Category: Blog

September 15, 2015

Together, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and the Department of State have announced revised procedures for determining immigrant visa availability, per a press release from USCIS. The new two-track system allocates one set of dates showing applicants whose priority date is Current-To-File, and a separate set of dates for already-pending applicants whose priority date is Current-for-Final-Approval.

The new bifurcated system can be seen in the upcoming October Visa Bulletin, which provides two charts each for Family-Based and Employment-Based applicants. If you are not certain which chart applies, the Department of State provides a handy Priority Date Checker.

This new system for allocating immigrant visa numbers will allow more people to file for adjustment of status or immigrant visas sooner. For adjustment of status applicants in the United States, this will mean they and their dependents can get unrestricted work authorization sooner. However, it may mean longer wait times for final green card approval, especially for those whose I-485 adjustment of status applications are already pending.

August 5, 2015

All H-1B workers and their U.S employers need to know of a major policy shift in effect: changes in worksite are now deemed to be a change in material terms of the offered employment, and mandate filing of an amended petition with USCIS whenever a new LCA is required. This policy hits consultancies and workers placed at third-party client sites the hardest, but ultimately it affects every H-1B worker and their employers.

On April 9, 2015, the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office handed down a decision in Matter of Simeio Solutions, opining that a change in the place of employment is a material change. For H-1B workers relocated to new worksites prior to the date of the decision on April 9, USCIS has stated that it does not plan to challenge these with Requests for Evidence, or Notices of Intent to Deny or Revoke.

In preliminary guidance, USCIS gave employers who had moved H-1B workers after April 9, until August 19 to file amended petitions with USCIS, but then on July 21, 2015, the Service released a policy memorandum extending the filing deadline by five months. Now, any US employer that has moved H-1B workers to new worksite addresses after the decision on April 9, 2015, and before August 19, 2015, has until January 16, 2016 to file amended H-1B petitions for those workers.

For any H-1B workers relocated to new worksites outside the original city and state on or after August 19, 2015, the employer must file an amended petition before the move takes place. Worksite address changes within the same “geographic area” (i.e., Metropolitan Statistical Area) still require re-posting the original LCA at the new worksite address before the H-1B employee starts to work there.

However, even employers who relocated or reassigned H-1B workers before the Simeio decision must take note that they are not home free. Even address changes within the original city and state may not be exempt from scrutiny for good faith. The Service retains discretion to challenge relocations with Notices of Intent to Revoke in situations involving a worksite address change that took place prior to April 9, 2015. For such discretionary challenges, USCIS will probably look to whether the approved H-1B petition involved placement of the worker at undisclosed worksites, regardless of whether those sites belong to third-party clients, and to the employer’s initial compliance and avoidance of misrepresentation, i.e., whether the H-1B worker ever actually worked at the address(es) listed in the initial LCA and approved H-1B petition.

The Simeio case involved an IT consultancy where the employer’s assignment of the H-1B employee to client sites was not disclosed in the LCA or the petition. The employer claimed to offer full-time work only onsite at their own premises, but in fact assigned the worker immediately to work at a client site, then in addition, two months after the I-129 petition was filed, the employer’s office at the address listed in the LCA and I-129 petition shut down and moved to a residential address. The H-1B worker was never employed at the address listed in the LCA and H-1B petition.

For over two decades, an H-1B approval explicitly covered all possible work locations within a given Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is the specific meaning of the “geographic location” of the worksite under the labor regulations governing the H-1B program. The Labor Condition Application listed worksites only by city and state, which was sufficient to identify the applicable prevailing wage. The LCA online system and an older version of the form asking for only city and state as worksite location remained in use until June 30, 2009, in order to give users time to get used to the new Form ETA 9035 and to set up user accounts on the Department of Labor’s iCert Portal. After June 30, 2009, use of the new ETA 9035 Labor Condition Application form was mandatory, and the first version of Form ETA 9035 identified up to three worksites by specific street addresses.

