Articles Posted in Work Visas

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In this blog post, we share with you some new updates for the H-1B cap season for fiscal year 2025 and beyond.


 H-1B Cap Initial Registration Period FY 2025


USCIS has announced that the initial registration period for the FY 2025 H-1B cap season will open at noon Eastern time on March 6, 2024, and run through noon Eastern time on March 22, 2024.

During the registration period, prospective petitioners and their representatives, must use a USCIS online account to register each beneficiary electronically for the selection process and pay the associated registration fee for each beneficiary.

For more information on the H-1B Cap Season, visit H-1B Cap Season webpage.


Organizational Accounts and Online Filing for Forms I-129 and I-907


On February 28, 2024, USCIS will launch new organizational accounts in the USCIS online account webpage that will allow multiple people within an organization and their legal representatives to collaborate on and prepare H-1B registrations, H-1B petitions, and any associated Form I-907, online.

Also on February 28, USCIS will launch online filing of Form I-129 and associated Form I-907 for non-cap H-1B petitions.


Online Filing of H-1B Cap Petitions and I-907 Starting April 1, 2024


On April 1, 2024, USCIS will begin accepting online filing for H-1B cap petitions and associated Forms I-907 for petitioners whose registrations have been selected.

Petitioners will continue to have the option of filing a paper Form I-129 H-1B petition and any associated Form I-907 if they prefer. However, during the initial launch of organizational accounts, users will not be able to link paper-filed Forms I-129 and I-907 to their online accounts.

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On January 30, 2024, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a final rule in the Federal Register making significant fee increases for various immigration applications and benefit requests. This fee increase will be the first major adjustment in the filing fees since 2016. The increase is meant to address the agency’s operational and financial challenges to support the timely processing of new applications.

The fee increase will take effect starting April 1, 2024. All applications postmarked after this date will be subject to the fee increases in the final rule.

TIP: To avoid paying the higher fees, USCIS must receive applications before April 1, 2024.


Highlights


  • Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), used to petition for family members, including marriage green cards, will increase by 26% to $675 for paper filing, and $625 for online filers.
  • Form I-129F (Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)), used by U.S. Citizens to petition for their fiancé(e) to enter the U.S., will increase by 26 percent from $535 to $675
  • Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), used by immigrants seeking a green card for permanent residency, will increase by 18% from $1,225 to $1,440. Employment authorization, and advance parole, will now cost an additional $260 and $630, respectively. Previously these applications carried no additional cost when filing them alongside adjustment of status applications

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Exciting news! On January 24, 2024, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a new update to its Policy Manual, which clarifies that officers have the discretionary power to excuse a nonimmigrant’s failure to timely file an extension of stay or change of status request, if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of the applicant or petitioner.

In general, USCIS does not approve an extension of stay or change of status for a person who failed to maintain their status or where such status expired before the filing date of the application or petition. If certain conditions are met, however, USCIS, in its discretion, may excuse the failure to file before the period of authorized stay expired.

The new update appears in Chapter 4. Section A. Extension of Stay or Change of Status, which includes a new subsection entitled “Requirements to Timely File a Request to Extend Stay or Change Status.”

It clarifies that USCIS may excuse a failure to file before the period of authorized status expires, where the requestor demonstrates in their request that:

  • The delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the person’s control;
  • The length of the delay was commensurate with the circumstances;
  • The person has not otherwise violated their nonimmigrant status;
  • The person remains a bona fide nonimmigrant; and
  • The person is not the subject of removal proceedings and, in the case of extensions of stay, is also not the subject of deportation proceedings.

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On January 5, 2024, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released updated policy guidance describing how the agency analyzes an employer’s ability to pay the offered wage to prospective employees with employment-based immigrant petitions requiring a job offer, filed with USCIS under the first, second, and third preference categories, also known as EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3.

Specifically, the policy guidance clarifies how an employer’s ability to pay will be demonstrated where a beneficiary of a pending Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, decides to change to a new employer under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC-21).

As a general matter, employers must be able to demonstrate their continuing ability to pay the offered wage to employees with petitions filed under the employment first, second, and third preference categories (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3) starting from the priority date of the underlying I-140 petition, until the beneficiary receives lawful permanent resident status (a green card).

Under the updated guidance, when an employee moves to a new employer under AC-21 while the underlying I-140 petition is still pending, USCIS will determine whether the petitioner meets its ability to pay requirement by only reviewing the facts in existence at the time of filing. This means that, USCIS will only consider initial evidence submitted with the petition (and any responses to Requests for Evidence) to determine if the petitioner has established its ability to pay from the priority date to the date of filing the I-140 petition.

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Newly released data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has shown that thanks to policy guidance released in January 2022, more foreign nationals working in the STEM fields are receiving O-1A visas than ever before.

In just the first year of issuing its revised guidance for example, issuance of O-1A visas soared by 30% to 4,570 and remained steady throughout fiscal year 2023.

USCIS’ clarifying policy guidance also benefitted EB-2 applicants with advanced STEM degrees seeking the National Interest Waiver petition. The number of such visas approved in 2022 increased by 55% over 2021, to 70,240 visas and remained at a high level throughout 2022.

