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Pre-Registration for 2019 Cap-Subject H-1B In The Works

Monday, November 19th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

The Department of Homeland Security released its list of rules that it plans to update, and the H-1B program made the list.  Specifically, DHS is actively considering whether to implement a pre-registration requirement for cap-subject H-1Bs.  Here’s the language from the DHS Fall 2018 Unified Agenda:

The Department of Homeland Security proposes to amend its regulations governing petitions filed on behalf of H-1B beneficiaries who may be counted under section 214(g)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (“H-1B regular cap”) or under section 214(g)(5)(C) of the INA (“H-1B master’s cap”). This rule proposes to establish an electronic registration program for petitions subject to numerical limitations for the H-1B nonimmigrant classification. This action is being considered because the demand for H-1B specialty occupation workers by U.S. employers has often exceeded the numerical limitation. This rule is intended to allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to more efficiently manage the intake and selection process for these H-1B petitions.

Time is getting tight for the U.S. Government to make this work for the April 1st, 2019 lottery.  A Notice of Rulemaking rule will first need to be published in the Federal Register, whereupon the public will be afforded a period of time to comment. The matter is currently pending review at the Office of Management and Budget.

I like the idea of pre-registration, but we’ll have to wait and see what this exactly looks like. Ideally, I think a system which allows employers to apply for a lottery spot before making an actual application can save businesses all sorts of money.  It is a waste of government and business expenditure to prepare full applications, only to have the government return about half of them due to not being selected in the lottery. The Government proposed a similar rule in 2011, but the rule was never implemented. Unfortunately, the Administration has consistently made the H-1B process harder for employers, without regard to cost or sometimes established precedent and law, and so any change to the H-1B program has to be anticipated with skepticism.

In any case, we are recommending that employers start the H-1B process earlier this year, to account for any changes the Administration may implement. We’ll stay up to date on this, and advise accordingly.

 

 

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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 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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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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USCIS Narrows Meaning of a Specialty Occupation

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS is challenging employers on whether their positions fit the definition of a “specialty occupation.” It has become for the agency to issue “Requests for Additional Evidence” (RFEs) of employers, providing up to three months to respond. The Requests are overly broad, and a disguised tax on the company for filing the petition in the first place. It has been said that the agency anticipates denying as many as 25% of the applications submitted.  Applications were down this year, probably due to these bureaucratic challenges.  Many fear where this is going, with the best and the brightest opting for jobs elsewhere.

The requests can be several pages long.  In doing so, the agency is piling up the costs for businesses. This fits in with the Administration’s overall goal of making immigration harder. Or, as the Executive Order goes, “Buy American, Hire American.”

We are seeing businesses disrupted by this red tape, as new petitions and renewals for key personnel are challenged. The occupations most commonly challenged are managers and information technology professionals. Often, these professionals have many years of experience, and have seen past approvals from the agency.

In my experience, employers don’t typically want to sponsor H-1B professionals unless they have great cause to, due to the underlying costs. Employers don’t typically seek an attorney’s assistance to hire a professional, but that is standard for an H-1B.  There are just too many regulations and procedures to navigate. However, the U.S. has record unemployment and a shortage of qualified STEM professionals right now. So, the H-1B program has the potential to help businesses.

Here is the Request for Evidence template that many petitioners are receiving:

Specialty Occupation

A specialty occupation is one that requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and which requires the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum, for entry into the occupation in the United States.
USCIS does not use the job title, by itself, when determining whether a particular position qualifies as a specialty occupation. The specific duties of the proffered position, combined with the nature of the petitioning entity’s business operations, are factors that USCIS considers.

To qualify as a specialty occupation, the position must meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position;
2. The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;
3. The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
4. The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

USCIS interprets the term degree in the above criteria to mean not just any degree, but a degree in a specific field of study that is directly related to the proffered position.

To show that the position offered to the beneficiary qualifies as a specialty occupation, you submitted:

• A certified Labor Condition Application (LCA)
• Other evidence described, relating to occupation title

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (“OOH”) (a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor) indicates that a [occupation title] is an occupation that does not require a bachelor’s level of education or higher or its equivalent in a specific specialty as a normal, minimum for entry into the occupation.

