Tag Archives: H-1B

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.

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

Contact us atinfo@challalaw.comor 804-360-8482 to get your case started today.

 

 

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


Connecting with Challa Law Group

Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET on critical immigration updates

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

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.

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, YouTube, or LinkedIn. Please email us with any additional questions.

CONFIRMED: New H-1B Cap Selections & Filing Window!

CONFIRMED: New H-1B Cap Selections

We have confirmed that USCIS is selecting additional H-1B registrations for the FY2021 cap. The additional registration selections are allowed because USCIS did not receive enough H-1B cap petitions during the April 1 to June 30, 2020 filing window. Many employers reported temporary closures and reduced services during pandemic shutdowns, leading to fewer organizations moving forward with hiring.

USCIS has not reported how many additional registrations are being selected, but the agency is expected to make an official announcement soon.

Checking the Registration Status

Employers and their legal representatives can check the status of the registrations by logging into the H-1B cap registration system. Currently, a registrant’s online USCIS account will display one of four statuses for each individual registration:

  • Submitted: A registration status may continue to show “Submitted” after the initial selection process has been completed. “Submitted” registrations will remain in consideration for selection until the end of the fiscal year, at which point all registration statuses will be Selected, Not Selected or Denied.
  • Selected: Selected to file an FY 2021 H-1B cap-subject petition.
  • Not Selected: Not selected for this fiscal year.
  • Denied: The same registrant or representative submitted more than one registration on the beneficiary’s behalf for the same fiscal year. All registrations the registrant or representative submitted on behalf of the same beneficiary for the same fiscal year are invalid.

H-1B cap-subject beneficiaries, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must have a “Selected” registration notification in order for a registrant or representative to properly file an H-1B cap-subject petition for FY 2021. The status of registrations not selected as part of any initial random selection process and not denied will remain as “Submitted.”

USCIS cautions that registrants and representatives will not be notified until the end of the fiscal year if they are not selected.

New Filing Window: August 17 to November 16

When a registration is selected, a selection notice will be generated by the H-1B cap registration system. The notice will include the filing deadline and USCIS filing location. New selection notices received by our office are displaying a filing window of August 17 to November 16, 2020.

Our legal team is monitoring the registrant accounts to see if additional registrations are selected for filing. We have notified several clients who have already had additional registrants selected.

Has your H-1B registration been selected in the past few days? Contact us at info@challalaw.com to get started with your H-1B filing!

5 Eligibility Criteria for Overcoming H-1B Ban

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

Additional Resources

Next Steps

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 info@challalaw.com to schedule a time to discuss whether your critical employees are eligible for an exception to the travel ban.

USCIS Fees Increase on October 2, 2020

USCIS Fees Increase on October 2, 2020
(UPDATE: A nationwide injunction has temporarily paused implementation of this rule.)

On July 31, 2020 the Department of Homeland Security announced an increase to fees for immigration and naturalization benefit requests. Although most fees are increasing, a $10 discount is offered for online submission where available.

Employment Visa Updates

Employers are understandably concerned about the potential effect the rule has on H-1B, L-1, and other immigrant employees. For employers with more than 50 employees and more than 50% of those employees in H-1B or L-1 status, a $4,000 fee applies. The rule expands the Public Law 114-113 fee of $4,000 to both H-1B and L-1 new employment as well as extensions of stay for employers that meet the 50 employee, 50% dependability test. The Public Law fee will apply regardless of whether the fraud fee applies. Extension requests for H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B visas filed by the same petitioner for the same employee or H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B amended petitions were previously exempt from the additional fee.

DHS will now separate the I-129 into forms based on case type and eliminate the current supplements to the I-129 form. This also allows DHS to charge separate fees for each form depending on the classification. DHS states that the current base filing fee of $460 doesn’t accurately capture the costs associated with adjudication since the fee is paid regardless of how many nonimmigrant workers will benefit from the petition or application, the type of worker evaluated, whether an employee is identified, or how long it takes to adjudicate the different nonimmigrant classifications.

The rule updates the filing fees as follows:

Case Type Current Fee Final Fee Change Percent Change
E-1

E-2

TN

$460 $695 $235 51 percent
H-1B $460 $555 $95 21 percent
H-2A
(named beneficiaries)
$460 $850 $390 85 percent
H-2B
(named beneficiaries)
$460 $715 $255 55 percent
L-1A

L-1B

$460 $805 $345 75 percent
O-1 $460 $705 $245 53 percent
H-2A
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460 $415 -$45 -10 percent
H-2B
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460 $385 -$75 -16 percent


Green Card Fee Changes

Children under the age of 14 filing for a green card with their parents were previously able to pay a reduced fee of $750 instead of the $1,140 (plus $85 biometrics fee) currently charged to older applicants. All applicants will pay $1,130 under the new rule.

