Final Rule Published by USCIS – Clarifies H-1B Cap Exemptions, Grace Periods for Non-Immigrant Visas, Retention of Priority Dates, and More

USCIS has just issued its final rule to  amend and add to its regulations regarding highly skilled worker.  These are the same changes I discussed about 1 year ago when USCIS issued a draft rule on these issues.  They have now been adopted.  Below is a summary of the provisions of this new rule.  Please note the effective date of the new rules is January 17, 2017.

I have divided the summary into two parts: those provisions that I feel make major changes to current law and those provisions that, while they do make changes, the changes are not as major.

First, lets look at the major revisions, the ones that will make major changes to current practices:

H-1B Cap Exemptions: USCIS clarified and codified its definition for two cap-exemptions. First, it defined who qualifies for a cap-exemption when they are working “at” a cap exempt location even though the employer for who they work is not cap-exempt. The new regulation states that the H-1B is cap exempt if the employee is performing a majority of their duties at the cap-exempt location and such job duties directly and predominately further an essential purpose, mission, objectives or functions of the cap-exempt organization.

Second, USCIS clarified its definition of “related or affiliated nonprofit entity” plus added one additional ground (currently only institutions that are connected or affiliated with an institute of higher education through shared ownership, that are operated by an institute of higher education, or that are attached to an institute of higher education as a member, branch, cooperative or subsidiary). The new definition also includes entities that have entered into a formal written affiliation agreements with institutes of higher education. The agreement must establish an active working relationship with the institution of higher education for the purposes of research or education, and it must establish that one of their primary purposes is to directly contribute to the research or education mission of the institution of higher education.

Revocation of Approved I-140s: USCIS amended its regulations so that I-140 applications that have been approved for 180 days or more will no longer be subject to automatic revocation because the employer requests it, or because the employer goes out of business. Those I-140s will remain valid for priority date retention and for extending H-1Bs past the six year maximum. However, unless the I-485 was filed and remained pending for at least 180 days before the withdrawal request or the employer went out of business, the I-140 cannot be used to file an I-485 or have it approved as the underlying offer of employment is no longer valid. If the I-485 had already been filed and remained pending for 180 days prior to the withdrawal request or the company going out of business, the applicant can still use the I-140 for 204(j) portability purposes (showing an offer of employment that is in the same or similar category). If that is not possible, a new I-140 would have to be filed in order to obtain an adjustment of status.

Retention of Priority Dates: As stated above, USCIS changed its regulations relating to retaining the priority date of an I-140. For those applications that require a labor certification, the filing date of the labor certification (or the I-140 in the case of Schedule A case) is the priority date for those I-140s. USCIS would clarify that the priority date for all other I-140s is the date it is properly filed with USCIS. Furthermore, USCIS would clarify that the priority date could be retained on any I-140 except if the I-140 is denied (or otherwise not approved), or if the approval is revoked based upon fraud/misrepresentation. If the employer subsequently withdraws the application or if the employer goes out of business, the priority date will be retained. This is true regardless of how long ago the I-140 was approved (i.e. it applies if it was approved yesterday or 2 years ago). In other words, the 180 day rule above does NOT apply to priority date retention.

Non-Immigrant Grace Periods: USCIS already has in place a provision that allows for a person entering the US on an H-1B to come up to 10 days before the start date, and to get an additional 10 days after the expiration of their H-1B (it is important to remember that currently, these extra 10 day periods MUST be included on the I-94 when you enter, they are not automatic). This will be extended to L-1, E-1, E-2, E-3 and TN visa statuses as well. In addition, these statuses would also receive a one-time, up to 60 day grace period if the employment is terminated prior to the end date on the I-94. The actual grace period time would be the SHORTER of 60 days, or the amount of time left until the expiration of the current I-94. During this period the person would still be considered in status and could file a new H-1B, L, E or TN applications (as listed above) or an application to change status. The above grace periods are also extended to dependent family members.

Eligibility for EAD in Compelling Circumstances: USCIS amended its regulations to allow EAD issuance to certain non-immigrants (those who have an approved I-140 and are in the US in E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, O-1 or L-1 status) if there exists compelling circumstances. The EAD would be valid for 1 year, and could be renewed as long as the compelling circumstances remained, and the priority date is within 1 year of the current cut-off date. In addition, if the person has a priority date that has already passed (so there is an immigrant visa available) and is more than 1 year beyond the posted date, they would be ineligible for either an initial or renewed EAD. In terms of defining compelling circumstances, USCIS will not do so. They do give certain examples, however. The four examples give are: Serious illness or disability that significantly changes employment circumstances (has to move to a new area for treatment, etc.), employer retaliation, other material harm to worker (such as on an H-1B in a industry specific job, company goes out of business, industry does not exist in home country, so lack of job would cause hardship), or Significant Disruption to Employer.

