DHS Announces Final Rule for a More Effective and Efficient H-1B Visa Program
Final Rule Effective Beginning April 1, 2019
WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted today for public inspection, a final rule amending regulations governing H-1B cap-subject petitions, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. The final rule reverses the order by which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption, and it introduces an electronic registration requirement for petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions. The rule will be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 31, and will go into effect on April 1, though the electronic registration requirement will be suspended for the fiscal year (FY) 2020 cap season.
“These simple and smart changes are a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency’s adjudicators, helping the H-1B visa program work better,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. “The new registration system, once implemented, will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency. We are also furthering President Trump’s goal of improving our immigration system by making a simple adjustment to the H-1B cap selection process. As a result, U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas.”
Effective April 1, USCIS will first select H-1B petitions (or registrations, once the registration requirement is implemented) submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS will then select from the remaining eligible petitions, a number projected to reach the advanced degree exemption. Changing the order in which USCIS counts these allocations will likely increase the number of petitions for beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected under the H-1B numerical allocations. Specifically, the change will result in an estimated increase of up to 16% (or 5,340 workers) in the number of selected petitions for H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education.
USCIS will begin accepting H-1B cap petitions for FY 2020 on April 1, 2019. The reverse selection order will apply to petitions filed for the FY 2020 H-1B cap season. Petitioners may file an H-1B petition no more than six months before the employment start date requested for the beneficiary. USCIS will provide H-1B cap filing instruction on uscis.gov in advance of the filing season.
Importantly, after considering public feedback, USCIS will be suspending the electronic registration requirement for the FY 2020 cap season to complete user testing and ensure the system and process are fully functional. Once implemented, the electronic registration requirement will require petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap petitions, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption, to first electronically register with USCIS during a designated registration period. Only those whose registrations are selected will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. USCIS expects that the electronic registration requirement, once implemented, will reduce overall costs for petitioners and create a more efficient and cost-effective H-1B cap petition process for USCIS and petitioners.
Additionally, USCIS will publish a notice in the Federal Register to announce the initial implementation of the H-1B registration process in advance of the cap season in which it will implement the requirement. Prior to implementation, USCIS will conduct outreach to ensure petitioners understand how to access and use the system. Once implemented, USCIS will announce the designated electronic registration period at least 30 days in advance for each fiscal year it is required.
On April 18, 2017, President Trump issued the Buy American and Hire American Executive Order, instructing DHS to “propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of our immigration system.” The executive order specifically mentioned the H-1B program and directed DHS and other agencies to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
USCIS’s final rule on changes to the H-1B lottery process adds a requirement that petitioners seeking to file H-1B petitions subject to the regular cap, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, first electronically register with USCIS during a designated period. However, USCIS is suspending this proposed registration requirement for the FY2020 cap season in order to complete testing of the new registration system.
The rule also reverses the order by which USCIS selects H-1B registrations (or petitions, for FY2020 or any other year in which the registration requirement is suspended) by first selecting registrations submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS will then select from the remaining registrations a sufficient number projected as needed to reach the advanced degree exemption. This change to the order of the selection process will be implemented for the FY2020 cap season. The rule will be published in the Federal Register on 1/31/19 and will be effective 60 days from the date of publication.
USCIS’s announcement follows:
USCIS Turns Away Highly Valuable Revenue Stream by Temporarily Suspending Premium Processing for FY2019 H-1B Cap Petitions
“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.”
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.
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 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:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reached the congressionally mandated H-1B cap for fiscal year (FY) 2017. USCIS has also received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the U.S. advanced degree exemption.
USCIS will use a computer-generated process, also known as the lottery, to randomly select the petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 visas for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced degree exemption.
USCIS will first randomly select petitions for the advanced degree exemption. All unselected advanced degree petitions will become part of the random selection process for the 65,000 general cap. The agency will reject and return filing fees for all unselected cap-subject petitions that are not duplicate filings.
Before running the lottery, USCIS will complete initial intake for all filings received during the filing period, which ended April 7. Due to the high number of petitions, USCIS is not yet able to announce the date it will conduct the random selection process.
USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, will also not be counted toward the congressionally mandated FY 2017 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:
- Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
- Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
- Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
- Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.
U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in occupations that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as science, engineering and computer programming.
We encourage H-1B applicants to subscribe to the H-1B Cap Season email updates located on the H-1B Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Cap Season Web page.
