Update from Charlie Oppenheim RE: Visa Bulletin Movement

UnknownCharlie Oppenheim recently released a new update on possible movement of various visa categories.  While for the most part there are no surprises, it is good to review what he says on your particular category to ensure you are not surprised in future months.  However, overall, it was a short update this month.

EB-1:  All countries should remain current for the foreseeable future (including China and India)

EB-2:  Worldwide should remain current for the foreseeable future.  India and China will have some forward movement but not much.

EB-3:  Worldwide should remain current for the foreseeable future.  India will most likely hold steady and China will move forward slowly.  Charlie has been paying close attention to China especially because of the number of EB-2 downgrades.  To prevent any retrogression, Charlie is only moving forward slowly in that category.  The Philippines should also progress slowly.

Family based:  Mostly modest movement forward.  The only surprise is FB-4 for India, which is having lower than expected demand and may move forward more quickly than Charlie previously thought.

 

November 2017 Visa Bulletin Released

UnknownThe Department of State released the November 2017 visa bulletin.  This bulletin includes some modest forward movement in most categories.

Family Based Immigrant Visa Numbers

USCIS has allowed people to base the filing of the Adjustment of Status applications on the Dates for Filing.  However those dates have not changes since last month.  As most people who file family based applications are not in the US, and the Final Action Dates have changed somewhat, I will discuss those dates below.

FB1:  Most countries moved forward a month to January 22, 2011.  Mexico also moved forward  a month to April 1, 1996.  The Philippines did not move from January 1, 2007.

FB2A:  All countries moved forward 1 month to November 15, 2015 except Mexico which moved forward a month to November 1, 2015

FB2B:  Most countries moved forward about 1 week to November 15, 2010.  The only exceptions were Mexico, which also moved forward about 1 week to July 22, 1996 and the Philippines which did not move from January 1, 2007

F3:  Most countries moved forward about 1 month to August 15, 2005.  Mexico moved forward about two weeks to May 8, 1995 and the Philippines moved forward about 1 week to March 1, 1995

F4:  Most countries moved forward about two weeks to May 22, 2004.  Mexico moved forward 1 week to October 8, 1997.  India moved forward about three weeks to October 22, 2003.  The Philippines moved forward about 1 week to June 8, 1994.

Employment Based Immigrant Visa Numbers

According to USCIS, all flings must use the Final Action Dates.  Therefore, all below dates are based upon that chart.

EB-1:  Remains current for all countries

EB-2:  Current for most countries except:  India, which moved forward about 1 month to October 8, 2008; and, China, which also moved forward about 1 month to June 15, 2013.

EB-3:  Most countries are current except: India, which did not move from October 15, 2006; China which forward about 1 month to  February 1, 2014; and, the Philippines, which moved forward about 1 month to January 15, 2016

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.

 

New Rule – All Employment Based I-485 application will have Interviews

Recently USCIS issued a new rule stating that all employment based green card applications will be subject to interview starting on October 3, 2017.  Just this week AILA members and the Ombudsperson for USCIS had a Stakeholder Call to discuss the new rule. Here are the details that came out of this call:

  •  All EB applications are subject to the new rule INCLUDING NIW and EA applications.
  • Any I-485 filed prior to March 6, 2017 (the date of the EO “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” the root of this new requirement) are NOT subject to the new rule.  Those cases will still be subject to random interviews, but only about 5% of cases are so selected.
  • The Service Centers will still adjudicate the I-140’s and the local offices have been instructed not to readjudicate the I-140s however they are allowed to evaluate the evidence used to support the I-140 for accuracy and credibility.  We will have to see how this plays out in real life.
  • Once the Service Center adjudicates the I-140, the file will be sent to the National Benefits Center (NBC) to determine if all documents for the I-485 are present.  If there is no medical, this is when an RFE will be sent out for the medical (and, considering that there will be longer processing times for everything, it may be wise to not submit the medical until an RFE is issues).
  • Surprisingly, USCIS does not feel that timelines will be significantly lengthened due to this requirement.  According to USCIS employment based I-485s are only about 17% of the Field offices caseload.  We will have to see how this plays out in the real world.
  • The top field offices that will be most affected are: San Jose, San Francisco, Newark, New York, Houston, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
  • In most cases families will be interviewed together.

As we learn more information we will certainly let you know.  Please do contact us with any questions on how you may be impacted.

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.

NIW Adjudications on Hold

Unknown-1.jpegA couple of weeks ago we informed you that the AAO decided a case in which they changed the standard for adjudicating NIW cases (See this blog post).  USCIS has confirmed today that ALL pending NIW cases are on hold pending training for officers on the new standard.  USCIS did indicate, however, that processing of these cases should resume by the end of February of this year.

What does this mean for your case?  The chances are that USCIS has not adjudicated any cases since the decision was handed down, more than 1.5 months ago.  The backlog created by this stoppage will take some time to clear out, and will probably delay adjudications by up to 2 months. We will update you if additional information is made available.

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.

