Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependents – Analysis of Proposed Rule

Last week we reported on the announcement of the proposed rule which would allow certain H-4 dependent spouses to apply for and obtain work authorization.     Our article generated tremendous interest and feedback from clients and readers but at that time we did not have the actual proposed rule so we could not answer any specific questions about the details and the mechanics of the process, if or when, it becomes part of the regulations.     The text of proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register and now we are able to provide more details and analysis of the proposal.

Proposal for Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses

First, we should highlight and reiterate that at this point this is only a proposed rule.     Until and unless this rule becomes part of the relevant regulations, there would be no framework and possibility for H-4 spouses to apply for work authorization.

Proposed Rule.   DHS is proposing to allow employment authorization to certain H–4 dependent spouses of principal H–1B nonimmigrants who are in the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment.  Eligible H-4 spouses would spouses of H–1B nonimmigrants if the H–1B nonimmigrants are either the beneficiaries of an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I–140) or have been granted an extension of their authorized period of admission in the United States under the section 106(a) and (b) of American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21).    Section 106(a) and 106(b) of AC21 allow H-1B status extension of the H-1B nonimmigrant is the beneficiary of a PERM Labor Certification or an I-140 petition which has been pending for more than 365 days.

Rationale Behind the Proposed Rule.   By proposing employment authorization for certain H-4 spouses,  DHS believes that this proposal would further encourage H–1B skilled workers to remain in the United States, continue contributing to the U.S. economy, and not abandon their efforts to become lawful permanent residents, to the detriment of their U.S. employer, because their H–4 nonimmigrant spouses are unable to obtain work authorization. This proposal would also remove the disincentive for many H–1B families to start the immigrant process due to the lengthy waiting periods associated with acquiring status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

H-4 Children Not Included.   It should be noted that the proposed rule explicitly states that H-4 dependent children will not be eligible for EAD under this proposed rule.

Mechanics of the Proposed H-4 Spouse EAD Application Process

The proposed rule would add eligible H-4 spouses to the list of nonimmigrants eligible to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD).    The application will be filed using the current Form I-765, together with filing fees, photos and supporting documents to establish eligibility for this new class of EAD.

EAD Validity and Extensions.   As with most other EAD classes, employment would be authorized only after the EAD has been approved and only during the validity of the approved EAD document.    The proposed rule mentions that USCIS is considering that such EADs will be issued with validity of up to two years, recognizing that even if USCIS were to issue a longer EAD validity period, it cannot exceed the applicant H-4 spouse’s H-4 status validity period.      Extensions can be filed up to 120 days in advance of expiration of the current EAD term (and assuming continuing H-4 status and extension eligibility) and EAD extensions can be (and perhaps should be) filed together with H-4 status extensions.

Documentation of Eligibility.   Since the EADs under this proposed rule would be issued only to a limited set of H-4 spouses, the EAD application would require enhanced documentation to show eligibility.    The proposed rule mentions that in addition to the application form, fee and required passport photos, the EAD application would seek evidence that the H-1B nonimmigrant spouse is beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition or has PERM Labor Certification or I-140 petition filed more than 365 days prior; in addition to evidence of the applicant’s H-4 status validity and duration.

Rulemaking Process Timeline – When Would This Rule Become Effective?

The proposed rule is now subject to public review and comment.  This comment period is scheduled to end on July 11, 2014 (see the rule text for information on how you can submit comments to this proposed rule – anyone can do so).    Once the comment period closes, DHS would review the comments and either revise the rule in response to concerns or seek to publish a final rule.     The final rule, once published, will have a future effective date.

At this time it is not clear if or when this rule would become effective — but it is unlikely that H-4 spouses would be able to file EADs before the summer’s end.    Please stay tuned to our website or newsletter for more updates on the timeline and the effective date for this rule over the next couple of months.

Conclusion

We welcome DHS’s publication of the proposed rule and we believe that many eligible H-4 spouses would benefit from a permission to work while waiting for their spouses’ green card to be approved (several years in some cases).    However, we would like to again caution that these are only the proposed (and not the final) rules.     Our office will monitor this process over the next weeks and provide additional updates, including estimates and actual dates of when such EAD applications can be filed.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.   We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.

The H-1B Cap Has Been Reached – What Are the Alternative Visa Options?

Many of our readers are aware that as of April 7, 2014, USCIS had received a sufficient number of H-1B cap-subject petitions to fill the annual H-1B quota. All cap-subject new H-1B petitions received by USCIS on or after April 7th have been or are currently in the process of being rejected and sent back and our office is starting to field a number of inquiries from candidates who were either not selected under the H-1B cap or were not able to file on time as to what are the alternatives to H-1B.     We are happy to provide an overview of the more common H-1B alternative visa options and our office is happy to provide a more individualized case analysis.

The H-1B Cap Season Numbers

This year there were 172,500 applications filed, for the 85,000 available H-1B cap visas, resulting in a simple calculation of about 50% chance that an application will be selected for processing under the H-1B cap.     This is in comparison to last year’s cap, fiscal year 2014 (FY2014), when there were 124,000 applications for the same number of H-1B cap visas.   This 40% increase in the H-1B cap demand this year compared to last year’s was evident early in the year and while our office had a great rate of H-1B cap acceptance, well exceeding the average of 50%, there are nonetheless H-1B candidates who were not accepted for processing under the H-1B cap.

As a result,  some employer and prospective employees who wanted to take advantage of the H-1B program this year are unable to do so — either because they were unable to file between April 1st and 7th or because their application was not picked by the H-1B lottery.     We seek to provide some alternatives which may be available.