Update: USCIS Final Guidance on When to File an Amended or New H-1B Petition after Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC
Today USCIS issued its long awaited USCIS final guidance on how to implement the AAO precedent decision Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC on when an amended or new H-1B petition must be filed. By way of background, after years of allowing ‘LCA Amendments’ in H-1B cases involving solely a change in job sites, on April 9, 2015, the AAO’s sudden adoption of Matter of Simeio Solutions as precedent now requires a full H-1B amendment to be filed in most such cases: for many H-1B employers the AAO holding essentially mandates increased risk, complexity, cost, delay and uncertainty Interestingly, it is probable that the need for a Matter of Simeio Solutions came about, at least in part, to combat the widespread adoption of LCA amendments which became more popular after the USCIS issued the January 2010 Neufeld Memo, (about which I was interviewed by BBC Hindi), another suddenly imposed mandate that also increased risk, complexity, cost, delay and uncertainty for H-1B businesses (and from which USCIS somewhat backed away on later that same year). In any case, after August 19, 2015 USCIS will require that a full H-1B amendment be filed together with a $325 fee. Judging by recent H-1B regular processing times, USCIS may adjudicate these cases 3-6+ months after they are filed (faster if the Employer also pays USCIS a $1225 premium processing government fee).
USCIS guidance on Matter of Simeio Solutions provides an H-1B petitioner (employer) three different deadlines depending on when its employee changed location:
a) If, on or before April 9, 2015, a petitioner’s H-1B employee moved to a new place of employment (not covered by an existing, approved H-1B petition): an H-1B requirement may be filed, but is not required to be filed.USCIS indicates that in such cases, it “will generally not pursue new revocations or denials based upon failure to file an amended or new petition. However, notices of intent to revoke, revocations, requests for evidence, notices of intent to deny, or denials issued prior to July 21, 2015 (date of this final guidance) remain in effect and the petitioner must comply with them”
b) If, after April 9, 2015 but prior to August 19, 2015, a petitioner’s H-1B employee moved to a new place of employment (not covered by an existing, approved H-1B petition): “The petitioner must file an amended or new petition by January 15, 2016. USCIS will consider filings prior to the deadline for this safe harbor period to be timely for purposes of the regulation. However, if the petitioner does not file the amended or new petition within the time permitted, the petitioner will be out of compliance with DHS regulations. The petitioner’s current Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, H-1B petition approval will be subject to a notice of intent to revoke and the employee may be found to not be maintaining his or her H-1B status.”
c) If, on or after August 19, 2015, a petitioner’s H-1B employee moved to a new place of employment (not covered by an existing, approved H-1B petition): “The petitioner must file an amended or new petition before an H-1B employee starts working at a new place of employment not covered by an existing, approved H-1B petition.”
While acknowledging favorably USCIS’ grant of additional time for compliance with Matter of Simeio Solutions, one of the primary issues faced by an H-1B employer presently is that while it may place its H-1B employee at a new job site and initiate work there at roughly the same time as in LCA amendment situations, in reality it may be immeasurably difficult to expect all affected parties to wait for a final USCIS adjudication (for which a longer wait than usual is likely based on the number of applications expected to be filed). Second: such adjudications are often preceded by the issuance of and response to (usually) lengthy Requests for Evidence that frequently require both the employer and the employee to essentially ‘reinvent the wheel’, in other words, reestablish many elements of the case over again, including, amazingly, specialty occupation and beneficiary’s qualifications. These adjudications can be expensive, time consuming and can ultimately result in denials of previously approved H-1B petitions, at an especially inopportune moment for the Employer/Employee (new assignment, new project etc). This is both because unlike Matter of Simeio Solutions, the vast majority of AAO are non-precedent/ not binding on USCIS, and because USCIS is simply not required to grant discretion in extensions or amendments of H-1B employment involving the same employee and same employer,
“CIS has the authority to question prior determinations. Adjudicators are not bound to approve subsequent petitions or applications seeking immigration benefits where eligibility has not been demonstrated, merely because of a prior approval which may have been erroneous. Matter of Church Scientology International, 19 I&N Dec. 593, 597 (Comm. 1988). Each matter must be decided according to the evidence of record on a case-by-case basis. See 8 CFR § 103.8(d).”
Yates Memo of April 23, 2004 “The Significance of a Prior CIS Approval of a Nonimmigrant Petition in the Context of a Subsequent Determination Regarding Eligibility for Extension of Petition Validity.”
In short: minor location changes alone will now expose an H-1B employer to additional delay, expense and to the Totality of USCIS Scrutiny. Matter of Simeio Solutions and today’s policy guidance are certain to have a widespread impact on a variety U.S. business sectors, and like the January 2010 Neufeld Memo, both maintain the appearance of being engineered specifically to target the U.S.’ Information Technology Consulting sector, and by extension, Indian Nationals, who also received 70% of all H-1B petitions approved in FY2014.