The threat of USCIS re-characterizing an address change as a material term of employment, thus requiring amended petitions for any changes in the worksite or employer address, has loomed on the horizon ever since the Labor Condition Application form was revised to identify multiple worksites by street address. The Department of Labor’s H1B FAQs published on 2/17/2011 clarified that a worker could start work at a new place of employment as defined by 20 CFR 655.715 and not contemplated at the time of initial filing, based on a posted notice of wages and work conditions by the employer at the new worksite, and filing of a new LCA. There have been quite a few Service memoranda over the years clarifying when an amended H-1B petition was and was not required, but the tacit implications of the controlling labor regulation, and the possibility of a narrowing interpretation by USCIS, changed dramatically once the LCA form specified street addresses for the intended work location.

USCIS has been through previous spasms of trying to tie H-1B workers definitively to worksites, but none of it stuck until 2015. Now, reassignment of H-1B professionals to any new or additional worksites not listed in the original LCA and petition, up to and including a move of the company’s main headquarters to a new office in the next town down the road, may be deemed a material change of employment terms. A new work address in a new city entails filing an amended I-129 petition with USCIS. This particular turkey has finally come home to roost.

March 24, 2015

Now that this year’s H-1B cap filing date of April 1st is fast approaching, many employers and foreign workers want to know, isn’t there any other option? For citizens of some countries, there are treaty-based visa categories for professional workers which may provide a viable alternative. Each is slightly different in its requirements and limitations.

For citizens of Chile, Singapore, Australia, Canada or Mexico, there are treaty-based visa categories for professional workers that remain available when the H-1B is not. One key difference is that the H-1B allows “dual intent,” so a worker may be present in the U.S. under H-1B status, and yet legally take steps to pursue permanent residence. All of the treaty-based work visa classifications for professionals require continued “non-immigrant intent,” so workers in H-1B1, E-3 or TN-1 status must have an un-abandoned residence abroad to which they intend to return. These visa categories are for salaried jobs with a U.S. employer; they do not allow self-employment or freelancing.

H-1B1: Chile & Singapore

Like the H-1B, the H-1B1 is for offered work with a U.S. employer in a professional specialty occupation – i.e., a job that requires at least a Bachelor’s or advanced degree in a field directly related to the job duties. The worker must have a related degree, and the U.S. employer must agree to pay the local prevailing wage for that occupation, and must file a Labor Condition Application with the U.S. Department of Labor, with the same attestation, compliance and Public Access File recordkeeping responsibilities that apply to an H-1B employer.

However, there the similarities end. No petition to USCIS is required, so the H-1B1 worker may take the certified LCA, employer’s letter, and original educational credentials, and apply for the visa abroad at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The annual cap (numerical limit) of 6,800 for the H-1B1 has never been reached, so these applications may be filed at any time year round, for an immediate start date. H-1B1 status is available in one-year increments, and is renewable. There is no “portability” between different H-1B1 jobs, or from H-1B1 to H-1B.

E-3: Australia

The E-3 is also for offered work with a U.S. employer in a professional specialty occupation – i.e., a job that requires a Bachelor’s or advanced degree in a field directly related to the job duties. The worker must have a related degree, and the U.S. employer must pay the prevailing wage for that occupation, and must file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor, with the same attestation, compliance and Public Access File recordkeeping responsibilities that apply to an H-1B or H-1B1 employer.

No petition to USCIS is required, so the worker can take the certified LCA, employer’s letter, and original educational credentials and apply for the visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The annual cap of 10,000 for the E-3 has never been reached, so applications can be filed at any time, year-round, for a start date at any time. E-3 status is available in two-year increments, and is renewable. There is no portability between jobs for E-3 workers, no Premium processing for petition-based filings, and no automatic continuation of work authorization based on a timely-filed extension request. For these reasons, travel abroad and a new visa application by the E-3 worker are often more efficient than filing a petition to extend or change employment.

