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 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.
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.”
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
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.
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:
- Foreign-born STEM Workers in the United States (Fact Sheet, June 2017)
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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).
Major Policy Shift: USCIS Rescinds Guidance on H-1B Computer Related Positions without Notice or Due Process on the Eve of the H-1B Fiscal Year Cap with 200,000+ I-129 applications enroute to USCIS for delivery by April 7, 2017 – the Eligibility of an H-1B Petition for IT Workers will now Increasingly be based on its LCA Wage Level (read: LCA Level 1 Wages=Problem)
On March 31, 2017 USCIS issued a policy memorandum that superseded and rescinded a 12/22/00 memorandum with guidance on H-1B computer related positions issued by the NSC. This abrupt change coincidentally uproots established H-1B guidance and processes without notice or due process on the eve of the H-1B Fiscal Year Cap with 200,000+ I-129 applications enroute to USCIS for delivery by April 7, 2017.
The practical impact of this memo will be to increase Requests for Evidence and Denials on the thousands of H-1B petitions filed on behalf of IT professionals, and those with a Level 1 wage marked on their LCA/I-129 petitions are at heightened risk. The memo is in line with USCIS’ desire to place a greater emphasis on requiring IT Petitioners to list a greater than Level 1 wage on the LCA. The same concept seems to have been behind the holdings in several recent Administrative Appeals Office decisions denying IT positions on the basis of LCA Level 1 wages. AAO Decision Examples 1, 2 and 3 (PDFs).
Though Petitioners are not prohibited from paying an H-1B employee more than what is listed on the corresponding LCA, and frequently do, their H-1B petitions may now be denied because the USCIS appeared to have suddenly recalled that “Prevailing Wage Determination Policy Guidance” issued by the DOL (which provides a description of the wage levels) indicates that a Level 1 wage rate is generally appropriate for positions for which the Petitioner expects the Beneficiary to have a basic understanding of the occupation. A Level 1 wage rate indicates:
The Nebraska Service Center (NSC) has advised that, due to the high volume of incoming premium processing requests, H-4 I-539 and H-4 I-765 EAD applications that are concurrently filed with premium H-1B petitions before the April 3, 2017, premium processing suspension may not be adjudicated concurrently with the I-129 and within the prescribed 15 days. Due to the rapid influx of premium requests, I-129 adjudicators are focusing first on the I-129 so that it can be processed in accordance with the premium requirements. When a decision is made on the I-129, any H-4 and EAD applications are sent to another team, which should adjudicate them within a week or two. Once the surge is over NSC expects to resume fully working all applications submitted concurrently with the I-129.
NSC has advised that if no notice has been received on a riding I-539 or I-765 by the end of April, applicants or their attorneys can contact the National Customer Service Center to place a Service Request.