY 2017
  • DHS identified a net backlog of 2,330,143 USCIS cases as of the end of FY 2017.7
  • DHS observed that USCIS’s “net backlog has been as high as 1.7 million in FY 2004 and 1.5 million in FY 2008”—suggesting that USCIS’s net backlog at the conclusion of FY 2017 was its highest on record
  • the FY 2017 net backlog more than doubled from 1,047,751 cases at the conclusion of FY 2016—despite only a four percent increase in case receipts during that one-year period

What is to blame?

According to the report the following decisions made under the Trump administration have exacerbated delays and slowed the level of immigration to the United States:

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The Department of Homeland Security has published an advanced copy of the final rule that will amend the way the H-1B visa program will be run in the future. The official version of the final rule is set to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow January 31, 2019, and become effective April 1, 2019, the beginning of the H-1B cap visa season for fiscal year 2020.

Beginning with the upcoming FY 2020 H-1B cap season, which kicks off on April 1, 2019, USCIS will reverse the order by which it selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS will first select H-1B petitions (or registrations, once the registration requirement is implemented) submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS will then select from the remaining eligible petitions, a number projected to reach the advanced degree exemption.

According to USCIS, “Changing the order in which USCIS counts these allocations will likely increase the number of petitions for beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected under the H-1B numerical allocations.”

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USCIS recently announced that beginning January 28th premium processing services for all fiscal year 2019 H-1B cap petitions will resume, including petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption (also known as the “master’s cap”).

This means that any petitioner with a pending FY 2019 cap-subject petition may now upgrade the H-1B petition to premium processing service.

Petitioners who have received a request for evidence for a pending FY 2019 cap-subject petition may also upgrade the petition to premium processing service by including a Form I-907 with the response to the request for evidence.

What is premium processing service?

Premium processing is a service provided by USCIS for certain employment-based immigration benefit requests. The service gives petitioners the benefit of receiving 15-day processing of their petition.  Premium processing is typically used in connection with Form I-129 Petitions for Nonimmigrant workers and I-130 Immigrant Petitions for Alien Workers.

At the moment, premium processing service has only resumed for pending petitions subject to the FY 2019 cap.

Premium processing services remain temporarily suspended for all other categories of H-1B petitions (except those outlined below).

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In this post, we would like to keep our readers informed about Visa Bulletin projections for the coming months. Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State provides a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin including discussion of current trends and future projections for immigrant preference categories.

Below are the highlights of those trends and projections as of January 2019:

Employment-Based Immigration:

EB-1: DOS predicts that demand in the EB-1 category within the coming months will prevent the EB-1 Worldwide category from becoming current.

EB-1 Worldwide is expected to advance gradually to a maximum period of two months each month beginning in March through the month of May.

Visa numbers for EB-1 China and EB-1 India will be used up very quickly. EB-1 China and EB-1 India are expected to advance gradually anywhere from zero to one month each month beginning in March through the month of May.

EB-2 Worldwide: is projected to remain current for the foreseeable future. A Final Action Date will likely not be imposed for the remainder of this fiscal year.

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A new report released by CBS news estimates that the immigration court system could face a staggering backlog of more than one million cases, if the government shutdown extends into February and March.

According to the report, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky in particular will be the most affected, owing to a surge of Central American immigration that has caused significant backlogs in these state’ systems.

The government shutdown has now entered its 30th day, with no end in sight. Immigration judges have been forced to postpone hundreds of hearing that had been scheduled months or even years in advance. The only cases that have not been impacted by the shutdown are those of detained immigration seekers. All other non-detained individuals have had their hearings cancelled.

Facing mounting pressure from the American public, the President delivered his last-ditch effort offering what he termed a “compromise” to gain support for his controversial wall and put an end to what has been a long-drawn-out government shutdown.

In Saturday’s White House address, President Trump announced a plan that would extend the temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients also for a three-year period.

In exchange, the President is asking Congress to grant him $800 million dollars in aid for humanitarian purposes, $800 million dollars to invest in drug detection technology to enhance border security, and $5.7 billion dollars for strategic deployment of physical steel barriers along the U.S./Mexico border.

Additionally, the President will use some of this money to hire 2,750 border agents and law enforcement professionals, 75 new immigration judges to reduce backlogs, and to implement a program that will protect migrant children from exploitation and abuse.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected the President’s proposal almost immediately.

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You’ve filed your petition with USCIS and have received your receipt notice in the mail, now what?

A receipt notice also known as a “Notice of Action” is sent by USCIS to an applicant/petitioner of an immigrant or non-immigrant benefit, to communicate information relating to receipt of the benefit requested, or to notify the applicant of a rejection, extension, transfer, re-opening, or of an appointment (for biometrics or interview).

Why is this notice important?