Alternatives to H-1B Cap Petitions

Now that the H-1B quota has been reached, we are receiving an increasing number of inquiries by both cap-subject employers and prospective employees about the alternatives for work authorization between now and October 1, 2015, when the new fiscal year’s H-1B quota would begin (as a reminder, April 1, 2015 is the earliest a cap-subject H-1B application can be filed).  We describe some of the most common H-1B visa alternatives.  Note that the list is not intended to exhaust all possible visa types and scenarios pursuant to which an employee may be legally employed.  Our goal is to list some of the common options for the benefit of our clients and readers.  We are happy to discuss individual cases as part of our initial consultation.

Cap-Exempt H-1B

A number of employers may qualify to be cap-exempt and are allowed to file for H-1B petition at any time.   A cap-exempt employer is (1) an institution of higher education, (2) related or affiliated to a higher education institution nonprofit entity, or  (3) nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization.  Please see our cap-exempt H-1B employer guide.   As a result, many educational institutions, non-profit and research organizations may qualify to file cap-exempt H-1Bs.   We are happy to help evaluate whether an employer can qualify to be cap-exempt.

O-1 or P-1 Extraordinary Ability Visas

O-1 and P-1 visas are generally reserved for individuals who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts (including the television and motion picture industry), education, business, or athletics.  By definition, not many individuals qualify for one or both of these visa types, but where possible, an application for O-1 and/or P-1 should be prepared in lieu of H-1B.   In addition to being able to obtain work authorization pursuant to these visa types, an O-1 and/or P-1 approval may establish the basis for the subsequent application for an EB-1 category permanent residency.  Please contact us if you would like our help in evaluating your O-1 and/or P-1 visa case.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

The L-1 visa type allows multinational companies who have presence abroad to transfer their employees from their overseas offices to their U.S. office (or to establish a new U.S. office).  This visa type is a good option for foreign employers seeking to establish or boost their U.S. presence and for foreign nationals currently employed abroad.   Foreign nationals who are currently in the U.S. generally will not qualify for L-1 visa.  An added benefit to the L-1 visa is that family members are entitled to a work authorization pursuant to L-2 status.

TN for Canadian and Mexican Professional Workers

An option available to certain Canadian and Mexican nationals in certain occupations is the TN visa classification.   It is available to citizens of Canada and Mexico who would be employed in the U.S. in one of the designated occupations.  The TN visa is not subject to a cap and can be obtained fairly easily either by applying at the border (for Canadians) or by filing a petition with USCIS.    Please see more information on the TN visa classification.

E-1/E-2 Treaty Trader or Investor

The E-1/E-2 visas allow nationals of countries with which the U.S. has trade treaties to invest an amount in the U.S. and receive an E-1 (treaty trader) or E-2 (treaty investor) visa.  See a list of treaty countries.

The E-1 treaty trader visa is suitable if the foreign national has a multinational employer who is willing to transfer them, and the company has significant trade between the foreign country and the U.S.  The employee must also have skills which are essential to the operation of the company trade.   Dependents of E-1 visa holder are eligible for work in the U.S.

The E-2 treaty investor allows foreign nationals to invest (preferably) a substantial amount in the U.S. and obtain an E-2 visa to be able to manage and direct their investment.  The amount required for investment generally varies depending on the industry (the so called, proportionality test) with more capital-intensive industries requiring more significant investment for E-2 application.   Dependents of E-2 visa holders are eligible to apply for work authorization.

H-1B Program Changes by Congress Possible, Although Timing is Uncertain

It has become a pattern that after every H-1B cap season ends, resulting in a high number of disappointed employers and employees who did not make it under the lottery, there is increased talk about raising the H-1B cap limit.     There are proposals and much talk here in Washington, DC about this kind of a chance in the H-1B program; however, as of this time, there is no proposal or law which would become law any time soon.    As we have done in the past, our office would continue to monitor and report on any developments relating to relief to H-1B employers and workers, so stay tuned.

Wait and File on April 1, 2015 for the FY2016 Cap

For some of our clients, waiting until April 1, 2015 to file a new cap-subject H-1B petition may be the best (or only?) option.  The H-1B visa type, although subject to some requirements, is a fairly common visa type for which many qualified employees are eligible.    As of now, and assuming any proposed immigration reform is not enacted by then, the FY2016 H-1B cap is expected to be the same as it was for the FY2015 fiscal year – 65,000 H-1B visas (plus 20,000 for holders of U.S. master’s degrees).

Upcoming Webinar on H-1B Cap Alternatives

We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to our next webinar, scheduled for May 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm eastern time where our attorneys will have a more in-depth discussion of this year’s H-1B cap and, specifically,  these visa alternatives.   Registration and participation is free — please submit your free registration soon as there is a limit on the number of seats we can accommodate.

Conclusion

Our office will continue to monitor developments relating to the H-1B program, this and next year’s caps and the immigration proposals.   In the meantime, please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help with any of the H-1B visa alternative options, please feel free to contact us.

June 2014 Visa Bulletin – EB-3 ROW/China and FB-2A Major Retrogression; EB-2 India Remains Unchanged

The U.S. State Department has just released the June 2014 Visa Bulletin which is the ninth Visa Bulletin for the FY2014 fiscal year.   The major headline in the upcoming month’s Visa Bulletin is the significant retrogression in EB-3 ROW and China, the significant retrogression in FB-2A and the lack of movement in EB-2 India.