National Interest Waiver (NIW): NYSDOT overturned, new standard introduced

pic.jpgOn December 28th, 2016 the Administrative Appeals Office issued a decision in Matter of DHANASAR that has changed the landscape for National Interest Waiver cases.  This is of major importance as the National Interest Waiver is one of only two self-sponsored applications and many scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, and others use this application to obtain Permanent residence in the US.  In order to explain how this decision has changed the landscape, it is first important to understand what the previous standard was

In Re: New York State Department of Transportation

Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, there are five Employment Based Immigrant Visa Levels.  Each level can have several categories.  The National Interest Waiver is laid out in the Second Level (EB-2) in section 203(b)(2) of the act.  Under subparagraph (B) of section 203(b)(2), the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive the requirement of a “job offer” (namely, that the beneficiary’s services are sought by a U.S. employer) and, “may, when the [Secretary] deems it to be in the national interest, waive the requirements of subparagraph (A) that an alien’s services in the sciences, arts, professions, or business be sought by an employer in the United States.” (See INA Section 203(b)(2)).

As can be seen, this does not provide much, if any, guidance on how USCIS should proceed in these types of cases.  USCIS did not help matters when it passed its regulations in this area.  All USCIS did was copy the language of the above statute verbatim.  It was the AAO that ended up defining how to show that your services are in the national interest.  The AAO did this in a case called In Re: New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). In that case the AAO laid out a three-part test:

  1. Show that the area of employment is of  “substantial intrinsic merit”.
  2. Show that any proposed benefit from the individual’s endeavors would be “national in scope”.
  3. The petitioner must demonstrate that “the national interest would be adversely affected if a labor certification were required for the foreign national.”

In deciding to relook at this framework, the AAO stated that they felt that there has been confusion, especially as to the third prong, about how to demonstrate the above three prongs.  In addition, the AAO felt that this confusion has caused USCIS to be too narrow in the cases it has approved.  More specifically, the AAO seemed to feel there were two main issues.  First, in terms of the national in scope, the AAO wanted to make clear that this was NOT a geographic issue. Instead, it is an issue of national importance.  Second, in looking at the third prong, too much emphasis has been placed on requiring a showing of harm to the national interest if the application is not approved as well as too much emphasis on showing influence on the field and using that as a yardstick to determine if a person meets the standard.  Because of the above, the AAO decided to reformulate the above test.

New Test in Matter of DHANASAR

Under the new framework, and after eligibility for EB-2 classification has been established, USCIS may grant a national interest waiver if the petitioner demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence:1. that the foreign national’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance; that the foreign national is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and (3) that, on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus of a labor certification. If these three elements are satisfied, USCIS may approve the national interest waiver as a matter of discretion.

  1. That the foreign national’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance;
  2. That the foreign national is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and
  3. That, on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus of a labor certification. If these three elements are satisfied, USCIS may approve the national interest waiver as a matter of discretion.

Prong 1: That the foreign national’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance

Looking at the first prong first, this is what the AAO states:

Evidence that the endeavor has the potential to create a significant economic impact may be favorable but is not required, as an endeavor’s merit may be established without immediate or quantifiable economic impact. For example, endeavors related to research, pure science, and the furtherance of human knowledge may qualify, whether or not the potential accomplishments in those fields are likely to translate into economic benefits for the United States.

In determining whether the proposed endeavor has national importance, we consider its potential prospective impact. An undertaking may have national importance for example, because it has national or even global implications within a particular field, such as those resulting from certain improved manufacturing processes or medical advances. But we do not evaluate prospective impact solely in geographic terms. Instead, we look for broader implications. Even ventures and undertakings that have as their focus one geographic area of the United States may properly be considered to have national importance. In modifying this prong to assess “national importance” rather than “national in scope,” as used in NYSDOT, we seek to avoid overemphasis on the geographic breadth of the endeavor. An endeavor that has significant potential to employ U.S. workers or has other substantial positive economic effects, particularly in an economically depressed area, for instance, may well be understood to have national importance.

Comparing this to the first two prongs of NYSDOT, it is clear that many more people should be able to meet these standards.  First, in terms of substantial merit, the AAO is removing any required proof about economic benefit and is willing to accept more esoteric benefits.  While we have used this in many cases, it is good to see it immortalized into the actual standard.

Second, it show national importance, the AAO is specifically allowing local impacts that affect national priorities to be used in this regard.  In other words, with such a big emphasis these days on the economy and especially on creating jobs, you can use the potential jobs created for a particular endeavor in one state to justify the national importance of the project.  This is a major broadening of this criteria.

Again, we have used these arguments already in many cases (especially the global importance equals US national importance) and it is good to see this more formally allowed.

Prong 2:  That the foreign national is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor

This prong is, perhaps, the most interesting.  According to the AAO:

The second prong shifts the focus from the proposed endeavor to the foreign national. To determine whether he or she is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor, we consider factors including, but not limited to: the individual’s education, skills, knowledge and record of success in related or similar efforts; a model or plan for future activities; any progress towards achieving the proposed endeavor; and the interest of potential customers, users, investors, or other relevant entities or individuals.

