Report: F-1 OPT Numbers Significantly Increased from 2004-2016

I was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Trisha Thadani for her well-researched article regarding the F-1 OPT program and the latest results of the Pew Research Center’s 12-year period study into this program, released today, in which it found that “Federal training program sees 400% increase in foreign students graduating and working in STEM fields from 2008 to 2016“.

Though it looks as if we can expect a further hobbling of the F-1 OPT program, I believe that such an act would only damage our nation’s precarious international lead in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  There is a very real and obvious workforce problem in our country, for which the OPT or the H-1B is a temporary salve: not the cause. Rather, the issue is that among the tens of thousands of things that America has stopped manufacturing en masse include American STEM Graduates. That is the single biggest reason why half of our Ph.D. candidates as well as a quarter of our STEM workforce are foreign born.

Ultimately, instead of scapegoating “Srinivas from Hyderabad” for daring to pay U.S. tuition fees, studying hard, and filling one of the 480,000 open computing jobs nationwide in OPT or H-1B status, we should be asking ourselves why “Suzy from Ohio” is majoring in Italian Art History or Anthropology or Philosophy instead of Computer Engineering. Anti-immigrationists must stop playing the victim, stop shifting the blame onto the voiceless, and start taking personal responsibility, the American Way: by enrolling themselves or their own children into Mathematics, Biochemistry, Engineering, or Information Technology programs.

 

 

Trump administration indicates that it will terminate Work Permits (EADs) for H-4 Spouses of H-1B Workers

You don’t have to be an Oracle to realize that these planned changes are among a rash of similar changes, all of which appear to target one particular group: Indian IT professionals. The ultimate aim appears to be to dissuade such professionals from immigrating to the U.S. by making the H-1B program more complicated, unpredictable, expensive, and ultimately untenable.

USCIS Turns Away Highly Valuable Revenue Stream by Temporarily Suspending Premium Processing for FY2019 H-1B Cap Petitions

USCIS announced that it will again suspend premium processing for H-1B Cap Subject cases until Sept. 10, 2018 in an effort, it claims, to “reduce overall H-1B processing times“.  The update also warns that it will deny any H-1B Cap Subject petition that provide one combined check for the H-1B and Premium Processing fees (even accidentally).
USCIS’ decision is illogical because it is rejecting a significant and valuable revenue stream which it sorely needs for its operations to actually reduce overall processing times.  USCIS is almost entirely funded by filing fees such as the $1225.00 premium processing fee, to the extent that when the rest of the Federal Government shuts down, USCIS doesn’t.  And currently, USCIS’ need for said revenue is even more critical considering that its staff and officers have been called upon to do increasingly more work in the adjudication process with regards to the intensity of scrutiny and the number of cases, all the while remaining consistent with each of the recent Policy Memos that have upended existing guidance/definitions relied upon by everyone, even AOs.
Turning away premium processing fees won’t help USCIS address backlogs in any meaningful or permanent way.  But creating an efficient electronic filing system will.  One of the foundational (but rarely referenced) reasons for USCIS’ delays and backlogs though is the fact that it has flushed three (3) billion dollars of funding along with 10+ years down the drain in its failed attempt to go digital through its “Transformation Program” which promised to improve service, efficiency and security, but the development of which the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified as early as 2007 as, “unfocused, conducted in an ad hoc and decentralized manner, and, in certain instances, duplicative”  Last year, the GAO presented a summary on the issues with the program:
“The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) most recent cost and schedule baseline, approved in April 2015, indicates that its Transformation Program will cost up to $3.1 billion and be fully deployed no later than March 2019. This is an increase of approximately $1 billion with a delay of more than 4 years from its initial July 2011 acquisition program baseline. In addition, the program is currently working to develop a new cost and schedule baseline to reflect further delays. Due to the program’s recurring schedule delays, USCIS will continue to incur costs for maintaining its existing systems while the program awaits full implementation. Moreover, USCIS’s ability to achieve program goals, including enhanced national security, better customer service, and operational efficiency improvements, will be delayed.
Given the history of development for the Transformation Program and the subsequent commitment of additional resources for a new system, it is more important than ever that USCIS consistently follow key practices in its system development efforts. For example, the program has already reported realizing risks associated with deploying software that has not been fully tested, such as system bugs, defects, and unplanned network outages. If the agency does not address the issues GAO has identified in prior work, then it will continue to experience significant risk for increased costs, further schedule delays, and performance shortfalls.”
It is ironic that though USCIS has failed to create a functioning computerized system despite losing $3,000,000,000.00 over 10+ years, it has had no problems issuing unprecedented levels of queries and denials on H-1B petitions for IT professionals on the basis that their jobs aren’t “Specialty Occupations”.

