Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

USCIS Receipt Numbers Explained (LIN, SRC, EAC, WAC, IOE)

The USCIS receipt or case number is one of the most commonly used numbers, by immigrants and lawyers alike, to track the progress or identify a particular immigration case or filing.

These receipt numbers start with three letters followed by a series of numbers, for example EAC-15-123-45678.  Here is how to understand what the numbers mean.

Processing Service Center

The first three letters indicate the USCIS service center which is processing the petition, as follows:

- EAC – Vermont Service Center;
- VSC – Vermont Service Center;
- WAC – California Service Center;
- CSC – California Service Center;
- LIN – Nebraska Service Center;
- NSC – Nebraska Service Center;
- SRC – Texas Service Center;
- TSC – Texas Service Center;
- MSC – National Benefits Center;
- NBC – National Benefits Center; and
- IOE – ELIS (e-Filing).

Fiscal Year

The next two digits represent the fiscal year in which USCIS received the petition.  In the example above, “15″ means that the petition was received by USCIS during Fiscal Year 2015.   Note that the government fiscal year runs from October 1st until September 30th.

Computer Workday

The next three digits represent the computer workday on which the receipt was processed and the fee was taken.   This represents the sequential workday on which USCIS is accepting cases for intake.    In the example above, 123 would indicate that this was the 123th processing date of the fiscal year.    If necessary, a date of filing can be calculated starting from October 1st.

Case Processing Number

Finally, the last five digits are used to identify uniquely the petition filed.    Our observation has been that these are sequential numbers which are issued as cases are being processed at the intake facility.    Cases filed together are often given sequential (or close to sequential) numbers for the last five digits (and overall).

Difference between Lockbox Facilities and Service Centers

Please note that there is a distinction between a lockbox facility and a service center.    Many USCIS cases have to be filed at a designated “lockbox” facility, as indicated in the relevant form’s instructions.    A lockbox facility is essentially a case intake processing center – it is staffed by people who do initial case review such as checking whether all forms and filing fees are included.   Assuming the case is properly filed, the lockbox staff would generate a receipt notice (and number), assign the case to the appropriate service center and forward the case file for further review and adjudication by the service center.

Conclusion

Applicants who have a pending USCIS application can check the status of the application online by using the receipt number.

We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments, or if we can be of any assistance.

H-1B Amendment Required When Changing Jobsites – August 19, 2015 Deadline for Compliance

The Simeio H-1B guidance has been updated.     Please see the Final Policy Memorandum on Simeio.


The April 9, 2015 AAO decision In Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC (PDF copy) put many H-1B employers (mainly those who place H-1B workers at third-party worksites) in a position to scramble and assess their current level of compliance with the H-1B regulations, as they would be interpreted by USCIS in accordance with the Simeio Solutions decision.      In an attempt to provide more clarity with their compliance approach, on May 27, 2015, USCIS issued Draft Guidance on When to File an Amended H-1B Petition after the Simeio Solutions Decision which is effective as of the date of publication but while under public comment period.  One of the main goals of the draft guidance is to (1) provide clarification on when an H-1B amendment is required and when it is not required and to (2)  establish a 90-day grace period, until August 19, 2015, for H-1B employers to take the necessary steps to become compliance (file LCA and H-1B amendments).

Our Analysis of the In Matter of Simeio Solutions Decision

Very shortly after the AAO decision came out our office provided a very thorough analysis of the AAO decision – including some historical background, pre-Simeio enforcement trends, together with detailed analysis of the decision.    We invite our readers to read our analysis for more details and background.    We also conducted a highly-attended webinar on the decision and a public archive is available.

USCIS Compliance Guide – When is an H-1B Amendment Required?

An H-1B employer must file an amended H-1B petition if the H-1B employee changed or is going to change his or her place of employment to a worksite location outside of the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) or an “area of intended employment” (as defined at 20 CFR 655.715) covered by the existing approved H-1B petition, even if a new LCA is already certified and posted at the new location.   In other words, doing an LCA only for the changed worksite location is not sufficient – an H-1B amendment filing prior to beginning work at the new worksite location is required.

Once the amended H-1B petition is filed, the H-1B employee is allowed to start working at the new worksite location.   The employer can (but does not have to) wait for the H-1B amendment decision before the H-1B employer can start work at the new worksite location.

Practical Considerations.   From practical standpoint, the requirement to have the H-1B amendment filed before the new worksite location placement begins means that the H-1B amendment process should be initiated at least 2-3 weeks (for LCA certification, preparation, signing and filing of the H-1B petition) before the anticipated starting date for the new worksite location placement.     Often third-party client requirements require much faster starting date and this H-1B amendment preparation time should be considered carefully.      Another practical consideration is that an H-1B amendment for a third-party worksite placement requires documentation of the third-party client – letters, contracts, and similar documents – which are often difficult or slow to get.

USCIS Compliance Guide – When is an H-1B Amendment NOT Required?

Helpfully, USCIS has clarified when is an H-1B amendment not required.

The New Worksite Location is Within the Same MSA.  If the new worksite location is within the same MSA or area of intended employment a new LCA is not required and, by extension, no H-1B amendment is required.    It is important to note that the H-1B employer must still post the original LCA in the new worksite location within the same MSA or area of intended employment.

