Articles Posted in Employment Based Petitions

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What are some alternatives to the H-1B visa?

So, you’ve applied for the H-1B visa, and by now you are well aware that the cap has been reached. You may be wondering what you will do if you are not selected in the lottery. Have no fear, we have you covered on your Plan B.

In this post, we breakdown the alternatives to the H-1B visa that allow foreign nationals to live and work in the United States.

1. The O-1 “Extraordinary Ability” Visa:

This visa type is for aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, athletics, motion picture, television, or arts industries who have received national and/or international acclaim in their field. An alien on an O-1 visa may live and work in the United States for a period of up to three years.

In order to be eligible for this visa type you must demonstrate that you are an alien of extraordinary ability in your field. Applicants must hold an advanced degree (at least a master’s) to demonstrate a high level of expertise in their field, and have received international or national acclaim in their fields as evidenced by awards and other international or national recognitions received. Individuals who are leading experts in their fields, and have written extensively in their fields, receiving notoriety for their publications are also great candidates for the O-1 visa. Membership in prestigious professional associations which require outstanding achievements from members are extremely helpful when applying for the H-1B visa, as well as evidence of scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions that are considered of major significance in the field.

2.TN Visa for Mexican and Canadian Nationals

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian and Mexican nationals may apply for a TN visa to live and work in the United States. To be eligible the TN visa applicant must work in a profession approved under the NAFTA program for a U.S. employer. Dependent spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 can live in the United States under a derivative TD visa.

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Great News! Today, USCIS announced that the computer-generated selection process has been completed to select the H-1B petitions necessary to fulfill both the general cap and master’s cap for this H-1B season. The randomized lottery was completed yesterday April 11, 2018.

This H-1B season, USCIS received 190,098 H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2019 during the filing period that began on April 2nd. During Fiscal Year 2018, USCIS received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period and completed the randomized lottery on the same day (April 11th).

USCIS will now begin the process of rejecting and returning all petitions that were not selected during the randomized lottery. As in previous years, USCIS completed the selection process for the master’s cap first, and all unselected master’s cap petitions were then placed in the random selection process for the general cap, giving master’s cap applicants a greater chance of being selected. In previous years, our office began to receive rejection notices for applicants that were not selected from mid to late June.

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Beginning April 30, 2018 until October 31, 2018, the California Service Center (CSC) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Blaine, Washington, Port of Entry (POE) will implement a joint 6-month pilot program for the benefit of Canadian citizens seeking entry to the United States in L non-immigrant visa status pursuant to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The L-1 Visa:

The L-1 visa designation allows a foreign company to transfer an executive or manager to an existing U.S. subsidiary or parent company of the foreign entity, or allows the foreign entity to send the executive or manager to the U.S. for the purpose of establishing an affiliated subsidiary or parent company of the foreign entity (L-1A). In addition, the foreign company can transfer an employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. on an L-1B visa. To qualify, applicants must have worked abroad for the foreign employer for at least one year within the proceeding three years.

Under the NAFTA program, Canadians can apply to receive an L visa at the border and are not required to file an L visa application with USCIS or at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Up until this point, the application procedure involved same-day processing of an L application where the worker would file Form I-129 with supporting evidence at a Class A Port of Entry to the United States, or airport pre-clearance location, where the petition would be granted or denied at the port of entry.

Pilot Program

Under the new pilot program, petitioners may file an L petition on behalf of a Canadian citizen by first submitting Form, I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and supporting evidence to the California Service Center, before the Canadian citizen seeks nonimmigrant L-1 admission to the United States through the Blaine Port of Entry. Petitioners should include a cover sheet annotated with “Canadian L” to ensure quick identification of the Form I-129 and for any correspondence thereafter, such as a response to a request for evidence (RFE).

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Today April 6, 2018 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the H-1B general bachelor’s cap has been reached for fiscal year 2019. In addition, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption.

Sometime 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 regular processing

If your employer filed your petition with regular processing, you will not know whether your petition has been selected in the lottery until late April through mid-May. Petitions filed under regular processing that were selected in the lottery will receive hard copy ‘receipt notices’ from USCIS. These notices will only be received by the attorney on file and the employer. In previous years, we began to receive these receipt notices in late April.

Receiving a receipt notice is great news. It means that you have been selected in the lottery, but it does not mean that your application has been approved. Once selected, your application will undergo adjudication, which takes several months.

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In what seems like déjà vu, today, March 20, 2018 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced that the agency will be temporarily suspending premium processing service for all fiscal year 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions that seek an exemption for individuals who possess a U.S. master’s degree or higher. The suspension is expected to last until September 10, 2018. Based on similar announcements made by USCIS in the past, we expect premium processing service to remain suspended until at least September 10.

As some of you may remember, USCIS suspended premium processing in a similar fashion during April of last year for fiscal year 2018 cap-subject petitions, and lifted the suspension until September 18 of 2017.

Petitions not subject to FY 2019 Cap

Premium processing requests will continue to be accepted for H-1B petitions NOT subject to the FY 2019 cap. USCIS will make an announcement as we get closer to September notifying the public regarding any decision to resume premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions. In previous years, USCIS lifted the suspension in July for beneficiaries who were exempt from the cap, because of their employment at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, organization, or entity. We expect USCIS to follow a similar pattern in July of this year, with the temporary suspension for cap-subject petitions being lifted sometime in early September.