You have not shown that the position offered to the beneficiary is a specialty occupation. You may submit additional evidence to satisfy this requirement.

Evidence may include, but is not limited to:
• A detailed statement to:
o explain the beneficiary’s proposed duties and responsibilities;
o indicate the percentage of time devoted to each duty; and
o state the educational requirements for these duties.
• A copy of a line-and-block organizational chart showing your hierarchy and staffing levels. The organizational chart should:
o list all divisions in the organization;
o identify the proffered position in the chart;
o show the names and job titles for those persons, if any, whose work will come under the control of the proposed position; and
o indicate who will direct the beneficiary, by name and job title.
• Job postings or advertisements showing a degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations.
• Letters from an industry-related professional association indicating that they have made a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty a requirement for entry into the field.
• Copies of letter or affidavits from firms or individuals in the industry that attest that similar organizations routinely employ and recruit only degreed individuals in a specific specialty. Any letter or affidavit should be supported by the following:
o The writer’s qualifications as an expert;
o How the conclusions were reached; and
o The basis for the conclusions supported by copies or citations of any materials used.
• Copies of your present and past job postings or announcements for the proffered position showing that you require applicants to have a minimum of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty or its equivalent.
• Documentary evidence of your past employment practices for the position, including:
o Copies of employment or pay records; and
o Copies of degrees or transcripts to verify the level of education of each individual and the field of study for which the degree was earned.
• An explanation of what differentiates your product and services from other employers in the same industry and why a bachelor’s level of education in a specific field of study is a prerequisite for entry into the proffered position. Be specific and provide documentation to support any explanation of complexity.
• Copies of documentary examples of work product created by current or prior employees in a similar position, such as:
o Reports;
o Presentations;
o Evaluation;
o Designs; or
o Blueprints.
• Additional information about your organization, such as:
o Press releases;
o Business plans;

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USCIS Receives 190k H-1B Applications for 85k Spots

Thursday, April 12th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Demand continues to outpace supply for H-1B petitions. For this year’s cap lottery, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 190,098 applications for 85,000 spots. This is actually less applications than in some recent years. Of course, this is the full allocation of H-1B slots for the 2019 Fiscal Year, received in the first five days.

For those reading who do not know, H-1Bs are the United States’ professional temporary visa for high skilled workers. These include certain information technology workers, high skilled health care professionals, engineers, accountants, and the like. While there are other temporary and permanent work authorization categories, the H-1B is the typical work authorization category that foreign students might pursue upon completion of studies in the United States. Over half of the students in STEM graduate programs in the U.S. are foreign students.

We speak to many employers who want to hire these students, but run into issues with the H-1B cap. Increasingly, it seems that students who don’t get picked either look for other employers or go to other countries. In some cases, they can wait another year, and apply again, but eventually time runs out. There are other options, like continuing education, or finding employment with certain cap-exempt employers. Fundamentally, though, the current system has many flaws, based on our observations from working with employers and prospective employees.

Good luck to all who applied! Here is the excerpted announcement from USCIS:

On April 11, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process to select enough H-1B petitions to meet the congressionally-mandated cap and the U.S. advanced degree exemption, known as the master’s cap, for fiscal year (FY) 2019.

USCIS received 190,098 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began April 2, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS announced on April 6, that it had received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 and the master’s cap of 20,000. USCIS will reject and return all unselected petitions with their filing fees unless the petition is a prohibited multiple filing.

USCIS conducted the selection process for the master’s cap first. All unselected master’s cap petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 cap.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed for current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, will also not be counted towards the FY 2019 H-1B cap.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:
• Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
• Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
• Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
• Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

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H-1Bs Are Now In Season

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

H-1B season is officially upon us.

H-1Bs are the nonimmigrant work authorization for persons in specialty occupations. Specialty occupations are meant to be professional positions, but in the past year U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services has gone to great lengths to narrow the class of professionals eligible for H-1Bs. In particular, the agency has made obtaining an H-1B much more challenging for information technology professionals.

The H-1B category requires that the employer pay the greater of the prevailing or actual wage for the position. Prevailing and actual wage calculations can sometimes be complicated matters, depending on the position. Employers are required to obtain a certified labor condition application from the Department of Labor prior to filing. This process can take a few weeks in some cases, if the employer is not already registered to file.