Summary of the June 2014 Visa Bulletin – Employment-Based (EB)

Below is a summary of the June 2014 Visa Bulletin with respect to the employment-based categories:

  • EB-1 remains current across the board.
  • EB-2 for ROW, Mexico and Philippines are all current.    EB-2 India remains unchanged (again!) at November 15, 2004 but some forward movement is expected over the remaining few months of the fiscal year.  EB-2 China moves forward by five (5) weeks to May 22, 2009.
  • EB-3 ROW, China and Mexico retrogress significantly – EB-3 ROW and EB-3 Mexico move back by 18 months to April 1, 2011 while EB-3 China moves back by six (6) years (!) to October 1, 2006.    EB-3 Philippines moves forward by two (2) months to January 1, 2008, while EB-3 India  moves forward by only two (2) weeks to October 15, 2003.
  • The “other worker” categories for ROW, China and Mexico also retrogress significantly – EB-3 ROW and EB-3 Mexico move back by 18 months to April 1, 2011 while EB-3 China moves back by nine  (9) years (!) to October 1, 2003.    EB-3 Philippines moves forward by two (2) months to January 1, 2008, while EB-3 India  moves forward by only two (2) weeks to October 15, 2003.

Summary of the June 2014 Visa Bulletin – Family-Based (FB)

Below is a summary of the June 2014 Visa Bulletin with respect to family-based categories:

  • FB-1 ROW, China and India all move forward by two (2) weeks to March 22, 2007.   FB-1 Mexico moves forward by one (1) month to December 15, 1993 and FB-1 Philippines moves forward by four (4) months to June 1, 2002.
  • FB-2A retrogresses significantly for all everyone – it moves back by fifteen (15) months to May 1, 2012 for ROW, China, India and Philippines.  It also moves back by thirteen (13) months to March 15, 2011 for Mexico.

EB-2 India Remains Unchanged  – But Some Forward Movement Expected Soon

Unfortunately, no news for EB-2 India means continued disappointment in the lack of movement in this category.   The reason for this lack of movement has been the significant demand and pending cases at USCIS.  However, as we reported a week ago, Mr. Oppenheim’s Visa Office at the Department of State plans to move EB-2 India forward by the end of the fiscal year to around January 1, 2008.

EB-3 ROW/China Retrogress Significantly

Another unfortunate development in this month’s Visa Bulletin is the retrogression in EB-3 ROW, Mexico and China.    EB-3 ROW and Mexico retrogress by 18 months while EB-3 China moves back by six years.

Over the past few months we have been seeing in our practice and reporting in our updates of an increase rate of filings (I-485/NVC) in these categories and the upcoming retrogression is an indication that USCIS have enough cases to distribute the annual number of green cards.    This sharp and major slowdown in EB-3 ROW/China is in line with our expectations.    We urge all EB-3 ROW, Mexico or China applicants who have not filed their I-485 applications to do so immediately and by the end of the month (contact us if we can help).

Perhaps a tiny glimmer of light in this, otherwise gloomy Visa Bulletin, is the presence of (a small) forward movement in EB-3 India.

EB-3 China Sharp Retrogression vs. EB-2 China Forward Movement

Over the past several months our office has handled many inquiries from Chinese nationals who are EB-2 applicants and who have considered or have actually refiled their cases under EB-3 in the expectation that EB-3 China would be a faster way to get a green card.

While we have been able to secure an I-485 filing for a number of EB-2 to EB-3 China “downgraders”, we have been urging many EB-2 China applicants to stay under EB-2 because of our expectation that, ultimately, an EB-2 China green card will be approved faster.   This month’s six-year retrogression in EB-3 China confirms our recommendations that an EB-2 China green card will take less time, on average, than EB-3 China filing.

FB-2A Retrogresses

Another notable (and unfortunate) development is the somewhat significant retrogression in the FB-2A categories.    The demand in this category has been high over the past months and, as a result, the dates have been moved back to “slow” down the rate of new filings in this category.

Current Priority Date?

Our office stands ready to assist in the applicable process to take advantage of a current (or close to current) priority date.   Those applicants whose priority dates are current as of the June 2014 Visa Bulletin may be eligible to process their (and their family members’) I-485 Adjustment of Status applications from within the U.S. or process their immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.      This is even more important for those applicants who are current as of the May 2014 Visa Bulletin but will not be current any longer under the June 2014 Visa Bulletin.    Please do not hesitate to contact us if our office can help you take advantage of this (very time-sensitive for some) opportunity to file I-485 applications.    We are also happy to provide a free quote for preparing and filing your I-485 application.

Further Updates and News

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  We also invite you to contact us if our office can be of any assistance in your immigration matters or you have any questions or comments about the June 2014 Visa Bulletin.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

USCIS Proposes Rules Allowing Employment Authorization to Certain H-4 Spouses

Over the past few weeks (and months, really), there has been some chatter about a possible change in the regulations to allow certain H-4 spouses to apply for and obtain work authorization.   In a press release today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that the proposed rules are to be published for review and comment very soon.     Under one of the proposed rules, H-4 spouses would be allowed to request employment authorization in cases where the H-1B worker spouse has already started their green card process.    Similarly, certain E-3, H-1B1 (Chile and Singapore) rules are being changed to allow such workers to continue to remain in the US.

Proposed Rule Would Allow Employment Authorization to Spouses of H-1B Workers Who Have Started Green Card Process

According to DHS, this proposed rule will amend existing regulations to allow H-4 dependent spouses of certain principal H-1B workers to request employment authorization.

