Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

Employers Articles

H-1B Amendment Required When Changing Jobsites – Regulatory Updates and New Compliance Guidelines

A recent Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) decision which highlighted the requirement for an H-1B amendment any time there is a change in the job site requiring a new Labor Condition Application (LCA) has created a lot of conversation in some H-1B circles and our office has been handling many inquiries, concerns and reactions to the requirements imposed by the AAO decision.        This article and the resources our office will be providing over the next weeks are aimed at clarifying the H-1B amendment requirements and providing guidance to H-1B employers (and their H-1B workers) for proper compliance.

The Recent AAO Decision – Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC

In Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC (PDF copy), in an April 9, 2015 decision, the AAO discussed the requirements for an H-1B amendment when there is a change in the terms of an H-1B petition  and, specifically, change in the work location noted in the underlying H-1B petition.

In this specific case, USCIS was not able to find the beneficiary at the location named on the initial LCA and on the H-1B petition (which was in the Los Angeles, CA area) and sought to revoke the H-1B petition.   In response, the petitioner indicated that the beneficiary would work at additional work sites, not named in the initial H-1B petition, and provided certified LCAs  for the new worksites – one of which was in Camarillo, CA and the other for Hoboken, NJ.   The petitioner had made the argument that the new LCA work locations are sufficient to show compliance with the H-1B regulations and that the H-1B petition should not be revoked. The California Service Center did not accept these arguments and revoked the H-1B petition.   The petitioner then appealed to the AAO.

In its decision, the AAO reviews the relevant H-1B/LCA regulations and concludes that a change in the place of employment of a beneficiary to a geographical area requiring a corresponding LCA be certified would materially change to the terms of the approved H-1B petition and this requires an amendment.   The AAO relies on the following section of the regulations:

8 CFR 214.2(h)(2)(i)(E) states (emphasis added):

The petitioner shall file an amended or new petition, with fee, with the Service Center where the original petition was filed to reflect any material changes in the terms and conditions of employment or training or the alien’s eligibility as specified in the original approved petition. An amended or new H-1C, H-1B, H-2A, or H-2B petition must be accompanied by a current or new Department of Labor determination. In the case of an H-1B petition, this requirement includes a new labor condition application.

Also, petitioners are required to notify USCIS immediately if the terms and conditions of the H-1B petition “may affect eligibility”.   8 CFR 214.2(h)(11)(i)(A) (emphasis added) states:

The petitioner shall immediately notify the Service of any changes in the terms and conditions of employment of a beneficiary which may affect eligibility under section 101(a)(15)(H) of the Act and paragraph (h) of this section. An amended petition on Form I-129 should be filed when the petitioner continues to employ the beneficiary.

Taking these two sections of the relevant regulations, and analyzing the prevailing wage requirements for the various worksite locations, the AAO concluded that change in the worksite location may affect the eligibility under the H-1B program and, as a result, requires an amendment to be filed “immediately.”    An important note is that the AAO decision implicitly confirms that if there is a worksite location change to a new area covered by the same LCA (which is often the same Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA), then the requirement for an H-1B amendment would not apply.

It is important to note that the underlying case was governed by the California Service Center but this AAO decision would apply to the Vermont Service Center as well because the regulations giving rise to the decision apply to both H-1B processing service centers.

The H-1B Amendment Requirement Has Been Part of a Trend for Some Time Already

It is important to point out that this AAO decision is not a sudden change of direction.  Our office has been following closely H-1B adjudication and post-approval (site visits, consular returns, NOIR) trends coming out from both the Vermont and California Service Centers and advising clients to file H-1B amendments any time there is a change in the H-1B worksite requiring a new LCA for many months, even for well over a year.

For example, in October 2014 we wrote an extensive article (“Change in H-1B Work Location – To Amend or Not to Amend?“, October 2, 2014) about the trend in the H-1B amendment requirements coming from both Vermont and  California.    In this article we reported discussed the history of the H-1B program and the prior (and overruled by recent AAO action) guidance that an H-1B amendment is not required when the only change in the terms of the petition is a worksite location.    We wrote how this prior guidance was based on

[A]n October 23, 2003 Letter from Efren Hernandez III, Dir., Bus. and Trade Branch of USCIS, Mr. Hernandez specifically expresses guidance that H-1B amendment is not required where the H-1B worker is placed at a new location as long as there is an LCA for this new jobsite.    Over the past years, however, this guidance has been slowly and gradually superseded by a more strict interpretation of the H-1B  regulations.

