Tag Archives: H-1B

USCIS Announces H-1B Cap Registration Period

USCIS Announces H-1B Cap Registration Period

USCIS announced that the H-1B cap registration period will open on March 1, 2022 and will close on March 18, 2022. USCIS will make the selections by March 31, 2022. Selected registrations may apply for the H-1B, which allows the beneficiary to begin working on October 1, 2022, the start of the new fiscal year.

Challa Law Group will continue to offer a tiered approach to registration. Read more about which option is right for your company: Planning for the H-1B Cap Registration System.

From USCIS (January 29, 2022): 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced that the initial registration period for the fiscal year 2023 H-1B cap will open at noon Eastern on March 1 and run through noon Eastern on March 18, 2022. During this period, prospective petitioners and representatives will be able to complete and submit their registrations using our online H-1B registration system.

USCIS will assign a confirmation number to each registration submitted for the FY 2023 H-1B cap. This number is used solely to track registrations; you cannot use this number to track your case status in Case Status Online.

Prospective H-1B cap-subject petitioners or their representatives are required to use a myUSCIS online account to register each beneficiary electronically for the selection process and pay the associated $10 H-1B registration fee for each registration submitted on behalf of each beneficiary. Prospective petitioners submitting their own registrations (U.S. employers and U.S. agents, collectively known as “registrants”) will use a “registrant” account. Registrants will be able to create new accounts beginning at noon Eastern on Feb. 21.

Representatives may add clients to their accounts at any time, but both representatives and registrants must wait until March 1 to enter beneficiary information and submit the registration with the $10 fee. Prospective petitioners or their representatives will be able to submit registrations for multiple beneficiaries in a single online session. Through the account, they will be able to prepare, edit, and store draft registrations prior to final payment and submission of each registration.

If we receive enough registrations by March 18, we will randomly select registrations and send selection notifications via users’ myUSCIS online accounts. We intend to notify account holders by March 31.

An H-1B cap-subject petition, including a petition for a beneficiary who is eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may only be filed by a petitioner whose registration for the beneficiary named in the H-1B petition was selected in the H-1B registration process.

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Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

On December 23, 2021, the Department of State announced that consular officers would be able to waive the in-person interview requirements for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants with approved petitions with USCIS. This potential waiver applies to individuals applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who meet certain conditions. The following conditions apply:

  • The individual must be applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.
  • They must have been previously issued any type of visa.
  • The individual must have never been refused a visa, unless the refusal was overcome or waived.
  • They must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility (criminal charges, citations, overstays, etc.)

First-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) provided they have “no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)” may also be eligible for an interview waiver.

The Secretary of State also extended previous interview waiver policies for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). One change to the previous policy is that applicants eligible for the waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP participating country must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA to qualify.  Applicants must apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence. 

The interview waiver of certain H-2 (A and B) applicants has also been extended through the end of 2022. Applicants renewing any visa within 48 months are eligible for an interview waiver. However, the Department of State notes that it is up to the consular officers’ discretion and applicants could still be required to attend an in-person interview.

Visa Appointments Are Still Limited: India Update

The DOS notes that you should check with your local consular posts for details on interview waiver appointments. There are still backlogs at most posts given the COVID-19 backlogs, limited operating conditions, and staffing challenges.

The visa services division in India has announced additional appointments are to be released:

In the coming days, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India will release more than 20,000 additional interview waiver (dropbox) appointments for Spring 2022 to allow qualified applicants to make use of the new interview waiver authority. Due to reduced staffing and numerous pandemic-related disruptions to our operations since March 2020, appointment demand is high across all visa categories and wait times may be lengthy for most routine nonimmigrant visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

As a reminder, all travelers must abide by vaccination and testing requirements set forth by the CDC, DHS, DOS, and the airlines.

Additional Resources

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USCIS Selects Third Round of H-1B Registrations for FY 2022

From USCIS, 11/19/2021

USCIS Conducts Third Random Selection from Previously Submitted FY 2022 H-1B Cap Registrations

We recently determined that we needed to select additional registrations to reach the fiscal year (FY) 2022 H-1B numerical allocations, including the advanced degree exemption. On Nov. 19, we selected from among previously submitted electronic registrations using a random selection process. The petition filing period based on registrations selected on Nov. 19 will begin on Nov. 22, 2021, and close on Feb. 23, 2022. Individuals with selected registrations will have their myUSCIS accounts updated to include a selection notice, which includes details about when and where to file.

In July 2021, we conducted a second random selection from among properly submitted electronic registrations for the FY 2022 H-1B numerical allocations. The petition filing period based on registrations selected in July ended on Nov. 3, 2021.

