Articles Posted in National Interest Waiver

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In today’s post, we will discuss how green card holders may be affected by President Trump’s Executive Order imposing a temporary travel ban on foreign nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), including green card holders as well as non-immigrants. Since the release of the Executive Order, several courts have issued temporary injunctions preventing green card holders (LPRs), legally authorized to enter the United States, from being detained and/or removed from the United States until a federal court can decide the constitutionality of the orders.

In response to these court orders, the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has provided further guidance on the enforcement of these actions, and the impact on green card holders from these seven Muslim-majority countries. While both agencies have indicated that they are complying with the court orders, the consensus is that immigration officials will continue to enforce President Trump’s Executive Orders, and they will continue to remain in place.

What does this mean for green card holders? The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has stated that the entry of lawful permanent residents remains in the national interest, therefore “absent receipt of derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare,” lawful permanent resident status will be a deciding factor in allowing an LPR entry. The entry of lawful permanent residents will continue to be discretionary and green card holders will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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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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The U.S. Department of State (DOS) recently released the June Visa Bulletin. The Chief of Visa Control and Reporting Division, Charles Oppenheim has provided new insights and developments pertaining to the June 2016 Visa Bulletin. Cutoff dates listed below form part of the final action (FA) chart of the Visa Bulletin. Currently, USCIS has advised adjustment of status family-sponsored and employment-based applicants to refer to cutoff dates that appear on the final action chart for the month of June, and not the date of filing chart.

Employment-Based, First Preference (EB-1)

Demand for the EB-1 category remains at a very high level. DOS has said that should demand continue to remain at the same rate, some form of “corrective action” would be necessary before the close of the fiscal year to regulate worldwide visa numbers. This may require the establishment of a cutoff date or other form of regulation.

India Employment-Based, Second Preference (EB-2)

Demand for the EB-2 category is also very high. Due to increasing demand, there will no longer be unused numbers available in excess of the normal EB-2 per-country limit. EB-2 Worldwide and EB-2 India demand is expected to increase. The high level of demand for visa numbers in the EB-2 India Category and lack of excess numbers from EB-2 worldwide has caused the EB-2 India final action date to retrogress to October 1, 2004 for the month of June.The DOS expects that the EB-2 India cutoff date will advance slowly for the rest of the fiscal year, at a pace similar to the EB-3 advancement.

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On May 04, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule in the Federal Register, announcing that filing fees for many USCIS petitions and applications are expected to increase for U.S. employers and foreign nationals. The proposed regulation stipulates that filing fees may be adjusted for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests by USCIS. The increase in filing fees was considered after USCIS conducted a comprehensive review of its fees and found that the current fees do not cover the cost of services provided by USCIS. According to USCIS, in an effort to fully recover costs and maintain adequate services, “an adjustment to the fee schedule will be necessary”. According to the regulation, fees for most employment-based petitions and applications would be raised by an average of 21%, though other types of petitions may experience a higher increase in filing fees.

According to DHS, the higher fees will more accurately reflect the current cost of processing immigration applications and petition. A portion of the increased fees would provide additional funding for refugee and citizenship programs as well as system support for interagency immigration status verification databases.  The increase in filing fees will not take effect until the federal government approves the regulation, which is expected to take several months following the close of the 60-day comment period on July 5, 2016.

According to the new fee schedule under consideration, employment-based petitions would be the most impacted by the increase in filing fees. The filing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, would increase by 42% to a fee of $460, from the current rate of $325.  Similarly, the filing fee for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, would increase by 21% to a fee of $700, from the current rate of $580. The complete fee schedule under consideration has been provided below for your reference.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program is expected to be the most heavily affected by the new fee schedule. The filing fee for Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, would increase by a rate of 186% requiring Regional Centers seeking designation under the program to pay a filing fee of $17,795 instead of the current rate of $6,230. In addition, Regional Centers would be required to pay a $3,035 annual fee to certify their continued eligibility for the designation. Currently, there is no fee in place for annual certification. The filing fee for the I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, an application associated with the EB-5 visa program, would also increase to a rate of $3,675, a 145% increase up from the current rate of $1,500. The filing fee for an investor’s petition to remove conditions on residence would remain unchanged under these new regulations.

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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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On September 9th the Department of State and USCIS jointly announced new procedures that will allow family-based and employment-based applicants stuck in immigrant visa backlogs to apply for an immigrant visa (adjustment of status) before their priority date becomes current and an immigrant visa becomes immediately available to them. These new procedures will be implemented beginning October 1, 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration with the purpose of modernizing and streamlining our legal immigration system for the 21st century. These new changes were introduced in the October Visa Bulletin. 

