Labor Immigration Law

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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I-9 Compliance Reminders for the New Year

The start of the new year is a perfect time to assess corporate compliance with U.S. immigration laws.  As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and the Department of Labor (“DOL”) increase the number of company audits and fines each year, it is important for employers to perform annual audits of their employment law and immigration compliance.  In addition, companies are often financially responsible for any civil and/or criminal fines imposed when their staff does not correctly follow the letter of the law.  Thus, staff training on immigration compliance and employment laws should be a standard part of any business’s regular compliance audit.

Basic I-9 Requirements

Form I-9 is required for all hires and section 2 of Form I-9 must be completed by the employer within 3 business days of the first date of employment, regardless of immigration status or citizenship of the new employee.

I-9 Retention

Form I-9 should be on file for every current employee.  For former employees, Form I-9 documents should be retained for 1 year after termination or 3 years after start of employment, whichever is later.

I-9 Storage

These confidential forms should be kept secured with access limited to trained staff only.  Forms I-9 and supporting documents may be retained electronically or in paper hard copies as long as the company correctly processes and consistently retains I-9s in the same format.

Accepted Versions of I-9

New I-9 forms should be filled out using the latest version of the form (as of the date of this article, March 8, 2013 edition only).  A new version does not need to be completed for current employees with a previously completed Form I-9.  The Spanish version I-9 may only be completed by employers and employees located in Puerto Rico.

E-Verify and I-9 Supporting Documents

If the employer utilizes e-Verify, e-Verify must be consistently performed and documented for every new employee.  For non-U.S. citizens or non-permanent residents, evidence of current and valid employment authorization is required.

Common I-9 Errors

I-9 errors can be costly to employers if identified by the DOL or ICE during an audit.  Some common I-9 errors include:

  • Not timely completed;
  • Employer discrimination by requesting too few, too many, or only specific documents;
  • Incorrectly completed forms, such as incorrect date of birth or wrong box checked, missing social security number, no signature, document list incomplete or incorrect, incorrect form version, etc., as well as inconsistent manner of completion by the various company representatives, including an inconsistent mix of electronic documents and paper documents;
  • Not properly tracking immigration employment authorization expirations and documenting timely renewals or extensions of employment authorization;
  • Improper retention by not timely removing expired I-9s for former employees or not maintaining I-9s in a safe and secure manner; and
  • Incorrectly completing or not consistently documenting e-Verify, including situations where no-match letters are received and timely resolved.

Many of these pitfalls can be avoided through regular employee training and annual I-9 audits.

I-9 Auditing

We certainly recommend periodic internal I-9 reviews by employers.  However, such reviews should be done carefully.  It is not uncommon for self-audits of companies, once done incorrectly, to cause additional costly errors; therefore, an I-9 compliance audit by a qualified outside source is strongly recommended.

In addition to auditing actual completed I-9s and supporting documents, employers are responsible for ensuring their hiring managers, human resources, executive staff, and other responsible employees are trained in employment law requirements.  Specifically, what can and cannot be asked or requested.  For example: not all designated employees know how to avoid discrimination allegations when requesting documents by employees;  not all designated employees know who is authorized to sign I-9s on behalf of the company, and not all designated employees know (or can easily find out) the difference between employees and contract workers.

I-9 Official Resources

We would like to share some general I-9 resources.

How Can We Help

The Capitol Immigration Law Group can provide various levels of internal I-9 compliance audits and on-site employee training as well as training materials and guidance for performing regular audits and training.  We can provide immigration compliance training and auditing to meet an employer’s specific needs.  We encourage all employers to be mindful of their compliance requirements and to proactively and regularly audit their compliance before a government agency does.   We also 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 or you have any questions or comments.

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Infosys In $34 Million Settlement for U.S. Immigration Violations

The large Indian technology company Infosys has agreed to pay $34 million in a civil settlement after federal prosecutors in Texas alleged it had committed “systemic visa fraud and abuse” when bringing temporary workers to the U.S. on H-1B and B-1 visas. This kind of settlement is the largest ever in a visa case and while the details are scarce at this point, it shows that the U.S. government is starting to crack down on large scale abuse of some of the most common visa programs.

