Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

H-1B Articles

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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F-1 OPT Cap-Gap Allows Employment Only Until September 30th

This year’s busy H-1B cap season included many H-1B employee candidates who hold F-1 status and who are employed in the U.S. pursuant to F-1 optional practical training (OPT) status.    Out of these F-1 visa holders, many rely on the OPT cap-gap rule to continue working in the U.S. after the post-April 1st expiration date of the OPT and for as long as the H-1B cap petition is not denied or rejected by USCIS.   However, the OPT cap-gap rule allows OPT extension only until September 30th, leaving possibly some H-1B candidates in a period of unauthorized employment.

F-1 OPT Cap-Gap Employment Authorization Valid Only Until September 30th

Due to this year’s heavy H-1B visa demand, it is likely that USCIS may not be able to adjudicate all H-1B petitions by September 30th.   As a result, there are likely to be many cases where the F-1 OPT holder is taking advantage of the OPT cap-gap rule to work after the post-April 1st OPT expiration date based on the pending H-1B petition.   Many F-1 students in this situation, however, are not aware that the OPT cap-gap rule applies only until September 30th and if the H-1B cap petition remains pending beyond September 30th, the F-1 holder would no longer be eligible to work in the U.S. under the OPT cap-gap rule (stay in the U.S. is likely to be authorized for as long as the H-1B cap petition seeking change of status to H-1B remains pending).

Am I Affected By This Rule and Am I In Danger of Losing Employment Authorization?

The first step for an F-1 OPT candidate for an H-1B cap visa is to understand whether he or she is affected by this situation.   If (1) the candidate’s F-1 OPT expiration date was after April 1st but before September 30th, if (2) H-1B cap petition is still pending decision with USCIS, and (3) if the H-1B cap petition was filed requesting change of status, then it is likely that the F-1 candidate may be in danger of losing OPT cap-gap work authorization if the H-1B petition remains pending beyond September 30th.

Early Premium Processing Upgrade May be Needed to Avoid Interruption of Employment Authorization

In those cases where the H-1B cap petition seeking change of status remains pending beyond September 30th, the F-1 OPT cap-gap rule does not permit employment and the F-1 holder will have to stop working as of October 1st and wait until the H-1B petition is approved (or risk violating his or her F-1 status by engaging in unauthorized employment).

To avoid the possibility of a period of lack of employment authorization and disruption at the workplace, we recommend that candidates and their employers consider a premium processing upgrade of their H-1B petition as soon as possible in order to force USCIS to make a decision within 15 days.   Please note that USCIS may request additional evidence or RFE (especially if they have not already done so) on the H-1B petition in which case the employer would have to respond to the RFE and then the government would have another 15 days to provide a response.

It is September 30th and My H-1B Petition is Still Pending – What Should I Do?

Most importantly — stop working — because the OPT cap-gap employment authorization ends on September 30th if the H-1B petition is still pending as of that date.    If a premium processing upgrade has not been done, it may be a good idea to do so in order to minimize the period without employment authorization and so that the candidate can get back to work as early as possible.    Please also consider contacting us for a consultation.

Conclusion

For those affected by the OPT gap-cap rule with a pending H-1B petition we recommend premium processing upgrade as soon as possible to minimize periods without employment authorization and disruption of employment.    A timely and properly-filed premium processing upgrade even in late August stands a good chance to allow uninterrupted OPT gap-cap, followed by H-1B, employment authorization.

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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Case Processing Statistics from the Department of Labor (FY2014 Q3)

The Department of Labor has provided some updates for the third quarter of the Fiscal Year 2014 (April 1, 2014 to June 30, 2014) on their processing of PERM, H-1B LCA and prevailing wage determination cases and we are happy to share them with our clients and readers.

DOL Processing Statistics (Third Quarter, 2014 Fiscal Year)

PERM

According to the report, during the quarter, there were 20,173 new cases received (significant increase of 15% from the same period in the prior year), 21,076 certified (notable increase over the previous quarters), 1,504 denied (increase, but in proportion of the rate of new filings) and 1,097 withdrawn (slight increase over previous periods).

There are 55,427 applications pending as of June 30, 2014 with approximately 61% in analyst review stage (slight decrease), 28% under audit review (slight increase) and 10% on appeal (slight increase).  It is interesting to note that there were no cases reported in supervised recruitment — we believe that this may be incorrect reporting, because there are supervised recruitment cases right now at DOL.

