Labor Immigration Law

United States Labor Immigration Law News and Analysis

News Alert Articles

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

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

The Recent AAO Decision – Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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May 2015 Visa Bulletin – EB-2 India and China Continue to Advance Notably; EB-3 Philippines Major Retrogression; EB-5 China Cutoff Date

The U.S. State Department has just released the May 2015 Visa Bulletin which is the eighth Visa Bulletin for the FY2015 fiscal year.   The major headline in the upcoming month’s Visa Bulletin is the significant 7.5-month forward movement in EB-2 India and the 14-month forward movement in EB-2 China.    EB-3 Philippines moves back by seven years and EB-5 China now has a cutoff date.

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

Below is a summary of the May 2015 Visa Bulletin with respect to the employment-based categories:

  • EB-1 remains current across the board.
  • EB-2 for ROW, Mexico and Philippines are all current.    EB-2 India moves forward significantly by seven and a half (7.5) months to April 15, 2008.  EB-2 China moves forward by fourteen (14) months to June 1, 2012.
  • EB-3 ROW and Mexico advance by three (3) months to January 1, 2015.   EB-3 Philippines retrogresses by over seven (7) years back to July 1, 2007.   EB-3 China moves forward by four (4) months to May 1, 2011 while EB-3 India  advances by only one (1) week to January 15, 2004.
  • The “other worker” categories for ROW and Mexico advance by three (3) months to January 1, 2015 while Philippines retrogresses by over seven (7) years back to July 1, 2007.   Other workers China moves forward by three (3) months to November 15, 2005 while India  advances by only one (1) week to January 15, 2004.
  • EB-5 China now has a cutoff date of May 1, 2013.

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

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

  • FB-1 ROW, China and India move forward by two (2) weeks to August 15, 2007.   FB-1 Mexico moves forward by one (1) week to November 8, 1994 while FB-1 Philippines remains unchanged at February 1, 2005.
  • FB-2A moves forward again, this month the forward movement is by one (1) month to September 1, 2013 for ROW, China, India and Philippines.  It also moves forward by one (1) months to August 8, 2013  for Mexico.

Another EB-2 India Significant Forward Movement

This month’s Visa Bulletin brings another significant forward movement in EB-2 India of seven and a half months which is very similar to last month’s eight-month forward movement.  Overall, EB-2 India has advanced by well over two years over the last few months so this is certain a good sign.      EB-2 India applicants with a priority date earlier than April 15, 2008 can now move forward with their applications (or expect approvals if they have already filed their I-485 applications).

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

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

EB-2 China continues to advance this month.  In fact, this month’s forward movement of 14 months is one of the more significant movements in EB-2 China for some time.   EB-3 China also advances (after a significant retrogression last month) by four months.   We had noted in our earlier Visa Bulletin alerts that the demand in EB-3 China is expected to rise with the forward date movement and it now seems that the Department of State is trying to moderate the demand by retrogressing (last month) and then advancing gradually (this month) the cutoff dates.

EB-5 China Cutoff Date

Based on significant demand in the EB-5 category from Chinese nationals, the Department of State has introduced a cutoff date for EB-5 China.     Further retrogression is also possible (not immediately expected) based on the number of demand from Chinese nationals in this category (which demand has been very strong recently).

EB-3 Philippines Major Retrogression

One significant development is the major retrogression in EB-3 and Other Workers Philippines.   The cutoff dates for these categories are set to move back by over seven years — from October 2014 back to July 2007.   This is a significant retrogression caused by high demand in this category.

It is important to note that EB-3/OW Philippines applicants who have a cutoff date which is current now and who would no longer be current as of May 1st to consider filing their I-485s immediately (if they are in the US) or take other steps to take advantage of the current priority date.   EB-3/OW Philippines candidates who have a priority date between October 1, 2014 and July 1, 2007 will be affected — please contact us for a consultation and analysis of your personal case situation.

Current Priority Date?

Our office stands ready to assist in the applicable process to take advantage of a current (or close to current) priority date.   Those applicants whose priority dates are current as of the May 2015 Visa Bulletin may be eligible to process their (and their family members’) I-485 Adjustment of Status applications from within the U.S. or process their immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if our office can help you take advantage of this (very time-sensitive for some) opportunity to file I-485 applications.    We are also happy to provide a free quote for preparing and filing your I-485 application.

Further Updates and News

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  We also invite you to contact us if our office can be of any assistance in your immigration matters or you have any questions or comments about the May 2015 Visa Bulletin.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

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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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Visa Bulletin Updates and Predictions from Mr. Oppenheim (March 2015)

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

Mr. Charles Oppenheim, who is the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State and the person who prepares and publishes the monthly visa bulletin, has provided some thoughts and his expectations for the upcoming few months’ Visa Bulletin movements.    These comments are as of March 13, 2015.