In our 2014 analysis of the H-1B amendment requirement problem we also explained how in

a non-precedent AAO decision dated as of July 23, 2014, USCIS explicitly overruled the 2003 Hernandez letter and took the position that the Vermont Service Center properly revoked an H-1B petition where there was a jobsite change and LCA without an H-1B amendment filing.

The bottom line is that the Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC decision is not a sudden change in policy or direction.   Our office had been reporting on this for a long time now and we hope that our clients and readers would find themselves with at least a bit of advance knowledge at this point and not be surprised by this new AAO decision as many appear to be.

Change in Worksite Location and H-1B Amendment – Compliance Steps for H-1B Employers

Needless to say, the recent AAO decision 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.     As discussed above, our office was aware of the changing trends and we have already been providing this kind of guidance and advise for many months.    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 Likely Not Required if New Worksite Within Same MSA or Within “Normal Commuting Distance”. The AAO decision states that “a change in the place employment of a beneficiary to a geographical area requiring a corresponding LCA be cerfified” required an H-1B amendment.  However, by implication, if there is a change in the worksite to a location within the same MSA or within a normal commuting distance, then the LCA remains valid and no H-1B amendment 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 (ideally) 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.

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.     Similarly, H-1B extensions may also face higher scrutiny to establish current compliance and status as part of the H-1B extension adjudication process.

H-1B Worksite Change/Amendments Discussion and Step-by-step Guidance – FREE Webinar

We feel that our position as having closely followed the H-1B worksite change/H-1B amendment situation over the last year or so and our advising many H-1B third-party worksite employers allows us to provide some useful guidance and compliance steps.     To accommodate the great recent demand of clarification and guidance on this issue and create a public forum for discussion, our attorneys will be conducting a free webinar focused solely on the H-1B Worksite Change/Amendments topic.

Please join us for a FREE webinar and Q&A session on the H-1B Worksite Change/Amendments topic on Monday, May 4, 2015 at 1 p.m. eastern U.S. time.    Registration is free but registration spots are limited and we expect a capacity webinar event.    Please register now to claim your spot.

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.     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.

No comments

Alert: FY2016 H-1B Cap Demand Among Highest Ever; Random Lottery Just Completed

Our office just learned that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has completed the intake and processing of all of the fiscal year (FY2016) H-1B cap petitions.    According to USCIS, there were nearly 233,000 H-1B cap petitions filed during the April 1st-7th filing period.   This marks a 35% percent increase in the number of H-1B cap filings this year compared to last year’s cap season and this year’s demand is historically high.

The Lottery Has Been Completed

USCIS also just announced that they have just completed the computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select these petitions which would be reviewed to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and the 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption.      The process involved running the random selection for the advanced degree exemption (20,000) first with all remaining unselected advanced degree petitions then becoming part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit.

This means that the chance of an H-1B petition to be selected under the random H-1B lottery is less than 50%; in some cases the chance of selection may be as low as 30%.

Premium Processing 15-day Clock to Begin April 27th

H-1B cap petitioners who requested premium processing should note that the 15-day premium processing clock would not start until April 27th.

Next Steps and Timelines

Premium Processing Email Receipts.  USCIS will first focus on processing the selected premium processing H-1B cap petitions.   We expect that over the next 2-3 weeks we will start seeing email receipt notifications for premium processing cases.

Regular Processing Receipt Notices.  Shortly afterwards, perhaps around late April, we should start seeing paper receipt notices indicating acceptance under the lottery for regular processing H-1B cap cases.

H-1B Lottery Rejection Notices.  The H-1B lottery rejection notices are likely to be processed last, and given the fact that there will be about 150,000 such rejection packages, we expect that rejection packages will be sent out in late May or even June.

H-1B Cap-Exempt Petitions Still Accepted

It should be noted that USCIS continues to accept cap-exempt H-1B petitions.   These are petitions generally filed by universities and non-profit research organizations (read more about cap-exempt employers).  Also, H-1B extensions and H-1B transfers and concurrent H-1B petitions for a second employer are cap-exempt and can be filed at any time and outside of the H-1B cap filing season.

Conclusion

The FY2016 H-1B cap numbers are not very surprising to our office based on the demand we saw during the January-March H-1B cap preparation period.    The reasons for the high H-1B demand this year may be caused by the improving economy.   Another reason may have been the self-fulfilling prediction by USCIS in March that they expect that the cap would be reached during the first week.