We conducted an initial selection in March 2021. The initial filing period for those with selected registrations for FY 2022 was from April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021. Per regulation, we take into account historical data related to approvals, denials, revocations, and other relevant factors to calculate the number of registrations needed to meet the H-1B numerical allocations for a given fiscal year. Only those petitioners with selected registrations for FY 2022 are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions.

An H-1B cap-subject petition must be properly filed at the correct service center and within the filing period indicated on the relevant registration selection notice. Online filing is not available for H-1B petitions. Petitioners filing H-1B petitions must do so by paper and must include a printed copy of the applicable registration selection notice with the FY 2022 H-1B cap-subject petition.

Registration selection only indicates that petitioners are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions; it does not indicate that the petition will be approved. Petitioners filing H-1B cap-subject petitions, including those petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must still submit evidence and establish eligibility for petition approval based on existing statutory and regulatory requirements.

For more information, visit the H-1B Cap Season page.

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USCIS Issues Policy Guidance on Automatic EAD Extensions for Dependent Spouse (H-4, E, L)

USCIS Issues Policy Guidance on Automatic EAD Extensions for Dependent Spouse (H-4, E, L)

USCIS reached a settlement agreement as a result of recent litigation (Shergill, et al. v. Mayorkas) targeting the delayed processing times for EAD applications and extensions. Previously USCIS prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from automatic employment authorization extensions while their EAD applications were pending. Following the settlement agreement, USCIS released new guidance allowing H-4 spouses automatic EAD extensions and clarifying that L and E spouses will now enjoy automatic work authorization incident to status. The L and E dependent spouses will no longer have to apply for employment authorization unless they prefer to have the document for identity verification and other related purposes.

While the new guidance is effective immediately, the settlement agreement notes a maximum 120-day timeline for implementing the changes. USCIS will continue to issue E and L dependent spouses EADs upon filing Form I-765. Individuals may want to continue filing I-765 since EADs are acceptable for I-9 purposes as List A documents, demonstrating employment authorization and identity.

Under the new guidance, what is acceptable evidence of work authorization for I-9 purposes?

  • A document combination to include:
    • an unexpired Form I-94 indicating nonimmigrant status (H-4, E, or L)
    • Form I-797C (receipt notice) showing a timely-filed EAD renewal application stating “class requested” as “(a)(17),” “(a)(18),” or “(c)(26),” and
    • The facially expired EAD issued under the same category (that is, indicating Category A17, A18, or C26).

Note: DHS will modify Forms I-94 for L and E dependents to distinguish spouses from children. Only once those changes are made will the revised Form I-94 be acceptable as a List C document and EAD extensions will no longer be required for L and E dependent spouses. The evidence of employment authorization must have a notation indicating the individual is an E or L dependent spouse. Prior to that change taking place, L and E dependents should follow the same guidelines outlined above for EAD applicants.

My E or L EAD extension is still pending. Can I start working again?

    • E and L dependent spouses are employment authorized incident to status and therefore will no longer have to file Form I-765 once the I-94 has been updated, but may continue to file if they choose to receive an EAD.
    • However, the updated guidance states: “Therefore, until USCIS is able to issue alternative evidence of employment authorization for this group, they will likely continue to request an EAD through the Form I-765 process to meet Form I-9 requirements.”
    • To utilize the I-94 without an EAD as evidence of work authorization, the guidance from USCIS states that the I-94 must bear a notation indicating the individual is a qualifying E, or L spouse. CBP and USCIS could take up to 120 days to modify the I-94s.
    • Until that time, E and L spouses should follow the same guidelines as H spouses with EAD extensions pending.

My H-4 and H-4 EAD extension are still pending. Can I begin working again?

    • If the spouse filed an I-539 application to extend H-4 status concurrently with an EAD application, the H-4 spouse would only qualify for the auto-extension of the EAD if they have time remaining on their existing I-94.

CHALLA TIP: If the primary H-1B has already been approved and extended (perhaps after a premium upgrade), the H-4 dependent spouse can depart the country and then re-enter on the H-4 visa, using the H-1B approval notice to obtain an I-94 with longer validity. The individual would then be eligible for an automatic extension of up to 180 days or the earlier of the scenarios described below. Check out our Travel FAQs & New Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements before planning your trip.

When will the automatic extensions be valid? 