H-1B licensing Requirements: USCIS amended the regulation to reflect that, those applying for an H-1B in an occupation that requires licensing will be able to get the H-1B approved (for up to 1 year) prior to receiving the license if they can show that they have the application pending, or the application has been denied because they do not have a social security number or employment authorization and that the ONLY reason they cannot get the license is because they cannot get a social security number and/or they do not have employment authorization. USCIS will also allow approval in cases where the applicant does not have a license if the state in which they are practicing allows such persons to work under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. However, USCIS will review these cases to ensure that the duties will still be specialty in nature.

EAD Processing: USCIS is making two changes here. First, they will allow automatic extension of EADs (up to 180 days) and work authorization incident to status in cases where the applicant is seeking renewal of their EAD, files the application prior to the expiration of the old EAD, files the application in the same category in which it was initially granted AND either they continue to be employment authorized incident to status beyond the expiration period or they are applying for renewal in a category that does not first require adjudication of an underlying application. In addition, for I-9 purposes, they would amend the regulations to show that an expired EAD and an I-797 receipt notice would be sufficient to show employment eligibility. USCIS states that this would apply to those seeking to renew their EAD based upon: refugee or asylum status; a grant TPS; a pending I-485, as well as additional categories. It specifically does NOT apply to H-4s applying for work authorization – as their grant depends upon the maintenance of H-1B status of the underlying H-1B Principal. The second proposal would eliminate the 90 day processing period for EADs now required in the regulations for I-485 applicants.

Next are the provisions that, while important, do not represent as much of a change to existing policy.

3 and 1 year extensions of H-1B:  First, USCIS codified a couple of long standing USCIS policies in relation to AC21 and the granting of additional H-1B time past the six year maximum. For the three year renewals (allowed to those with an approved I-140 who are unable to file an I-485 based upon visa backlogs) USCIS is codifying that the three year extension can be renewed in three year increments for as long as the visa backlog exists. They are also codifying that the extension is available to those both in the US and outside the US, and to those currently in H-1B status and those not in H-1B status but who previously held H-1B status.

They are also codifying that any employer (not just the one who filed the I-140) can request the extension and that the extension is ONLY available to the principle beneficiary of the I-140, not dependents.  For the 1 year renewals, available to those whose green card process has been ongoing for 1 year or more, they are codifying similar provisions (available to those currently in the US and those outside the US and those in and not in H-1B status at the time the renewal is filed and it is only available to principle beneficiary).  In addition, they would codify that the denial or revocation of an underlying petition is not considered a final action (thus stopping the ability to get the 1 year renewals) until the time for appeal has elapsed, or, if an appeal is filed, the appeal is finalized – but an expired PERM would not be grounds to get an extension.

Lastly, a beneficiary must seek to get their permanent residence within 1 year of the visa becoming available or the extension is not longer available to them.

Job Portability:  USCIS codified that, once the I-140 is approved and the I-485 has been pending for at least six months, the adjustment of status can be approved if the underlying employer continues their sponsorship OR if you provide a new letter of employment from a new employer (or through self-employment) in a same or similar occupation.

In addition they are extending this to cases where the old employer has gone out of business.  USCIS will also define “same” and “similar” in a manner consistent with their latest memo on this issue.

H-1B Portability:  USCIS codified that those in H-1B status can begin working for a new employer upon the filing of the new H-1B application, that such ability is ONLY available to those in the US in H-1B status, and that you can file subsequent H-1B portability applications and begin working for those employers prior to approval of  the other underlying H-1B application.

Counting H-1B time:  USCIS codified the ability to recapture time outside the US. Anytime spent outside the US, regardless of the reason or the amount of time, can be recaptured at the end of the six year H-1B period. The burden of proof is on the applicant to show that they were out of the US during that period (passport stamps, etc.).

Whistleblower Protections: USCIS instituted certain protections for whistleblowers (those who alert the government to certain to illegal activities of their employers).

 

Please do let me know if you have any specific questions.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

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