We will continue to monitor developments related to this year’s H-1B cap filing season.    In the meantime, please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.   We are also inviting those who are interested to sign up for our FREE webinar on H-1B Cap Alternatives.

No comments

Alert: FY2016 H-1B Cap Reached on April 7th


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that, as of today, April 7th, they have received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to meet the annual H-1B cap for the 2015 fiscal year (FY2016).    According to USCIS, they have received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions filed for beneficiaries with U.S. master’s degree and more than the 65,000 general H-1B cap petitions.   As a result, any cap-subject H-1B petitions received by USCIS after April 7, 2015 will be rejected.

The Lottery Process

USCIS will use a computer-generated random selection process (commonly known as the “lottery”) for all FY 2016 cap-subject petitions received between April 1 and April 7, 2015.  The agency will conduct the selection process for advanced degree exemption petitions first.  All advanced degree petitions not selected will be part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit. Due to the high number of petitions received, USCIS is not yet able to announce the exact day of the random selection process.   Also, the total number of petitions received is not yet known due to the large volume of applications.

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

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

Post-Lottery Processing

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

H-1B Cap-Exempt Petitions Still Accepted

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

Conclusion

The FY2016 H-1B cap was reached, as anticipated during the first week it was open.   The reasons for the high H-1B demand this year may be caused by the improving economy.   Another reason may have been the self-fulfilling prediction by USCIS in March that they expect that the cap would be reached during the first week.

We will continue providing updates on the FY2016 H-1B cap season, including filing statistics, as they become available.   In the meantime, please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.

No comments

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

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

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

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

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

We are often asked when is the absolute last day when an H-1B case can be started and filed under the H-1B cap.    The answer is that it varies, depending on many circumstances.    If the employer can plan ahead and file an LCA early (or now), then a new (or confirmed) candidate’s H-1B petition can be started as late as April 1st and still be filed before April 7th.    The LCA is the step of the process which takes the longest to prepare and certify – often 7 business days.  New employers may also need to do a Federal Tax ID (FEIN) verification process (2-3 days) before an LCA is filed.   As a result, while it may be possible to start a new H-1B case as late as March 24, 2015,  there are many possible risk factors which would cause a late H-1B case to be delayed and miss the H-1B cap.

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

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

Assuming the H-1B cap is reached by April 7th, as expected, all H-1B filings which are received over the first five business days in April will be subject to  a random lottery to determine which of these H-1B applications would be counted and included under the cap.   This means that, as of now, we expect all H-1B cap cases filed over the first business five days in April to be subject to the random lottery.  Last year, in April 2014, there was also a random lottery to allocate the approximately 180,000 H-1B filings among the total of 85,000 H-1B visas.

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

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

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

In connection with the high level of H-1B filings, USCIS is likely to change the way they would process premium processing H-1B cases filed under the H-1B cap.    Under current practice, the 15-day premium processing “clock” starts on the day a case is received by USCIS.      For cases filed under the H-1B cap, in order to facilitate the prioritized data entry of cap-subject petitions requesting premium processing,  USCIS is likely to indicate that that for cap-subject H-1B petitions, including H-1B petitions seeking an exemption from the fiscal year cap for individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher, the premium processing “clock” will begin later in April, most likely around April 15th.     This means that even for cases filed on April 1, 2015, the premium processing 15-day response window would not start until later in April.   Premium processing H-1B petitions filed outside of the H-1B cap (such as extensions or transfers) should not be affected.

Conclusion

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

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

No comments

How to File an H-1B Cap Petition When the Current Degree is Still in Progress?

DiplomaAs the H-1B cap filing season is well underway and as the filing day of April 1st is approaching fast, a common question by H-1B employers or H-1B candidates is whether an H-1B cap petition can (or should) be filed when the foreign national employee is still completing their degree program and when the degree will not be completed by April 1st.   The short answer is that while the H-1B regulations require a degree be completed in order to be used for H-1B filing, there are ways to use previous or partially-completed degree to qualify for the H-1B cap.   This option becomes increasingly important as we are facing a situation where, due to high demand, many H-1B candidates will not be selected under the H-1B cap lottery and being able to file a few times, over two or three H-1B cap seasons, becomes a critical advantage.

