Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

H-1B Articles

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

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

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

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

Reasons for Temporarily Suspending H-1B Premium Processing

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

Only H-1B Extension of Stay Applications Are Affected

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

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

Premium Processing Fee Refunds Will be Offered to Affected Cases

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

What Else May Be Affected?

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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USCIS Completes Data Entry and Receipting of H-1B Cap Petitions

Many of our readers are aware that as of April 7, 2015, USCIS had received a sufficient number of H-1B cap-subject petitions to fill the annual H-1B quota.    As USCIS has been issuing receipt notices for the H-1B cap cases which are being selected for processing (we even are starting to see H-1B cap premium processing approvals), we wanted to provide an update as to how long will H-1B petitioners and applicants wait to hear whether their H-1B petition has been selected for processing under the H-1B cap.

H-1B Completes H-1B Petition Data Entry on May 4, 2015

USCIS has just announced that they have completed the data entry and receipting of all selected H-1B cap petitions.  This means that the last set of receipt notices are about to be sent out.   Here’s USCIS’s announcement:

USCIS announced May 4, 2015, that it has completed data entry of all fiscal year 2016 H-1B cap-subject petitions selected in our computer-generated random process. USCIS will now begin returning all H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected. Due to the high volume of filings, the time frame for returning these petitions is uncertain. USCIS asks petitioners to not inquire about the status of submitted cap-subject petitions until they receive a receipt notice or an unselected petition is returned. USCIS will issue an announcement once all the petitions have been returned.

Based on this announcement, we expect that it may take another week or so to expect to receive H-1B cap receipt notices for selected cases.   Afterwards, USCIS will turn its attention to sending out the H-1B non-selection notices and document packages back.

Receipt of Rejection Packages Can Take Weeks

Please note that given the number of rejections USCIS will have to send out (~150 thousand), we expect that it may take at least several weeks before all H-1B lottery rejection packages are sent back and before knowing with certainty that a case did not make it under the H-1B cap lottery.

Was My Case Selected for Processing Under the H-1B Lottery This Year?

  • If your case was filed under premium processing and a receipt notice was not issued by now, chances are that the H-1B cap case was not selected under the lottery.
  • If your case was filed under regular processing, we should know that your case was selected under the H-1B cap lottery by mid-May.
  • If your case was filed under regular processing and we do not have news by mid-May, it is likely that your case was not selected under the H-1B cap lottery; however, the actual rejection notice may take several weeks.

Conclusion

Our office will continue to monitor developments relating to the H-1B cap  season.    For those who did not make it under the H-1B cap lottery, we have provided an article describing some common H-1B cap alternative options.     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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This Year’s H-1B Cap Has Been Reached – What Are the Alternative Visa Options?

Many of our readers are aware that as of April 7, 2015, USCIS had received a sufficient number of H-1B cap-subject petitions to fill the annual H-1B quota.  This year’s number of filings (233,000) is at an all-time high, meaning that about 1 in 3 H-1B cap applications will be selected for review.    As USCIS is starting to issue receipt notices for the H-1B cap cases which are being selected for processing (we even are starting to see H-1B cap premium processing approvals), we wanted to provide an overview of the alternative visa options for those H-1B employers and employees whose H-1Bs did not get selected under the H-1B cap lottery.

The H-1B Cap Season Numbers

This year there were 233,000 applications filed for the 85,000 available H-1B cap visas, resulting in a simple calculation of about 36% average chance than an application will be selected for processing under the H-1B cap.    U.S. master’s degree holders have higher change, while the rest of the applicants have slightly lower chance due to the way U.S. master’s degree holders’ H-1B cap cases are given priority at the lottery.   This 36% chance is significantly lower than last H-1B cap year’s 50% average chance of H-1B cap selection.     As a comparison, there were 172,500 H-1B applications filed last year (which translates to 35% more H-1B cap applications filed this year compared to last year’s H-1B cap season).

As a result,  many employers 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 describe some alternative visa options.

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, 2016 is the earliest a cap-subject H-1B application can be filed under next year’s cap).  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.  A cap-exemption case may be made even if the actual H-1B employer does not meet these requirements but the placement of the H-1B worker will be at the location of a cap-exempt employer.    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.