Short-term Placements.   Under certain circumstances, an H-1B employer may place an H-1B worker at a new job location for up to 30 days and, in some cases for up to 60 days (where the employee is still based at the original location), without having to obtain a new LCA for the short-term placement location (20 CFR 655.735).  In these situations, the H-1B employer does not need to file an amended H-1B petition.

Non-worksite Locations.  If the H-1B worker is only going to a non-worksite location, no H-1B amendment is required.   According to USCIS, a “non-worksite location” is:

  1. when the H-1B worker is going to a location to participate in employee developmental activity, such as management conferences and staff seminars;
  2. the H-1B worker spends little time at any one location; or
  3. the job is “peripatetic in nature,” such as situations where their primary job is at one location but the H-1B worker occasionally travels for short periods to other locations “on a casual, short-term basis, which can be recurring but not excessive  (i.e., not exceeding five consecutive workdays for any one visit by a peripatetic worker, or 10 consecutive workdays for any one visit by a worker who spends most work time at one location and travels occasionally to other locations).” 20 CFR 655.715.

USCIS Compliance Guide – Grace Period to H-1B Employers to File H-1B Amendments by August 19, 2015

Having provided guidance on when an H-1B amendment filing is required and when it is not required, USCIS confirms that non-compliance with the guidance after the August 19, 2015 grace period ends (i.e. not filing an H-1B amendment when it is required) will cause USCIS to take adverse action against employers and that “H-1B employees would not be maintaining their nonimmigrant status.”

Worksite Changes Before May 21, 2015.   USCIS has advised that for worksite location changes which occurred at the time of the Simeio Solutions decision, employers will be granted a grace period of 90 days, or until August 19, 2015, to file an H-1B amendment petition.     For worksite location changes which occurred before the Simeio Solutions decision (April 9, 2015), USCIS will not take adverse action against the employer or its employees if the employer, in good faith, relied on prior guidance suggesting that an LCA only (and not H-1B petition amendment filing) is sufficient for worksite changes; however,  the H-1B employer must still become compliant by filing an H-1B amendment by August 19, 2015.

Worksite Changes After May 21, 2015.  The grace period does not seem to apply and USCIS will expect that an H-1B amendment be filed prior to the H-1B worker starting at the new worksite location.

Pending H-1B Amendments.   If there is a pending H-1B amendment, USCIS will permit another H-1B amendment to be filed, while an earlier H-1B amendment is pending, allowing the H-1B worker to begin work at the new worksite location upon filing.   However, USCIS is cautioning that in this “bridging” situation, any gaps in status or a denial of a “bridge” petition may result in a denial of the status component of any subsequent H-1B petitions.

H-1B Amendment Denial Does not Automatically Invalidate the Previous H-1B Petition.   USCIS has confirmed a denial of an H-1B amendment petition would not automatically invalidate the prior worksite location’s H-1B petition and if the H-1B worker returns to the prior worksite location, the H-1B worker may be able to continue to maintain valid H-1B status.     In many cases, the sole reason an H-1B worker moves from one location to another is project completion so it is often not possible to return to the prior H-1B worksite location; but when this is possible, this portion of the guidance allows for a backup plan to remain in H-1B status.

Compliance Steps for H-1B Employers

Needless to say, the AAO decision, the USCIS guidance, and the publicity it has received is causing a lot of discussion and anxiety, especially among H-1B employers who place their workers at third-party worksites.     Here are some points for better compliance and less H-1B issues (such as H-1B site visits, visa stamp denials and revocations).

Anticipate and Evaluate Possible New Worksite Locations.    First, any time there is the possibility of a worksite location change during the term of an H-1B petition, the employer (and perhaps the worker) should have a process to anticipate the timing of such worksite location change, including analyzing the actual worksite change location.

H-1B Amendment Not Required if New Worksite Within Same MSA or Within “Normal Commuting Distance”. The AAO decision and the USCIS guidance confirm that if there is a change to a worksite location within the same MSA or within a normal commuting distance, then the LCA remains valid and no H-1B amendment is required (but LCA posting is required).   “Normal commuting distance” can vary depending on the area – but 20, 30 or 50 miles may be considered to be “normal commuting distance.”

File H-1B Amendment “Immediately”.    The regulations require that the H-1B employer “shall immediately notify” USCIS when there is a change in the terms of the petition – essentially, an H-1B amendment must be filed before the new worksite location placement takes place.    Since a new LCA takes up to seven business days, the LCA and the H-1B amendment filing process should be anticipated and started at least 2-3 weeks before the new worksite location placement begins.      Even if this is not possible, the LCA/H-1B amendment should be done as soon as possible.

Late Compliance (H-1B amendment) is Better than No Compliance.   We would like to encourage H-1B employers who have not done the necessary H-1B compliance and who have relied on LCAs only for worksite changes to consider preparing and filing H-1B amendments as soon as possible and before the August 19, 2015 grace period expiration.

What Kind of H-1B Cases Are in Jeopardy? We do not know how much additional scrutiny USCIS would impose on existing petitions for worksite compliance, but mismatch between an actual worksite and H-1B petition is likely to cause H-1B visa stamp delays/denials and, ultimately, consular returns.   Similarly, H-1B site visits are likely to cause problems which would lead ultimately to a Notice of Intent to Revoke and a likely H-1B revocation.     H-1B extensions may also face higher scrutiny to establish current compliance and status as part of the H-1B extension adjudication process.