Background:  Supporting H-1B Employee’s Degree Must be Completed by April 1st

The general rule with respect to using educational degrees for H-1B cap filings is that a degree must be completed before April 1st in order for this degree to be usable to qualify its holder for H-1B work visa filing under the H-1B cap.   USCIS has clarified that they would accept degrees as completed when all of the courses and degree requirements have been completed by April 1st and that the only outstanding item remaining is the actual graduation ceremony (which is usually later in the spring, most often in May).

While it is possible that some degree requirements can be completed by April 1st (in which case the degree can be used to qualify for the H-1B cap), most often a degree is not completed by April 1st.  In this kind of situations, the foreign national (and their employer) does not normally consider the possibility of an H-1B cap filing.  However, there are ways in which this can be done, thereby increasing the attempts an H-1B cap petition can be filed, selected under the cap and ultimately approved.

H-1B Cap Filing Based on Prior or Partially-Completed Education

Even when the degree is not completed by April 1st, all is not lost.    An H-1B petition normally requires that the position require a bachelor’s degree or higher and that the foreign worker have such a degree.   So, if a master’s degree student is working on completing their master’s degree but the degree requirements are not completed by April 1st, and assuming the undergraduate degree is related to the offered position, the H-1B employer can still file a cap H-1B petition on behalf of the foreign national.   Yes, the H-1B cap will have to be under the general (65,000 visas) cap as opposed to the master’s (additional 20,000 visas) cap; but it still allows a filing and an extra shot at the cap lottery.

Additionally, USCIS accepts work experience in lieu of missing education.  Three years of relevant experience can be used to supplement each missing year of education.  So if an foreign worker has three years of completed education but at least three years of related work experience, it may be possible to make an equivalency argument for a bachelor’s degree.   This may even allow a foreign student who is pursuing their bachelor’s degree in the U.S. and who has at least three years of relevant experience to make a case for H-1B cap filing on April 1st.

Conclusion

With the high anticipated demand during the H-1B cap season and the anticipated lottery, it becomes increasingly important for H-1B employers and their H-1B visa candidates to take advantage of any available opportunity to increase their chances to ultimately get selected under the H-1B cap.  Being able to file under more than once, in two or three, H-1B cap lottery iterations becomes one of the key (and sometimes overlooked) ways to boost one’s chances.

We are hopeful that this article would allow at least some H-1B employers and workers to evaluate the opportunity of filing for H-1B under this year’s cap even if the degree is still in progress and will not be completed by April 1st.    Our office has grown as a leading practice in H-1B petitions and other employment-based immigration matters so please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you in any way.    Please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.

No comments

H-1B Work Visa Cap Season Is Underway – Opens for New Filings on April 1, 2015

On April 1, 2015 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will start accepting applications for one of the most popular U.S. work visas, H-1B, for fiscal year (FY) 2016.    Our intelligence and past experience suggest that this year’s H-1B cap season will be very short — five business days.   Our office is already preparing a number of H-1B applications for our clients and we urge employers to prepare for a very short H-1B season by identifying and initiating H-1B sponsorship cases now.

About the H-1B Program and the Annual Cap

The H-1B visa category was created in 1990 through the Nationality and Immigration Act of 1990 (INA).  Upon the creation of the H-1B visa type,  INA imposed a numerical limitation (“cap”) on the number of H-1Bs that could be issued in each fiscal year.  This “cap” (or quota) has varied over the past years but is set to 65,000 per year for FY2016 starting on October 1, 2015.

H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa classification used by U.S. employers to hire a foreign national who will be employed temporarily in the U.S. in a specialty occupation (generally one which requires a bachelor’s degree or higher) or as a fashion model.  Each year, by law, USCIS can approve up to new 65,000 H-1Bs, thereby allowing many private and employers to hire temporary qualified workers.   H-1B non-immigrants who work at (but not necessarily for) universities and non-profit research facilities are excluded from the numerical cap (see below for discussion of cap-exempt employers).

There are certain exceptions to the congressionally-mandated maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas per fiscal year.  The first 20,000 H-1B visas issued to alien workers who obtained their master’s degree from a U.S. university are exempt from the 65,000 cap;  H-1B visas issued to such U.S. master degree holders subsequent to the first 20,000 are then counted against the overall 65,000 cap.    Additionally, the cap does not apply to foreign nationals in the U.S. who are in lawful H-1B status and who are seeking to extend their visa or change employers.

