Articles Posted in Professionals

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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It’s official. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that beginning March 1, 2020 through March 20, 2020, the agency will be implementing a mandatory, Internet-based, electronic registration process for U.S. employers seeking to file H-1B petitions for workers subject to either the 65,000 or 20,000 annual numerical limitations for the fiscal year 2021 cap.

All H-1B petitioners seeking to file a petition for the fiscal year 2021 cap, will be required to complete the mandatory registration process by electronically registering online beginning March 1, 2020 through March 20, 2020, and paying the associated $10 H-1B registration fee.

The registration process will require H-1B petitioners or their authorized representatives to provide basic information about the company and each requested worker. As we get closer to the initial registration period, USCIS will provide step-by-step instructions on its website to inform petitioners on how to complete the registration process. These instructions will be shared on our blog as soon as they become available.

Please note that only petitioners with selected registrations will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. If USCIS receives submissions in excess of the 65,000/20,000 annual numerical limitations during the authorized registration period, USCIS will be using electronic submissions to conduct the randomized H-1B computer generated lottery.

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In this post, we discuss the latest developments in U.S. immigration news.

As you may recall, back in September USCIS issued a proposed rule requiring petitioners filing H-1B cap-subject petitions to pay a $10 registration fee for each petition submitted to USCIS for the H-1B cap selection process, beginning with the H-1B fiscal year 2021 cap season.

Today, November 7, 2019 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published the final version of this rule which will become effective beginning December 9, 2019, although the $10 fee will not be required until registrations are submitted beginning with the fiscal year 2021 H-1B cap selection process.

The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow November 8th. An unpublished version of the rule is available here.

Extension of Temporary Protected Status

On November 4, 2019, USCIS published a notice in the federal register announcing the automatic extension of TPS-related documentation for beneficiaries under the TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

TPS-related documentation for individuals from these countries will remain valid through January 4, 2021.

This automatic extension will apply to all TPS-related documentation (including Employment Authorization Cards) set to expire on the following dates:

  • Beneficiaries under TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, and Sudan—January 2, 2020
  • Beneficiaries under TPS designations for Honduras—January 5, 2020
  • Beneficiaries under TPS designation for Nepal—March 20, 2020

A beneficiary under the TPS designation for any of these countries who has applied for a new EAD but who has not yet received his or her new EAD is covered by this automatic extension, provided that the EAD he or she possesses contains one of the expiration dates indicated above.

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Fresh off the press! In this blog post we will discuss a new proposed rule that is set to be published in the Federal Register on September 4, 2019. We have reviewed an advance copy of this proposed rule and will tell you everything you need to know about the new rule.

At a Glance

The proposed rule will require petitioners filing H-1B cap-subject petitions to pay a $10 registration fee for each petition they submit to USCIS for the H-1B cap selection process beginning with the H-1B fiscal year 2021 cap season.

Overview

As you may recall, on January 31, 2019, DHS published a final rule requiring petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions (including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption) to first electronically register with USCIS during the designated registration period (“H-1B registration final rule”).

USCIS stated that the new H-1B registration system would be implemented beginning with H-1B fiscal year 2021 to ensure the registration system and process work correctly.

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We are happy to report that on July 10, 2019 the House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 (H.R. 1044), a bill that if enacted, would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants, and increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrants.

What is H.R. 1044?

H.R. 1044 is a piece of legislation that was first introduced before the House of Representatives on February 7, 2019 by Representative Zoe Lofgren.

Employment-Based Sponsorship

The bill seeks to drastically change the way that our employment-based green card system works by eliminating the “per country cap” that limits the number of green cards that may be issued to applicants per fiscal year depending on their country of origin also known as country of chargeability.

Currently, employment-based workers fall into one of five “preference categories” including EB-1 Priority Workers, EB-2 Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees/Persons of Exceptional Ability, EB-3 Skilled Workers, Professionals, EB-4 Special Immigrants, and EB-5 Investors. Each of these categories is subject to Congressional numerical limitations, as well as per-country limitations.

H.R. 1044 proposes to remove the per-country limitations to enable applicants to obtain employment visas based on merit, and not based on country of origin. The bill would also eliminate the 7% cap for employment-based visas and remove an offset that reduced the number of visas for individuals from China.

The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from FY2020-FY2022, by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas. Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85% would be allotted to immigrants from any single country.

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It is that time of the week again! In this post, we bring you the latest immigration news from USCIS.

Texas Service Center Will Begin Processing Certain Cap-Exempt H-1B Petitions

On May 20, 2019, USCIS announced that the Texas Service Center will begin processing certain cap-exempt H-1B petitions filed on Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.

What types of petitions may be processed by the TSC?

Cap-exempt petitions requesting:

  • A change in previously approved employment;
  • A change of employer;
  • Concurrent employment;
  • Amendments;
  • A continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer;
  • A change of status to H-1B; or Notification to a U.S. Consulate or inspection facility (port of entry or pre-flight inspection).

Applicants must continue to refer to the direct filing address chart to determine where the I-129 Form should be filed. The workload for cap-exempt petitions will be distributed between the Texas Service Center, California Service Center, Vermont Service Center, and Nebraska Service Center to increase efficiency and prevent processing delays.

If your case is transferred, you will receive a transfer notice in the mail.

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Exciting news for Filipino nurses. The EB-3 employment-based category will become current in July 2019 through the summer.

This means that if you have an approved PERM application that was filed by your employer, your employer may file Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf. Please note that registered nurses and physical therapists are not required to go through the PERM process and may proceed straight to the I-140.

Since there will be no waiting period in July 2019 through the summer, EB-3 Filipino nurses will be able to apply for the I-140 straight away, and for their adjustment of status. Applicants who are outside of the United States, may apply for their immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy in their country of residence.

Important Steps

If your employer has not filed a PERM application for you, they should do so as soon as possible. The PERM requirement does not apply to registered nurses or physical therapists.

After the PERM application is approved, your employer must file Form I-140 Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf. Registered nurses and physical therapists do not need to file a PERM application, and their employers may proceed with the immigrant visa petition (I-140).

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USCIS announced today May 17, 2019, that the agency has completed data entry for all H-1B petitions selected for fiscal year 2020, including petitions filed under the U.S. advanced degree exemption.

USCIS will now begin the long process of returning all H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in the random computer-generated lottery that took place on April 10, 2019. USCIS will provide an announcement once it has completed the return of unselected H-1B petitions.

Petitioners who have not had the H-1B filing fees cashed, can expect to receive the return of their H-1B petition.

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Great news! Our office has begun to receive our first I-797 receipt notices in the mail for petitions that were filed with premium processing in the lottery. So far, our office has received four such receipt notices for individuals who filed under the advanced degree exemption. All four of these notices came from the California Service Center.

Over the next few weeks we expect to continue to receive receipt notices for individuals who filed under the regular bachelor’s cap. If you have not yet received a receipt notice, do not be discouraged, because it is still too early to tell if you have been selected in the lottery.

As we previously suggested, Petitioners should continue to monitor their bank accounts closely. If the filing fees are charged to the account, then that petition has been selected in the lottery.

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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 2020 beginning Monday, April 1, 2019. 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.

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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