The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) announced today that the final rule amending DHS regulations governing H-1B cap-subject petitions will be published in the Federal Register on January 31, 2019, and will become effective on April 1, 2019.

The new rule implements the electronic registration requirement, but suspends it for the FY2020 H-1B cap season. The rule also reverses the order in which the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) will select cap subject H-1B petitions.  USCIS will first select, in a random lottery, a sufficient number of H‑1B registrations (or petitions when the registration requirement is suspended) submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, to meet the H-1B cap.  USCIS will then select from the remaining registrations (or petitions), also in a random lottery, a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to meet the advanced degree exemption.

For a more detailed discussion on how this new rule changes the selection process for H-1B cap-subject petitions, please see our prior post.

An H-1B cap registration proposal has been in the works since 2011, but it may have been President Trump’s Buy American and Hire American (“BAHA”) executive order that finally created the right climate to push the proposal as far as it has now come.  In its proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on December 3, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) describes two major changes it seeks to implement to the H-1B cap selection process, beginning in 2019.

First, the proposed rule requires employers to submit a registration within a specific timeframe for each beneficiary the employer intends to employ in H-1B status. The purpose of the registration requirement, according to DHS, is to make the process more streamlined and cost effective.  Employers would be allowed to file H-1B petitions only if their registrations were selected.  The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) would then instruct the employer to file a petition on behalf of the prospective beneficiary named in the registration.

Second, the proposed rule reverses the order in which H-1B beneficiaries are selected in the lottery by first selecting those who qualify under the “regular cap” and then selecting those who qualify under the advanced degree exemption. According to DHS, the purpose of this change is to prioritize prospective beneficiaries who hold an advanced U.S. degree. This change seems to partly align with one of the stated directives of BAHA: to reform the H-1B visa program by ensuring that visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest‑paid petition beneficiaries.

The following are key points employers should know about the proposed rule:

H-1B registration process

  • WHEN: Expected to become effective for the FY2020 H-1B cap season, but USCIS reserves the right to delay implementation in the event of technical challenges.
  • HOW: Employers will be required to submit an online registration during a 14-calendar‑day period prior to April 1, 2019. The exact time period will be announced on USCIS’s website 30 days before the registration period begins.
    • Only one registration will be allowed per beneficiary. Duplicate registrations will result in the invalidation of all registrations submitted by the employer for that beneficiary.
    • Each registration will require basic information, including employer’s name, FEIN and contact information; beneficiary’s name, date of birth, country of citizenship, and passport number; whether the beneficiary hold an advanced U.S. degree; and what position is being offered.
    • If USCIS does not receive enough registrations to meet the cap during the initial registration period, registration will remain open until a sufficient number is received.
    • If USCIS receives more than enough registrations during the initial period, USCIS will conduct a random selection from all the registrations received.
    • USCIS will announce on its website when sufficient registrations are received.
    • The number of registrations that are needed to meet the cap is determined in advance, based on historical data, and includes a surplus in order to account for petitions that are withdrawn, denied, and revoked.
    • Petitioners whose registrations are selected will be notified that they may file their petition(s) during their designated filing period.
    • Each filing period is expected to last 60 days, but USCIS will establish several, staggered filing periods to reduce processing pressures on the agency.
    • Employers will not be permitted to substitute beneficiaries in registrations that are selected for filing.

Change in the order of selection

In the past several years, USCIS has received more than enough H-1B petitions to meet the cap. Under current regulations, petitions are accepted during the first 5 business days of April.   USCIS then conducts a random lottery to select a sufficient number to meet the advanced degree exemption of 20,000.  Advanced-degree petitions that are not selected in that lottery are then entered into the regular pool, from which USCIS selects a sufficient number to meet the regular cap of 65,000.

    • HOW: Under the proposed rule, USCIS would first select a sufficient number of registrations to meet the regular cap of 65,000 from among all registrations that have been submitted, including those for beneficiaries who have advanced U.S. degrees. USCIS would thereafter select registrations for the advanced-degree exemption.
    • WHY: DHS interprets the intent of the current regulations as increasing the number of individuals with advanced U.S. degrees who get H-1B visas.  DHS  believes this new process is more in line with that intent and will increase advanced-degree beneficiaries who get H-1B visas by 16 percent, or 5,340 workers.

Although the H-1B cap registration rule has come this far, USCIS is soliciting comments from stakeholders on essential elements of the rule, including: (1) how to enhance the integrity of the registration process and reduce the potential for abuse; (2) the  type and scope of information that should be submitted with each registration; and (3) making the change to the advanced degree selection process separate from the new registration process.  Written comments are due by January 2, 2019.

We will provide an update to this post once the proposed rule becomes final.

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.

In a policy memorandum dated May 10, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration and Services (“USCIS”) provided new guidance to its officers and adjudicators on calculating unlawful presence for nonimmigrants in F, M, and J status. This policy memorandum, which becomes effective on August 9, 2018, represents a dramatic shift in long-standing USCIS policy.

The date unlawful status begins to accrue is extremely important as this date is a linchpin in determining when the 3-year and 10-year bars of reentry may apply.  Generally, unlawful status for more than 180 days, but less than 1 year, triggers a 3 year bar of reentry, while unlawful status for more than 1 year triggers a 10 year bar. Waivers of the bars may be available if certain requirements are met, including in some cases extreme hardship to a U.S. or permanent resident spouse or parent.

