Articles Posted in Specialty Occupations

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Today February 15, 2019, USCIS announced that the agency will resume premium processing services on Tuesday February 19, 2019, for all H-1B petitions filed on or before December 21, 2018.

Premium processing service remains suspended for H-1B petitions filed on or after December 22, 2018. USCIS will make an announcement at a later date when USCIS plans to resume premium processing for the remaining categories of H-1B petitions as agency workloads permit the agency to resume these services.

USCIS has provided the following guidance for petitioners who received a transfer notice for a pending H-1B petition, who are interested in upgrading their petition to premium processing:

If you received a transfer notice for a pending H-1B petition, and you are requesting premium processing service, you must submit the premium processing request to the service center now handling the petition.

You should also include a copy of the transfer notice with your premium processing request to avoid possible delays associated with the receipt of your premium processing request.

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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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The House Proposes to Extend the E-3 Program to Irish Nationals

On November 20, 2018, the House of Representatives introduced H.R. 7164, a bill proposing to add Ireland to the E-3 nonimmigrant visa program. Currently, the E-3 visa program is available to American employers seeking to hire Australian nationals to perform services in a specialty occupation for a temporary period of time.

The E-3 visa program functions much like the H-1B program. The program is governed by the same labor certification standards that apply to the H-1B visa program, and much of the same evidence is required. The E-3 visa classification is numerically limited, with a maximum of 10,500 visas available annually for Australian nationals.

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Today, November 30, 2018, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks to impose a registration requirement for H-1B petitioners seeking to file an H-1B petition on behalf of beneficiaries under the regular cap and advanced degree exemption.  An unpublished version of the proposed rule has been made available in the federal register.

Under the proposed rule H-1B Petitioners would be required to electronically register with USCIS during the designated registration period, in order to file a H-1B cap-subject petition on behalf of a foreign worker. In addition, DHS is proposing to change the order in which H-1B cap-subject registrations would be selected to meet the annual H-1B regular cap and advanced degree exemption. This change would increase the odds of selection for H-1B beneficiaries who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution.

Under the proposed rule, all petitioners seeking to file an H-1B cap-subject petition on behalf of a foreign worker would be required to submit to a mandatory registration process. Only those whose registrations are selected, would be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition during the associated filing period.

The mandatory Internet-based registration process for petitioners seeking to file H-1B petitions for beneficiaries to be counted under the regular cap or advanced degree exemption, would begin before April 1st, in advance of the period during which H-1B petitions can be filed for a new fiscal year. An H-1B cap-subject petition would not be considered properly filed unless the petition is based on a valid registration selection for that fiscal year.

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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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