Articles Posted in Specialty Occupations

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In this series, our office brings you up to speed on all things immigration.

Reminders for H-1B applicants for Fiscal Year 2018

Beginning April 3, 2017 USCIS will begin to accept cap-subject H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018. USCIS has recently announced that premium processing has been temporarily suspended beginning April 3, for a 6-month period, that means that petitioners CANNOT file Form I-907 request for premium processing while premium processing has been suspended. As a reminder, for the general cap (U.S. bachelor’s degree holders or the foreign equivalent) only 65,000 H-1B visas are available per fiscal year, while 20,000 H-1B visas have been allocated for the advanced degree exemption (U.S. Master’s degree holders or higher level of education). Our office has estimated that this H-1B season, advanced degree holders will have a 65 to 70% chance of being selected in the lottery, while individuals qualifying for the general U.S. bachelor’s cap will have a 35 to 40% chance of selection.

For more information about the H-1B visa please click here.

I-130 Consular Processing

If you have applied for an immigrant visa with the National Visa Center, a process that is also known as consular processing, and you are preparing your civil documents for shipment to the National Visa Center or for your immigrant visa interview, please be aware that the Department of State has recently made changes to the Country Reciprocity tables, requiring new or additional documents for certain foreign nationals depending on their country of nationality. All original civil documents must be presented at the immigrant visa interview by the intended beneficiary.

To view the updates please click here.

To review the complete Visa Reciprocity Table, please click here.

What is happening with Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban and what is a Temporary Restraining Order?

Trump’s revised executive order banning the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Iran, and Yemen) and the admission of refugees is currently on hold. A federal judge from the state of Hawaii has issued what is known as a TRO or Temporary Restraining Order.

What is a TRO?

A TRO is a provisional form of relief granted by the federal courts that prevents a party from doing a certain thing so that the moving party does not suffer harm. The relief provided by a TRO is immediate, because the order is only granted under emergency circumstances. A TRO goes into effect for 14 days and can be extended for another 14 days (maximum 28 days). A TRO is not permanent.

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As the days lead up to April 3, 2017, (the first day that USCIS will begin to accept H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018) our office will be very busy putting the final touches on all cap-subject H-1B petitions. In this post, we will discuss what you should be doing now to tie up any loose ends and increase your chances of selection this H-1B season. In addition, this post will outline what you can expect to receive from USCIS after filing.

First, create a preliminary checklist to ensure that you have met all the requirements to properly file your H-1B cap-subject petition:

Note: Premium processing is suspended for all petitions filed for H-1B fiscal year 2018 for both the H-1B regular cap and master’s cap. Do not file a Form I-907 request for premium processing because the form will be rejected. If you include the I-907 fee in combination with any other filing fees associated with the H-1B visa, USCIS will reject the entire H-1B petition.

Checklist:

  1. Did you include the correct version of all forms with revision date on/after Oct. 23, 2014? See uscis.gov/forms to download current form versions.
  2. Did you properly sign and complete Form I-129 including the correct H Classification Supplement?
  3. Did you properly sign and complete the I-129 and H Supplement?
  4. Did you properly sign and complete the I-129 Data Collection Supplement and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement?
  5. Did you include a properly signed and certified Form ETA-9035 Labor Condition Attestation (LCA) from the Department of Labor for the position for which the beneficiary is applying for?
  6. Did you ensure all forms have an original signature in black or blue ink?
  7. Did you include separate signed checks or money orders for each filing fee with the correct fee amounts?

REMEMBER that USCIS recently changed its fee schedule for certain petitions effective December 23, 2016. See https://www.uscis.gov/fees for a complete list of current fees.

  1. Did you include all required documentation and evidence in support of your petition? See below for a running list.
  2. Did you ensure that you have included only one H-1B position for the beneficiary of each H-1B petition you have prepared?
  3. Do you know the service center where you must file the petition? If not, ensure that you submit your petition to the correct USCIS service center. The service center where your petition must be filed depends on the work location of the H-1B beneficiary as you have specified in the petition. To determine the correct service center see https://www.uscis.gov/i-129-addresses. Failure to submit your petition to the correct service center will result in a rejection of your H-1B petition.