Under current rules, the H-1B work authorization given to a worker does not extend to H-4 status dependents. The change proposed by DHS would allow H-4 dependent spouses of certain H-1B nonimmigrant workers to request employment authorization, as long as the H-1B worker has already started the process of seeking lawful permanent residence through employment.

Eligible individuals would include H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B workers who:

  • Are the beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or
  • Have been granted an extension of their authorized period of stay in the United States under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21) (more articles on AC21) as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act. AC21 permits H-1B workers seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit.

Proposed Rule Would Allow E-3, H-1B1 and CW-1 Workers More Flexibility to Remain in the U.S.

Another proposed rule change would enhance opportunities for certain groups of highly-skilled and transitional workers by removing obstacles to their remaining in the United States.     It would affect workers in specialty occupation nonimmigrant classifications for professionals from Chile and Singapore (H-1B1) and Australia (E-3), as well as Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island (CNMI)-Only Transitional Workers (CW-1).

Under current regulations, employers of workers in E-3 (Australia),  H-1B1 (Chile or Singapore), or CW-1 status must generally file a petition requesting the extension of the employee’s status well before the initial authorized duration of status expires.

Specifically, the change to the regulation would regulation would:

  • Update the regulations to include nonimmigrant high-skilled specialty occupation professionals from Chile and Singapore (H-1B1) and from Australia (E-3) in the list of classes of aliens authorized for employment incident to status with a specific employer,
  • Clarify that H-1B1 and principal E-3 nonimmigrants are allowed to work without having to separately apply to DHS for employment authorization.
  • Allow E-3, H-1B1 and CW-1 nonimmigrant workers up to 240 days of continued work authorization beyond the expiration date noted on their Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, while the extension request is pending.

Important Note:   Proposed Rules Are Not Law (Yet)

We would like to caution our clients and readers that this is only the initial step in the process of the change in the rules.   These are only the proposed rules.  The proposed notices will be published soon (we will provide an update once they are) for the public review and comment period.   After the comment period ends, DHS will review and consider comments made by the public and consider whether to change the proposed rules in any way.   Only once the final rule has been released and published by DHS would these rules become the law.

As a result of this rulemaking process, it may be months before these rules go into effect.  There may be an additional period to allow USCIS to adjust their systems/processes to accept the new employment authorization benefit which is proposed to certain H-4 spouses.

Conclusion

We welcome DHS’s announcement of the proposed rules and we believe that many H-4 spouses would benefit from a permission to work while waiting for their spouses’ green card to be approved (several years in some cases).    However, we would like to caution that these are only the proposed (and not the final) rules.     Our office will monitor this process over the next weeks and provide updates, including links and analysis of the actual proposed rules, when they are published.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.   We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.

CBP Makes Nonimmigrant Arrival/Departure History Available Online

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have launched an extension of their electronic I-94 arrival/departure system where now nonimmigrants can obtain their arrival/departure history going back five years from the requested date.     As a result of the new enhancement to the electronic I-94 retrieval system, nonimmigrants (only) can access their entry and departure dates, together with the CBP port of entry for each travel in or out of the United States for the previous five years.

How to Access the Travel History?

Once they visit the I-94 website, travelers will have to enter their name, date of birth, passport number and country of citizenship.   The system will then display a list of all U.S. entry and exit dates for the previous five years, in a format similar to the example below.

Please note that the travel history is available only for nonimmigrants such as B-1/B-2, H-1B, H-4, L-1, P-1, etc.   The information is not available for lawful permanent residents (green card holders) or U.S. citizens.    Also,  note that this website provides information for travel history only — it does not reflect immigrant status history, such as extensions or changes of status.

At the same time, the I-94 website allows nonimmigrants to continue to retrieve the electronic version of their I-94 card as a record of most recent entry into the U.S. (see our previous articles on this topic and also about what kind of documents one must carry while in the U.S.)

How Does CBP Have This Information?

It may not be a surprise to many, but CBP collects a number of pieces of information for every traveler who is arriving or departing the United States, especially via air.    Airlines are required to report passenger information to CBP and traveler information is stored during immigration border processing.   Similarly, while there is no requirement for biometrics screening upon departure from the U.S. CBP is working with the airlines and other carriers to get a record of passengers and track departure records.

Missing Records?

If a traveler discovers that an exit/entry date is missing from the travel record, they can file a Form I-102, Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Conclusion

CBP’s decision to make available nonimmigrants’ five years of travel history is interesting and is likely to allow them to decrease their backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests where nonimmigrants have been seeking to obtain such records for one reason or another.    In fact, the I-94 system now even allows convenient cancellation of a pending with CBP FOIA request.    Our office will continue to monitor developments surrounding this new capability of the I-94 CBP system and will report on any developments, especially with respect to accuracy and privacy of the information.

We invite you to contact us if our office can be of any assistance in your immigration matters or you have any questions or comments about this article.      Also, please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.

Visa Bulletin Predictions and Comments by Charles Oppenheim – EB-2 India to Advance, Finally (April 2014)

On behalf of our clients and readers we are always trying to obtain any reliable information on the movements in the cutoff dates for the upcoming Visa Bulletins.    The best source of this information is the Mr. Charles Oppenheim who is the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State and who is actually the person responsible for the monthly and annual visa number allocations for family- and employment-based green cards.    Mr.  Oppenheim had just recently shared some thoughts about the anticipated cutoff date movements in the next few Visa Bulletins and we are happy to share this information with our clients and readers.

