The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has announced that the suspension of premium processing for FY2019 H‑1B cap cases, announced on March 21, 2018, has been extended until possibly February 2019.

USCIS also announced that effective September 11, 2018, premium processing will be suspended for H‑1B cases filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers, except for:

  1. H-1B petitions filed by cap-exempt petitioners or by petitioners who will be employing beneficiaries at qualifying cap-exempt institutions, entities, or organizations; or
  2. H-1B petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center by petitioners requesting either an extension of a beneficiary’s H-1B status or requesting consular notification based on the continuation of the beneficiary’s previously approved employment without change with the same petitioner

In its announcement, USCIS explained that because of the recent increase in H-1B petitions filed requesting premium processing, USCIS has been unable to process long-pending H-1B petitions. Therefore, the expanded suspension of premium processing was required to allow USCIS personnel to focus on reducing the current backlog of pending H-1B petitions.

USCIS will continue to accept premium processing requests for H-1B cases until September 10, 2018. However, if a case is not adjudicated within the required fifteen calendar day timeframe, USCIS will refund the fee for premium processing and the case will be processed under regular processing.

We will update this post as soon as the suspension is lifted.

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 September Visa Bulletin, including Final Action Dates and changes from the previous month:

China: EB-1 remains stalled at January 1, 2012, EB-2 retrogresses to January 1, 2013, and EB-3 continues to move forward – advancing four months to November 1, 2014

India: EB-1 remains at January 1, 2012, EB-2 falls behind nearly two years to January 1, 2007, and EB-3 moves back six years to January 1, 2003

Philippines: EB-1 moves ahead one month to June 1, 2016, EB-2 retrogresses to January 1, 2013, and EB-3 moves to November 1, 2016

All Other Countries: EB-1 moves forward one month to June 1, 2016, EB-2 retrogresses to January 1, 2013 and EB-3 falls to November 1, 2016

The September Visa Bulletin includes the following important projections for future movement:

China:  

  • EB-1 backlogs are expected to remain until December, with “limited, if any forward movement” in October and November
  • EB-2 is expected to return to March 1, 2015 in October and move ahead slowly each month after that,
  • EB-3 is expected to return to July 1, 2014 in October and move forward approximately three weeks each month starting in November

India:   

  • EB-1 backlogs are expected to remain until December, with “limited, if any forward movement” in October and November
  • EB-2 is expected to return to March 15, 2009 in October and move forward “up to two weeks” per month beginning in November
  • EB-3 is expected to return to January 1, 2009 in October and may move ahead slowly each month after that

Philippines:       

  • EB-1 backlogs are expected to remain until December, with “limited, if any forward movement” in October and November
  • EB-2 is expected to become current in October and remain current for subsequent months
  • EB-3 is expected to return to June 1, 2017 in October, with “minimal” forward movement after October

All Other Countries:      

  • EB-1 backlogs are expected to remain until December, with “limited, if any forward movement” in October and November
  • EB-2 and EB-3 are expected to become current in October and remain current for subsequent months

NOTE: USCIS has not yet announced if it will accept I-485 applications in September 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.

On June 28, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a policy memo telling adjudicators when they are required to issue Notices To Appear after denying or while processing a petition or application for benefits.  The NTA is the charging document that, once filed with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice), puts an individual into formal removal proceedings before an immigration judge.

Except in certain, very limited circumstances where USCIS is required by statute to issue NTAs, the agency has discretion whether to refer an applicant or petitioner to immigration court or to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).  USCIS issued its last formal policy on the exercise of this discretion in November 2011, almost seven years ago.

Under the earlier guidance, adjudicators were told they must issue non-statutory NTAs or refer to ICE only if the person posed a serious threat to national security or public safety or if USCIS could formally substantiate that fraud had occurred.  If people were being investigated or had already been arrested or detained for an egregious crime – murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, a serious crime of violence, alien smuggling, child pornography, or felony reentry after removal – they should be issued NTAs or referred.  For citizenship applicants, adjudicators were told to consider the “totality of the circumstances” before issuing an NTA, including how long it had been since a crime was committed, whether people had reformed their lives, how long they had been in the country, and what social contributions they had made, such as pursuing an education or serving in the military.

The new policy keeps all of the prior guidance, but expands on the prior grounds and lists completely new grounds, vastly increasing the numbers of people who must be issued NTAs or referred to ICE.  These new categories include Temporary Protected Status applicants whose countries’ TPS designations have been terminated; cases in which not only fraud, but also misrepresentation and public benefits abuse, have been substantiated; aliens who have been convicted of or charged with any criminal offense, or who have simply committed acts that could be charged; and all citizenship applicants who are denied due to a criminal offense, regardless of mitigating circumstances.

Perhaps the most radical departure from prior policy is that the new memo targets for removal simply anyone whose petition or application of any kind is denied, leaving them with no underlying status.  In virtually all cases, these are people who held valid status at the time of filing because those without status are ineligible to file for any but humanitarian benefits, and there are special exceptions for them.  Thousands of those who will be most affected by the new NTA guidance are people whose underlying status – including work-authorized status for US employers – will have expired while they were waiting for a decision from USCIS.  Although the law confers ongoing lawful presence of up to 120 days past an expiration date while awaiting a decision, USCIS now takes far longer than that to process even the most routine requests.  Waits of 6, 10, even 24 months are common.

