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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we bring you the latest immigration news for the week.

K-1 Fiancé Visa Blunders

The news of the June 22nd presidential proclamation has caused great confusion among U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide regarding whether K-1 fiancé visas are subject to the current presidential proclamation suspending the entry of certain immigrants to the United States. We have received information from our readers that Embassies have incorrectly stated in emails that K-1 fiance visas are subject to the presidential proclamation. We would like to make clear that K-1 fiance visas are non-immigrant visas and are therefore exempt from the proclamation altogether, because the proclamation only suspends the entry of those seeking immigrant visas from outside the United States.

We are aware that the Embassy in London has been disseminating emails initially stating that K-1 fiance visas were impacted by the proclamation. The Embassy has now retracted this information and written on their webpage that K visas are not subject to the current presidential proclamation, although fiance visa holders may be prevented from entering the U.S. due to current U.S. travel restrictions against nationals of the Schengen countries during the pandemic.

The Embassy in Manila has also confirmed on its website that K visas are not impacted by the presidential proclamation.

Therefore, the only obstacle for K-1 fiance visa applicants to receive their visas is the Embassy closures occurring because of the pandemic. The only other obstacle to traveling to the United States depends on the fiance’s country of nationality. The entry of some nationals has been restricted due to high rates of Coronavirus in those regions (such as the Schengen countries, China, Iran, Brazil, etc). To find information about these travel restrictions please click here.

If you have received incorrect information from your Embassy or Consulate telling you that K-1 fiance visas are subject to the proclamation, we encourage you to copy the information provided on the Manila and London Embassy webpages confirming that K-1 visas are not impacted. Alternatively, you can email your examples to jacob@h1b.biz and we will reach out to the Consulate/Embassy directly to seek clarification.

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UPDATE: Today, Monday June 22, 2020, President Trump signed a new executive order entitled, “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak,” extending the April 22nd Presidential Proclamation and adding new restrictions for nonimmigrant workers who “pose a risk of displacing and disadvantaging United States workers during the coronavirus recovery,” including H-1B, H-2B, J, and L nonimmigrant workers.

According to the executive order, the entry of these nonimmigrants “presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans affected by the extraordinary economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.”


When does the order apply?


The order is effective at 12:01 am eastern daylight time on June 24, 2020 and will last through December 31, 2020, suspending the entry of certain immigrant and nonimmigrant aliens as outlined here. Within 30 days of June 24, 2020 (on July 24th), and every 60 days thereafter while the proclamation is in effect, the Secretary of Homeland Security will, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend any modifications to the order.


When does the order terminate?


The proclamation terminates on December 31, 2020 and can be continued by the government as necessary.


Will the April 22nd Proclamation Be Extended?


Yes, the second paragraph of the new executive order states, “In Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020, …I determined that …the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand.  Consequently, I suspended, for a period of 60 days, the entry of aliens as immigrants, subject to certain exceptions… Given that 60 days is an insufficient time period for the United States labor market …to rebalance… considerations present in Proclamation 10014 remain.” This means the April 22nd proclamation will continue until at least December 31st and all conditions subject to that proclamation will continue to remain in place.

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UPDATE: Please see our blog post here for the complete details of the newly released order. 

Today, Monday June 22, 2020, President Trump is expected to sign a new executive order that will extend his previous April 22nd order set to expire today, and will extend restrictions to apply to H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J foreign workers to protect American jobs as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 lockdowns nationwide. The new executive order is expected to pause new H-1B visa petitions for foreign workers, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, certain J work and education exchange visitor visas, and L executive transfer visas for managers of multinational corporations. The President confirmed issuance of the order in a recent interview with Fox News.

The executive order is expected to be in effect until at least the end of the year and will not impact those who have already been issued or approved an H, L, or J visa.

Although the executive order has not yet been released to the public, a senior official from the Trump administration has spoken to the media on condition of anonymity confirming the issuance of the order. The official stated that the administration has justified issuance of the new order as a way to eliminate competition with foreign workers and make jobs available to American workers during this pandemic.

To read the April 22nd proclamation click here.


Are there any exemptions?


