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USCIS Publishes Final Rule For Certain Employment-Based Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visa Programs

Via USCIS.gov

USCIS has published a final rule to modernize and improve several aspects of certain employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs. USCIS has also amended regulations to better enable U.S. employers to hire and retain certain foreign workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions and are waiting to become lawful permanent residents. This rule goes into effect on Jan. 17, 2017.

Among other things, DHS is amending its regulations to:

  • Clarify and improve longstanding DHS policies and practices implementing sections of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act and the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act related to certain foreign workers, which will enhance USCIS’ consistency in adjudication.
  • Better enable U.S. employers to employ and retain high-skilled workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions (Form I-140 petitions) while also providing stability and job flexibility to these workers. The rule increases the ability of these workers to further their careers by accepting promotions, changing positions with current employers, changing employers and pursuing other employment opportunities.
  • Improve job portability for certain beneficiaries of approved Form I-140 petitions by maintaining a petition’s validity under certain circumstances despite an employer’s withdrawal of the approved petition or the termination of the employer’s business.
  • Clarify and expand when individuals may keep their priority date when applying for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence.
  • Allow certain high-skilled individuals in the United States with E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1 or O-1 nonimmigrant status, including any applicable grace period, to apply for employment authorization for a limited period if:
  1. They are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140 petition,
  2. An immigrant visa is not authorized for issuance for their priority date, and
  3. They can demonstrate compelling circumstances exist that justify DHS issuing an employment authorization document in its discretion.

Such employment authorization may only be renewed in limited circumstances and only in one year increments.

  • Clarify various policies and procedures related to the adjudication of H-1B petitions, including, among other things, providing H-1B status beyond the six year authorized period of admission, determining cap exemptions and counting workers under the H-1B cap, H-1B portability, licensure requirements and protections for whistleblowers.
  • Establish two grace periods of up to 10 days for individuals in the E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1, and TN nonimmigrant classifications to provide a reasonable amount of time for these individuals to prepare to begin employment in the country and to depart the United States or take other actions to extend, change, or otherwise maintain lawful status.
  • Establish a grace period of up to 60 consecutive days during each authorized validity period for certain high-skilled nonimmigrant workers when their employment ends before the end of their authorized validity period, so they may more readily pursue new employment and an extension of their nonimmigrant status.
  • Automatically extend the employment authorization and validity of Employment Authorization Documents (EADs or Form I-766s) for certain individuals who apply on time to renew their EADs.
  • Eliminate the regulatory provision that requires USCIS to adjudicate the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, within 90 days of filing and that authorizes interim EADs in cases where such adjudications are not conducted within the 90-day timeframe.

American Immigration Lawyers Association asks Secretary of State John Kerry and other Officials to restore the dates in the September 9, 2015 Visa Bulletin

Earlier today, the American Immigration Lawyers Association indicated that it had sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz expressing great disappointment in the September 25, 2015, changes to the October 2015 Visa Bulletin, and asking that the dates published in the September 9, 2015, Visa Bulletin be restored. The revised October 2015 Visa Bulletin rolls back the “Dates for Filing” for several visa categories, and will force many individuals and families to continue to face lengthy wait times before they can submit their applications for permanent residence.

Sudden EB-2 Priority Date Retrogression:  Did Donald Trump just get installed as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services?

Many Employment Based 2nd Preference (EB-2) Indian applicants were expecting to file their Adjustment of Status (Green Card) applications in five (5) short days.  These applicants include Doctors, Veterinarians, Scientists, Information Systems Managers, Senior Software Developers, Lawyers and many other advanced degree professionals, all readying their application in October of 2015 based on next month’s visa bulletin (issued September 9th 2015) which declared that EB-2 India dates were current as of July 2011.  While the actual issuance of a green card would still have taken several more years, these applicants would have attained significant benefits while continuing their patient multi-year wait in line.  This news was greatly welcomed by EB applicants who felt that this was our Administration’s first real “immigration reform” initiative intended specifically to benefit America’s highly educated immigrants.

