Articles Posted in Highly Skilled Workers

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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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As many of you know the H-1B visa lottery for fiscal year 2018 is fast approaching. As usual, the competition will be fierce, as hundreds of thousands of highly skilled professionals prepare to file their H-1B visa petitions beginning April 1st through the April 7th deadline. While filing by April 1st (the first day that applications are accepted) certainly gives applicants greater peace of mind, filing before the April 7th deadline does not necessarily increase an individual’s chances of being selected in the lottery. Throughout the years, our office has seen the selection of many petitions that were filed on or close to the April 7th deadline.  With that being said, we expect the competition this year to be even more intense, that is why we want to give you our top tips about what you should be doing NOW to prepare for H-1B season and increase your chances for success.

First some statistics on fiscal year 2017:

  • For fiscal year 2017, USCIS received over 236,000 H-1B petitions, which included petitions counting toward the general cap and advanced degree exemption; approximately 3,000 more petitions when compared to H-1B petitions received for fiscal year 2016. This trend is likely to continue, giving you all the more reason to prepare for the H-1B season early on.
  • For fiscal year 2017, the H-1B cap was reached within the first 5 business days of the H-1B filing period (April 1 to April 7). We expect this trend to continue as in previous years. During fiscal year 2017, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption. This number will undoubtedly increase for fiscal year 2018.
  • For fiscal year 2017, USCIS conducted the randomized computer-generated lottery on April 9, 2016 beginning the selection process for the 20,000 available visas counting toward the advanced degree exemption first. Then, unselected advanced degree petitions were given a second chance of being selected by being placed in the lottery toward the general 65,000 cap.  Individuals holding an advanced degree from the United States thus have two shots at being selected for the lottery.

Chances of selection

The chances of being selected in the lottery for fiscal year 2017 ran at roughly 65% for foreign workers holding a U.S. advanced degree, and roughly 35% for foreign workers holding a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Compare this to the chances of being selected in the lottery during fiscal year 2016 which ran at 60% for U.S. advanced degree holders, and 30% for bachelor’s degree holders or the equivalent. We expect the percentage of selection to continue to increase for U.S. advanced degree holders and foreign workers holding bachelor’s degree or equivalent, by roughly 5% according to recent statistics. This of course will depend on the demand for the H-1B visa for fiscal year 2018.

Office Stats

For fiscal year 2017, 35%  of H-1B cap-subject petitions that were filed by our office were selected in the H-1B randomized lottery that took place early April 2016. 13% of those petitions were filed with premium processing, while 22% were filed with regular processing. In total our office filed 55 H-1B Petitions: 15 advanced degree petitions and 40 bachelor’s cap or equivalent petitions. Of these, 46 were filed with regular processing and 15 with premium processing. The majority of these petitions were filed with the California Service Center. Of selected petitions for fiscal year 2017, the top specialty occupations included: Applications Developer, Market Research Analyst, and Software Engineer.

H-1B Overview

As in previous years H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018 will begin to be accepted by USCIS on April 1, 2017 up until April 7, 2017. Foreign workers in specialty occupations and their employers will compete for one of the coveted 65,000 H-1B visas available each fiscal year. The H-1B visa program is limited to a 65,000 congressionally mandated visa cap. Foreign workers holding a U.S. Master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 cap, however only the first 20,000 advanced degree petitions received by USCIS will qualify for the cap exemption. In addition, certain foreign workers such as foreign workers who have been offered employment under U.S. Chile or U.S. Singapore free trade agreements, and foreign workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam are exempt from the cap, according to the Consolidated Natural Resource Act of 2008 (CNRA). Advanced degree petitions received after the 20,000 spots have been allocated will count toward the regular cap along with foreign workers holding bachelor’s degrees (or equivalent including work experience in lieu of formal education). USCIS will receive more than the 65,000 petitions for the H-1B visa program during the first five business days that the application period is open, from April 1st to April 7th. When the cap has been reached, USCIS will make an announcement, in recent years this announcement has been made on April 7th and begin the selection process to fill the 65,000 cap through a randomized lottery system. Petitions that are not selected will be rejected along with their filing fees. Duplicate H-1B petitioners during the same fiscal year, are not allowed, and may be subject to sanctions. Employers may not file an H-1B petition on behalf of an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. Once an H-1B visa worker has been selected and approved, the foreign worker may begin employment on October 1st of that fiscal  year. The H-1B visa is issued for a three-year period that can be extended for an additional three years.

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On December 27, 2016 in Matter of Dhanasar, 26 I&N Dec. 884 (AAO 2016) the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) handed down a groundbreaking decision which has changed the analytical framework for determining eligibility of national interest waivers. This new decision will affect foreign nationals who are pursuing a green card based on employment in the EB-2 category, and who are eligible for a “national interest waiver.”

The national interest waiver is a discretionary waiver of the job offer and labor certification requirement made possible by subparagraph (A) of section 203(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This section of the INA states that the Secretary may, when it deems it to be in the national interest of the United States, “waive the requirements of subparagraph (A) that an alien’s services in the sciences, arts, professions, or business be sought by an employer in the United States.”  In addition to meeting a three-prong test of eligibility, to obtain a national interest waiver, the foreign national must be a member of a profession holding advanced degrees or their equivalent or prove that “because of their exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business they will substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare of the United States.”