Visa Bulletin Predictions – Employment-Based

Mr. Oppenheim was able to provide some predictions and expectations for movement of visa numbers over the next few months.   Please note that these are short-term predictions and depending on the number of applications as a result of the next few months’ visa numbers, the rate of cutoff date movement may change.

EB-1.   This category is expected to remain current throughout the fiscal year.   Also, it is too early in the fiscal year to be able to determine how many unused EB-1 visa numbers there will be to “drop down” into the EB-2 category.

EB-2 Rest of World (ROW).  This category is expected to remain current throughout the fiscal year.

EB-2 India.  This is the major headline from Mr. Oppenheim’s comments –  EB-2 India is likely to move forward to January 1, 2008 during the August or (more likely) September Visa Bulletin.   This movement will aim to utilize all of the available visa numbers for the fiscal year that may be unused by other categories (possibly 5,000 or more, but fewer compared to prior years).

EB-3 Rest of World (ROW).  This category has seen increased demand over the past few months (due to the significant movements) and it is unlikely that there will be forward movement in the short term.  In fact, if demand continues at its current pace, there may be a retrogression as early as June 2014.   Retrogression is possible for the last quarter of fiscal year 2014 (Jul-Sep 2014) and this is a call for all EB-3 ROW applicants who are current to file their I-485s as soon as possible.

EB-3 China.    As a result of many EB-2 China applicants “downgrading” to EB-3 it is expected that EB-3 China will see some retrogression over the next month or two.

EB-5 China.  Mr. Oppenheim suggested that the demand for EB-5 is high and a cutoff date may be introduced in August or September.   Retrogression for EB-5 China is “inevitable” given the high number of EB-5 pending applications for Chinese nationals.

Visa Bulletin Predictions – Family-Based

Additionally, Mr. Oppenheim was able to provide some predictions and expectations for movement of visa numbers over the next few months for the family-based categories as well.

FB-2A.   Demand is starting to increase; as a result, FB-2A Mexico will retrogress soon.  FB-2A ROW is also likely to retrogress, perhaps back to 2012 in the June or July 2014 Visa Bulletin.

FB-2B.  Due to low demand currently, additional forward movement is expected.

Note on Timing of NVC Fee Invoices

Mr. Oppenheim noted that the National Visa Center (NVC) is sending our requests for fee payments about 8 to 12 months in advance of the priority date becoming current (this is change to the previous practice of doing so 12-18 months in advance).    When applicants pay the fee earlier after receipt of the fee invoice, Mr. Oppenheim is able to “see” the demand earlier and adjust the demand in the category accordingly, eliminating the need of major forward movement, followed by a retrogression.

Conclusion

Mr. Oppenheim’s comments are extremely helpful to get a sense of the visa cutoff dates over the next few months.  We understand, as Mr. Oppenheim does, that his comments and predictions would give hope to some, while disappoint others.   Our EB-2 India clients would find Mr. Oppenheim’s predictions encouraging given the fact that there was no movement in EB-2 India for a long time.  A forward movement in this category would allow EB-2 India and China applicants to become eligible to file I-485 applications who would later be eligible to take advantage of AC21 portability rules and take new employment and more freely advance their careers.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.   We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

May 2014 Visa Bulletin – EB-2 India and EB-3 ROW/China Remain Unchanged; FB-2A Remains Unchanged

The U.S. State Department has just released the May 2014 Visa Bulletin which is the eighth Visa Bulletin for the FY2014 fiscal year.   The major headline in the upcoming month’s Visa Bulletin is, well, the lack of movement in many of the major categories:  no movement in EB-2 India, no movement in EB-3 ROW/China and no movement in FB-2A.

Summary of the May 2014 Visa Bulletin – Employment-Based (EB)

Below is a summary of the May 2014 Visa Bulletin with respect to the employment-based categories:

  • EB-1 remains current across the board.
  • EB-2 for ROW, Mexico and Philippines are all current.    EB-2 India remains unchanged (again!) at November 15, 2004 and is expected to remain at this level for some more time (but with possible forward movement later in the fiscal year).  EB-2 China moves forward by five (5) weeks to April 15, 2009.
  • EB-3 ROW, China and Mexico remain unchanged at October 1, 2012.  EB-3 Philippines moves forward by three and a half (3.5) months to November 1, 2007, while EB-3 India  moves forward by only two (2) weeks to October 1, 2003.
  • The “other worker” categories for ROW, China and Mexico remain unchanged at October 1, 2012.   Philippines moves forward by three and a half (3.5) months to November 1, 2007, while India  moves forward by only two (2) weeks to October 1, 2003

Summary of the May 2014 Visa Bulletin – Family-Based (FB)

Below is a summary of the May 2014 Visa Bulletin with respect to family-based categories:

  • FB-1 ROW, China and India all move forward by two (2) weeks to March 8, 2007.   FB-1 Mexico moves forward by two (2) weeks to November 15, 1993 and FB-1 Philippines moves forward by three (3) months to February 1, 2002.
  • FB-2A remains unchanged (again) for all ROW, China, India and Philippines at September 8, 2013.  It remains unchanged for Mexico at April 15, 2012.

EB-2 India and EB-3 ROW/China Remain Unchanged

Unfortunately, no news for EB-2 India means continued disappointment in the lack of movement in this category.   The reason for this lack of movement is the significant demand and pending cases at USCIS.   Last fall we reported on the expected retrogression in the EB India categories due to high demand and the December 2013 Visa Bulletin, together with the subsequent several Visa Bulletins, confirm our predictions.

