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Articles Posted in Employment based visa

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Great news for our loyal followers! The time has come – today the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that premium processing services will resume.

Beginning June 1, 2020, premium processing services for all Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers will be resumed.

What about other types of petitions?

Premium processing service will be resume for other types of petitions in phases as follows:

-Beginning June 8th USCIS will accept premium processing requests for:

  • H-1B petitions filed before June 8 that are pending adjudication and are cap-exempt (for example, petitions filed by petitioners that are cap-exempt and petitions filed for beneficiaries previously counted toward the numerical allocations).
  • All other Form I-129 petitions (non H-1B petitions) for nonimmigrant classifications eligible for premium processing filed before June 8 that are pending adjudication.

-Beginning June 15th USCIS will resume premium processing for:

  • H-1B petitions requesting premium processing where Form I-907 was filed concurrently with Form I-129 (or request for a petition filed on or after June 8) and the beneficiary is exempt from the cap because:
    • The employer is cap-exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, entity or organization (such as an institution of higher education, a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization); or
    • The beneficiary is cap-exempt based on a Conrad/IGA waiver under INA section 214(l).

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A brand-new bill called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2020 (S. 3770) sponsored by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has recently surfaced. As you might have already guessed, the bill seeks to make changes to the current H-1B and L visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse within the H-1B and L visa programs, provide protections for American workers, and enforce stricter requirements for the recruitment of foreign workers. The H-1B visa program is aggressively targeted in this new piece of legislation.


Proposed Changes to the H-1B visa program


First, as it relates to the H-1B visa worker program, the bill proposes changes to existing wage requirements.

The law would require employers to pay the highest wage from three categories:

1) the locally determined prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment

2) the median average wage for all workers in the occupational classification in the area of employment; or

3) the median wage for skill level 2 in the occupational classification found in the most recent OES survey.

Second, the bill would make changes to current law and require U.S. employers seeking to hire H-1B workers to publish job postings on a website established by the Department of Labor. After filing the labor condition application, the employer would be required to post the job on the website for at least 30 calendar days. The job posting would have to include a detailed description of the position, including the wages and other terms and conditions of employment, minimum education, training, experience, and other requirements for the position, as well as the process for applying for the position.

Third, all H-1B employers would be required to prove that they have tried to recruit American workers for jobs offered to H-1B workers. Under current law, only H-1B dependent employers (those with more than 50 full time employees of which at least 15% are H-1B employees) are required to recruit American workers for H-1B positions. This would be a drastic change in the law creating additional burdens for U.S. employers seeking to hire foreign workers with specialized skills.

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We have received an outpouring of emails, comments, and messages from our loyal followers asking when Consular posts and Embassies worldwide will reopen. We understand the frustration that our readers feel and sympathize with the world situation.

While USCIS has announced that in person appointments will resume on June 4th, the Department of State has not yet released any updates regarding procedures for reopening Consulates and Embassies nationwide. Given that the pandemic is a fluid situation and travel restrictions vary from country to country, each Consulate and Embassy will reopen for in person services at a different pace.

For the moment, emergency consular services continue to be available and appointments can be scheduled for emergency related issues by contacting the US Consulate or Embassy directly. Click here for a complete list of US Consulate and Embassies including their contact information.

Outside of emergency services, the vast majority of consulates and embassies will continue to remain closed for in-person appointments for the time being. Most consulates and embassies have provided the following message on their webpage regarding availability of visa appointments:

We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. The MRV fee is valid and may be used for a visa application in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment. If you have an urgent matter and need to travel immediately, please follow the guidance provided at https://ais.usvisa-info.com/ to request an emergency appointment or contact AIS by phone by dialing the local number: +374 60 465 986. If calling from the U.S. dial +1-703-520-2525 or contact by email weeac_contactus+gb+info+en@visaops.net to request an emergency appointment.

You can find the local AIS number by clicking on your country on the AIS website then scrolling to the bottom of the website and clicking on “Contact Us” under the “Help” section.

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The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by nearly all sectors of the economy, but perhaps the most unexpected victim has been the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Unlike many other government agencies, USCIS does not depend on government funding to survive. Instead, the agency primarily relies on fees, charged to applicants and petitioners applying for immigration benefits, to remain in operation.

A spokesman for the agency recently revealed that the agency is strapped for cash. Americans nationwide have had to cut back on spending during this coronavirus pandemic, leaving little money to spare on the very expensive filing fees required for various types of immigration benefits, such as citizenship and green card applications. The agency is in such a precarious position that it has now asked the United States government for a $1.2 billion bailout to remain in operation.

