suzanne
For this month’s staff spotlight, we invite you to learn more about our case manager and legal technical writer Suzanne Anderson.

Suzanne Andersen is a new addition to our firm, having joined in 2016. Ms. Andersen holds a Master of Laws degree from California Western School of Law, in addition to her law degree from the University of Southern Denmark.  Prior to attending law school, Ms. Andersen obtained a degree in Psychology from the University of Copenhagen.

Before joining the Law Offices of Jacob Sapochnick, Ms. Anderson practiced law in Denmark for three years in the area of litigation, white collar crime and immigration, contract law, tort law and human rights.

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On December 6, 2016 Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund government programs through April 28, 2017. Among the programs that qualified to receive additional government funding was the EB-5 Regional Center Investor Program, a program made possible by a Congressional statute. The Continuing Resolution effectively extended the EB-5 Regional Center program through April 28, 2017 with no changes to the program’s policy. With time running out, Congress must either extend the statutory deadline once again to September 30, 2017, or pass reforms to the program. The government is currently holding Congressional hearings to make changes to the EB-5 Regional Center Program. It appears that legislators are contemplating overhauling the EB-5 program altogether, instead of extending the validity period of the program. At this stage, however, it is not likely that a major overhaul of the EB-5 program will take place by April 28th.

Proposed Rule EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program

For their part, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already introduced a series of proposals in the Federal Register to modernize the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. The comment period for the proposed rule closed on April 11, 2017.

Among its major provisions the Department’s proposed rule would authorize:

  • Priority date retention for EB–5 petitioners;
  • Increases the minimum investment amount for targeted employment areas (TEAs) and nonTEAs to $1.8 million;
  • For investors seeking to invest in a new commercial enterprise that will be principally doing business in a targeted employment area (TEA), DHS proposes to increase the minimum investment amount from $500,000 to $1.35 million;
  • DHS is proposing to make regular CPI–U-based adjustments in the standard minimum investment amount, and conforming adjustments to the TEA minimum investment amount, every 5 years, beginning 5 years from the effective date of these regulations;
  • Revisions to the TEA designation process, including the elimination of state designation of high unemployment areas as a method of TEA designation;
  • DHS proposes to allow any city or town with high unemployment 4 and a population of 20,000 or more to qualify as a TEA;
  • DHS proposes to eliminate the ability of a state to designate certain geographic and political subdivisions as highunemployment areas; instead, DHS would make such designations directly;
  • Revisions to the filing and interview process for removal of conditions on lawful permanent residence.

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Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

USCIS has finally announced that the H-1B computer-generated lottery took place on April 11, 2017 to select the necessary petitions to meet the 65,000 visa cap for beneficiaries holding a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, as well as the 20,000 visa cap for beneficiaries holding a U.S. master’s degree or higher. The announcement came a bit late this H-1B season, but you can now rest easy knowing that it has taken place.   On April 7th USCIS announced that they had received more than enough H-1B petitions necessary for fiscal year 2018. USCIS disclosed that they received 199,000 H-1B petitions this filing year.

Our office has already received 3 receipt notices for the “master’s” cap or advanced degree exemption, and 2 receipt notices for the “regular” cap as of April 20, 2017. 

USCIS will continue to mail receipt notices for selected petitions throughout the month of April and likely into early May.

If your petitioner has been monitoring their bank account closely and has noticed that the filing fees were charged to the account, that means that the H-1B petition was selected. Even if the filing fees have not yet been charged to your petitioner’s bank account, that does not mean that your H-1B petition was not selected. H-1B applicants must wait patiently to see if they were selected in this year’s lottery.

USCIS will not begin mailing out unselected H-1B petitions until around June through the month of July.

As a reminder, premium processing for H-1B petitions was suspended on March 3rd and will remain suspended for up to six months.

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Earlier this year, the final rule “Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers” amended the current regulation regarding the renewal meaning extension of some work permit/ Employment Authorization (EAD) card.

USCIS made it easier for some foreigners in the U.S. who have an Employment Authorized Document (EAD) card to continue to legally work in the country while their EAD cards are in the process of being renewed. If you qualify under the 3 criteria listed below, you will only have to show your expired EAD card and the receipt notice for the renewal confirming timely filing and these documents will be enough for I-9 verification purpose.