Prevailing Wage Determinations

The prevailing wage report provides some detailed breakdown of the rate of filings in addition to details about top employers, top occupations and top areas.   During the third quarter, there were approximately 35,000 prevailing wage determination requests filed — of those, 31,719 were for PERM cases (increase of 9% compared to prior year’s period), 2,016 were for H-1B cases (decrease of 9%) and 1,298 were for H-2B cases (decrease of 10%).     In terms of activity, more prevailing wage determinations were issued in Q3 compared to prior quarters – 36,247 and the pending load has decreased to 14,308 applications (down by 8%).

H-1B/LCA

The H-1B/LCA report also provides a breakdown in the rate of filings, in addition to some details about the top LCA filers and the top positions and geographic areas.    Since this quarter fell entirely outside of the H-1B cap filing season, the number of LCA filings is lower compared to other quarters during the year, and especially Q2.  Even then, there were 101,629 H-1B LCA filings in the third  quarter.   During the quarter, there were 99,876 LCAs certified for 155,524 positions (one LCA can include more than 1 position).

According to DOL, 100% of the LCAs are processed timely within seven days of receipt (last year’s period metric was 99%).     The rate of LCA denial is fairly low (3,156 out of 110,562 determinations) and the main reasons remain (1) FEIN mismatch or failure to verify before LCA filing  or (2) prevailing wage tracking number issues.

Conclusion

The third quarter of the FY2014 shows increase in the number of DOL filings in a number of categories.   It is interesting to see that the rate of PERM prevailing wage requests has been going up, which is likely to translate into a higher number of PERM filings and, as a result, increase in PERM case processing times.    We are hopeful that DOL would continue to work on decreasing its load and processing times, especially for the PERM cases.    We will continue monitoring DOL processing metrics and report any notable developments and trends.      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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USCIS Clarifications on H-1B Nurse Requirements Open Door for More Approvals

In a policy memorandum dated July 11, 2014, USCIS has provided some guidance and clarifications as to the applicable standards for adjudication of H-1B petitions for nurses.   While USCIS continues to maintain the position that most nurses may not qualify for an H-1B due to the fact that a bachelor’s degree is not normally requires, the policy memorandum highlights specific situations and factors which would help a determination that a specific nursing position is specialized enough to warrant an H-1B.    We welcome this (overdue) policy memorandum as it provides a clearer guidance as to which types of nursing positions may qualify for an H-1B work visa.

Background of H-1B for Nurses

Most of our readers are aware that the H-1B visa classification allows a U.S. employer to petition for a temporary worker in a specialty occupation (normally, a position requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher).   The government has taken the position that most registered nurse (RN) positions do not qualify as a specialty occupation because such positions do not normally require a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in nursing (or its equivalent) as the minimum for entry into those particular positions.   There are some situations, however, where the petitioner may be able to show that a nursing position qualifies as a specialty occupation. For example, certain advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) positions normally require a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty as the minimum for entry into these particular positions.

As a result, there has often been ambiguity as to whether a specific nursing position would qualify for an H-1B work visa or not.   Our office, for example, has handled variety of nursing H-1B cases and so far the success factor has been a showing of advanced or highly-specialized nursing requirements.

The Policy Memorandum Recognized Shift Towards Employers Increasingly Requiring Nurses with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher

The policy memorandum reiterates the general position that nursing positions do not normally require a bachelor’s degree and, as a result, would not fit within the scope of the H-1B work visa.  At the same time, however, the policy memorandum makes an important recognition that the private sector in the U.S. is increasingly showing a preference for “more highly educated nurses.”     The policy memorandum goes on to make a specific distinction that certain nursing positions would actually meet the “specialty occupation” definition and would qualify for H-1B.   This is an important step towards recognizing H-1Bs for nurses.

At the same time, the policy memorandum also specifies that advance practice registered nurse (APRN) positions use skills, experience and knowledge which are consistent with the “specialty occupation” standard and for APRN nursing positions, an H-1B should be approved.  Specific (but not complete) examples of APRN occupations cited in the policy memorandum which should qualify for H-1B are Certified Nurse-Midwife, Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Nurse Practitioner and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.

The policy memorandum also includes some suggestions on the type of factors to be presented and considered when adjudicating an H-1B application for a nurse-type position.    In addition to normal employer and industry practices, the adjudicator may consider advanced certification requirements, ANCC Magnet recognition status, clinical experience requirements, training requirements and wages relative to others in the position.     This kind of list with suggested factors/evidence is very helpful in preparing a strong H-1B work visa application for a nursing position.