The last few Visa Bulletins showed that our expectations were absolutely correct even though many of our EB India clients and readers were disappointed by this news.    Unfortunately, since EB-2 India remains severely retrogressed, we expect that there would be no forward movement for at least several months (perhaps until this summer).   The rationale behind this severe retrogression (in December 2013) and the lack of movement for the next several months in EB-2 India is that there is simply too much “demand” (number of pending cases caused by I-485 filings and EB-3 to EB-2 porting cases, plus adding dependents) in this category and the Visa Office has to “stop” the rate of new filings by moving back the cutoff date until USCIS and DOS are able to approve the pending cases and “clear” the demand.

EB-3 ROW/China remain unchanged this month after several nice forward movements over the past few months.  This is an indication that USCIS is seeing an increased (and perhaps sufficient) number of filings (I-485/NVC) in this category so that they have enough cases to distribute the annual number of green cards.    This slowdown in EB-3 ROW/China is likely to suggest that there would not be much significant forward movement, and perhaps that there may be a possible retrogression in these categories.

Perhaps a tiny glimmer of light in this, otherwise gloomy Visa Bulletin, is the presence of (a small) forward movement in EB-3 India.

EB-3 China Continues to be Ahead of EB-2 China, but EB-3 is Slowing Down

Over the past several months our office has handled many inquiries from Chinese nationals who are EB-2 applicants and who try to find out whether it makes sense to refile under EB-3 to take advantage of the unique situation where the cutoff date for EB-3 China (October 1, 2012) is more advanced than the date for EB-2 China (April 15, 2009).

What we saw in this month’s Visa Bulletin should give some pause to those who believe that they may be able to get a green card faster under EB-3 China than under EB-2 China.    In some cases,  an EB-2 China applicant can seek to “downgrade” their preference category, while retaining their priority date, in order to have a current priority date under the EB-3 category and to be able to file their I-485 application.   As a background, many EB-2 PERM Labor Certifications are drafted in a way allowing the subsequent filing of an EB-3 I-140 petition on the basis of the same PERM — thereby retaining the priority date under the EB-3 category.    While it is possible to use a PERM which has already expired if it has been used in support of a previous I-140, a new EB-3 I-140 filing may not be filed under premium processing.  Filing an I-140 under regular processing may take around four to five months and it is entirely possible that by the time an EB-3 I-140 is approved, the EB-3 China cutoff dates may retrogress.

We reiterate our caution to EB China applicants that the historic average for an EB-3 China priority date to become current and for a green card under this category to be approved is still significantly higher than the historic average wait time under EB-2.   As a result, and especially given the slowdown in EB-3 China, we believe that ultimately, an EB-2 China application would take less time to approve.

Our office is happy to consult applicants who are in this situation and are considering filing under EB-3 to take advantage of the more advanced EB-3 China cutoff dates.   Please contact us if we can help.

FB-2A Remains Unchanged

Another notable development (or lack thereof) is the fact that FB-2A cutoff date remains unchanged, after the introduction of a cutoff date in the October 2013 Visa Bulletin.   We expected the October 2013 FB-2A cutoff date to be introduced and the fact that it remains unchanged is not surprising since it appears that USCIS and the Department of State have seen increased number of filings in this category.

Current Priority Date?

Our office stands ready to assist in the applicable process to take advantage of a current (or close to current) priority date.   Those applicants whose priority dates are current as of the May 2014 Visa Bulletin may be eligible to process their (and their family members’) I-485 Adjustment of Status applications from within the U.S. or process their immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.   Please do not hesitate to contact us if our office can help you take advantage of this significant forward movement in the cutoff dates.    We are also happy to provide a free quote for preparing and filing your I-485 application.

Further Updates and News

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  We also invite you to contact us if our office can be of any assistance in your immigration matters or you have any questions or comments about the May 2014 Visa Bulletin.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

Alert: FY2015 H-1B Cap Reached on April 7th

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced earlier this afternoon that, as of today, April 7th, they have received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to meet the annual H-1B cap for the 2015 fiscal year (FY2015).    According to USCIS, they have received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions filed for beneficiaries with U.S. master’s degree and more than the 65,000 general H-1B cap petitions.   As a result, any cap-subject H-1B petitions received by USCIS after April 7, 2014 will be rejected.

The Lottery Process

USCIS will use a computer-generated random selection process (commonly known as the “lottery”) for all FY 2015 cap-subject petitions received between April 1 and April 7, 2014.  The agency will conduct the selection process for advanced degree exemption petitions first.  All advanced degree petitions not selected will be part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit. Due to the high number of petitions received, USCIS is not yet able to announce the exact day of the random selection process.   Also, the total number of petitions received is not yet known due to the large volume of applications.

Petitions Not Selected under the Lottery Will Be Returned With Filing Fees

Petitions accepted for filing but not selected under the lottery will be returned to the petitioners together with the filing fees (unless there were duplicate filings by the same employer for the same beneficiary, in which case no fees will be returned).

Post-Lottery Processing

Petitions which are selected under the lottery will be issued receipt notices and will be put in a processing queue.   Due to the heavy demand this year, we expect the H-1B processing times to be somewhat long.  Petitions filed under the premium processing service will start to be processed on April 28 and this is when the 15-day premium processing clock will begin.

H-1B Cap-Exempt Petitions Still Accepted

It should be noted that USCIS continues to accept cap-exempt H-1B petitions.   These are petitions generally filed by universities and non-profit research organizations (read more about cap-exempt employers).  Also, H-1B extensions and H-1B transfers are cap-exempt.

