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Articles Posted in Student Visas

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In the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, USCIS reminds applicants and petitioners impacted by the pandemic that they can seek certain types of discretionary relief on a case-by-case basis.

Relief for Individuals Seeking Extensions/Change of Status

Special relief is available to individuals who were unable to file an extension or change of status petition before the end of their authorized stay expired, if a special situation prevented the individual’s departure and/or filing.

According to USCIS, “when applying for an extension or change of status due to a special situation that prevented your planned and timely departure,” the agency “may take into consideration how the special situation prevented your departure.”

In addition, if an applicant was not able to apply for an extension or change of status before their authorized period of admission expired, USCIS in their discretion may excuse the delay if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant’s control. An applicant in such a situation should be prepared to provide documentary evidence of those extraordinary circumstances. Depending on the applicant’s situation, the types of evidence that can be provided will vary.

Relief for F-1 Students Based on Severe Economic Hardship Caused by Unforeseen Circumstances

F-1 students who are experiencing severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control (such as those impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic) may request employment authorization to work off-campus (if they meet certain regulatory requirements) by filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization along with Form I-20, and supporting materials. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9).

The student’s Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by your Designated School Official, certifying your eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.

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Great news for FY 2021 H-1B registrants! USCIS has published step-by-step video instructions showing you how you can submit an electronic registration on the USCIS website without the use of an attorney or representative. It is not too late to register. The registration period closes noon ET on March 20, 2020.

USCIS Adds FAQs to Website

USCIS has also included a helpful and detailed FAQ section about the H-1B electronic registration process on its website addressing various topics regarding the H-1B registration process and filing process itself.

We have included these FAQs in this post for your convenience. Questions marked in red are those that we consider to be of most interest to petitioners.

For further information about the H-1B electronic registration process please click here.

Q: What happens if the prospective beneficiary does not have a last name? What do you enter into the system?

  • A: If there is only one name for a beneficiary, it should be entered as the last name. The first and middle name fields will have check boxes that indicate “Beneficiary does not have a first name” or “Beneficiary does not have a middle name.” These boxes should be checked in these instances. Do not enter placeholders, such as “FNU”, “LNU”, “Unknown”, or “No Name Given.

Q: Is there an appeal process for registrations determined to be invalid duplicates?

  • A: Registrations that are determined to be duplicates will be invalid. A registrant who submits duplicate registrations will not be able to appeal the invalidation.

Q: If you are registering for the master’s cap based on the expectation that the beneficiary will earn a qualifying advanced degree, and you are actually selected under the master’s cap, but, the beneficiary does not obtain their qualifying advanced degree, is there a risk that the cap-subject H-1B petition for that beneficiary will be denied?

  • A: If a registration is submitted requesting consideration under the INA 214(g)(5)(C) advanced degree exemption because the beneficiary has earned, or will earn prior to the filing of the petition, a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education, and the registration is selected under the advanced degree exemption, the beneficiary must be eligible for the advanced degree exemption at the time of filing the I-129 petition. If the beneficiary is selected under the advance degree cap and has not earned a qualifying master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education at the time the petition is filed, the petition will be denied or rejected.

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It is that time of the week again! In this post, we bring you the latest immigration news from USCIS.

Texas Service Center Will Begin Processing Certain Cap-Exempt H-1B Petitions

On May 20, 2019, USCIS announced that the Texas Service Center will begin processing certain cap-exempt H-1B petitions filed on Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.

What types of petitions may be processed by the TSC?

Cap-exempt petitions requesting:

  • A change in previously approved employment;
  • A change of employer;
  • Concurrent employment;
  • Amendments;
  • A continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer;
  • A change of status to H-1B; or Notification to a U.S. Consulate or inspection facility (port of entry or pre-flight inspection).

Applicants must continue to refer to the direct filing address chart to determine where the I-129 Form should be filed. The workload for cap-exempt petitions will be distributed between the Texas Service Center, California Service Center, Vermont Service Center, and Nebraska Service Center to increase efficiency and prevent processing delays.

If your case is transferred, you will receive a transfer notice in the mail.

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On August 8, 2018, DHS issued a policy memorandum directing USCIS to change the way in which the agency counted the days of unlawful presence for F, M, and J status violators.

Under that policy memorandum, F, M, and J nonimmigrants who accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then departed the United States, would trigger either a 3- or 10-year bar to admission depending on the period of unlawful presence accrued in the United States prior to departure. The new policy would begin counting the days of unlawful presence the day after an F, M, or J status violation, unless an exception applied.

