H1B Recent Trends: The Wage Level 1 Conundrum

unknownIn the last year, USCIS has certainly increased its scrutiny on all cases, especially on H-1B cases.One tact that USICS has taken is to insist that, if an employer has used a Level 1 wage, then, without any further review of the position, USCIS can assume that it is an entry level position and is NOT a specialty occupation.  While to most people, this simply makes no sense, USCIS used this rationale (or lack there of) to deny many H-1B applications.  Finally, the Administrative Appeals Office, which overseas appeals of all H-1B denials, has ruled on one such case and overturned the denial.  The AAO stated;

Before we do so, a few more general observations are in order about the relevance of wage levels in the context o f H-1 B adjudications. A position’s wage level designation certainly is relevant, but is not a substitute for a determination of whether a proffered position meets the requirements of section 214(i)(l) of the Act. We assess each case on its merits. There is no inherent inconsistency between an entry-level position and a specialty occupation. For some occupations, the “basic understanding” that warrants a Level I wage may require years of study, duly recognized upon the attainment of a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty. Most professionals start their careers in what are deemed entry-level positions. That doesn’t preclude us from identifying a specialty occupation. And likewise, at the other end of the spectrum, a Level IV wage would not necessarily reflect that an occupation qualifies as a specialty occupation if that higher-level position does not have an entry requirement of at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty or its equivalent. Wage levels are relevant, and we will assess them to ensure the LCA “corresponds with” the H-1B petition. But wage is only one factor and does not by itself define or change the character of the occupation.

We are very hopeful that this means that USCIS will take a more holistic approach and review all relevant documents in all such cases instead of denying a majority of such cases without really reviewing the relevant documentation.   Despite the above, it is still very important to include sufficient evidence with the initial application showing the specialty nature of the occupation.  Such evidence can include other job postings for similar positions, letters from other employers, CVs of other employees in the same position, etc.   Please do note, that each case is different and the type and amount of evidence needed will vary by case.  Please call our office with 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.

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.

I-140 Premium Processing: Update

UnknownJust about 1 month ago I wrote a blog post on using premium processing for EB-1 (both Outstanding Researcher and Extraordinary Ability) and EB-2 National Interest Waiver applications.  Well, USCIS just put in place a  new policy that may cause, at least some people, to change their minds and not use this service.  Before discussing the specific policy, however, let me give a quick overview of the general policy.

Generally, when you file for I-140 it will go to either the Texas Service Center or the Nebraska service center depending on where you live.  The East coast and south go to Texas Service Center and the Mid-West and West Coast go to the Nebraska Service center. This is a rough rule, and if you follow this link, you can see which states file where.  If you file a case via premium processing, or upgrade a pending case from the regular process to premium processing, it would be filed to the same location depending on which state you live in.  Apparently, however, the Texas Service Center has been receiving more such application than the Nebraska Service Center, so in the hopes of evening out the case load, USCIS has changed the filing location for some cases.

Starting on October 19, 2015, all I-140 cases that you wish to file Premium Processing for people living in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are to be filed at the Nebraska Service Center.  As stated in my previous blog post, the Nebraska Service Center overall, seems to have a harder stance on the criteria for these applications, especially the Extraordinary Ability and Outstanding Researcher petitions.  Therefore, this is a major consideration that now needs to be taken into account whenever someone is thinking about using the premium processing service.

There is one possible way around this, although we are not certain yet, how these cases will be handled.  If the case is currently pending at the Texas Service Center and you wish to upgrade it, you would still file that Premium Processing request at the Texas Service Center.  What we do not know is if these cases will be transferred or will stay at the Texas Service Center.  My guess is that they will stay, as USCIS will not want to loose even a day transferring the file.  However, as stated, at this point I do not know what they will do, but I will certainly update you once I find out.

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.

So your EB-1 was denied, should you appeal?

imagesWe have had clients contact us wanting to appeal the denial of their case by USCIS to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).  Generally, our response to people is that appeals are extremely difficult to get approved, and usually not worth the money.  However many people still want to appeal and there are certainly many attorneys out there who will appeal cases telling people that they have a “good chance” at winning the appeal.  The question is, what are the actual chances of winning on appeal?

Well, we can now answer this as the AAO released a detailed list of their adjudications over the past several years.  So lets look at some of those numbers now:

EB1A: Extraordinary Ability

This is probably the type of case we most often see people wanting to appeal denials.  The EB-1A category is hard enough to  begin with, with only about a 50% approval rating.  How is it on appeals?  Well, in 2011 there were a total of 146 cases decided by the AAO.  Of those, 137, or 93.9%, were dismissed.   Only 8, or 5.4%, were sustained (i.e. the EA was approved by the AAO), and only 1 (or 00.7%) were remanded to USCIS for further decision.  In 2012 93.6% (204 out of 218) cases were dismissed and only 6.4% (14) cases were sustained.  In 2013 92.4% of cases were dismissed (122 out of 132). 8 cases were sustained (6%) and 2 were remanded (1.6%).  And in 2014 88 cases (91.7%) of cases were dismissed and 5 cases were sustained (5.2%) and 3 cases were remanded (3.1%).

EB-2 National Interest Waiver

Unfortunately USCIS has not released approval statistics for this category, but we know it is much higher than 50%, probably around 70% or so.  However, for the appeals, the rates are very similar to the EB-1A (but much fewer cases were decided).  IN 2011 96.5% of cases appealed in this category were dismissed.  In 2012 94.8% of cases were dismissed.  In 2013 94.3% of cases were dismissed and 92.7% of cases were dismissed in 2014.

EB-1B:  Outstanding Researcher

The EB-1B category generally has a very high approval rating overall, but except for one year, this did not carry over to the appeals area.  In 2011 only 68.8% of cases were dismissed which is actually not bad.  This means that almost 30% of the appeals were sustained, which is much higher than the EA and NIW.  This changed rapidly in 2012 and 2013, when the rate of dismissal increased to  97% and 95% respectively.  This peaked in 2014 when 100% of cases decided were dismissed.

CONCLUSION

What the above shows is that, for scientists, appealing a case is usually not a good idea as it is extremely difficult to get it approved.  In most cases, refilling the case, either right away or a little while down the road, is usually the best course.  Of course every case is different, and there are certain cases for which an appeal actually makes sense.  Generally however, if the only response on appeal is that USCIS made the wrong decision, it will not work.  There generally has to be something else – either USCIS mis-stated the law in some way, did not actually consider certain evidence at all (i.e. it was not discussed at all), or stated that certain evidence was not probative when, in actuality, it was obviously very probative  (i.e. your work had been cited 1000 times, but the officer says that citations are not probative of the importance or impact you work has had).  Not even every case with this type of problem will get approved on appeal, it simply increases the likelihood of success.

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.