DHS also chose to separate the filing fees for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, when either filed concurrently with Form I-485 or after the Form I-485 has been accepted and is still pending. Current regulations allow individuals to pay the I-485 fee, but also file the I-765 and I-131 without additional fees if filed concurrently.

The rule claims: “Debundling allows individuals to pay for only the services actually requested. Thus, many individuals may not pay the full combined price for Forms I-485, I-131, and I-765.” The newly established fees are as follows:

  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document: $590
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization: $550
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or adjust Status: $1,130

Individuals applying for work and travel documents along with their permanent residence application will now pay a total of $2,270.

Citizenship Fees

DHS will remove the N-400 fee waiver (Form I-942) and the reduced fee option “in order to recover full cost for naturalization services.” The rule also removes the fee waiver for the N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. However, the removal of fee waivers will reduce the cost of Forms N-600 and N-600K because the increased fee would no longer need to cover the cost of the fee-waived form adjudication.

However, the N-400 would not be afforded the same price decrease as the N-600: DHS raised the naturalization fee an astounding 83% from $640 to $1,170 for the paper-based filing. With the removal of the reduced fee option, naturalization may be financially out of reach for many families.

Premium Processing

Currently, petitioners or applicants can pay $1,440 for certain employment-based petitions to be adjudicated within 15 calendar days. The new rule will change the 15-day calculation from calendar days to business days, while also excluding federal holidays and regional or national office closures due to weather or other causes.

The rule also states that the 15-day period be paused when USCIS issues a notification of an approval, denial, RFE, or NOID. The rule would also clarify that a new 15 business day period will begin upon receipt of an RFE or NOID response. If an investigation is opened for fraud or misrepresentation, USCIS can retain the fee and not reach a conclusion to the request within 15 days.

The agency claims that the shift to calculating by business days will allow USCIS additional time to complete processing on a premium processing petition and could reduce the need for USCIS to suspend premium processing when request filing volumes are high.

Payment Updates

USCIS will eliminate the $30 returned check fee because the fees associated with collecting the charge were higher than the returned check fees actually collected. However, petitioners and applicants should still ensure that adequate funds are available to avoid processing delays.

Another shift that has the potential to trip up applicants and petitioners is the planned updates to certain form instructions to only allow certain payment types for certain forms. For example, USCIS may determine that it only wants to accept credit or debit card payments for naturalization. USCIS could also decide that only a check or money order is acceptable payment for a certain form. The rule does not modify the instructions at this time, but states:

“In this final rule, DHS does not restrict the method of payment for any particular immigration benefit request. This final rule clarifies the authority for DHS to prescribe certain types of payments for specific immigration benefits or methods of submission.”

Extra precautions must be taken to review form instructions every time a case is filed to avoid a processing delay due to an incorrect payment type.

Biometrics Fees

The new rule incorporates biometrics fees into the underlying immigration benefit request to “simplify the fee structure, reduce rejections of benefit requests for failure to include a separate biometric services fee, and better reflect how USCIS uses biometric information.” The fee includes FBI name checks, FBI fingerprints, Application Support Center (ASC) contractual support, and biometric service management (including federal employees at ASC locations). The rule outlines that a separate biometric services fee will be retained for Temporary Protected Status in the amount of $30, but requests for other immigration benefits will include the biometric fee.

Secure Mail Initiative

We have seen many clients suffer when the United States Postal Service (USPS) loses important immigration notifications. The rule announced that USCIS will implement Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery (SCRD) as the sole method of delivery of secure USCIS documents. USPS states that Signature Confirmation requires that the recipient or another responsible person at the residence be present to sign for the item and then the sender will receive the signature and name of the recipient and the date, time, and location of the delivery. The rule outlines states

“USCIS and applicants can track their document using the USPS website up to when the document is delivered. Recipients will also have the ability to change their delivery location by going to the USPS website and selecting “hold for pickup” to arrange for pickup at a post office at a date and time that suits them.”

Applicants and petitioners should ensure that accurate addresses are submitted prior to the case filing.

Timeline for Rule Implementation

This final rule is effective Oct. 2, 2020. Any application, petition, or request postmarked on or after this date must include payment of the new, correct fees established by this final rule and utilize the updated forms.

