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USCIS has announced that it will resume premium processing services for all H-1B petitions on Tuesday, March 12.

Applicants who have received a request for evidence (RFE) for a pending H-1B petition, should include Form I-907 request for premium processing along with the RFE response, if they wish to upgrade their petition.

What is Premium Processing Service?

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Beginning March 22nd, USCIS will only accept the revised version of Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status with edition date 02/04/2019. USCIS will reject any Form I-539 with an edition date of 12/23/16, or earlier, that is received by USCIS after March 21st.

USCIS will accept the 12/23/16 version of Form I-539 from now until close of business on March 21st.

The revised version of Form I-539 will be published on the USCIS website today, March 8, 2019. In addition, USCIS will be publishing a new Form I-539A Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on the Form I-539 webpage on March 8. Form I-539A replaces the Supplement A provided in previous versions of Form I-539. Form I-539A can only be submitted along with Form I-539.

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USCIS Issues Notice Extending TPS Designation for Beneficiaries from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador

In compliance with a court ordered preliminary injunction issued in the case Ramos v. Nielsen, USCIS has issued a notice formally announcing the automatic extension of TPS documentation for beneficiaries from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador until January 2, 2020.

Beneficiaries under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador will retain their TPS while the preliminary injunction remains in effect, provided that an individual’s TPS is not withdrawn under Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 244(c)(3) or 8 CFR 244.14 because of ineligibility.

DHS has further announced that it is automatically extending through January 2, 2020, the validity of TPS related Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), Forms I–797, Notice of Action (Approval Notice), and Forms I–94 (Arrival/Departure Record) (‘‘TPS-Related Documentation’’), for beneficiaries under the TPS designations for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador, provided that the affected TPS beneficiaries remain otherwise eligible for TPS.

TPS for these countries will not be terminated unless and until any superseding, final, nonappealable judicial order permits such terminations.

Venezuelan Immigrant Visa Processing

The Department of State recently announced that the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia is now the designated primary site to process immigrant visas for residents of Venezuela. Beginning April 2019, the National Visa Center will begin scheduling Venezuelan immigrant visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. Appointment notices for all future immigrant visa interviews will take place at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

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The Trump administration is making another bold move, this time the target is H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers seeking permanent residence.

The Department of Homeland Security has published a notice of proposing rule-making (NRPM) to rescind an Obama era rule extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B workers seeking permanent residence.

We are awaiting publication of the proposed rule in the federal register. At this time, the regulation has preliminarily appeared on the government website reginfo.gov.

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DOS Update for Chinese H and L Visa Applicants

The Department of State recently released an update notifying the public that beginning March 1, 2019, interviews for H and L visas will only be conducted at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing or at one of the U.S. Consulates General in either Guangzhou or Shanghai.

H and L interviews will no longer be scheduled at the U.S. Consulates in Chengdu and Shenyang.

Russians May Apply for a U.S. Visa at a U.S. Visa Processing Post in China

The DOS website also provides notice to visa applicants residing in the Russian Federation:

Individuals who normally reside in Russia, but who are unable to apply for a U.S. visa in a timely manner may submit their application at one of the U.S. visa processing-posts in China. Applicants are not required to be a resident of China to apply for a visa at one of these posts, but they must be physically present in China at the time of visa application and visa interview. In-mail applications are not accepted from individuals while they are outside of China. Applicants may include a local address in China such as a hotel, a relative’s residence, or office in China when scheduling an appointment for a visa interview.

This is a good option for Russian applicants doing business in China.

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Today February 15, 2019, USCIS announced that the agency will resume premium processing services on Tuesday February 19, 2019, for all H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018.

Premium processing service remains suspended for H-1B petitions filed on or after December 22, 2018. USCIS will make an announcement at a later date when USCIS plans to resume premium processing for the remaining categories of H-1B petitions as agency workloads permit the agency to resume these services.

USCIS has provided the following guidance for petitioners who received a transfer notice for a pending H-1B petition, who are interested in upgrading their petition to premium processing:

If you received a transfer notice for a pending H-1B petition, and you are requesting premium processing service, you must submit the premium processing request to the service center now handling the petition.

You should also include a copy of the transfer notice with your premium processing request to avoid possible delays associated with the receipt of your premium processing request.

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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 2020 beginning Monday, April 1, 2019. 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.

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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As you gear up for a chance to win one of the 65,000 coveted H-1B visas that will be up for grabs beginning April 1, 2019 through April 5, 2019, we bring you our top frequently asked questions—H-1B edition—to help you make the most of your H-1B filing. As always, to determine whether you qualify for an H-1B visa, please contact our office to schedule a free first time consultation.

When will USCIS begin to accept H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2020?

USCIS will begin to accept petitions for fiscal year 2020 beginning on April 1, 2019 and from then on will continue to accept H-1B petitions during the first five business days until USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to fill the regular cap and advanced degree exemption. An H-1B petition may be filed no more than six months before the employment start date requested for the beneficiary.

How long is the H-1B visa valid for?

The H-1B visa is issued for a three-year period that can be extended for an additional three years. Spouses of H-1B workers may live and work in the United States on an H-4 visa, for as long as the H-1B worker remains in lawful H-1B status.

What happens after USCIS receives the necessary petitions to meet the regular cap?

Once USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to meet the regular cap, USCIS will conduct a computer-generated lottery to select the petitions needed to meet the general cap and the advanced degree exemption.

Last H-1B season, USCIS announced that the cap was reached within the first 5 business days of the H-1B filing period.

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A new policy brief published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) analyzing USCIS processing times reveals that the agency has reached “crisis” level delays in processing immigrant and non-immigrant petitions. These delays have worsened during the Trump administration.

According to the report the most vulnerable populations include immigrant families, domestic abuse survivors and their children, traumatized and threatened persons seeking humanitarian aid, and U.S. businesses.

Specifically, the report finds that USCIS data released for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 reveals that USCIS is failing to adjudicate cases in a reasonable and timely manner:

  • The overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014.
  • USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types—from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers—more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014.
  • Case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease
  • Data revealed a “net backlog” exceeding 2.3 million delayed cases at the end of FY 2017
  • DHS identified a net backlog of 2,330,143 USCIS cases as of the end of FY 2017.7
  • DHS observed that USCIS’s “net backlog has been as high as 1.7 million in FY 2004 and 1.5 million in FY 2008”—suggesting that USCIS’s net backlog at the conclusion of FY 2017 was its highest on record
  • the FY 2017 net backlog more than doubled from 1,047,751 cases at the conclusion of FY 2016—despite only a four percent increase in case receipts during that one-year period

What is to blame?

According to the report the following decisions made under the Trump administration have exacerbated delays and slowed the level of immigration to the United States:

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The Department of Homeland Security has published an advanced copy of the final rule that will amend the way the H-1B visa program will be run in the future. The official version of the final rule is set to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow January 31, 2019, and become effective April 1, 2019, the beginning of the H-1B cap visa season for fiscal year 2020.

Beginning with the upcoming FY 2020 H-1B cap season, which kicks off on April 1, 2019, USCIS will reverse the order by which it selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS will first select H-1B petitions (or registrations, once the registration requirement is implemented) submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS will then select from the remaining eligible petitions, a number projected to reach the advanced degree exemption.

According to USCIS, “Changing the order in which USCIS counts these allocations will likely increase the number of petitions for beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected under the H-1B numerical allocations.”

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