Articles Posted in LCA

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This week USCIS announced that over 236,000 H-1B petitions were received by the agency for fiscal year 2017 (including petitions for the general cap and advanced degree exemption), compared to last year’s 233,000. Following the close of the filing period, USCIS conducted a random computer-generated lottery on April 9, 2016 beginning the selection process for the 20,000 available visas for advanced degrees first. Unselected advanced degree petitions were then placed in the lottery to fill the 65,000 general cap. Foreign workers holding an advanced degree from the United States were thus given two chances at selection. Any petitions that were not selected by USCIS will be returned along with official rejection notices, and original filing fees. This year, our office filed 15 advanced degree petitions and 40 bachelor’s cap petitions for a total of 55 H-1B petitions. Of these petitions, 46 were filed with regular processing, and 15 were filed with premium processing. The majority of these petitions were filed with the California Service Center.

As of this afternoon, we have only received 4 selection emails from the California Service Center (CSC) for advanced degree petitions filed with premium processing, and only 1 selection email for a bachelor’s cap petition filed with premium processing. We do not expect to receive any ‘receipt notices’ for petitions filed with regular processing until late April through the month of May. At this point, it does not appear that USCIS has begun cashing filing fees for selected petitions. If the filing fees for your H-1B petition have not been cashed, this does not mean that your H-1B petition was not selected. It is too early to make this conclusion. Employers should monitor their bank accounts closely within the next 2-4 weeks.

This year, USCIS received approximately 3,000 more petitions compared to last year. As in previous years, the H-1B cap was reached within the first five business days of the H-1B filing period. This year the chances of selection ran at roughly 65% for foreign workers holding a U.S. advanced degree, and roughly 35% for foreign workers holding a bachelor’s degree. Last year, the chances of being selected was about 60% for advanced degree holders, and 30% for bachelor’s degree holders.

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Today April 7, 2016 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the H-1B general bachelor’s cap has been reached for fiscal year 2017. In addition, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption. Some time 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 premium processing

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It is a busy time of the year for the Law Offices of Jacob J. Sapochnick, as we begin to box up and ship out the hundreds of H-1B petitions that will count toward the cap for fiscal year 2016. Tomorrow marks the very first day that H-1B petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS. If your H-1B petition will not be received by USCIS on the very first day of the H-1B filing season (April 1st) do not fret. USCIS will continue to accept H-1B petitions through the first five business days of the filing season until the cap has been met. Receipt of your H-1B petition on April 1st does not guarantee that your application will be chosen in the randomized lottery. In fact, we have had clients file at the very last minute who have ended up being chosen in the cap. During the next few days, USCIS will carefully monitor the amount of H-1B petitions that are received and make an announcement once the cap has been met. Once the announcement has been made, no more petitions will be accepted for the lottery. Petitions received in excess of the cap will be rejected by USCIS. Employers will know that their H-1B petition has been chosen in the lottery if they receive a ‘notice of receipt’ in the weeks following the randomized selection process. Last year, receipt notices for H-1B petitions, filed without premium processing, started coming into our office in late April, while rejection notices did not appear until mid to late June. Petitioners may opt for premium processing to expedite the notification process. Although it is very easy to get lost in the chaos of H-1B season, it is important not to lose sight of what’s important this filing season.

To help ease your anxiety this H-1B season we are providing you with our last minute filing tips:

  1. Employer’s Financial Obligations: Employers must be prepared to pay their workers at least the Prevailing Wage based on the employee’s occupation and actual place of employment. Employer’s must understand their obligation to honor this financial commitment during the time the employee is working for the employer in H-1B status. Failure to do so can have serious consequences for the employer;

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For this blog we are answering 5 questions we have recently received through our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office for a free legal consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust and interest in our law office.

Change of Status B-2 to F-1

Q: I need advice regarding my change of status. I am currently in the United States on a B-2 tourist visa. I have filed a change of status application to change my status to F-1 student. My B-2 duration of stay will expire today and my change of status application to F-1 student is still pending with USCIS. I informed my school that I will be postponing my classes and was notified that I need to file a new I-20 and provide some missing information. I have time to make adjustments to my application but I would like to know the steps to correct any missing information. I also wanted to know if I need to leave the United States immediately since my F-1 application is still pending. Please assist.