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As you gear up for a chance to win one of the 65,000 coveted H-1B visas that will be up for grabs beginning April 1, 2017 through April 7, 2017, we bring you our top frequently asked questions—H-1B edition—to help you make the most of your H-1B filing. As always, to determine whether you qualify for an H-1B visa, please contact our office to schedule a free first time consultation.

When will USCIS begin to accept H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018?

USCIS will begin to accept petitions for fiscal year 2018 beginning on April 1, 2017 and from then on will continue to accept H-1B petitions during the first five business days through April 7, 2017 until USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to fill the regular cap. An H-1B petition may be filed no more than six months before the employment start date requested for the beneficiary.

How long is the H-1B visa valid for?

The H-1B visa is issued for a three-year period that can be extended for an additional three years. Spouses of H-1B workers may live and work in the United States on an H-4 visa, for as long as the H-1B worker remains in lawful H-1B status.

What happens after USCIS receives the necessary petitions to meet the regular cap?

Once USCIS has received more than enough petitions necessary to meet the regular cap, USCIS will conduct a computer-generated lottery to select the petitions needed to meet the cap.  When the cap has been reached, USCIS will make an announcement (usually made on April 7th) indicating that the cap has been reached and that they will proceed with the selection process to fill the 65,000 cap by a randomized lottery system.

Last H-1B season, USCIS announced that the cap was reached within the first 5 business days of the H-1B filing period.

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The H-1B visa is one of the most coveted visas in the United States for several reasons. One of the biggest perks of the H-1B visa is that it is granted for a period of three years, and can be extended for an additional three years. Recipients of the H-1B visa can also bring their dependents to live with them in the United States on an H-4 visa. The H-1B visa is also a popular option because it gives workers the flexibility of accepting and entering new employment, made possible by the portability provision of the H-1B program (8 U.S.C. § 1184(n)). The portability provision allows an H-1B worker to change jobs without having to risk falling “out of status.” Recently, USCIS also improved its portability provision with the passage of a new law that will give H-1B workers who have been laid off a 60-day grace period to transfer to a new employer. But perhaps the greatest upside to the H-1B visa however, is that it is one of the few visas that allows a nonimmigrant to apply for permanent residency as a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition, without the immigrant petition having any negative affect on their H-1B status. This privilege is recognized in the law and is known as “dual intent.” Foreign nationals holding a “dual intent” visa such as an H-1B visa are allowed to file a green card petition, while continuing employment under the terms of their visa, and may also travel on their visa without seeking permission from USCIS.

In this sense, the H-1B visa is one of the few visas that opens a direct path to permanent residency. Other popular employment visas such as the E-2 treaty investor visa do not create a direct path to permanent residency and are not considered “dual intent” visas.

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As many of you know the H-1B visa lottery for fiscal year 2018 is fast approaching. As usual, the competition will be fierce, as hundreds of thousands of highly skilled professionals prepare to file their H-1B visa petitions beginning April 1st through the April 7th deadline. While filing by April 1st (the first day that applications are accepted) certainly gives applicants greater peace of mind, filing before the April 7th deadline does not necessarily increase an individual’s chances of being selected in the lottery. Throughout the years, our office has seen the selection of many petitions that were filed on or close to the April 7th deadline.  With that being said, we expect the competition this year to be even more intense, that is why we want to give you our top tips about what you should be doing NOW to prepare for H-1B season and increase your chances for success.

First some statistics on fiscal year 2017:

  • For fiscal year 2017, USCIS received over 236,000 H-1B petitions, which included petitions counting toward the general cap and advanced degree exemption; approximately 3,000 more petitions when compared to H-1B petitions received for fiscal year 2016. This trend is likely to continue, giving you all the more reason to prepare for the H-1B season early on.
  • For fiscal year 2017, the H-1B cap was reached within the first 5 business days of the H-1B filing period (April 1 to April 7). We expect this trend to continue as in previous years. During fiscal year 2017, USCIS received more than 20,000 petitions for the advanced degree exemption. This number will undoubtedly increase for fiscal year 2018.
  • For fiscal year 2017, USCIS conducted the randomized computer-generated lottery on April 9, 2016 beginning the selection process for the 20,000 available visas counting toward the advanced degree exemption first. Then, unselected advanced degree petitions were given a second chance of being selected by being placed in the lottery toward the general 65,000 cap.  Individuals holding an advanced degree from the United States thus have two shots at being selected for the lottery.