Conclusion

We would like to iterate clearly that based on recent developments and trends we see,  we are recommending that H-1B amendment petitions be filed when there is a change of job location all the time and before the placing the H-1B worker at the new jobsite.     Also, employers should evaluate their H-1B workers’ case files to determine whether there are cases which need to be brought into compliance before the August 19, 2015 grace period expires.

We are also happy to work with our clients to make a comprehensive compliance plan for prompt and cost-effective LCA/H-1B compliance.    H-1B employers who routinely place workers at third-party worksites should consider making such LCA/H-1B compliance plans.   Contact us to allow us to evaluate your needs and provide suggestions for compliance planning.

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments, or if we can be of any assistance with analyzing or filing H-1B petitions, including amendments.

H-4 Spouse EAD Lawsuit Preliminary Injunction Denied – Filings to Continue as Planned

In late April our office reported on the lawsuit challenging the H-4 Spouse EAD program and we have been monitoring the case over the past few weeks and especially since Thursday of last week when there was a hearing here in Washington, DC on the merits of the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction aiming to stop the H-4 Spouse EAD program.    We are happy to report that Judge Chutkan has denied the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the H-4 Spouse EAD program.

Judge Chutkan’s Opinion

The opinion finds that the plaintiffs have failed to show that they will suffer irreparable harm if the H-4 Spouse EAD rule will become into effect.     Judge Chutkan reasons that, “At this stage, it is entirely speculative whether any H-4 visa holders will ever apply for IT jobs at [the former employer of one of the plaintiffs], IT jobs in California (where the members of Save Jobs reside), or IT jobs at all.”   As a result, the judge concludes that the standard for irreparable harm during a preliminary injunction is not met.

Additionally, the judge discusses that the alleged losses are highly speculative and that they “are not great enough to warrant the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction.”     Finally, the judge finds that there is no imminent harm from the H-4 Spouse EAD rule becoming effective because the H-4 EAD application process is likely to take months and then the H-4 EAD holders may take more time to look for and find jobs.

H-4 Spouse EAD Program Continues on Track (Even Though Lawsuit Remains)

Our office has monitored closely this lawsuit from the time it was filed and we had a fair amount of confidence that the preliminary injunction is unlikely to be granted.     We would like to caution that the fact that the preliminary injunction was denied does not make the lawsuit go away.   The lawsuit continues to remain pending and until the lawsuit is withdrawn or dismissed, the challenge against the H-4 Spouse EAD rule remains in place.

We will continue to provide information on this rule and the pending lawsuit  as soon as we have anything to share.  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.    We can also provide a quote for the attorney service for filing the H-4 Spouse EAD.

Visa Bulletin Updates from Mr. Charles Oppenheim (May 2015)

Our office closely monitors not only each monthly Visa Bulletin but also any developments and updates from here in Washington, DC which may give us some idea on upcoming movements and surprises.   Our goal is to share any and all credible information with our clients and readers in order to allow proper planning and to set expectations as realistically as possible.

Mr. Charles Oppenheim, who is the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State and the person who prepares and publishes the monthly visa bulletin, has provided some thoughts and his expectations for the upcoming few months’ Visa Bulletin movements.    These comments are as of May 14, 2015.

EB-2 Worldwide (ROW)

Mr. Oppenheim indicated that there is significant increase in the demand of visa numbers in this category with demand far in excess of the historical patterns of the previous five months.    As an example, Mr. Oppenheim indicated that there was 80% demand increase from February to March 2015 and demand increased more than 100% between February and April 2015.     Despite this significant increase in demand in EB-2 ROW visa numbers, it is not expected at this time that there will be a cutoff date for this category and it is likely to remain current.

EB-2/EB-3 China

Demand in EB-2 China has been low and may result in numbers “falling down” and being allocated to EB-3 China.   Recently, the EB-2 China cut-off date has been advanced by almost three years with the hope that this kind of movement will create demand.   Earlier when the cut-off date for China EB-3 was advanced due to insufficient number use, it prompted EB-2s to downgrade to EB-3. Mr. Oppenheim does not have good “visibility” over the number of upgrades or downgrades as no data is available to him until final action occurs on the petition.   This makes it difficult to predict reliably how many China candidates are ready for EB-2 or EB-3 adjudication – as a result, sudden movements in the cutoff dates are possible.

While our office has been helping a number of EB-2 China applicants downgrade to EB-3 in order to take advantage of the dates over the past few months, we have always cautioned that this kind of downgrade is not for everyone and that over long-term, EB-2 China would still be the better category for ultimately the fastest green card approval.

EB-5 China

The cut-off date of May 1, 2013 that was imposed in the May 2015 Visa Bulletin will remain for June. Mr. Oppenheim continues to monitor demand for EB-5 China and has no additional predictions for the category at this time.  Applicants continue to become documentarily qualified and the level of demand in May was within his targeted projections for June number use. There is huge demand in terms of petitions pending final action at USCIS as well as approved petitions which are already at the NVC. It must be remembered that not all cases with a priority date earlier than May 1, 2013 have been processed to conclusion.

EB-3/Other Workers Philippines

Heavy demand in these categories continues and further corrective action (retrogression) may be necessary before the end of the fiscal year. Like the dramatic increase in worldwide EB-2 demand, the use of more than 2,000 numbers during a two-month period was totally unexpected based on USCIS demand from the past year.   This kind of surge in the demand of Philippine visa numbers is likely to cause long wait times for EB-3/OW candidates.

