How the Trump Admin’s ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration System actually works: Kill or Handicap the H-1B Visa

Reuters has a great piece on how Trump’s infamous ‘Merit-Based’ Immigration System actually works – issue a record # of queries, delays and denials on US companies’ petitions filed for their professional employees: Doctors, Engineers, IT and others. That these substantial changes impeding and eliminating aspects of the H-1B program have been undertaken without Congressional authorization is apparently of little concern to the Admin.

“Data provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, the agency issued 85,000 challenges, or “requests for evidence” (RFEs), to H-1B visa petitions – a 45 percent increase over the same period last year. The total number of H-1B petitions rose by less than 3 percent in the same period.”
The article also touches on the newly trending issue of “Level 1 Wage” queries which essentially involves USCIS weaponizing, without notice, a US DOL regulation on prevailing wages (the latter not intended nor written to serve in the capacity USCIS is using it for):

In addition to querying applications more often, the Trump administration is targeting entry-level jobs offered to skilled foreigners. The lawyers say this violates the law governing H-1Bs, because it allows for visa holders to take entry-level jobs.

Several attorneys said they view the increase in challenges and focus on entry-level jobs as a stealth campaign by the administration against the H-1B program in the absence of public regulatory changes or changes passed by Congress, which could be debated and decided in the open.

As I’ve stated before: H-1B workers have filled our massive skills gap and created intellectual property, businesses and jobs for America. They are Makers, not Takers.  It is therefore particularly disheartening to witness illogical attempts to reject these professionals, especially when other nations are outcompeting the U.S. in eagerly recruiting STEM workers.

As a Country, we need to shake off the illusion that we can “coast” through this increasingly competitive world on the basis of our previous generation’s achievements.  The future of our Nation and our Industry lie in our leadership within the STEM sectors.  Instead of rejecting or delaying tens of thousands of these high-skilled H-1B immigrants every year due to insufficient H-1B Cap numbers, newly created/surprise “Level 1” wage issues, or making these professionals wait up to 12 years for a green card, we should be bending over backwards to facilitate their immigration.

USCIS Resumed Premium Processing H-1B Cap Petitions Subject to the Fiscal Year year (FY) 2018 Cap on September 18, 2017

VIA USCIS.GOV

WASHINGTON — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) resumed premium processing today for all H-1B visa petitions subject to the Fiscal Year year (FY) 2018 cap. The FY 2018 cap has been set at 65,000 visas. Premium processing has also resumed for the annual 20,000 additional petitions that are set aside to hire workers with a U.S. master’s degree or higher educational degree.

H-1B visas provide skilled workers for a wide range of specialty occupations, including information technology, academic research, and accounting. When a petitioner requests the agency’s premium processing service, USCIS guarantees a 15-day processing time. If the 15- calendar day processing time is not met, the agency will refund the petitioner’s premium processing service fee and continue with expedited processing of the application. This service is only available for pending petitions, not new submissions, since USCIS received enough petitions in April to meet the FY 2018 cap.

In addition to today’s resumption of premium processing for H-1B visa petitions subject to the FY 2018 cap, USCIS previously resumed premium processing H-1B petitions filed on behalf of physicians under the Conrad 30 waiver program, as well as interested government agency waivers and for certain H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap. Premium processing remains temporarily suspended for all other H-1B petitions, such as extensions of stay.

USCIS plans to resume premium processing for all other remaining H‑1B petitions not subject to the FY 2018 cap, as agency workloads permit. However, remaining petitioners may submit a request to expedite their application if they meet the specific agency criteria. USCIS reviews all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis, and requests are granted at the discretion of the office leadership.

USCIS will release future announcements when we begin accepting premium processing for other H-1B petitions, not subject to the FY 2018 cap.

Trump Administration Rescinds Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

By rescinding DACA, the Administration has closed the door to 800,000 #Dreamers who consider America home.  Dreamers are making America greater every day, building stronger communities and contributing their talents to our industry. By abandoning these young people, the Administration is conceding far more than it gains from fulfilling a reprehensible campaign promise. We now look to Congress to live up to America’s fundamental principles and stand up for Dreamers.

Politico reports that USCIS Plans Adjustment of Status (Green Card) Interview Requirement – Including for All Employment Based Applicants

VIA AILA.org

On August 25, 2017, Politico reported that USCIS is planning a change in policy to require interviews for all employment-based adjustment of status applicants and will be expanding the interview requirement to other categories. On August 28, 2017, the same reporter tweeted what appears to be the first page of a USCIS press release confirming that, effective October 1, interviews will be phased in for all employment-based adjustment applicants and for all I-730 refugee/asylee petitions. The press release also states that this is part of an “incremental expansion of interviews for benefits that lead to permanent residence,” thus signaling that the interview requirement could be expanded to other categories. An August 25 NBC News article provides some additional context as to what the future might hold.

