Articles Posted in DOL

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Today April 7, 2016 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the H-1B general bachelor’s cap has been reached for fiscal year 2017. In addition, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption. Some time within the next week, USCIS will conduct a random computer-generated process, known as a ‘lottery,’ to select the petitions needed to fill the 65,000 bachelor’s cap. USCIS will first randomly select the petitions that will count toward the advanced degree exemption. Unselected advanced degree petitions will then be entered into the random lottery that will be conducted to fill the 65,000 bachelor’s cap. All unselected cap-subject petitions will be rejected and in turn CIS will return the H-1B packages containing filing fees and rejection notices. CIS has not yet provided any details concerning the date the lottery will be conducted. We suspect it will occur within the next week. In the meantime, cap exempt H-1B petitions will continue to be processed including H-1B worker extensions, petitions requesting a change to the terms of an H-1B workers’ employment, and petitions requesting concurrent work for an H-1B worker.

So, what’s next?

Petitions filed with premium processing

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The Employment and Training Administration’s (ETA)’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) will be hosting a public webinar on April 7, 2016 which will provide filing tips, discuss common errors associated with H-2B wage surveys, and provide assistance to employers interested in submission of H-2B wage surveys. The webinar will teach employers how to determine the prevailing wage (PWD) for positions to be occupied by H-2B non-agricultural workers. The OFLC hopes that the webinar will help employers, attorneys, and surveyors avoid common errors that typically appear on prevailing wage determination applications for the H-2B foreign worker visa program.

The webinar will:

  • Address common errors with documenting and displaying survey results and their solutions;

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It is a busy time of the year for the Law Offices of Jacob J. Sapochnick, as we begin to box up and ship out the hundreds of H-1B petitions that will count toward the cap for fiscal year 2016. Tomorrow marks the very first day that H-1B petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS. If your H-1B petition will not be received by USCIS on the very first day of the H-1B filing season (April 1st) do not fret. USCIS will continue to accept H-1B petitions through the first five business days of the filing season until the cap has been met. Receipt of your H-1B petition on April 1st does not guarantee that your application will be chosen in the randomized lottery. In fact, we have had clients file at the very last minute who have ended up being chosen in the cap. During the next few days, USCIS will carefully monitor the amount of H-1B petitions that are received and make an announcement once the cap has been met. Once the announcement has been made, no more petitions will be accepted for the lottery. Petitions received in excess of the cap will be rejected by USCIS. Employers will know that their H-1B petition has been chosen in the lottery if they receive a ‘notice of receipt’ in the weeks following the randomized selection process. Last year, receipt notices for H-1B petitions, filed without premium processing, started coming into our office in late April, while rejection notices did not appear until mid to late June. Petitioners may opt for premium processing to expedite the notification process. Although it is very easy to get lost in the chaos of H-1B season, it is important not to lose sight of what’s important this filing season.

To help ease your anxiety this H-1B season we are providing you with our last minute filing tips:

  1. Employer’s Financial Obligations: Employers must be prepared to pay their workers at least the Prevailing Wage based on the employee’s occupation and actual place of employment. Employer’s must understand their obligation to honor this financial commitment during the time the employee is working for the employer in H-1B status. Failure to do so can have serious consequences for the employer;

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For this blog we are answering 5 questions we have recently received through our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office for a free legal consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust and interest in our law office.

Change of Status B-2 to F-1

Q: I need advice regarding my change of status. I am currently in the United States on a B-2 tourist visa. I have filed a change of status application to change my status to F-1 student. My B-2 duration of stay will expire today and my change of status application to F-1 student is still pending with USCIS. I informed my school that I will be postponing my classes and was notified that I need to file a new I-20 and provide some missing information. I have time to make adjustments to my application but I would like to know the steps to correct any missing information. I also wanted to know if I need to leave the United States immediately since my F-1 application is still pending. Please assist.

7468447528_3aaed1a0bd_bH-1B season is now in full swing. H-1B petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS on April 1, 2016 for the 2017 fiscal year. Each year, foreign workers in specialty occupations compete for one of 65,000 H-1B visas allocated each fiscal year. Foreign workers with a U.S. Master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 congressionally mandated visa cap, however only the first 20,000 petitions received by USCIS may qualify for this cap exemption. Any petitions received after the 20,000 cap-exempt petitions have been allocated will count toward the regular cap. USCIS expects to receive more than 65,000 petitions during the first five business days of the application period. Once the H-1B cap has been reached, USCIS will notify the public, and begin selecting the H-1B petitions necessary to meet the cap through a randomized computer-generated lottery system. H-1B petitions that are not selected through this system will be rejected, along with any petitions received once the visa cap has closed. Duplicate H-1B petitions that are filed on behalf of a foreign worker by the same employer in the same fiscal year will also be rejected. 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(2)(i)(G) explicitly states that “an employer may not file, in the same fiscal year, more than one H1B petition on behalf of the same alien if the alien is subject to the numerical limitations of section 214(g)(1)(A). Filing more than one H-1B petition on behalf of the same alien in the same fiscal year will result in the denial or revocation of all such petitions.” Multiple H-1B petitions filed on behalf of the same alien by different employers during the same fiscal year is permitted although approval of such petitions is discretionary. According to USCIS, petitioners may be asked to demonstrate that a ‘legitimate business need’ exists in filing more than than one H-1B petition for the same alien. In such circumstances a request for evidence, notice of intent to deny, or notice of intent to revoke may result. This is true of both cap-subject and cap-exempt petitions filed by different employers for the same alien.