EB-2 India

The increase in demand for EB-2 ROW visa numbers which we mentioned above would mean that there will be fewer visa numbers remaining available for allocation to EB-2 India.   Mr. Oppenheim had previously indicated that he expects to advance EB-2 India to July/August 2009 by the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015); however, given the high demand for EB-2 ROW visa numbers and fewer available visas for EB-2 India, this kind of forward movement in EB-2 India may not be possible over the next few months.

Conclusion

Mr. Oppenheim’s comments are extremely helpful to get a sense of the visa cutoff dates over the next few months.   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.

USCIS Releases H-4 Spouse EAD Filing Process Clarifications and Guidance

On the eve of the H-4 Spouse EAD filing window (which opens on May 26, 2015), USCIS  has released a set of clarifications and guidance in connection with the H-4 Spouse EAD process.     Our office has been very active in the H-4 Spouse EAD process ever since the benefit was announced as a proposed rule in the summer of 2014 and we welcome USCIS’s providing guidance on a number of key issues.   Please see our separate article regarding eligibility rules and filing mechanics.

Four Outstanding Questions Answered (Mostly)

About a month ago, on April 23, we released a list of four major unanswered questions to USCIS in connection with the H-4 Spouse EAD process.   Specifically, we raised the question as to whether there would be concurrent H-4 status and H-4 EAD approval, whether there will be a way to deal with the “gap” between non-concurrent approval of H-4 status and H-4 EAD work authorization, whether H-4 EAD would apply for H-1B extensions beyond the sixth-year when part of the current H-1B/H-4 term is still within the initial sixth-year term and whether travel internationally during the time H-4 EAD remains pending would affect the process.

We now have answers to almost all of these questions and we appreciate USCIS’s efforts to provide clarifications.

Concurrently-Filed H-4 Change of Status and H-4 Spouse EAD Applications Will Not be Approved Concurrently

USCIS has confirmed that they would permit concurrent filing of H-4 status (change or extension) applications together with H-4 Spouse EAD applications.   In fact, it is now possible to file concurrently H-1B, H-4 and H-4 EAD applications.

However, USCIS is not expected to be able to adjudicate the H-4 EAD application concurrently with the H-4 (and H-1B, if applicable) change or extension of status applications.  USCIS has indicated that they would first adjudicate the underlying H-4 status application (together with any H-1B petition, if any) and only then they would turn to the concurrently-filed H-4 Spouse EAD application.    In this scenario, the 90-day EAD “clock” would not begin until a decision is made on the H-4 status application.

This suggests that there will likely be a significant work authorization gap between H-4 status approval and H-4 EAD approval.   USCIS, in their FAQ document, specifically clarify that the validity of the H-4 EAD will not be “backdated” from the H-4 status approval date and any employment before the H-4 EAD is approved will be considered unauthorized employment and violation of H-4 status.

These gaps in employment authorization are problematic for applicants who are switching from work-authorized status (such as H-1B, F-1 OPT/CPT and similar) to H-4 and are seeking continued work authorization.       We suggest very careful planning of any such H-4 status and H-4 EAD applications to avoid or minimize the period during which there is likely to be a gap in employment authorization.   One possible solution may be to try to file (significantly) ahead of time and request future starting date of the H-4 status and H-4 EAD.    Please contact us if we can analyze your case and provide options.

The H-4 Spouse EAD Will be Allowed When the Primary H-1B Spouse Is Extending Beyond the Sixth-Year Maximum But When Part of the New H-1B Term Includes Periods of the Initial Six-Year Term

We had raised this question last month and we are glad to see that USCIS addressed it.    USCIS have confirmed that in cases where the primary H-1B and the derivative H-4 period includes a portion of the initial six-year term plus time beyond the six-year term based on PERM or I-140 pending for more than 365 days under AC21 Sections 106(a) and (b), the H-4 EAD validity term will match the validity term of the H-4 status, including any period which is within the initial six-year term.

International Travel When an H-4 EAD Application Remains Pending Is Generally Permitted Without Having to Refile Another H-4 EAD Application After Return to the U.S. As Long as the H-4 EAD Was Filed When the H-4 Holder Was in the U.S.

USCIS has confirmed that the H-4 spouse must be in the U.S. at the time of filing to apply for the H-4 EAD – the reason is that the H-4 holder must be physically in the U.S. in order to provide evidence of H-4 status, which is a requirement.   A person who is outside of the U.S. does not have H-4 “status”.

USCIS has also confirmed that travel outside of the U.S. and reentry on H-4 status are permitted while the I-765 H-4 Spouse EAD application remains pending.   USCIS cautions, however, that H-4 spouses who have filed for EAD must meet all H-4 admission requirements, including having an H-4 visa stamp in their passports.     Additionally, H-4 Spouse EAD applicants who travel during the time their I-765 is pending should understand that if USCIS sends a request for information (request for evidence, RFE, or notice of intent to deny, NOID) on the case, they will need to ensure that the response is submitted timely (often within 30 or 84 days).

USCIS previously indicated that no Application Support Center (ASC) biometrics will be required as part of the H-4 Spouse EAD process.   The FAQ released today seems to contradict this by mentioning that travel while outside of the US may create “delays if [USCIS will] need to reschedule your appointment at an [ASC].”     We still believe that USCIS will not require biometrics to be completed as part of the H-4 Spouse EAD process but we will seek a confirmation on this point and provide an answer as soon as we can.   Please sign up to our newsletter to get updates.

