Immigration Updates for H-1Bs, Visas, and Filing Fees

It has been a busy few weeks in the world of immigration. The Senate proposed a bill for addressing the southern border, which included some other immigration reforms as well. So, of course, the bill went nowhere, despite weeks of effort. I’m a bit jaded, but I expected the bill to get a bit more consideration than that, seeing as how much border security is in the news. Immigration reform continues to be one of D.C.’s greatest failings.

Meanwhile– back at the agencies– there has been a lot going on! Boring to some, but definitely news for those impacted. New filing fees are coming (cringe); the stateside visa processing has begun (very limited); a new on-line H-1B submission processing was rolled out (beta watch out!); and there are new rules for this year’s H-1B lottery (feel lucky?).

Here are some links and a few words, to introduce these programs:

  • In H-1B news, USCIS published a final rule on January 30, implementing a beneficiary-centric selection process for H–1B registrations, start date flexibility for certain H–1B cap-subject petitions, and integrity measures related to H–1B registration. The lottery will be conducted based on beneficiaries, rather than registrations. Some beneficiaries may enter with multiple job offers, which will likely cause some HR problems for sponsors. The registration period for the lottery will be open from March 6th to March 22nd, and those selected will be able to file on or around April 1st. The H-1B program is one of the key immigration programs that employers use to hire professionals for specialty occupations (e.g. IT, research, senior management, accounting, medical, et al.) Now is the time to plan for the lottery.
  • USCIS is also implementing an on-line submissions process for H-1B applications this year, which all petitioners can use. It feels a bit like the agency is beta-testing its new process in real-time. Beware. The online submission process is not mandatory.
  • The Department of State’s Statewide Visa Renewal pilot program for H-1Bs began on January 29th, 2024. The pilot program will accept applications from January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024, or when all application slots are filled, whichever comes first. Participation in the pilot program is voluntary. Individuals who do not meet the requirements for participation in the pilot program, or those who choose not to participate in the pilot program, may continue to apply for visa renewal at a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas. The agency has a weekly schedule for allocating domestic renewals.  There are many limitations for this program, including, (a) prior visa must’ve been issued in Canada or India during a certain period, (b) there is no reciprocity fee required, (c) the individual was ten printed, (d) no H-4 will be processed, (e) and are eligible for an in-person interview waiver. And more… review the site for full details.
  • USCIS is updating its filing fees, across the board, for the first time in years. The new fees are effective April 1st. Business immigration filing fees are mostly going up, and in some cases by more than double. The adjustment of status filing fee structure will increase significantly, if including EAD and parole applications. There are new asylum fees. Premium processing is moving to a 15-business-day timeline, from a calendar timeline, and this “lightning lane” fee is increasing to $2805 soon. For Canadians in need of nonimmigrant waivers, the filing fee is nearly doubling. Some other fees are not seeing much movement, such as green card renewals and naturalization applications. The agency is incentivizing on-line filing in many cases, and employer size matters for some types of petitions. The full table of fee changes is in the first 8 pages of the final rule.