The new policy specifies that F, M, or J nonimmigrants who failed to maintain their status (for example by no longer pursuing a full-course of study, no longer engaging in an approved training program or activity, or engaging in unauthorized employment) before August 9, 2018, will start accruing unlawful status on August 9, 2018, unless the nonimmigrant already starting accruing unlawful status on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denial of an immigration benefit, if DHS determines that the nonimmigrant violated his or her nonimmigrant status while adjudicating that immigration benefit;
  • The day after the nonimmigrant’s Form I-94 expires, if the F, M, J nonimmigrant was admitted until a certain date; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered the nonimmigrant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

F, M, or J nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status on or after August 9, 2018, begin accruing unlawful presence on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after the F, J, or M nonimmigrant no longer pursues the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after he or she engages in an unauthorized activity;
  • The day after completing the course of study or program (including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period);
  • The day after Form I-94 expires, if the F, J, or M nonimmigrant was admitted for a date certain; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals orders the alien excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

The new policy is a dramatic change in how USCIS previously calculated unlawful presence.  Under the prior policy, unlawful presence for those in admitted F, M,  or J status for the duration of their status (D/S) started accruing only on the day after:

  • USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit; or
  • An immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed), whichever came first.

F, M, or J nonimmigrants who were admitted until a specific date, instead of D/S, accrued unlawful presence only on the day after:

  • Their Form I-94 expired;
  • USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit; or
  • An immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first.

This new policy also affects the immigration status of dependent family members as the validity of their status is dependent on the principal maintaining his or her status.

To review the text of USCIS’ new policy memorandum, please click here.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has reported receiving 190,098 cap subject H-1B petitions during the first five business days of April 2018, more than twice the number mandated by Congress’ cap of 65,000 under the regular H-1B cap and 20,000 under the advanced degree cap for each fiscal year.

On April 11, USCIS completed a computer generated and random lottery to select the 20,000 advanced degree cap petitions it will process for the 2019 fiscal year. Those not selected in this lottery, were included in a second lottery conducted to select the 65,000 regular H-1B cap petitions that USCIS will process.

We expect to start receiving H-1B receipt notices for petitions selected in the lottery within the next two weeks and that they will continue to trickle in through the month of June, as in previous years.

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.

Effective January 1, 2018, AB-450, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 5, 2017, imposes the following requirements on public and private employers in California:

  • Except as otherwise required by federal law, an employer or other person acting on the employer’s behalf is prohibited from providing voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to enter nonpublic areas of a place of labor unless the agent provides a judicial warrant, except as specified
  • Except as required by federal law, an employer or other person acting on the employer’s behalf is prohibited from providing voluntary consent to an immigration enforcement agent to access, review, or obtain the employer’s employee records without a subpoena or court order, subject to a specified exception
  • Requires an employer to provide current employees notice containing specified information, by posting in the language the employer normally uses to communicate employment information, of an inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms or other employment records conducted by an immigration agency within 72 hours of receiving the federal notice of inspection
  • Requires an employer, upon reasonable request, to provide an affected employee* a copy of the notice of inspection of I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms.
  • Prohibits the reverification of the employment eligibility of a current employee, except when required by federal law

Violations of each of the above provisions will subject employers to civil penalties ranging from $2,000 up $5,000 for a first violation and $5,000 to $10,000 for subsequent violations.

Employers in California should make sure to have in place an internal I-9 compliance policy and that employees who are responsible for administering the program and those who are the employers’ first points of contact to the general public are trained on AB-450’s new requirements.

* Employee identified by the immigration agency’s inspection results to be an employee who may lack work authorization or whose documentation has deficiencies.

On November 20, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued a policy memorandum restricting TN nonimmigrant classification under the profession of Economist, to those who will primarily engage in activities consistent with the profession of Economist and specifically excluding those employed as Financial Analysts, Market Research Analysts, and Marketing Specialists. USCIS explains that the policy memorandum was necessary, because the lack of an in-depth description of the Economist profession in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created the TN nonimmigrant classification, has led to inconsistent adjudications regarding which positions are encompassed under the Economist profession.

In its memorandum, USCIS explains that Economists generally specialize in either the analysis of individuals or firms to better understand the relationship between supply and demand or in the analysis of aggregated indicators to determine how different sectors of the economy are related to each other.  USCIS adds that Economists may apply economic analysis to issues in a variety of fields including labor, international trade, development, econometrics, education, health, and industrial organization.

Continue Reading USCIS Issues New Guidance Restricting who Qualifies as a TN Economist

This week, Tom Homan, acting Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced that he has instructed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative branch of ICE, to quadruple the number of worksite inspections.  Danielle Bennett, spokeswoman for the agency, confirmed this directive and added “ICE’s worksite enforcement strategy continues to address both employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers and the workers themselves.”

What does this mean for U.S. employers? This means that employers should expect to see increased HSI visits during which HSI will conduct not only I-9 audits to ensure that employers are complying with established employment eligibility verification requirements, but also other investigations related to compliance with immigration and labor regulations.

Continue Reading Employers Should Take the Necessary Steps to Prepare for Increased Worksite Inspections

The Department of State has announced that due to technical issues the initial DV-2019 entry period of October 3, 2017, to November 7, 2017, has been closed.  The new DV-2019 entry period will begin at noon (EST) on October 18, 2017, and will remain open until noon (EST) on November 22, 2017. All entries received prior to October 18, 2017 will be cancelled and excluded from the system.  Applicants who submitted entries during that timeframe are advised to submit new entries to be considered in the DV 2019 lottery.