However USCIS has taken an about-turn on this point by announcing, in a highly confusing manner, the retrogression of those July 2011 dates, back to July 2009.  By way of background, a second visa bulletin announcement in one month is highly unusual, as is for the second announcement to be issued on a Friday, on the 25th of a month, at 4 pm, less than a week from the date the immigrant filings were set to begin.  As a direct result, thousands advanced degree professionals, mostly born in India, who have been waiting to file their green cards for 4+ years, will have to keep waiting.  This despite the applicants’ reasonable reliance on the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin of September 9th, or the thousands of dollars they each have likely spent in preparing their green card application(s) based on the same.

In this case, USCIS broke a promise to advanced degree immigrants who comprise a large percentage of our best and brightest.  USCIS’ actions in this regard are simply unintelligible and amount to exactly what Mahatma Gandhi spoke of when he noted that “a breach of promise is a base surrender of truth“.  USCIS’ action also moves us backward to the quota systems which the current immigration law, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, was created to counter.

This is a highly suspect and unwelcome development which brings to mind July 2007, when USCIS attempted something similar.  At that time, a lawsuit stopped USCIS from closing the filing window and in fact kept said window remained open for about two months (longer than if USCIS didn’t attempt to shut down filings).

I’m hopeful that history will repeat itself.

Read More…

Significant Change to Employment Based Green Card Cases – As of today, two separate categories for EB Visa Bulletins, for the filing (Acceptance) of Adjustment of Status cases and one for final Approval of cases

The Obama Administration’s attempts to “streamline” the U.S. employment based green card process appeared to have paid off when the U.S. Department of State recently acknowledged that it was reworking its visa availability system.  Today, however, we received a wonderful surprise: as per the U.S. Dept. of State’s Visa Bulletin for October 2015, a significant change in the EB process is apparent: the Visa Bulletin includes two separate employment based categories, each with a different cut off date (see below).

The first category represents the “Approval” category which notes the priority date as to when an Applicant’s Adjustment of Status or IV case would be ultimately approved.  The second category represents the “Acceptance” category which control when an Applicant could file for Adjustment of Status, assuming an Applicant’s Priority Date is current at that time.

This is a remarkable and welcome update that conveys significant benefits to EB preference applicants, particularly for Indian and Chinese nationals who were most prejudiced by the long delays arising from retrogressed priority dates.

USCIS should prepare for an avalanche of AOS applications.



A.  APPLICATION FINAL ACTION DATES FOR
EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES

On the chart below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed (see paragraph 1); “C” means current, i.e., numbers are authorized for issuance to all qualified applicants; and “U” means unauthorized, i.e., numbers are not authorized for issuance. (NOTE: Numbers are authorized for issuance only for applicants whose priority date isearlier than the cut-off date listed below.)

Employment- Based All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed CHINA – mainland born INDIA MEXICO PHILIPPINES
1st C C C C C
2nd C 01JAN12 01MAY05 C C
3rd 15AUG15 15OCT11 08MAR04 15AUG15 01JAN07
Other Workers 15AUG15 01JAN06 08MAR04 15AUG15 01JAN07
4th C C C C C
Certain Religious Workers U U U U U
5th
Targeted
Employment
Areas/

Regional Centers
C 08OCT13 C C C
5th
Pilot
Programs
U U U U U

*Employment Third Preference Other Workers Category:  Section 203(e) of the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) passed by Congress in November 1997, as amended by Section 1(e) of Pub. L. 105-139, provides that once the Employment Third Preference Other Worker (EW) cut-off date has reached the priority date of the latest EW petition approved prior to November 19, 1997, the 10,000 EW numbers available for a fiscal year are to be reduced by up to 5,000 annually beginning in the following fiscal year. This reduction is to be made for as long as necessary to offset adjustments under the NACARA program. Since the EW cut-off date reached November 19, 1997 during Fiscal Year 2001, the reduction in the EW annual limit to 5,000 began in Fiscal Year 2002.

B.  DATES FOR FILING OF EMPLOYMENT-BASED
VISA APPLICATIONS

The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. Applicants for immigrant visas who have a priority date earlier than the cut-off date in the chart may assemble and submit required documents to the Department of State’s National Visa Center, following receipt of notification from the National Visa Center containing detailed instructions. The cut-off date for an oversubscribed category is the priority date of the first applicant who cannot submit documentation to the National Visa Center for an immigrant visa. If a category is designated “current,” all applicants in the relevant category may file, regardless of priority date.