These bars would prevent the foreign national from applying for an immigration benefit in the future, without the approval of a waiver of inadmissibility.

This policy was to become effective on August 9, 2018; however, it quickly grew controversial and inspired a slew of lawsuits. Prior to this attempted policy change, USCIS did not begin counting a period of unlawful presence until a USCIS immigration official or immigration judge made a formal finding of a status violation.

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If you are an F-1 student with an H-1B petition that remains pending with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and your “cap-gap” employment authorization is only valid through September 30, 2018, you may risk accruing unlawful presence if you continue to work on or after October 1, 2018.

What is a “cap-gap”

You are in “cap-gap” status if you are an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B cap subject petition with USCIS, and you are seeking a change of status from F-1 student to H-1B on October 1st, October 1st being the requested start date of H-1B employment.

A “cap-gap” is used to fill the gap between the end of a student’s F-1 status and the beginning of potential H-1B status. To avoid any gap in status, USCIS extends the validity period of both the student’s F-1 status and current employment authorization, but only until September 30.

The “cap-gap” period begins when an F-1 student’s status and employment authorization expires.

Temporary Suspension of Premium Processing

USCIS has temporarily suspended premium processing services for cap-subject petitions to prioritize the adjudication of cap-gap petitions filed by students, however USCIS does not guarantee that it will adjudicate these petitions in a timely manner by October 1st. Students with a cap-gap H-1B petition that remains pending on or after October 1st are no longer authorized to continue working under the cap-gap regulations.

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A new policy memorandum will change the way the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for F, J, and M non-immigrant visa holders, and their dependents, beginning August 9, 2018, and onwards. The accrual of unlawful presence may lead to a bar preventing the foreign national from re-entering the United States.

In 1997 Congress began implementing a policy that governed the admissibility of individuals in F, J, and M non-immigrant visa status. Pursuant to that policy, nonimmigrants who overstayed their visa for more than 180 days could be subject to a 3-year bar, while individuals who overstayed for more than one year could be subject to the 10-year bar, for violating the terms of their visa status.

However, this class of individuals only began to accrue unlawful presence, where an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed from the United States, or where USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation, while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit, such as adjustment of status. This policy applied to all non-immigrants who were admitted or present in the United States in duration of status (D/S).

New Policy

On August 9, 2018, USCIS released a policy memorandum entitled “Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigrants,” superseding the previous 1997 policy, in order to reduce the number of overstays, and implement a new policy regarding how to calculate unlawful presence for F, J, and M non-immigrants and their dependents.

Pursuant to the new policy, from August 9th onwards, “F, J, and M nonimmigrants, and their dependents, admitted or otherwise authorized to be present in the United States in duration of status (D/S) or admitted until a specific date (date certain), start accruing unlawful presence,” as follows:

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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 an important reminder to the attention of F-1 Students with Optional Practical Training. F-1 students who transfer to another school or begin their studies at another educational level, such as a master’s degree program after completion of the bachelor’s degree, will have their OPT automatically terminated, as well as the corresponding employment authorization document, also known as a work permit.

F-1 students who transfer schools or begin studying at another educational level, will not be otherwise affected, so long as they comply with all of the requirements necessary to maintain their student status. F-1 students must not work with a terminated/expired EAD. Doing so violates U.S. law, and will result in serious immigration consequences, such as the removal of the foreign national from the United States or barring the foreign national from re-entering the United States, in addition to other serious consequences such as the accrual of unlawful presence.

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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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We would like to inform our readers that a new development has been occurring in recent months involving Form I-539 change of status applications filed by prospective students. Students applications wishing to change their status from a B-2 visa classification to F-1 must proceed with caution. USCIS has recently been issuing denials for such change of status applications that request a change of status from a B-2 nonimmigrant visa classification to F-1 student status. These denials have been issued, despite the fact that applicants have seemingly filed their application in a timely and proper manner with USCIS. To submit an application in a timely manner, it is required that the applicant file an I-539 change of status application with USCIS, prior to the expiration of their underlying B-2 status, as indicated on the applicant’s I-94 arrival/departure record. An additional problem that has been occurring involves the delayed adjudication of these applications with the California Service Center. In delaying the processing of these applications, designated school officials (DSO) have been forced to defer student program start dates that appear on the SEVIS form, before adjudication of the applicant’s change of status application has been completed. The unfortunate cause of these delays has resulted in a discrepancy between the deferred program start date and the ending B-2 visa status or the date USCIS adjudicated the I-539 application to change status.

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