National Interest Exceptions: 5 Eligibility Criteria for Overcoming H-1B Travel Ban
Earlier this year, President Trump signed a presidential proclamation suspending entry to the U.S. of certain immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants based on their “risk to the U.S. labor market” due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
The Department of State has clarified some exceptions to the rule, allowing travel by applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the United States in the same position with the same employer and visa classification. The update states “forcing employers to replace employees in this situation may cause financial hardship.”
As we previously reported, the orders do not apply to:
- Applicants in the United States on the effective date
- Those with valid visas at the time of the effective date
- Individuals with other official travel documents valid on the effective date
- Spouses and children of the individuals above
The proclamation also allows travel for:
- Public health or healthcare professionals and researchers entering to alleviate the effects of COVID-19 pandemic or in areas not directly related, but has been adversely impacted by the pandemic
- Individuals invited to meet U.S. foreign policy objectives, satisfy treaty or contractual obligations with a U.S. government agency
Additionally, the proclamations included exceptions for individuals whose entry would be in the national interest. The Department of State recently allowed “Travel by technical specialists, senior level managers, and other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States” if consular officers determine the H-1B applicant meets at least two of five eligibility criteria.
Five Eligibility Criteria for H-1B Workers
#1 – Employer has a continued need for the services or labor
This indicator applies to Labor Condition Applications (LCAs) approved during or after July 2020, as DOS sees these LCAs as more likely to account for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labor market and the petitioner’s business.
For LCAs approved before July 2020, the consular officer must determine from the visa application that the U.S. employer has a continuing need of petitioned workers.
Note: If an applicant is currently performing or is able to perform the essential functions of the position for the prospective employer remotely from outside the United States, this indicator is not met.
#2 – The individual will provide significant and unique contributions to an employer meeting critical infrastructure needs
Critical infrastructure sectors are chemical, communications, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water systems.
However, a critical infrastructure sector alone is not sufficient evidence. The H-1B visa applicant must have:
- Senior level placement within the petitioning organization or job duties reflecting performance of functions that are both unique and vital to the management and success of the overall business enterprise; OR
- The applicant’s proposed job duties and specialized qualifications indicate the individual will provide significant and unique contributions to the petitioning company.
#3 – The wage rate paid to the H-1B applicant exceeds the prevailing wage by at least 15 percent
The higher wage suggests that the employee fills an important business need where an American worker is not available.
#4 – The applicant has unusual expertise in a specialty occupation
The DOS states that an applicant’s education, training, and/or relevant experience can demonstrate this expertise and make it more likely that he or she will perform critically important work for the petitioning employer.
#5 – The denial of the visa constitutes a financial hardship for the employer
To demonstrate that the denial would cause the employer financial hardship, the employer must provide evidence of the company’s inability to meet financial or contractual obligations, continue its business, or a delay or other impediment to the employer’s ability to return to pre-COVID-19 level of operations.
- Interview Waiver Checklist: Are you eligible for a Drop Box appointment?
- Requesting an Expedited Consular Appointment
- National Interest Exceptions to H, L, and J Travel Bans
It will be at the consular officer’s discretion as to whether visa applicants meet the criteria above. Visa appointments will be limited as embassies and consulates begin to reopen. Applicants and employers should consult with their attorneys to prepare a package of strong evidence before scheduling an appointment.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time to discuss whether your critical employees are eligible for an exception to the travel ban.