Recent policy clarifications have helped those with advanced degrees in the STEM fields understand whether they meet the qualifying criteria of the O-1A and EB-2 National Interest Waiver petition, because USCIS has been much more transparent in listing examples of the types of evidence that will satisfy the evidentiary criteria, focusing on the highly technical nature of STEM fields and the complexity of evidence typically submitted in these fields.

One of the more interesting updates USCIS provided in its policy guidance, emphasizes that with respect to O-1A petitions, if a particular criterion does not readily apply to the applicant’s field, comparable evidence may be submitted to establish sustained acclaim or recognition, including examples of comparable evidence for those working in the STEM fields, 2 USCIS-PM M.4, Appendices Tab.

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The past year saw big victories for worldwide visa operations.

The Department of State recently provided statistics summarizing its visa processing capacity in the year 2023. The recent data shows tremendous advancement in visa processing capacity at Consular posts globally and provides a strong outlook for visa processing in the year 2024.

In the year 2023, the Department of State issued more nonimmigrant visas at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies worldwide than at any other time since 2015.

This included issuing a record of 10.4 million nonimmigrant visas globally, with more than 1 million nonimmigrant visas issued in a single month during March of 2023.

Some of the State Department’s accomplishments include:

  • The reunification of families, with the issuance of 563,000 immigrant visas (IVs) in FY 2023, with 30 of its missions issuing their largest number of immigrant visas ever.  Consular sections worldwide have reduced the overall immigrant visa interview scheduling backlog by nearly half, from nearly 532,000 in July 2021, to just over 275,500.
  • Prioritizing student and academic exchange visitor visa interviews to facilitate study at U.S. universities and colleges. Consular sections issued 830,000 student and exchange visitor visas in FY 2023, more than in any year since FY 2016.  More than 600,000 of those were for students pursuing an education in the United States, many of them from countries sending record numbers of students. Of these numbers, nearly 40,000 visas were issued to African students which set an all-time record.
  • Record numbers of visas were issued for seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural workers to facilitate the legal and orderly flow of labor. A record-breaking 442,000 visas were issued to H-2A and H-2B temporary workers in 2023, with nearly 90 percent of visas issued to workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 
  • A record number of 365,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued to airline and shipping crewmembers (C1/D) which are essential to maintaining international transportation and supply chains that support the U.S. and global economies.

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As the new year approaches, we have some unfortunate news to report for certain employment-based applicants who may wish to file their petitions with premium processing service in 2024, including those filing:

  • Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, as well as
  • Certain applicants filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and
  • I-539 Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.

On December 28, 2023, USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register that will increase the filing fee for Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, to adjust for inflation.

The final rule states that starting February 26, 2024, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will increase the premium processing fees USCIS charges for all eligible forms and categories to reflect the amount of inflation from June 2021 through June 2023 according to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

Please note that not all petitions are eligible to request premium processing service. Applicants may only request premium processing if USCIS has specifically designated your classification as one that is eligible for premium processing service. To determine whether premium processing is available for your benefit request please review the USCIS webpage.

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In the nick of time, on December 21, 2023, the Department of State announced that it will continue its interview waiver policy for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants. The agency’s interview waiver policy was previously set to expire on December 31, 2023. However, its implementation will continue starting on January 1, 2024, and remain in place until further notice.

Following consultations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Secretary of State has determined that the following categories of interview waivers are in the national interest.  Based on this directive, Consular Officers now have the authority and discretion to waive the in-person interview for:

  • First time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers); and
  • Other nonimmigrant visa applicants applying for any nonimmigrant visa classification who:
      • Were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless the only prior issued visa was a B visa; and
      • Are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa’s expiration date.

The Department of State reminds applicants who are renewing a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration date, that they will continue to be eligible for an interview waiver until further notice.

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The rumors are true. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Department of State (DOS) will process domestic visa renewals for certain H-1B visa applicants without requiring them to leave the United States.

This is all part of a new pilot program starting January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024, that will allow 20,000 qualified H-1B nonimmigrant workers the opportunity to renew their visas domestically.

The Department of State hopes the pilot program will reduce heavy backlogs at more than 200 consular sections worldwide by making available an increased number of interview appointments for other visa categories, especially first-time travelers applying for business and tourism visas who require in-person interviews.

At the same time, DOS seeks to alleviate the burden on U.S. companies that employ H-1B workers by streamlining the visa renewal process.

The Department will accept applications for the pilot program starting January 29, 2024 on its webpage.

After the initial application period which ends on April 1st the Department will expand the scope of the program.


What are the Requirements to Participate?


Participation in this pilot will be limited to applicants who(se):

  1. Are seeking to renew an H–1B visa; during the pilot phase, the Department will not process any other visa classifications;
  2. Prior H–1B visa that is being renewed was issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
  3. Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (Note: this is commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”);
  4. Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
  5. Have submitted ten fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
  6. Prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
  7. Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
  8. Have an approved and unexpired H–1B petition;
  9. Were most recently admitted to the United States in H–1B status;
  10. Are currently maintaining H–1B status in the United States;
  11. Period of authorized admission in H–1B status has not expired; and
  12. Intend to reenter the United States in H–1B status after a temporary period abroad.

Applicants that fall outside of this scope are not eligible to apply for a visa domestically.

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