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Tis the season to file for one of the most popular visa types: The H-1B visa. Filings for cap-subject petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS beginning April 2nd and the filing period will end on April 6, 2018. As many of you know, the odds of being selected in the H-1B visa lottery are slim, but even those who are selected in the visa lottery have to overcome yet another hurdle, the Request for Evidence. Since President Trump issued the executive order “Buy American, Hire American,” the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began scrutinizing the adjudication of H-1B visa applications more closely.

Our attorneys witnessed this phenomenon first hand. The volume of requests for evidence increased significantly and USCIS began to be more demanding in the types of documentation requested to qualify for the program.

For this reason, we advise our clients and readers to be very careful this H-1B season and be mindful of the challenges they may face as they proceed with the H-1B visa process.

Common Types of RFE’s and how to avoid them:

  • Level One Wage: Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American” directs the Department of State to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries. USCIS has increasingly issued RFEs in which the employer is paying the H-1B worker a level 1 wage. This has prompted USCIS to question why someone with a specialty occupation would be paid the level 1 wage, a wage that is typically reserved for entry-level positions and individuals who only have a basic understanding of the occupation. Thus, it would not be appropriate for someone who has an intermediate to advanced understanding of the occupation to be paid a level 1 wage. Situations in which a level 1 wage is inappropriate also include cases where the worker will take on a complex set of job duties.

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During December of last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced that the agency was beginning to take preliminary steps to terminate H-4 Employment Authorization for certain H-4 spouses, a privilege that has been available to eligible spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers since 2015. As it stands, the 2015 H-4 EAD rule allows certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers the ability to obtain an employment authorization card (work permit), provided the H-1B nonimmigrant worker is in the process of obtaining an employment based green card.

Proposal to Amend the 2015 H-4 EAD Rule

On December 14, 2017, a rulemaking notice was first published in the Federal Register notifying the public that the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with USCIS, would be reviewing and possibly amending the 2015 H-4 EAD rule, following the issuance of Executive Order 13788, “Buy American, Hire American.”

According to the notice published in the Federal Register, DHS reserves the authority to amend the 2015 H-4 EAD rule under section 102 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and section 103(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These sections of the law give the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the discretionary power to amend the law so that it aligns with the policies set out in the President’s executive order.

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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 2019 beginning Monday, April 2, 2018. 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. Initial H-1B petitions that are received by USCIS after that limit will count towards the regular 65,000 cap.

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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In this post, we bring you information regarding the major provisions of the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 affecting H-1B workers and employment-based immigrants. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 is a piece of legislation that was recently introduced before Congress by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake on January 25, 2018.

Much of the legislation centers around the H-1B visa worker program.

The major provisions of the Immigration Innovation Act currently being proposed in Congress are as follows:

Increases the number of H-1B visas available. Section 101 of the legislation would raise the current 65,000 H-1B statutory visa cap to 85,000 with 20,000 of those visas to be set aside for applicants possessing a U.S. Master’s and above. This provision includes a market escalator up to 195,000 and de-escalator that is based on prior fiscal years, but not lower than the statutory base. 

Exemption for U.S. Masters. Section 101 includes a provision that creates an unlimited number of exemptions for individuals with a U.S. Master’s degree or above if the U.S. employer attests that it will begin green card processing for the beneficiary within one year.

H-1B Prioritization. Per Section 101, the H-1B visa lottery would be prioritized as follows in fiscal years where enough petitions have been received within the first 5 business days of the filing period of reaching the cap:

  • Individuals with a U.S. Master’s, or higher who are subject to the numerical limitations
  • Individuals who have earned a doctoral degree outside of the U.S.
  • Individuals who have earned a U.S. Bachelor’s degree or higher in a STEM field and
  • Other petitions

Penalties for Failure to Withdraw. Section 101 proposes monetary penalties and debarment for employers who have 5 or more cap-subject petitions approved in a fiscal year, where the visa holder works in the U.S. less than 25% during the first year of approval. In cases involving higher volume users where at least 20 H-1B petitions have been approved in a fiscal year the employer may not avoid penalties even if they withdraw a percentage of approved petitions.

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Since President Donald Trump was elected to the office of the Presidency, a lot has changed in immigration law. From the very beginning, President Trump set out to shatter the status quo with his infamous campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” and immigration was one of the targets. With the help of his campaign advisers and his larger than life personality, President Donald Trump, defeated his biggest political rival, the famed career politician Hillary Clinton. Throughout his campaign it became clear that the Donald Trump persona was not simply made for TV. Whether you agree with his policies or not, Donald Trump has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with.

As Americans headed to the polls on that fateful morning on November 8th there was a tinge of uncertainty in the air—even an odd sense of silence. For those that disagreed with President Trump’s policies, the choice was clear, but for those that had endured eight years under Barack Obama, an unfamiliar face in politics was the answer. Everyone knew Donald Trump as a wealthy real estate mogul with an affinity for the spotlight, but few knew what Donald Trump would be like as a politician, let alone President of the United States. Despite the criticism, Donald Trump became a national phenomenon, capturing the hearts and minds of the American people with his no nonsense approach to politics, and his appeal to a large and growing conservative base. From the very beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump set out to become one of the most unconventional Presidents of the modern era, using his preferred method of Tweeting to reach the American people. Although his administration is only a year old, it has been marred with scandals, dozens of firings, resignations, and abrupt departures.

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