  • Automatic extensions for H-4, E, or L dependent spouses will be applicable if they properly file an application to renew their EAD before the expiration date (if applicable) and they have an unexpired I-94 showing their valid status.
  • The automatic extension will continue until the earlier of:
    • The end date on the Form I-94 showing valid status
    • The approval or denial of the EAD renewal application, or
    • 180 days from the date of expiration of the previous EAD

Wondering if you qualify for an automatic extension? Email us at info@challalaw.com with your questions.

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Market Analyst H-1B Denied? You May Be Able to Appeal 

Market Analyst H-1B Denied? You May Be Able to Appeal 

From USCIS, 10/28/2021

USCIS reached a settlement agreement (PDF, 268.06 KB) [PDF] in the case of MadKudu Inc., et al. v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, et al., No. 20-cv-2653 (N.D. Cal.). On Oct. 19, 2021, the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division, granted final approval of the settlement agreement. This agreement outlines new, overarching guidance for adjudicating pending or future H-1B petitions for market research analysts.

Additionally, the agreement allows class members to submit a Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, to request that certain denied Forms I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, seeking H-1B classification for a market research analyst be reopened and adjudicated per the terms of the settlement agreement. No fee will be charged for such a request. Class members have until April 26, 2022 to submit a Form I-290B.

Class members eligible to submit a Form I-290B are those that:

  • Filed a Form I-129 H-1B petition between Jan. 1, 2019 and Oct. 19, 2021, for a market research analyst.
  • USCIS denied the petition based on a finding that the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) entry for a market research analyst did not establish that the occupation is a specialty occupation, and thus did not satisfy 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(1).
  • If not for this finding, the petition would have been approved.
  • There is any amount of time remaining on the period specified in the certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) originally submitted with the underlying Form I-129 at the time that the Form I-290B is filed.

Class members whose eligible Form I-129 was denied may submit their Form I-290B (without fee) on or before April 26, 2022, to have their reopening request and, if eligibility is established, their underlying I-129 H-1B petition adjudicated per the terms of the settlement agreement.

USCIS will make a decision on all eligible, timely-filed reopening requests within 90 days of receipt of the physical file at the adjudicating office. USCIS will attempt to prioritize reopening requests for petitions with LCAs expiring less than 90 days after the Form I-290B is properly filed with USCIS.

If USCIS determines that the underlying petition is not eligible for this reopening process, in accordance with the bullets above (for example, you are not a class member eligible to submit a Form I-290B under the settlement agreement), we will reject the Form I-290B.

Filing Instructions 

All Forms I-290B must be submitted to the Nebraska Service Center, on or before April 26, 2022, at the addresses below.

USPS FedEx, UPS, and DHL Deliveries
USCIS Nebraska Service Center
Attn: Madkudu Project
P.O. Box 87129
Lincoln, NE 68701
USCIS Nebraska Service Center
Attn: Madkudu Project
850 ‘S’ Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

When submitting Form I-290B, you should:

  1. Include a cover sheet to clearly identify that the Form I-290B is filed by a claimed member of the class.
  2. Indicate on the cover sheet and Form I-290B the name of the office (name of the Service Center or Administrative Appeals Office (AAO)) that made the last adverse decision.
  3. Demonstrate class membership by submitting a copy of USCIS’ denial of the underlying H-1B petition (if you appealed to, and had your appeal dismissed by the AAO, you should submit a copy of the AAO decision instead of, or in addition to, the service center denial). The denial of the original H-1B petition should show that:
    • The petition was filed on or after Jan. 1, 2019, through Oct. 19, 2021, (for cases in which the denial does not include the filing date of the petition, you should submit a copy of USCIS’ receipt notice for the petition).
    • USCIS found that the job fell within the market research analyst occupation;
    • USCIS considered the OOH entry for market research analysts;
    • USCIS found that the market research analyst occupation was not a specialty occupation under the first regulatory criterion at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(1); and
    • The sole basis for the denial was that the position was not within a specialty occupation.
  4. Demonstrate (for example, by submitting a copy of the LCA filed with the denied petition) that there is any amount of time remaining on the period specified in the certified LCA at the time that the I-290B is filed.
  5. State in the reopening request that you request reopening.
  6. Provide a receipt number for the underlying Form I-129 petition.
  7. Confirm that the offer of employment as stated in the underlying Form I-129 petition remains valid.
  8. Indicate if you want a new start and/or end date for the validity period (as long as the new date(s) falls within the period in the certified LCA previously submitted with the petition).

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Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get your case started today.