Previously, USCIS’s practice was to warn failed applicants or petitioners that if they no longer held valid status when their requests were denied, they should leave the country as soon as possible, allowing for orderly and generally reliable departures among those who were here only temporarily in the first place and who maintained strong ties to their home countries and could easily return to pick up the thread of their former lives.  If those same people now leave the United States after an NTA is filed with EOIR, resulting in their not appearing at a court hearing, they will be issued removal orders in absentia and face 5-year bars to returning to the United States in any status.  In addition, those who are in removal proceedings cannot work legally, and many could be detained for weeks pending their bond hearings.

The new NTA memo has been hugely controversial, with many believing it converts USCIS, which was established by Congress as an immigration benefits agency, into largely an enforcement arm of the executive branch, without congressional authority to do so.  On July 30, 2018, USCIS postponed implementation of the policy memo, citing a delay in “operational guidance” from USCIS components.  No specific new implementation date has been provided.  Please subscribe to our blog for updates.

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 remains backlogged to January 1, 2012, EB-2 moves forward – advancing two months to March 1, 2015 – and EB-3 leaps ahead eighteen months to July 1, 2014
  • India: EB-1 remains stuck at January 1, 2012, EB-2 freezes at March 15, 2009, and EB-3 advances two months to January 1, 2009
  • Philippines: EB-1 retrogresses to May 1, 2016, EB-2 remains current, and EB-3 springs ahead six months to June 1, 2017
  • All Other Countries: EB-1 retrogresses to May 1, 2016, while EB-2 and EB-3 remain current

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.

In a closely watched asylum appeal, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has issued a decision that will adversely affect the ability of victims of domestic and gang violence to find protection in the United States.

Matter of A-B- was originally decided, in December 2016, in favor of the asylum seeker by the Board of Immigration Appeals.  The BIA is an administrative branch of the US Department of Justice.  It accepts appeals, filed by either government attorneys or immigrants, of decisions made by civil immigration courts throughout the country.

In late 2016, the BIA overturned the 2015 denial of A-B-‘s asylum claim by a judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, where asylum was denied at a rate of 72 to 84.5 per cent between 2011 and 2016.  Finding the denial was “clearly erreoneous,” the BIA said A-B- had proven she was persecuted based on membership in a “particular social group”; specifically, “El Salvadoran women who are unable to leave their domestic relationships where they have children in common.”

In March 2018, Sessions referred the BIA’s decision to himself – a controversial practice that gives a political appointee, and the head of a law enforcement agency, absolute power to overturn the decision of an independent and neutral tribunal of administrative judges.  Sessions’s decision yesterday, which comes as a surprise to no one, vacates the BIA’s grant of asylum as “wrongly decided” and says:  “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes—such as domestic violence or gang violence—or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

Calling it “an affront to the rule of law,” a group of 15 former immigration and BIA judges said Sessions’s finding erased “a 15-year process through the immigration courts and BIA” to develop nuanced and reliable legal standards on the “particular social group” basis for asylum.

On May 18, 2018, after receiving a notice from the Government of Ecuador terminating that country’s bilateral investment treaty with the United States, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Trade Representative announced the termination in the Federal Register.  The treaty has been in force since 1997.

Continue Reading Termination of U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty Affects E-2 Visa Eligibility for Ecuadorean Nationals

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 May Visa Bulletin, including Final Action Dates and changes from the previous month:

  • China: EB-1 remains backlogged to January 1, 2012, EB-2 creeps forward one month to September 1, 2014, and EB-3 freezes at June 1, 2015
  • India: EB-1 remains backlogged to January 1, 2012, EB-2 remains at December 22, 2008, and EB-3 advances three months to May 1, 2008
  • Philippines: EB-2 remains current, while EB-3 stalls at January 1,2017
  • All Other Countries: All EB categories are current

NOTE: USCIS has not yet announced if it will accept I-485 applications in May 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.

The USCIS announced today that the FY2019 H-1B cap has been met.  The USCIS will hold a lottery for the H-1B visas as early as next week.  Those selected will receive receipt notices in the mail; those rejected will have their filings returned, along with the filing fee checks.   We expect that the receipt notices for those selected will begin to trickle in later this month through most of May; the rejected petitions will take longer to return.  The USCIS has not yet released the number of petitions it received.  Please check back for updates.

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 March Visa Bulletin, including Final Action Dates and changes from the previous month:

  • China: EB-1 retrogresses to January 1, 2012, EB-2 advances eight months to August 1, 2014, and EB-3 leaps ahead six months to June 1, 2015
  • India: EB-1 reverts to January 1, 2012, EB-2 creeps forward another week to December 22, 2008, and EB-3 jumps forward more than a year to February 1, 2008
  • Philippines: EB-2 remains current and EB-3 advances seven months to January 1,2017
  • All Other Countries: All EB categories are current

NOTE: USCIS has not yet announced if it will accept I-485 applications in April 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.

In a February 28, 2018, status update filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the matter of Save Jobs USA v. United States Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) stated its inability to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”)  on the rescission of H-4 EADs by its initial intended timeframe of February 2018.  DHS now expects to issue the NPRM in time for publication in June 2018.

DHS explained that after review of the draft proposal by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a determination was made that significant revisions were required, including requiring a new economic analysis, which could take several weeks to complete. In this status update, DHS reiterated that its intention to publish an H-4 EAD NPRM remains unchanged.

How the rule will immediately affect employers who employ H-4 EAD workers still remains unclear.  DHS may either cancel valid H-4 EADs, render H-4 EADs invalid on a certain date, or prohibit the renewal of H-4  EADs.  Therefore, employers should seek immigration counsel as soon as possible to mitigate any risks from the expected removal of H-4 individuals, who are currently employment eligible, from the class of employment-authorized nonimmigrants.