USCIS has said that its revenue could plummet by more than 60 percent by the end of the fiscal year which ends on September 30, 2020. If the agency does not receive additional funding from the government, it will run out of money by the summertime.

In anticipation of its decreased revenue, USCIS is preparing to take drastic measures to stay afloat, such as adding a 10 percent “surcharge” to applications, on top of proposed filing fee increases. These additional fees could be imposed within the coming months.

Of course, an increase in fees is bad news for non-citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Many have blamed President Trump’s restrictive policies on immigration for the decrease in revenue. The President’s most recent proclamations coupled with his restrictive immigration policies have made it more difficult for immigrants and non-immigrants alike to obtain immigration benefits. These policies have been designed to discourage foreign nationals from seeking immigration benefits because of the high rate of visa denials. In addition, the most recent proclamation has kept consular immigration at a standstill.

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The House of Representatives has introduced a new bill called the HEROES Act, (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), that provides short term financial relief during this health crisis. In this post, we discuss who would be covered under the HEROES Act and what type of relief would be provided by the Act.

To become law, the HEROES Act will need to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. The President has openly voiced his opposition for the bill because the bill authorizes federal funds for undocumented immigrants. The bill will likely receive push back in the Republican controlled Senate or at the very least be subject to significant changes. Nonetheless if the bill fails, it will at least provide a foundation upon which Congress can reach a compromise.


What is it?


The HEROES Act is a $3 trillion bill that would provide stimulus checks to individuals who did not previously qualify for stimulus checks under the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security), such as undocumented immigrants.


Relief for Undocumented Individuals


The HEROES Act would provide temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants working in essential fields such as health care workers and allow them to apply for employment authorization throughout the period of the pandemic. In addition, unlike the CARES Act, undocumented immigrants and their families would be eligible to receive stimulus checks. The HEROES Act would allow direct payments to be issued in the amount of – $1,200 for an individual, $2,400 for joint filers, and $1,200 for up to three dependents. The HEROES Act would also authorize undocumented immigrants to be eligible for the first round of stimulus checks sent out in April. The Act also proposes additional health care benefits for immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid and would require immigration authorities to release people from immigration detention where possible.


Low-Risk Detainees


The HEROES Act would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to evaluate the files of detained immigrants and release those who are not subject to mandatory detention, and those who do not pose a risk to national security. In the alternative the HEROES Act would encourage ICE to pursue low-cost alternatives to detention for low-risk immigrants such as requiring detainees to wear ankle bracelet monitors.

The bill would also require detention facilities to provide detainees with free and unlimited soap, as well as phone and video call accessibility to communicate with family and legal representatives.


Expedited Processing for Foreign Medical Workers


The HEROES Act would require expedited visa and green card processing for foreign medical workers seeking to practice medicine, conduct medical research, or pursue education or training to combat COVID-19. Consulates and Embassies worldwide would also be required to prioritize visa interviews for these workers, granting emergency appointments in person or teleconference appointments. Foreign doctors who have completed residency programs in the United States would be eligible to receive permanent residence on an expedited basis. Medical professionals in H-1B status would be eligible to transfer between hospital systems without having to apply for a new visa. In addition, medical students would be eligible to transfer rotations within their host institution and would be compensated for their work throughout the pandemic. In addition, such students could work outside of their approved program so long as their work relates to fighting COVID-19.

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On May 7th just days after the President signed his controversial April 22nd executive order limiting the immigration of certain aliens to the United States for 60 days, Republican senators rallied together to urge the President to pass more immigration restrictions—this time targeting nonimmigrant foreign workers.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Josh Hawley of Missouri fired off an impassioned plea to the President asking him to suspend all new guest worker visas for a period of 60 days, and certain categories of new guest worker visas for at least the next year until unemployment levels have returned to normal.

In their letter, the Senators justified their request stating that, “the United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high.” The letter continued “given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economic begin to reopen, it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment.”

The Senators praised the President for passing the April 22nd proclamation but said that more needs to be done because guest worker programs “remain a serious threat to the U.S. labor market’s recovery.”

The Senators said that exceptions to the 60-day suspension should be rare and limited to time-sensitive industries such as agriculture and issued only on a case-by-case basis when the employer can demonstrate that they have been unable to find Americans to take the jobs.

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We are pleased to report the introduction of a brand-new Senate bill called the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, sponsored by Senators David Perdue, Todd Young, Dick Durbin, and Chris Coons. The purpose of the bill is to increase the number of health care workers available to meet the demand of the COVID 19 pandemic.