Without this discretionary waiver, EB-2 applications must be accompanied by a labor certification and their employer must go through the process of advertising the position to prove to immigration that there are no other applicants who are qualified, willing, and able to fill the position that the foreign national is expected to fill. Employers must also meet prevailing wage requirements as established by law. Establishing the national interest waiver in other words made it easier for qualifying foreign nationals in the EB-2 category to skip the job offer and labor certification requirement, streamlining their path to permanent residency.

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For years you have 8276375308_d5f2721898_zput your trust in our office for all of your immigration needs and for that we thank you. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to serve you and your families. Throughout the years, we have helped thousands of immigrants from all over the world attain their American dream. Learning about their lives and their struggles has

always been an important part of our practice. Although many challenges lie ahead for immigration, we are confident that important changes will come about in the new year. Do not despair and know that our office will be with you every step of the way. We wish you and your families the happiest of holiday seasons.

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On December 12, 2016, the Department of State published the Annual Numerical Limits for both family and employment-based visa preference categories for Fiscal Year 2017.

Family preference and employment immigrant categories are subject to numerical limitations and are divided by preference systems on the Visa Bulletin and become current based on the immigrant’s priority date. The Visa Bulletin estimates immigrant visa availability for prospective immigrants. Applicants who fall under family preference or employment categories must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available to them, for applicants to proceed with their immigrant visa application. Once the immigrant’s priority date becomes current per the Visa Bulletin, the applicant can proceed with their immigrant visa application. A priority date is generally the date when your relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS. The Visa Bulletin exists due to numerical immigrant visa limitations for family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories established by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 226,000 visas per year, while employment-based preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year. The Visa Bulletin is a useful tool for aliens to determine when a visa will become available to them so that they may apply for permanent residence.

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The Department of Homeland Security is expected to publish a final rule tomorrow November 18, 2016 benefitting EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 employment-based immigrant workers and highly-skilled nonimmigrant foreign workers. The final rule is effective January 17, 2017. The final rule will streamline the process for employment based sponsorship of nonimmigrant workers for lawsuit permanent resident status (LPRs), increasing job portability, and promoting stability, flexibility, and transparency in the way DHS applies its policies and regulatory practices to these programs. These changes were proposed in order to better equip U.S. employers to employ and retain highly skilled foreign workers who are the beneficiaries of employment-based immigrant visa petitions known as Form I-140 petitions. The new rule will allow foreign workers to have more flexibility, and affords workers the opportunity to further their careers by accepting promotions, giving them the freedom of being able to change positions with current employers, change employers, or pursue other employment.

The final rule conforms with longstanding policies and practices in accordance with the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) and the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21). The final rule seeks to further enforce the principles embodied in these pieces of legislation by providing nonimmigrant workers who have been sponsored for permanent residency based on the filing of an I-140 petition, greater flexibility and job portability, while expanding the competitiveness of American employers, boosting the U.S. economy, and protecting American workers. The final rule also clarifies and improves DHS policies and practices outlined in policy memoranda and precedent decisions of the Administrative Appeals Office. The final rule seeks to clarify regulatory policies in order to provide greater transparency to stakeholders. The final rule also clarifies interpretative questions related to ACWIA and AC21.

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On September 21, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted the adjustment of status filing dates for October 2016.

If you are waiting to apply for permanent residence based on an approved family-sponsored petition (I-130) or based on an approved employment-based petition (I-140), USCIS has advised that you refer to the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart on the October Visa Bulletin to determine when to file your application for permanent residence according to your priority date (the date when your relative or employer properly filed your immigrant visa petition with USCIS) and your preference category. Generally, applicants who have filed the immigrant petition and have been approved, must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available, before seeking adjustment of status to permanent resident. This is because availability of immigrant visas for certain classes of immigrants are limited. These preference categories appear in the Visa Bulletin, as well as the number of visas available for each preference category.

Note: For employment-based petitions if a labor certification is required to be filed with your immigrant visa petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.

What is the Visa Bulletin and the Dual Chart System?

Every month, the Department of State releases a monthly Visa Bulletin which provides estimates on immigrant visa availability according to family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories. As you may recall, in September of last year, USCIS introduced a new chart called the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart in addition to the ‘Application Final Action Date’ chart. Together this dual chart system governs when applicants may file their applications for permanent residence according to visa availability, the applicant’s preference category, and the date of filing (priority date).

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In this segment, we would like to keep our readers informed on Visa Bulletin projections for the month of October. Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State provides a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin including discussion of current trends and future projections for immigrant preference categories.

Family-Based Categories:

An increase in returned unused visa numbers for the month of July and weak demand for the F-2A and F-4 categories will keep movements in family-based categories steady for the month of October.

F-4 Worldwide has advanced only slightly. All family Worldwide categories have experienced minor advances except F-2B Mexico.