There is a sharp dichotomy between our Nation’s Business and Family Immigration Policies: the former is lucky to receive an iota of the political attention and importance that the latter enjoys fairly consistently. By ratifying Matter of Simeio Solutions, USCIS has taken a firm step towards joining the Department of State/ Consulates in steering the H-1B program down the same Road to Redundancy most recently traveled by the once-useful-but-no-longer-viable-for-US-business L-1B and ‘B-2 in Lieu of H-1B‘ programs (The F-1 OPT is next – and already targeted by anti-H-1B groups). However, for U.S. businesses to grow, particularly those within STEM fields, our policymakers and stakeholders must acknowledge the critical import of Business Immigration programs such as the H-1B, and the significant contribution that H-1B professionals make towards our Nation’s future. Aid must be provided in identifying and removing unreasonable obstacles from these programs in favor of sustainable solutions which must be effected through a lengthier rule-making process incorporating greater input from stakeholders to establish expeditious, cost-effective and workable solution(s) that to satisfy both USCIS and U.S. Business’ requirements.
It is abundantly clear that the U.S. maintains a critical and demonstrated need for H-1B professionals, and certainly for the continued viability of the H-1B program itself. This fact is demonstrated most recently in April 2015 by the 233,000 H-1B applications filed by professionals for one of the approximately 85,000 spots in our (insufficient) yearly quota. Our rejection of hundreds of thousands of professional workers over the years is untenable: it negatively impacts our ability to conduct business and attract the world’s Best and Brightest. Further, while other nations eagerly recruit STEM workers (sometimes from within our own borders) each year we see more restrictions and obstacles ‘added-on’ to Business Immigration Programs, most particularly the H-1B.
USCIS POLICY GUIDANCE OF JULY 21, 2015 – Final Guidance on When to File an Amended or New H-1B Petition After Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC
NEUFELD MEMO – January 2010 Neufeld Memo
H-1B Update: On May 4, 2015 USCIS Completed Data Entry of FY 2016 H-1B Cap-Subject Petitions and will begin Returning Rejected Cases
USCIS announced May 4, 2015, that it has completed data entry of all fiscal year 2016 H-1B cap-subject petitions selected in our computer-generated random process. USCIS will now begin returning all H-1B cap subject petitions that were not selected. Due to the high volume of filings, the time frame for returning these petitions is uncertain. USCIS asks petitioners to not inquire about the status of submitted cap-subject petitions until they receive a receipt notice or an unselected petition is returned. USCIS will issue an announcement once all the petitions have been returned.
Fixing Our Broken Immigration System Through Executive Action – Key Facts
The President asked Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to undertake a rigorous and inclusive review to inform recommendations on reforming our broken immigration system through executive action. This review sought the advice and input from the men and women charged with implementing the policies, as well as the ideas of a broad range of stakeholders and Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Our assessment identified the following ten areas where we, within the confines of the law, could take action to increase border security, focus enforcement resources, and ensure accountability in our immigration system.
Update (6:45 PM): AILA Liaison has been informed that due to the reported courier delivery problems with FY2015 H-1B petitions, USCIS will accept a second H-1B petition in certain limited circumstances. Specifically, for cap-subject petitions that were timely filed, if, upon inquiry, the carrier indicates that there may be a delivery delay or the package has been damaged, the petitioner may file a second H-1B petition with:
- A new fee;
- An explanation as to why the second petition is being filed, with supporting evidence (such as the notice from the carrier); and
- A request to withdraw the first H-1B cap petition.
USCIS will return the withdrawn petitions with the fee, even if they have already been receipted.
Petitions that do not include the above-referenced items will be treated as duplicate petitions and will be denied or revoked, and USCIS will not refund the filing fees. Please also note that if the FY2015 cap is met within the first five business days of April, USCIS will reject all petitions received after April 7, 2014, including duplicate H-1B petitions filed in accordance with these instructions.
Update (5:03 PM): A member has been informed by FedEx that approximately 200 packages have been delivered to the Vermont Service Center but were not scanned as delivered. Members can call FedEx directly (1-800-463-3339), provide the tracking number, and the representative should be able to confirm delivery telephonically.
AILA has received several reports from members who, upon inquiring about the status of their FedEx delivery, have been informed of delivery problems. AILA has reported the specific problems to USCIS headquarters. USCIS officials are investigating the situation and will report back to AILA as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you have been unable to confirm that your package has been delivered to the CSC or VSC, you might consider preparing a duplicate petition as a precaution. However, do not file a duplicate petition until you have confirmed that the original petition has been destroyed, misdirected, or lost. Under 8 CFR 214.2(h)(2)(i)(G), USCIS will deny or revoke duplicate filings by the same employer for the same beneficiary, and fees will not be refunded.
AILA will continue to provide updates as it learns more information from USCIS.