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L-1 Pilot Program Follow-Up Meeting With USCIS and USCBP

Friday, October 12th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

I attended a follow-up engagement meeting today with USCIS and CBP at the Blaine Peace Arch, concerning the L-1 Pilot Program.  Here is a brief summary of the meeting.

The L-1 Intracompany Transfer visa/status is a work authorization granted to certain Executives, Managers, and employees with “Specialized Knowledge.” It is an immigration tool used for multi-national businesses, to move key personnel around. The L-1 status is a part of Chapter 16 of NAFTA and the new USMCA agreement, and is also authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The L-1 Pilot Program was commenced on April 30, 2018, and terminates at the end of October. The basic goal of the program is to promote uniformity of adjudication of petitions by first routing them to USCIS’s California Service Center. Canadians have the option of choosing to submit these applications in person at a port of entry, or by mail/courier to USCIS.

15 submissions in 6 months; 80 Percent RFE Rate

At the meeting, USCIS reported they have had 15 submissions over the past six months. Ordinarily, they were getting at least that many a week at the Blaine crossings, and I think many more. Conclusion: nobody is using the program. This must be a conscious decision by Canadian businesses and their attorneys. Indeed, attorney comments during the meeting said as much. “People are voting with their feet,” one said.

USCIS reported that they issued 12 Requests for Additional Evidence (RFE) on the 15 cases. So far, they’ve approved seven cases and denied three, with the other five pending. They “outright” approved three cases, without RFEs.

RFEs are very common for USCIS right now. Even so, an 80 percent RFE rate is very high, even for USCIS. RFEs mean substantial extra expense for employers (thousands of dollars sometimes), as well as lengthy delays (months), with no certainty of eventual approval. Such is immigration these days.

Pilot cases submitted to USCIS seem to be handled similarly to Premium Processing cases at the Service Center. Premium Processing is the program where employers pay $1410 for 15 day initial adjudication. In this case, petitioners did not have to pay this expense, but of course the process is automatically slower than the same day adjudication some Canadian companies are used to. Most of the cases have been receipted within days—the agency reported two or three days. When an RFE is issued, typically the Petitioner is given three months or so to respond.

Attorneys seemed universally opposed to the program. East Coast attorneys, calling in on the phone, expressly said they would not like to see this program move their way. Representatives of both agencies suggested they might try expanding the program to the Vancouver Airport or other ports of entry, but no decision has been made.

The meeting itself was well organized, with video and phone lines open for all, and both agencies seemed to genuinely want feedback, offering many opportunities for comment.

Concerns with Process, Concerns with Adjudication

From my point of view, there are two larger issues at play here: process and adjudication.

From a process standpoint, Canadian businesses receive no benefit from taking away the option of on-the-spot adjudication. There are times when this is very valuable, such as when an important employee of a Canadian company needs to work in the U.S. fast (e.g. this weekend). Also, there is a benefit to being able to make your case to a live officer, rather than have everything done on paper. Frankly, USCIS has gotten too far into the weeds with adjudications, abandoning the preponderance of evidence standard applicable to all nonimmigrant work authorization petitions.

On the adjudication side, the agencies are pushing for “uniformity of adjudication.” They say that USCIS has the expertise for adjudicating L-1 petitions, which is true at some level. However, border adjudications are nothing new, and they have worked for Canadian/U.S. businesses for decades. Uniformity is also a myth–USCIS adjudicators handle matters very differently, from cubicle to cubicle.

Perhaps the biggest concern for Canadian businesses in this niche is USCIS’s extensive use and abuse of the RFE. Their templates are many pages long, and employers can spend the same amount of time they might in preparing an environmental impact statement, just trying to explain the technical aspects of one of their experts and why they are “specialized” or how they qualify as a “manager”. The RFEs are bogging down USCIS too, which has record wait times on many very-ordinary types of cases.

What Next?

Speakers at the meeting said they will take the feedback from the meeting, confer, and make next decisions.  They could close the program, but I think I suspect the Pilot Program is not done yet. I think CBP would like to punt adjudications to USCIS, and will keep looking for ways to do so.  I would like to see the agency embrace this responsibility as part of their northern border mission, because its good for business and U.S.-Canadian relations.  That may be wishful thinking, I’m afraid. My concern over the next few years is that the U.S. government may try to move all immigration benefits adjudication to USCIS, including TNs.  We’ll keep an eye on it.