The “C” listing indicates that the category is current, and that applications may be filed regardless of the applicant’s priority date. The listing of a date for any category indicates that only applicants with a priority date which isearlier than the listed date may file their application.

USCIS has determined that this chart may be used (in lieu of the chart in paragraph 5.A.) this month for filing applications for adjustment of status with USCIS. Applicants for adjustment of status may visitwww.USCIS.gov/visabulletininfo for additional information.

Employment-
Based
All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed
CHINA-
mainland
born
INDIA MEXICO PHILIPPINES
1st C C C C C
2nd C 01MAY14 01JUL11 C C
3rd 01SEP15 01OCT13 01JUL05 01SEP15 01JAN15
Other Workers 01SEP15 01JAN07 01JUL05 01SEP15 01JAN15
4th C C C C C
Certain Religious
Workers
C C C C C
5th Targeted
Employment Areas/
Regional Centers
and Pilot Programs
C 01MAY15 C C C

6.  The Department of State has a recorded message with the cut-off date information for Final Application Action which can be heard at:  (202) 485-7699.  This recording is updated on or about the tenth of each month with information on cut-off dates for the following month.

Insight into anticipated EB-2 (India) Visa Priority Date Movements from AILA/U.S. Department of State

VIA AILA

On January 9, 2015, the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Department of State Liaison Committee asked Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, U.S. Department of State for his thoughts on current and future trends/projections with regards to immigrant visa preference categories. The Committee hopes that this action may help provide additional insight, beyond the basic visa availability updates that are provided in the monthly Visa Bulletin.

Updates:

Read More…

November 2014 Visa Bulletin: India EB2 Retrogresses

The Department of State released the Visa Bulletin for November 2014 which notes a slight forward movement in most categories, except the employment-based, second preference (EB2) India category, which retrogressed from May 1, 2009 to February 15, 2005. The Visa Bulletin, see below, also included notes on potential visa availability in the coming months.

Read More…

Major Retrogression Imminent for EB-2 India

Via aila.org

Per the AILA DOS Liaison Committee’s followup with Mr. Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, U.S. Department of State, “retrogression of EB-2 India appears to be imminent, and could happen as early as November. The October 2014 priority date for EB-2 India is May 1, 2009. Given current demand, the priority date will retrogress, possibly to a date in early 2005.”

More details:

Read More…

H-1B Opponents continue onslaught against Immigration of the Educated

This week, Bill Snyder, a blogger for the anti-H-1B propaganda site Infoworld posted an article attacking Immigration of the Educated.  What is especially interesting about Mr. Snyder’s position is the fact that it signals the resumption of the 2008 attack on the Optional Practical Training program (OPT).  OPT being a temporary work authorized status granted to eligible F-1 students who may thus gain professional work experience post graduation, and perhaps a portion back of 20+ billion dollars in tuition they pay into our coffers each year.

Unjustified ire towards OPT is peaking only because the program may be utilized by eligible F-1 Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) graduates.  Apparently, for Mr. Snyder, it is only then that the program transforms into what he terms “a sleazy end run around the law”.  Mr. Snyder claims that these new STEM graduates, supported by their “tech company” employers, enter the U.S. workforce en masse to undercut IT wages.  Said wages, which he admits in the first sentence, are already “climbing to more than $87,000 a year”.

The fact that Mr. Snyder’s argument against OPT flies in the face of the concept of American Exceptionalism and two basic economic principles, or that it is entirely bereft of any unbiased and relevant data is moot.  The most significant takeaway from his article is that STEM OPT is nothing more than a scapegoat: this attack is actually and truly directed against the H-1B program itself.  Mr. Snyder and other IT protectionists seek justification to undermine the OPT program not because of any alleged misuse, but because OPT allows a post graduate STEM worker precious time to find a good employer who may agree to pay government fees of up to $5,550.00 (plus attorney fees) to file an H-1B petition on their behalf.  (There are no guarantees of approval, nor is the worker forced to even ultimately take up employment with the H-1B petitioner.  As well, in the future, the H-1B worker, for any reason, may transfer to a new H-1B employer in as little as one week.)

