Articles Posted in First Time Clients

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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In this series, our office brings you up to speed on all things immigration.

Reminders for H-1B applicants for Fiscal Year 2018

Beginning April 3, 2017 USCIS will begin to accept cap-subject H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018. USCIS has recently announced that premium processing has been temporarily suspended beginning April 3, for a 6-month period, that means that petitioners CANNOT file Form I-907 request for premium processing while premium processing has been suspended. As a reminder, for the general cap (U.S. bachelor’s degree holders or the foreign equivalent) only 65,000 H-1B visas are available per fiscal year, while 20,000 H-1B visas have been allocated for the advanced degree exemption (U.S. Master’s degree holders or higher level of education). Our office has estimated that this H-1B season, advanced degree holders will have a 65 to 70% chance of being selected in the lottery, while individuals qualifying for the general U.S. bachelor’s cap will have a 35 to 40% chance of selection.

For more information about the H-1B visa please click here.

I-130 Consular Processing

If you have applied for an immigrant visa with the National Visa Center, a process that is also known as consular processing, and you are preparing your civil documents for shipment to the National Visa Center or for your immigrant visa interview, please be aware that the Department of State has recently made changes to the Country Reciprocity tables, requiring new or additional documents for certain foreign nationals depending on their country of nationality. All original civil documents must be presented at the immigrant visa interview by the intended beneficiary.

To view the updates please click here.

To review the complete Visa Reciprocity Table, please click here.

What is happening with Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban and what is a Temporary Restraining Order?

Trump’s revised executive order banning the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Iran, and Yemen) and the admission of refugees is currently on hold. A federal judge from the state of Hawaii has issued what is known as a TRO or Temporary Restraining Order.

What is a TRO?

A TRO is a provisional form of relief granted by the federal courts that prevents a party from doing a certain thing so that the moving party does not suffer harm. The relief provided by a TRO is immediate, because the order is only granted under emergency circumstances. A TRO goes into effect for 14 days and can be extended for another 14 days (maximum 28 days). A TRO is not permanent.

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As the days lead up to April 3, 2017, (the first day that USCIS will begin to accept H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018) our office will be very busy putting the final touches on all cap-subject H-1B petitions. In this post, we will discuss what you should be doing now to tie up any loose ends and increase your chances of selection this H-1B season. In addition, this post will outline what you can expect to receive from USCIS after filing.

First, create a preliminary checklist to ensure that you have met all the requirements to properly file your H-1B cap-subject petition:

Note: Premium processing is suspended for all petitions filed for H-1B fiscal year 2018 for both the H-1B regular cap and master’s cap. Do not file a Form I-907 request for premium processing because the form will be rejected. If you include the I-907 fee in combination with any other filing fees associated with the H-1B visa, USCIS will reject the entire H-1B petition.

Checklist:

  1. Did you include the correct version of all forms with revision date on/after Oct. 23, 2014? See uscis.gov/forms to download current form versions.
  2. Did you properly sign and complete Form I-129 including the correct H Classification Supplement?
  3. Did you properly sign and complete the I-129 and H Supplement?
  4. Did you properly sign and complete the I-129 Data Collection Supplement and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement?
  5. Did you include a properly signed and certified Form ETA-9035 Labor Condition Attestation (LCA) from the Department of Labor for the position for which the beneficiary is applying for?
  6. Did you ensure all forms have an original signature in black or blue ink?
  7. Did you include separate signed checks or money orders for each filing fee with the correct fee amounts?

REMEMBER that USCIS recently changed its fee schedule for certain petitions effective December 23, 2016. See https://www.uscis.gov/fees for a complete list of current fees.

  1. Did you include all required documentation and evidence in support of your petition? See below for a running list.
  2. Did you ensure that you have included only one H-1B position for the beneficiary of each H-1B petition you have prepared?
  3. Do you know the service center where you must file the petition? If not, ensure that you submit your petition to the correct USCIS service center. The service center where your petition must be filed depends on the work location of the H-1B beneficiary as you have specified in the petition. To determine the correct service center see https://www.uscis.gov/i-129-addresses. Failure to submit your petition to the correct service center will result in a rejection of your H-1B petition.

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On Wednesday March 15, 2017, a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order in opposition of President Donald Trump’s new executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” which was set to go into effect today Thursday, March 16, 2017. This will be the second time the President’s executive order has been blocked by a federal court. Among its major provisions the new executive order which was set to go into effect today, called for a 90-day travel ban on non-immigrants of six Muslim countries including Syria, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, and a 120-day travel ban on the admission of refugees into the United States. The executive order had been re-drafted by the Trump administration following the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling invalidating all provisions of the executive order nationwide. To salvage the provisions of the executive order and make good on his campaign promise to eradicate terrorism, the President and his administration attempted to improve the order by removing controversial provisions within the order, affecting legal permanent residents, as well as non-immigrants with valid U.S. visas, otherwise authorized to gain admission to the United States. The order also removed Iraq as one of the countries affected by the order and removed a provision terminating the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States.

In what seems like déjà vu, the new executive order has once again been opposed first by a federal judge in Hawaii, and in a separate action by a federal judge from the state of Maryland who has blocked the 90-day travel ban from being implemented on citizens of the six Muslim majority countries nationwide. In their decisions, both judges mentioned President Trump’s statements during his presidential campaign which called into question the constitutionality of the executive order and its violation of the Establishment Clause. Specifically, President Trump has previously said that terrorism is linked to the Muslim religion, and his administration has identified the six Muslim countries outlined in the order as countries whose citizens have committed terrorist crimes in the United States. The Court has been concerned with the discriminatory effect of the executive order in targeting Muslims. The federal judge from the state of Hawaii noted that the state has “met their burden of establishing a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their Establishment clause claim, that irreparable injury is likely if the requested relief is not issued, and that the balance of the equities and public interest counsel in favor of granting the requested relief.” For those reasons, the Court found that a Temporary Restraining Order blocking all provisions of the order was appropriate.

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With only three days left until enforcement of President Donald Trump’s newly revised executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” Democratic legislators and immigration advocacy groups are rushing to file litigation in opposition of the new order. Although the new executive order has removed some of its controversial provisions, the essential components of the original order have remained the same. For example, the order continues to call for a 90-day travel ban on citizens of Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen who are outside of the United States on March 16, 2017 and who do not possess a valid U.S. visa or permanent resident card as of the date of the order. The order also calls for a travel ban on all refugees and suspension on all decisions for applications for refugee status for 120-days.

The new order has now removed Iraq from the list of countries affected by the travel ban and has removed the provision banning the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely. The language of the newly revised version also makes clear that citizens of these 6 affected countries, who are legal permanent residents or who have valid U.S. visas as of the date of the order, will not be prevented from seeking admission to the United States. Citizens of these countries who do not already have a U.S. visa or green card on the date of the order will not be admitted until the temporary ban has been lifted. In addition, the new order exempts foreign nationals who are admitted into the United States on or after March 16, 2017, as well as dual nationals traveling on a passport issued by an unaffected country, and individuals traveling on diplomatic visas. The order also carves out a provision that allows qualifying individuals to apply for a waiver if they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the US official that their country would cause them undue hardship or that that they are not a threat to national security, and that their admittance is in the national interest. It seems however that these waivers will be rarely issued and difficult to obtain, unless the U.S. official determines that the foreign national’s admittance is in the national interest.

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