EB-2/EB-3 China

The significant retrogression in EB-3 China in the April 2015 Visa Bulletin has essentially put an end to the EB-3 China “downgrade” trends which saw many EB-2 China applicants downgrade their case to EB-3 in order to take advantage of the more favorable EB-3 China cutoff dates.    With the retrogression in EB-3 China we see a more “natural” positioning of the EB-2 and EB-3 China cutoff dates.

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

If demand in EB-2 China does not increase significantly as a result of the April 2014 forward movement, it is expected to see another notable forward movement in EB-2 China in the next month or two.

EB-5 China

Retrogression is likely to occur no later than June 2015.

EB-2 India

EB-2 India has advanced significantly over the last two months – 16 months in the March 2015 Visa Bulletin and eight months in the April 2015 Visa Bulletin.    On top of this, Mr. Oppenheim expects that India would advance at a steady pace for another couple of months before a possible slowdown towards the end of the fiscal year (which ends September 30, 2015).    We read this to mean that forward movements of about 4-6 months per Visa Bulletin are likely over the next one to two months.

EB-3 India

Unfortunately, Mr. Oppenheim cannot share much good news as he expects EB-3 India to move by one to (possibly) two weeks per month.   The reason is that there is a significant amount of preadjudicated EB-3 India I-485 applications (more than 9,100) with a priority date before January 1, 2005 (when the annual limit is 2,875 immigrant visas).   Therefore, we expect very slow forward movement in EB-3 India.

EB-3 ROW, Mexico and Philippines

After the notable forward movement in April, Mr. Oppenheim expects that there will be more significant forward movement in the May Visa Bulletin.   Great news for EB-3 applicants from these countries.

While it is not expected that EB-3 ROW would become current any time soon, it is likely for this category to get into 2015 – which means that this category will be close to current and, in effect, for many, by the time candidates obtain PERM and I-140 approvals, they may already be current and be able to file their I-485 adjustment applications.    We call on all EB-3 applicants to either start their PERM applications soon or, for those who  have applications underway, to be ready to take advantage of a possible current priority date over the next few months.

Conclusion

Mr. Oppenheim’s comments are extremely helpful to get a sense of the visa cutoff dates over the next few months.   Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can review your case, answer any questions or schedule a consultation.

We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

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April 2015 Visa Bulletin – EB-2 India and China Continue to Advance Notably; EB-3 China Significant Retrogression

The U.S. State Department has just released the April 2015 Visa Bulletin which is the seventh Visa Bulletin for the FY2015 fiscal year.   The major headline in the upcoming month’s Visa Bulletin is the significant eight-month forward movement in EB-2 India and the seven-month forward movement in EB-2 China.    EB-3 also moves forward nicely with the notable exception of EB-3 China which goes back by 9 months.

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

Below is a summary of the April 2015 Visa Bulletin with respect to the employment-based categories:

  • EB-1 remains current across the board.
  • EB-2 for ROW, Mexico and Philippines are all current.    EB-2 India moves forward significantly by eight (8) months to September 1, 2007.  EB-2 China moves forward by seven (7) months to April 1, 2011.
  • EB-3 ROW, Mexico and Philippines advance by four (4) months to October 1, 2014.   EB-3 China retrogresses by about nine (9) months back to January 1, 2011 (from October 22, 2011) while EB-3 India  advances by only one (1) week to January 8, 2004.
  • The “other worker” categories for ROW, Mexico and Philippines advance by four  (4) months to October 1, 2014.   EB-3 China remains unchanged at August 15, 2005 while EB-3 India  advances by one (1) week to January 8, 2004.

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

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

  • FB-1 ROW, China and India all remain unchanged at August 1, 2007.   FB-1 Mexico moves forward by one (1) week to November 1, 1994 while FB-1 Philippines remains unchanged at February 1, 2005.
  • FB-2A moves forward again, but by not as much – it moves forward by five (5) weeks to August 1, 2013 for ROW, China, India and Philippines.  It also moves forward by six (6) weeks to July 8, 2013  for Mexico.

Another EB-2 India Significant Forward Movement But By Not as Much as Last Month

This month’s Visa Bulletin brings another significant forward movement in EB-2 India of eight months; however, it is not as significant as the forward movement in last month (April) visa bulletin (of sixteen months).  Overall, however, EB-2 India has advanced by two years over the last two months so this is certain a good sign.       EB-2 India applicants with a priority date earlier than September 1, 2007 can now move forward (or expect news, hopefully approval) with their applications.