Our immigration policy is increasingly hobbled by protectionists who, for short term gain (or perhaps unknowingly), damage our nation’s international lead in the STEM fields.  Our insufficient H-1B cap that does the same: tens of thousands of highly qualified, valuable STEM professionals were rejected in last year’s random selection process (H-1B lottery), and sadly the scene is set be repeated again this year in April.

Our repeated rejection of STEM professionals is untenable and is certain to diminish our ability to attract the worlds best and brightest, unless we make drastic changes.  Already, other nations are eagerly recruiting STEM workers (sometimes from within our own borders).  The bottom line: the yearly H-1B cap must be increased to an amount commensurate to demand, or at the very least, to a level that isn’t exhausted in one week.

Read Bill Snyder’s Article

Update: PERM Website is down due to Federal Gov’t Shutdown

The PERM PLC website is down due to the Federal Gov’t Shutdown, the website displays the following message:

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The prod perm system is currently Unavailable

This Web application is currently unavailable due to the suspension of Federal government services. It will be available again when the Federal government resumes operations.

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Update: the iCERT system is currently unavailable due to Federal Government Shutdown. It Appears that No LCA’s or Prevailing Wages Can be filed.

By Ashwin Sharma, Esq.

Update: our law office tried to file an ETA 9035/LCA a few moments ago and received the following message:

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The iCERT system is currently unavailable

This Web application is currently unavailable due to the suspension of Federal government services. It will be available again when the Federal government resumes operations.

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We have received approvals on our PERM Reconsideration Requests filed subsequent to an “Agricultural Engineer” Denial

English: Experimental farm and Unit of Crop Pr...

English: Experimental farm and Unit of Crop Production of the school of agricultural engineering of the Technical University of Madrid (Spain) Español: Campos de prácticas y edificio del Departamento de Producción Vegetal: Fitotecnia de la ETSI Agrónomos de Madrid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our office has received approvals for PERM cases previously denied by DOL.  DOL had indicated in the denial that using the term “Engineering” in advertising for an IT position was essentially overbroad, and that “the job requirements, as described, must represent the employer’s actual minimum requirements for the job opportunity.”  The original DOL denial stated:

“the term “Engineering” implies that a degree in any engineering field would enable an applicant to qualify for the position of Senior Software Developer, when in fact, not all engineering degrees would provide an applicant with the necessary skills to perform the duties of a Senior Software Developer. For example, U.S. workers who have a degree in an engineering field like “Agricultural Engineering” are not likely to have the skills necessary to perform, in an acceptable manner, the duties involved in the Senior Software Developer position. Specifically, the curriculum for a degree in Agricultural Engineering focuses on educating students in the analysis and design of machinery, animal housing, and environmental systems for the production, processing, storage, handling, distribution, and use of food, feed, fiber and other biomaterials, and the management of related natural resources, by integrating basic physical and biological sciences with engineering design principles…Because the employer’s education requirements are so broad, the Certifying Officer is unable to determine if these requirements are normal to the position and/or if they are unduly restrictive. Therefore, the Certifying Officer has concluded that an applicant with any engineering degree would not have the skills necessary to perform the duties of the position in an acceptable manner, and as a result, is unable to determine the employer’s actual minimum requirements for the job opportunity.” 

Following our reconsideration request, the DOL has approved/certified our client’s PERM cases.

Update: USCIS has Issued a “Notice to Disregard” its previously issued I-485 RFEs asking Derivative Beneficiaries for Principle Applicant Evidence

By Ashwin Sharma, Esq. 07/01/201

Our firm has received several “Notices to Applicants” from USCIS today which confirmed our prediction that USCIS had erroneously issued the large numbers of I-485 Requests for Evidence (RFE) requesting Principle Applicant evidence (letter from employer, etc) from Derivative Applicant spouses.  We thank USCIS for clarifying this situation quickly; these RFE’s caused a great deal of confusion among applicants and their attorneys, especially in light of the potential for upcoming PD movement.

The USCIS Notice to Applicant indicates the following:

Read More…

Department of Labor Issues PERM and Prevailing Wage Processing Time Report

VIA Dept. of Labor ETA
NPWC Processing Times (as of 03/26/2013)

Read More…