Conclusion

We welcome this policy memorandum as it provides an overdue clarification of the H-1B standards as they apply to nursing positions.    The policy memorandum recognizes shifts in the private industry marketplace where more and more nurses perform more complex skills and more and more employers seek nurses with advanced level of skills and education.    The arguments and factors outlined in the policy memorandum should provide more clarity and, hopefully, certainty in the H-1B application process for employers who are seeking to sponsor an H-1B work visa for a nurse.

We are happy to consult employers who are considering filing for H-1B petitions for nurses.  Our office focuses its practice on employment-based immigration matters and we have handled a variety of immigration cases for hospitals, medical facilities and similar health-care related employers.    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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Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependents – Analysis of Proposed Rule

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

Proposal for Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses

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

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

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

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

Mechanics of the Proposed H-4 Spouse EAD Application Process

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

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

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

Rulemaking Process Timeline – When Would This Rule Become Effective?

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, the change to the regulation would regulation would:

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

Important Note:   Proposed Rules Are Not Law (Yet)

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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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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PERM Statistics from the Department of Labor (FY2014 Q1)

The Department of Labor has provided some updates for the first quarter of the Fiscal Year 2014 (October 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013) on their processing of PERM cases and we are happy to share them with our clients and readers.    Please note that this period reflects the period of the partial government shutdown where DOL’s operations were suspended for 16 days.

DOL Processing Statistics (First Quarter, 2014 Fiscal Year)

PERM

According to the report, during the quarter, there were 17,623 cases received (slight 3% increase from the same period in the prior year), 9,076  certified (notable decrease by about 25% from the prior year), 1,039 denied (another notable decrease) and 949 withdrawn (about 50% increase).  Since the net amount of applications filed exceeded the number of applications adjudicated, DOL’s PERM load has grown during the quarter by about 7,000 cases.  This is also evidenced by the increasing PERM processing times (see the most recent report from February 2014).

Of the pending applications at DOL, 64% are pending analyst review (major increase from a year ago when the percentage was 47), 25% are in audit (decrease from 37%), 9% are on appeal (decrease from 14%) and 1% are in sponsorship verification (at filing).  It is interesting to note that there were no cases reported in supervised recruitment — we believe that this may be incorrect reporting, because there are supervised recruitment cases right now at DOL.    It is also notable that the percentage of cases pending analyst review have increased very substantially, while the audits have decreased somewhat.

Prevailing Wage Determinations

The prevailing wage report provides some detailed breakdown of the rate of filings in addition to details about top employers, top occupations and top areas.   During the first quarter, there were approximately 29,612 prevailing wage determination requests filed — of those, 23,585 were for PERM cases (decrease of 3,000 or 8%), 1,404 were for H-1B cases (decrease of 400 or 21%) and 4,625 were for H-2B cases (notable increase of 48%).

In terms of activity, less prevailing wage determinations were issued in Q1 compared to prior quarters – 23,850 (most likely due to the government shutdown).   The number of pending applications has increased compared to a year ago significantly – there are 19,972 prevailing wage cases pending on December 31, 2013 compared to 11,519 on December 31, 2012.

H-1B/LCA

The H-1B/LCA report also provides a breakdown in the rate of filings, in addition to some details about the top LCA filers, in addition to the top positions and geographic areas.    Since this quarter fell entirely outside of the H-1B cap filing season, the number of LCA filings is low compared to other quarters during the year.    But this report was affected by the government shutdown in October 2013.    Even then, there were 67,645 H-1B LCA filings in the first quarter, an increase over the prior year’s period which may be attributed to the rush of LCA filings post-government shutdown.    During the quarter, there were 69,334 LCAs certified for 144,657 positions (one LCA can include more than 1 position).

According to DOL, 79% of the LCAs are processed timely within seven days of receipt (last year’s period metric was 99%).     The rate of LCA denial is very small (1,858 out of 79,304 determinations) and the main reasons remain (1) FEIN mismatch or failure to verify before LCA filing  or (2) prevailing wage tracking number issues.

Conclusion

The first quarter of the FY2014 was a turbulent time at DOL due to the government shutdown and the reports provided for this period reflect this.      We are hopeful that DOL would work on decreasing its load and processing times, especially for the PERM cases where the processing times have increased significantly.    We will continue monitoring DOL processing metrics and report any notable developments and trends.      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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