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

EB-2 China Advances while EB-3 China Retrogresses Significantly

While EB-2 China advances nicely by seven months in this Visa Bulletin, EB-3 China moves back by almost ten months to January 1, 2011.   This retrogression is caused by the high number of EB-3 China filings over the last weeks and months, caused by the rapid advancement in the EB-3 China date over the recent months.    We had noted in our earlier Visa Bulletin alerts that the demand in EB-3 China is expected to rise with the forward date movement and it now seems that the Department of State “sees” sufficient demand to stop the rate of filings by moving back the cutoff date.

It is important to note that EB-3 China applicants who have a cutoff date which is current now and who would no longer be current as of April 1 to consider filing their I-485s immediately (if they are in the US) or take other steps to take advantage of the current priority date.   EB-3 China candidates who have a priority date between October 22, 2011 and January 1, 2011 will be affected — please contact us for a consultation and analysis of your personal case situation.

Current Priority Date?

Our office stands ready to assist in the applicable process to take advantage of a current (or close to current) priority date.   Those applicants whose priority dates are current as of the April 2015 Visa Bulletin may be eligible to process their (and their family members’) I-485 Adjustment of Status applications from within the U.S. or process their immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if our office can help you take advantage of this (very time-sensitive for some) opportunity to file I-485 applications.    We are also happy to provide a free quote for preparing and filing your I-485 application.

Further Updates and News

We invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.  We also invite you to contact us if our office can be of any assistance in your immigration matters or you have any questions or comments about the April 2015 Visa Bulletin.  Finally, if you already haven’t, please consider our Visa Bulletin Predictions tool which provides personalized predictions and charts helping you understand when a particular priority date may become current and what are the movement patterns.

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Notes from USCIS Conference Call on H-4 Spouse EAD; Recording Available for Download

Our office just completed participation in the very-busy USCIS conference call to discuss and answer questions about the upcoming H-4 Spouse EAD rule.   We are happy to share our immediate notes and reactions from the call to our readers.   We also have upcoming engagement options for our attorneys to provide more information and answer further questions about the process.

Our Notes from the H-4 Spouse EAD Conference Call

I-140 Petition from Former Employer.   One of the biggest questions about the H-4 Spouse EAD rule was answered – according to the panelists from USCIS, an approved I-140, even from a former employer, would permit an H-4 Spouse EAD when the H-1B spouse has started working for a new employer and the new employer has not obtained an approval of the new I-140.     This is great news and was one of the biggest unanswered questions about the rule.

However, the panelists specifically indicated that a withdrawn I-140 petition by the former employer means that there is no longer “approved I-140″ and, as a result, there is no longer H-4 Spouse EAD eligibility.

Concurrent I-539 and -765 Applications Allowed.   H-4 Spouse EAD applications (on Form I-765) can be filed concurrently with I-539 and even I-129 petitions, when the circumstances permit.    It is expected that in many cases both the I-539 and the I-765 applications will be adjudicated at the same time.

H-4 EAD Validity.   The term of H-4 Spouse EAD card validity is expected to be the same as the underlying H-4 status.   The EAD will be valid from the date of approval until the H-4 status expiration date.    But a valid EAD is required at all times to work – so proper planning for the extensions of status and EAD is key.    The H-4 Spouse EAD will be valid for employment with any employer and there is no requirement that an H-4 Spouse EAD holder be employer at all times.

EAD Is Not a Travel Document.   The EAD itself would not permit travel to the U.S.  An H-4 spouse who has an EAD will need an H-4 visa stamp in order to travel back to the U.S.   The EAD only allows employment during its validity period.

Mechanics of the Application Process.   New Form I-765 with instructions will be released over the next days or few weeks.  The application will be filed on paper (no electronic filing, at least for now) and must include full documentation of eligibility.   In cases where certain documents are not available, providing as much relevant information as possible is key in order to allow USCIS to look up information about a case.   The application does not anticipate (for now) having to do biometrics – instead, the application will request submission of photos.

Unanswered Questions.   There were a few questions about some fairly complex situations which USCIS took under advisement and we should expect more information in future USCIS communications about the H-4 Spouse EAD rule.    Our office will certainly provide more information about once we have any news.

Opportunities to Learn More and Discuss With Our Attorneys

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.    Attend the live chat session.
  • 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.   Register for the free webinar (space is limited).

USCIS H-4 Conference Call Recording

For those who were not able to attend the call but wish to hear a recording, please follow this link.

Conclusion

We will continue to provide information on this rule as it becomes available.     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-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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How to File an H-1B Cap Petition When the Current Degree is Still in Progress?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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