Conclusion

The FY2015 H-1B cap was reached, as anticipated during the first week it was open.   The reasons for the high H-1B demand this year may be caused by the improving economy.   Another reason may have been the self-fulfilling prediction by USCIS in March that they expect that the cap would be reached during the first week.

We will continue providing updates on the FY2015 H-1B cap season, including filing statistics, as they become available.   In the meantime, please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.

Very Short and Busy H-1B Cap Filing Season Expected: April 1st to April 7th (Five Business Days); H-1B Lottery Likely; Last Call for H-1B Cap Filings

As we are going into the peak of the H-1B cap season, our office receives many inquiries about the duration of the H-1B filing season this year or, in other words, when will the H-1B cap be reached?      So far we have been able to compare demand with prior H-1B filing seasons and we knew that this would be a busy and very short H-1B filing season.     According to our sources (which includes clients, peer law firms and government agencies), we expect that the H-1B cap be reached in the first five business days of April with the number of filings over the first five business days far exceeding the available number of H-1B visas.  This means that there is almost a guarantee that there will be a random lottery to allocate the  available H-1B visas (65,000 regular cap in addition to 20,000 U.S. master’s degree or higher cap)  among all filings received in the first five business days of April.

High H-1B Cap Demand Expected:   Last Call for Starting H-1B Cases

The expected heavy demand in this H-1B filing season means that all H-1B petitions should be submitted on or very shortly after April 1st.    It should be noted that it takes at least 10-14 days to prepare and file an H-1B petition (due to the LCA filing requirement, which takes up to 7 business days).   As a result, any new H-1B cases should be initiated over the next 2-3 days, at the most,  in order to have a decent chance of being accepted under the H-1B cap before it is reached, as anticipated, on April 7th.

What is the Ultimate Last Day to Start H-1B and Make It Under the Cap?

We are often asked when is the absolute last day when an H-1B case can be started and filed under the H-1B cap.    The answer is that it varies, depending on many circumstances.    If the employer can plan ahead and file an LCA early (or now), then a new (or confirmed) candidate’s H-1B petition can be started as late as April 1st and still be filed before April 7th.    The LCA is the step of the process which takes the longest to prepare and certify – often 7 business days.  New employers may also need to do a Federal Tax ID (FEIN) verification process (2-3 days) before an LCA is filed.   As a result, while it may be possible to start a new H-1B case as late as March 24, 2014,  there are many possible risk factors which would cause a late H-1B case to be delayed and miss the H-1B cap.

Our strong recommendation to employers is to consider filing all LCAs (even for planned but unconfirmed positions) over the next few days to keep the best possible options for a timely H-1B cap case filing.    Our office is happy to guide you on the timing process to give you the highest possible chance of making the cap.

H-1B Applications Filed Over the First Five Business Days in April Will Be Subject to Random Lottery

Assuming the H-1B cap is reached by April 7th, as expected, all H-1B filings which are received over the first five business days in April will be subject to  a random lottery to determine which of these H-1B applications would be counted and included under the cap.   This means that, as of now, we expect all H-1B cap cases filed over the first business five days in April to be subject to the random lottery.  Last year, in April 2013, there was also a random lottery to allocate the approximately 130,000 H-1B filings among the total of 85,000 H-1B visas.

H-1B Filings Not Picked by the Lottery or Filed After the Cap is Reached Will be Rejected and Returned

H-1B cases filed over the first five business days in April but not picked by the random lottery or H-1B cases filed after April 7th (again, assuming there are more filings over the first five days than there are available H-1B visas) are processed by USCIS to be returned to the filing petitioner employer (or their attorney) with an explanation that the H-1B cap has been reached and that there are no longer H-1B visas under this year’s cap.

Premium Processing Clock for New H-1B Cases to Start At a Later Date

In connection with the high level of H-1B filings, USCIS is likely to change the way they would process premium processing H-1B cases filed under the H-1B cap.    Under current practice, the 15-day premium processing “clock” starts on the day a case is received by USCIS.      For cases filed under the H-1B cap, in order to facilitate the prioritized data entry of cap-subject petitions requesting premium processing,  USCIS is likely to indicate that that for cap-subject H-1B petitions, including H-1B petitions seeking an exemption from the fiscal year cap for individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher, the premium processing “clock” will begin later in April, most likely around April 15th.     This means that even for cases filed on April 1, 2014, the premium processing 15-day response window would not start until later in April.   Premium processing H-1B petitions filed outside of the H-1B cap (such as extensions or transfers) should not be affected.

Conclusion

We have been writing over the past few weeks about the possibly very short H-1B cap filing season this year.   Given the time it takes to prepare and file an H-1B cap case,  this is the last call for starting an H-1B case with a chance of filing under the H-1B cap.

W will be providing updates (as soon as USCIS released the H-1B numbers, which they normally do every two weeks) on the H-1B cap.  To ensure you receive these updates, please sign up to our free weekly newsletter.  If you wish to start a new H-1B work visa petition under this year’s quota, or if our office can be of any help, please contact us immediately.

April 2014 Visa Bulletin – EB-2 and EB-3 India Unchanged; EB-3 ROW, China and Mexico Advance Again; No Movement in FB-2A

The U.S. State Department has just released the April 2014 Visa Bulletin which is the seventh Visa Bulletin for the FY2014 fiscal year.   The major headline in the upcoming month’s Visa Bulletin is the expected lack of movement in EB-2 India, the continued forward  movement in EB-3 ROW, China and Mexico, and the fact that FB-2A remains unchanged with a (relatively) recent cutoff date.

