Articles Posted in H-1B Lottery

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With the H-1B season quickly coming to a close, we are happy to announce that 83% of our clients were selected in this year’s master’s cap, while 56.67% of our clients were selected in the “general cap.” These estimates are above the national average. Of the petitions that were selected, the majority were filed with the California Service Center. Selections in this year’s lottery were made up until the very last minute. This fiscal year, USCIS received a total of 199,000 petitions, less than usual, and the computer-generated lottery was conducted on April 11, 2017 a bit later than usual given that the filing period opened on April 3, 2017. As in previous years, USCIS first began the selection process for the advanced degree exemption or “master’s cap,” and then proceeded with the selection process for the “general cap” to fill the 85,000-visa cap. During FY 2017, USCIS received over 236,000 petitions during the filing period which opened on April 1, 2016, and the computer-generated lottery was conducted on April 9, 2016.

USCIS has now completed data entry for all cap-subject petitions selected during fiscal year 2018. This means that USCIS will now begin the process of returning all H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in this year’s lottery, along with their filing fees. While USCIS has indicated that they cannot provide a definite time frame as to when these unselected petitions will be returned, in previous years unselected petitions have traditionally been returned during mid-June to the end of June.

If you have not received a receipt notice in the mail notifying you of your selection, and your checks were not cashed by the Department of Homeland Security, between April 1st and May 3rd., unfortunately it is not likely that you were selected in this year’s lottery. For safe measure, applicants may wish to wait about a week or so to see if any late notices are received.

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Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore

USCIS has finally announced that the H-1B computer-generated lottery took place on April 11, 2017 to select the necessary petitions to meet the 65,000 visa cap for beneficiaries holding a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, as well as the 20,000 visa cap for beneficiaries holding a U.S. master’s degree or higher. The announcement came a bit late this H-1B season, but you can now rest easy knowing that it has taken place.   On April 7th USCIS announced that they had received more than enough H-1B petitions necessary for fiscal year 2018. USCIS disclosed that they received 199,000 H-1B petitions this filing year.

Our office has already received 3 receipt notices for the “master’s” cap or advanced degree exemption, and 2 receipt notices for the “regular” cap as of April 20, 2017. 

USCIS will continue to mail receipt notices for selected petitions throughout the month of April and likely into early May.

If your petitioner has been monitoring their bank account closely and has noticed that the filing fees were charged to the account, that means that the H-1B petition was selected. Even if the filing fees have not yet been charged to your petitioner’s bank account, that does not mean that your H-1B petition was not selected. H-1B applicants must wait patiently to see if they were selected in this year’s lottery.

USCIS will not begin mailing out unselected H-1B petitions until around June through the month of July.

As a reminder, premium processing for H-1B petitions was suspended on March 3rd and will remain suspended for up to six months.

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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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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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Beginning April 3, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will temporarily suspend expedited processing of H-1B visas, a service previously available to H-1B petitioners known as premium processing. The reason: to reduce overall H-1B processing times and prioritize processing of H-1B extensions nearing the 240-day mark. Premium processing previously guaranteed a 15-day processing time, or refund of the $1,225 premium processing fee. Although premium processing did not increase a petition’s chances of being selected for an H-1B visa, it gave petitioners the benefit of waiting a shorter period and allowed selected petitioners the option of upgrading their application to premium processing after filing.

Petitioners will not have the option of paying for the premium processing service for a period of at least 6 months beginning April 3, 2017. The suspension will affect all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017 including all petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption. Additionally, the suspension may affect petitions that are cap-exempt, but will not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed with Form I-129.  While the premium processing service is suspended, petitioners may not file a request for premium processing (I-907) for an I-129 Petition for H-1B worker until USCIS has announced that it has resumed premium processing for H-1B petitions. Beginning April 3, 2017 if a petitioner submits a single check combining fees for premium processing and the Form I-129 USCIS will reject both applications (not just the request for premium processing). To avoid this DO NOT submit any premium processing requests on or after April 3, 2017.

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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, 2017 through April 7, 2017, 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 2018?

USCIS will begin to accept petitions for fiscal year 2018 beginning on April 1, 2017 and from then on will continue to accept H-1B petitions during the first five business days through April 7, 2017 until USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to fill the regular cap. 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 cap.  When the cap has been reached, USCIS will make an announcement (usually made on April 7th) indicating that the cap has been reached and that they will proceed with the selection process to fill the 65,000 cap by a randomized lottery system.

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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The H-1B visa is one of the most coveted visas in the United States for several reasons. One of the biggest perks of the H-1B visa is that it is granted for a period of three years, and can be extended for an additional three years. Recipients of the H-1B visa can also bring their dependents to live with them in the United States on an H-4 visa. The H-1B visa is also a popular option because it gives workers the flexibility of accepting and entering new employment, made possible by the portability provision of the H-1B program (8 U.S.C. § 1184(n)). The portability provision allows an H-1B worker to change jobs without having to risk falling “out of status.” Recently, USCIS also improved its portability provision with the passage of a new law that will give H-1B workers who have been laid off a 60-day grace period to transfer to a new employer. But perhaps the greatest upside to the H-1B visa however, is that it is one of the few visas that allows a nonimmigrant to apply for permanent residency as a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition, without the immigrant petition having any negative affect on their H-1B status. This privilege is recognized in the law and is known as “dual intent.” Foreign nationals holding a “dual intent” visa such as an H-1B visa are allowed to file a green card petition, while continuing employment under the terms of their visa, and may also travel on their visa without seeking permission from USCIS.

In this sense, the H-1B visa is one of the few visas that opens a direct path to permanent residency. Other popular employment visas such as the E-2 treaty investor visa do not create a direct path to permanent residency and are not considered “dual intent” visas.

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