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Great news for FY 2021 H-1B registrants! USCIS has published step-by-step video instructions showing you how you can submit an electronic registration on the USCIS website without the use of an attorney or representative. It is not too late to register. The registration period closes noon ET on March 20, 2020.

USCIS Adds FAQs to Website

USCIS has also included a helpful and detailed FAQ section about the H-1B electronic registration process on its website addressing various topics regarding the H-1B registration process and filing process itself.

We have included these FAQs in this post for your convenience. Questions marked in red are those that we consider to be of most interest to petitioners.

For further information about the H-1B electronic registration process please click here.

Q: What happens if the prospective beneficiary does not have a last name? What do you enter into the system?

  • A: If there is only one name for a beneficiary, it should be entered as the last name. The first and middle name fields will have check boxes that indicate “Beneficiary does not have a first name” or “Beneficiary does not have a middle name.” These boxes should be checked in these instances. Do not enter placeholders, such as “FNU”, “LNU”, “Unknown”, or “No Name Given.

Q: Is there an appeal process for registrations determined to be invalid duplicates?

  • A: Registrations that are determined to be duplicates will be invalid. A registrant who submits duplicate registrations will not be able to appeal the invalidation.

Q: If you are registering for the master’s cap based on the expectation that the beneficiary will earn a qualifying advanced degree, and you are actually selected under the master’s cap, but, the beneficiary does not obtain their qualifying advanced degree, is there a risk that the cap-subject H-1B petition for that beneficiary will be denied?

  • A: If a registration is submitted requesting consideration under the INA 214(g)(5)(C) advanced degree exemption because the beneficiary has earned, or will earn prior to the filing of the petition, a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education, and the registration is selected under the advanced degree exemption, the beneficiary must be eligible for the advanced degree exemption at the time of filing the I-129 petition. If the beneficiary is selected under the advance degree cap and has not earned a qualifying master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education at the time the petition is filed, the petition will be denied or rejected.

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Welcome back to our blog! We kick off the week by bringing you recent developments regarding the government’s controversial rule entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which sought to expand the scope of public benefits that could render a permanent resident or immigrant visa applicant ineligible for immigration benefits.

As you know, in October of 2019, the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” was swiftly blocked by several federal judges shortly before going into effect. By court order, the government cannot implement the final rule anywhere in the United States until a final resolution has been reached in several lawsuits brought against the government challenging the validity of the public charge rule.

On Monday, January 13, 2020, the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the court to lift the remaining lower court injunction, that is currently stopping the government from enforcing the public charge rule.

The government’s request comes just one week after a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, upheld a lower court injunction, preventing the government from implementing the public charge rule on a nationwide basis.

Angered by the decision, the government decided to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision by bringing the matter to the Supreme Court, urging the Court to side with the President and allow the implementation of the rule while a decision in the New York lawsuit is reached on the merits.

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It’s official. Yesterday, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a notice in the Federal Register formally implementing the mandatory registration requirement for H1B petitioners seeking to file a cap-subject petition for Fiscal Year 2021. The notice went into effect on January 9, 2019, the date of publication.

Beginning March 1, 2020, before a petitioner can file an H-1B cap-subject petition, including petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption, the petitioner must first electronically register with USCIS. Only petitioners with a valid registration selection will be eligible to file an H-1B petition with USCIS.

The initial registration period for FY 2021 will open on March 1, 2020 and is expected to close on March 20, 2020. The actual end date will be provided on the USCIS website.

Who must register?

H-1B cap-subject petitioners, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, seeking to file a FY 2021 H-1B cap petition will be required to first register electronically with USCIS and pay the associated $10 H-1B registration fee for each submission

Prospective petitioners or their authorized representatives must electronically submit a separate registration naming each alien for whom they seek to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. Duplicate registrations are prohibited.

What happens after the registration period closes?

Once the registration period closes, USCIS will conduct the initial selection process.

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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The R-1 visa is arguably one of the most underrated work visas available in the U.S. immigration system. The R-1 visa program enables foreign nationals to travel to the United States for the purpose of engaging in temporary employment, as a minister, or in another religious vocation or occupation on at least a part time basis (20 hrs/week).