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CBP Addresses Canada’s Legalization Of Marijuana And Crossing The U.S. Border

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection published a statement regarding Canada’s legalization of marijuana and crossing the border, which is available at its website.

Most notable:  CBP affirmatively says that persons working in the legalized industry in Canada, without attachment to the U.S. industry, will still be admissible.  See the paragraph I’ve highlighted in bold italics below. Prior public statements by CBP leadership strongly suggested this would not be the case, which seemed counter to the plain language of the Immigration and Nationality Act. I personally questioned such a policy in a story published last month by the Dow Jones’ publication, Market Watch.

I think CBP has it right now, as far as the Immigration and Nationality Act goes. There are many finer legal points though that come into play, when making actual inadmissibility decisions.

Perhaps most importantly, there still is a real need for Congress to take a longer look at the cannabis issue overall, since over half the states have a form of legalization. Until they do, the border will continue to be a hard line on cannabis, drawn between states and provinces which have legalized the substance.

Here is the CBP’s Statement in full, updated on 10/9/18:

CBP Statement on Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana and Crossing the Border
Release Date:
September 21, 2018

UPDATED: 10/09/2018

U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforces the laws of the United States and U.S. laws will not change following Canada’s legalization of marijuana. Requirements for international travelers wishing to enter the United States are governed by and conducted in accordance with U.S. Federal Law, which supersedes state laws. Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. States and Canada, the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana or the facilitation of the aforementioned remain illegal under U.S. Federal Law. Consequently, crossing the border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry in violation of this law may result in denied admission, seizure, fines, and apprehension.

CBP officers are thoroughly trained on admissibility factors and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which broadly governs the admissibility of travelers into the United States. Determinations about admissibility and whether any regulatory or criminal enforcement is appropriate are made by a CBP officer based on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.

Generally, any arriving alien who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict, or who is convicted of, admits having committed, or admits committing, acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of (or an attempt or conspiracy to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance, is inadmissible to the United States.

A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S. however, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.

CBP officers are the nation’s first line of defense in preventing the illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana. U.S. federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana and CBP officers will continue to enforce that law.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.
Last modified:
October 9, 2018

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The TN Status and the New US-Mexico-Canada Agreement

Monday, October 1st, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

The United States, Canada, and Mexico have announced that they have reached an agreement to supplant the longstanding North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The new agreement will be entitled the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  For now, the TN professional status will remain largely unchanged.

The immigration provisions of the new Agreement are housed in Chapter 16, as was the case with NAFTA.  For side by comparison, click on the links in the last sentence.

The USMCA’s Chapter 16 adopts much of the old NAFTA language for “Business Visitors,” “Traders and Investors,” “Intra-Company Transfers,” and “Professionals.” “Professionals” is what we commonly refer to as the TN category, and the issue I will highlight here.

Here’s one new thing:  Article 1602, Paragraph 3, of the USMCA includes language not in the NAFTA, leaving the door open for future restrictions via regulation by any Party:

3. Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent a Party from applying measures to regulate the entry of natural persons of another Party into, or their temporary stay in, its territory, including those measures necessary to protect the integrity of, and to ensure the orderly movement of natural persons across, its borders, provided that those measures are not applied in a manner as to nullify or impair the benefits accruing to any Party under this Chapter.

Side by side, the lists of Professionals in Appendix 1602.D.1 of the USMCA and Appendix 160-3.D.1 of NAFTA are basically the same.  However, it is not a complete copy and paste:

