Articles Posted in Nonimmigrant Visas

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Beginning April 30, 2018 until October 31, 2018, the California Service Center (CSC) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Blaine, Washington, Port of Entry (POE) will implement a joint 6-month pilot program for the benefit of Canadian citizens seeking entry to the United States in L non-immigrant visa status pursuant to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The L-1 Visa:

The L-1 visa designation allows a foreign company to transfer an executive or manager to an existing U.S. subsidiary or parent company of the foreign entity, or allows the foreign entity to send the executive or manager to the U.S. for the purpose of establishing an affiliated subsidiary or parent company of the foreign entity (L-1A). In addition, the foreign company can transfer an employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. on an L-1B visa. To qualify, applicants must have worked abroad for the foreign employer for at least one year within the proceeding three years.

Under the NAFTA program, Canadians can apply to receive an L visa at the border and are not required to file an L visa application with USCIS or at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Up until this point, the application procedure involved same-day processing of an L application where the worker would file Form I-129 with supporting evidence at a Class A Port of Entry to the United States, or airport pre-clearance location, where the petition would be granted or denied at the port of entry.

Pilot Program

Under the new pilot program, petitioners may file an L petition on behalf of a Canadian citizen by first submitting Form, I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and supporting evidence to the California Service Center, before the Canadian citizen seeks nonimmigrant L-1 admission to the United States through the Blaine Port of Entry. Petitioners should include a cover sheet annotated with “Canadian L” to ensure quick identification of the Form I-129 and for any correspondence thereafter, such as a response to a request for evidence (RFE).

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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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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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During December of last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced that the agency was beginning to take preliminary steps to terminate H-4 Employment Authorization for certain H-4 spouses, a privilege that has been available to eligible spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers since 2015. As it stands, the 2015 H-4 EAD rule allows certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers the ability to obtain an employment authorization card (work permit), provided the H-1B nonimmigrant worker is in the process of obtaining an employment based green card.

Proposal to Amend the 2015 H-4 EAD Rule

On December 14, 2017, a rulemaking notice was first published in the Federal Register notifying the public that the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with USCIS, would be reviewing and possibly amending the 2015 H-4 EAD rule, following the issuance of Executive Order 13788, “Buy American, Hire American.”

According to the notice published in the Federal Register, DHS reserves the authority to amend the 2015 H-4 EAD rule under section 102 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and section 103(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These sections of the law give the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the discretionary power to amend the law so that it aligns with the policies set out in the President’s executive order.

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As previously reported, on October 8, 2017, the United States announced the suspension of all non-immigrant visa services across U.S. Embassies and Consulates in Turkey “until further notice,” following news that a U.S. embassy official was placed under arrest without explanation and without access to counsel. This included the suspension of the issuance of: B-2 visas for temporary tourism or medical reasons, B-1 visas for temporary business visitors, F-1 student visas, E-1 treaty trader visas, E-2 treaty trader visas, and other non-immigrant visa types.

Since October 8, 2017 until just recently, no new non-immigrant visa applications were being processed in Turkey until the U.S. government could receive assurances form the Turkish government that embassy staff officials would not be detained or placed under arrest without cause, or access to counsel.

On November 6, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, announced that the United States has received sufficient assurances from the Government of Turkey that employees under the diplomatic mission are not under investigation, that local staff of U.S. embassies and consulates will not be detained or arrested in connection with their official duties, and finally that the U.S. government will be notified in advance if the Turkish government plans to arrest or detain any local staff at U.S. embassies in Turkey. The announcement however provides that the United States “continues to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees” of the Mission in Turkey and of “. . . the cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under [a] state of emergency.”

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Unsurprisingly, this week we learned that the Trump administration is taking further steps to toughen the process of applying for an H-1B visa extension/renewal request, and that of other highly sought-after non-immigrant work visa types filed using Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker such as the H, O, P, L, and R work visas. The news comes as part of the President’s ongoing plan to prioritize the employment of American workers over foreign workers, outlined in the President’s Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American.”

On October 23, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the agency will be updating its adjudication policy “to ensure petitioners meet the burden of proof for a non-immigrant worker extension petition.” The change in policy specifically provides that USCIS officers will “apply the same level of scrutiny to both initial petitions and extension requests” for the H-1B visa as well as other nonimmigrant visa types.

Per USCIS, this policy will now apply to “nearly all non-immigrant classifications filed using Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.” This means that all nonimmigrant worker visa renewal requests, made using Form I-129, will be subject to the same level of scrutiny that was applied during the foreign worker’s initial non-immigrant work visa request.