USCIS’ Latest H-1B Policy Changes Continue to Target IT Consulting Firms that Hire H-1B Workers

USCIS fired another broadside into the H-1B IT Consulting Industry with yesterday’s Policy Memo PM-602-0157 entitled “Contracts and Itineraries Requirements for H-1B Petitions Involving Third-Party Worksites”.  The policy memo is effective February 22,2018 onwards and will – no surprise here – create even more obstacles for Petitioners of H-1B workers who will be employed at one or more third-party worksites (in other words, U.S. IT Consulting companies employing H-1B workers).

In summary, the memo calls for increased scrutiny on H-1Bs cases involving third-party consulting assignments (despite the fact that since 2010’s Neufeld Memo, establishing an approvable H-1B for third-party consulting cases has always been extremely difficult, with USCIS often requiring, in my opinion, the Petitioner to establish its case beyond the legally required preponderance of the evidence standard).  The memo warns that USCIS will require additional end-client contracts/statements and other documentation, perhaps even with the initial petition itself.  Even if the Petitioners can overcome these additional burdens, USCIS warns that it will only grant an approval through the duration established (this likely means more one year approvals versus three year).  This specific reference to a shortened H-1B duration is a consistent theme underscoring several USCIS policy changes since Matter of Simelio Solutions, I assume, to increase the complexity, cost and inconvenience relating to hiring H-1B workers.

The memo also burdens H-1B Petitioners with establishing eligibility for two cases per H-1B employee: the memo includes a formalized restatement of a policy USCIS’ RFE’s had already adopted in the past few months: even if an H-1B petition is approved, when an extension of said petition is filed (1-3 years later), the Petitioner will be required to affirmatively provide evidence that it complied with the terms and conditions of the past duration of H-1B employment.

USCIS’ H-1B Policy Memo makes it clear that it intends to keep beating the U.S. IT Consulting Industry like a rented mule.  Is what it actually means to focus on “Merit Based” Immigration? Has no one deliberated on the only logical implications of this short-sighted (and presumably political) action?  Not only are such actions negating our own global leadership in the STEM fields, but most of the IT jobs that could be filled by H-1B consultants (who are paying U.S. taxes), could and would easily be outsourced abroad, because we are not producing sufficient numbers of American STEM graduates.

Trump Admin Scraps Proposed Major Policy Change Regarding 6+ Year H-1B Extensions

The Trump Administration appears to have been pressured into scrapped its proposed major policy change on 6+ year H-1B Extensions.

Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for USCIS indicated to mcclatchydc.com that, “…USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visaholders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6-year limit…Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21 instead.”

DHS Appears to Be Contemplating a Major Change to 6+ Year H-1B Extensions under AC21: Up to 1 Million H-1B Holders Could Be Affected

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appears to be contemplating a major change to 6+ year H-1B Extensions, an act that would have major implications in the lives of the approximately 1 Million H-1B holders in the U.S. who are waiting for a green card.  To effect such a change, all DHS would need to do is continue its policy of reinterpreting any language and/or guidance it considers imprecise in a way that negatively affects the H-1B visa program.  And in this case it apparently seeks to reinterpret the words  “may grant” in AC21 Section 104(c), a provision that allows for up to three (3) year H-1B Extensions for certain I-140 holders (mainly Indian nationals, coincidentally).  Such a reinterpretation would allow DHS to effectively neuter H-1B extensions under AC21 Section 104(c), however, because DHS does not currently appear to be able to reinterpret the word “shall” in AC21 Section 106(a), one (1) year H-1B Extensions should remain untouched and available.

A reinterpretation of AC21 Section 104(c) by DHS, if undertaken, would align harmoniously amongst its other recent attempts to make H-1Bs prohibitively complicated, expensive and more frequently subject to DHS’ scrutiny (i.e. the trending query of the month).  That stated, please note that the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA.org) has indicated that DHS has not issued a formal announcement about any such change, that such a change would require a formal rulemaking procedure, and lastly, that such changes could be subject to litigation.