Department of State Visa Backlog Update

Only have a few minutes? Here are the key takeaways:

  • In January of 2020, the NVC backlog was at 80,000. Fifteen months later, the current number of applicants that are ready for interviews is 481,965.
  • DOS is prioritizing family unification with four priority tiers:

    Tier 1
    are family-based immediate relative visas and adoption-based visas, as well as age-out cases and certain special immigrant visas.
    Tier 2 is going to be other immediate relative visas for spouses, fiancés, parents, and returning resident visas.
    Tier 3 is family preference visas, other special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US government
    Tier 4 includes all other immigrant visas, including employment-preference visas and diversity visas.
  • Fiance visas are part of a National Interest Exemption and are not subject to geographical travel restrictions.
  • The Diversity Visa is a fiscal year program, so as regulations currently stand, all visas must be issued or approved by September 30, 2021 or else they cannot be utilized.
  • DOS is urging patience as consular posts continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

Summary of Q & A with Department of State’s Neal Vermillion

Neal Vermillion is a division chief in the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. His division is the Office of Field Operations, which provides guidance to consular sections, embassies, and consulates around the world. He has served for the DOS since the early 2000s all over the world in different field offices and consulates. He is glad to have the opportunity to talk and answer questions about the unprecedented situation with the visa backlog.

 This event is intended to address issues of general interest related to the content of the visa backlog. Questions and answers have been paraphrased and should not be interpreted as verbatim quotes.

Neal would like to go over the recent history of the backlog as a primer before beginning his Q&A:

Overseas immigrant visa processing has been shut down due to the pandemic for the past year, which has affected the immigrant visa backlogs in an interesting way. Last spring, President Trump signed Presidential Proclamation 10014, which prevented the issuance of many immigrant visas. There are still many geographic proclamations in effect which have been issued to protect the health and security of Americans. Proclamations are in effect which cover 33 countries. These issues have all contributed to the creation of an unprecedented backlog. Getting out of the backlog is an ongoing process, although it will be hindered by the ongoing nature of the pandemic.

The reopening process has been hampered by slow vaccination rates outside of the United States, where the pandemic remains a much more serious problem. Neal would like the listeners to know that the Department of State is aware of the problems that visa applicants face and is committed to providing relief and decreasing the Immigrant Visa backlogs.

What is the DOS doing to decrease the visa backlogs worldwide? 

We are fully committed to reducing that backlog, and honestly keeping people informed is part of that effort, which is part of why we’re doing this. I also want to highlight that we have started posting in the last month and will update monthly on our travel.state.gov the stats of the immigrant visa backlog. The National Visa Center – the current number of applicants that are ready for interviews is 481,965 – this is up from January’s figure of 408,255. For comparison, in our last normal month of processing, back in January of 2020, almost fifteen months ago, we had a backlog of 80,000 then. That number will fluctuate over time, and it does not change in a linear way.

In terms of what we’re doing, we’re throwing all available resources that we can at the backlog and we’re telling our overseas consular sections and our embassies and consulates overseas that, after services to US citizens, processing of immigrant visas and fiancé visas is our number one priority. Please understand we are continuing to deal with circumstances on the ground, and our ongoing response to the backlog will depend on these circumstances. We are trying to process these applicants as quickly and safely as possible.

How are IV applicants being prioritized?

We have an article on travel.state.gov from our newsroom that details this, but I’ll answer here as well. Basically, we have many immigrant visa categories. We have relatives, we have employment visas, we have family visas, we have diversity visas.

We don’t want to prioritize any of these categories, however, during the pandemic, we’ve been forced to make difficult decisions on how our consular sections should prioritize different visas. As we develop a framework for prioritization, the principle that underlies our plan is the prioritization of family reunification. It’s a clear priority of the US government, it is a clear priority in the INA, it is specifically our prioritization guidance that we have given publicly as well as to our consular sections. Our guidance relies on a clear direction from Congress that requires the adoption of policy that prioritizes family reunification.

We’ve given our divided immigrant visa work into four priority tiers. We have directed consular sections where it is possible to schedule appointments within all four priority tiers. The majority of the applications that a section will process if they are able to are going to be within the first two tiers.

Tier 1 are family-based immediate relative visas and adoption-based visas, as well as age-out cases and certain special immigrant visas.

Tier 2 is going to be other immediate relative visas for spouses, fiancés, parents, and returning resident visas.

Tier 3 is family preference visas, other special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US government

Tier 4 includes all other immigrant visas, including employment-preference visas and diversity visas.

As mentioned, we’re going to try and do as much as we can for each of those tiers. Some consular stations are processing some cases from each of these tiers.

Will DV 2021 selectees be able to get an interview before the September 30, 2021 deadline?

Diversity visas are a hot topic; we’ve gotten this question before.

