Articles Posted in Highly Skilled Workers

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H-1B Update: Return of Unselected Petitions

USCIS has now completed data entry for all fiscal year 2019 H-1B cap-subject petitions that were selected in this year’s H-1B visa lottery. USCIS will begin the lengthy process of returning thousands of H-1B cap-petitions that were not selected in the lottery. Although USCIS has not provided a time frame on when they will begin returning unselected petitions, in previous years, our office began receiving unselected petitions in mid-June. All unselected petitions will include an official hard copy rejection notice from USCIS.

Updated Policy Guidance regarding Adjustment of Status interviews.

USCIS has revised its policy for adjustment of status interviews. All adjustment of status applicants must be interviewed by an officer unless USCIS determines that the interview is unnecessary. The decision to waive the adjustment of status interview is determined on a case-by-case basis.

In the following circumstances the adjustment of status interview may be waived:

  1. General Waiver Categories

“USCIS officers may determine, on a case-by case-basis, that it is unnecessary to interview certain adjustment of status applicants. The following list includes, but is not limited to, categories of cases where officers may decide to waive an interview: 

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What are some alternatives to the H-1B visa?

So, you’ve applied for the H-1B visa, and by now you are well aware that the cap has been reached. You may be wondering what you will do if you are not selected in the lottery. Have no fear, we have you covered on your Plan B.

In this post, we breakdown the alternatives to the H-1B visa that allow foreign nationals to live and work in the United States.

1. The O-1 “Extraordinary Ability” Visa:

This visa type is for aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, athletics, motion picture, television, or arts industries who have received national and/or international acclaim in their field. An alien on an O-1 visa may live and work in the United States for a period of up to three years.

In order to be eligible for this visa type you must demonstrate that you are an alien of extraordinary ability in your field. Applicants must hold an advanced degree (at least a master’s) to demonstrate a high level of expertise in their field, and have received international or national acclaim in their fields as evidenced by awards and other international or national recognitions received. Individuals who are leading experts in their fields, and have written extensively in their fields, receiving notoriety for their publications are also great candidates for the O-1 visa. Membership in prestigious professional associations which require outstanding achievements from members are extremely helpful when applying for the H-1B visa, as well as evidence of scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions that are considered of major significance in the field.

2.TN Visa for Mexican and Canadian Nationals

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian and Mexican nationals may apply for a TN visa to live and work in the United States. To be eligible the TN visa applicant must work in a profession approved under the NAFTA program for a U.S. employer. Dependent spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 can live in the United States under a derivative TD visa.

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Great News! Today, USCIS announced that the computer-generated selection process has been completed to select the H-1B petitions necessary to fulfill both the general cap and master’s cap for this H-1B season. The randomized lottery was completed yesterday April 11, 2018.

This H-1B season, USCIS received 190,098 H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2019 during the filing period that began on April 2nd. During Fiscal Year 2018, USCIS received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period and completed the randomized lottery on the same day (April 11th).

USCIS will now begin the process of rejecting and returning all petitions that were not selected during the randomized lottery. As in previous years, USCIS completed the selection process for the master’s cap first, and all unselected master’s cap petitions were then placed in the random selection process for the general cap, giving master’s cap applicants a greater chance of being selected. In previous years, our office began to receive rejection notices for applicants that were not selected from mid to late June.

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Today April 6, 2018 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the H-1B general bachelor’s cap has been reached for fiscal year 2019. In addition, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption.

Sometime within the next week, USCIS will conduct a random computer-generated process, known as a ‘lottery,’ to select the petitions needed to fill the 65,000-bachelor’s cap. USCIS will first randomly select the petitions that will count toward the advanced degree exemption. Unselected advanced degree petitions will then be entered into the random lottery that will be conducted to fill the 65,000-bachelor’s cap. All unselected cap-subject petitions will be rejected and in turn CIS will return the H-1B packages containing filing fees and rejection notices. CIS has not yet provided any details concerning the date the lottery will be conducted. We suspect it will occur within the next week. In the meantime, cap exempt H-1B petitions will continue to be processed including H-1B worker extensions, petitions requesting a change to the terms of an H-1B workers’ employment, and petitions requesting concurrent work for an H-1B worker.

So, what’s next?

Petitions filed with regular processing

If your employer filed your petition with regular processing, you will not know whether your petition has been selected in the lottery until late April through mid-May. Petitions filed under regular processing that were selected in the lottery will receive hard copy ‘receipt notices’ from USCIS. These notices will only be received by the attorney on file and the employer. In previous years, we began to receive these receipt notices in late April.

Receiving a receipt notice is great news. It means that you have been selected in the lottery, but it does not mean that your application has been approved. Once selected, your application will undergo adjudication, which takes several months.

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A new policy memorandum issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) makes clear that different H-1B petitioners may not file multiple H-1B petitions for a single beneficiary. This applies in a situation where different employers seek to file an H-1B petition for the same person.

According to the memorandum, in Matter of S-Inc, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) made clear in the decision that “related entities” are prohibited from making multiple H-1B filings for the same beneficiary. The memorandum clarifies that the term “related entities” “includes petitioners, whether or not related through corporate ownership and control, that file cap-subject H-1B petitions for the same beneficiary for substantially the same job. Absent a legitimate business need to file multiple cap-subject petitions for the same beneficiary, USCIS will deny or revoke the approval of all H-1B cap-subject petitions filed by “related entities” for that beneficiary.”

In light of this new memorandum, we caution petitioners against filing multiple H-1B petitions for the same beneficiary, even if the different petitioners are not related, where the cap-subject petition is being filed for the same beneficiary for substantially the same job.

