Potential Government Shutdown and What it Means for Immigration

imgresWhile it is not the first time that there has been a potential, or actual, shutdown of the US Government, it still does raise many questions about what, if any, immigration services will continue during any potential shutdown.  Below is a list of agencies and what they will be able to do, and what they will not do, during a shutdown:

Department of Labor (DOL):  Would not be impacted by a government shutdown. On September 28, 2018, President Trump signed a minibus appropriations bill funding DOL through the end of September 30, 2019.

USCIS: USCIS is a funded via user fees (application fees),  so if the government shuts down, it is generally business as usual. The exception to this is those programs that receive appropriated funds.  This includes E­Verify (including myEVerify and customer service), the EB­5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program, Conrad 30 J­1 doctors, and non­minister religious workers. As announced by USCIS on January 20, 2018, those programs may be suspended or otherwise impacted.  In terms of the programs and cases that USCIS cannot work on during the shutdown, while USCIS has not stated how it will handle such cases, in 2013, USCIS accepted late I­129 filings provided the petition was submitted with evidence that the primary reason for failing to timely file an extension of stay or change of status request was the government shutdown.

NOTE: USCIS confirmed that DACA renewal processing will continue during any

DOS: Visa and passport operations are fee­funded and should not be impacted by a lapse in appropriations, but operating status and funding will need to be monitored closely. If visa operations are affected, consular posts will generally only handle diplomatic visas and “life or death” emergencies.

 

CBP: Inspection and law enforcement personnel are considered “essential.” Ports of entry will be open; however, processing of applications filed at the border may be impacted.

ICE: ICE enforcement and removal operations will continue, and ICE attorneys will typically focus on the detained docket during a shutdown. The ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) offices are unaffected since SEVP is funded by fees.

EOIR: Immigration court cases on the detained docket will proceed during the lapse in congressional appropriations while non­detained docket cases will be reset for a later date when funding resumes. Courts with detained dockets will receive all filings but will only process those involving detained dockets. Courts with only non­detained dockets will not be open and will not accept filings.

CIS Ombudsman: The DHS Office of the CIS Ombudsman would close and would not accept any inquiries through its online case intake system.

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

USCIS Proposes a New H-1B Employer Registration System

imagesUSCIS released a copy of a proposed rule that will be published on December 3, 2018. This proposed Rule, which will have a 30 day comment period, will set up a system that requires employers to pre-register in order to file an H-1B against the H-1B cap and would also change the way that USCIS carries out the lottery for H-1Bs. We will examine the varying aspects of this proposed rule below.

H-1B Registration System

The registration system would require employers to complete a registration PRIOR to the filing of any H-1B applications towards the H-1B cap. The registration period will open up 14 days prior the first day that H-1Bs can be filed (April 1).  It will remain open for a period of at least 14 calendar days at which time, if sufficient registrations have been received, USCIS will begin the lottery system (which we will talk about below).  What we do not know at this time is:

1) What information will be required in the registration;

2) Will each employer just list the number of H-1Bs they will be filing or is a registration needed for each application you intend to file;

3) Will the system be in effect starting this year, or will they wait until the following fiscal year to begin using the system (there is a provision that allows them to not use the system if there are technical issues).

Lottery System

Under the previous system, USCIS would first select sufficient applications to meet the H-1B Master’s Cap (20,000).  USCIS would then take the remaining applications submitted under the Master’s Cap and put those together with applications filed under the regular cap, and then, USCIS would select the regular cap cases (64,0000).   While this system gave those with a Master’s two lottery chances, in some ways it also increased the odds for those without a Master’s degree to be selected in the regular cap lottery by automatically ensuring at least 20,000 Masters cases were removed from that lottery.

Under the new system, the Regular Cap lottery will be conducted FIRST.  After this lottery is conducted, USCIS will see if there are still sufficient numbers of H-1B Master’s Cap Cases left to fill that cap.  If there are, it will conduct that lottery.  If not, it will re-open registration just for Master’s Cap Cases and will wait until it has sufficient registrations, then close registration and conduct the lottery.  In this way, the administration is hoping that it increases the number of cases selected in which the beneficiary has a higher level degree.

To understand why this change was made, USCIS did indicate that it was to comply with the Buy America initiative signed into law via an executive order by the President.   Part of that order required H-1B visas to be made available to those with more education and who are receiving higher salaries.  While USCIS cannot change the statutory requirements, this is one easy way for them to comply with this mandate.

Conclusion

At this point, we do not know if USCIS will change the process at all once it receives the comments, or if it will implement it as written.  We also do not know if there is sufficient time, or if the system is sufficiently far along, that USCIS will be able to implement the system this fiscal year, or if they will have to wait until the next fiscal year.  We will certainly update you once these issues become clear and we know what the final process and timelines will be.  In the meantime, please do let us know if you have any 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.

USCIS Denials up 37% under the Trump Administration

UnknownA new study from the CATO Institute, a think tank in Washington DC, shows that the denials are up about 37% under the new administration. The CATO institute did NOT include naturalization applications, TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications in its statistics, as these are programs under fire right now by the administration.