The good news is that Presidential Proclamation 10014 has been rescinded, so for the first half of this fiscal year, we were unable to process diversity visas due to that proclamation. As I’m sure people who are interested in diversity visas know, that program is specific to each fiscal year. I can tell you that our colleagues that are responsible for this program, which is the Consular Center, has begun to schedule and process documentarily qualified visas. We truly value the diversity visa program and are going to do what we can.

That said, this pandemic is unpredictable. We’ve seen spikes in the past month in South Asia and in other places. It’s impossible to forecast how many DVs we will issue this year. It is very likely that we will not be able to issue all of the diversity visas this year. 55,000 is the maximum we are able to issue each year.

Obviously last year we weren’t able to get as close to that ceiling as we like. We are committed to doing as much as possible. As has been mentioned earlier, we have local conditions and restrictions that have forced us to prioritize. We are going to do as much as we can before the end of the fiscal year, but it will not be near the 55,000 allowed by the statute.

Will DV 2020 selectees who were not interviewed prior to September 2020 be interviewed?

I understand the frustrations of the selectees from last fiscal year. It’s kind of the opposite of what happened this year, where we processed smoothly for the first half of the year and then were interrupted by COVID.

To go back to what I said earlier, the diversity visa program is a fiscal year-specific program. Applicants who were refused because of that proclamation last year cannot be interviewed. The terms of these programs – the fact that it is specific to fiscal year is outlined in the statute. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

If you did win and were selected for DV 2020, you can enter future DV lotteries.

That’s a great point, and I know many many people apply for the program year after year after year, and after fifteen years they finally get it. There are no guarantees, of course, it is a selection process.

Why can’t immigrant visa applicants be interviewed virtually?

Good question. Obviously, we’re doing Zoom and YouTube here, technology has changed quite a bit. I’ll give you a straightforward answer – maybe not the most welcome answer – immigrant visa applicants are required by statute to be interviewed in person. As a consular officer who has worked in the field, there are some benefits I should talk about with this process:

National security is our top priority when we adjudicate these applications. Each prospective traveler undergoes extensive screenings. Part of that is that our officers not only look at the visa application, but they also talk to the applicant to make an informed decision about whether the person is eligible or whether there are any national security concerns.

Can you talk about K-1 visas specifically and where they are on the priority list?

K-1 visas are a priority, as I mentioned earlier, we have four tiers of immigrant visa priority, and that the majority of consular sections will be focusing on the first two tiers. Fiancé visas are in that tier as well, along with spousal visas and immediate relative visas in our tier 2. They are a focus. Depending on the post, the backlogs in these cases may be longer than others.

You mentioned for fiancée visas specifically that the geographic proclamations no longer affect those visas?

That is correct. That’s worth reinforcing, since just last month. There is a National Interest Exception. There is a blanket declaration from the Secretary of State that these are a National Interest Exception.

How long does it take to process a current EB I-485 application?

I can’t really get into that, because I’m not an expert. There are so many areas that influence processing time. As many of you know, most immigrant visa applications start with a petition filed with USCIS, and that’s an area I can’t really get into. USCIS I’m sure is facing their own resource constraints, their own pandemic restraints.

Most of our immigrant visa cases get routed through the National Visa Center, which also has its own processing. It takes time, and sometimes people submit documentation that’s not complete, and it takes time to go back and get that documentation, so – public service announcement, please make sure your application is documentarily complete before sending.

At the end, if you have cases sitting in the National Visa Center that we are able to schedule, it comes down to individual posts. I’m not even able to answer that question directly. On the positive sign, we don’t have a proclamation preventing us from processing cases directly, and many of our posts have started resuming services. As of a week or two ago, there were a dozen posts that were not doing immigrant visas. Some were COVID related, such as the spike in South Asia for example, and some were not COVID related, such as Burma and Russia, for example.

Do you know about the status of the KCC backlog processing Diversity Visas? It’s been months.

The KCC, I talked with my colleagues there, and my advice is to just be patient. They are processing as much as they can in the order in which the cases are received. For those of you who are waiting for scheduling, please wait until you are contacted by your particular embassy or consulate. I’ve seen other questions about KCC, and their leadership has reminded me to tell you that if you’re used to calling KCC, they had to send the entire staff home due to the pandemic spike last fall. They used to accept phone calls, they don’t anymore. It’s best to get in touch with KCC via email, although their email system is also backlogged. They are doing their best, please be patient. KCC will get to them, and I encourage you not to send a second or third or fourth follow up. We’re trying to get as many DVs scheduled as we can.

Why are there zero interviews scheduled except for a few expedite cases in the F2 category?

