USCIS Reinstates Premium Processing for Certain Cap-Exempt Petitioners

Today, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced the reinstatement of premium processing service for H-1B petitions filed by certain cap-exempt petitioners.  In addition to petitioners who seek to employ physicians who are recipients of Conrad 30 waivers, H-1B petitioners who meet the following criteria may now also request premium processing:

  • Institutions of higher education;
  • Nonprofits related to or affiliated with an institution of higher education; or
  • Nonprofit research or governmental research organizations.

USCIS also announced that premium processing will resume for H-1B petitions that may be exempt, if the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, organization or entity.

We will update this entry as more information is available.

Fiscal Year 2018 H-1B Cycle Officially Over

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced today that it has now completed returning all petitions that were not selected in the Fiscal Year 2018 H-1B lottery.  Employers who filed petitions should now have received either a Form I-797 receipt notice indicating the petition was assigned a receipt number, or the original rejected petition including filing fees.  USCIS will take inquiries if employers believe they filed during the required period – April 3 to April 7, 2017 – and have not received either the receipt notice or the rejected petition by July 31, 2017.

 

New Form I-9 to be Published July 17, 2017

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) is scheduled to release a revised Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, on July 17, 2017. The previous version, dated 11/14/16 N, remains valid, but only through September 17, 2017. On September 18, 2017, employers must use the new form.

The new form changes the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name, the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.  In addition, several key changes have been made to the List C, Acceptable Documents to Prove Employment Eligibility:

  1. The Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) is now acceptable and is included on the drop-down menus in “smart” Form I-9 and in E-Verify.
  2. All certifications of report of birth that are issued by the U.S. Department of State (Forms FS-545, DS-1350 and FS-240) are now listed at #2 of List C.
  3. List C documents are now renumbered, except the Social Security card; for example, the EAD is now at #7 instead of #8

USCIS plans to update its “Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9” (Form M-274) to include these revisions in the near future.  Additional information is available at What’s New | USCIS.

August 2017 Visa Bulletin – Unusual Retrogression in the EB-2 All Other Countries Category, While Philippines EB-3 Continues to Advance

The Visa Bulletin is released monthly by the Department of State and is used to determine when a sponsored foreign national can submit the final step of the green card process. The complete visa bulletin can be found here.

Below is a summary of the August Visa Bulletin, including Final Action Dates and changes from the previous month:

  • China: EB-1 and EB-3 both remain stalled at January 1, 2012, while EB-2 creeps forward one month to April 22, 2013
  • India: EB-1 remains at January 1, 2012, EB-2 stalls at July 22, 2008 and EB-3 continues to advance, moving forward five months to July 15, 2006
  • Philippines: EB-3 once again leaps forward an entire year to June 1, 2015, surpassing EB-2, which retrogresses to April 1, 2015
  • All Other Countries: In an unusual turn of events, EB-2 retrogresses to April 1, 2015, while EB-3 becomes current

China EB-1, India EB-1 and All Other Countries EB-2 are expected to become current again in October 2017.

PLEASE NOTE: USCIS has not yet announced if it will accept I-485 applications in August based on the Department of State’s Dates for Filing chart. However, the trend over the last several months has been to NOT honor the Dates for Filing chart, and instead only accept I-485 applications based on the Final Action Dates as listed above.

Travel Ban Starts Tonight; State Department Issues Guidance

Following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow the partial implementation of Executive Order 13780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” (“EO”), the State Department issued a cable to all diplomatic and consular posts instructing them how to implement the EO, which begins tonight at 8:00 PM EDT.  The ban applies to aliens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.  Consular officers are instructed to first determine if a visa applicant meets the general visa issuance requirements without regard to the EO and, if so, then to make a determination if the applicant is exempt from the EO’s suspension of entry provision.  If the applicant is not exempt, the officer must determine whether the applicant qualifies for a waiver in order to obtain a visa.

The EO’s suspension of entry provision does not apply to an applicant with a credible claim of a bona fide a relationship with a person (close family members) or entity in the United States.  Personal relationships with “close family members” include:

  • parent (including parent-in-law)
  • spouse
  • child
  • adult son or daughter
  • son-in-law/daughter-in-law
  • sibling, whether whole or half (includes step relationships)
  • fiancé(e)s

“Close family” does not include:

  • grandparents
  • grandchildren
  • aunts/ uncles
  • nieces/nephews
  •  cousins
  • brothers-law/ sisters-in-law
  • and any other “extended” family members.

A relationship with a “US entity” must be formal, documented and “formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading” the EO.  Students accepted to US institutions and workers sponsored for work-authorized visas should still qualify for visas, provided that they are otherwise admissible.  Those entering in relationships to avoid the EO would not qualify.

Those affected by the EO applying for immigrant visas abroad will still be interviewed.  Those not exempt from the EO who do not qualify for waivers will be refused, but Visa Office advisory opinions should be requested by the officers, which may provide relief.

The EO also lists other exemptions and waivers, and can be found here.We suggest that you consult with counsel if you, a relative, an employee, or a prospective employee may be affected by the ban.

We will continue to monitor the situation, and update our blog with further developments and any legal challenges that arise.

