(Via AILA.org) Major Settlement Changes How USCIS Adjudicates Work Permits for [H-4 and L-2 ] Nonimmigrant Spouses
AILA and its litigation partners entered into a settlement agreement with DHS that provides structural changes for H-4 and L-2 spouses suffering from long delayed processing times for the processing of applications for employment authorization. (Shergill, et al. v. Mayorkas, 11/10/21)
Within 120 days of the Effective Date, USCIS will amend the receipt notice currently issued to applicants to detail the EAD auto-extension eligibility for those holding H-4 status based on the validity period provided on a Form I-94 in combination with a facially expired EAD and the Form I-797C receipt notice for a timely-filed I-765 EAD renewal application.
USCIS will issue policy guidance that states that L-2 spouses are employment authorized incident to status and, in cooperation with CBP, change the Form I-94, within 120 days of the Effective Date, to indicate that the bearer is an L-2 spouse so that it can be used as a List C document for Form I-9 purposes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Washington, DC – The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and its litigation partners Wasden Banias and Steven Brown, celebrate the historic settlement with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Shergill, et al. v. Mayorkas, which provides structural changes for nonimmigrant H-4 and L-2 spouses suffering from long delayed processing times for the processing of applications for employment authorization. The litigation successfully achieved the reversal of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy that prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from automatic extension of their employment authorization during the pendency of standalone employment authorization document (EAD) applications. Although this is a giant achievement, the parties’ agreement will further result in a massive change in position for USCIS, which now recognizes that L-2 spouses enjoy automatic work authorization incident to status, meaning these spouses of executive and managers will no longer have to apply for employment authorization prior to working in the United States.
Jesse Bless, AILA Director of Federal Litigation stated, “Today marks a historic change for L-2 spouses who will now enjoy work authorization incident to status. AILA’s membership has long advocated for the correct statutory interpretation and we’re delighted to have reached this agreement, which includes relief for H-4 spouses, through our litigation efforts with Wasden Banias and Steven Brown. It is gratifying that the administration saw that settling the litigation for nonimmigrant spouses was something that should be done, and done quickly.”
Jon Wasden stated, “After years of outreach to the agency, it became clear that litigation was unfortunately necessary. Despite the plain statutory language, USCIS failed to grant employment authorization incident to status for L-2s. The other issue relates to H-4s whose work permits expire prior to their H-4 status; this is a group that always met the regulatory test for automatic extension of EADs, but the agency previously prohibited them from that benefit and forced them to wait for reauthorization. People were suffering. They were losing their high-paying jobs for absolutely no legitimate reason causing harm to them and U.S. businesses. So, while I’m glad the agency finally followed the law, it is frankly frustrating that an easily fixable issue took this long to address.”
See this op-ed from Forbes for more information
Read the Decision: Shergill, et al. v. Mayorkas, 11/10/21 [PDF]
Reminder: Effective today, March 20, 2020, USCIS will not accept any new requests for Premium Processing
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Effective today, March 20, 2020, USCIS will not accept any new requests for premium processing. USCIS will process any petition with a previously accepted Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, in accordance with the premium processing service criteria. However, we will not be able to send notices using pre-paid envelopes. We will only send batch-printed notices. Petitioners who have already filed a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, using the premium processing service and who receive no agency action on their case within the 15-calendar-day period will receive a refund, consistent with 8 CFR 103.7(e). We will notify the public with a confirmed date for resuming premium processing.
USCIS will reject the I-907 and return the $1,440 filing fee for all petitions requesting premium processing that were mailed before March 20 but not yet accepted.
This temporary suspension includes petitions filed for the following categories:
- I-129: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.
- I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.
This includes new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap. USCIS previously announced the temporary suspension of premium processing for FY 2021 cap-subject petitions and tentative dates for resumption of premium processing service. This announcement expands upon and supersedes the previous announcement.
For current Form I-129 and I-140 processing times, visit the Check Case Processing Times page and the H-1B page on the USCIS website.
Quoted by the Times of India on DC District Court’s Decision to overturn USCIS’s H-1B Specialty Occupation denial in RELX, Inc. v. Baran
I was quoted in a Times of India article on U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s decision to overturn USCIS’s denial (on Specialty Occupation grounds) in RELX, Inc. d/b/a/ LexisNexis USA, and Subhasree Chatterjee v. Baran et al. A recent blog entry I wrote on about case may be found here.
Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman’s 2019 Annual Report to Congress
By statute, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman submits an Annual Report to Congress by June 30 of each year. The Ombudsman’s Annual Report must provide a summary of the most pervasive and serious problems encountered by individuals and employers applying for immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Annual Report also reviews past recommendations to improve USCIS programs and services.
USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions – Could Earn Approx. $330,000,000 in PP Fees This Year
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will resume premium processing for all H-1B petitions beginning today, Tuesday, March 12, 2019. This is welcome news for many petitioners and beneficiaries who have been subjected to significant delays in processing, and certainly, great news for USCIS itself. There is no doubt that Premium Processing fees, increased to $1,410.00 per petition last year, are an important source of revenue for USCIS, given that is “funded primarily by immigration and naturalization benefit fees charged to applicants and petitioners.”
Premium Processing fees are technically optional, but frequently paid to increase the speed of adjudication from several months to potentially as little as two (2) to four (4) weeks. This program was suspended and unavailable for many H-1B categories over the last 6-12 months during which time such professionals and their employers nervously witnessed (or were impacted by) adjudication delays of approximately 4-12+ months, as well as USCIS’s frequent internal changes to its adjudication criteria which allowed it to issue bizzare numbers of queries and denials of H-1B petitions in 2018.
Ashwin Sharma quoted in the Times of India re: New Data Confirming that USCIS has Targeted H-1Bs for Indian IT Consultants for Queries and Denials
“Data for the first quarter of US fiscal 2019 (that is, three months ended December 2018) shows that 60% of all completed H-1B cases had been issued RFEs. This is significant, considering that only 38% of all completed H-1B applications received RFEs during fiscal 2018 (12-month period ended September 30, 2018) and 21.4% in the previous fiscal.
The denial rates for initial visa applications for Capgemini was as high as 80%. It was 61% for Cognizant, which was the top employer. It ranged between 20% and 40% for India headquartered companies. Contrast this with US headquartered non-consultancy companies such Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Facebook and Apple, which saw a denial rate of only around 1% for new visa applications. The total approval rate for these US companies (including for continued employment) was 98-99%.
USCIS denied 54% of the initial H-1B petitions for Infosys while for Mindtree the denial rate was 40%. It was 23% for Wipro and the L&T group combined (comprising L&T InfoTech and L&T Tech Services). TCS, the second largest employer of H-1B workers, fared better with a denial rate of 22%.
“The ‘Initial Evidence’ Memo will be used to aggressively reject H-1B applications filed by IT consultancy companies,” forecasts Ashwin Sharma, a Florida-based immigration attorney. Sharma believes that the USCIS has essentially crucified the entire IT consultancy sector.
“To illustrate, I have seen USCIS mischaracterize very clear language to win its argument. USCIS knows that each and every one of its illegal denials can easily be overturned by a Federal Court judge, but it also knows that the vast majority of its improper decisions won’t be questioned because the gateway to justice has a high admission fee,” he said.”
Link to Full Article: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/uscis-sought-addl-info-for-60-h-1b-applications-last-quarter/articleshow/68160379.cms
USCIS to Continue Implementing New Policy Memorandum on Notices to Appear, Starting Nov. 19, 2018
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is continuing to implement the June 28, 2018, Policy Memorandum (PM), Updated Guidance for the Referral of Cases and Issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Deportable Aliens (PDF, 140 KB).
Compete America Coalition Letter to DHS on H-1B Adjudications (With Commentary)
On 11/1/18, the Compete America coalition has issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services raising the issue that, “The agency’s current approach to H-1B adjudications cannot be anticipated by either the statutory or regulatory text, leaving employers with a disruptive lack of clarity….”
The letter reiterates the major concerns that my colleagues and I have (frequently) raised, beginning with legal concerns about current H-1B adjudications because USCIS appears to have taken leave of two principles underscoring eligible H-1B petitions, “First, the job offered must be in “…an occupation which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.” Second, a four-year university degree or graduate or professional degree must be the “usual, common, or typical” requirement for the job. Patterns in H-1B adjudications over the last 18 months suggest other standards are being applied.”
The letter identified “patterns in H-1B adjudications that reflect new agency interpretations inserting salary requirements as an unstated prerequisite“, despite the fact that “nothing in the statute or regulations contemplates or suggests, that USCIS could ever take the position that it per se excludes or disfavors entry-level jobs in an occupation, or young professionals working in jobs in an occupation, as qualifying for H-1B specialty occupation approval.”
