Articles Posted in Specialty Occupations

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During March of this year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the temporary suspension of premium processing services for all fiscal year 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions requesting an exemption from the general cap. USCIS announced that the suspension would last until September 10, 2018, in order to reduce H-1B processing times for long-pending petitions.

Temporary Suspension to Continue through February 19th

Recently, USCIS announced that the agency will be extending the temporary suspension until February 19, 2019.

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Return of Unselected H-1B Petitions

H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in the fiscal year 2019 visa lottery have been returned to unlucky applicants. If you filed a petition between April 2 and April 6 and you did not receive a receipt notice for your application, you will be receiving your returned petitions in the mail by August 13. If you do not receive a returned petition by this date, you should contact USCIS.

Updated NTA Policy

On June 28th USCIS issued a policy memorandum providing updated guidance for the referral of cases and issuances of notices to appear (NTAs) in cases involving inadmissible and deportable aliens. The policy memorandum outlines the Department of Homeland Security’s priorities for removal as well as guidelines for referring cases and issuing NTAs.

Under the updated policy the following classes of aliens are prioritized for removal, aliens who are removable based on criminal or security grounds, fraud or misrepresentation, and aliens subject to expedited removal,” as well as alienswho, regardless of the basis for removal:

(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;

(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;

(e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but have not departed; or

(g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security”

Today, USCIS announced that it is postponing implementation of this policy guidance because operational guidance has not yet been provided to immigration officers. The policy memorandum gave USCIS 30 days to implement proper protocols for NTA issuance consistent with the updated policy memorandum. We will notify our readers once we receive information about when the NTA policy will be implemented.

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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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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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The Trump administration has taken its first step toward dismantling the International Entrepreneur Rule, an Obama era program that would have given thousands of foreign entrepreneurs the opportunity to travel to the United States for a 30-month period, for the purpose of starting or scaling their start-up business enterprise in the United States.

On November 17, 2017, the Trump administration sent a notice to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to officially end the International Entrepreneur Rule. This notice appeared on the website of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs as early as Friday. At this time, the Trump administration is finalizing a draft to officially rescind the rule. Once the administration has finished reviewing the draft, it will be published in the Federal Register. It is expected that the draft to rescind the rule will be published within the next week.

After publication, a public notice and comment period will follow, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, a process by which the government invites the public to comment on a proposed version of a government rule published in the Federal Register. Once the comment period has ended, the government responds to comments, considers feedback, and decides whether such feedback will have any influence on their decision to rescind the rule.

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