Ultimately, instead of scapegoating Srinivas from Hyderabad for daring to fill one of the 480,000 open computing jobs nationwide, we should be asking ourselves why Suzy from Ohio is majoring in Italian Art History instead of Computer Engineering.  There is a very real and obvious problem with education in our country, but it is not the H-1B Program or H-1B workers, rather, the issue is that We. Are. Not. Producing. Enough. STEM. Workers.  

BELOW VIA AILA.ORG

Under current law, the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21) has two provisions, section 104(c) and section 106(a), which enable DHS to grant an H-1B extension to an H-1B worker who has reached the six-year limit if certain milestones in the LPR process have been met. These two provisions are summarized below:

H-1B EXTENSION BEYOND SIX-YEAR LIMITATION UNDER AC21
AC21 Provision Section 104(c) Section 106(a)
Requirements for an H-1B Extension beyond the Sixth-Year Enables a three-year H-1B extension beyond the six-year maximum period if an H-1B worker:

(i) has an approved employment-based immigrant visa petition (I-140 petition) under the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 visa category, and

(ii) is eligible to be granted lawful permanent resident status but for per country limits on visa availability.

Enables a one-year H-1B extension beyond the six-year maximum period if:

(i) 365 days or more have passed since the filing of a labor certification application on the H-1B worker’s behalf, or

(ii) 365 days or more have passed since the filing of an I-140 petition.

Relevant Statutory Language Section 104(c) provides that the DHS Secretary (formerly the Attorney General) “may grant” such an extension to an eligible H-1B worker who meets the requirements of this section until the adjustment of status application has been adjudicated. Section 106(a) provides that the maximum six-year limit “shall not apply” to an H-1B worker who meets the requirements of this section and that the DHS Secretary “shall extend” the stay in one-year increments until such time as a final decision is made on the H-1B worker’s adjustment of status application.

DHS is reportedly looking at whether it can stop approving H-1B extensions for H-1B workers who meet the requirements of section 104(c), by reinterpreting the “may grant” language as discretionary, and therefore that DHS may, but is not required to, approve such H-1B extensions.

 
Notably, as outlined above, section 106(a) of AC21 provides that the maximum six-year period of H-1B status “shall not apply” to H-1B workers who qualify for an H-1B extension under section 106(a) and that the DHS Secretary “shall extend” the stay of H-1B workers who meet the requirements in one-year increments until such time as a final decision is made on the H-1B worker’s adjustment of status application. This provision, with its use of the word “shall,” should be read as mandatory, and thus DHS would be required to approve the extension for those H-1B workers who met the requirements of section 106(a). As such, H-1B workers who could potentially be impacted by the reported proposed changes to AC21 section 104(c) should be able to continue to extend their H-1B status under section 106(a) of AC21, provided they have met the required milestones in the LPR process. This is even true for H-1B workers who initially did not meet the requirements of section 106(a) but who now, through the passage of time, qualify for the one-year extension.”

USCIS Clarifies Definition of “Functional Manager” in EB-1 / L-1A Cases by Designating Matter of G-., Inc as an Adopted Decision

Matter of G-. involved a multinational technology-based product development corporation that had filed an an EB-1 I-140 (Multinational Manager) petition for an employee who would be engaged as a “Functional Manager”, in other words, one who would be primarily managing an essential function as opposed to managing personnel.  The employer’s I-140 was denied by the Director of the Nebraska Service Center on the basis that the employer had not established that it would employ the Beneficiary in a managerial capacity.

The employer appealed the decision, indicating that the Director had erroneously misstated facts and abused his discretion in denying the petition.  The appeal was sustained by the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), which held that the employer had indeed sufficiently established that its employee would be engaged a qualifying “managerial capacity” and that he would be primarily managing an “essential function” within the organization.

The AAO’s decision was adopted in a USCIS policy memorandum and will be used to clarify the somewhat imprecise definition of a “Functional Manager” in EB-1 cases (and likely L-1A as well).  In summary, the decision indicates that:

(1) To support a claim that a beneficiary will manage an essential function, the petitioner must establish that the function is a clearly defined activity and is core to the organization.
(2) Once the petitioner demonstrates the essential function, it must establish that the beneficiary’s position meets all criteria for “managerial capacity” as defined in 101(a)(44)(A) of the Act. Specifically, it must show that the beneficiary will: primarily manage, as opposed to perform, the function; act at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and exercise discretion over the function’s day-to-day operations.