The origination of this particular pattern arose about 18 months ago, at the end of March 2017, when USCIS issued a surprise policy change effectively holding Level 1 Prevailing Wages to be insufficient in establishing eligibility for H-1B approval, particularly for IT workers. As I’ve previously indicated on this point that the Dept of Labor sets prevailing wage levels for H-1B professions every year in July, in other words, the DOL can and generally does increase these wage levels every year: there was no legitimate statutory or regulatory basis or need for USCIS to have inserted itself in an established wage determination process, nor for it suddenly declare ineligible for H-1B status those jobs with wages otherwise compliant with DOL requirements. This relatively new wage issue seems driven by motives that go beyond simple or logical explanations, especially when we note that the converse argument highlighting the fact that a Petitioner is paying a Level 3 or 4 (highest) wage as an element in establishing Specialty Occupation can be dismissed by USCIS as irrelevant:
Among its other points, the coalition letter also expressed concern as to “Patterns in H-1B adjudications that reflect new agency interpretations beyond the statute’s prerequisites for a “Specific Specialty” of study”. The letter highlights the fact that, “...[n]othing in the statute allows for administrative discretion to restrict a qualifying specialty occupation to only those occupations where “the specific specialty” necessary for the job is only obtainable through completion of a single, exclusive degree.” Despite this, USCIS will normally presume that, “…alternative degree options as the minimum requirement for a job suggest, standing alone, that a specific body of knowledge is not required.”
Link: Compete America Coalition Letter to DHS on H-1B Adjudications (PDF)
Trump Admin’s Proposed Policy Entitled “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program” Set to Target the H-1B Program
Bloomberg recently reported that the Administration plans to remodel the H-1B program eligibility criteria from a baccalaureate degree to a discretionary “Best and Brightest” requirement, perhaps more in line with the O-1 Extraordinary Ability program. This would impose substantial and new burdens on H-1B seekers, particularly on IT professionals, and effectively change the H-1B program as we know it.
“The Trump administration plans to narrow the definition of specialty occupation to limit the use of H-1B visas, but it may be limited in how far it can go.
A proposal expected in January from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would refine the meaning of specialty occupation “to focus on obtaining the best and the brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program.”
The proposed regulation “would be the biggest changes to the H-1B program since 1990,” when the visa was overhauled by Congress, Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told Bloomberg Law.
The agency could block entry-level jobs from the program while redefining “employer-employee relationship” to severely curtail staffing companies’ access to the visas.”
Inserting the otherwise innocuous phrase “Best and the Brightest” (“B&B”) within this proposed rule does nothing to alleviate the suspicion with which it is met. This is understandable, considering that for the last 1.5 years this Administration has tasked USCIS with issuing “pop goes the weasel” style policy changes and multiple “reinterpretations” of existing laws and guidance. The ultimate result has been a targeted effort to reduce the use of H-1Bs visas by Indian IT professionals and their employers. IT jobs paying Level 1 prevailing wages and common occupational classifications such as Computer Programmers and Computer Systems Analysts now face an almost automatic presumption of ineligibility. Third-party job site consulting assignments are scrutinized more heavily and are more likely to be denied. Deference is no longer given to extensions of previously approved H-1B cases, even if there have been no changes in employment. The standard of evidence in filing H-1Bs seems to have risen overnight from the “Preponderance of the Evidence” to “Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt”.
As a result of USCIS’s recent changes to the H-1B program, Requests for Evidence and denial rates for IT workers have increased nationwide. But this new proposed policy promises to make matters even worse, if that’s possible.
View Rule: Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program
USCIS Extends and Expands Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions to Reduce Delays
USCIS announced today that it is extending the previously announced temporary suspension of premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions and, beginning 9/11/18, will be expanding this temporary suspension to include certain additional H-1B petitions. The suspension is expected to last until 2/19/19.
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.
Ashwin Sharma quoted by the Times of India on USCIS’s latest Policy Memo, a Major Victory for H-1B Consulting Firms/Employees
I was quoted today in a Times of India article on USCIS’s issuance of a game-changing new policy memorandum yesterday in which it rescinds and replaces two previous policy memoranda (2010, 2018) regarding the adjudication of H-1B petitions for professionals assigned to third-party job sites.
Among its other directives, the memo instructs USCIS officers to stop requiring H-1B employers to provide job itineraries for H-1B candidates as well as private contractual documentation between third-party client/vendor companies. The memo advises USCIS officers to refrain from issuing ridiculously short approval durations in these cases (as little as 1-2 months). The memo also makes it easier for an H-1B employer to demonstrate an eligible Employer-Employee relationship with its H-1B employee.
In summary: though USCIS still maintains arrows in its quiver to target the H-1B program, the new guidance represents extremely positive news for H-1B stakeholders, particularly those within the consulting industry. The policy guidance is effective immediately, and applies to any pending or new requests for H-1B classification, including motions on and appeals of revocations and denials of H-1B classification.