On April 1st, the annual cap will be open, and for five days employers will submit applications. We have every reason to expect that the agency will receive more than the maximum number of applications under the H-1B quotas. In total, there are about nearly 85,000 spots. In recent years, the agency has received more than 200,000 applications.

H-1Bs are often used as a bridge status for employers who have initially hired foreign students to work for them based on pre-approved optional practical training.

Filing fees vary depending on the employer, but there is a $460 I-129 form fee, a $500 fraud fee, and a $750 or $1500 training fee.

In light of the recent challenges employers have faced with this category, careful evaluation and planning is best. Job descriptions with particularized duties need to be provided, in order to withstand up to agency scrutiny, This can be challenging for some employers, where they know they have a professional position, but have never had to precisely articulate professional duties.

We can help.

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New Rules Restricting H-1Bs and H-4 Work Authorization May Be Coming Soon

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

The Office of Management and Budget recently published its Agency Rule List for Department of Homeland Security for Fall 2017. The list signals upcoming changes to the H-1B and H-4 categories. Also listed are rules concerning ESTA at land port of entries and increased collection of biometrics on entries and exits.

Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security anticipates that it will remove regulations which allow certain H-4 spouses to have work authorization. We don’t know if this will come about, but it is consistent with the Administration’s approach to restricting legal immigration. For this to happen, the Department of Homeland Security will publish a rule in the Federal Register, and receive public comment on the removal of the rule. Subsequently, it will propose final action. In all likelihood, there will not be a revocation of current work authorizations, but at some point affected persons will be unable to apply to renew. It is possible that in the interim legislation will be passed affecting this proposal. It is also possible the Administration may refrain from publishing the rule, though this seems unlikely. It is likely that there will be litigation involving this matter, which could delay things further.

The list also includes notice of the intent of the Department of Homeland Security’s to revise the definition of a specialty occupation, which will affect H-1Bs, and presumably H-1B1s, and E-3s. The proposal says that the agency will focus the process on “obtaining the best and the brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program.” The notice states that the agency will revise the definition of employment and the employer-employee relationship, and will look at measures regarding compensation to H-1B workers.

The Rule List also says that the agency will propose another rule, requiring electronic registration beforehand for the H-1B lottery. This has the potential to be a good thing, since so many employers spend time and money on H-1B applications which are never selected in the H-1B lottery. However, if this is a means to pre-adjudicate applications, that could turn problematic.

Additionally, the Rule List contains a final rule on collecting biometrics on exit and departures, and registering for ESTA in advance at land borders.

Here are excerpts of the proposed rules from the list:

DHS/USCIS RIN: 1615-AC15 Publication ID: Fall 2017

Title: ●Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization

Abstract:

On February 25, 2015, DHS published a final rule extending eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. DHS is publishing this notice of proposed rulemaking to amend that 2015 final rule. DHS is proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorization.

Agency: Department of Homeland Security(DHS) Priority: Economically Significant
RIN Status: First time published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Proposed Rule Stage
Major: Yes Unfunded Mandates: Undetermined
EO 13771 Designation: Other
CFR Citation: 8 CFR 214 8 CFR 274a (To search for a specific CFR, visit the Code of Federal Regulations.)

Legal Authority: 6 U.S.C. 112 8 U.S.C. 1103(a) 8 U.S.C. 1184(a)(1) 8 U.S.C. 1324a(H)(3)(B)

Legal Deadline: None
Statement of Need:

DHS is reviewing the 2015 final rule in light of issuance of Executive Order 13788, Buy American and Hire American.

Summary of the Legal Basis:

The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) has the authority to amend this regulation under section 102 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135, 6 U.S.C. 112, and section 103(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1103(a), which authorize the Secretary to administer and enforce the immigration and nationality laws. In addition, section 214(a)(1) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1184(a)(1), provides the Secretary with authority to prescribe the time and conditions of nonimmigrants’ admissions to the United States. Also, section 274A(h)(3)(B) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1324a(h)(3)(B), recognizes the Secretary’s discretionary authority to extend employment authorization.
Alternatives:

Anticipated Costs and Benefits:
DHS anticipates that there would be two primary impacts that DHS can estimate: the cost-savings accruing to forgone future filings by H-4 spouses, and labor turnover costs that employers of H-4 workers could incur.