Summary of the April 2014 Visa Bulletin – Employment-Based (EB)

Below is a summary of the April 2014 Visa Bulletin with respect to the employment-based categories:

  • EB-1 remains current across the board.
  • EB-2 for ROW, Mexico and Philippines are all current.    EB-2 India remains unchanged at November 15, 2004 and is expected to remain at this level for some more time (with possible forward movement later in the fiscal year).  EB-2 China moves forward by three (3) weeks to March 8, 2009 (indicating that the forward movement trend is slowing down and is likely to reverse soon).
  • EB-3 ROW, China and Mexico move forward by one (1) month to October 1, 2012.  EB-3 Philippines moves forward by six (6) weeks to June 15, 2007, while EB-3 India  remains unchanged at September 15, 2003.
  • The “other worker” moves forward by one (1) month to October 1, 2012 for ROW, China and Mexico.  It moves forward by six (6) weeks to June 15, 2007 for Philippines and remains unchanged at September 15, 2003 for India.

Summary of the April 2014 Visa Bulletin – Family-Based (FB)

Below is a summary of the April 2014 Visa Bulletin with respect to family-based categories:

  • FB-1 ROW, China and India all move forward by three (3) weeks to February 22, 2007.   FB-1 Mexico moves forward by two (2) weeks to November 1, 1993 and FB-1 Philippines moves forward by two and a half (2.5) months to November 1, 2001.
  • FB-2A remains unchanged (again) for all ROW, China, India and Philippines at September 8, 2013.  It remain unchanged for Mexico at April 15, 2012
  • FB-2B ROW, China and India all move forward by seven (7) weeks to October 22, 2006.  FB-2B Mexico remains unchanged at May 1, 1993 while FB-2B Philippines also remains unchanged at June 8, 2003.

EB-2 and EB-3 India Remain Unchanged

Unfortunately, no news for EB-2 India means continued disappointment in the lack of movement in this category.   The reason for this lack of movement is the significant demand and pending cases at USCIS.   Last fall we reported on the expected retrogression in the EB India categories due to high demand and the December 2013 Visa Bulletin, together with the subsequent several Visa Bulletins, confirm our predictions.

The last few Visa Bulletins showed that our expectations were absolutely correct even though many of our EB India clients and readers were disappointed by this news.    Unfortunately, since EB-2 India remains severely retrogressed, we expect that there would be no forward movement for at least several months (perhaps until this summer).   The rationale behind this severe retrogression (in December 2013) and the lack of movement for the next several months in EB-2 India is that there is simply too much “demand” (number of pending cases caused by I-485 filings and EB-3 to EB-2 porting cases, plus adding dependents) in this category and the Visa Office has to “stop” the rate of new filings by moving back the cutoff date until USCIS and DOS are able to approve the pending cases and “clear” the demand.

EB-3 China Continues to be Ahead of EB-2 China

Over the past three months or so, our office has handled many inquiries from Chinese nationals who are EB-2 applicants and who try to find out whether it makes sense to refile under EB-3 to take advantage of the unique situation where the cutoff date for EB-3 China (October 1, 2012) is more advanced than the date for EB-2 China (March 8, 2009).

In some cases,  an EB-2 China applicant can seek to “downgrade” their preference category, while retaining their priority date, in order to have a current priority date under the EB-3 category and to be able to file their I-485 application.   As a background, many EB-2 PERM Labor Certifications are drafted in a way allowing the subsequent filing of an EB-3 I-140 petition on the basis of the same PERM — thereby retaining the priority date under the EB-3 category.    While it is possible to use a PERM which has already expired if it has been used in support of a previous I-140, a new EB-3 I-140 filing may not be filed under premium processing.  Filing an I-140 under regular processing may take around four to five months and it is entirely possible that by the time an EB-3 I-140 is approved, the EB-3 China cutoff dates may retrogress.

We also caution our clients and readers, especially the China employment-based applicants, that the historic average for an EB-3 China priority date to become current and for a green card under this category to be approved is still significantly higher than the historic average wait time under EB-2.   As a result, even if it is possible that an EB-3 “downgrade” may allow the I-485 filing, we still believe that ultimately, an EB-2 China application would take less time to approve.

Our office is happy to consult applicants who are in this situation and are considering filing under EB-3 to take advantage of the more advanced EB-3 China cutoff dates.   Please contact us if we can help.

FB-2A Remains Unchanged

Another notable development (or lack thereof) is the fact that FB-2A cutoff date remains unchanged, after the introduction of a cutoff date in the October 2013 Visa Bulletin.   We expected the October 2013 FB-2A cutoff date to be introduced and the fact that it remains unchanged is not surprising since it appears that USCIS and the Department of State have seen increased number of filings in this category.   Also not entirely unexpected is the retrogression in FB-2A for Mexican nationals — the Department of State has been cautioning that they see significant demand in this category and a retrogression would be forthcoming.

Current Priority Date?

Our office stands ready to assist in the applicable process to take advantage of a current (or close to current) priority date.   Those applicants whose priority dates are current as of the April 2014 Visa Bulletin may be eligible to process their (and their family members’) I-485 Adjustment of Status applications from within the U.S. or process their immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.   Please do not hesitate to contact us if our office can help you take advantage of this significant forward movement in the cutoff dates.    We are also happy to provide a free quote for preparing and filing your I-485 application.

Further Updates and News

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  We also invite you to contact us if our office can be of any assistance in your immigration matters or you have any questions or comments about the April 2014 Visa Bulletin.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

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