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension or F-1 Curricular Practical Training  (CPT)

Many of the H-1B cap candidates are F-1 student visa holders who are already in the U.S. and for them there may be ways to continue to stay on F-1 status while having work authorization.    OPT holders who have completed a STEM degree (See Which Degrees are on the STEM List?) are eligible to apply for a 17-month STEM OPT extension.    There are certain requirements to qualify for the 17-month STEM OPT extension (employer must be E-Verified company, extension must be filed before the current OPT expires, and others) but this is a great way for F-1 students to continue to be able to work in the U.S.

Additionally, certain schools and F-1 degree programs allow an F-1 student to engage in employment related to their field of study under the Curricular Practical Training, CPT, program.    Availability and eligibility varies by school and program; but when available, the F-1 CPT option may allow continued employment authorization.

File for a Permanent Residency/Green Card Directly

For some employers and their foreign workers filing for an employment-based green card may be  viable option.   Normally, employers seek to hire a foreign worker on H-1B status and then the employer does a green card sponsorship.    However, it is also possible to do a green card directly, without going through the H-1B visa option.      This option may work best for foreign workers who have a master’s degree OR a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience and are nationals of a country other than China or India.   This option may work well even for holders of a bachelor’s degree from a country other than China or India.     Unfortunately, this direct green card filing option may not work so well for India or China nationals because of the significant waiting time for a visa number to become available (4-5+ years).

For example, it may be possible to secure a PERM Labor Certification approval in 9-12 months.   For many EB-2 (and even for some EB-3) candidates, the way the Visa Bulletin cutoff dates have advanced means that the second and third stages of the green card process (which also grants permission to stay in the U.S. and EAD permission to work) can be filed within a year (or possibly even less) after starting the green card process.    While the foreign national will need to be able to maintain valid status in the U.S. during this time, the direct filing of a green card may be a good alternative to simply skip the H-1B work visa filing process.     Obviously, the suitability of this option depends on a number of factors, including education, experience, country of nationality and the ability to maintain status in the U.S.     We are happy to provide a more personalized overview of this option – please contact one of our attorneys for more information.

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, 2016 for the FY2017 Cap

For some of our clients, waiting until April 1, 2016 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 FY2017 H-1B cap is expected to be the same as it was for the FY2016 fiscal year – 65,000 H-1B visas (plus 20,000 for holders of U.S. master’s degrees).

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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H-4 Spouse EAD – Four Major Outstanding Questions for USCIS

As our office is gearing up for May 26, 2015 when the first H-4 Spouse EAD applications under the new rule can be filed, we are still looking forward to clarifications and updates from USCIS on a number of important topics.      Here are four major issues which affect a number of H-4 EAD applicants and which issues are still outstanding as of today, about a month before the H-4 Spouse EAD applications can be filed.

When Would the Final Form I-765 (and Accompanying Instructions) be Released?

While USCIS has published the approved draft revision of Form I-765, they have not released the form for general circulation on the relevant Form I-765 website.    As our office is gearing up for a high number of H-4 Spouse EAD applications, we would like to see the revised form released for public use as soon as possible to avoid timely (and calm) H-4 Spouse EAD preparation process.     It is unclear at this time whether USCIS will accept the current version of Form I-765 for H-4 Spouse EAD filings on or after May 26th.

Would Concurrently-Filed H-4 Change of Status and H-4 Spouse EAD Applications be Approved At the Same Time?

A key question for those seeking to change status to H-4 and concurrently be able to obtain work permit is whether USCIS will be able to approve the H-4 change of status (COS) application together with the H-4 Spouse EAD application.     USCIS has indicated that they would accept concurrently filed H-4 COS and H-4 EAD applications; however, there is no much clarity on the mechanics of approval.

This situation poses a problem for applicants who are currently in status authorizing employment and are, in fact, employed.    Ideally, we hope that the H-4 COS and the H-4 EAD applications will be approved at the same time, which would ensure continued work authorization to the applicant and would eliminate disruption to the applicant’s continued employment (which can be costly to the applicant in terms of career reputation and income).