Again, I’m not sure if I can get into each specific category because there are so many factors. Certain posts are able to schedule interviews, depending on their local restrictions. I understand you had on my colleague Charlie Oppenheim who can provide more details on when numbers are available for scheduling, and when they can be called “current.” It really comes down to the particular circumstances in that country.

To get back to the tiers, family preference immigrant visas are in the third priority tier. We are trying to process some, for posts that have backlogs, their emphasis will be on processing fiancés and immediate relatives.

For the Tier 1 category of visa preference, do applicants receive their interview appointment without waiting for the first and the fifteenth of the given months or will the 2NL be sent with no wait time?

This goes back to where we have a multi-step process to talk about. What the NVC does is one thing. The case might be ready to be processed pretty quickly, but a certain consular section or embassy or consulate may not be ready to accept those cases. Many consular posts have determined that they are not planning to accept new cases from the national visa center for the next several months. They will work through those and other high-priority cases before scheduling anything new.

If I have an I-485 AOS done in OCT 2020 for an EB-3, can we request our medicals now before a request is made by USCIS?

I would just follow the directions that are given by the NVC and USCIS. The answer to that is probably gonna be a no, just because the medicals come later in the process. You can tell from this conversation that a lot of my discussion is going to be general. I’m not able to talk about any individual case.

Are there any plans to increase staff?

Good question. I’m not the resources guy, so I wouldn’t be the person to ask about that. I’d love to have more staff, but this is not purely a staffing issue. If the world were perfect, Congress would now where to put its resources for staffing – first of all, staffing takes a significant amount of time with training and all that, but the important points that in many of these backlog cases, the backlog is coming from those other factors I’ve talked about – the Presidential Proclamations, the fact that we’ve had to shut down, and the closures at consulates and embassies. It’s going to be a non-linear process, but we will get there as quickly and safely as we can.

Do embassies prioritize medical professionals such as nurses under the EB-3 category?

Good questions. EB-3 is an employment preference category, which would put in priority tier 4. We recognize the importance of medical professionals, our posts are doing their best to process as many as they can, but there are certain exceptions, but at this time all employment-based preferences are in the lowest tier of priority. It really depends on your consular section.

Is It possible to maintain or go back to regular capacity by providing a COVID test less than 72 hours before an appointment?

That’s a really good question, and I applaud the creative thinking, but, unfortunately, each consular section is operating in a different locality. We need to follow the local guidelines for shutdowns and social distancing while also following CDC guidelines for operations.

Why would consulates not book IR-1 or CR-1 interviews?

IR-1s are immediate relatives, so without knowing the specific circumstances of the consulate that you’re talking about, I can’t comment on why interviews are not being scheduled. Again – patience, patience, patience. In that particular locale, the list is probably long, and circumstances are probably preventing the processing of immediate relatives, and they’re working through it as fast as they can.

Have you actually ordered all embassies to resume IV processing? What are you doing to ensure that posts are following orders?

No, posts have not been ordered to resume IV processing. Let me review the guidance that we’re talking about: We need to prioritize the health and safety of our applicants and our staff, and about the people who come into contact with those people. We cannot order a consular section overseas to proceed if it is unsafe to do so. What I can say though is that, as they are safe to reopen, consulates must follow the prioritization guidelines I mentioned earlier. Please be patient. It’s not an easy situation for any of us.

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USCIS Rushes to Modify H-1B Cap Registration & Selection Process Before March

[UPDATE: DELAYED UNTIL DECEMBER 31, 2021]

USCIS Rushes to Modify H-1B Cap Registration & Selection Process Before March

USCIS announced that a rule first proposed in November that modified the H-1B cap selection process will be effective prior to this year’s H-1B registration period. Despite comments submitted through December of 2020, DHS moved forward with publishing the final rule without modification. The new policy will change the selection from a random process to one based on wage levels. In the announcement, USCIS stated that the new modifications will “incentivize employers to offer higher salaries, and/or petition for higher-skilled positions, and establish a more certain path for businesses to achieve personnel needs and remain globally competitive.”

In 2020, the H-1B registration window opened on March 1 and stayed open through March 20, 2020. While no timeline has been announced for 2021, the new rule leaves employers and employees only weeks to adjust to the new selection process if it were implemented, with an effective date of March 8, 2021. There has been no USCIS guidance released on how the registration process will be operationally different than in 2020. President-Elect Biden has indicated he will sign a memo preventing “midnight” rules from taking effect immediately, so it is likely the registration rule will not be implemented for this year’s H-1B cap selection process.

Previous DOL and DHS rules attempting to increase prevailing wages were struck down by the courts last year.

