Articles Posted in Student Visa

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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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As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security was given a 90-day extension earlier this year, by the Federal District Court of Columbia to issue a new replacement rule for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to continue. The STEM OPT program, a program that had been in place since 2008, was invalidated earlier this year following a court order which required DHS to publish a new replacement rule governing the program by February 12, 2016. In response to the court order, DHS requested an additional extension arguing that exceptional circumstances warranted additional time to review the overwhelming number of comments received during the comment period. The court granted the extension, giving DHS until May 10, 2016 to implement a final rule. On March 2nd, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that review of the new OPT STEM replacement rule had been completed. DHS is expected to submit the final rule in the federal register within the next few weeks. The new rule will take precedence over the 2008 OPT STEM rule that had been in place previously. The final rule is not expected to be implemented until May 10, 2016. Once the final rule is published, we will have a better idea of where applicants will stand in relation to pending applications for employment authorization and receiving 7-month OPT extensions.

Please continue to follow our blog for more information. If you require legal advice please contact us for a free consultation. 

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What is the H-1B Visa? The H-1B visa is a work visa that is awarded on a lottery basis. The H-1B visa program allows American companies and/or qualifying organizations to employ foreign workers to fill specialty occupations temporarily. The foreign worker must posses a combination of education, specialized training, and/or experience that is equivalent to training acquired by the attainment of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher. The H-1B program was first enacted by Congress with the intention of helping American employers seek out distinguished foreign workers, possessing the skills and abilities necessary to perform the duties of the specialty occupation. The H-1B program has remained popular because it has allowed American employers to remain competitive and provides highly skilled foreign workers a path to permanent residence.

The provisions of the H-1B visa program allow qualified foreign workers to attain temporary employment having met specific requirements. H-1B visa recipients typically work in the STEM fields as scientists, engineers, computer programmers, software developers, business analysts, etc. although fashion models are also classified under the H-1B category.

USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2017 beginning April 1, 2016. April 7, 2016 is the absolute deadline to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. 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.

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In this blog we are answering 5 of your most frequently asked questions received on our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office for a free legal consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office.

Qualifying for 245i and Adjustment of Status

Q: My ex-husband filed an adjustment of status application on my behalf based on 245i. We separated before we received our initial interview appointment and later divorced. I have since remarried. Can my husband apply for my permanent residence now that we are married?

A: Thank you for your question. Certain individuals who have a qualifying relative willing to file an immigrant visa petition on their behalf, are eligible to adjust their status under 245i Immigration and Nationality Act if they entered the country without inspection (unlawfully) and were the beneficiary of a visa petition or application for labor certification filed on specific dates outline below. Before proceeding with a new green card application, you should make sure you qualify for 245i and have all of the necessary documents to prove your eligibility. 245i applicants must provide documented evidence of their physical presence in the United States and evidence that the visa petition or application for labor certification was filed on their behalf by providing the receipt notice of the petition also known as the I-797 Notice of Action.

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International students seeking a STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension must be aware that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not yet published a replacement rule authorizing further STEM OPT extensions, this following a court decision prohibiting DHS from allowing 17 month extensions to be issued. The OPT program allows foreign students the right to seek temporary employment during or following their studies in the United States. On August 12th of this year a court decision invalidated the processing of a DHS rule allowing a 17 month STEM OPT extension program to take place, due to procedural errors. The court’s ruling will be officially enforced on February 12, 2016 in an effort to delay hardships STEM students are likely to experience, and the disruption of employment among technology companies and relevant sectors. The delay also allows DHS to present a new rule before February 12, 2016.

With time running out (4 workdays to be exact) no such rule has since been released by DHS. While DHS has not communicated any changes to international student offices, we expect that any new rulings will have no impact on the initial 12-month OPT program. Until further clarification is provided by DHS, universities are authorized to continue to produce I-20 forms for STEM extensions. In fact, most universities are continuing to accept applications for STEM extensions, regardless of DHS’ failure to publish a new rule within the given time. Students should heed with caution if they wish to file an application for extension, as they may risk forfeiting money spent on such applications. EAD cards already issued under the existing STEM program are considered valid until further notice. DHS mandated employment reports and regular attendance should continue as normal. Students should make sure to abide by the strict unemployment limits of OPT, regardless of these developments.

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