For example, an H-1B worker who is gainfully employed and seeks to transition to H-4 EAD would have to file the H-4 COS and H-4 EAD applications.    However, if the H-4 COS application is approved first while the H-4 EAD remains pending, the person will find themselves in H-4 status but without a work authorization document and they will need to stop working immediately after H-4 COS approval and refrain from working until the H-4 EAD is approved.     We are hoping that USCIS would provide guidance that H-4 COS and H-4 EAD applications which are filed concurrently will be approved at the same time; alternatively, some guidance which would ensure that H-4 EADs approved after the H-4 COS is approved would be backdated with an effective date of the H-4 change of status approval date.

Guidance on this point is critically needed because many H-4 EAD applicants may be exposed to either having to stop working or perhaps engage in a period of unauthorized employment.   We will provide updates as soon as we have any.

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

This question applies to situations where the H-1B spouse is getting close to the sixth-year H-1B term and when the H-1B employer has filed for extension of (or extended) the H-1B term which extension includes part of the initial six-year H-1B term and H-1B time beyond the sixth-year limit based on PERM or I-140 pending for more than 365 days under AC21.    There is no question that this is permitted for H-1B extensions.

The question is whether the H-4 Spouse EAD rule will allow H-4 spouse to obtain the EAD when the H-1B spouse has a term which includes a combination of H-1B time under the initial six-year H-1B limit and additional time beyond the six-year H-1B limit under AC21.   USCIS has indicated that guidance on this point is forthcoming as part of a FAQ document.  Please stay tuned for updates.

Would International Travel When an H-4 EAD Application Remains Pending Be Permitted Without Having to Refile Another H-4 EAD Application After Return to the U.S.?

Since May 26th coincides generally with the beginning of the summer travel season, many H-4 Spouse EAD applicants have already made travel plans for the May-September period.    We know that the actual H-4 Spouse EAD application will have to include evidence of an applicant’s H-4 status in the U.S. which essentially requires the H-4 EAD applicant to be in the U.S. physically and be able to provide valid I-94 card as evidence.

The question is whether an H-4 Spouse EAD applicant can leave the U.S. after having filed the H-4 EAD application and whether such departure would affect the outcome of the H-4 EAD application and/or the validity of the H-4 EAD document, once approved.    We do not have guidance from USCIS on this point and they have indicated that they will be providing guidance.

We are hopeful that such guidance would match guidance issued in other similar EAD situations – L-2 EAD, E-2 EAD, OPT EAD – where travel during the time an EAD application remains pending does not normally affect the outcome or validity of the actual EAD application.

Conclusion

As we are getting closer to the May 26th H-4 Spouse EAD “opening day” we are hoping for smooth and clear H-4 EAD filing process, especially within the first days and weeks after May 26th.    The new rule still has a number of outstanding issues which require clarifications and we are hoping USICS will be able to provide updates over the next several days.

We will continue to provide information on this rule and answers to these questions as soon as we have anything to share.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.   We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.    We can also provide a quote for the attorney service for filing the H-4 Spouse EAD.

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

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

The Recent AAO Decision – Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, the recent AAO decision and the publicity it has received is causing a lot of discussion and anxiety, especially among H-1B employers who place their workers at third-party worksites.     As discussed above, our office was aware of the changing trends and we have already been providing this kind of guidance and advise for many months.    Here are some points for better compliance and less H-1B issues (such as H-1B site visits, visa stamp denials and revocations).

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

H-1B Amendment Likely Not Required if New Worksite Within Same MSA or Within “Normal Commuting Distance”. The AAO decision states that “a change in the place employment of a beneficiary to a geographical area requiring a corresponding LCA be cerfified” required an H-1B amendment.  However, by implication, if there is a change in the worksite to a location within the same MSA or within a normal commuting distance, then the LCA remains valid and no H-1B amendment is required.   “Normal commuting distance” can vary depending on the area – but 20, 30 or 50 miles may be considered to be “normal commuting distance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

We would like to iterate clearly that based on recent developments and trends we see,  we are recommending that H-1B amendment petitions be filed when there is a change of job location all the time and before the placing the H-1B worker at the new jobsite.     We are also happy to work with our clients to make a comprehensive compliance plan for prompt and cost-effective LCA/H-1B compliance.    H-1B employers who routinely place workers at third-party worksites should consider making such LCA/H-1B compliance plans.   Contact us to allow us to evaluate your needs and provide suggestions for compliance planning.