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DHS/USCIS RIN: 1615-AC13 Publication ID: Fall 2017
Title: ●Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program
Abstract:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will propose to revise the definition of specialty occupation to increase focus on obtaining the best and the brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program, and revise the definition of employment and employer-employee relationship to better protect U.S. workers and wages. In addition, DHS will propose additional requirements designed to ensure employers pay appropriate wages to H-1B visa holders.

Agency: Department of Homeland Security(DHS) Priority: Other Significant
RIN Status: First time published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Proposed Rule Stage
Major: Undetermined Unfunded Mandates: Undetermined
EO 13771 Designation: Other
CFR Citation: 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)

Legal Authority: 8 U.S.C. 1184

Legal Deadline: None
Statement of Need:
The purpose of these changes is to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded only to individuals who will be working in a job which meets the statutory definition of specialty occupation. In addition, these changes are intended to ensure that the H-1B program supplements the U.S. workforce and strengthens U.S. worker protections.
Summary of the Legal Basis:
Alternatives:
Anticipated Costs and Benefits:
DHS is still considering the cost and benefit impacts of the proposed provisions. In general, DHS anticipates that there may be some filing fees and opportunity costs of time in preparing and filing forms for the eligible population. DHS also anticipates benefits in the form of reduced fraud and abuses of the current H-1B program.

Risks:
Timetable:
Action Date FR Cite
NPRM 10/00/2018

Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: Undetermined Government Levels Affected: Undetermined
Federalism: Undetermined
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes
RIN Information URL: www.regulations.gov
Public Comment URL: www.regulations.gov

RIN Data Printed in the FR: No
Agency Contact:
Kevin Cummings
Division Chief, Business and Foreign Workers Division
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Office of Policy and Strategy, 20 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.,
Washington, DC 20529
Phone:202 272-8377
Fax:202 272-1480
Email: kevin.j.cummings@uscis.dhs.gov

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DHS/USCIS RIN: 1615-AB71 Publication ID: Fall 2017
Title: Registration Requirement for Petitioners Seeking To File H-1B Petitions on Behalf of Aliens Subject to Numerical Limitations
Abstract:
The Department of Homeland Security proposes to amend its regulations governing petitions filed on behalf of alien workers subject to annual numerical limitations. This rule proposes to establish an electronic registration program for petitions subject to numerical limitations for the H-1B nonimmigrant classification. This action is being considered because the demand for H-1B specialty occupation workers by U.S. companies has often exceeded the numerical limitation. This rule is intended to allow USCIS to more efficiently manage the intake and lottery process for these H-1B petitions. The Department published a proposed rule on this topic in 2011. The Department intends to publish an additional proposed rule in 2018. The proposal may include a modified selection process, as outlined in section 5(b) of Executive Order 13788, Buy American and Hire American.

Agency: Department of Homeland Security(DHS) Priority: Other Significant
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Proposed Rule Stage
Major: No Unfunded Mandates: No
EO 13771 Designation: Other
CFR Citation: 8 CFR 214

Legal Authority: 8 U.S.C. 1184(g)

Legal Deadline: None
Statement of Need:
This regulation would help to streamline the process for administering the H-1B cap process and to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.
Summary of the Legal Basis:
Alternatives:
DHS is currently in the process of considering policies that align with our overarching goals of ensuring the allocation of H-1B cap numbers are provided to the best and brightest foreign national beneficiaries, and ensuring that the operational process is as efficient as possible.
Anticipated Costs and Benefits:
While DHS is currently in the process of assessing the costs and benefits of the policy changes under consideration, DHS believes that in aggregate the proposed changes would result in better resource management and predictability for both USCIS and petitioning employers. DHS anticipates that implementing a pre-registration process could benefit the regulated public by potentially reducing the cost and time involved in petitioning for H-1B nonimmigrants, through an up-front cap selection process where only those employers who have obtained a cap number would be required to submit the entire Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129.
Risks:
Timetable:
Action Date FR Cite
NPRM 03/03/2011 76 FR 11686