TN-1: Canada & Mexico

The TN-1 visa category is available to citizens of Canada or Mexico who have a valid passport, a job offer to work in the U.S. in one of the 64 professions enumerated in Appendix 1603.D.1 to the North America Free Trade Act (NAFTA), and have the required education listed in the treaty for that profession. There is no prevailing wage requirement, and no filings with the Department of Labor, so unlike the H-1B1 and E-3, a TN-1 worker may be paid on a 1099 as an Independent Contractor if the agreement with the U.S. employer so specifies, but a TN-1 may not freelance or be self-employed in the U.S.

This category allows much less flexibility in terms of the job: the offered job must fit squarely into one of the 64 professional occupations listed in the treaty. TN-1 status is available in increments of one to three years, depending on the explicit terms offered by the employer, and is renewable. Canadian citizens are visa-exempt, and may apply at a border post or pre-flight inspection with their original educational credentials, resume and letters from past employers for any job requiring prior experience, and offer letter from the U.S. employer. Mexican citizens must apply for a machine-readable TN-1 visa, and bring their documents to a visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

March 10, 2015

Employers – especially small companies and those new to the world of work visas – often assume that obtaining a work-authorized visa status is the responsibility of the foreign worker. It isn’t. Any work visa petition to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) is by definition a request made by the employer for permission to employ a named foreign worker in a particular job for a specified period of time.

Foreign workers are often anxious to oblige, in order to secure a firm job offer and the promise of visa sponsorship, and they may offer to cover the costs of H-1B visa sponsorship to the sponsoring employer, by payment up front to the attorney, through reimbursement to the employer, via salary deductions over time, or indirectly, through payments made to the employer by a third party. Both federal agencies overseeing the H-1B program view any such payments or deductions as illegal, and each may take agency-specific corrective actions.

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) views payment by the sponsored worker of any legal fees or government filing fees associated with an H-1B petition as an illegal assumption of costs which are the responsibility of the employer under the labor regulations. In an enforcement action, USDOL will subtract any such payments from the amounts actually paid to the worker when determining whether the employer has met its obligation under the Labor Condition Application (LCA) to pay the “actual wage” promised in the LCA.

Thus, an investigation into LCA compliance may result in a finding that the employer has violated its wage obligations. Depending on the number and severity of violations, and the perceived degree of the employer’s disregard for the rules, an LCA investigation by the USDOL Wage & Hour Division which reveals payment of H-1B costs by the sponsored worker(s) may result in fines to the employer, and/or debarment from the H-1B program. The USDOL also views early termination penalties paid by the worker, sometimes called “clawback” agreements, as equally unlawful deductions from the actual wage owed to an H-1B worker.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes an equally dim view of any payments by the worker for H-1B petition costs, regarding them explicitly as an indicator of fraud, i.e., as an improper inducement for the employer to provide visa sponsorship. With the exception of the H-1B filing fee for training of U.S. workers, there is no other filing fee that the employer is actually required by law to pay, nor is there support for this definition of fraud in the USCIS regulations, and it is at odds with the practical reality: the foreign worker is just trying to bring the cost of a prospective hire closer to the employer’s cost of hiring a similarly-qualified person who does not need visa sponsorship.

When USCIS conducts a site visit of an H-1B employer – which they may do either while a petition is pending, or at any time thereafter during the petition validity period, after it has been approved – the USCIS investigator will customarily ask to see payroll records for the H-1B worker, and may independently contact the worker directly to ask if he or she paid any of the H-1B petition costs. Site visits are now occurring in roughly 30% of all petitions, and the Service aims to increase that percentage. If any of the parties contacted are unresponsive, and the site visit is inconclusive, USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence, Notice of Intent to Deny, or Notice of Intent to Revoke.

One item of proof commonly demanded in such notices is a pair of sworn statements, one each from the employer and the sponsored worker, affirming that no such payments have been made or promised by the worker, nor received by the employer, including any payroll deductions for the purpose of reimbursing H-1B petition costs.

February 24, 2015

At long last, USCIS has published a final rule implementing the ability of certain H-4 spouses to apply for work authorization. It will go into effect on May 26, 2015, more than a year after the initial proposed rule came out.

It covers those individuals present in the U.S. under H-4 visa status whose H-1B spouse is the beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 immigrant visa petition by a U.S. employer, or an approved extension of H-1B status after the 6th year, under the lengthy-adjudications provisions of AC21 (the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act).