Are you ready to start your case prior to the fee and process shifts? Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get started today.

New Immigration Ban: President Declares Foreign Workers “Threat” to U.S. Economy

WHAT IS THE IMMIGRATION BAN?

President Trump issued a proclamation continuing his April 22, 2020 proclamation that prohibited the entry of immigrant visa holders and suspending and limiting the entry of any individual seeking entry pursuant to the following nonimmigrant visas:

  1. H-1B or H-2B visa, and any individual accompanying or following to join such individual.
  2. J visa, to the extent the individual is participating in an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program, and any individual accompanying or following to join such individual; and
  3. L visa, and any individual accompanying or following to join such individual.

The proclamation shall apply only to any individual who:

  1. is outside the United States on the effective date of this proclamation.
  2. does not have a nonimmigrant visa that is valid on the effective date of this proclamation; and
  3. does not have an official travel document other than a visa (such as a transportation letter, an appropriate boarding foil, or an advance parole document) that is valid on the effective date of this proclamation or issued on any date thereafter that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission.

The suspension and limitation on entry pursuant to section 2 of this proclamation shall not apply to:

  1. any lawful permanent resident of the United States.
  2. any individual who is the spouse or child, as defined in section 101(b)(1) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1101(b)(1)), of a United States citizen.
  3. any individual seeking to enter the United States to provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain; and
  4. any individual whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.

The continuation of Proclamation 10014 is effective immediately. The suspension of the entry of certain nonimmigrants took effect on June 24, 2020, at 12:01 am (ET) and is planned to expire on December 31, 2020 (but may be continued).

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?

If you are currently residing in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant status, this ban does not affect you.

  1. You can change status in the U.S.
  2. You can extend your status in the U.S.
  3. You can process your permanent residency application.

If you are currently outside the U.S. and you are already in possession of a valid visa, this ban does not affect you.

  1. CHALLA TIP: If you traveled outside the U.S. to visa process for a new nonimmigrant category, but are in possession of another valid nonimmigrant visa, you can return to the U.S. on your existing visa and change status to another classification in the U.S.

If you are processing a visa other than H-1B, H-2B, L-1 or J-1, this ban does not affect you.

  1. CHALLA TIP: If you are exploring investment opportunities in the U.S., the B-1 visa, which is not one of the banned nonimmigrant classifications, is a mechanism for exploring expansion into the U.S. market. You can then change status to an L-1, if eligible, in the U.S. if once arriving in the U.S. and investigating expansion options, you discover that you need to obtain a work eligible status immediately.
    1. Caution: The B-1 classification requires that at the time of entry, you intend to return to your home country. Therefore, it is impermissible to enter on the B-1 with the predetermined notion or intent to change status in the U.S. Therefore, we do not recommend utilization of the B-1 for entry with the preconceived intent to change status, but only highlighted that if after entry, the circumstances presented themselves where departing and reentering would pose a business risk, at that point there is the ability to file for a change of status application, but only after 60 days of entry.

There is also an exemption for individuals whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees. That may be an opportunity to those who are able to make that argument if it is aligned with the standard for national interest waiver, an employment based permanent residency program. However, since it is a discretionary determination, we will need to wait and see how it is applied.

Additional Questions?

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DHS Defends H-4 EAD in Court Brief

DHS Defends H-4 EAD in Court, Plans to Rescind Work Authorization Through Agency Processes

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security argued that a federal judge should not block work authorization for certain spouses of H-1B visa holders in the U.S. in response to a lawsuit brought by U.S. technology workers. In the Save Jobs USA v. DHS. lawsuit, the workers purport that DHS had no authority to issue work authorization to H-4 spouses in the first place and that the program should end immediately.

However, DHS’s argument to the judge shouldn’t be seen as a defense for the H-4 EAD, but rather support for the agency’s intention to rescind the rule through rulemaking. The DHS has repeatedly noted its intention to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to remove work authorization for dependents of certain H-1B visa holders.

DHS first extended eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants seeking employment-based permanent residence in 2015. That rule has been under reconsideration as the Trump administration signaled its intent to remove work authorization for H-4 dependents in late 2017.

The proposed rule moved forward to review by the Office of Management and Personnel, where it has been held up for over a year. While the proposed regulation is not available for public review yet, some have predicted that the rule could be published in the Federal Register this spring, as it still remains on the Spring Regulatory Agenda.

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.

Please contact us at info@challalaw.com if you would like to discuss options for an independent work-authorized status.