USCIS Changes Adjudication Standard for I-129 Renewals

B61D08D2-1849-4FCD-9897-F0AC03874CFFMany of you may know that USCIS has had a policy in place that allowed those filing an application to renew their status (H-1B, L-1, E-1, etc.) to file a ‘bare bones’ application – an application with just new information and none of the initial documentation sent in with the first application to show that the person qualified for the status.  This policy stated that, assuming the underlying conditions were the same for the renewal (i.e. same employer, same position, etc.) then there was no real reason to totally re-adjudicate a case unless the officer felt that the initial approval was done in error.  Just this week, USCIS changed this policy.

Before going into the new policy, you maybe asking yourself “But when I filed a renewal, I filed it with substantial documentation, did I not need to do that?”.  The answer is technically no, but realistically yes.  While the above policy was in place, especially over the last year (but even before that) most officers did not follow this policy to the letter.  In most cases, we found that if we did not include substantial documentation, even for an H-1B renewal, showing that ALL the requirements were met, USCIS would issue a Request for Evidence.  So in practice, the above policy was more of a slight leaning in favor of approving the renewal rather than the intent of the policy, which was to lighten the load of officers and those filing the cases.

So what does the new policy say?  It rescinds the old policy and states that each application should be adjudicated according to its own merits regardless if it is an initial application or a renewal.  In practice, it simply means that there is no longer a slight bias in favor of approving a renewal, and, instead, you will need to be more careful and ensure that you provide documentation with the renewal to show that ALL qualifications are met, even if the documentation was given with the original application.  It also means that the fact that a case was approved in the past, does not mean that, if you file the same documentation, the case will be approved in the future, or that USCIS will not request additional evidence the second time around.

So while this may not change the rules as much as one may have thought on first glance, it still does change them to a certain degree.  That degree will depend on the strength of the underlying case.

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.

30/60 Day Rule is Removed from FAM, Replaced with 90 Day Rule

images.jpegMany of you may not be aware of the 30/60 day rule.  The Department of State in its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) has a section on willful misrepresentations.  Part of this section describes how to determine willful misrepresentations in the case of people who enter the US on a non-immigrant visa but then undertake activities which contradict that status.  A good example is if someone enters the US on a tourist visa and then marries a US Citizen or begins to work without authorization.  Under its old rule, the Department of State would consider such activities as prima facie evidence of a willful misrepresentation if the activities occurred within 30 days of entry on the non-immigrant visa.  If the events occurred within 60 days of entry, they would not constitute prima facie evidence of a willful misrepresentation, however, if the facts of the case give the officer a reasonable belief that a misrepresentation was made they should ask for countervailing evidence from the foreigner.  If the activity took place more than 60 days after entry, then actual evidence of a misrepresentation would be needed.  DOS has now amended this section, and, instead, instituted a 90 day rule

The new rule states that if someone enters the US on a non-immigrant visa and undertakes certain types of activities (working without permission, undertaking a course of study (if not authorized to do so), marrying a US Citizen (only visas that require non-immigrant intent – including B and F visas), undertaking any other activity for which a change of status or adjustment of status would be required (and no such change of status or adjustment has been made) within 90 days, there will be a presumption that the person made a willful misrepresentation.

It is important to remember a few points here:

  1. This is a Department of State Rule, and, USCIS has not yet adopted it.  While USCIS has followed the 30/60 rule in the past, they did not consider it a bright line rule, rather one factor to look at.  In addition, they were much less likely to apply to marriage based cases based upon the date of marriage (they more looked at the date the I-130 was filed).  This is not to say individual officers did not apply the previous rules more strictly, but overall, USCIS did not use it a bright line test.
  2. The 90 day rule applies to when the activity occurred.  For example, in terms of a marriage based case, even waiting until 91 days has passed and then filing the I-130 does not matter if the marriage took place at day 34 – DOS would look at the date of the marriage and there would be a presumption of a willful misrepresentation.
  3. It is a presumption, not a definite finding.  In other words, you can still try to rebut the presumption if you have convincing evidence to show that you did not intend to undertake the activity when you applied for the Visa and entered the US.
  4. In terms of the marriage piece, this does not apply to those on H-1Bs, E visas, L Visas. K visas, O visas, and any other nonimmigrant visa that allows dual intent to one degree or another.

We will certainly be watching both USCIS and DOS and let you know any additional information about how this new rule is implemented.

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.

Is USCIS going to request your Social Media IDs?

social media.jpgUSCIS published a proposed regulation that would allow them to ask for social media ids (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for certain nonimmigrants seeking entry into the US.  It would affect those filing the online application for a visa waiver entry.  The “optional” question would be placed in the application so that USCIS could look at people’s social media pages to determine if there is a ground’s of inadmissibility that they did not report – most importantly, if they are involved in terrorist activities or in supporting terrorist groups.