The Department of State plants to comply with the Administration’s Visa Modernization Proposal, an initiative which aims to advance the dates of family-based categories as aggressively as possible during the first three quarters of the fiscal year, with the purpose of maximizing the usage of available numbers, and reducing available numbers for use in the final quarter. This initiative will likely cause similar retrogressions as in the F-4 China and India preference categories.

Employment Categories:

EB-4 and SR (Religious Worker) Preference Categories: For Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) applicants subject to priority date backlogs, it is recommended that applicants and/or their counsel request USCIS to forward their file to the National Benefits Center (NBC), at the conclusion of their I-485 interview. This will allow the applicant’s case to remain in a “pending demand” file, to give the Department of State a sense of the demand for this category, and streamline the approval process of these applications once the priority date has become current. While USCIS adjudicators cannot request a visa number for the applicant if the priority date is not current, the National Benefits Center (NBC) has the ability to request a visa number for the applicant upon receipt of the file.

EB-4 India and Mexico; Final Action Dates El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras: New visa number for FY 2017 are expected to bring the EB-4 India and Mexico categories current in the month of October. The final action date for EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will fall somewhere around the summer of 2015 or beyond. There is high applicant demand for El Salvador which may advance the final action date for Guatemala and Honduras.

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One of the biggest critiques of the U.S. immigration system is that there are very few options available to foreign nationals that create a direct path to permanent residency. Indeed, this is a very cruel reality for our clients. A reality that we struggle to overcome on a day to day basis. More often than not we speak to clients who simply cannot immigrate to the United States because of our antiquated immigration laws.

The immigration system boils down to two harsh realities. Generally, you may apply for permanent residence only if: 1) you have a qualifying family relationship to a legal permanent resident (LPR) or U.S. Citizen (family sponsorship) 2) you have secured employment with a U.S. company willing to sponsor your permanent residence (employment sponsorship) or 3) you belong to a special category of green card applicants and may immigrate on the basis of that category (VAWA recipients, asylees, diversity visa lottery winners etc.)

In order for you to understand the green card options available to you under the current immigration laws of the United States, we outline 9 of the most common ways to obtain permanent residence below:

Green card based on a qualifying Family-sponsorship

You are generally eligible to apply for permanent residence if you have a qualifying family relationship with a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident:

  1. If you are the immediate relative of a U.S. Citizen your relative can file Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative on your behalf, which will allow you to file the I-485 application for Permanent Residence. Immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens include spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21 of a U.S. Citizen, and parents of U.S. Citizens 21 years of age or older.

Immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens DO NOT have to wait in line for a visa number to become available to them in order to immigrate to the United States.

  1. If you are the family member of a U.S. Citizen and you fall under a qualifying “preference category,” your U.S. Citizen relative may file the I-130 Petition on your behalf. Family members of U.S. Citizens that fall into a “preference category” include: unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21, married children of any age, and brothers and sisters of U.S. Citizen petitioners 21 years of age or older.

Immigrant visa numbers for these individuals are limited and are therefore subject to a waiting period. You must wait for your priority date to become current on the Visa Bulletin, based on your preference category and country of charge ability, before you are eligible to either apply for adjustment of status in the United states, or apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consular post abroad (if you reside overseas).

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If you are a foreign entrepreneur, you have probably discovered that the United States immigration system is very limited in that there are very few visa options available to entrepreneurs that do not tie down the entrepreneur to a foreign employer, as is the case for the L and H visas. To make matters worse, if your ultimate goal is to obtain a green card to live and work in the United States permanently, you must work for an American employer willing to sponsor your adjustment of status. Although there are few exceptions, the main avenue through which entrepreneurs can gain permanent residence is either through family-sponsorship or employment-based sponsorship.

To obtain permanent residence through an employer you must either a) be a professional employed by a U.S. employer willing to sponsor your green card b) demonstrate extraordinary ability in your industry (science, arts, education, business, or athletics, c) work in a management or executive position abroad requiring international transfer to the United States or d) qualify as an EB-5 investor. In either of these cases, the U.S. employer must submit the I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker for you, before you can apply for permanent residence. If your ultimate goal is not to obtain a green card, then you have more options available to you.

We decided to write about this topic because we have found that many entrepreneurs that visit our office are not well-informed on other visa types that put them on a more direct path to permanent residence. Often times the topic of conversation leads to the E-2 Treaty trader visa, by far the most discussed visa type among entrepreneurs. Few entrepreneurs however have heard about the L-1 visa classification, that may in some ways be more beneficial to foreign entrepreneurs wishing to live and work in the United States permanently. Below we discuss both visa types and the advantages and disadvantages of both visas.

The E-2 visa, the most talked about visa:

Without a doubt, the most popular visa option entrepreneurs ask about is the E-2 visa. Many entrepreneurs however do not know that the E-2 visa is not available to everyone, and it is not a path to permanent residence. The E-2 visa is a non-immigrant treaty investor visa that is only available to foreign nationals from specific treaty countries. The E-2 visa allows foreign nationals to carry out investment and trade activities, after making a substantial investment in a U.S. business that the foreign national will control and direct. E-2 visa investors can either purchase an existing U.S. business or start a new business.

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