In order to permit the H-4 spouse to file a Form I-765 application for Employment Authorization under this new rule, the H-1B and H-4 spouses must still be married to each other, present in the United States, and maintaining valid visa status.

Break out the confetti!

December 16, 2014

There are a number of concerns in play that must be considered when answering this question. IF you are still a full-time employee in good standing at the H1B employer, and you have a valid H1B visa stamp, or can apply for a new one on a short trip abroad without a harrowing, uncertain and lengthy procedure, then it is preferable to use the H1B visa for travel.

The first reason for this is that under the H1B, you will be re-admitted in valid non-immigrant visa status, which keeps you in status regardless of the I-485 application. The second reason is that under the regulations, you may travel on your valid H1B visa as soon as the I-485 receipt notice arrives, instead of having to wait months for the approval of ancillary benefits. Also, this will usually avoid having to go to Secondary Inspection at the airport upon your return. However, some H1B workers are subjected to extraordinary levels of scrutiny and indeed bias at some airports, particularly information technology professionals working in a consultancy, so the risks of traveling on the H1B visa should be discussed with counsel before you go.

While travel on Advance Parole is possible as soon as you receive the combined EAD/Advance Parole card from USCIS, and using it for travel is necessary when you are no longer working for the H1B employer, know that whenever you present an Advance Parole travel document to U.S. Customs & Border Protection, you will always have to go through Secondary Inspection. In Secondary, the Customs & Border Protection inspectors may start with a presumption that you are inadmissible because of the Advance Parole, and work backwards from there – which means entry coming back to the U.S. will almost always take longer with an Advance Parole than with the H1B visa.

Once you are admitted as a Parolee:

A. You’re no longer in valid H1B non-immigrant work visa status.

B. In order to just stay on payroll at your employer, you will have to present the EAD card and execute a new I-9 form.

C. You will no longer have access to H1B portability, should you wish to change jobs abruptly.

November 25, 2014

The first important thing to know about the immigration relief announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014, is that it’s not an “amnesty.” Unlike President Reagan’s amnesty in 1986, the recent Executive Action does not create a new basis for residence that will legalize several million people who currently have no status, it only offers new temporary forms of relief from deportation or removal, and temporary work authorization, for limited classes of people. The second thing to know is, no one can apply right away.

None of the immigration initiatives announced as a part of the President’s Executive Action are in place yet, nor will any of them be in place before the end of calendar 2014. Don’t pay anyone to file an application for you for one of the new forms of relief included in that announcement until USCIS publishes new forms, and announces the new application procedures and their effective dates. The agency needs time to update, revise and publish new forms, establish rules for the supporting documentation, set fees and filing procedures for the new application types, and allocate and train staff to review those new types of applications, before those processes go live.

Some of the immigration initiatives mentioned, such as measures to ease employment-based immigrant quota backlogs and enhance “portability” for foreign workers, do not even have anticipated timelines yet. The most urgent benefits for some of those currently without status do have projected timelines, but they will not be in place until the spring of 2015.

Specifically, USCIS expects an application process for the expanded version of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to be in place about 90 days from the announcement, i.e. after February 19, 2015. This new expanded DACA benefit covers those who arrived in the United States before age 16, and have resided continuously in the US since January 1, 2010.

USCIS expects to have an application process for the new DAPA benefit, Deferred Action for Parental Accountability, in place about 180 days from the announcement, i.e. after May 19, 2015. The DAPA benefit covers parents of a US citizen or permanent resident child born on or before November 20, 2014, and have resided continuously in the US since January 1, 2010.

In the meantime, people who may qualify for immigration relief who are awaiting the publication of specific filing procedures may want to consult with a pro bono or low-cost legal service provider, a qualified immigration attorney, or an accredited BIA representative, to ask basic questions about eligibility, and about gathering documentary evidence that will be needed to prove identity, qualifying relationships, and proof of continuous residence in the United States.