The H-1B Quota and Expectations for This Year

H-1B Calendar April 2015As discussed above, the H-1B cap “opens” on April 1, 2015 and will remain open for new H-1B filings until the 65,000 H-1B limit (plus the 20,000 for U.S. masters degree holders) is reached.  While it is impossible to predict exactly when the FY2016 H-1B cap will be reached, it is helpful to provide some context.  During the last two years, the H-1B cap was met the first week (five business days) of filing, and we anticipate that this will be the case this year as well.

Historically, for FY2015 (last year), there were 172,500 applications and the cap was reached over the first five days.   Previously, in FY2014, there were 130,000 applications and the cap was also reached over the first five days of the filing season.    This increasing trend in the rate of H-1B cap filings, together with the improving economy in the United States, suggests that this year’s H-1B cap will also be oversubscribed even after only five filing days and will be subject to a random computer-generated lottery.

While it is impossible to predict with certainly at this time how quickly the cap will be reached, it is our expectation that the H-1B cap  will be open for only 5 business days and we are advising our clients to be prepared for H-1B cap case filing on April 1, 2015.

Over the next two months our office will monitor very carefully the H-1B application demand and we will be providing timely updates on the H-1B cap filing season, including on cap demand and expectations.   Please check back with us often or subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter to receive news and updates related to this H-1B filing season.

High H-1B Cap Demand Expected:   How and When to Prepare?

The expected heavy demand in this H-1B filing season means that all H-1B petitions should be submitted on or very shortly after April 1st.    It should be noted that it takes at least 10-14 days to prepare and file an H-1B petition (due to the LCA filing requirement, which takes up to 7 business days).  First-time H-1B employers should allow an additional 3-5 days.   Therefore it is critical to plan ahead to maximize your chances of success.

We recommend that employers start working with their immigration attorneys (our office is happy to help – contact us) NOW to review the prospective H-1B candidates and to start the preparation process.     Some employers may respond that it is too early to start the H-1B process — we disagree.    Starting the process as early as January is the perfect time to ensure that an unanticipated issue would not derail the one-time opportunity to file an H-1B under the cap.   For example, some employers’ federal tax ID (FEIN) will have to be “registered” with the DOL database in order to even file an LCA.   Some job positions run into prevailing wage issues which can take weeks to clear with DOL and even if all goes well, it is always best to be ready with the process and the paperwork early.

Proposed H-1B Cap Timeline

  • January – employers work on identifying prospective H-1B candidates for April 1 filings, those include students working on F-1 OPT, new college hires in F-1 status and new hires from abroad.  Some employers may have L-1 workers whom they may want to switch to H-1B.
  • February 1-15 – employers work with attorneys and employees to gather the required information from the company and employee.
  • February 15-28 – attorneys file the Labor Condition Application (LCA) with DOL (DOL takes up to seven business days to process an LCA; and if the employer’s FEIN has not previously been verified, this may take additional 3-5 days.)
  • March 1-15 – attorney finalizes relevant H-1B documents;  employers sign and complete the paperwork and send it to the attorney’s office (original documents are required for submission with USCIS and early courier delivery should give enough time for unanticipated – even in March – weather delays).
  • March 15-30 – attorney assemble final petition filing packages and complete final quality assurance checks.
  • April 1 – attorney files the H-1B petition with USCIS by courier delivery.

Action Items

We urge all employers who are considering filing H-1B petitions under this year’s H-1B cap to start the preparation process.   Our office stands ready to assist employers in the process and our office is already in “H-1B cap mode” for a number of our clients have already started the preparation process.    Please contact us if we can help you in evaluating and, possibly, in preparing an H-1B cap case this April.

On February 18, 2015, our office will also hold a free webinar on the H-1B cap season to discuss H-1B cap preparation and filing strategies.   This is one of our most popular webinars for the year and while registration is free, space is limited so interested H-1B employers should register early.

Conclusion

While we do not yet know how quickly this year’s H-1B cap would be reached, indications of the heavy interest early this year and last year’s historical data suggest for a very short (5-day) H-1B cap filing window.    In fact, we urge our clients and readers to assume that the H-1B cap season will last only five days and to aim for April 1, 2015 H-1B petition filing.

If you wish to start a new H-1B work visa petition under this year’s quota, or if our office can be of any help, please contact us as soon as possible.  Our attorneys and professionals stand ready to review your case, as part of our free initial consultation, and will help you prepare a strong H-1B application.

No comments

Change in H-1B Work Location – To Amend or Not to Amend?