In days past, when an EAD card expired, the foreign worker had to immediately stop working even if he or she was in the process of renewing their EAD card. Unless and until the EAD application was approved by USCIS, the employee could not legally show up to work.  As you can you imagine, this caused a major headache to both the employers and employees, who had to stop working midstream on a project and could not resume working until USCIS had given its blessing.

This partially changed on January 17, 2017. USCIS issued a rule allowing some EAD holders who have timely filed an EAD renewal application to be automatically granted authorization to legally work in the U.S for up to 180 days after their EAD cards expire.

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8358967030_aef1cd0812_zThe Trump administration is quickly mobilizing resources to facilitate the massive deportation of undocumented persons living and working in the United States, and to secure the U.S. border.

A new 90-day progress report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security outlines how the agency is planning on implementing the provisions of the Executive Order 13767 entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” signed by President Trump earlier this year. Although the progress report is only a preliminary assessment of how the agency will enforce the executive order, the report reflects what immigration enforcement might look like in the near future.

Securing the border: Regarding border security, the progress report outlines that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is taking immediate action to plan, design, and construct a physical wall on the southern border between the United States and Mexico. Specifically, the report states that CBP is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct prototypes to expand the southern border, and has submitted a request for funding from Congress for $20 million.

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On Friday April 7, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has received more than enough H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018, to meet the general cap, which allocates 65,000 visa applications to H-1B beneficiaries possessing a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. In addition, USCIS announced that it has received more than the 20,000 visa applications necessary to count toward the U.S. advanced degree exemption for beneficiaries possessing a U.S. master’s degree or higher. This announcement has traditionally been made on April 7th each fiscal year. USCIS has not yet announced whether the randomized lottery has already occurred to select the necessary petitions to meet the general cap and master’s cap. Last H-1B season, USCIS conducted the randomized computer-generated lottery on April 9th therefore the announcement will be imminent.

How does the lottery work?

USCIS will first begin the selection process for the 20,000 available visas that will count toward the advanced degree exemption or master’s cap. Then, unselected advanced degree petitions that were not selected in the first round, will be placed in the lottery toward the general 65,000 visa cap giving these individuals a second chance of being selected.

Chances of selection

This year our office estimated that individuals who applied for the advanced degree exemption (U.S. master’s or higher) will have roughly a 65-70% chance of selection, while applicants for the general cap will have roughly a 35-40% chance of selection.

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27053193071_ff14b4669a_zOn March 31, 2017, USCIS made legal news by issuing a policy memorandum that undid a memo that USCIS’s Nebraska Service Center issued nearly two decades ago. USCIS issues policy memorandums periodically, but the one that USCIS issued last March was newsworthy because some have claimed that the memo has altered – for the worse—the way USCIS will evaluate H-1B applications (petitions) for foreigners who seek to come to the United States and work as computer programmers.

But readers need not fear too much. The policy memo, when read correctly, is far more modest in its effects than some have feared. To begin with, the memo only affects those who aspire to work in the U.S. as “computer programmers” – not all those who aspire to do something I.T. related. Although lay folks may clump together all I.T. jobs within the phrase “computer programmer,” USCIS uses this phrase very particularly when it reviews H-1B applications. By USCIS’s lights, the phrase does not encompass Programmers/Analysts, Software Consultants, Computer Consultants, and the like.  Thus, whatever the reach of the policy memo (discussed below), it leaves untouched wide regions of the I.T. industry.

So, what exactly does the March 2017 memo do? To understand that, it is helpful to briefly consider the memo that the 2017 one rescinded – a memo issued by the Nebraska Service Center in December 2000. Back in the days when the world worried about the Y2K bug shutting down computers, USCIS struggled to understand whether, as a matter of law, computer programming was special-enough an occupation – in legal parlance, whether computer programming was a “specialty occupation”— such that the U.S. government should grant H-1B visas to foreigners skilled in this field. (A “specialty occupation” is one that requires a complex body of theoretical knowledge that is typically associated with a bachelor’s degree or higher.)   This struggle was reflected in a memo that the Nebraska Service Center issued. In that memo, the Nebraska Service Center asserted that computer programming is generally a “specialty occupation” because the majority of computer programmers employed in the field possessed at least a bachelor’s degree (according to 1998 statistics).  But the 2000 memo failed to “provide the specific specialties the [bachelors] degrees were in . . . . .”