Finally, with respect to travel, USCIS has cautioned that concurrent H-4 status and H-4 EAD applicants should not travel while they wait for their H-4 status and H-4 EAD applications to be approved.   Traveling outside of the US while an application for status is pending is likely to cause this status application to be denied due to abandonment.      Denial of the H-4 status application will also cause denial of the concurrently-filed H-4 EAD application.

Revised Form I-765 and Instructions Still Pending

The revised Form I-765 and the accompanying filing instructions are still not released for public use.   We expect this to happen at any day now, and likely on May 26th.     The current version of the I-765 form should remain valid for H-4 Spouse EAD filings until a new version of the form is released (and then during the transition period which is to be announced as well).

Unrestricted H-4 EAD Employment

USICS has confirmed that the H-4 EAD, once approved, will allow unrestricted employment to the H-4 spouse.   This means that the H-4 spouse can take any job, regardless of the qualifications of the H-4 spouse and regardless of the requirements of the position.   The job can be temporary or permanent, part-time or full-time, or an independent contractor position.    Additionally, self-employment and starting, owning a business, including hiring other people are allowed.    Please see our dedicated article on the types of employment permitted on H-4 EAD.

However, H-4 EAD holders should understand that they are authorized to work only during the validity of their H-4 EAD card.    This makes it critical to keep track of the expiration dates and to file extensions well (4 months, or more) in advance to avoid gap in employment authorization.

H-4 EAD Is Not a Travel Document

USCIS, and our office, would also like to caution that the  H-4 EAD is not a travel document and H-4 EAD holders who travel outside of the U.S. would need to have a valid H-4 visa stamp in their passport and be otherwise eligible for H-4 admission into the U.S. in order to be able to travel and enter the U.S.

Conclusion

As we are getting closer to the May 26th H-4 Spouse EAD “opening day” we are hoping for smooth and clear H-4 EAD filing process, especially within the first days and weeks after May 26th.    USCIS has already announced that they are expecting a high number of H-4 EAD filings and they have suspended premium processing service for some H-1Bs to allow them to allocate more resources to the H-4 EAD process.

We will continue to provide information on this rule and answers to these questions as soon as we have anything to share.  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.    We can also provide a quote for the attorney service for filing the H-4 Spouse EAD.

USCIS Temporarily Suspends Premium Processing of H-1B Extension of Stay Petitions

USCIS has announced that effective May 26, 2015, they are temporarily suspending the premium processing for all H-1B extension of stay petitions for two months, or until July 27, 2015.     This surprising announcement comes in light of the anticipated heavy demand and number of filings for H-4 Spouse EAD when the filing window for this new work permit begins on May 26, 2015.

Premium Processing Not Available for New Filings of H-1B Extensions

During this time frame, petitioners will not be able to file Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, for a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, requesting an extension of the stay for an H-1B nonimmigrant.  USCIS will continue to premium process H-1B Extension of Stay petitions filed with Form I-907 premium requests prior to May 26, 2015.   Although USCIS has not specifically confirmed this in their announcement, USCIS is expected to continue to allow premium processing of H-1B petitions requesting initial terms of stay or consular processing.

Reasons for Temporarily Suspending H-1B Premium Processing

The rationale behind this two-month temporary suspension of the premium processing option for H-1B extension of stay petitions is the anticipated heavy demand and high number of H-4 Spouse EAD filings on and shortly after May 26th.    This is the earliest date when applications under the new H-4 Spouse EAD program can be filed and it is expected that there will be tens of thousands applications filed over the first weeks or months of eligibility.

Only H-1B Extension of Stay Applications Are Affected

We should highlight one more time that the temporary suspension of premium processing applies only to H-1B extension of stay petitions.    These types of petitions are expected to include H-1B extensions with the same employer or H-1B transfer petitions where an extension of stay is also being sought.

Petitions Not Affected.  H-1B petitions requesting change of status, H-1B amendments without extension of stay, petitions for L-1 (and other visa types eligible for premium processing) should remain unaffected with premium processing service available.

Premium Processing Fee Refunds Will be Offered to Affected Cases

For H-1B premium processing cases filed prior to May 26, 2015, USCIS will refund the premium processing fee if USCIS is unable to act on the case within 15 calendar days of filing.     We expect that USCIS will reject the premium processing component of H-1B affected H-1B petitions during this period (assuming the premium processing fee is in the form of a separate filing fee check).

What Else May Be Affected?

Given this unexpected announcement and in the fact of really high number of H-4 Spouse EAD filings on or after May 26th, it is likely that the USCIS processing timelines across the board may increase, at least at USCIS Service Centers which are dealing with H-4 Spouse EAD applications.   For example, we expect receipt notices to take longer to be issued and mailed out and we expect processing times to generally increase.      We urge proper planning and early filing to avoid problems caused by any processing delays.   Contact us if we can assist in any way.

Conclusion

This extraordinary (and unexpected, at least to us) announcement suggests that USCIS is bracing for a very high rate of H-4 Spouse EAD filings next week after May 26th.    This also suggests that there may be wider delays and possible disruption of processing times/services by USCIS which may go beyond H-1B extension filings.   We urge H-1B employers who have filed or are planning to file H-1B petitions, including extensions or change of status applications, to plan carefully and consider the possibility that H-1B petition adjudication times would increase.