Key Provisions of the Proposed Rule

While the H-1B cap registration system has historically been a random selection process, the rule would shift to a ranking of registrations based on the highest OES wage level that the proffered wage equaled or exceeded for the relevant SOC code in the area of intended employment. The top-ranked registrations would begin at OES wage level IV and proceed in descending order.

Wage Considerations

  • If the proffered wage falls below OES wage level I because the wage is based on a prevailing wage from another legitimate source (other than OES) or an independent authoritative source, USCIS will rank the registration as OES level I.
  • After the 65,000 “regular cap” selections are made, the same process would be utilized to meet the advanced-degree exemption.
  • If USCIS receives and ranks more registrations at a particular wage level than the projected number needed to meet the applicable numerical allocation, USCIS will randomly select from all registrations within that particular wage level to reach the applicable numerical limitation.
  • If the H-1B beneficiary will work in multiple locations, USCIS will rank and select the registration based on the lowest corresponding OES wage level that the proffered wage will equal or exceed.
  • Where there is no current OES prevailing wage information for the proffered position, USCIS will rank and select the registration based on the OES wage level that corresponds to the requirements of the proffered position.
  • The electronic registration form (and the H-1B petition) will be amended to require provision of the highest OES wage level that the proffered wage equals or exceeds for the relevant SOC code in the area of intended employment.

Registration & Adjudication Updates

  • The proposed rule requires that a valid registration must represent a legitimate job offer.
  • USCIS may deny the petition if it is determined that the statements on the registration or petition were inaccurate, fraudulent, or misrepresented a material fact.
  • A petition also may be denied if it is not based on a valid registration submitted by the petitioner (or its designated representative), or a successor in interest, for the beneficiary named in the petition.
  • USCIS may deny or revoke approval of a subsequent new or amended petition filed by the petitioner, or a related entity, on behalf of the same beneficiary, if USCIS determines that the filing of the new or amended petition is part of the petitioner’s attempt to unfairly decrease the proffered wage to an amount that would be equivalent to a lower wage level, after listing a higher wage level on the registration to increase the odds of selection.
  • USCIS will not deny an amended or new petition solely on the basis of a different proffered wage if that wage does not correspond to a lower OES wage level than the wage level on which the registration was based.

We will be closely monitoring the challenges to this rule in order to best advise on preparation for this year’s H-1B cap selection process.

Don’t forget to register for Challa Law Group’s webinar series, where Managing Attorney explores strategies for navigating the new immigration challenges and answers your questions live. Join us every Wednesday at 12 PM EST.

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DOL Rule Increasing Wages Effective Immediately

[UPDATE: Currently on hold by the federal courts.]

Interim Final Rule: Strengthening Wage Protections for the Temporary and Permanent Employment of Certain Aliens in the United States

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced that upon publication in the Federal Register on Thursday, October 8, 2020, the Interim Final Rule (IFR) increasing prevailing wage levels will go into effect immediately. Comments will still be accepted for 30 days after publication.

The IFR will apply to permanent labor certifications and labor condition applications (LCAs). The rule changes how prevailing wage levels are calculated, resulting in immediately higher prevailing wages for all occupations. 

  • Level I Wage: 45th percentile (previously 17th percentile)
  • Level II Wage: 62nd percentile (previously 34th percentile)
  • Level III Wage: 78th percentile (previously 50th percentile)
  • Level IV Wage: 95th percentile (previously 67th percentile)

Implementation Timeline

This rule will apply to:

  1. Applications for Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD) pending with the National Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC) on or after the effective date of the regulation;
  2. Applications for Prevailing Wage Determinations filed with the NPWC on or after the effective date of the regulation; and
  3. Labor Condition Application for Nonimmigrant Workers (LCAs) filed with DOL on or after the effective date of the regulation where the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey data is the prevailing wage source, and where the employer did not obtain the PWD from the NPWC prior to the effective date of the regulation. 

Employers and attorneys can access new prevailing wage data for each SOC and area of intended employment starting October 8, 2020. The Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG) system can be used to submit LCAs and prevailing wage determinations. New PWDs will be issued starting October 13 to allow technical changs to the FLAG system. Non-OES prevailing wages, such as employer-provided surveys or collective bargaining agreements, will continue to be issued during this period.

What does this mean for employers? 

Employers using LCAs or PWDs as part of the employment sponsorship process will see an immediate increase to the wages associated with each wage level, effectively increasing the “required wage” since it is defined as the higher of the actual and prevailing wages. Employment-based immigrant visa petitions relying on OES-based PWD applications will also see higher wages associated.