Chances of selection

The chances of being selected in the lottery for fiscal year 2017 ran at roughly 65% for foreign workers holding a U.S. advanced degree, and roughly 35% for foreign workers holding a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Compare this to the chances of being selected in the lottery during fiscal year 2016 which ran at 60% for U.S. advanced degree holders, and 30% for bachelor’s degree holders or the equivalent. We expect the percentage of selection to continue to increase for U.S. advanced degree holders and foreign workers holding bachelor’s degree or equivalent, by roughly 5% according to recent statistics. This of course will depend on the demand for the H-1B visa for fiscal year 2018.

Office Stats

For fiscal year 2017, 35%  of H-1B cap-subject petitions that were filed by our office were selected in the H-1B randomized lottery that took place early April 2016. 13% of those petitions were filed with premium processing, while 22% were filed with regular processing. In total our office filed 55 H-1B Petitions: 15 advanced degree petitions and 40 bachelor’s cap or equivalent petitions. Of these, 46 were filed with regular processing and 15 with premium processing. The majority of these petitions were filed with the California Service Center. Of selected petitions for fiscal year 2017, the top specialty occupations included: Applications Developer, Market Research Analyst, and Software Engineer.

H-1B Overview

As in previous years H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018 will begin to be accepted by USCIS on April 1, 2017 up until April 7, 2017. Foreign workers in specialty occupations and their employers will compete for one of the coveted 65,000 H-1B visas available each fiscal year. The H-1B visa program is limited to a 65,000 congressionally mandated visa cap. Foreign workers holding a U.S. Master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 cap, however only the first 20,000 advanced degree petitions received by USCIS will qualify for the cap exemption. In addition, certain foreign workers such as foreign workers who have been offered employment under U.S. Chile or U.S. Singapore free trade agreements, and foreign workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam are exempt from the cap, according to the Consolidated Natural Resource Act of 2008 (CNRA). Advanced degree petitions received after the 20,000 spots have been allocated will count toward the regular cap along with foreign workers holding bachelor’s degrees (or equivalent including work experience in lieu of formal education). USCIS will receive more than the 65,000 petitions for the H-1B visa program during the first five business days that the application period is open, from April 1st to April 7th. When the cap has been reached, USCIS will make an announcement, in recent years this announcement has been made on April 7th and begin the selection process to fill the 65,000 cap through a randomized lottery system. Petitions that are not selected will be rejected along with their filing fees. Duplicate H-1B petitioners during the same fiscal year, are not allowed, and may be subject to sanctions. Employers may not file an H-1B petition on behalf of an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. Once an H-1B visa worker has been selected and approved, the foreign worker may begin employment on October 1st of that fiscal  year. The H-1B visa is issued for a three-year period that can be extended for an additional three years.

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Before filing your green card application, it is important for you to carefully consider several important factors that may limit your ability to obtain employment in the United States and restrict your international travel. If you will be filing your green card application in the near future, you need to be prepared to remain in the United States for a period of at least 90 days, from the date of filing of your green card application. Applicants must also be aware that they will not receive authorization to work in the United States until this 90-day period has passed. Limited exceptions exist which may allow an applicant to expedite the adjudication process of the employment and travel authorization applications which we will discuss below.

Why the 90-day restriction period?