7468447528_3aaed1a0bd_bH-1B season is now in full swing. H-1B petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS on April 1, 2016 for the 2017 fiscal year. Each year, foreign workers in specialty occupations compete for one of 65,000 H-1B visas allocated each fiscal year. Foreign workers with a U.S. Master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 congressionally mandated visa cap, however only the first 20,000 petitions received by USCIS may qualify for this cap exemption. Any petitions received after the 20,000 cap-exempt petitions have been allocated will count toward the regular cap. USCIS expects to receive more than 65,000 petitions during the first five business days of the application period. Once the H-1B cap has been reached, USCIS will notify the public, and begin selecting the H-1B petitions necessary to meet the cap through a randomized computer-generated lottery system. H-1B petitions that are not selected through this system will be rejected, along with any petitions received once the visa cap has closed. Duplicate H-1B petitions that are filed on behalf of a foreign worker by the same employer in the same fiscal year will also be rejected. 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(2)(i)(G) explicitly states that “an employer may not file, in the same fiscal year, more than one H1B petition on behalf of the same alien if the alien is subject to the numerical limitations of section 214(g)(1)(A). Filing more than one H-1B petition on behalf of the same alien in the same fiscal year will result in the denial or revocation of all such petitions.” Multiple H-1B petitions filed on behalf of the same alien by different employers during the same fiscal year is permitted although approval of such petitions is discretionary. According to USCIS, petitioners may be asked to demonstrate that a ‘legitimate business need’ exists in filing more than than one H-1B petition for the same alien. In such circumstances a request for evidence, notice of intent to deny, or notice of intent to revoke may result. This is true of both cap-subject and cap-exempt petitions filed by different employers for the same alien.

H-1B petitioners (employers) may request premium processing at the same time that the H-1B petition is filed by signing and completing Form I-907 and including the corresponding fee. Alternatively, petitioners may request premium processing once CIS notifies the petitioner whether the petition has been accepted or rejected. USCIS will not begin premium processing for H-1B cap petitions until May 16, 2016. If you are an American employer who is interested in filing an H-1B petition for a foreign worker, you must act quickly. Filing an H-1B petition is a very complicated and long process. For one if you have never sponsored a foreign worker, you will be required to register your FEIN with the Department of Labor before filing the H-1B petition. Secondly, if the foreign worker you wish to hire received their foreign degree abroad, they must obtain an academic evaluation from an accredited evaluation service. If the foreign worker you wish to hire does not have formal education, but has extensive experience in the specialty occupation, they will need to obtain work experience letters from individuals who can attest to their experience. Thirdly, once an employer has registered their FEIN with the Department of Labor, they will be required to file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor and include the certified LCA with the H-1B petition. Certification of the LCA takes time. The LCA is an attestation made by the employer that they will pay the foreign worker at least the actual or prevailing wage for the occupation, whichever is higher, based on the physical location where the foreign worker will be employed. Once properly submitted to the DOL, the LCA alone takes approximately 2 weeks to be certified by the LCA. This means that in order to meet the April 1st priority date of filing, employers have a very limited period of time to decide whether they will file an H-1B petition for a foreign worker for the upcoming fiscal year. When in doubt it is best not to rush the process.

Last year, our office filed approximately seventy-six H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2016. Approximately 75% of these petitions were filed for the regular Bachelor’s cap, while only 18% of these petitions were filed for individuals holding U.S. Master’s degrees or higher. Approximately 82% of these petitions were filed with the California Service Center, while only 17% of these petitions were filed with the Vermont Service Center. The top H-1B specialty occupations, filed for fiscal year 2016 included: software engineer, technical writer, general manager, market research analyst, business specialist, budget analyst, and graphic designer.

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Last week, the Senate held a hearing scrutinizing the temporary H-1B skilled worker program, the second hearing of its kind within just one year. At issue was the protection of American jobs and dissatisfaction with the program among conservatives in the Senate, who believe the program has caused job displacement at the expense of thousands of Americans. Beyond their own political convictions, Republican Senators eyeing the White House, have also scrutinized the H-1B visa program, in order to appease voters who, maintain a hard line stance on immigration.

During the hearing, the Senate Judiciary panel considered testimony questioning the integrity of the H-1B visa program. Many witnesses accused their employers of violating the conditions of the program, alleging that their employers sought to replace American workers with foreign workers by utilizing the H-1B visa program to pay those workers lower wages. This accusation is troublesome for various reasons. Firstly, it is well known that the H-1B visa program requires an employer to hire a foreign worker in a specialty occupation only when the employer cannot obtain the necessary skills and abilities to perform the specialty occupation within the American workforce. H-1B workers must possess distinguished merit and ability, and demonstrate their qualifications through the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, in the intended field of employment. Secondly, the H-1B visa program contains provisions which are specifically designed to protect similarly employed American workers from any adverse affects suffered from the employment of temporary foreign workers. Consequently, there are also provisions which aim to protect H-1B nonimmigrant workers from H-1B violations. One of those provisions includes the requirement that American employers pay temporary H-1B workers at least the ‘prevailing wage,’ the average wage paid to similarly employed workers (experience and qualifications) in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment. This would mean that any employer seeking to use the H-1B visa program for the purposes of obtaining ‘cheap foreign labor’ or to replace American workers would be violating the conditions of the H-1B visa program altogether.