NPRM Comment Period End 05/02/2011
NPRM 02/00/2018

Additional Information: USCIS 2443-08. Includes Retrospective Review under E.O. 13563.
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: Yes Government Levels Affected: None
Small Entities Affected: Businesses Federalism: No
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes
RIN Information URL: www.regulations.gov
Public Comment URL: www.regulations.gov

RIN Data Printed in the FR: Yes
Agency Contact:
Kevin Cummings
Division Chief, Business and Foreign Workers Division
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Office of Policy and Strategy, 20 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.,
Washington, DC 20529
Phone:202 272-8377
Fax:202 272-1480
Email: kevin.j.cummings@uscis.dhs.gov

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DHS/USCBP RIN: 1651-AB12 Publication ID: Fall 2017
Title: Collection of Biometric Data Upon Entry to and Exit From the United States
Abstract:The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required by statute to develop and implement an integrated, automated entry and exit data system to match records, including biographic data and biometric identifiers, of aliens entering and departing the United States. In addition, Executive Order 13780, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, published in the Federal Register at 82 FR 13209, states that DHS is to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system.  Although the current regulations provide that DHS may require certain aliens to provide biometrics when entering and departing the United States, they only authorize DHS to collect biometrics from certain aliens upon departure under pilot programs at land ports and at up to 15 airports and seaports.  To provide the legal framework for CBP to begin a comprehensive biometric entry-exit system, DHS is amending the regulations to remove the references to pilot programs and the port limitation.  In addition, to facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition, DHS is amending the regulations as they pertain to the provision of photographs upon entry and exit.
Agency: Department of Homeland Security(DHS) Priority: Other Significant
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Final Rule Stage
Major: No Unfunded Mandates: Undetermined
EO 13771 Designation: Other
CFR Citation: 19 CFR 215.8    19 CFR 235.1
Legal Authority: 8 U.S.C. 1365a    8 U.S.C. 1365b
Legal Deadline:  None
Statement of Need:This rule is necessary to provide the legal framework for DHS to begin implementing a comprehensive biometric entry-exit system.  Collecting biometrics at departure will allow CBP and DHS to know with better accuracy whether aliens are departing the country when they are required to depart, reduce visa fraud, and improve CBP’s ability to identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists before they depart the United States.
Summary of the Legal Basis:Numerous Federal statutes require DHS to create an integrated, automated biometric entry and exit system that records the arrival and departure of aliens, compares the biometric data of aliens to verify their identity, and authenticates travel documents presented by such aliens through the comparison of biometric identifiers.  See, e.g. , Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2002, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act.  In addition, Executive Order 13780, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, states that DHS is to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system.
Alternatives:
Anticipated Costs and Benefits:This rule will allow CBP to know with greater certainty whether foreign visa holders depart the country when required. It will also prevent visa fraud and allow CBP to more easily identify criminals or terrorists when they attempt to leave the country. The technology used to implement this rule could also eventually be used to modify entry and exit procedures to reduce processing and wait times. This rule imposes opportunity and technology acquisition and maintenance costs on CBP and opportunity costs on the traveling public.
Risks:
Timetable:

Action Date FR Cite
Interim Final Rule 04/00/2018
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: Undetermined Government Levels Affected: Undetermined
Federalism: Undetermined
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes
RIN Data Printed in the FR: No
Agency Contact:
Michael Hardin
Deputy Director
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Customs and Border Protection, Entry/Exit Policy and Planning, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Office of Field Operations, 5th Floor,
Washington, DC 20229
Phone:202 325-1053
Email: michael.hardin@cbp.dhs.gov