If passed, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, would allow nurses and physicians with approved immigrant visas the ability to adjust their status, so that they can help our nation fight the coronavirus and have a durable immigration status.

As you know, there are currently thousands of nurses and doctors stuck overseas waiting in line for green cards to become available, despite a grave need for their services during this public health crisis. What’s worse is that many of these workers already have approved immigrant petitions but are prevented from serving our communities due to the long visa backlogs.

The bill would authorize the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to “recapture” up to 25,000 immigrant visas for nurses and 15,000 immigrant visas for physicians. USCIS would also recapture immigrant visas for the families of these medical professionals.

These recaptured visas would be drawn from the pool of unused employment-based visas that Congress has previously authorized. These visas would be issued in order of priority date and would not be subject to the country caps. To facilitate timely action, premium processing would be applied to qualifying petitions and applications. Furthermore, the bill would direct the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to prioritize visa appointments for fully qualified nurses and physicians to enter the United States as fast as possible.

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There can be no doubt that the Trump era has dealt a devastating blow to immigration, but perhaps the most affected individuals have been H-1B visa hopefuls and their employers.

Early on during the President’s administration, the President advocated for and implemented some of the most disastrous immigration policies ever seen—particularly because of the restrictive effect these polices have had in drastically reducing visa approvals for temporary workers.

Across the board, our office witnessed a staggering increase in the issuance of requests for evidence, and a high rate of denials for H-1B visa worker petitions, despite a highly qualified applicant base.

While these petitions were easily approved in past administrations, the reality began to set in that things would be much different under President Trump. Data has shown that from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019, H-1B denial rates for new H-1B petitions increased drastically from 6 percent to 21 percent., while denial rates for H-1B visa extensions increased to 12 percent in fiscal year 2019.

Where did it all begin?

USCIS began to aggressively limit H-1B visa approvals following the passage of the President’s executive order “Buy American and Hire American” signed on April 18, 2017.

With this order, the President single-handedly targeted one of the most sought-after visa programs in the United States—the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled temporary foreign workers. The order specifically directed the Attorney General and Secretaries of State, Labor, and Homeland Security to suggest reforms to ensure that H-1B visas would only be approved for the most-skilled or highest-paid workers.

While the President’s restrictive policies on immigration gained him a loyal following, they ultimately narrowed the playing field significantly for prospective H-1B workers.

Buy American and Hire American effectively gave the Department of Homeland Security—and by extension the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services—a broad range of power to develop and enforce restrictive policies limiting the issuance of H-1B visas.

Thereafter, USCIS went to work producing rule-making, policy memoranda, and implementing operational changes to carry out the President’s agenda with the goal of drastically limiting approvals for H-1B workers.

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A new decision issued by a federal judge in the case Itserve Alliance Inc., et al., v. L. Francis Cissna, will dramatically change the way that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates H-1B petitions for Information Technology companies.

The new ruling invalidates key provisions of the CIS 2010 Guidance Memorandum (also known as the Neufeld Memo) and the CIS 2018 Policy Memorandum (PM-602-0157) for two reasons.

Firstly, the court found that the policies outlined in these memorandums were inconsistent with previous regulations that were lawfully passed by the government through the formal notice-and-comment rule-making process, as required by law.

Secondly, the court found that USCIS violated the law when it abandoned previous regulations and began applying their own policies without first going through the required formal notice-and-rulemaking process. Since these policies were not passed through the formal rule-making process, their application was found to be unlawful and unenforceable.

Background

During the start of the Trump administration, USCIS began adopting a narrow policy designed to limit the number of H-1B petitions that would be approved. Throughout this period, our office saw the highest number of requests for evidence and denial rates ever experienced in over a decade in practice. Other immigration attorneys across the country observed the same trends.

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In this post we bring you the latest immigration related COVID-19 updates. During this difficult time, we would like to extend our heartfelt regards to you and your families. We hope you are staying safe and taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The sooner we abide by government measures, the sooner we can overcome this pandemic as a Nation. Additionally, please remember that although our office is closed to the public, we continue to function behind the scenes to file your petitions on a timely basis. If you have any questions regarding your immigration options, or your currently pending case, we would be glad to assist you by telephone, Zoom, or Skype.

President Extends Federal Social Distancing Guidelines to April 30

This past Sunday, March 29, 2020, the President of the United States extended the Nation’s social distancing guidelines for another 30 days, following warnings from health advisers of the serious consequences that could result if Americans were allowed to return to normal life. Pursuant to this order, social time will continue to be limited only to necessary outings such as grocery shopping, medical appointments, etc. until April 30.