H-1B petitioners (employers) may request premium processing at the same time that the H-1B petition is filed by signing and completing Form I-907 and including the corresponding fee. Alternatively, petitioners may request premium processing once CIS notifies the petitioner whether the petition has been accepted or rejected. USCIS will not begin premium processing for H-1B cap petitions until May 16, 2016. If you are an American employer who is interested in filing an H-1B petition for a foreign worker, you must act quickly. Filing an H-1B petition is a very complicated and long process. For one if you have never sponsored a foreign worker, you will be required to register your FEIN with the Department of Labor before filing the H-1B petition. Secondly, if the foreign worker you wish to hire received their foreign degree abroad, they must obtain an academic evaluation from an accredited evaluation service. If the foreign worker you wish to hire does not have formal education, but has extensive experience in the specialty occupation, they will need to obtain work experience letters from individuals who can attest to their experience. Thirdly, once an employer has registered their FEIN with the Department of Labor, they will be required to file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor and include the certified LCA with the H-1B petition. Certification of the LCA takes time. The LCA is an attestation made by the employer that they will pay the foreign worker at least the actual or prevailing wage for the occupation, whichever is higher, based on the physical location where the foreign worker will be employed. Once properly submitted to the DOL, the LCA alone takes approximately 2 weeks to be certified by the LCA. This means that in order to meet the April 1st priority date of filing, employers have a very limited period of time to decide whether they will file an H-1B petition for a foreign worker for the upcoming fiscal year. When in doubt it is best not to rush the process.

Last year, our office filed approximately seventy-six H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2016. Approximately 75% of these petitions were filed for the regular Bachelor’s cap, while only 18% of these petitions were filed for individuals holding U.S. Master’s degrees or higher. Approximately 82% of these petitions were filed with the California Service Center, while only 17% of these petitions were filed with the Vermont Service Center. The top H-1B specialty occupations, filed for fiscal year 2016 included: software engineer, technical writer, general manager, market research analyst, business specialist, budget analyst, and graphic designer.

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Last week, the Senate held a hearing scrutinizing the temporary H-1B skilled worker program, the second hearing of its kind within just one year. At issue was the protection of American jobs and dissatisfaction with the program among conservatives in the Senate, who believe the program has caused job displacement at the expense of thousands of Americans. Beyond their own political convictions, Republican Senators eyeing the White House, have also scrutinized the H-1B visa program, in order to appease voters who, maintain a hard line stance on immigration.

During the hearing, the Senate Judiciary panel considered testimony questioning the integrity of the H-1B visa program. Many witnesses accused their employers of violating the conditions of the program, alleging that their employers sought to replace American workers with foreign workers by utilizing the H-1B visa program to pay those workers lower wages. This accusation is troublesome for various reasons. Firstly, it is well known that the H-1B visa program requires an employer to hire a foreign worker in a specialty occupation only when the employer cannot obtain the necessary skills and abilities to perform the specialty occupation within the American workforce. H-1B workers must possess distinguished merit and ability, and demonstrate their qualifications through the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, in the intended field of employment. Secondly, the H-1B visa program contains provisions which are specifically designed to protect similarly employed American workers from any adverse affects suffered from the employment of temporary foreign workers. Consequently, there are also provisions which aim to protect H-1B nonimmigrant workers from H-1B violations. One of those provisions includes the requirement that American employers pay temporary H-1B workers at least the ‘prevailing wage,’ the average wage paid to similarly employed workers (experience and qualifications) in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment. This would mean that any employer seeking to use the H-1B visa program for the purposes of obtaining ‘cheap foreign labor’ or to replace American workers would be violating the conditions of the H-1B visa program altogether.

