Tag Archives: H-1B

Final H-1B Rule (Partially) Effective for 2019 Cap

After numerous public comments, USCIS posted the final H-1B registration rule requiring petitioners to register in a new system on behalf of cap-subject aliens. The rule also reverses the order in which H-1B petitions are selected for adjudication, potentially increasing the number of H-1B visa holders with U.S. master’s degrees. While the rule was published on January 31, 2019, the electronic registration requirement has been suspended until the FY 2021 cap season “to complete user testing and ensure the system and process are fully functional.”

Since President Donald Trump signed the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security has made a series of changes to adjudication processes through policy memoranda. The executive order put a special emphasis on the H-1B program and directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “suggest reforms to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.” USCIS Director Cissna stated:

“The registration system, once implemented, will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency. We are also furthering President Trump’s goal of improving our immigration system by making a simple adjustment to the H-1B cap selection process. As a result, U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas.”

The new registration system would allow employers to wait until a registrant is selected for the cap before submitting the H-1B petition. Only basic information would be required during the registration process for the employer and beneficiary, including the employer’s name, EIN, address, authorized representative information, basic biographic information about the beneficiary, and notification of the employer’s attorney or accredited representative.

Employers: Preparing for April 1, 2019

Since the registration system will be delayed, the main change to the H-1B filing process for cap season 2019 is the order by which USCIS will select H-1B petitions. The previous process was to select the advanced degree exemption beneficiaries first (assuming the H-1B cap and advanced degree exemption quotas are reached within the first five days of filing). The new rule reverses the selection order, counting all applicants towards the estimated number needed to reach the regular H-1B cap first. After those applicants are selected, then USCIS will select applicants eligible for the master’s degree or higher exemption. USCIS estimates that this change will cause a 16% increase in the number of selected beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education. Employers hiring individuals with U.S. master’s degrees may have a higher likelihood of getting beneficiaries selected for the cap or advanced degree exemption.

A recent report by the National Foundation for American Policy (a non-partisan group) found that denials and Requests for Evidence (RFEs) increased soon after the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order was signed. From the third to fourth quarter of FY2017, “the proportion of H-1B petitions denied for foreign-born professionals increased by 41%… rising from a denial rate of 15.9% in the 3rd quarter to 22.4% in the 4th quarter.” RFEs also jumped from 63,599 in the first three quarters combined to 63,184 in the fourth quarter, causing the rate of RFEs to completed cases to jump from 23% in the third quarter to 69% in the fourth quarter.

H-1B RFEs are often a mechanism for DHS’s increased scrutiny on wages and certain level one specialty occupations. Employers need to initiate cases early so that these issues can be addressed before the petition is filed. Employers and potential H-1B recipients should already be gathering documentations in preparation for the April 1, 2019 deadline. If you wait until March, it may be too late to obtain the necessary labor condition application and gather all required documents.

Below are some tips to help your H-1B get approved:

  • Consult with an immigration attorney to ensure the position meets H-1B regulations for a specialty occupation.
  • Develop a detailed job description that clearly lists job duties and make sure the position matches the required salary.
  • Explain how the position is specialized and requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
  • H-1B applicants must have all documentation translated into English with a valid translation certificate attached.
  • If the degree is from a foreign institution, plan to have a credentials evaluation completed.
  • Double check the required filing fees and decide whether to utilize premium processing.

Employers also need to ensure strict compliance to the H-1B regulations and file timely amendments or extensions for employees who could shift job duties or be near the end of a project.

Changes Imminent to H-4 Dependent Form I-539: USCIS Announces Updated Implementation Plan

USCIS recently announced their intent to publish a new version of Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Form I-539 is commonly used by individuals residing in the U.S. temporarily, such as dependents of H-1B, L-1, E-1, E-2, J-1, etc. F-1 students and B-1/B-2 visitors may also use the form to extend their stay in the U.S.

USCIS originally stated that the revised version will be available on March 11, 2019; the same day only that version of the form will be accepted. The supplemental Form I-539A was also scheduled to be updated on that date.