Similarly, H-1B workers who are seeking an extension in order to prepare for an H-4 Spouse EAD filing or perhaps to travel abroad for stamping are now likely to see increased processing times and non-availability of the premium processing service.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any help in preparing for this unanticipated H-1B premium processing disruption of service.    We are also assisting many H-4 Spouse EAD applicants and we are happy to offer information and a quote of our H-4 Spouse EAD filing services.   Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.

Travel Alert: Passport Validity Date May Affect Duration of Authorized Stay (I-94) Upon Entry into the U.S.

The summer has traditionally been a busy traveling season and as the summer start to approach and many of our clients and readers start making international travel plans, we see an increased flow of inquiries and consultations regarding travel and passport expiration dates.  Most often the question is, What should be the duration of the passport for purposes of (re)entering the U.S. after travel abroad?

At Least Six Months Passport Validity Required

As an initial matter, the Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) requires that passports be valid for six months beyond the date the traveler will exit the U.S., however, the U.S. has signed agreements with a number of countries to waive this requirement.  When such an agreement is in place, the passport must be valid for the entire period of the visitor’s intended stay, but the additional six month validity period is not required.   Please read our article on the Six-Month Club for more information.

Passport Expiration Date Before Petition Expiration Date

The question then arises for travelers who are in the U.S. pursuant to a petition with a certain expiration date, such as H-1B, L-1, etc.  For example, H-1B petitions are normally issued with a validity of three (3) years and when an H-1B worker travels to the U.S., he or she would expect that upon entering the U.S., the CBP agent would provide a Form I-94 with expiration date equal to the H-1B expiration date plus ten (10) days.  However, if the passport has an expiration date which is before the H-1B petition expiration date, CBP, by regulation, should issue a Form I-94 card with expiration date equal to the passport expiration.

However, CBP is inconsistent in the application in this rule and they often disregard the earlier passport expiration date.  This, unfortunately, creates confusion among many travelers who seem to get arbitrary Form I-94 expiration dates during different travels.

By the way, CBP no longer issues paper I-94 cards upon entry into the U.S.   Effective May 2013,  the only evidence of status would be the passport stamp and status expiration date endorsement on the actual passport.   The I-94 card is electronic and can still be printed by going to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/.  In fact, we encourage our clients and readers to always try to print (on paper or save electronic copy for your records) their Form I-94 information any time they enter the U.S.

My I-94 Expiration Date Is The Same as My Passport Expiration and Earlier than My Petition Expiration — What Should I Do?

As discussed above, where the passport expiration date is before the petition (Form I-797) expiration date, CBP should issue Form I-94 (and endorse the passport) with expiration of status date equal to the passport expiration.  As a result, the foreign national is allowed to remain in the U.S. for a period which is shorter than the period they (and their employer) expected.   In such cases, it is important to understand the options for obtaining a Form I-94 with expiration date equal to the petition expiration.

Option 1 – Form I-94 “Correction” by CBP.  Normally, CBP allows travelers who have been issued erroneous Form I-94 cards to visit a CBP office (normally at international airports) and, after obtaining a new passport, to request that they be issued a corrected I-94 card.    This approach has worked for some of our clients in the past.  However, some CBP offices refuse to issue such corrections because, technically, the  initially issued Form I-94 had the proper expiration date.

Option 2 – Application for Extension of Status.  Alternatively, an application to extend status may be filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) to request that a new Form I-94 card be issued to match the Form I-797 petition expiration date.  This option must be pursued before the Form I-94 expiration date or the extension of status application may be denied.

Note that USCIS does not require that a passport has a validity for the entire period of requested extension of stay — all USCIS needs is a passport valid at the time of filing of the application to extend status.  8 C.F.R. § 214.1(a)(3). The passport does not have to be valid for the entire period of time requested in the extension of status application as the regulations only require that the individual “agree[s] to maintain the validity of his or her passport.”

Option 3 – Leave the U.S. and Reenter with a Renewed Passport.  Finally, the foreign national may leave the U.S. and after obtaining a new passport, travel back to the U.S.   If a U.S. visa has been issued on the passport that has expired, the foreign national should carry both the new passport and the expired passport containing the valid visa. There is no need to re-apply for a new visa unless the visa term has itself expired.

The best option would certainly depend on each individual case’s circumstances, especially whether or not the I-94 status validity date has already expired, and we certainly recommend careful analysis and review before selecting one of these options.

Consequences of Overstaying Form I-94 Expiration

It is very important to understand that any corrections of Form I-94 card, extensions of status applications or travel abroad be attempted before the Form I-94 expiration date, as issued and determined by CBP.  Overstay of the Form I-94 expiration date starts the period of unlawful presence which has severe consequences.

First, overstaying the end date of the authorized stay, as provided by the CBP officer at a port-of-entry and noted on the Form I-94 card would automatically void or cancel the visa stamp.   In addition, filing for an extension of status after I-94 expiration has a significant chance of denial.    We have been able to obtain successful “nunc pro tunc” (with retroactive date) status approvals, but not every situation may allow this kind of filing and successful approval.   Finally, overstaying the I-94 expiration by more than 180 days may trigger the 3-year ban of entering the U.S. (overstaying by more than one year may result in a 10-year ban).