H-1B & PERM Updates

Employers are required to pay H-1B workers the greater of “the actual wage level paid by the employer to all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for the specific employment in question,” or the “prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment. The wage levels are to ensure that H-1B workers are paid at the same levels as U.S. workers to protect against the replacement of U.S. workers by lower-cost foreign labor.

The prevailing wage levels used in the H-1B (and H-1B1 and E-3) specialty occupation programs are the same used in PERM programs.

DHS has also posted an interim final rule to amend H-1B regulations. The DHS rule will become effective 60 days from publication.

Additional Resources

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Interview Waiver Checklist: Are you eligible for a Drop Box appointment?

Are you eligible for a Drop Box appointment?

If you can answer “yes” to the below questions, you may qualify for an Interview Waiver. If eligible for the waiver, you must still fill out your DS-160 online and then schedule a Drop Box appointment at a Visa Application Center to drop off the required documentation. (The process varies by consular post, so please follow the directions provided to you during the scheduling process.)

Do I qualify for the interview waiver program (IWP) or a “drop box” appointment?

Individuals may be able to renew their visas without an interview if they are reapplying for the same visa class that they previously held. Typically, interviews can be waived for individuals who are renewing unexpired visas or visas that expired less than one year ago. A recent Department of State announcement expanded that time frame to visas that have expired within a 48-month period, effective until December 31, 2021.

Eligibility Criteria for Applicants (Same Visa Class)
(Except children under 14 years of age and applicants 80 years of age or older)

☐ I was previously issued a visa in the same visa classification
☐ My prior visa (in the same class) is still valid or expired within the last 48 months (temporary extension – typically 12 months)
☐ My most recent visa was issued in the same country
☐ I received my visa after January 1, 2008 and was 14 years old or older when I applied for that visa
☐ My prior visa is not annotated “Clearance Received” or “Department Authorization”
☐ My prior visa (in the same class) was issued on or after my 14th birthday
☐ My prior visa (in the same class) was not lost/stolen or cancelled
☐ I have no refusals for a visa in any class after my most recent visa issuance
☐ If yes, then the refusals need to be identified on the DS-160
☐ I have not been arrested or convicted of any crime
☐ I have not stayed in the U.S. longer than 6 months on a B-1/B-2 visa
☐ If applying for an F visa, I am continuing as a student at the same school for which my previous visa was issued
☐ If I am applying for a J visa, my current DS-2019 is issued by the same institution as the institution listed on my previous visa

Note: Blanket L1 visa applicants do not qualify for the Interview Waiver, but Blanket L2 spouses are eligible

GEOGRAPHICAL TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Please note that you must also qualify for a National Interest Exception if traveling from a country affected by geographical travel restrictions.

Eligibility criteria for children under 14 years of age:

  • My parents qualify to renew through the interview waiver program
  • I am applying before my 14th birthday

Note: Children under 14 must submit copies of both parents’ passports’ biographic information, birth certificate, completed DS-160 confirmation, and valid U.S. visa page.

Eligibility criteria for applicants over 80 years of age:

  • I am applying on or after 80th birthday
  • My most recent visa application was not refused

Booking an Appointment

You must first create a profile, then proceed with completing your application. Pay the visa application fee and print one copy of the submission confirmation page.

LOG IN

Schedule a drop box appointment online for the earliest available date. Drop off your passport and the documents listed on the submission confirmation at one of the CGI Service Centers.

INDIA SERVICE CENTERS

Additional Resources


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Top Homeland Security Appointments are Invalid

Top Homeland Security Appointments are Invalid

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the heads of the Department of Homeland Security were appointed without regard to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. GAO determined the appointments of Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, and Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, were invalid and did not follow the proper chain of succession in 2019.

The GAO stated:

“Upon Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s resignation on April 10, 2019, the official who assumed the title of Acting Secretary had not been designated in the order of succession to serve upon the Secretary’s resignation. Because the incorrect official assumed the title of Acting Secretary at that time, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid and officials who assumed their positions under such amendments, including Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, were named by reference to an invalid order of succession.” (Emphasis added.)

The statement continued to explain that GAO had not reviewed the legality of other actions taken by Wolf or Cuccinelli, but are “referring the matter to the Inspector General of DHS for review.” The GAO opinion is likely to result in lawsuits questioning the legality of the actions Wolf and Cuccinelli have taken since leading the DHS. Several of the agency’s controversial policies have been struck down by federal judges in recent months, including heightened requirements for H-1B visas that led to additional denials and shorter approvals.

Challa Law Group will monitor the court challenges and report the latest updates.

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