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What is the H-1B Visa? The H-1B visa is a work visa that is awarded on a lottery basis. The H-1B visa program allows American companies and/or qualifying organizations to employ foreign workers to fill specialty occupations temporarily. The foreign worker must posses a combination of education, specialized training, and/or experience that is equivalent to training acquired by the attainment of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher. The H-1B program was first enacted by Congress with the intention of helping American employers seek out distinguished foreign workers, possessing the skills and abilities necessary to perform the duties of the specialty occupation. The H-1B program has remained popular because it has allowed American employers to remain competitive and provides highly skilled foreign workers a path to permanent residence.

The provisions of the H-1B visa program allow qualified foreign workers to attain temporary employment having met specific requirements. H-1B visa recipients typically work in the STEM fields as scientists, engineers, computer programmers, software developers, business analysts, etc. although fashion models are also classified under the H-1B category.

USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2017 beginning April 1, 2016. April 7, 2016 is the absolute deadline to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. 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.

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On Thursday, December 31, 2015 the Department of Homeland Security published a new proposed rule affecting highly skilled immigrant and non-immigrant workers alike. The proposed rule, introduced in last week’s federal register, aims to improve the ability of American employers to hire and retain highly skilled workers waiting to receive their employment-based lawful permanent residence in the visa bulletin backlogs. Additionally, the proposed rule aims to enhance opportunities for such workers allowing them to be more easily promoted, to accept lateral positions with their current employers, change employers, and pursue other employment. While the proposed rule is not groundbreaking, it does address important challenges employers and their highly skilled workers have faced as the law stands today and makes recommendations for such relief. The proposed rule will be open for comment until February 29, 2016.

You may remember that on November 20, 2014 the President highlighted, as part of his executive actions on immigration, that the employment-based immigration system needed to be amended to modernize, improve, and clarify immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs in order to create more jobs, foster innovation at home, retain a highly skilled workforce that would allow the United States to compete with other countries, and to stimulate the American economy overall.  In order to modernize the employment based immigration system, USCIS would be required to work with the Department of State to modernize and simplify the immigrant visa allocation process. Part of this process would require the Department of State to make reasoned projections of employment-based immigrant visa availability on the visa bulletin, that could be relied upon by employers and their highly skilled workers.

Presently, immigrant workers from India and China are experiencing extraordinary delays in the employment-based queue for permanent residence, while other highly skilled workers are forced to wait over a five-year period to receive company sponsorship and lawful permanent residence. Furthermore, such workers are forced to remain on temporary employment-sponsored visas in the United States while waiting for an immigrant visa to become available to them. This puts the immigrant worker in a predicament giving the employer the upper hand, while restricting the employee from seeking advancement and discouraging new employment, since this would require the employer to file a new petition and incur the expensive fees required for filing. Highly skilled works facing extortionate delays in the visa backlogs have experienced hindered employer/employee career advancement and job mobility. The new rules will provide limited relief in this area.

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9319698471_083278482d_zThis week USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the addition of sixteen new countries that will be eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs next year. Nationals from the following countries: Andorra, Belgium, Brunei, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste will join sixty-eight other countries already participating in the H-2A and H-2B programs. Foreign nationals from these countries can apply for the H-2A and H-2B programs beginning January 18, 2016. If a country fails to meet the requirements for continued designation of these benefits, DHS reserves the right to remove any country from the list of eligibility, as it did recently with the country of Moldova and the H-2B program. Moldova may still continue to participate in the H-2A program since it has proven compliant with the necessary standards regulating the H-2A program. USCIS may consider other foreign nationals for the H-2A and H-2B programs even if their countries do not participate in these programs on a case by case basis.

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On Monday the Senate will be voting on a short-term spending bill introduced by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran. If passed, the bill will temporarily fund the government through December 11th of this year. If the bill is not passed, the country will face a government shutdown beginning on October 1, 2015. The temporary funding bill called a continuing appropriations resolution will be required to keep government agencies afloat for the remainder of the year. Congressional Republicans and Democrats have been at odds with one another since the Planned Parenthood scandal was brought to light. The non-profit organization’s involvement in the practice of procuring tissues from aborted fetuses for the purpose of medical research has been deeply contested by Republicans, who believe Planned Parenthood should no longer receive federal funding. Due to this impasse, no resolution bill has yet been agreed upon.

Repercussions on Immigration: LCA’s and PERM applications

A government shutdown would mean that various government agencies may not be operating at full capacity. Due to this we urge our clients to file urgent Labor Condition Applications or PERM applications prior to October 1, 2015. While the shutdown will have an effect on the economy, families, and business throughout the country, entities not affected by the government shutdown include USCIS, the military, airport security, FBI, Border Patrol, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, among others.

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