  • The USMCA Appendix includes an additional Footonote 7 to the Medical Laboratory Technologist/Medical Technologist category, which states that “A businessperson in this cateogry must be seeking temporary entry to perform in a laboratory chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic, or bacteriological tests and analyses for the prevention of disease.”
  • The USMCA Appendix also includes an additional Footnote 8 to the Biologist category, which states, “In accordance with the NAFTA 1994 Commission decision of October 7, 2003, the term “Biologist” included the profession Plant Pathologist.” This Footnote obviously reflects the 2003 adjustment to the list.
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The new Article 1606 covers a “Working Group,” which meets once per year to consider administration of the Chapter. The Working Group was already in existence with NAFTA, but the USMCA adds an additional review responsibility for the Group, concerning technologies:
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(e) Issues of common interest related to temporary entry of business persons, such as the use of technologies related to processing of applications, that can be further explored among the Parties in other fora.
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Many thought any agreement would include numeric restrictions for TNs.  Not present. In fact, the original restrictions on Mexico’s TNs are stricken from the Appendix 1603. The countries are expected to collect and share data on entries, as per the Article 1605 Provision of Information requirements.
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The Agreement also does not include a revision of the TN list. Experts seem to agree that the list of eligible occupations needs to be updated. Many new professions have come into existence over the last 25 years.  The Information Technology sector is full of new occupations, such as web developers, database administrators, architects, and software engineers.  Medical science and health care professions have similarly evolved–nurse practitioners are filling a vital role for hospitals, and sometimes are denied TNs for being more than a Registered Nurse. Nonetheless, any attempt at re-doing the occupation codes may have led to a more restrictive outcome, with less categories, numeric restrictions, and tighter qualifications. The U.S. has been limiting immigration in all other areas, and such would’ve reasonably be expected here.
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One question going forward is what do we call the TN now?  TN is short for Treaty NAFTA, but with the change of name to the trilateral treaty, perhaps the work authorization category may change in name too. The White House has been intent on doing away with NAFTA, and so perhaps the TN name might do the same way, in time.
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My impression is the negotiators had their reasons on each side to avoid a major rewrite on Chapter 16.  Other trade issues probably carried more weight, and fast advancing deadlines set by the White House may have ended up leaving this chapter for later. The U.S. Office of Trade Representative held hearings on the mobility issues, and so it is not like the issues were overlooked.
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My greatest concern for the next year is that the U.S. may continue to use regulation to alter the TN category further. The Administration has been very effective at limiting immigration through restrictive regulation and categorical interpretations. One possibility is that DHS may try to move TN adjudications away from the border and to USCIS Service Centers. They are already testing this idea with L adjudications, but the process only seems to slow things down for businesses.  I attended a meeting at the Blaine Peace Arch earlier this year concerning the L-1 Pilot Program where the USCIS Director speculated on the possibility of TN adjudications at the Service Centers. Also, as with all immigration applications, I expect the cost of TN applications to rise for employers, as the government paperwork becomes more demanding.
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This is very fresh news, and so other developments and interpretations may arise.  We will continue to follow this closely.
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Cap Gap Work Authorization Ends On October 1st for H-1B Applicants

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS sent out a reminder today that students in F-1 status, waiting on their H-1B adjudications, are no longer permitted to work on October 1st based on the cap gap rules.  Employers need to be alert to this as well, due to work authorization rules.  Working without authorization can risk accrual of unlawful presence, which is another can of worms. This is s yet another unfortunate consequence of the agency’s delays in adjudicating petitions this year.

Here is the alert:

F-1 students who have an H-1B petition that remains pending on Oct. 1, 2018, risk accruing unlawful presence if they continue to work on or after Oct. 1 (unless otherwise authorized to continue employment), as their “cap-gap” work authorization is only valid through Sept. 30. Due to increased demand for immigration benefits, resulting in higher caseloads as well as a significant surge in premium processing requests, USCIS may not be able to adjudicate H-1B change of status petitions for all F-1 students by Oct. 1.

USCIS regulations allow an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B cap-subject petition requesting a change of status to H-1B on Oct. 1, to have his or her F-1 status and any current employment authorization extended through Sept. 30. This is referred to as filling the “cap-gap”, meaning the regulations provide a way of filling the “gap” between the end of F-1 status and the beginning of H-1B status that might otherwise occur. The “cap-gap” period starts when an F-1 student’s status and work authorization expire, and they are extended through Sept. 30, with Oct. 1 being the requested start date of their H-1B employment, unless otherwise terminated or the H-1B petition is rejected or denied prior to Oct. 1.

While the temporary suspension of premium processing of certain types of H-1B petitions has allowed USCIS to allocate additional resources to prioritize the adjudication of these cap-gap cases, if a cap-gap H-1B petition remains pending on or after Oct. 1, the F-1 student is no longer authorized to work under the cap-gap regulations. However, the F-1 student generally may remain in the United States while the change of status petition is pending without accruing unlawful presence, provided they do not work without authorization. If an F-1 student with a pending change of status petition has work authorization (such as an I-765 with valid dates) that extends past Sept. 30, they may continue to work as authorized.

USCIS is committed to adjudicating all petitions, applications, and requests fairly and efficiently on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable laws, regulations, and policies.