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DHS/USCBP RIN: 1651-AB14 Publication ID: Fall 2017
Title: Implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at U.S. Land Borders–Automation of CBP Form I-94W
Abstract:This rule amends Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations to implement the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) requirements under section 711 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, for aliens who intend to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) at land ports of entry.  Currently, aliens from VWP countries must provide certain biographic information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at land ports of entry on a paper I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94W).  Under this rule, these VWP travelers will instead provide this information to CBP electronically through ESTA prior to application for admission to the United States.  DHS has already implemented the ESTA requirements for aliens who intend to enter the United States under the VWP at air or sea ports of entry. 
Agency: Department of Homeland Security(DHS) Priority: Other Significant
RIN Status: Previously published in the Unified Agenda Agenda Stage of Rulemaking: Final Rule Stage
Major: No Unfunded Mandates: No
EO 13771 Designation: Other
CFR Citation: 8 CFR 212.1    8 CFR 217.2    8 CFR 217.3    8 CFR 217.5    8 CFR 286.9
Legal Authority: Pub. L. 110-53
Legal Deadline:  None
Statement of Need:This rule is necessary to implement the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) under section 711 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 for aliens who intend to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program at land ports of entry.  ESTA was implemented at air and sea ports of entry in 2008.  At that time, however, CBP did not have the ability to implement the program at land ports of entry.  This rule will ensure that ESTA is now implemented at all ports of entry.
Summary of the Legal Basis:
Alternatives:
Anticipated Costs and Benefits:In addition to fulfilling a statutory mandate, the ESTA Land rule will strengthen national security through enhanced traveler vetting, streamline entry processing through Form I-94W automation, reduce inadmissible traveler arrivals, and produce a consistent, modern VWP admission policy in all U.S. travel environments, which will benefit VWP travelers, CBP, and the public.  The rule will also introduce time and fee costs to VWP travelers required to complete an ESTA application.
Risks:
Timetable:

Action Date FR Cite
Interim Final Rule 04/00/2018
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Required: No Government Levels Affected: None
Federalism: No
Included in the Regulatory Plan: Yes
RIN Data Printed in the FR: No
Agency Contact:
Suzanne Shepherd
Director, Electronic System for Travel Authorization
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.,
Washington, DC 20229
Phone:202 344-2073
Email: suzanne.m.shepherd@cbp.dhs.gov

 

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Administrative Actions Making Immigration Harder

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

I am often asked whether the Trump Administration is impacting immigration law. The headline news concerns travel bans from certain countries and refugees, and this indeed is impacting noncitizens. I routinely hear from professionals who are concerned about their eligibility for benefits under the new administration. Their anxiety is real. Human Resource Departments feel the stress too, as key employees send emails and phone busy staff, with palpable concern. The undocumented communities are very anxious about police coordinating with ICE, as the Administration makes overtures towards “sanctuary” cities and enforcement policies.

Here are a few things that have occurred recently that may not be getting as much press coverage:
1. USCIS recently issued a memo revoking old guidance on computer programmers, and encouraging adjudicators to take a longer look at whether computer programmer positions are actually specialty occupations. Information technology professionals cover about half of the annual quota for H-1Bs professionals.

2. Recently, some ports of entry began to say that Advanced Nurse Practitioners do not qualify for TN status as registered nurses, despite historic practice. This means there is increased risk in traveling abroad for RNs who are ARNPs, as well as with renewals. It does not appear this is a universal interpretation.

3. Premium processing for H-1Bs–which guarantees 15 day adjudication for the price of $1225- is suspended as of April 3rd. USCIS has a considerable backlog on H-1Bs that they need to manage, but there is no confidence that they’ll be able to do this without this program, which, by the way, generates substantial revenues. In particular, physicians who complete their residencies and take on new fellowships on July 1st are particularly concerned.

4. Searches of electronic media at the border have gone up considerably. The Guardian referred to this as a digital strip search. CBP asks for a password, and then takes a person’s phone or computer to another room, and comes back a while later, having scanned photos, emails, and other confidential information. Often, they offer no reason for the search—they just claim the authority and proceed.

5. The border is also asking more frequently whether a person has ever smoked or used marijuana. If the person responds yes, during a sworn statement, the agency is then finding the person inadmissible and requiring them to get a waiver. Waivers cost $585 for Canadians, and take months to process.

6. The Department of State has issued cables to its consular officers requiring them to “improve visa applicant vetting” and to implement “the concepts undergirding the Presidential memorandum.” Also, a hiring freeze was ordered, which will eventually further backlog appointments.

7. Contractors are lining up to build the wall.

8. ICE is deporting persons who have had deferred action and persons who are showing up for USCIS appointments. These have included family members, DREAMers, and other non-criminals.