Stakeholder Concern

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other stakeholders expressed concern that there is no grace period and that the form and instructions are being released the same day that it becomes mandatory to use. The timing is difficult for beneficiaries and companies attempting to file for H-1B employees and H-4 dependents by the April filing deadline. AILA sent a letter on February 21 to USCIS Director Cissna requesting a delay for the March 11 effective date and suggesting a 90-day grace period for the updated form.

USCIS Revises Form Implementation Plan

The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman considered the concerns stakeholders articulated over the transition and hosted a teleconference on March 1, 2019 to discuss the revised forms. During that call, USCIS announced some modifications to the original timeline and implementation plan:

  • USCIS stated the revised forms I-539 and I-539A would be posted three days early.
  • There will be a 10-day grace period for those filing with the old versions of the forms: the previous version with edition date 12/23/16 will be accepted if received at a USCIS Lockbox by close of business on March 21, 2019.
  • The new forms with edition date of 2/4/19 will be accepted starting March 11, 2019.

USCIS also stated that during the grace period, the new forms will be held for processing until March 22, 2019 with the receipt date based on when the USCIS Lockbox actually received the filing.

Highlighted Updates

Below are the major changes to the form I-539 and I-539A:

  • Every co-applicant on the primary Form I-539 must submit and sign a separate Form I-539A. Parents or guardians may sign on behalf of children under the age of 14.
  • Every applicant and co-applicant must now pay separate $85 biometric services fees (except certain A, G, and NATO nonimmigrants).
  • Every applicant and co-applicant will receive biometric services appointments, regardless of age, containing an individual receipt number. The appointments will be scheduled at the Application Support Center (ASC) closest to the primary applicant’s address. (Co-applicants who wish to be scheduled at a different ASC location should file a separate Form I-539.)

Implications for H-1B Cap Season

Challa Law Group has determined that only select H-4 filings will be sent with the initial H-1B petition due to the uncertainty and timing surrounding the updated forms. We will only file in cases in which the principal or the H-4 dependent will fall out of a valid immigration status without a pending application or petition. For example, if the principal visa holder has Optional Practical Training through an F-1 student visa, he or she can utilize the “cap gap” to continue working until October 1. The individual can then stay in the U.S. based on the pending H-1B but cannot continue working beyond October 1 without another work-authorized status. The dependent should file for the H-4 application to also maintain his or her stay in the U.S. while the USCIS is adjudicating the cases. (For F-1 students with OPT expiring before October 1, if an OPT STEM extension is available, the student should first file for the STEM extension instead of an H-4 visa until an H-1B or another independent status can be obtained.)

By deferring the H-4 applications until after the cap filing deadline, we will mitigate some of the additional confusion surrounding a form update with no grace period. When an individual is selected in the H-1B visa cap, then the H-4 application can be submitted at that time. This will allow biometrics fees and additional signatures to be collected from H-4 dependents separately from the H-1B documentation, streamlining the process for employers and beneficiaries.

 Trump Administration’s Intent to Rescind H-4 Work Authorization

In 2015, DHS published a final rule extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants seeking employment-based permanent residence. That rule is now being reconsidered as the Trump administration signaled its intent to remove work authorization for H-4 dependents in late 2017. The proposed rule has moved forward to review by the Office of Management and Personnel. While the proposed regulation is not available for public review yet, some have predicted that the rule could be published in the Federal Register before a March 18 deadline in a lawsuit: Save Jobs USA v. DHS. The lawsuit, brought by U.S. technology workers, purports that DHS had no authority to issue work authorization to H-4 spouses in the first place and that the program should end immediately.

Possible Timeline for H-4 Work Authorization Rescission

While the final rule will not be available until it is published in the Federal Register, we expect that the rule will provide a timeline for no longer accepting H-4 EAD applications and determine when current H-4 EAD holders will need to stop working (unless obtaining an alternative work-authorized status). If the rule is rescinded, there could be additional litigation to challenge the ruling. Individuals currently working on the H-4 EAD should consider an independent work-authorized status if available.

Note: Attorneys Challa and Millburn at Challa Law Group are members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.