Tag Archives: H-1B

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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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

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?

Join us every Monday at 11 AM ET for a webinar covering COVID updates for businesses and foreign workers. Register for the webinar or email us with any 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.

USCIS Announces Delays for H-1B Cap Processing & Nonimmigrant Extension/Change of Status Filings

USCIS Announces Delays for H-1B Cap Processing & Nonimmigrant Extension/Change of Status Filings

USCIS announced a series of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including extensions and change of status filings for nonimmigrants and H-1B cap petitions. USCIS offices have been temporarily closed for in-person appointments and much of the workforce is working remotely.

H-1B Cap-Subject Petitions

The H-1B cap filing window opened April 1, 2020 for registrations selected during the March registration period. Previously, USCIS announced that premium processing (guaranteeing a 15 day adjudication window) is suspended until further notice due to the pandemic. Petitioners are now advised that receipt notices will not be generated until at least May 1, 2020, but that intake processing will be done in the order in which the filings arrived at the service centers. Petitions will still be stamped on the date they arrive (if otherwise properly filed) and the receipt date will correspond with the actual arrival date to the service center.

While the receipt date should remain the same, this delay narrows the window for refiling if the case was “improperly filed” due to an error. Increasing the stress on petitioners is the discrepancy between the service centers noted on the registration selection notices, which reflected different service centers than indicated on the USCIS direct filing for I-129 webpage.

The filing windows are not being extended at this time and there is no indication this window will be extended. Petitioners are also asked not to make inquiries on any petitions until receipt notices are received. USCIS stated that:

“Due to delayed data entry and notice generation, there will be a general delay in processing FY 2021 cap-subject petitions. We are mindful of petitions with sensitive expiration and start dates, such as cap-gap petitions, and will strive to process these petitions as efficiently as possible.”

The announcement advised that all cap-subject petitions should be filed at the service center noted on the selection notice, but cases may be transferred between the Vermont, California, Nebraska, and Texas Service Centers to “balance the workload and enhance efficiencies.” All transferred cases will receive a notification in the mail with the new location.

Nonimmigrant Extension/Change of Status Filings

In the announcement warning of delays in processing, the Department of Homeland Security also hinted of more restrictive immigration policies:

“DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of U.S. workers during this pandemic.”

The announcement acknowledges the existing options available to nonimmigrant visa holders, but despite the requests by many immigrant workers and supporting organizations, the notice does not provide guaranteed flexibility for those facing hardships due to COVID-19. USCIS shares the following options available:

  • Apply for an Extension. Most nonimmigrants can mitigate the immigration consequences of COVID-19 by timely filing an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and many of our forms are available for online filing.
  • If You File in a Timely Manner. Nonimmigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence while the timely-filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending.  Where applicable, employment authorization with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time.
  • Flexibility for Late Applications. USCIS reminds petitioners and applicants that it can consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances.

USCIS also notes that in certain situations, a late filing request for an extension or change of status may still be excused after the authorized period if it was “due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, such as those that may be caused by COVID-19.” The notice states that the “length of the delay must be commensurate with the circumstances” and that the individual must submit “credible evidence to support their request” which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Visa Waiver Program/ESTA Update

Unlike visitor’s visas or other nonimmigrant visas, entrants in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program are not eligible for extensions. However, the regulations provide for the concept of “Satisfactory Departure” under certain emergency situations, such as COVID-19. If Satisfactory Departure is approved, the individual must depart the U.S. within the approved period to be regarded as having made a timely departure without overstaying the allowed time. We previously explored options for requesting satisfactory departure for up to 30 days by contacting the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the appropriate port of entry.

In USCIS’s announcement on processing delays, the agency also states that for Visa Waiver Program entrants who have already been granted satisfactory departure but they are unable to depart within the 30 day period because of COVID-19 travel issues, USCIS can temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure. To request satisfactory departure from USCIS, a VWP entrant should call the USCIS Contact Center.

Visit Challa Law Group’s COVID-19 Resource Page for Employers & Foreign Workers to read about other critical immigration updates or email us at info@challalaw.com with any questions.

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.