June 2, 2014

On May 12, 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would make certain H-4 dependent spouses eligible to apply for employment authorization, if the H1B principal is the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition, or if the H1B principal has had their status extended beyond the 6-year limit pursuant to AC21, the American Competitiveness in the Twenty First Century Act.

The proposed H-4 work authorization rule has no effective date as of this time, and the proposal is still subject to a 60-day public comment period, ending July 11, 2014. Once the comment period ends, DHS will take however much time they need to review and consider any comments submitted before issuing a final rule. Only the final rule will contain the date of implementation, and publication of a final rule is still some months away.

For now, all H-4 spouses continue to be ineligible for employment authorization, so look for more news on this front.

Once there is a final rule and after it has been implemented, if the rule does not change substantially, then to obtain the Employment Authorization Document under the terms of the proposed rule, H-4 spouses will need to submit Form I-765 with evidence of the H-1B principal worker’s currently valid status, and qualifying approved I-140 petition and/or approval of post sixth-year H-1B extension. If the I-765 application is approved, the H-4 holder would receive an EAD valid for up to two years. Processing of the I-765 application can take up to 120 days, so even after the new rule is approved and implemented, it will be a few more months before an H-4 spouse gets authorization to work in the United States. With an EAD card, the H-4 will be able to obtain a Social Security Number, and it is a List A document valid as proof of identity and work authorization for purposes of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.

The Administration hopes that making H-4 spouses of longtime H-1B workers eligible for EAD cards will help US employers retain highly skilled H-1B workers, in the face of very long waits for lawful permanent residence. It may also encourage entry into the United States of those H-4 eligible spouses who have chosen to remain abroad and separated from their H-1B spouses in order to pursue their own careers outside of the United States, because they would not be eligible to work if they came here. We can only hope for swift issuance of a final rule with an implementation date in the near future.

Contact us if you would like more information about the H-4 Work Authorization proposal.

April 10, 2014

A wide variety of visitors and business travelers to the United States are often stunned to learn that the end date of the period of lawful admission granted upon arrival at a Port of Entry is not the same as the end date of the validity period shown on the face of the visa that was presented for admission. In short a visa is a machine-readable secure stamp issued into the passport at a US embassy or Consulate outside the United States, only valid for entry into the US from abroad. An I-94 is a paper or electronic record of lawful admission created for the traveler by an Inspections Officer of US Customs & Border Protection, which determines what temporary visa status the traveler holds once inside the US, and how long the traveler is allowed to remain in the US. Learn more about what the differences are between a visa and an I-94.

This blog post offers some examples of the many different situations in which the visa (entry document) and the I-94 (status document) do not have the same end date, and explaining why.

Admission as a Visitor with a B1-B2 Visa

A visitor visa may be issued to a national of any country not authorized to participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Although the visa is valid typically for either ten years or five years, the visitor will be admitted for a period of authorized stay that is no more than 6 months, and may be less. The I-94 reflects the purpose for which the visitor was admitted- Even if a traveler has a valid B1-B2 visa, he or she still has the burden of proving upon each admission that there is a specific lawful, temporary, and finite purpose for that visit, and a permanent residence abroad to which the traveler will return. Even past compliance with the terms of visitor visa status during previous stays is no guarantee that you will be readmitted as a visitor on the next trip.

Reciprocity Schedules

Certain countries have limits on the validity of some visa types for Americans, so in return the US correspondingly limits the validity of similar visas for nationals of those countries, even where the validity of the underlying approved work visa petition by a US employer may be longer. For instance, nationals of most countries are eligible to receive H-1B work visas valid for the full three-year validity of the underlying petition, but nationals of China and certain other countries are not: the reciprocity schedule limits nationals of China to an H-1B visa stamp valid for a maximum of one year and multiple entries, or an O-1 visa valid for only three months and one entry. Even O-1 “aliens of extraordinary ability” can be unpleasantly surprised by reciprocity issues- the history of this visa as originally conceived for performing artists often impacts business O-1 travelers from China, Brazil and others.