As part of the green card application, the applicant may file the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and the I-131 Application for Travel Document at no additional cost. The I-765 and I-131 applications result in the issuance of a one-year temporary employment and international travel authorization card (EAD), while the green card application is being adjudicated by USCIS. It takes on average 90 days for the EAD card to be issued, from the date of filing of the green card application. This ultimately means that once you apply for permanent residence, you will not be able to seek employment or travel outside of the country until the EAD card is issued to you within 90 days. Once the green card application has been filed with USCIS, the applicant is restricted from any international travel. If the applicant travels without authorization, USCIS will consider the applicant’s green card application ‘abandoned.’ An applicant may only travel internationally if they have received a re-entry permit issued by USCIS known as an ‘advance parole’ document. The ‘advance parole’ notice will appear on the front of the EAD card itself signifying that the applicant is authorized to travel internationally using the card.  The ability to re-enter the United States after returning from temporary foreign travel is ‘discretionary.’ This means that even if you have been issued an EAD card that allows you to travel, it will ultimately be up to the customs official to admit you into the United States.

Consider the alternatives

Before applying for your green card you should carefully consider whether these travel and employment restrictions will have a significant impact on your lifestyle. If the travel restrictions are concerning to you, it may be a more beneficial option for you to apply for an immigrant visa from a U.S. Consulate abroad. There are no travel restrictions for applicants who apply for immigration benefits from abroad. Likewise, if you are concerned that you will not receive employment authorization immediately, it may be worth considering applying for a dual intent work visa first to cover any gaps in employment. There are limited work visa categories that allow for dual intent, or the intent to have a temporary visa status at the same time as having the intent to remain permanently in the United States. If this is the case, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your options.

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Throughout the next few months, USCIS will begin the process of returning H-1B petitions that were not selected in the H-1B lottery for fiscal year 2017. Each package will contain the respective H-1B petition along with a rejection notice specifying that the petition was not selected in the lottery. If you would like a copy of your rejection notice, please contact your employer or the attorney that filed your petition with USCIS. If you were not selected in the H-1B lottery for fiscal year 2017, there are a few visa options you may want to consider applying for. As always you can visit our website to read about the various different visa types that may be available to you. To discuss your options moving forward, please contact us for a free consultation. Do not despair. Many applicants that were not selected in the H-1B lottery in previous years, have been chosen in subsequent years.

Long Term Options for Employment

Employment-Based Green Card

Typically, the employment-based green card application is the most permanent long term option for employment. The drawback is that obtaining an employment-based green card is a very long process that will require you to maintain another nonimmigrant status, while your green card application is pending. For more information on employment-based green cards please click here.

Family-Based Green Card (Adjustment of Status within the United States)

If you are the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for family-based permanent residency. The green card application includes the application for employment authorization, which is granted within 3 months of filing. Employment authorization allows the applicant to work while their application is in process. Please be aware that the 3-month time frame for employment authorization is only for applicants applying for adjustment of status from within the United States. For more information about this process please click here.

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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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Today May 2, 2016 USCIS announced that data entry for all selected H-1B cap-subject petitions has been completed for fiscal year 2017. Our office expects to receive the final receipt notices of selection for H-1B cap-subject petitions within the next 1-2 weeks. We do not believe that USCIS will be mailing out any more receipt notices for H-1B cap-subject petitions after May 13, 2016. USCIS will begin the process of returning all H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in the random lottery conducted on April 9, 2016. In past years, unselected H-1B petitions have typically been received by our office in the month of June. USCIS recommends that petitioners wait until they have received either a receipt notice or unselected petition in the mail, before contacting USCIS to inquire about the status of a petition. USCIS will issue an additional announcement once all unselected petitions have been returned.

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9152815014_f344695012_zU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions (Bachelor’s cap and Master’s cap) will begin on May 12, 2016. USCIS had previously announced that premium processing would begin no later than May 16, 2016. During fiscal year 2016, USCIS began premium processing on April 27th. This year there will be a slight delay in premium processing due to the large volume of cap-subject H-1B petitions received for fiscal year 2017. Approximately 3,000 more petitions were received this year, when compared to the previous year. USCIS guarantees a 15-calendar-day processing time for certain employment-based petitions as part of the premium processing service. If you did not submit Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing Service with your initial H-1B petition, and you receive notification that your petition has been accepted, you can upgrade your petition to premium processing at any time by filing Form I-907 with the filing fee.

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