AILA has been in contact with agency officials to verify this information and will continue to reach out to obtain updates. As with other announcements, it appears that this policy originated from high levels within the Administration. At this time it remains unclear how this will be implemented operationally, including resource allocation, timing, and process.

The Proposed “RAISE Act” would Giveth little but Taketh a lot.

The Washington Post’s David Nakamura provides details on Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.)’s new bill entitled “Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment [RAISE] Act”.

In a nutshell, the new bill: a) Focuses on “Merit Based” Green Cards through a Canadian style points system b) Does away with the 50K Diversity Lottery green cards, c) Caps Refugee cases to 50K a year, d) Limits or does away with Family Based Immigration for “Extended Relatives” including adult children and siblings of US Citizens (termed “Chain Migration”), and d) Reduces the total number of Green Card issued annually by about half.

USCIS Resumes H-1B Premium Processing for Certain Cap-Exempt Petitions

Via USCIS.gov

USCIS indicates that it will resume premium processing for certain cap-exempt H-1B petitions effective immediately.

Premium processing will resume for petitions that may be exempt from the cap if the H-1B petitioner is:

* An institution of higher education;

* A nonprofit related to or affiliated with an institution of higher education; or

* A nonprofit research or governmental research organization.

Premium processing will also resume for petitions that may also be exempt if the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, organization or entity. 

AIC’s New Fact Sheet Indicates that 20-25% of all STEM Workers are Foreign Born

The American Immigration Council just released a fact sheet entitled “Foreign-born STEM Workers in the United States” and noted the importance of said workers to America,

“STEM workers are essential to the U.S. economy in terms of productivity and innovation. As of 2015, the foreign-born comprised one-fifth to one-quarter of the STEM workforce, depending on what occupations are included within the definition of STEM. Notably, the total number of foreign-born STEM workers in the U.S. workforce has increased dramatically since 1990, both in absolute numbers and as a share of the total workforce. This is true at the national and state levels. Additionally, foreign-born workers make up an increasing share of STEM workers in all occupational categories.”

To view the fact sheet in its entirety, see:

USCIS Completes Data Entry for FY2018 H-1B Cap Subject Petitions

USCIS announced that it has completed data entry of all FY2018 H-1B cap-subject petitions selected in the computer-generated random process. USCIS will now begin returning all H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected.

What’s in the new “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order?

  • On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed a new Executive Order, “Buy American and Hire American.” In the “Hire American” portion of the order, Trump announced he was directing DOL, DOJ, DHS, and DOS to review the current laws governing the H-1B program and suggest changes to prioritize the most skilled and highest paid positions. The President also indicated he was directing federal agencies to review all visa programs and take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse in order to protect U.S. workers.

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AILA: Impact of “Hire American” Provisions in New Executive Order Remains to Be Seen

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Trump signed his latest Executive Order “Buy American and Hire American.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) observed that while today’s announcement reflects the administration’s desire to move toward reforms to the H-1B program, there will be no immediate changes or impacts on H-1Bs. Simply put, it appears that the agencies are asked to review policies related to all visa programs and recommend changes to root out “fraud and abuse,” and to propose additional reforms so that H-1B visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid applicants.

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Update on H-1B Cap Subject Petitions for FY2018: 199,000 Petitions Filed

  • On April 7, 2017, USCIS announced that it had received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 H-1B visas and 20,000 advanced degree visas for FY2018.
  • On April 17, 2017, USCIS announced that it had received 199,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began April 3. This represents a 15.7 percent decrease from the 236,000 petitions that USCIS received during last year’s filing period.

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It’s That Time of Year: the H-1B Fiscal Year Quota and the H-1B Haters

The Fiscal Year Quota for H-1B visas is, as usual, just opened on April 1 which elicits a bit more public interest about the H-1B program in particular and Business Immigration in general.  Unfortunately, Business Immigration is the orphaned step-brother of Family Based Immigration and the H-1B is not as publicly controversial a subject as most other immigration issues in the news though, so this public interest is invariably fleeting.

This is also about the time of year when anti-H-1B propagandists crawl out into the sunlight like xenophobic groundhogs to regurgitate their timeworn arguments against the visa program. They allege that the H-1B program as a whole fails to deliver the “best and the brightest” to America, that Americans are being displaced by foreigners earning “low wages“, that there are sufficient numbers of qualified American workers to fill the proffered jobs. Some of the slicker ones even feign an interest in the welfare of H-1B workers by claiming widespread abuse by H-1B employers (despite the fact that H-1B workers may transfer to another employer in 8 days whenever they’d like, and that they are protected by the DOL W&H and other agencies to a degree that would make a U.S. Citizen green with envy).

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