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Articles Posted in STEM

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A brand-new bill called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2020 (S. 3770) sponsored by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has recently surfaced. As you might have already guessed, the bill seeks to make changes to the current H-1B and L visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse within the H-1B and L visa programs, provide protections for American workers, and enforce stricter requirements for the recruitment of foreign workers. The H-1B visa program is aggressively targeted in this new piece of legislation.


Proposed Changes to the H-1B visa program


First, as it relates to the H-1B visa worker program, the bill proposes changes to existing wage requirements.

The law would require employers to pay the highest wage from three categories:

1) the locally determined prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment

2) the median average wage for all workers in the occupational classification in the area of employment; or

3) the median wage for skill level 2 in the occupational classification found in the most recent OES survey.

Second, the bill would make changes to current law and require U.S. employers seeking to hire H-1B workers to publish job postings on a website established by the Department of Labor. After filing the labor condition application, the employer would be required to post the job on the website for at least 30 calendar days. The job posting would have to include a detailed description of the position, including the wages and other terms and conditions of employment, minimum education, training, experience, and other requirements for the position, as well as the process for applying for the position.

Third, all H-1B employers would be required to prove that they have tried to recruit American workers for jobs offered to H-1B workers. Under current law, only H-1B dependent employers (those with more than 50 full time employees of which at least 15% are H-1B employees) are required to recruit American workers for H-1B positions. This would be a drastic change in the law creating additional burdens for U.S. employers seeking to hire foreign workers with specialized skills.

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On May 7th just days after the President signed his controversial April 22nd executive order limiting the immigration of certain aliens to the United States for 60 days, Republican senators rallied together to urge the President to pass more immigration restrictions—this time targeting nonimmigrant foreign workers.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Josh Hawley of Missouri fired off an impassioned plea to the President asking him to suspend all new guest worker visas for a period of 60 days, and certain categories of new guest worker visas for at least the next year until unemployment levels have returned to normal.

In their letter, the Senators justified their request stating that, “the United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high.” The letter continued “given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economic begin to reopen, it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment.”

The Senators praised the President for passing the April 22nd proclamation but said that more needs to be done because guest worker programs “remain a serious threat to the U.S. labor market’s recovery.”

The Senators said that exceptions to the 60-day suspension should be rare and limited to time-sensitive industries such as agriculture and issued only on a case-by-case basis when the employer can demonstrate that they have been unable to find Americans to take the jobs.

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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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Earlier this year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suddenly changed the regulations governing the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT). According to the USCIS website, a U.S. employer who has hired an international student under the STEM OPT program may not assign, or delegate training responsibilities to a non-employer third party such as a consulting company. This policy change has proven controversial since its sudden appearance on the USCIS website during the month of April. The policy greatly restricts the employment of international students and exposes “noncompliant” students from being found inadmissible to the United States for a 5-year period or more and makes such students subject to deportation.

Per the USCIS website:

“…a STEM OPT employer may not assign, or otherwise delegate, its training responsibilities to a non-employer third party (e.g., a client/customer of the employer, employees of the client/customer, or contractors of the client/customer). See 8 C.F.R. 214.2.(f)(10)(ii)(C)(7)(ii) and 2016 STEM OPT Final Rule (pp. 13042, 13079, 13090, 13091, 13092, 13016).”

A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas seeks to challenge this new provision on the ground that USCIS unlawfully began implementing this new policy change, in contravention of federal law.

According to the lawsuit, ITServe Alliance v. Nielsen, USCIS circumvented federal procedural rules which require public notice and the opportunity for public comment, before such a federal policy is put in place. The lawsuit alleges that since the sudden appearance of these additional terms and conditions of employment, USCIS has unlawfully issued hundreds of Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs), without first following the formal rulemaking process mandated under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

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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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A recent working paper published by Harvard economist, William R. Kerr, and Wellesley economist, Sari Pekkala Kerr, is making waves on the subject of immigrant entrepreneurship. The study asks: just how important are foreign-born entrepreneurs to our economy? Are their contributions truly significant?

The study’s abstract reads as follows:

We examine immigrant entrepreneurship and the survival and growth of immigrant-founded businesses over time relative to native-founded companies. Our work quantifies immigrant contributions to new firm creation in a wide variety of fields and using multiple definitions. While significant research effort has gone into understanding the economic impact of immigration into the United States, comprehensive data for quantifying immigrant entrepreneurship are difficult to assemble. We combine several restricted-access U.S. Census Bureau data sets to create a unique longitudinal data platform that covers 1992-2008 and many states. We describe differences in the types of businesses initially formed by immigrants and their medium-term growth patterns. We also consider the relationship of these outcomes to the immigrants’ age at arrival to the United States.