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USCIS to Begin Implementing New Policy Memorandum on Notices to Appear on October 1st

Friday, September 28th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS will begin to implement a new policy memorandum for issuing Notices to Appear on October 1st.  The memorandum outlines criteria for issuing Notices to Appear, which is the document for initiating immigration court proceedings. The agency will issue Notices to Appear after certain denials of many of the application types presented. These will include Adjustments of Status, Naturalization, and Temporary Protected Status applications, to name a few.  The importance of seeking counsel before filing applications is all the more heightened by this memo, particularly if there is any issue at all to consider.

The memo says that USCIS will issue Notices to Appear in many cases. The focus will be on a number of different serious criminal matters where persons are “under investigation for, has been arrested for (without disposition), or has been convicted.  The offenses include serious offenses like murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, and firearms offenses. The list also includes “human rights violators, known or suspected street gang members, or Interpol hits.”

Additionally, persons who make misrepresentations or “abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits” may be noted to appear.

Naturalization applicants who are denied on good moral character grounds, based on an underlying offense, “provided they are removable,” will be noted to appear.

The agency policy memo includes many other bases, many of which sound reasonable, but the language of the memo leaves much open for interpretation and negative discretionary actions by the agency.  Notably, the current immigration court case backlog is over 700,000 cases, and this will just add to that backlog.  Unless these measures are adequately funded, they threaten all normal immigration processing timelines, which are even now considerably delayed.

Here’s the agency’s press release:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin implementing the June 28 Updated Guidance for the Referral of Cases and Issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Deportable Aliens Policy Memorandum (PM) (PDF, 140 KB) on Oct. 1, 2018. USCIS will take an incremental approach to implement this memo.

An NTA is a document that instructs an individual to appear before an immigration judge. This is the first step in starting removal proceedings. Starting Oct. 1, 2018, USCIS may issue NTAs on denied status-impacting applications, including but not limited to, Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

USCIS will send denial letters for status-impacting applications that ensures benefit seekers are provided adequate notice when an application for a benefit is denied. If applicants are no longer in a period of authorized stay, and do not depart the United States, USCIS may issue an NTA. USCIS will provide details on how applicants can review information regarding their period of authorized stay, check travel compliance, or validate departure from the United States.

The June 2018 NTA Policy Memo will not be implemented with respect to employment-based petitions and humanitarian applications and petitions at this time. Existing guidance for these case types will remain in effect.

USCIS will continue to prioritize cases of individuals with criminal records, fraud, or national security concerns. There has been no change to the current processes for issuing NTAs on these case types, and USCIS will continue to use its discretion in issuing NTAs for these cases.

USCIS is holding a public teleconference on Thursday, Sept. 27 from 2 – 3 p.m. Eastern to provide an overview of the PM and respond to pre-submitted questions. The teleconference will conclude with a question and answer session, as time permits. Additional information is available on the Upcoming National Engagements page.

USCIS will provide updates and information on the implementation of this PM on the new Notice to Appear Policy Memorandum page.

 

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USCIS Processing Times Are Getting Longer

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Longer waits, longer applications, and higher fees are the unfortunate reality for persons and businesses seeking immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Here in Washington State, the USCIS Field Office in Seattle says it is taking 15 to 16.5 months to adjudicte a naturalization application.  The application itself costs $725, has 18 pages of instructions, and 20 pages of application to complete.  USCIS Field Offices appear to be swamped with additional vetting responsibilities, with no additional funding, despite the high application costs.

Similarly, the Service Centers have long waits for many important benefits.  Work authorization documents are taking 4.5 to 6.5 months to issue out of the National Benefits Center.  It used to be that the agency was required to issue a work authorization document within 90 days by regulation, but since that regulation was stricken, wait times have increased. This can be really hard on adjustment application couples, who need their significant other to be earning income to pay the bills.

H-1B applications have really slowed down too, now taking 5.5 to 7.5 months, according to the California Service Center.  We’ve heard of longer adjudications. The agency has noted the issue as well, and has suspended much of its premium processing program in order to try to get a handle on things.  It seems likely that the increase in Requests for Evidence and Denials has added to the agency’s workload.  H-1B applications include thousands of dollars in filing fees, but that doesn’t seem to be relevant.