Our office handles a substantial number of H-1B work visa petitions for a variety of U.S. employers and we often share our direct experiences with the H-1B work visa program.   This article is intended to share our experience and the current trends with respect to H-1B work visa petitions where there is a change in the job location once the H-1B work visa petition has been approved and during its validity term.    The lack of clear, direct and consistent guidance by USCIS makes it ever more important to carefully analyze a particular H-1B change in job site situation to avoid H-1B status disruption and/or revocation.

The Problem – H-1B Workers Changing Job Locations

Many companies, and especially IT consulting companies who hire H-1B workers and place them at third-party client sites, are well familiar with this situation.    It is very common for these H-1B workers to change projects, end clients or simply to relocate to a different client site during their H-1B validity period (which is 3 years most often).   In such cases, the question arises, What should be done to ensure that the H-1B employer and employee remain in compliance with the relevant H-1B regulations?

There is fair amount of confusion among H-1B employers and workers with respect to their obligations when there is a change in the work location.   Below we discuss what is the currently recommended approach and also recent USCIS developments in this area.

The Law:   Material Change in Terms of Employment Requires H-1B Amendment

The relevant regulations are fairly clear — 8 CFR 214.2(h)(2)(i)(E) states:

The petitioner shall file an amended or new petition, with fee, with the Service Center where the original petition was filed to reflect any material changes in the terms and conditions of employment or training or the alien’s eligibility as specified in the original approved petition. An amended or new H-1C, H-1B, H-2A, or H-2B petition must be accompanied by a current or new Department of Labor determination. In the case of an H-1B petition, this requirement includes a new labor condition application.

Also, petitioners are required to notify USCIS immediately if the terms and conditions of the H-1B petition “may affect eligibility”.   8 CFR 214.2(h)(11)(i)(A) (emphasis added) states:

The petitioner shall immediately notify the Service of any changes in the terms and conditions of employment of a beneficiary which may affect eligibility under section 101(a)(15)(H) of the Act and paragraph (h) of this section. An amended petition on Form I-129 should be filed when the petitioner continues to employ the beneficiary.

In this context the question arises, Does a change in the place of employment only, without any additional changes in the terms of employment (salary, title, duties) constitute a material change and/or whether such change “may affect eligibility” for H-1B?

The LCA/H-1B Amendment Guidance Evolution

In the past, some H-1B employers have been able to rely on unclear guidance by USCIS as to whether a new LCA for a new jobsite location requires an amendment.    For example, in an October 23, 2003 Letter from Efren Hernandez III, Dir., Bus. and Trade Branch of USCIS, Mr. Hernandez specifically expresses guidance that H-1B amendment is not required where the H-1B worker is placed at a new location as long as there is an LCA for this new jobsite.    Over the past years, however, this guidance has been slowly and gradually superseded by a more strict interpretation of the H-1B  regulations.

However, in California Service Center discussions from 2011, some of which were prompted by a number of “Notice of Intent to Revoke” notices, it became apparent that the California Service Center started to consider a change in the job location a “material change” and, as a result, requiring an H-1B amendment to be filed.   According to the California Service Center, as of August 10, 2011, “it is the position of [California Service Center] Counsel that an amended H-1B petition should be filed if an LCA is filed after approval of an H-1B petition.”

As a result of the lack of clear guidance from USCIS headquarters, the California and Vermont Service Centers (the two service centers responsible for H-1B) had adopted their own and different approaches.    California took the more stringent position that a new LCA due to change in the jobsite is a material change requiring amendment, while Vermont had been more lenient in this interpretation.    This has caused many employers to rely on the relaxed Vermont treatment and proceed for an LCA only when an H-1B worker changes jobsites.     Even during the last few years, our recommendation had been to err on the side of caution and consider filing an H-1B amendment with USCIS at all times, even for Vermont Service Center H-1 cases.

Change in Job Location Requiring a New LCA Is Material Change and Requires H-1B Amendment Filing

Recent trends coming from the Vermont Service Center and from recent Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) indicate that USCIS may be adopting a more uniform and more stringent approach to handling H-1B petitions with a job location change.   This means that USCIS is adopting the California Service Center approach of requiring H-1B amendment for each LCA jobsite change.    For example, in a non-precedent AAO decision dated as of July 23, 2014, USCIS explicitly overruled the 2003 Hernandez letter and took the position that the Vermont Service Center properly revoked an H-1B petition where there was a jobsite change and LCA without an H-1B amendment filing.