The Allegations and the Settlement

After an investigation of more than two years, prosecutors are expected to unveil today the settlement after accusations that Infosys knowingly and unlawfully brought Indian workers into the U.S.  on business visitor visa (B-1) dating back to 2008.    Additionally, Infosys is accused of having conducted improper I-9 compliance.   The company has agreed to pay $5,000,000  for civil or administrative forfeiture. It will pay $5,000,000 to the Department of State for Civil or Administrative forfeiture, and $24,000,000 to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas.

One of the reasons Infosys used the B-1 visa so extensively is that unlike the H-1B work visa (a common alternative), the B-1 has no annual quota and the costs are many times lower than for H-1B.   According to the allegations, Infosys systematically submitted misleading information to U.S. immigration authorities (at the Consulates and at the port of entry)  in order to secure admission to its B-1 business travelers.

For example, the settlement alleges that an invitation letter submitted by Infosys in 2008 stated that the purpose of the B-1 visa trip was for “customer discussions and related business development activities”, when, in fact, as known by Infosys, the purpose of the trip was to engage in activities not authorized under a B-1 visa such as coding, programming, testing, implementing, etc.

The settlement also alleges irregularities with the H-1B/LCA program compliance.   Prosecutors cite instances where Infosys H-1B workers who applied for an H-1B visa stamp were directed by Infosys to inform the U.S. immigration authorities that their actual workplace destination in the U.S. was the same as the workplace described in the Labor Condition Application (LCA) supporting the H-1B petition; however, Infosys and the foreign workers both knew that the foreign nationals have been assigned to work at a different U.S. worksite (not mentioned in the LCA or H-1B documents).

The settlement also alleges I-9 compliance irregularities.   After an investigation, federal authorities are alleged to have discovered significant I-9 compliance irregularities which could have allowed thousands of foreign nationals to continue working in the U.S. even after their visas or authorized status had expired.

Three Lessons from the Infosys Case

Our office is not familiar with the details of this case other than what is being reported in the media.   Over the next few days, more details are certain to come out.   But we would like to focus on the allegations and draw some important lessons for the benefit of our readers and clients.

B-1 Visa and Status Do Not Authorize Work.   The B-1 business visa program is designed to allow foreign nationals to come to the U.S. for a short period of time (less than six months) for the purpose of conducting business — conduct meetings with vendors or partners, visit a production facility, negotiate a contract or financing, training customers or partners, giving a speech or a presentation or similar business-related activity.    The B-1 visa does not allow work in the traditional sense of the word — engaging in a productive work, paid or unpaid.

H-1B and LCA Documents Should be Correct and in Compliance.    When submitting an H-1B visa stamp application or then traveling to the U.S. on H-1B status, both companies and H-1B workers should ensure that their H-1B and LCA documents reflect accurately the terms of the H-1B employment, including the actual H-1B worksite (for third-party placements).     When necessary, a new LCA and, possibly, an H-1B amendment should be processed as quickly as needed and as possible, even if this is after the fact (in other words, late compliance is better than no compliance).

I-9 Compliance Matters.   For employers of all sizes, it is easy to dismiss I-9 compliance activities, especially once an initial I-9 is completed.   But the Infosys settlement proves that the government will do I-9 investigation often in conjunction with another immigration violation, take seriously a number of irregularities and assess significant fines.    For all companies, but especially those who employ at least one foreign national, I-9 compliance and re-verification are becoming very important.

Conclusion

We will continue to monitor and report on additional important details and developments stemming from the Infosys settlement.    At the same time, we hope that the Infosys case will serve as a reminder that it is important to have adequate internal policies to ensure B-1, H-1B/LCA and I-9 compliance.

In addition to handling a number of visa matters, such as B-1 and H-1B, our office has developed a leading practice of I-9 compliance and we are able and happy to provide compliance advice on these issues.  Please feel free to contact us if our office can be of any assistance.   Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.

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