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In what seems like déjà vu, today, March 20, 2018 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced that the agency will be temporarily suspending premium processing service for all fiscal year 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions that seek an exemption for individuals who possess a U.S. master’s degree or higher. The suspension is expected to last until September 10, 2018. Based on similar announcements made by USCIS in the past, we expect premium processing service to remain suspended until at least September 10.

As some of you may remember, USCIS suspended premium processing in a similar fashion during April of last year for fiscal year 2018 cap-subject petitions, and lifted the suspension until September 18 of 2017.

Petitions not subject to FY 2019 Cap

Premium processing requests will continue to be accepted for H-1B petitions NOT subject to the FY 2019 cap. USCIS will make an announcement as we get closer to September notifying the public regarding any decision to resume premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions. In previous years, USCIS lifted the suspension in July for beneficiaries who were exempt from the cap, because of their employment at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, organization, or entity. We expect USCIS to follow a similar pattern in July of this year, with the temporary suspension for cap-subject petitions being lifted sometime in early September.

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Andrew, a real estate professional and Vice President of a large real estate firm headquartered in Asia, came to our office to discuss the possibility of filing for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver. To receive a national interest waiver, the applicant must demonstrate a high level of achievements and unique skills pertaining to their position to justify a waiver of the requirements of a job offer and labor certification filing.

The challenge in Andrew’s case was the absence of demonstrated achievements in the real estate business, and various non-disclosure agreements the client had signed restricting the documentation he could provide to demonstrate his exceptional ability in the industry, based on the high net worth projects he had worked on in the real estate industry. There were however other strengths that Andrew possessed that would qualify him for the national interest waiver. Andrew possessed a law degree from his home country, a master’s degree in taxation, a master’s degree in real estate from an ivy league university, and he was licensed to practice law in the United States. In addition to possessing these advanced degrees, two of which were received in the United States, Andrew’s career in the real estate sector spanned nearly 21 years.

The difficulty however remained in that Andrew did not have many documents to present to USCIS demonstrating his achievements as an entrepreneur and real estate investor, and the projects he was working on could not be disclosed based on the confidentiality agreements he had signed. Our experienced staff and attorneys decided that the best strategy in Andrew’s case was to highlight his education and vast experience in the industry having maintained high level positions in the industry, leading international real estate teams, heading overseas real estate and property management implementation strategies across various continents, and initiating/implementing domestic real estate acquisition projects totaling more than $4 billion in investment. We are happy to report that our strategy was successful and Andrew’s national interest waiver was recently approved. Here is how we did it.

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Tis the season to file for one of the most popular visa types: The H-1B visa. Filings for cap-subject petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS beginning April 2nd and the filing period will end on April 6, 2018. As many of you know, the odds of being selected in the H-1B visa lottery are slim, but even those who are selected in the visa lottery have to overcome yet another hurdle, the Request for Evidence. Since President Trump issued the executive order “Buy American, Hire American,” the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began scrutinizing the adjudication of H-1B visa applications more closely.

Our attorneys witnessed this phenomenon first hand. The volume of requests for evidence increased significantly and USCIS began to be more demanding in the types of documentation requested to qualify for the program.

For this reason, we advise our clients and readers to be very careful this H-1B season and be mindful of the challenges they may face as they proceed with the H-1B visa process.

Common Types of RFE’s and how to avoid them:

  • Level One Wage: Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American” directs the Department of State to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries. USCIS has increasingly issued RFEs in which the employer is paying the H-1B worker a level 1 wage. This has prompted USCIS to question why someone with a specialty occupation would be paid the level 1 wage, a wage that is typically reserved for entry-level positions and individuals who only have a basic understanding of the occupation. Thus, it would not be appropriate for someone who has an intermediate to advanced understanding of the occupation to be paid a level 1 wage. Situations in which a level 1 wage is inappropriate also include cases where the worker will take on a complex set of job duties.

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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 2019 beginning Monday, April 2, 2018. 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. Initial H-1B petitions that are received by USCIS after that limit will count towards the regular 65,000 cap.

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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In this post, we bring you information regarding the major provisions of the Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 affecting H-1B workers and employment-based immigrants. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2018 is a piece of legislation that was recently introduced before Congress by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Flake on January 25, 2018.

Much of the legislation centers around the H-1B visa worker program.

The major provisions of the Immigration Innovation Act currently being proposed in Congress are as follows:

Increases the number of H-1B visas available. Section 101 of the legislation would raise the current 65,000 H-1B statutory visa cap to 85,000 with 20,000 of those visas to be set aside for applicants possessing a U.S. Master’s and above. This provision includes a market escalator up to 195,000 and de-escalator that is based on prior fiscal years, but not lower than the statutory base. 

Exemption for U.S. Masters. Section 101 includes a provision that creates an unlimited number of exemptions for individuals with a U.S. Master’s degree or above if the U.S. employer attests that it will begin green card processing for the beneficiary within one year.

H-1B Prioritization. Per Section 101, the H-1B visa lottery would be prioritized as follows in fiscal years where enough petitions have been received within the first 5 business days of the filing period of reaching the cap:

  • Individuals with a U.S. Master’s, or higher who are subject to the numerical limitations
  • Individuals who have earned a doctoral degree outside of the U.S.
  • Individuals who have earned a U.S. Bachelor’s degree or higher in a STEM field and
  • Other petitions

Penalties for Failure to Withdraw. Section 101 proposes monetary penalties and debarment for employers who have 5 or more cap-subject petitions approved in a fiscal year, where the visa holder works in the U.S. less than 25% during the first year of approval. In cases involving higher volume users where at least 20 H-1B petitions have been approved in a fiscal year the employer may not avoid penalties even if they withdraw a percentage of approved petitions.

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