Travel Preparations — Ensure Passport Has Sufficient Validity

We urge our readers and clients, especially those who plan to enter the U.S. on the basis of a USCIS-approved petition, to ensure that their passport has validity greater than the expiration date of their petition approval notice.    Also, we always recommend that when a traveler arrives into the U.S. and during border control, to verify his or her passport stamp (and later, their online Form I-94 card) expiration date, as noted by the CBP officer, and to address any questions or concern at that time with the CBP officer.    Addressing issued at a later time is usually complicated (and often, costly).

Conclusion

The status validity date stamp and endorsement in the passport is extremely important and it should be checked upon every entry into the U.S. and, ideally, while at the CBP agent station.   If you feel that you have not been issued status validity (and Form I-94) with a correct date, ask the CBP agent or ask to speak with a supervisor.  Foreign nationals should not assume that because they are entering on a visa and pursuant to a I-797 petition approval which has a certain expiration date, that the authorized period of stay in the U.S. on their passport/Form I-94 would be the same.

Our office has been able to successfully help many foreign nationals, in a variety of visa types, in either having their I-94 cards corrected or extended.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any help.   Also, please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.

June 2015 Visa Bulletin – EB-2 India and China Continue to Advance Notably; EB-3 Philippines Another Major Retrogression

The U.S. State Department has just released the June 2015 Visa Bulletin which is the ninth Visa Bulletin for the FY2015 fiscal year.   The major headline in the upcoming month’s Visa Bulletin is the continued significant (5.5 months) forward movement in EB-2 India and the 12-month forward movement in EB-2 China.    EB-3 Philippines moves back again by two and a half years.

Summary of the June 2015 Visa Bulletin – Employment-Based (EB)

Below is a summary of the June 2015 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 moves forward significantly by five and a half (5.5) months to October 1, 2008.  EB-2 China moves forward by twelve (12) months to June 1, 2013.
  • EB-3 ROW and Mexico advance by six (6) weeks to February 15, 2015.   EB-3 Philippines retrogresses (again!) by over two and a half (2.5) years back to January 1, 2005.   EB-3 China moves forward by four (4) months to September 1, 2011 while EB-3 India  advances by only one (1) week to January 22, 2004.
  • The “other worker” categories for ROW and Mexico advance by six (6) weeks to February 15, 2015 while Philippines retrogresses (again) by two and a half (2.5) years back to January 1, 2005.   Other workers China moves forward by six (6) weeks to January 1, 2006 while India  advances by only one (1) week to January 22, 2004.
  • EB-5 China now has a cutoff date of May 1, 2013.

Summary of the June 2015 Visa Bulletin – Family-Based (FB)

Below is a summary of the June 2015 Visa Bulletin with respect to some family-based categories:

  • FB-1 ROW, China and India move forward by only two (2) weeks to September 1, 2007.   FB-1 Mexico moves forward by one (1) week to November 15, 1994 while FB-1 Philippines retrogresses by about five years to March 1, 2000.
  • FB-2A moves forward again, this month the forward movement is by one (1) month to October 1, 2013 for ROW, China, India and Philippines.  It remains unchanged at August 8, 2013  for Mexico.

Another EB-2 India Significant (but Slowing) Forward Movement

This month’s Visa Bulletin brings another significant forward movement in EB-2 India of five and a half months which is a bit less than last two months’ forward movements of about eight months.    Overall, EB-2 India has by about three years over the last few months so this is certain a good sign.      EB-2 India applicants with a priority date earlier than October 1, 2008 can now move forward with their applications (or expect approvals if they have already filed their I-485 applications).    However, it should be noted that the rate of forward movement is slowing down, suggesting that the Department of State may be trying to account for increasing demand in new filings and approvals in EB-2 India.

The Department of State had indicated that EB-2 India may move forward by four to six months per Visa Bulletin over the summer months  so we expect the forward movement in EB-2 India over the next few months to be similarly moderate.

EB-2 China Advances Significantly; EB-3 China Moderate Forward Movement

EB-2 China continues to advance this month.  This month’s forward movement of 12 months, combined with last month’s movement of fourteen months, are among the more significant movements in EB-2 China for some time.   EB-3 China also advances this month (after a significant retrogression two months ago) by four months.    We had noted in our earlier Visa Bulletin alerts that the demand in EB-3 China is expected to rise with the forward date movement and it now seems that the Department of State is trying to moderate the demand by retrogressing (two months ago) and then advancing gradually (last two months) the cutoff dates.

EB-5 China Cutoff Date

Based on significant demand in the EB-5 category from Chinese nationals, the Department of State had introduced a cutoff date for EB-5 China in the last month’s Visa Bulletin.   EB-5 China remains unchanged this month at May 1, 2013.   Further retrogression is also possible (not immediately expected) based on the number of demand from Chinese nationals in this category (which demand has been very strong recently).

EB-3 Philippines (Another) Major Retrogression

Unfortunately for many EB-3 Philippines applicants, the EB-3 category moves back by another two and a half years this month, in addition to last month’s retrogression by over seven years.  This is a significant retrogression caused by high demand in this category and the Department of State has indicated that additional retrogression may be needed as well.

It is important to note that EB-3/OW Philippines applicants who have a cutoff date which is current now and who would no longer be current as of June 1st to consider filing their I-485s immediately (if they are in the US) or take other steps to take advantage of the current priority date.   EB-3/OW Philippines candidates who have a priority date between July 1, 2007 and January 1, 2005 will be affected — please contact us for a consultation and analysis of your personal case situation.

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 2015 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 (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 2015 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.