Last week I participated in a teleconference with Congressional staffers and discussed the issue of delays.  It is a universal concern in immigration law right now, and hopefully something can be done. As part of that call, I put together the following list of published adjudication timeframes:

Timeframes for initial adjudications:

Local Field Offices:

I-485s

(Seattle):             10 to 19.5 months

(Yakima)              9.5 to 21.5 months

(Spokane)           9.5 to 21.5 months

Application fee:                $1225

Form length:                      18 pages; 42 pages of instructions, not including parole and work authorization applications

N-400s

(Seattle):                              15 to 16.5 months

(Yakima)                              3.5 to 5.5 months

(Spokane)                           11.5 to 18 months

Application Fee:               $725

Form length:                      20 pages; 18 pages of instructions.

 

National Benefits Center:

I-765                      4.5 to 6.5 months for adjustments;   5 to 7 months at NBC for all others

I-131                      4.5 to 6.5 months at NBC

 

California Service Center (I-129s)

H-1B:                     5.5 to 7.5 months

Ls:                           4 to 6 months

Rs:                          4 to 7 months

 

Nebraska Service Center (I-140s)

Extraordinary ability (E11)                                         5 Months to 7 Months

Outstanding professor or researcher (E12)                 5 Months to 7 Months

Multinational executive or manager (E13)                  9.5 Months to 12 Months

Advanced degree or exceptional ability (E21)           5 Months to 7 Months

Skilled worker or professional (E31; E32)                  5 Months to 7 Months

Unskilled worker (EW3)                                             7 Months to 9.5 Months

Advanced degree/ (NIW)                                           5 Months to 7 Months

Schedule A Nurses                                                     8 Months to 10 Months

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Canada’s Cannabis Act and U.S. Inadmissibility

Friday, September 21st, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Canada’s Cannabis Act, otherwise called Bill C-45, legalizes cannabis nationally on October 17th. The starting point for all U.S. border issues is the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list below of the key provisions of the INA concerning marijuana and inadmissibility.

I. Criminality Related Grounds

A. Personal:

a.) A past conviction related to cannabis [INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(II)];
b.) Admitting to committing a violation of any law or regulation of a foreign country related to controlled substances [INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(II)];
c.) Admitting to committing acts which constitute the essential elements of any law or regulation of a foreign country related to controlled substances [INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(II)];

Note: Cannabis on person/in car: this is a Customs violation, likely warranting a fine and further questions. Not typically referred for prosecution, though a violation of the Controlled Substance Act. Waiver usually required thereafter. Also, note, cannabis may also be involved in crimes involving moral turpitude, a separate basis of inadmissibility.

B. Illicit Trafficking (“Reason to Believe”: no conviction required)

d.) Where the U.S. Government knows or has “reason to believe” (no conviction required) is an illicit trafficker, or who is or has been a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator or colluder with others who are in illicit trafficking [INA § 212(a)(2)(C)(i)];

e.) A spouse, son or daughter of an illicit trafficker, who has received financial or other benefit from the illicit trafficking in the past five years, and knew or reasonably should have known that the financial or other benefit was a product of such illicit activity. [INA § 212(a)(2)(C)(ii)];

II. Health related grounds (“Drug abuser/Drug Addict”; “Physical/Mental Disorder”)

f.) A determination that a noncitizen is a drug abuser or drug addict, in accordance with regulations prescribed by Health and Human Services [INA § 212(a)(1)(A)(iv)];

g.) A determination that a noncitizen has a physical or mental disorder and behavior/ history of behavior posing threat to property, safety or welfare of others [INA § 212(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I and II)]

• Panel physician – have to pay government certified physician for exam
• CDC Technical Instructions requires 1 year of remission

III. National Security- (Unlawful purpose)

h.) Seeking entry principally or incidentally for an unlawful activity [INA § 212(a)(3)(ii)];

IV. Misrepresentation/Fraud

i.) Fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact in pursuit of an immigration benefit [INA § 212(a)(6)(C)].

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J-1 Conrad Waiver Slots for Physicians Opens On October 1st

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

On October 1st, Health Departments around the country will begin accepting J-1 waiver applications under the Conrad program. Each state is allotted 30 spots, with the majority going to primary care physicians, who agree to work for three years in a health professional shortage area. In turn, their two year foreign residency requirement is waived. We routinely prepare these applications.

Rules vary state to state, although the federal government has minimum requirements. Washington State, where we are located, historically takes between six and twelve months to fill all of its spots. However, last year Oregon, which also used to be slow to fill, filled their spots in record time. Some states receive more than 30 applications on the first day the window opens.

