USCIS has announced a change in their policy regarding the validity period of a Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, when filed in support of a Form I-485 Adjustment of Status Application. Effective June 1, 2014, the I-693 medical report will be valid for one year from the date of submission to USCIS. This is in addition to the requirement that the I-485 applicant must submit the I-693 medical exam within one year of the actual medical exam date.
Background and Reasons for the Change of Policy
Before 2002, USCIS considered a Form I-693 medical exam valid as long as it was filed within one year of the civil surgeon’s signature. Since 2002, USCIS has kept this practice and has continuously extended the validity of the civil surgeon’s endorsement on the I-693 medical exam. As a result, timely-filed Form I-693 medical exam documents were automatically considered extended and “current” by USCIS.
After consultations with the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), USCIS has decided to change the policy regarding the validity of I-693 medical exams and to effectively discontinue the automatic validity extension policy. While we do not know the specific reasons for the policy change and any concerns raised by CDC, a possible reason may be the fact that under the prior automatic extension policy, there may have been applicants who have been waiting for I-485 adjudication for 3, 5, 7 or even more years and for those applicants the I-693 medical exam report on file simply does not provide an accurate picture of their health (and any health risks they may pose).
Policy Change Related to Increased Number of I-485 Requests for Evidence
This policy change is directly related to the increased number of recent requests for evidence (RFEs) on pending I-485 applications, especially for cases where the priority date is expected to be current over the next months. As we reported in our recent article, our office sees an increased number of RFEs which specifically request renewed I-693 medical exam report to be submitted back to USCIS. It seems that USCIS is using the need of a new I-693 medical exam report to also request additional items in their RFEs, such as employment verification documents.
It is helpful to see that USCIS has formulated a policy and a formal explanation to the medical exam validity period. This policy change helps explain the wave of recent (and upcoming) RFEs. We recommend that I-485 applicants who have had their I-485 pending for more than year to be prepared to respond to an RFE for medical exams, among other related items. This includes updating their mailing address with USCIS and ensuring that their attorney of record information on the I-485 is current.
The Department of State (DOS) has just confirmed that due to increasingly heavy demand by Canada-based visa applicants, the seven U.S. visa processing posts (U.S. Consulates) in Canada are extremely limited in their ability to accept TCN cases during the peak demand period of June, July, and August.
TCN refers to “third-country nationals” or non-Canadians who seek to apply for a U.S. visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate in Canada. Normally, U.S. Consulates prefer for a national of a particular country to appear for a visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate in their own country or at the Consulate serving their country. When a foreign national appears for a visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate in a third country, where such practice is accepted, the applicant is referred to as a “third-country national.”
According to the Department of State, U.S. Consulates in Canada encourage such TCN applicants to seek appointments elsewhere in the world, such as in the applicant’s home country. Canadian posts offer increased appointment availability for TCNs during non-peak processing times, such as October and November, and January through May. Emergency cases may seek consideration for scheduling an interview at a Canada post by visiting canada.usembassy.gov.
While it is important to stress that visa interviews and appointments by third-country nationals already scheduled at a U.S. Consulate in Canada will be honored, our office would like to stress proper planning for any international travels for those foreign nationals who are in the U.S. but who would need to obtain a U.S. visa stamp before their return to the U.S.
Our office handles a substantial number of ETA Form 9089 – Permanent Labor Certification (“PERM”) applications and we are closely monitoring the current PERM processing times not only for the benefit of our clients but also to be able to predict longer-term trends in PERM processing.
The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has provided an update on the current PERM filing and processing statistics in addition to the processing dates as of May 5, 2014.
Current PERM Processing Times
Most notable is the significant processing time for PERM applications – while there is no change in the processing time (7-8 months) for regular PERM cases, we easily look back at 2-3 month processing times as recently as a year or so ago. The processing time of PERM applications in audit remains unchanged (but significantly long) as well compared to last month. The processing times, as reported by DOL, are as follows:
- Regular processing: October 2013. DOL is processing PERM applications with priority dates of October 2013. Accordingly, regular PERM processing times should be around seven months. Our office has experienced PERM approvals consistent with this timeline and we can confirm it. Unfortunately, there is no significant change in the regular processing times compared to the last (February 2014) report.
- Audited applications: January 2013. DOL is processing PERM audits which have a priority date (date of filing of the PERM application) of January 2013. This processing time has increased slightly compared to the February 2014 report. Accordingly, audited PERM applications are processed approximately 16-17 months after the initial PERM was filed and the priority date established.
- Appealed applications (requests for reconsideration to the Certifying Officer): May 2014. DOL is processing PERM appeals (requests for reconsideration to the certifying officer) which were appealed in May 2014. There is no change in this category, compared to our last report. Accordingly, PERM requests for reconsideration are processed within approximately a month after PERM appeal (motion for reconsideration to the Certifying Officer) is filed.