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Just one day before Presidential Proclamation No. 9645, “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats,” was set to go into effect, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a ruling blocking portions of the Presidential Proclamation from being enforced on a majority, but not ALL, of the countries, listed in the Proclamation.

The Presidential Proclamation, commonly referred to in the media as ‘travel ban 3.0’ set out to suspend the entry of foreign nationals from eight “countries of identified concern,” and the admission of foreign nationals from those countries was to remain limited until further notice.

The countries to be affected by travel ban 3.0 included: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia. A federal judge from the state of Hawaii by the name of Derrick Watson has granted a temporary restraining order preventing the government from suspending the admission of foreign nationals from the following countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, but DOES NOT prevent the government from suspending the admission of foreign nationals from North Korea and Venezuela, and from imposing stricter screening standards on Iraqi nationals. The restrictions on foreign nationals from North Korea, Venezuela, and Iraq will continue to be enforced according to the Proclamation, beginning today, Thursday, October 19, 2017. Restrictions on North Koreans and Venezuelans will likely remain indefinitely, given that the U.S. government has no formal diplomatic avenues for communication with those countries.

Judge Derrick Watson wrote in his opinion that the latest revision of the ban, “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor,” and “lacks the sufficient finds that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from [the] specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States,” and “plainly discriminates based on nationality.”

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Yesterday, October 8, 2017, the United States and Turkey announced the mutual suspension of all non-immigrant visa services, putting a damper on travel between the two nations, following the arrest of a Turkish citizen, employed at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, on suspicion of espionage.

A statement released by John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, explained the reasons for the United States government’s decision to suspend non-immigrant visa processing for Turkish citizens. According to the ambassador the suspension will allow the United States, “to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while we assess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of our diplomatic facilities and personnel.” He continued, “last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities. Despite our best efforts to learn the reason for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee. . . our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.”

The actions taken by the government are thus in response to Turkish hostility toward U.S. consular employees and an ongoing rift between the two countries regarding U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, accusations of U.S. involvement in a coup against President Erdogan, and the U.S. government’s refusal to extradite former Turkish minister Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the Turkish coup.

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In a continuing saga, the President is maintaining his hardline stance on immigration, this time expanding into the realm of legal immigration. Earlier this month, the Department of State released an amended version of the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) used by governmental agencies and other federal agencies as a manual, which directs and codifies information that must be carried out by respective agencies “in accordance with statutory, executive and Department mandates.”

The new amended version of the manual expands the definition of misrepresentation, the types of activities that may support a presumption of fraud, and establishes changes to existing policies that federal agents must follow in making assessments of fraud or material representation.

The manual sets out a list of activities which may support a presumption of fraud or material representation by an individual applying for any immigration benefit:

  • Engaging in unauthorized employment;
  • Enrolling in a course of academic study, if such study is not authorized for that nonimmigrant classification (e.g. B status);
  • A nonimmigrant in B or F status, or any other status prohibiting immigrant intent, marrying a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident and taking up residence in the United States; or
  • Undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or an adjustment of status would be required, without the benefit of such a change or adjustment.

Old Rule: Previously, the rules set out by the Foreign Affairs Manual and USCIS imposed a presumption of fraud on persons who entered the United States with a non-immigrant visa type (e.g. as a tourist, business visitor, student, trainee etc.) and subsequently married a U.S. Citizen and applied for adjustment of status within the first 30 days of entering the United States.

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On September 24, 2017, the President issued a Presidential Proclamation expanding the list of countries subject to the travel ban outlined in Executive Order 13780 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” As you may recall, as part of that executive order, in March 2017, the President had asked the Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to conduct a worldwide review to assess the dangers that foreign nationals from designated countries of concern pose to the national security of the United States. Under Executive Order 13780, DHS was directed to implement additional security mechanisms and vetting procedures for countries identified as potential threats to national security.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of State, and Attorney General identified 16 additional countries which “remain deficient . . . with respect to their identity-management and information-sharing capabilities, protocols, and practices,” and as a result pose a potential threat to our country’s national security.  By proclamation, the entry of foreign nationals from eight of these countries will remain suspended and limited for the time being.

The President has determined that the immigrant and non-immigrant entry of foreign nationals from the following countries would be detrimental to the national interests of the United States, at least until increased security mechanisms can be implemented, and identity and information-sharing capabilities can be improved.

Per Section 2 of the Proclamation

Suspension of Entry for Nationals of Countries of Identified Concern

“The following countries continue to have “inadequate” identity-management protocols, information-sharing practices, and risk factors . . . such that entry restrictions and limitations are recommended:”

The entry of foreign nationals from the designated countries listed below will be suspended and limited to a few exceptions and case-by-case waivers beginning October 18, 2017.

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