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The Department of State publishes a monthly report of visa availability known as the ‘Visa Bulletin.’ The Visa Bulletin is essentially a guide to be used by applicants and consular officials denoting visa availability for the issuance of visas at consulates and embassies worldwide. USCIS utilizes the Visa Bulletin to determine whether Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, can be accepted for filing and processing. In order to file Form I-485 a prospective immigrant must determine whether a visa is available to them at the time the Form I-485 is filed and at the time Form I-485 is approved. The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security work together to revise the Visa Bulletin on a monthly basis estimating immigrant visa availability for prospective adjustment of status applicants. The DOS allocates available visas by providing visa numbers according to the prospective immigrant’s preference category, country of birth and priority date. This allows distribution of visas for all preference categories. A prospective immigrant’s priority date can be found on Form I-797 Notice of Action or ‘Receipt Notice’ for the petition filed on the applicant’s behalf.

What is a Priority Date?

A priority date is generally defined as the “date when your relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS.”  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.”

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imagePresident Obama closed off the year by announcing his highly anticipated executive action on November 20, 2014 which will go into effect early this year, but the executive action was only one of many important initiatives that occurred in 2014.

2014 was a big year for immigrants for several reasons:

  • AB 60 California Driver’s License Applicants: Beginning January 01, 2015 undocumented immigrants can start the process of obtaining their driver’s licenses under AB 60 at their local DMV field office
  • Executive Action: Beginning February 2015, eligible applicants can apply for the expanded DACA program which shields undocumented individuals from deportation who were brought to the United States illegally as children, our office will be providing you with further updates early this year
  • Beginning May 2015 eligible parents of U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents can apply for deferred action thereby protecting them for deportation and allowing millions of parents to be eligible for employment authorization

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President Obama’s executive action announced on November 20, 2014 fell short in many ways than one for many people residing in the United States—both legally and illegally. Though a marginalized few have been allowed to come out of the shadows, some of the world’s best and brightest have been completely ignored by the executive action altogether. The United States would be quite a different place without our hard working immigrant population and without our foreign born innovators, movers, and shakers.

Obama’s announcement on November 20th notably left out any indication that the creation of a more expedient and efficient system would be considered— through which highly skilled and highly capable foreign workers would be able to more easily attain permanent residency and visas. Industry leaders in areas such as the Silicon Valley, seeking to employ such highly skilled and highly capable foreign workers for their startup companies, have expressed their concerns, forming groups such as FWD.us, albeit with the knowledge that Congress must act in order for an all-encompassing solution to be reached.

Though Obama’s speech shed little light on the topic, a memorandum released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security following the speech is much more informative. The memorandum announces that inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up enterprises who do not qualify for a national interest waiver, but who have been awarded what is considered ‘substantial’ financing by a U.S. investor OR who ‘hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies or the pursuit of cutting edge research’ can attain parole authority under section 212(d)(5) of the INA,6 on a case-by-case basis after being assessed by the DHS. Possessing parole in this situation would authorize extraordinary inventors, researchers, or start-up entrepreneurs to temporarily conduct their research or development of innovative ideas or their business while in the United States.

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Until 2011, the National Interest Waiver (NIW) category had been limited to persons holding advanced degrees or persons of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, or business whose work was in the national interest. In 2011, the NIW category was expanded to allow entrepreneurs to pursue a green card based on demonstrating the business and their services within that business being in the national interest.

Recently, our firm succeeded in approving an entrepreneur as someone whose work was in the national interest because their exceptional abilities as an individual and the business’ substantial prospective benefit to the U.S. warranted approval for their case. The entrepreneur’s business was in the field of private security, focusing on providing security to American interests in countries where terrorism and insurgents threaten our interests abroad. By demonstrating that the business is focused on fighting against organizations such as Al-Qaeda, the national interest is served by showing how the welfare of the U.S. is protected by the company’s services.

When it came to the entrepreneur’s exceptional abilities, a six factor test is used to determine if the entrepreneur qualifies for his services being in the national interest. Of those six factors, only three must be met. The six factors are: (1) a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from a college, university, or other institution of learning related to the area of exceptional ability; (2) letter/s from current and/or former employer/s establishing that the beneficiary possesses at least ten years of full-time experience in the occupation for which s/he is being sought; (3) a license to practice the profession or certification for a particular profession or occupation; (4) evidence that the beneficiary has commanded a salary, or other remuneration, which demonstrates exceptional ability; (5) membership in professional associations; or (6) recognition for achievements and significant contributions to the industry or field by peers, government entities, professional or business organizations.

Written by Ekaterina Powell

Our office has extensive experience working on EB-2 National Interest Waiver petitions for scientists and researchers in a variety of academic fields. Many clients come to us after their NIW petitions have already been denied as a result of their first attempts to file the petitions without qualified attorney guidance.

Unfortunately, often times after careful review of the petitions it becomes clear that the scientist is qualified for NIW but the petition was done in such a way that it did not properly highlight the scientist’s accomplishments and did not articulate how the scientist meets the criteria for NIW petition.