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Articles Posted in STEM OPT

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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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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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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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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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On January 23, 2016 a Federal District Court Judge for the District of Columbia granted the federal government an extension for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to resume, giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) more time to issue a new replacement rule. The STEM OPT program had been in place since 2008, but was recently invalidated following a court order requesting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue a new replacement rule by February 12, 2016. DHS responded by requesting an additional 90 days to implement the final rule by May 10, 2016.

As part of their request, the federal government argued that exceptional circumstances existed to warrant the extension. This was owed to an unprecedented amount of comments received by DHS, that could not be reviewed and analyzed by the February deadline. According to the Administrative Procedures Act, DHS is required to publish a final rule 60 days before its effective date. During the comment period alone, DHS received over 50,000 comments that were nearly impossible to review and revise by the February deadline. Although plaintiffs for the original suit challenged the court stating that the court did not have jurisdiction to grant the extension, the court agreed with the federal government. The court stated that it did indeed have jurisdiction over the motion and that the undue hardship that STEM OPT participants and employers would experience, absent a new replacement rule, constituted an exceptional circumstance to warrant the extension. It is estimated that approximately 434,000 international students might benefit from the new replacement rule.

Presently, 23,000 students are STEM OPT participants, while approximately 2,300 more individuals are dependents of these participants. Had the extension been denied, thousands of students, their educational institutions, and their employers would be adversely affected. Litigation will continue over the validity and issuance of the replacement rule. If your initial OPT will expire between now and the May 10 deadline, and you are still within the 120-day filing window, you should apply for your 17-month extension as soon as possible, to benefit from the 17-month extension under the 2008 OPT rule. If your OPT will expire on or after May 11, and you are still within the 120-day filing window, you may be able to receive a 17-month extension. Once the new rule is in place and you are outside of the filing window, you will need to wait for the new rule and apply for benefits under the new rule. The new rule is expected to be published by March 11, 2016.