Green Card Holder and “I-327 Advised” Passport Notation – What To Do?

Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) who travel frequently outside of the U.S. and spend extended periods of time at a time (during a single trip or through pattern of shorter but frequent trips abroad) are often questioned at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) U.S. port of entry about their residence and intention to remain a U.S. permanent resident.     What happens at the CBP port of entry has major implications on the ability to retain one’s green card and continue to travel freely outside of the United States as a green card holder.

Border Scrutiny on the Rise

A significant (and seemingly growing) portion of our reentry permit practice group’s first-time callers are green card holders (who do not have a reentry permit) who have been questioned at the CBP port of entry during their recent entry into the U.S.    Often such CBP interactions are unpleasant, really long and very stressful to the subject green card holder.   During this secondary CBP port of entry inspection and questioning, border officers often ask questions trying to understand the period of time spent by the green card holder outside of the U.S., in addition to the reasons for such trips and maintenance of current and future ties to the U.S.   In other words, the CBP officer is trying to establish whether the green card holder has abandoned their U.S. permanent residency.

As a result of this kind of secondary inspection, a green card holder who has spent extended period of time outside of the U.S. or has demonstrated a pattern of frequent (but not so long) travels abroad may come with a verbal or written warning that they should consider obtaining a reentry permit document – or “I-327 Advised” notation in their passport.

What is the “I-327 Advised” Passport Notation?

“I-327″ is the official form number of the reentry permit document.    When a reentry permit (which looks a little bit like a U.S. passport booklet) is issued, its official document name is “I-327.”   This is why when a CBP officer recommends a reentry permit, after observation that a green card holder is spending too much time outside of the U.S., they would write “I-327 Advised” in the passport.

The purpose of this notation is to reflect a warning that CBP has determined that the green card holder may be spending too much time outside of the U.S. and that the actual green card may be put in danger.   The notation is a recommendation by CBP to the foreign national to obtain a reentry permit in order to avoid risking their green card validity.

I Received “I-327 Advised” Notation – What Should I Do?

We recommend that you consider obtaining a reentry permit as soon as possible.  Depending on the travel plans and how long the applicant will plan on staying in the U.S., there may be a number of filing strategies.  We certainly recommend that a reentry permit is, at a minimum, filed before departing the U.S. so that during the next entry into the U.S. there will be a proof that steps have been taken to comply with the “I-327 Advised” notation.     Please see our article on Reentry Permit Timing Strategies and Considerations as it discussed important factors and requirements – including the requirement to file the actual reentry permit while the applicant is physically in the U.S. and to complete the required biometrics (which can be done in the U.S. territories only).

Green card holders who are given an “I-327 Advised” passport notation (or its verbal equivalent warning) but do not apply for a reentry permit as soon as possible and while they are in the U.S. take the risk that upon their next entry into the U.S. CBP may subject them to increased scrutiny and perhaps even consider green card abandonment proceedings.    And even if the CBP questioning does not result in more serious consequences, for most people who travel abroad frequently the ability to avoid the secondary CBP questioning  process altogether by flashing a reentry permit upon initial CBP inspection is worth the effort to obtain a I-327 reentry permit document.

Conclusion

Our office has a special reentry permit division where we handle reentry permits on a daily basis for a variety of green card applicant situations and we will be delighted to discuss and, possibly, help throughout the application process.    Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments or complete the case evaluation and quote form if we can be of any assistance with this or related immigration-related issues.  We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.

Immigration Relief Options for Nepal Nationals Impacted by the Recent Disaster

After the recent earthquake in Nepal, our office is receiving a number of inquiries by Nepali nationals regarding relief options and alternatives in various U.S. immigration situations.   USCIS has also indicated that they would provide relief in a number of situations understanding that a disaster may affect the ability of an individual to maintain status in the U.S. or to otherwise comply with the relevant immigration regulations.

As a result, there are a number of options for Nepali nationals who are impacted by the recent disaster.   Please note that other foreign nationals may also be able to claim relief under these options if they can show that their ability to comply with immigration regulations has been impacted by the disaster.

Application to Extend (or Change) Status from within the U.S.

Nepali nationals can now obtain relief by having an application for extension or change of status approved after such application is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired.

Advance Parole – Expediting and Extending

USCIS permits re-parole of individuals already granted parole.  Also, extension of certain parole grants and expedited processing of advance parole applications is available.

Employment Authorization

USCIS would allow expedited adjudication and approval, where possible, of requests for off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students experiencing severe economic hardship.  As a result, Nepali students who are on F-1 status and would otherwise qualify for financial hardship EAD work permit can apply to do so on the basis of the disaster.   Similarly, USCIS would review favorably expedited processing of other pending EAD applications.

Fee Waivers

USCIS would entertain requests to have certain immigration fees waived based on the applicant’s inability to pay or similar hardship.

Immediate Relatives Immigrant Petitions

USCIS may permit expedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) where either the petitioner or the beneficiary are Nepali nationals impacted by the recent events.

Foreign Assistance to LPRs Stranded Overseas

USCIS and Department of State are also willing to provide assistance to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) who are stranded overseas without immigration documents such as green cards.

Conclusion

We applaud USCIS’ willingness to accommodate the needs of certain Nepali nationals who are impacted by the earthquake.   Our office stands ready to assist affected Nepali nationals who need help with their immigration options.  Please contact us for a free initial consultation and analysis of your options.

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