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

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

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

The Lottery Has Been Completed

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

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

Premium Processing 15-day Clock to Begin April 27th

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

Next Steps and Timelines

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

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

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

H-1B Cap-Exempt Petitions Still Accepted

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

Conclusion

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

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

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


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

The Lottery Process

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

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

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

Post-Lottery Processing

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

H-1B Cap-Exempt Petitions Still Accepted

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

Conclusion

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

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

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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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H-4 Spouse EAD Rule – Online Chat and Webinar Q&A Opportunities

Since the H-4 Spouse EAD rule announcement yesterday, our office has been receiving a number of questions and inquiries about the rule.  the rule.  For example, many people are interested to know whether the approved I-140 petition, which is one of the eligibility factors, must be from a current employer or it can be from a former employer.    Our office has been analyzing the full rule text and comments and we have been utilizing our resources to gather more information about this and other questions regarding the rule.

To accommodate the great demand of clarification and create a public forum for this, our attorneys will be conducting series of Q&A events focuses solely on the H-4 Spouse EAD rule, as follows:

  • Online Chat – Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 3:00 PM EST – free online chat session with Capitol Immigration Law Group attorneys to discuss the H-4 Spouse EAD rule and answer questions about the rule.    See the archived chat transcript.
  • Webinar – Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 1:00 PM EST – free webinar with a more detailed and formal presentation and discussion of the rule, its criteria, mechanics, requirements and challenges.   See the archived webinar.

In the meantime, our office will continue to post articles on our website and newsletter on this and related topics.     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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Final H-4 Spouse EAD Rule Announced – Becomes Effective May 26, 2015

After months of waiting and anticipation, USCIS has finally announced that effective May 26, 2015, USCIS will begin accepting applications for I-765 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) applications by certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.

Who is Eligible to Apply for EAD?

H-4 spouses who are eligible for the EAD under this rule are:

  • spouses of H–1B workers if the H-1B worker is a beneficiary of an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I–140);  or
  • spouses of H–1B workers if the H-1B worker has 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 worker is the beneficiary of a PERM Labor Certification or an I-140 petition which has been pending for more than 365 days.

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

Mechanics of the H-4 Spouse EAD Application Process

The 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 ($380 as of the date of this article), photos and supporting documents to establish eligibility for this new class of EAD.

Earliest Filing Date.   The earliest date USCIS will accept EAD applications pursuant to this rule is May 26, 2015.    Applications filed before this date will be rejected.       However, applications can be prepared in advance and our office will be happy to do so for a timely filing as soon as the filing window opens on May 26, 2015.

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  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.

Concurrent H-4 Status and H-4 EAD Applications Permitted.    The rule allows specifically for the concurrent filing of I-539 applications seeking to either change to H-4 status or to extend H-4 status together with the I-765 EAD application.   This is great news because it allows for the concurrent processing of an H-4 status with a work permit application.    Without the concurrent filing option, an H-4 applicant would have to wait for the H-4 status to be approved, and then file a separate EAD application and wait for another 2-3 months for the actual work authorization.     In cases where this is possible, we encourage concurrent filing of the I-539 H-4 status application and the I-765 EAD applications.

Documentation of Eligibility.   Since EADs under this rule would be issued only to a limited set of H-4 spouses, the EAD application would require enhanced documentation to show eligibility.    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.

Full Text of the Rule

For those of our clients and readers who want to dig into the rule, it can be accessed online.

More Information and Opportunity to Ask Questions

Our office will be holding a free webinar on this rule, its requirements and challenges.   The webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3rd at 1 pm eastern time.   Please register early to claim your spot – registration and attendance are free but space is limited.

H-4 Spouse EAD Attorney Service Filing Quote

Our office has been monitoring closely this rule since it was announced in May 2014 and we are ready to start accepting applications for filing on or after May 26, 2015.     If you would like one of our attorneys to review your case and provide a free and no-obligation quote for our services, please complete this brief request H-4 Spouse EAD attorney quote form.

Conclusion

We welcome DHS’s publication of the new H-4 spouse EAD 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).

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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