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Presently, the Employment and Training Administration’s (ETA) Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) is experiencing significant delays in processing employer H-2B certification applications.  These delays are owed to various factors. The most important includes a mandatory 17-day certification pause that took place at the Chicago National Processing Center, for the purpose of implementing revisions of the H-2B prevailing wage and other standards required by law. Additionally, the OFLC announced that the amount of H-2B certification applications received has doubled in comparison to the previous year. Lastly, the electronic filing system iCERT, experienced significant technical problems, slowing the certification process down significantly for employers of H-2B workers. Unfortunately, these delays have diminished an employer’s ability to hire foreign workers during a time of need, and have had an adverse affect on small businesses who depend on these temporary and seasonal workers to perform work that cannot be readily filled by American workers.

To alleviate the certification backlogs, the Chicago National Processing Center has announced that employers may file an emergency request for expeditious handling of their applications under 20 CFR 655.17.

Expeditious Requests for Emergency Procedures under 20 CFR 655.17:

  • Based on the factors causing the backlogs, the OFLC has determined that employers are entitled to request expeditious emergency procedures for their currently pending applications for certification, under 20 CFR 655.17, on the basis of good and substantial cause. Emergency requests are warranted given that the backlogs caused by the delays in the application process are considered outside of the employers’ control, that employers have suffered unforeseen changes in market conditions because of the delays, amid a climate of uncertainty.

Employers with pending H-2B applications for certification must submit their expedite requests for emergency procedure, by email to the Chicago NPC at ER.H2B.Chicago@dol.gov beginning Monday February 22, 2016 (12:01 AM) through Friday April 1, 2016 (at 12:00 midnight). Requests may also be made by fax (312) 886-1688 or by US mail to:

ATTN: H-2B Request for Emergency Handling

U.S. Department of Labor ETA OFLC

Chicago NPC

11 West Quincy Court

Chicago, IL 60604-2105

The NPC may extend this emergency request period beyond April 1, however at this time no such extension has been announced.  Filing a new H-2B application is not necessary for an expedite request.

Employers filing for emergency treatment under 20 CFR 655.17 must request that the pending application for certification and proposed job order be “incorporated by reference” into the request made under 20 CFR 655.17, and state the withdrawal of the prior application. The procedure for submitting an expedite requested will be listed below.

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Beginning February 19, 2016 certain nonimmigrant Caribbean residents seeking admission to the United States as H-2A agricultural workers, will be required to obtain a valid passport and valid H-2B visa in order to be admitted. Spouses and children traveling with an H-2A agricultural worker will also be required to present a valid passport and H-2A visa. The H-2A nonimmigrant visa exception for Caribbean residents was first introduced during World War II in an effort to address labor shortages in the American workforce. The change, comes as part of the revised 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which eliminates the nonimmigrant visa exception for these individuals, along with other provisions that impact the H-2B nonagricultural visa program. The new rule will apply to nationals of the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and nationals of Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, who either maintain a residence in a territory governed by England, France, or the Netherlands located in the adjacent islands of the Caribbean, or maintain a residence in Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, or Trinidad and Tobago. The change was validated in yesterday’s Federal Register by the Department of State and Homeland Security respectively. Removal of this visa exemption will allow the Department of State to properly screen individuals prior to their arrival in the United States, and further protect agricultural workers from employment violations and work related abuse. To learn more about the H-2A visa program click here.

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What is the H-1B Visa? The H-1B visa is a work visa that is awarded on a lottery basis. The H-1B visa program allows American companies and/or qualifying organizations to employ foreign workers to fill specialty occupations temporarily. The foreign worker must posses a combination of education, specialized training, and/or experience that is equivalent to training acquired by the attainment of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher. The H-1B program was first enacted by Congress with the intention of helping American employers seek out distinguished foreign workers, possessing the skills and abilities necessary to perform the duties of the specialty occupation. The H-1B program has remained popular because it has allowed American employers to remain competitive and provides highly skilled foreign workers a path to permanent residence.

The provisions of the H-1B visa program allow qualified foreign workers to attain temporary employment having met specific requirements. H-1B visa recipients typically work in the STEM fields as scientists, engineers, computer programmers, software developers, business analysts, etc. although fashion models are also classified under the H-1B category.

USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2017 beginning April 1, 2016. April 7, 2016 is the absolute deadline to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. 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.

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It is our pleasure to provide our readers with newly released statistics published by the Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification concerning the processing status of the PERM program and Prevailing Wage Determinations. The PERM graphic provides a breakdown for the review of applications certified during FY 2015 by the top 5 occupations, site states, industries, visa classifications, countries of citizenship, and minimum educational requirements. The graphic concerning the National Prevailing Wage Center outlines the determinations requests received for the H-1B program H-2B program, and PERM program FY 2015, breaks down prevailing wage actions, and issuance of prevailing wage determinations for PERM top 5 employers and occupations, H-1B top 5 employers and occupations, and H-2B top 5 employers and occupations.

PERM Graphic

Prevailing Wage Graphic