The decision’s clarification ought to be somewhat helpful to employers and beneficiaries, but it is too early to say, given that every change/update to “Merit Based” immigration this year has been substantially negative.

Matter of G- Inc (PDF)

More than 300,000 Central American and Haitian Immigrants to Lose TPS: May Soon Face Deportation

New York Magazine reports that US Dept. of State has advised US Dept. of Homeland Security officials this week that the 300,000+ Central Americans and Haitians who are currently in the United States in a Temporary Protected Status will no longer be protected from deportation.  This announcement arrives days prior to a highly anticipated DHS announcement on a decision to renew said TPS program.

“Per a letter from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to DHS secretary Elaine Duke this week, the State Department believes that conditions in Central America and Haiti have now improved to the point that TPS designation is no longer necessary. The legally required assessment came as the DHS prepares to announce by Monday whether it will renew TPS protection for more than 60,000 Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants in early January. Tillerson’s letter doesn’t bode well for them or for two other large groups of American residents: nearly 60,000 Haitian immigrants with TPS whose protection expires in late January, and almost 200,000 Salvadorans whose protection expires next March.

Some of these immigrants have been in the U.S. for as long as two decades, and many own homes and businesses. One study has estimated that TPS holders have almost 275,000 U.S.-born children in their families. Should the designations not be renewed, these immigrants would have at least six months to get their affairs in order and leave the country. If they chose to stay, they could face arrest and deportation.”

Continue to Article

Ashwin Sharma interviewed by WJXT Channel 4 News about the Diversity Lottery Green Card program through which the alleged NYC Terrorist entered the USA

It appears that the NYC terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov entered the US because he was randomly selected to receive a US Green Card through the Diversity Lottery, a program that, in summary, grants 50,000 visas to those from “low admission” countries. The only other eligibility factors are that one must have a high school education or 2 years of work experience.

A cruel irony is that this suspect’s “truck-driving” experience could have been what qualified him to enter the U.S. with a green card. Another is that he very likely received a green card in a matter of months while our recent Math teacher client, who has taught for 10 years in H-1B status at a public school, must wait another 11-13 years for her green card.

Immigration doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. We don’t have to eliminate the Diversity Lottery. But can’t we increase our vetting process and require DV lottery applicants to possess a Bachelors or Masters degree or even some skill that actually benefits the U.S.?

See also: https://www.news4jax.com/news/politics/what-is-the-diversity-visa-lottery_

USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for All Petitioners Seeking H-1B Visas

USCIS indicates that it has “resumed premium processing today for all H-1B visa extension of stay petitions. Premium processing is now available for all types of H-1B petitions.”  This includes H-1B amendments, extensions, transfers etc.

AIC Fact Sheet on U.S. Immigration for Global Entrepreneurs implies that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave has also become the Realm of Red Tape

The American Immigration Council’s fact sheet describes some of the options available to entrepreneurs in the United States along with a description of various obstacles placed in their path by our Immigration Policy.  The report bluntly indicates both that “Global competition for entrepreneurs is growing” and that “Although foreign entrepreneurs have consistently considered the United States a top destination, the U.S. immigration system often forces them to leave.”

It is unfortunate that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave has also become the Realm of Red Tape.

Multiple studies have indicated that America is no longer the only go-to country for foreign entrepreneurs; a growing number of would-be entrepreneurs are choosing to start their businesses in countries that offer greater financial and social incentives. As a result, the United States is losing out on the new businesses, jobs, tax revenue, and innovation that these entrepreneurs could be generating for the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, other countries (such as India and China) are implementing policies that persuade their own best and brightest to remain at home, while also attracting talent from other nations through new entrepreneurial programs.
In short, entrepreneurs seeking the greatest opportunity for themselves and their families can choose from a range of countries. While job availability, wages, and working conditions are important in making this decision, so are a number of other considerations—such as how much red tape and bureaucracy is involved in the initial visa process, a possible future job change, the adjustment from a temporary to a permanent immigration status, and the process of bringing family members from the home country to the United States.

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.