We recognize that forecasting feasibility or future success may present challenges to petitioners and USCIS officers, and that many innovations and entrepreneurial endeavors may ultimately fail, in whole or in part, despite an intelligent plan and competent execution. We do not, therefore, require petitioners to demonstrate that their endeavors are more likely than not to ultimately succeed. But notwithstanding this inherent uncertainty, in order to merit a national interest waiver, petitioners must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they are well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor.

It seems that, what the AAO is getting at, is that just saying you want to continue working in your field is not enough.  While you may not need a job offer, you do need a plan as to how you will continue your work in your field (be it collaborations you are planning or something similar.  It also is looking at your past successes to ensure that you will be able to continue to have success in your area of expertise.  In this way, it is also very similar to what was already required under the old standard.  It seems that the AAO is trying to open up that standard by saying that you do not have to show substantial success in the past, just a record of success, which is easier to show.

Prong 3: The petitioner must demonstrate, that, on balance, it would be beneficial to the US to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus a labor certification.

Again, as above, this is very similar to what the AAO said in NYSDOT, however, it is also much broader.  Under the old standard, this was phrased in the negative, you had to show that the National Interest would be adversely affected if you were not granted the waiver of the job and labor certification requirement.  The AAO felt this was too restrictive:

In performing this analysis, USCIS may evaluate factors such as: whether, in light of the nature of the foreign national’s qualifications or proposed endeavor, it would be impractical either for the foreign national to secure a job offer or for the petitioner to obtain a labor certification; whether, even assuming that other qualified U.S. workers are available, the United States would still benefit from the foreign national’s contributions; and whether the national interest in the foreign national’s contributions is sufficiently urgent to warrant forgoing the labor certification process. We emphasize that, in each case, the factor(s) considered must, taken together, indicate that on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus of a labor certification.

Under the old standard, you had to show why you would help the national interest to “a substantially higher degree” than an available US worker.  Under this new standard, you need to show that the US would still benefit from your work (or, at least, this is part of the test).  Again, this new standard helps broaden the scope of the NIW and helps many people who may not have qualified previously, to now, at least, have an argument for qualifying.

Conclusion

Overall, the AAO tried to open up the NIW to people who it felt should qualify, but whom USCIS was not qualifying under the old standard.  While the intent of the AAO is clear it remains to be seen how USCIS will interpret this new standard.  We are hopefully that they will interpret it in the spirit in which it was annunciated, that is liberally. We are also hopeful that this new standard will especially help those in the areas of international relations, scientists whose fields do not garner large number of citations or who have moved to non-traditional jobs as well as the aforementioned business people and entrepreneurs.  We will certainly update you as we learn more about how USCIS will implement this new standard.

Lastly, please keep in mind that, even if you filed your NIW case prior to this ruling, this is now the rule that USCIS will apply in your case.  Please also 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.

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.

December Visa Bulletin: Baby Steps

unknownDOS released the December Visa bulletin and there are only some modest moves forward, as detailed below.  Unfortunately, USCIS has not yet stated if they will still allow the Dates for Filing to be used to determine when you are able to file the adjustment application.  We will update you once USCIS releases that information.  Below we will go through each category in detail

Family Based Applications:

F1Final Action Dates: Moved forward about 2 months to December 1, 2009 for All Other Countries, India and China.   Mexico only moved forward about 1 week to April 15, 1995 and the Philippines moved forward about 1 week as well to September 15. 2005. Dates for Filing: No movement

F2A: Final Action Dates: Everyone moved forward about 1 month to February 22, 2015 (February 15, 2015 for Mexico).  Dates for Filing:  No movement.

F2B: Final Action Dates: All countries moved forward about three weeks to May 8, 2010 except Mexico which moved forward about 1 week to October 15, 1995 and the Philippines which moved forward about 2 weeks to March 1, 2006. Dates for Filing: No movement

F3: Final Action Dates: All countries moved forward about one month to February 15, 2005 except Mexico and the Philippines, which moved forward about 1 week to December 8, 1994 and to August 15, 1994 respectively . Dates for filing: No movement.

F4: Final Action Dates: All other countries moved forward about three weeks to December 22, 2003.  China moved forward two months to October 1, 2003.  India moved forward only about 2 weeks to April 1, 2003.  Mexico moved forward only 1 week to May 15, 1997.  And the Philippines moved forward about 2 weeks to May 22, 1993. Dates for filing: No Movement.

Employment Based Applications:

E1:  Current for everyone

E2: Final Action Dates: Current for everyone except India and China.  China moved forward about 2 months to September 22, 2012.  India moved forward about 3 months to February 1, 2008.

E3:  Final Action Dates: Most countries stayed the same at  July 1, 2016.  China moved forward about 2.5 months to July 1, 2013.  Since China E3 is ahead of China E2, expect this to backlog at some point. India moved forward about 1 week to March 15, 2005 and the Philippines moved forward 2 months to June 1, 2011.

Employment Dates for Filing:  Same as last month – Current across the board EXCEPT:

E2:  China is at March 1, 2013 and India is at April 22, 2009

E3: China is at May 1, 2014 and India is at July 1, 2005