Here are a few of the key rules for Washington State:

  • Up to ten sponsorships are available for Specialists between October 1st to March 31st. Last year, more than 10 applications were submitted during this period, but spots were still left available after March 31st. This has historically been true too.
  • Washington State also allows 10 non-designated FLEX waivers per year, with these slots opening on January 15th.
  • Washington State limits employers to only three waivers, prior to June 1st of the fiscal year.
  • Applicants, including integrated health care systems in a single HPSA, are limited to a.) two sponsorships per practice location; b.) one hospitalist sponsorship per hospital; c.) no more than three sponsorships total across all practice locations in the HPSA between October 1st and May 31st; d.) and no more than three FLEX spots by a an applicant for a single county.
  • Sponsors must show at least 15% of total patient visits are for Medicaid or other low income patients. This is up from the former 10% figure.
  • The process also requires that sponsors show at least six months of qualifying recruitment in the past 12 months in Washington State.

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Premium Processing Price Hike, Suspension

Thursday, September 6th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS will raise the price for Premium Processing on October 1st, from $1225 to the odd number of $1410. Premium processing allows petitioners for certain types of applications to be guaranteed initial adjudication within 15 days, by paying the additional fee. Employers often choose to pay this fee, since the agency often takes months upon months to adjudicate applications through regular processing. The process works a lot of the time, though sometimes attorneys feel that the Premium Processing Unit may adjudicate the petition differently than regular processing. Long-time immigration attorneys probably have seen a few Day 15 Requests for Additional Evidence, which seem issued just to comply with the 15 day adjudication window.

Many Petitioners won’t be able to pay this new, higher fee, because a few days earlier USCIS announced that it is extending and expanding the suspension of premium processing for most types of petitions, in order to get a better handle on the non-premium processing workload. This is an agency which is struggling to manage increasing vetting obligations while delivering adjudications in reasonable timeframes. Employers are best advised to be aware of these bureaucratic challenges, as they can have a real impact on noncitizen worker availability.

Here are the two press releases from USCIS announcing these changes to the Premium Processing service:

USCIS Adjusting Premium Processing Fee (8/31/18)

Fee Increase Consistent with the Consumer Price Index

WASHINGTON – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today it is adjusting the premium processing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers beginning on Oct. 1, 2018 to more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain effective service to petitioners.

The premium processing fee will increase to $1,410, a 14.92 percent increase (after rounding) from the current fee of $1,225. This increase, which is done in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, represents the percentage change in inflation since the fee was last increased in 2010 based on the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.

“Because premium processing fees have not been adjusted since 2010, our ability to improve the adjudications and service processes for all petitioners has been hindered as we’ve experienced significantly higher demand for immigration benefits. Ultimately, adjusting the premium processing fee will allow us to continue making necessary investments in staff and technology to administer various immigration benefit requests more effectively and efficiently,” said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Moore. “USCIS will continue adjudicating all petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations.”

Premium processing is an optional service that is currently authorized for certain petitioners filing Forms I-129 or I-140. The system allows petitioners to request 15-day processing of certain employment-based immigration benefit requests if they pay an extra fee. The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.

USCIS intends to hire additional staff and make investments in information technology systems with the premium funds that are generated by the fee increase. This will allow the agency to provide premium processing service with less disruption while improving adjudications and operational processes.

For more information on USCIS and its programs, please visit uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter (@uscis), Instagram (/uscis), YouTube (/uscis), and Facebook (/uscis).

USCIS Extends and Expands Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions to Reduce Delays (8/28/18)

USCIS is extending the previously announced temporary suspension of premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions and, beginning Sept. 11, 2018, will be expanding this temporary suspension to include certain additional H-1B petitions. We expect these suspensions will last until Feb. 19, 2019, and will notify the public via uscis.gov before resuming premium processing for these petitions.

While H-1B premium processing is suspended, we will reject any Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service filed with an affected Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the Form I-907 and Form I‑129 H-1B fees, both forms will be rejected.
Who Is Affected

The expanded temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers (excluding cap-exempt filings as noted below).

The previously announced suspension of premium processing for fiscal year 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions was originally slated to last until Sept. 10, 2018, but that suspension is being extended through an estimated date of Feb. 19, 2019.

