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.

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.

President Issues New Travel Restrictions

imagesOn September 24, 2017, the President issued a new Executive Order (“EO”) entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or other Public Safety Threats”.  This new EO builds upon the last order, which was only valid for 90 days.  However, part of the old EO directed DHS to do a worldwide review to determine what additional information is needed from each foreign country to assess whether foreign nationals who seek to enter the United States pose a security or safety threat.  DHS completed that review and gave the President a list of seven countries that had “inadequate” information sharing practices.  The new EO implements certain types of restrictions against nationals of these seven countries (plus one additional country that the President felt posed security risks) in terms of their ability to get certain visas.

Who Does the Ban Affect?

The countries that are part of this new Executive Order are:

  1. Chad
  2. Libya
  3. Iran
  4. North Korea
  5. Syria
  6. Venezuela
  7. Yemen
  8. Somalia

As stated, the restrictions are not uniform for all the above countries.  The following table lays out what restrictions are placed on immigrant and non-immigrant visas for each country:

Country Non-Immigrant Visas Immigrant Visas
Chad No B-1, B-2 or B-1/B-2 visas No Immigrant or diversity lottery visas

 

Iran No non-immigrant visas except the F, M and J student visas No Immigrant or diversity visas

 

 

Libya No B-1, B-2 or B-1/B-2 visas No Immigrant or diversity lottery visas

 

North Korea No nonimmigrant visas No Immigrant or diversity lottery visas

 

Syria No nonimmigrant visas No Immigrant or diversity lottery visas

 

Venezuela No B-1, B-2 or B-1/B-2 visas of any kind for officials of the following government agencies: Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace; the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Immigration; the Corps of Scientific Investigations, Judicial and Criminal; the Bolivarian Intelligence Service; and, the People’s Power Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and their immediate family members.

 

No Restrictions

 

Yemen No B-1, B-2 or B-1/B-2 visas No Immigrant or diversity lottery visas

 

Somalia No nonimmigrant visas No Immigrant or diversity lottery visas

 

Dual Nationals:  Dual nationals can still travel and get visas based upon another nationality besides the ones listed above (So, for example, a national of both Iran and Canada can still get any nonimmigrant visa or immigrant visa based upon their Canadian Nationality).

Those in the US at the time the travel ban takes effect:  They are not affected by the travel ban as they are already in the US.

Those Outside the US with valid visas:  Exempt from the restrictions

Permanent Residents of the US:  These people are exempt from the Travel Ban

There are other certain exemptions as well, please make an appointment if you feel you may be affected by the travel ban and we can review the waivers and exemptions with you.

When will the Ban take effect?

From 3:30 pm on September 24, 2017, until 12:01 am on October 18, 2017, Nationals of Iran, Libya, Syria Yemen and Somalia will remain under the previous Travel Ban (i.e. only those with close family ties can get visas).  Sudanese national will no longer be subject to any ban as of that date and time.

From 12:01 am on October 18, 2017, forward the above travel restrictions will be in force and will replace the previous Executive Order Travel Ban.

If you feel you may be affected by the new travel ban, please do call our office.  We can assess your case and let you know if the travel ban does affect you, and if you are eligible for any of the waiver/exemptions.

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.

Did Water Damage your Passport and/or Visa? Here is what you should do

damaged_passport_bookIn the wake of the hurricanes that have brought massive flooding to parts of Texas, Indiana, Florida and many islands in the Caribbean, many foreign nationals in the US planning foreign travel (or those outside the US planning on coming back) have passports and visas that have been water damaged.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, you should replace such documents before attempting to enter the US.  The primary reason for this is that the ink that is used in the documents does not hold up to water, and if the damage is apparent by looking at the document, there is a high likelihood that the visa/ passport will not be machine readable. People who seek reentry to the United States by air will not be permitted to board an airplane if their passports cannot be scanned. There is very little room for discretion for those entering by air, as the airlines will likely deny boarding before CBP (Customs and Border Protection) ever sees the applicant.

Those who seek reentry by land may receive greater favorable discretion, as they may be granted a waiver of the required entry document (on Form I-193, pursuant to INA 212(d)(4)). Such waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the port, and there is no guarantee that it will be done in any particular case. In cases that merit favorable discretion (e.g., emergency travel due to hardship), you should call your attorney as soon as you can so that they can facilitate your return at a border port of entry by contacting them and explaining why you warrant a favorable exercise of discretion.   While ports will never pre-adjudicate admissibility, your entry may be facilitated by having your attorney make this type of inquiry in advance. The I-193 waives only the lack of a travel document and does not waive any other grounds of inadmissibility which would require a waiver under INA 212(d)(3).

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.

H-1Bs: What is a Specialty Occupation? (Part 1)

Unknown.jpegFor those seeking an H-1B, the most important criteria that must be met, is that the occupation that they are applying for be a “specialty occupation”.  USCIS has listed four methods of determining if a position is a specialty occupation:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position;
  • The degree requirement is common for this position in the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the position;
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
  • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

We will look at each method individually.  We will discuss the first method in this article and each additional method in a new article.

A Bachelor’s degree or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position

The first method of showing that a position is a specialty occupation is that the position is one for which a bachelor’s degree or higher degree in a particular field or fields, or its equivalent, is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position.   How would one prove this?  Generally, USCIS will look at the Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH) put out by the Department of Labor each year.  That book lists a number of position as well as the normal entry level requirements for the position, including what degree is normally required for entry into the field.  If the position in question is covered squarely by a position in the OOH, then that is what USCIS will generally go with.  However, there are a number of positions that do not necessarily fit squarely (or at all) in the positions listed within the OOH. These cases are much trickier to try and use this method.

The primary reason it is harder to use this method with such position is because USCIS often confuses the SOC code used in the application process with the actual position in question.  In other words, USCIS will ASSUME that the SOC code used in the application correctly correlates to the position when this is not always the case.  For example, let’s say a person is an accountant intern – someone who has an accountant degree but is still required to complete a certain amount of accountant experience under the guidance of another certified accountant.  While it is clear that this position requires attainment of a bachelor’s degree in a particular area as the minimum qualification, many times employers or the DOL will issue a SOC code of “bookkeeper”, because the title of the position usually does not include the word “accountant”, as the person cannot use that title until they complete the requisite experience requirements.

If the SOC code of bookkeeper is used, USCIS will assume that a bachelor’s degree is NOT required and could deny the H-1B.  While it may be possible to convince USCIS that the position qualifies under another method, many officers will just ignore any evidence submitted trying to show that the position is one other than the one described by the SOC code.  It is just as important to accurately describe the position and all requirements as it is to ensure that the correct SOC code is used in ALL paperwork.  So for the above example, when filing the LCA, determining the Prevailing Wage, and filing the I-129, if n SOC code of accountant is used, the case is more likely to be approved.

Another issue that can come up using this method is if the position is so general that many different degrees could qualify someone in the position, or a general degree is sufficient.  This can come into play if USCIS feels that the position is too general OR if you are trying to hire someone into the position who has a degree that is less connected to the position.  A good example is trying to hire a computer person with an English degree.  They may have taken computer courses, learned on their own and received all the required certificates, but the degree just does not match the position.  Another example is a manager at a store.  In most cases, such positions do not even require a bachelor’s degree.  However, even a particular store did require such a degree, there are a number of degrees that could qualify someone for such a position – which means that it is not a specialty occupation.

We will discuss the other methods in subsequent emails.  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.

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.