Based on recent trends we see in both the California and Vermont Service Center H-1B cases, it is becoming clear that the best approach to H-1B compliance in change of worksite situations is to consider a new LCA and an H-1B amendment filing before the beginning of the new worksite placement.

We understand that the H-1B amendment filing incurs an additional cost but this cost of compliance should be compared to the possibility of H-1B revocation and the significantly higher monetary and business opportunity cost of H-1B status and business relationship disruption in the event of H-1B audit or revocation proceeding.

Conclusion

We are aware that USCIS is working on official guidance on this topic which would, hopefully, provide more clear guidance applicable to both service centers.  Unfortunately, there is no known or anticipated release date.   In the meantime, 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.     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.

No comments

Happy New (Fiscal) Year – Immigration Implications of the New Government Fiscal Year

While few, if any, of our clients and readers will be planning major celebrations, October 1st is an important date as it marks the beginning of the new government fiscal year.     This has some immigration implications for many folks — for example, H-1B cap petitions are becoming effective and the quotas for green card visa numbers are being reset for the new fiscal year.

Approved H-1B Cap Petitions (and Change of Status) Becoming Effective

October 1st is the earliest starting date for an H-1B petition filed in April under the annual cap.     As a result, almost all H-1B cap petitions have a starting date of October 1.

Notes for H-1B Employers.   Employers who have sponsored H-1B cap cases and have received approvals with change of status can now employ their workers on H-1B status.      In fact, such H-1B employers must provide employment to H-1B beneficiaries whose status was changed to H-1B on October 1st — not offering employment and pay may cause issues due to possible benching without pay claims.

If the H-1B cap petition was approved on the basis of “consular processing” (no I-94 card issued as part of the approval), then H-1B employers will need to have their workers either (a) obtain H-1B visa stamp at a US Consulate abroad and travel to the U.S. on H-1B status or, if the worker is in the US, (b) file for a change of status to H-1B  from within the U.S. and wait for an approval before H-1B employment can legally start.

Notes for H-1B Workers.   Workers who have received H-1B cap approval with change of status (I-94 card attached to the bottom of H-1B approval notice) should understand that on October 1 their status in the U.S. would automatically change to H-1B and they would be expected to start (or continue) working for the H-1B employer to maintain valid status.     In certain situations, for example holders of L-1 or L-2 status, or if the worker is not ready to start employment, the fact that the status would change automatically to H-1B on October 1 is a significant problem.   For example, L-1 holders will have to stop working for their L-1 employer and start working for their H-1B employer.        Our office can help analyze this situation and provide solutions or suggestions – a phone consultation is a quick and effective way to do so.

As noted above in the employer’s section, if the H-1B cap petition was approved with “consular processing” (no I-94 card), then the H-1B worker will either need to enter the U.S. using H-1B visa or apply to change status from within the U.S.

Annual Visa Number Quotes Reset – Green Card Approvals to Continue

Another important aspect of the new government fiscal year starting on October 1st is the fact that the annual green card visa numbers will reset.    At this time this is most important to EB-2 India green card applicants who were affected by the visa unavailability announcement earlier in September.    As of October 1, we expect USCIS to continue to issue approvals of pending I-485 cases for EB-2 India nationals with current priority dates (but note the anticipated major EB-2 India cutoff date retrogression later in the fall).

Green card applicants in the remaining green card categories – both family- and employment-based -should not see much difference because of October 1st.   Generally, the beginning of a new fiscal year allows the government to allocate a new set of visa numbers for the entire fiscal year but depending on the demand and the pending applications for each category, the government makes different decisions as to how to allocate these numbers and how to advance or retrogress the cutoff dates.

Conclusion

The new government fiscal year has some possible (and sometimes important) implications to many H-1B employers and workers, in addition to a significant number of EB-2 India applicants.     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.

No comments

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

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

The H-1B Cap Season Numbers

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

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

Alternatives to H-1B Cap Petitions

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

Cap-Exempt H-1B

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

O-1 or P-1 Extraordinary Ability Visas

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

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

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

TN for Canadian and Mexican Professional Workers

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

E-1/E-2 Treaty Trader or Investor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Webinar on H-1B Cap Alternatives

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

Conclusion

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

No comments

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

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

The Lottery Process

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

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

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

Post-Lottery Processing

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

H-1B Cap-Exempt Petitions Still Accepted

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

Conclusion

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

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

No comments

Next Page »