To qualify for the R-1 visa, the foreign national must be employed by (1) a non-profit religious organization in the United States or (2) a religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption or (3) a non-profit religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

In addition, the foreign national must be a member of the religious denomination for at least two years immediately prior to filing for an R-1 visa.

What is considered a religious occupation under the program?

Religious occupations are those whose duties:

  • Primarily relate to a traditional religious function
  • Are recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination
  • Are primarily related to, and clearly involve, inculcate, or carry out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination

Who may not be eligible for the R-1 visa?

Administrative or support personnel including janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers, or similar occupations that involve soliciting donations. Limited administrative duties that are incidental to religious functions are permissible.

Benefits of the R-1 Visa Program

Dual Intent

The R-1 visa is a dual intent visa. A dual intent visa allows a foreign national to enter the United States as a non-immigrant for a temporary specified period of time, but allows the foreign national to retain the option of applying for a green card in the future.

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In this post, we share with our readers the top five things you need to know before applying for the I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence.

  1. You must file the I-751 Removal of Conditions if you were granted Conditional Resident status (a 2-year green card) based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident

A conditional permanent resident receives a green card that is valid for a 2-year period. Conditional permanent residence is given to foreign nationals who have been married for less than 2 years, on the day that the application for permanent residence was approved. Conditional permanent residents have “conditional” status instead of “permanent” resident status, because they must prove that they did not marry the US Citizen or LPR spouse solely to obtain an immigration benefit. These individuals must go through the additional hurdle of filing Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence to obtain a permanent resident card (10-year green card).

  1. You must file the I-751 petition in a timely manner

The I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence must be filed during the 90-day window immediately before the conditional residence will expire (see the conditional green card’s expiration date and subtract 90 days).

  1. Consequences of Failing to File

If you fail to remove your conditions before the 90-day window closes, you will automatically lose your permanent resident status on the second anniversary of the date you were granted conditional status. You are then subject to removal from the United States. You may only file an I-751 petition after the expiration date of your conditional residence if you demonstrate that your delay in filing the petition was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control

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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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In an effort to modernize and streamline the application process, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has finally announced that it will begin to accept payment via credit card for all 41 fee-based forms. Previously, applicants were required to make filing fee payments by personal check or money order for most fee-based forms. Now applicants will be able to use their credit cards to pay their filing fees using Form G-1450 Authorization for Credit Card Transaction.Accepted credit cards include Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards.  Applicants for naturalization and those renewing or replacing their Green Cards can pay via credit card using the e-file system.

Applicants filing any of the following forms with a USCIS Lockbox facility may now utilize the credit card payment option. Please remember to include Form G-1450 along with your application when filing by mail:

*Most frequently used forms appear in bold.

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In this post, we will discuss the limited circumstances in which applicants may request a fee exemption for Form I-765 filed in connection with a renewal request for consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

In most cases the filing fee to request a renewal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals cannot be waived, but fee exemptions are available in the following limited circumstances:

  • Applicants under 18 years of age who are homeless, in foster care, or otherwise lack parental or other familial support, with income that is less than 150% of the U.S. poverty level may seek a fee exemption
  • Applicants who cannot care for themselves because of a serious chronic disability with an income that is less than 150% of the U.S. poverty level may claim a fee exemption
  • Applicants, who at the time of their request, have accumulated $10,000 or more in debt in the past 12 months, as the result of unreimbursed medical expenses for themselves or family members, receiving an income that is less than 150% of the U.S. poverty level may claim an exemption of the filing fee

To determine whether your income is less than 150% of the U.S. poverty level please reference the chart below:

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In order to be considered for a fee exemption, applicants must submit a letter and supporting documentation demonstrating that they fall into one of the above-mentioned categories. Applicants must first file a request for a fee exemption and receive an approved fee exemption, before filing a request for consideration of deferred action on Form I-821D.  Applicants may not submit Forms I-821D, I-765, and I-765WS without a record that a fee exemption has been approved.

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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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