- “Government error” appealed applications. DOL has indicated that PERM appeals in this category are reviewed on a 30-45 day timeline. However, after filing an appeal, DOL does not make an indication whether a PERM appeal is accepted to be processed under the “government error” queue or under the regular appeal queue. As a result, DOL has indicated that the only way to know whether a PERM appeal has been accepted for processing under the “government error” queue is to wait for 45 days for response. If the PERM appeal is reviewed within this time, this would be an indication that a PERM appeal has been accepted (and reviewed) under the “government error” queue. If no response is received 45 days after filing of a PERM appeal, then this should be an indication that the PERM is pending under the regular appeals queue.
The May 2014 PERM processing times report shows that the PERM processing times remain largely unchanged compared to our report from a few months ago. Over the past several months, we have been seeing continuing increase in the regular PERM processing times and on behalf of our clients, we are hopeful that DOL would be able to control and bring down the PERM processing times especially since they were as short as two months not long ago.
Our office has developed a great practice handling PERM filings and/or audit/appeal responses so please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you. Also, we will continue monitoring the PERM processing times and analyze any updates. Please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.
Many of our clients and readers are already aware of the move by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) to issue what are hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of very similar, if not identical, requests for evidence (“RFE”) on pending employment-based primary Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status, cases. Our office has been receiving such RFEs and we have been hearing from readers and clients who have also been affected by this large-scale RFE event. Unlike the similar mass-RFE event from June 2013, this time the RFEs seem to be more accurately drafted, do not include dependents and include request for renewed Form I-693 medical exam documents.
Similar or Identical I-485 RFEs
It appears that the majority (if not all) of these RFEs were issued by the Texas Service Center and most appear to be for EB-2 India applicants. In terms of substance, the RFEs appear to be almost identical and seek information and clarification on a few points – (1) evidence of continuous employment authorization in the U.S. from the date the I-485 application was filed to the date of the RFE; (2) a current (and original) employment verification letter from the original sponsoring employer or, in cases of AC21 porting to a new employer, from the new employer; and (3) request for updated I-693 medical exam form.
Maintaining Employment Authorization
The RFE requests proof of employment authorization starting from the date the I-485 was filed until the present. For many people this evidence would include copies of Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) or H-1B (or other employment-authorized status) approval notices/Form I-94 cards. In many instances, I-485 applicants continue to maintain their H-1B status even after they file I-485 (and obtain EAD) or even after they switch an employer pursuant to AC21. In other cases, I-485 applicants simply drop their H-1B and continue employment pursuant to a valid and uninterrupted EAD.
With this RFE, USCIS is trying to determine whether I-485 applicants may have been employed without authorization during the time the I-485 has been pending. The significance is that in those cases where the I-485 applicant is deemed to have been employed without authorization (or without status) for more than 180 days since the last entry into the U.S., the government may deny the I-485 application under section 245(c). Please see our article on this bar to adjustment and the section 245(k) defense.
As a result, special attention should be paid to ensuring that complete employment authorization history is provided. If there are any gaps, we urge extreme caution.
Original Employment Verification Letter
The RFE also asks for an original employment verification letter (“EVL”) from the original (if no job change) or a new (if jobs changed pursuant to AC21) employer. The EVL should be in original, on employer letterhead, and should confirm that the job offer described in the I-140 petition exists (for sponsoring employers). In situations where the I-485 applicant has ported their I-485 to a new employer (or to the same employer but on a different position) pursuant to AC21, the RFE seeks an EVL from the new employer confirming that the new position is same or similar to the position noted in the I-140 petition.
As mentioned above, the EVL should be in original, currently-dated, describe the title and duties of the position, the salary, the minimum educational or training requirements, and the date the employment began (or will begin).
Updated I-693 Medical Exams
Finally, the RFEs are seeking an updated set of I-693 medical exam forms, completed by a designated Civil Surgeon, and in a sealed envelope. The reason the medical exams are included in this set of RFEs is that USCIS not automatically renew the validity of the I-693 medical exams this year and, as a result, a number (or all) relevant I-693 medical exam forms expired because they were valid for only one year.
As a background, USCIS had a policy of automatically renewing the validity of timely-filed I-693 medical exams. However, as of this year, USCIS did not renew this policy, resulting in a number of I-693 medical exams expiring. As a result, USCIS is seeking a new Form I-693 as part of this RFE wave.
Attorney Assistance with Preparing RFE Response
Our office will be happy to provide consultations or assistance with responding to this (or other) kind of RFE. If you would like to schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss a specific case (but perhaps without engaging us to help with the RFE filing), we offer phone consultations.
We are also happy and available to assist with a more comprehensive RFE response representation. Please feel free to complete this RFE inquiry form and we will be happy to provide thoughts and, if applicable, a quote for our legal assistance.
There is much speculation as to what is the USCIS intent in generating so many RFEs in such a short period of time without, in many cases, careful consideration of the facts of a specific case. We will not speculate since and we do not yet have an official position from USCIS. For many applicants, however, who may expect to see their priority become current over the next two to three months (see our expectations for forward movement in EB-2 India in the next few months), responding to this kind of an RFE becomes very time-sensitive in order to have a complete case ready for approval once the priority date becomes current.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.