We will continue premium processing of Form I-129 H-1B petitions that are not currently suspended if the petitioner properly filed an associated Form I-907 before Sept. 11, 2018. Therefore, we will refund the premium processing fee if:

The petitioner filed the Form I-907 for an H-1B petition before Sept. 11, 2018; and
We did not take adjudicative action on the case within the 15-calendar-day processing period.

Premium Processing Remains Available for Certain H-1B Petitions

The suspension does not apply to:

Cap-exempt petitions that are filed exclusively at the California Service Center because the employer is cap exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap exempt institution, entity, or organization; or
Those petitions filed exclusively at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer” (Box b. on Part 2, Question 2, Page 2 of the current Form I-129) with a concurrent request to:
Notify the office in Part 4 so each beneficiary can obtain a visa or be admitted. (Box on Part 2, Question 4, Page 2 of the current Form I-129); or
Extend the stay of each beneficiary because the beneficiary now holds this status. (Box c. on Part 2, Question 4, Page 2 of the current Form I-129).

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to any other nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.
Requesting Expedited Processing

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage. The petitioner must demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, and petitioners should be prepared to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request.

We review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and requests are granted at the discretion of the office leadership.
Why We Are Temporarily Suspending Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions

This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times by allowing us to:

Process long-pending petitions, which we have been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and premium processing requests over the past few months;
Be responsive to petitions with time-sensitive start dates; and
Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark.

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Canadian Senate Committee Issues Report on Border and Legalization

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

I had the honor of testifying before Canada’s Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in April, concerning the border and Canada’s bill to legalize cannabis nationally.

The Committee issued an interesting report, in which they recognize that legalization may lead to border issues. The Committee makes recommendations for diplomatic and legislative action. The Report mentions potential issues with Pre-Clearance, NEXUS, and with interrogations.  Below I’ve pasted the Committee’s report and related press release.

Report of the committee

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has the honour to table its

SIXTEENTH REPORT

Your committee, which was authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, insofar as it relates to Canada’s borders, has, in obedience to the order of reference of Thursday, February 15, 2018, examined the said subject-matter and now reports as follows:

At the Committee’s meetings of March 19, March 26 and April 16, 2018, thirteen witnesses appeared to present their views on the subject matter of Bill C-45. Your committee presents the following comments on the bill as it relates to Canada’s borders:

1) Your committee wishes to minimize any negative effects of Bill C-45 on the movement of travellers and goods across the Canada-U.S. border. First, your committee wishes to prevent, as much as possible, Canadian travellers from being further interrogated or searched by U.S. customs officers as a result of the legalization of cannabis in Canada. Your committee also wants to prevent, as much as possible, an increase in the number of Canadian and U.S. travellers being stopped at the border for possession of cannabis. Your committee heard from witnesses who believe that, after Bill C-45 comes into force, Canadians could face delays and more Canadian travellers could face legal proceedings and/or inadmissibility for life for a cannabis offence or for simply admitting previous cannabis use to U.S. customs and border protection officers.

2) To prevent the above-mentioned problems, your committee encourages the Canadian government to have formal discussions with the U.S. government to clarify the U.S. government’s position with respect to Canadian travellers who admit to previous cannabis use. Specifically, your committee encourages the Canadian government to have formal discussions at the political level in order to clarify whether Canadians who admit to having previously used cannabis will face inadmissibility to the United States if Bill C-45 is passed. If so, your committee encourages the Canadian government to make it clear to U.S. authorities that, in its view, following the coming into force of Bill C-45, Canadian travellers should not be prohibited entry into the United States for activities that are legal in Canada, such as using cannabis or working for a company that legally produces cannabis. Your committee encourages the government to continue its dialogue with the U.S. government and to clearly and firmly communicate Canada’s position in order to minimize the impact of Bill C-45 on Canadian travellers. This dialogue could also help find solutions to issues and problems that will arise at the border following the entry into force of Bill C-45.

3) In the context of this dialogue with the United States, your committee encourages the government to negotiate an agreement with the United States on the treatment of travellers at the border on issues related to cannabis, notably on the types of questions that border officers of both countries ask travellers in light of the fact that consuming cannabis will be legal in Canada following the entry into force of Bill C-45 and that it is already legal in several American states. This bilateral agreement could also protect workers of Canadian companies in the emerging cannabis sector in order to ensure that the workers of these companies are not banned from entry into the U.S. because they are “associated with drug trafficking,” as current U.S. law states.