This is an attempt by USCIS to ensure that those coming in through the visa waiver program, who are not required to go through the sometimes lengthy background checks that other non-immigrants are required to go through, are vetted in someway prior to entry.  In this way, USCIS is attempting to show that it is trying to secure our borders from undesirable foreigners.

While I certainly applaud USCIS for trying, I think that this is not really the way to go.  Why do I say this?  First, this is optional.  While many people may give the information as they feel that it could prejudice them if they did not, it is still not required and USCIS, therefore, cannot deny an application simply because someone failed to give the information.  In addition, at this point, terrorist organizations can simply make sure that those that will be entering the US do not put anything on their social media feeds.  Lastly, it also opens the door for USCIS to start requiring such information.  If they require this, maybe next they will want to “require” access to your cell phone, or access to private messages, etc.  Where will it stop in terms of what they can and cannot request from you whether or not you are accused of doing something or even suspected of doing something illegal?  It is a slippery slope and it would seem to only make sense to open up this Pandora’s box if the benefit outweighed the risks.  As I do not think that this is the case, I would not be in favor of this measure.

Apparently most of the 800 people who sent in comments on the proposed rule were of the same mind and castigated USCIS for even thinking of such a rule.  What do you think?  Leave a comment with your views below.

Self-Sponsored Green Cards: What are your major findings?

Nobel-PrizeInvariably when working with scientists it becomes apparent that USCIS’s definition of your “most important” work and our client’s definition of their “most important” work are very different.  This leads to issues over what findings should be discussed in the memo and highlighted for the USCIS officer to review.  Scientists, for good reason, feel that the findings with the most scientific merit should be discussed most prominently.  However, this is often not the correct direction to go if you want USCIS to approve the application.

First, it must be remembered that the US officer reviewing the application is not a scientist.  They do not understand, nor will they be able to understand, what is “important” in a scientific way.  They can only determine importance through the other evidence presented in the application.  So, in short, it can accurately be said that USCIS is NOT concerned with the scientific merit of a finding, but rather, is concerned with the “objective evidence” for a finding that shows it has scientific merit.   While this may sound similar, it is very different.  Findings that have just been published, for example, will have very little, if any, objective evidence to back them up.   Other findings may be very important to the field, but, for some reason or another, very little objective evidence of this importance exists.  In both these cases, discussing other findings with more objective evidence, even if they are not as “important” based upon their scientific merit, would be the better way to present the case for the best chance of approval.

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.

USCIS Proposed New Regulations for Skilled Workers

USCIS has just submitted a proposal to amend and add to its regulations regarding highly skilled worker.  Below is a summary of the provisions of this proposed rule. Before discussing the proposed rule, however, let me be clear – this is proposed at this point, so it is not currently law.  The provisions may or may not be adopted as is (USCIS could also choose to make changes depending on the comments they receive). Once we have any information relating to the adoption of these rules, we will certainly let you know.

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 will clarify and codify its definition for two cap-exemptions. First, it will define 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 will state 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 would codify its definition of “related or affiliated nonprofit entity” plus add 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 would also include 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 is proposing to amend 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 would change 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 will amend 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 will amend 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 proposals 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 will codify 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 will codify 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 would codify 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 will codify 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 will institute certain protections for whistleblowers (those who alert the government to certain to illegal activities of their employers).
Again, once the above provisions are adopted (or if changes are made) we will post an update on this blog. 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.

O and P Visa Delays and Premium Processing

images-1.jpegThose who are filing for either O or P status should know that, surprise, the processing time listed on the USCIS website for O and P visas is incorrect.

Currently, USCIS California Service Center is listing a processing time of 2 weeks.  Unfortunately the actual time period is 8-10 weeks, considerable longer.  And this is assuming that there is no RFE.

The Vermont Service Center on its October 15, 2015 timeline report stated it was only taking them 2 weeks to adjudicate O and P visas.  As of the November 17, 2015 timeline report, they are now stating that they are only at June 29, 2015.  This new report is certainly a more accurate date, there is no question of that.  However it should be noted that, as of October 15, 2015 they were NOT processing cases in a two week time frame either.  That report listed an “as of date” (i.e. each report has a date that shows that the timeframes they are discussing are current “as of” a certain date) of August 31,2015.  The November 17, 2015 lists an “as of” date of 9/30/2015.  So, according to all the dates, the Vermont Service Center is saying that, as of August 31, 2015 they were adjudicating cases submitted on August 15, 2015, but then, as of September 30, 2015 they were only adjudicating cases submitted as of June 29, 2015.  I am certain I am not the only one who finds this odd.

Unfortunately, this is par for the course when dealing with posted timeframes and USCIS.  One is never sure if the actual timeframe listed is the actual timeframe, the wished upon timeframe, or somewhere in between.

It is good to remember that, for O and P visa applications one can actually file up to one year in advance of the need, so it pays to plan in advance.  Of course there is always the option of using bribery, I mean Premium Processing, for an additional $1225, in which case USCIS will process your case within 15 days.

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.