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On March 31, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new policy memorandum providing new guidance relating to the adjudication of H-1B petitions for computer programmers. The new memorandum will supersede and replace the policy memorandum that had been in place since the year 2000, which previously governed adjudication procedures for H-1B computer related occupations.

The new memorandum seeks to update the outdated provisions of the 2000 memorandum because the policies set out in that memorandum no longer reflect the current policies of the agency. The main purpose for rescinding the 2000 memorandum is not to change the H-1B application process for employers who seek to employ foreign workers in computer related occupations, rather the new memorandum clarifies the proper adjudication procedures for computer related occupations at all service centers.

Why the Change?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a handbook published by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics which includes information relating to the training and education required for various employment positions. The OOH is of particular importance for H-1B petitioners and practicing attorneys, because USCIS consults the OOH as a guide to inform their decision regarding the general qualifications necessary for a particular occupation, and whether the occupation is to be considered a “specialty occupation.” The OOH however does not on its own establish whether a position is a “specialty occupation,” rather adjudicating officers focus on the position itself and the job duties and qualifications of the beneficiary, to determine whether the position is to be considered a specialty occupation.

The main problem with the 2000 policy memorandum was that it relied on an outdated OOH description of the position of “computer programmer,” creating inconsistencies that are no longer followed by adjudicating officers today.

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Today, March 30, 2017, a federal judge from the state of Hawaii extended a court order blocking the President’s new travel ban from being enforced. In a 24-page decision, Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii issued a preliminary injunction bringing the President’s executive order to a screeching halt indefinitely. Judge Watson first gained national attention two weeks ago, following his issuance of a temporary restraining order or TRO, which prevented the federal government from enforcing all provisions of the travel ban for a 14-day period. Watson’s TRO was meant to provide temporary relief pending further litigation. The state of Hawaii asked the judge to convert the TRO into a longer-lasting form of relief known as a preliminary injunction, at least until a higher court could issue a permanent ruling. The President’s embattled executive order sought to prevent the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim majority countries including Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Libya and Yemen, for a 90-day period as well as the admission of Syrian refugees for a 120-day period.

In his decision Judge Watson wrote that he based his grant of the preliminary injunction on the strong likelihood that the state of Hawaii would succeed in proving that the travel ban violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution which protects freedom of religion. In addition, the state of Hawaii successfully argued that absent the provisional relief, citizens of the state would be irreparably harmed. Attorneys for the state added that the state’s national economy would suffer in the absence of relief, and that its state universities would also be harmed by the President’s executive order in both the state’s ability to retain and recruit foreign born students and faculty.

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The newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is quickly mobilizing government resources to increase scrutiny and implement tougher screening procedures for applicants who are applying for a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies abroad. Reuters has reported that Secretary Tillerson has sent a series of internal cables (four in total) to consulates and embassies abroad instructing them of new measures to increase vetting of visa applicants (both immigrant and non-immigrant). These cables are as follows: (1) Cable 23338 entitled “Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts” issued on March 10, 2017; (2) Cable 24324 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 15, 2017; (3) Cable 24800 entitled “Halt Implementation” of President Trump’s new travel ban due to a temporary restraining order by a federal court, issued on March 16, 2017; and finally (4) Cable 25814 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 17, 2017.

In these cables, Tillerson has directed U.S. consulates and embassies to specifically identify population risks that warrant “increased scrutiny” and to implement tougher screening procedures for this particular group of people. Applicants who fall into one of the identifiable population groups will be subjected to a higher-level security screening. The cable does not identify whether embassies will be coordinating to provide a uniform standard for identifying populations who pose a security risk. This is a serious cause for concern, since U.S. embassies will likely vary in how they assess which groups pose a security risk. In addition, as part of these measures, the Secretary has ordered a mandatory social media check for all applicants who have ever visited or been present in any territory that is controlled by the Islamic State. Previously, social media screening was not a part of the regular screening process for U.S. visa applicants, however this screening process has always been a discretionary measure.

In addition, the cables provided instructions for the implementation of President Trump’s newly revised executive order on immigration which sought to temporarily bar the admission of foreign nationals from Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Yemen, as well as Syrian refugees, including mandatory enhanced visa screening procedures. Several of these cables were quickly retracted by the Secretary of State after a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order blocking Trump’s embattled executive order from proceeding as planned. The Trump administration had envisioned strict new guidelines for vetting U.S. visa applicants, and this vision was reflected in Tillerson’s cables.

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