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Certiorari and Partially Allows Some Provisions of Executive Order No. 13780 (the “Travel Ban”)

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the Trump administration two victories in connection with Executive Order No. 13780, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” commonly known as the “Travel Ban.”
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USCIS Announces Return of H-1B Premium Processing

The USCIS announced on June 23, 2017, that it will reintroduce Premium Processing for H-1B petitions.  USCIS suspended this program for all H-1B petitions on April 3, 2017.  The reintroduction will be done incrementally, beginning today with H-1Bs filed under the Conrad 30 Waiver program for medical doctors working in underserved areas.   As the USCIS evaluates its workload, it will notify stakeholders when other H-1B petitions can be filed under (or, if already pending, upgraded to) Premium Processing.  Donald Neufeld, Associate Director, Service Center Operations, advised the attendees at the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s annual conference of Friday that 2-3 days of notice will be given for each new incremental restoration.  We will update this blog as we learn more information about this process.

Recent H-1B Visa Developments

March 2017 brought us a surprising suspension of the Premium Processing option for all H-1B petitions received by the USCIS on or after Monday, April 3, 2017, which led to an overwhelming number of H-1B extension filings in a short period of time.  The USCIS was unable to process most of the cases within the 15-day period, leading to the return/refund the $1,225 filing fees.  April 2017 brought us the H-1B cap petition lottery that, once again, demonstrated a high demand for H-1B visas by US companies.  In addition, while these events were taking place, the President and members of his administration continued to spread negative messages about the H-1B program and its future.  In light of these events, we report the following:

  • H-1B petitions not selected in the lottery in April have started to arrive in the mail.  While the USCIS should return the rejected petitions to the attorneys of record, some clients have reported receiving the rejected filings directly from the USCIS.  Those filings should be forwarded to the attorneys so that the filing fee checks can be properly credited, and so that support documents can be maintained and reused next year.
  • Attorneys are reporting an increase in requests for evidence (RFEs) for some H-1B positions relying on Level 1 prevailing wages, especially in the computer industry.
  • Due to the large number of H-1B cap cases, extension petitions, and amended petitions, the USCIS has been moving H-1B filings to other USCIS Service Centers for adjudication assistance.  This should help decrease processing times.
  • Hot off the Presses:  During the USCIS Ombudsman’s Teleconference on H-1B Petition Processing on 6/20/2017, representatives from that office indicated that Premium Processing would be reinstated “on an incremental basis”, but have not explained how this will work or when it will begin.  They are being cautious given the rush of Premium Processing cases it received in March that exceeded processing capacity.

We will continue to provide updates on these and any other issues affecting the H-1B visa program, including any proposed legislation or policy changes.

July 2017 Visa Bulletin – EB-3 China Retrogresses, while EB-3 India Slowly Advances

The Visa Bulletin is released monthly by the Department of State and is used to determine when a sponsored foreign national can submit the final step of the green card process. The complete visa bulletin can be found here.

Below is a summary of the July Visa Bulletin, including Final Action Dates and changes from the previous month:

  • China EB-1 remains at January 1, 2012, EB-2 advances three weeks to March 22, 2013 and EB-3 reverses course and falls behind EB-2, retrogressing more than two years to January 1, 2012
  • India EB-1 holds steady at January 1, 2012, EB-2 continues its slow forward movement advancing three weeks to July 22 2008 and EB-3 jumps ahead nine months to February 15, 2006
  • Philippines EB-3 leaps forward an entire year to May 15, 2014
  • Worldwide EB-3 moves ahead seven weeks to June 8, 2017

China EB-1 and India EB-1 are expected to become current again in October 2017.

PLEASE NOTE: USCIS has not yet announced if it will accept I-485 applications in July based on the Department of State’s Dates for Filing chart. However, the trend over the last several months has been to NOT honor the Dates for Filing chart, and instead only accept I-485 applications based on the Final Action Dates as listed above.

Trump Administration to Review J-1 Programs

The Trump Administration may be moving towards revamping the J-1 exchange visitor program in ways that could be detrimental to universities, research organizations, businesses, hospitals, healthcare, families, and students.  J-1 nonimmigrant (temporary) visas are issued to: foreign students, scholars, researchers, postdocs, college work/study participants, medical students/residents/doctors, interns, trainees, au pairs, and more.  As part of his campaign’s immigration reform outline, President Trump singled out J-1 work/study programs, stating that he would terminate these programs and replace them with programs aimed at employing inner city youths in these part-time, limited duration (usually seasonal) minimum wage jobs.  While the Administration has been silent on changes to any of the J-1 programs thus far, some of our J-1 sponsor clients have received an email from a high-ranking State Department official hinting at what may be on the horizon for all J-1 programs.  The email references the appearance of “emerging Administration policies and themes”, which is causing the State Department to consider steps to ensure that the programs achieve the following objectives: 

  • Alignment with National Security
  • Asserting U.S. Leadership & Influence
  • Fostering Economic Opportunity for the American People
  • Ensuring Effectiveness and Accountability to the U.S. Taxpayer

Other than the email, the State Department has not commented publicly about the future of the J-1 program.  We will continue to monitor any proposed changes to the J-1 program and post on our blog.

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