Make no mistake—the Administration is not just focused on illegal immigration. The Administration is focused on limiting all immigration, and is implementing immigration procedures which effectively do this, even before pursuing a legislative agenda. These measures add complexity and require added time for all immigration processes.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Matter of T-O-S-U- : Precedent H-1B Decision for Physicians of National or International Renown

Saturday, January 7th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS has announced new evidentiary standards for determining whether a physician is one of national or international renown for H-1B purposes, through the adoption of Matter of T-O-S-U- (AAO Jan. 4, 2017), as a precedent decision of the Administration Appeals Office.

8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(viii) requires that international graduates of medical schools meet certain criteria for H-1B classification, in addition to those which are required of all specialty occupation nonimmigrants. In particular, the law requires that physicians have passed Steps 1, 2, and 3 of the USMLEs, or the predecessor Federation Licensing Examination. Exception is made for “physicians of national or international renown,” but there was very limited guidance prior to Matter of T-O-S-U- as to what this phrase exactly means.
Matter of T-O-S-U- lays out criteria, which while not exclusive, is highly instructive.

Specifically, the case suggests that petitioners provide the following, as excerpted:

B. Evidence

The regulations do not currently provide a list of the specific types of evidence for demonstrating that an alien is a physician of national or international renown under 8 C.F.R. §214.2(h)(4)(viii)(C). We therefore reviewed and took into account the types of documentation that are often persuasive in establishing eligibility for these cases, as well as the categories of probative evidence that are described in the regulations for other classifications involving national or international renown, recognition, or acclaim, including H-1B distinguished merit and ability (models), O-1 extraordinary ability, P-1 internationally recognized, and labor certification under Schedule A, Group II Aliens of Exceptional Ability in Sciences or Arts. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 204.5(h)(3), 214.2(h)(4)(vii)(C), (o)(3)(iii)-(v), (p)(4)(ii)(B), (p)(4)(iii)(B)(3). The following is a non-exhaustive list of evidence that, depending on the qualitative nature of the evidence, may establish eligibility for the exemption at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(viii)(C):

Documentation of the beneficiary’s receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards in the field of medicine;
• Evidence of the beneficiary’s authorship of scientific or scholarly articles in the field of medicine published in professional journals, major trade publications, or other major media;
• Published material about the beneficiary’s work in the medical field that appears in professional journals, major trade publications, or other major media (which includes the title, date, and author of such material);
• Evidence that the beneficiary has been employed in a critical, leading, or essential capacity for organizations or establishments that have distinguished reputations in the field of medicine;
• Evidence of the beneficiary serving as a speaker or panelist at medical conferences;
• Evidence of the beneficiary’s participation as a judge of the work of others in the medical field;
• Documentation of the beneficiary’s membership in medical associations, which require significant achievements of their members, as judged by recognized experts in the field of medicine;
• Evidence that the beneficiary has received recognition for his/her achievements or contributions from recognized authorities in the field of medicine; and
• Any other evidence demonstrating the beneficiary’s achievements, contributions, and/or acclaim in the medical field.

This criteria still leaves much for interpretation. In the confusing world of merits-based immigration, it can be difficult to discern the difference between one who is “extraordinary,” “exceptional,” “outstanding,” “renowned” and other similar characterizations of accomplishment. In Footnote 11 of the decision, the T-O-T-S-U- Court expressly says that “national or international renown” standard is not the same as required to demonstrate extraordinary ability. Footnote 11 also recognizes the standard is not the same as for determining that an “alien is of exceptional ability in the sciences.”  I found it also noteworthy that one criteria is having served as a panelist or speaker at a medical conference. In likelihood, having spoken a few times will not be enough to establish national or international renown, but a pattern of speaking, combined with other supporting material, may make a compelling case.

My initial conclusion:  the T-O-S-U- standards seem akin to the extraordinary alien standards, without quite the same rigor of showing three or more category qualifications. In the case at hand, which was approved, the Court gives a great deal of weight to one particular article, “which garnered numerous independent ciations by peers in professional journals, major trade publications, and other major media.”

The criteria leaves much to interpretation, and the agency will probably remain somewhat inconsistent on minimum showings for these types of petitions. The decision is helpful as a starting point for determining eligibility, where guidance has formerly been almost completely absent.

Link to decision:  Matter of T-O-S-U-, with January 4, 2017 Policy Memorandum

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