Looking at some individual applications:

– I-129 denials went up from 16.8 percent to 22.6 percent
– Not surprisingly because of the previously discussed rule to deny I-131s if foreigners travel on their H-1B before it is approved, I-131 denials went up from 7.2% to 18.1%
– I-765 employment authorization denials increased from 6% to 9.6%
– Employment-based I-485s saw an increase in denials from 5.9% to 7.9%
– Fiance petitions were rejected at a more than a 50% higher rate, rising from a 13.6% denial rate to a 21% denial rate

To see the full article, please click here.

Personally, we have seen USCIS adjudicates cases in a more strict manner, which is tied to their changing how they interpret regulations, especially in the H-1B context. They are more stringent regarding what a specialty occupation is, over what constitutes the correct employer-employee relationship, as well as other critical issues in the H-1B context.  While our office has not seen a rise in the denial rates of applications we submit, we definitely do see the increased scrutiny that USCIS is paying to particular applications.   It certainly pays to be extra careful in drafting and filing these applications to ensure a smooth process with USCIS and to avoid getting caught up in their increased scrutiny.

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.

 

Want an appointment at a local office? Soon you may not be able to make one.

USCIS announced that it is phasing out InfoPass appointments at local offices (self-scheduled appointments) except on a limited basis. Basically they will allow appointments on an emergency basis and to deliver documents to the local office only. USCIS stated that their research showed that for the vast majority of people who make appointments at local offices, the questions they asked could be answered using the on-line resources at USCIS.com or calling the 1-800 number. In addition to the limited on-line appointments, if you call the 1-800 number and they determine that an appointment at the local office is needed, they will schedule it directly for you. There are certainly pluses and minuses to this new policy.

In the plus category, this should allow officers to spend more time interviewing people and adjudicating cases, thus bringing timelines for family and employment based green cards down.

In the minus category, it will make it much harder to find out exactly what is going on with a case once it is at the local office. Most local offices use to have special emails that immigration attorney’s could contact if there were issues. In addition, attorney’s (as well as immigrants themselves) could make appointments with the local office to find out what was happening with a case. Now, all that is available is calling the 1-800 number to try and find out what is going on. The only result of this is that it will be much harder to actually get the status of a case.

Currently the new policy is only in place in a limited number of states. However it should be rolled out nationwide by the new year. We will keep you updated as more information becomes 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.

USCIS Reaches FY 2019 H-1B Visa Cap And Finishes Count

imagesUSCIS announced on April 11 that they had received enough applications to fill the FY 2019 H-1B Cap.  Just today they announced that they had completed the counting nad selection process.  We should begin to receive receipts first, then returned applications that were not selected.  Here is the text of the press release from USCIS:

On April 11, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process to select enough H-1B petitions to meet the congressionally-mandated cap and the U.S. advanced degree exemption, known as the master’s cap, for fiscal year (FY) 2019.

USCIS received 190,098 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began April 2, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS announced on April 6, that it had received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 and the master’s cap of 20,000. USCIS will reject and return all unselected petitions with their filing fees unless the petition is a prohibited multiple filing.

USCIS conducted the selection process for the master’s cap first. All unselected master’s cap petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 cap.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed for current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, will also not be counted towards the FY 2019 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:

  • Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

 

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 Suspending Premium Processing for Cap Subject H-1B applications

images-1Yesterday, USCIS announced that they would be suspending premium processing for 2019 Cap-subject applications until September 10, 2018.  This means you can only file cap-subject applications via regular processing.  Those applications that are cap-exempt, including those filed by universities and those for extensions of H-1B status, can continue to use premium processing.  Below is a section of the press release from USCIS:

Starting April 2, 2018, USCIS will begin accepting H-1B petitions subject to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 cap. We will temporarily suspend premium processing for all FY 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions seeking an exemption for individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher. This suspension is expected to last until Sept. 10, 2018. During this time, we will continue to accept premium processing requests for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the FY 2019 cap. We will notify the public before resuming premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions or making any other premium processing updates.
During this temporary suspension, we will reject any Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, filed with an FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petition. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the fees for Form I-907 and Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, we will reject both forms. When we resume premium processing, petitioners may file a Form I-907 for FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions that remain pending.

Please call our office with any questions you may have.  And, 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.

Updates: Signatures and Credit Card Acceptance at USCIS

3EB2E8ED-35F7-451D-B3AF-96539B02C187USCIS Now Accepting Credit Cards for Most Filings

USCIS has issued a new form G-1450 that will allow people to pay for form filing fees via credit card directly with USCIS.  This form is available for all applications filed at lockbox facilities.  It cannot be used for filings at local offices.  You should read all the information at the USCIS website here to make sure that you complete the form correctly according to what applications you are filing.

Please do call us with any questions about this new policy.

USCIS No Longer Accepting Power of Attorney for Signatures

USCIS has always required original signatures on all forms.  However, USCIS did accept the signature of someone other than the applicant if there was a duly authorized power of attorney.  This is the case no longer.  USCIS will no longer accept such arrangements.  Now the applicant must sign all forms being filed with USCIS.  Parents are still allowed to sign for minors, however.  USCIS also made clear that any deficiency in the signature (whether for an employer, employee, applicant, etc.) could also result in a rejection or denial of the application.

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.