4) In conjunction with diplomatic activities, your committee encourages the government to increase the scope of its awareness campaign to make it clear to Canadians that crossing the Canada-U.S. border while in possession of cannabis will remain illegal even if Bill C-45 comes into force. This awareness campaign should also make it clear to Canadians that they may be denied entry into the United States if they admit to previous cannabis use. Although Canadian officials who appeared before your committee stated that an awareness campaign would be launched soon, your committee believes that additional efforts should be made in the coming months to ensure that Canadians understand the seriousness of the consequences they will face if cannabis is found in their possession at the border or if they admit to previous cannabis use. Additional awareness campaigns, one specifically targeting youth and the other focused on those who hold or apply for trusted traveller programs (such as NEXUS and FAST), should be put in place due to the unique vulnerabilities of these groups.

5) Your committee encourages the Canadian government to install signs and posters at border crossings and pre-clearance sites clearly explaining to travellers that it is illegal to cross the Canada-U.S. border with cannabis. Witnesses from Public Safety told the committee that such signs would be installed at the border. Your committee encourages the Canadian government to accelerate the implementation of its awareness campaign and the installation of signs and posters before Bill C-45 comes into force so that travellers are aware of the consequences they face if they try to cross the Canada-U.S. border with cannabis.

6) Your committee encourages the government to modernise preclearance measures in light of Bill C-45. In accordance with An Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, which received Royal Assent on December 12, 2017, travellers are obliged to truthfully answer any question posed to them by U.S. border officers, which means that Canadians who submit to preclearance must truthfully answer any questions about their cannabis use. At regular border crossings, travellers who refuse to answer these types of questions can be denied entrance into the U.S., but do not face lifetime bans or prison terms. However, travellers who refuse to answer questions in preclearance areas could face sentences of up to two years in prison for “resisting or wilfully obstructing a preclearance officer.” Your committee therefore encourages the government to modernise the Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States in light of Bill C-45.

7) Lastly, your committee requests that the government table before Parliament a plan to protect Canadian travellers at the border. This plan should outline the measures that the government intends to take to minimise the impact of Bill C-45 on the movement of travellers and goods across the Canada-U.S. border. This plan should also explain the approach that the government intends to take in its negotiations with the United States in order to ensure that Canadian travellers are not denied entry into the United States for previous cannabis use or for engaging in any other type of activity that would become legal following the entry into force of Bill C-45.

Respectfully submitted,

GWEN BONIFACE

Chair

 

News Release
The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence
Legalized cannabis could lead to border-crossing woes
May 2, 2018
________________________________________
Ottawa – If recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada, the federal government should continue official discussions with the United States about the treatment of Canadian travellers so that they remain able to cross the border with minimal inconvenience, the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence said Tuesday.

Committee members made a number of comments with regard to the legalization of cannabis after studying the issue as it relates to Canada’s borders.
Senators wish to minimize the effect of legalization on the movement of travellers and goods so that Canadians do not, for instance, face lengthy interrogation or increased searches by U.S. customs officials.

Witnesses have testified that Canadians travelling to the U.S. could be inadmissible for entry simply for admitting to previous cannabis use.

The committee requests that the government table before Parliament a plan to protect Canadian travellers at the border.

Quick Facts

• Pursuant to a motion adopted in the Senate on February 15, 2018, the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence was authorized to study Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, as it relates to Canada’s borders.

• The motion also authorized the Senate committees on Aboriginal Peoples, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Legal and Constitutional Affairs to study aspects of Bill C-45.

• These committees’ reports will be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during its study of the bill.

Quotes

“With legalization looming, Canada must be prepared for the consequences. Canadians must be confident that they will still be able to cross into the United States without fear that activities legal in Canada will be held against them. We urge the government to make the necessary diplomatic overtures.”
– Senator Gwen Boniface, Chair of the committee.

“If the legalization of cannabis is to take place with a minimum of harm, the government will need to address the issues our committee has raised. The mobility of people and goods across the U.S. border is crucial to Canada’s economy; we cannot afford to be unprepared.”
– Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, Deputy Chair of the committee.

“Our actions, as legislators, have consequences. Sometimes they are difficult to foresee, but in this instance it is all too clear that Bill C-45 could adversely affect cross-border mobility. There is still time for the government to take steps to protect Canadian travellers.”
– Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer, Deputy Chair of the committee.

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