Passport Expiration

In most cases, a person traveling on a work visa will be admitted for the validity period of the underlying approved petition, or for the standard two-year period on an E visa, but CBP Inspections Officers have some discretion, and may choose to admit the traveler only until the date of passport expiration. Once a new passport has been obtained, the traveler must present both the expired passport containing the valid visa stamp, and the new passport: this leads to admission with the entry “VIOPP” stamped in the valid passport (meaning “visa in other passport”).

Certain Visa Types:

For some types of work visas that are not or need not be based on an underlying petition approved by USCIS, standard admission periods are set by regulation. Holders of E-1 Treaty Trader visas, E-2 Treaty Investor visas, and E-3 Australian treaty professionals are admitted for two years from date of admission. H-1B1 treaty nationals of Chile and Singapore are admitted for a maximum of 18 months. Valid maintenance of status issues may arise for E-3 and H-1B1 workers have a still-valid I -94 admission record, but the approved Labor Condition Application has expired. Another common problem arises with dependents of an E worker who enter the US and do not travel frequently with the principal visa holder, where the dependents have I-94s valid for two years from the date of their original entry, but forget to travel or apply to extend status, and fall out of status because they mistakenly believe their stay is automatically extended whenever the principal worker travels.

F &J Admission for D/S: Students, scholars, and other classes of exchange visitors are not admitted until a specific date, but for duration of status, annotated as “D/S”. For these travelers, their status documents once admitted to the United States include both the I-94 admission record, and the most current Form I-20 issued by the school or a Form DS-2019 issued by the exchange program sponsor.

These are some of the many instances in which the end date of an authorized period of admission will be different from the ending validity date on the face of the visa stamp, but this is not an exhaustive list. If you want to know more about your specific situation, consult with an attorney, and show the documents about which you have questions.

March 20, 2014

All visitors to the United States, whether traveling with a B1-B2 visitor visa, or under the Visa Waiver Program, must be seeking admission for a trip whose purpose is lawful, temporary and finite. Visitors always have the burden of proving that they will return home, as evidenced by sufficient family, property, business or financial ties to the home country to indicate a strong likelihood of prompt return.

Reasons for denial of an application for a B1-B2 visitor visa at a US Embassy abroad, or refusal of admission as a visitor at a US Port of Entry (airport or land border) may include any indicators that the traveler plans to seek employment while in the US, or plans to enroll in school, or plans to pursue permanent residence – an engagement ring on the hand or an original birth certificate in the luggage are red flags for intent to immigrate. A round-trip airline ticket by itself is often not sufficient to prove intent to return to the home country, and could be undermined by a visitor taking inconsistent actions before a planned trip, such as quitting a steady job, or selling a home or a vehicle, as these indicate a lack of intent to return soon.

1.) Do I need to apply for a visa?

If you are a citizen of one of the 37 countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program, which are listed by the US Department of State, and you plan to visit the United States for 90 days or less, then in most cases you do not need to apply for a machine-readable B1-B2 visitor visa stamp at a US Embassy.

If you are from a Visa Waiver country but you need to stay longer than 90 days, or if you are not a citizen of a Visa Waiver country, or if you have ever previously overstayed a period of lawful admission to the US, even by one day, then you will need to apply for a visa to come to the United States.

When traveling to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to register for ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization before you can board a US-bound international flight.

2.) What if I have been denied a visa before, or denied admission under the VWP?

Then you should consult with counsel for case-specific advice before you spend time, money and effort on a new visa application.

3.) Why didn’t the interviewing officer look at my documents?

Some countries have more prevalent fraud than others, and in places where the US Embassy receives a large volume of visa applications, they may often see fabricated or altered documents, which can make the consular officers more skeptical of all documents, even those that, are legitimate. Also, they may look for demeanor and behavioral cues in addition to documents.

4.) Can I appeal from a denial of a visa?

No, due to a policy of consular non-reviewability, a visa denial cannot be appealed. You may be able to re-apply, but you cannot appeal the consular officer’s decision to deny your application for a visa.

If you have any questions about B1-B2 visitor visas, or the Visa Waiver Program, contact Karin Wolman.