The study is important because it forces members of Congress to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, in order to determine whether or not it is beneficial for the United States to create more opportunities for highly-skilled entrepreneurs and professionals. Regrettably, the immigration debate has largely centered around illegal immigration to the United States, ignoring calls to create more flexibility for highly-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs. As it stands today, immigrant entrepreneurs can only obtain a green card via sponsorship from a United States employer. The majority of entrepreneurs are forced to remain in the United States on a temporary ‘dual intent’ nonimmigrant visa, until a U.S. employer agrees to sponsor their green card. Visa options are very limited for highly-skilled immigrants. Even for the most brilliant of entrepreneurs, this process requires time and patience. Our current immigration laws are doing us a disservice since they are keeping out some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly important because the number of businesses and American jobs they create is on the rise.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

  • As of 2008, at least one in four entrepreneurs among start-up companies are foreign-born. Similarly, at least one in four employees among new firms are foreign-born
  • 37% of new firms had at least one immigrant entrepreneur working for the company
  • At least 1 in 3 start-up firms were founded by an immigrant entrepreneur, with an increasing rate from 1995-2008
  • The share of immigrants among all employees working for start-up companies is on the rise
  • Immigrant employees in low-tech positions comprise about 22.2% of start-up companies, while 21.2% of immigrants work in high-tech positions in start-up companies
  • Among new start-ups backed by venture capitalists, 60% had at least one immigrant entrepreneur
  • Immigrant employees working for a start-up company backed by venture capitalists have higher mean average quarterly earnings

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14604464454_ab9f59b1e0_zA new lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s authorization of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for STEM students in the United States. The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers is seeking an end to the STEM OPT program because they claim the program is putting American technology workers at a competitive disadvantage. As previously reported, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers had been battling the Department of Homeland Security in court for the past year asking a federal judge to invalidate 17-month OPT extensions granted to STEM students, because DHS violated the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In response, the federal judge had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to publish a new final OPT rule to allow certain F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to obtain employment authorization. DHS published the final rule earlier this year, replacing the previous 17-month STEM extension rule that had been in place since 2008. The new rule published by DHS allows certain F-1 students to apply for 24-month extension of their optional practical training program (OPT) in order to continue working in the United States following the completion of their studies. This new rule went into effect on May 10, 2016. The same plaintiffs who challenged DHS are coming forward yet again, this time questioning DHS policy, and alleging that the STEM OPT program is putting businesses first instead of protecting American technology workers.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers is a labor union that represents the interests of American technology workers, who they claim are losing out on jobs to foreign workers because of guest worker programs. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) and the labor union are working together to dismantle the program which they say circumvents American labor protections in favor of cheap labor. In a recent statement the IRLI claims that the DHS exceeded its authority by allowing the STEM OPT program to exist. According to them, “not only does the OPT program create more competition for suitable unemployed and underemployed American workers, but it creates a tax incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire foreign labor over American workers because aliens on student visas and their employers do not have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes.”

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As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security published a new final rule that will allow certain F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, also known as (STEM) fields, to apply for a 24-month extension of their optical practical training (OPT) program. This new 24-month OPT extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension that had been previously in place since 2008. Eligible students can begin to apply for the new 24-month extension starting May 10, 2016. If you mistakenly apply for a 24-month extension before May 10, 2016 you will receive a 17-month extension.

Applicants should note that the cap gap extension has not changed. Individuals who have filed an H-1B change of status application that is currently pending with USCIS, must keep in mind that their status will only be extended until September 30. It is recommended that selected H-1B participants upgrade their petition to premium processing, so that foreign workers in F-1 status do not experience significant gaps in employment. USCIS will adjudicate STEM OPT applications under the 2008 rules until May 9, 2016. STEM OPT extension applications filed and approved before May 10, 2016 will receive a 17-month extension. If you have a pending application requesting a 17-month STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016 you will receive a request for evidence asking for additional documentation to satisfy the new rule for the new 24-month extension. We have learned that the SEVIS system will be updated so that I-20’s will reflect 24-month extensions.

Students currently on 17-month STEM OPT

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The new replacement rule affecting the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), has been posted and is now available for inspection in the federal register. The new replacement rule will replace the previous 2008 rule and become effective beginning May 10, 2016.

The new rule authorizes F-1 STEM students pursuing a 12-month Optional Practical Training program in the United States to extend their ‘OPT’ status for a 24-month period. The 24-month extension replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students. The 17-month STEM OPT extension will continue to be effective until May 9, 2016. The new 24-month extension applies only to F-1 STEM OPT students attending accredited United States institutions, whose employers participate in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services E-verify program. Only students in a valid period of post-completion OPT may file for a STEM OPT extension. The 24-month extension, coupled with the 12-month period given with initial post-completion OPT, will give STEM students a period of 36 total months of practical training in their field. Amendments that come with the new rule include additional oversight and improvement of the program requiring formal mentoring and training plans by employers, a new STEM definition and Classification of Instructional Program Categories, provisions on previously obtained STEM degrees, Accreditation and Employer Visits, and OPT compliance. In addition, new provisions have been introduced relating to wage and protections for STEM OPT students and safeguards for American workers as described below.

The ‘Cap Gap’ provision previously available to F-1 STEM OPT students in 2008 remains in place. This provision allows students with a timely filed H-1B petition requesting a change of status, the benefit of automatically extending their F-1 status and employment authorization until October 1 of the H-1B visa fiscal year for which the student has applied. The Cap-Gap was created with intention of avoiding any disruption students might experience in their careers and personal life as a result of temporary gaps in their status.

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