Yes. The order will include a number of exemptions for food processing workers seeking H-2B visas, H-2A agricultural workers, health care professionals working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, J-1 medical physicians, cases that are deemed in the national interest, as well as all other exemptions originally included in the April 22nd Presidential proclamation which are as follows:

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New rumors are yet again circling regarding the possibility of a future executive order banning the entry of certain non-immigrants from the United States. An official speaking on condition of anonymity has fueled these rumors divulging information that the Trump administration is getting ready to issue a new executive order that would temporarily suspend the entry of L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and J-1 non-immigrants for a period lasting several months.

A copy of the executive order has allegedly been leaked to the media; however, our office has not been able to find a draft copy of such an order. It is also important to note that even if a version of the executive order has been leaked, the official version of a future executive order banning non-immigrants might look substantially different.


What is being said about the potential executive order?


The order is rumored to suspend the entry of L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and J-1 non-immigrants for a temporary period lasting several months.

Like previous executive orders suspending immigrant and non-immigrant entry, the order will contain numerous exceptions, although these exceptions have not yet been made clear. We believe exceptions will likely apply to essential workers such as health professionals, those working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, and essential workers in food-related industries.

As it relates to J-1 visas, it is rumored that only summer workers, camp counselors, trainees, and interns will be impacted, not medical physicians.

TAKEAWAY: If you have a valid L-1, H-1B, H-2B, or J-1 non-immigrant visa and you are abroad, you should consider returning to the United States as soon as possible.


Who will the order likely impact?


The order is rumored to impact only those in L, H, and J non-immigrant status outside the United States, however, the Trump administration is considering adding regulatory changes to the order that would impact OPT students and new H-1B applicants in the United States. This includes provisions that would end the STEM OPT program, and provisions tightening H-1B visa requirements to narrow the definition of “specialty occupation,” require higher wages, and increase H-1B filing fees.

TAKEAWAY: STEM OPT applications and extensions should be submitted as early as possible to avoid a negative impact.

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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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Yesterday evening, President Donald Trump made an unusual announcement via twitter stating, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy [COVID-19], as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporary suspend immigration into the United States!”

Since that tweet, no executive order has been released by the White House and no details have been provided relating to what that executive order might include, who might be affected, and how long the temporary suspension might last.

According to NPR, an official from the Department of Justice reported that the draft executive order is currently under review by the Office of Legal Counsel.

Is it worth noting that at present United States Consulates and Embassies abroad have already suspended routine visa processing and are not taking appointments for visa interviews until further notice. USCIS is still accepting and adjudicating petitions for immigration benefits as usual, however USCIS field offices, ASC offices, and asylum offices are closed to the public until May 3rd.

Responding to the President’s tweet, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said today in a statement that the President, “is committed to protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented time,” she continued, “As President Trump has said, ‘Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African American and Latino workers. At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.”

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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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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! As you all know, USCIS recently announced that it has completed the selection process to meet the 65,000/20,000 annual numerical limitations for H-1B fiscal year 2021.

All accountholders should have been notified of selection via their USCIS online accounts by March 31,2020. We can confirm that our office received all notices of selection before March 31, 2020.

If you were selected, the following status will appear on the petitioner’s USCIS online account:

Selected: Selected to file an FY 2021 H-1B cap-subject petition.

What’s Next?

Now that the selection process has been completed, petitioners who properly registered the beneficiary through the mandatory H-1B electronic registration process and were selected in the lottery are eligible to file a FY 2021 H-1B cap-subject petition with USCIS.

Petitioners who were not selected cannot file a petition with USCIS.

Please note that selection does not mean that an H-1B petition has been approved. The petitioner must still establish eligibility for petition approval at the time of filing and the application must go through adjudication based on existing statutory and regulatory requirements.

When can I file?

H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2021, including those petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may now be filed with USCIS if based on a valid selected registration (as of April 1st). 

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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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Great news! Today, March 27, 2020, USCIS announced that it has received enough electronic registrations to reach the FY 2021 H-1B cap—just 7 days after the registration period closed on March 20, 2020.

USCIS randomly selected from among registrations that were properly submitted to meet the 65,000/20,000 annual numerical limitations for the regular cap and advanced degree exemption.

Petitioners who have been selected will be notified of their selection no later than March 31, 2020 (4 days). Only petitioners with selected registrations will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition for the beneficiary named in the applicable selected registration.

How will I be notified?

Now that the selection process has been completed, USCIS will send electronic notices to all registrants with selected registrations that are eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition on behalf of the individual named in the notice within the filing period indicated on the notice.

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