Trump Immigration Order Significantly Impacts Travel and Visas

On Friday January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order on immigration that will significantly impact some of our current and past clients. This executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” put a 120 day ban on refugee admissions from all countries. More significantly for our clients, this order also suspends the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the U.S. of nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen for 90 days. Furthermore, the order calls for implementing uniform screening procedures, such as in-person interviews, for all visa applicants.

For the time being, this means that any person who is a citizen of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen should refrain from traveling outside of the U.S. There is an extreme likelihood that if you are from one of these countries, and even if you have a green card, valid visa, or advanced parole document, that you will be barred from re-entering the U.S. for 90 days.

This is an extremely disappointing move by the new administration given the many significant and positive contributions that so many of our clients, who will be impacted by this executive order, make to this country and our economy.

This is an extreme measure and the advice against traveling cannot be overstated. If you are currently outside of the U.S. you should contact the attorney overseeing your case or Sam Adair for advice on next steps. Graham Adair is closely monitoring any new developments and will release information as it becomes available. Please check back here for further updates and follow us on twitter @grahamadairlaw for real-time updates as they become available.

DHS Final Rule on Changes to Employment-Based Immigration

The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security has released a final rule amending its regulations related to certain employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs.  The final rule is effective January 17, 2017.  The final rule clarifies and improves many policies and practices.  It seeks to provide greater flexibility for high-skilled workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions (i.e. EB-1, EB-2, EB-3) to seek promotions, accept lateral positions, or change employers.  It also increases certainty for U.S. employers seeking to sponsor and retain immigrant and nonimmigrant workers.

Some important policy clarifications and improvements include:

  • H-1B extensions of stay under AC21. A qualifying labor certification or Form I-140 petition is not required to be filed 365 days before the 6-year limitation is reached in order for the individual to be eligible for an exemption under section 106(a) of AC-21; instead, the labor certification or Form I-140 would need to be filed at least 365 days before the day the exemption would take effect.
  • Per country and worldwide limits. If the Visa Bulletin that was in effect on the date the H-1B  petition is filed shows that the individual was subject to a per country or worldwide visa limitation, DHS may grant 3-year extension (beyond the 6-year limitation), even if the immigrant visa is available when the petition is adjudicated.  In contrast, current regulations only allow an H-1B nonimmigrant to extend status in 3-year increments (beyond the 6-year limitation) if the immigrant visa unavailability exists at the time the petition is adjudicated under section 104(c) of AC21.
  • I140 Revocation. An approved I-140 petition will remain valid if a request to withdraw is received or the petitioner terminates its business 180 days or more after either the date of the petition’s approval or the date of filing of an Adjustment of Status (I-485) application.
  • Automatic EAD Extensions. If the renewal is timely filed, EADs will be automatically extended. Currently, only F-1 students applying for an EAD renewal based on STEM extension benefit from automatic EAD gap-fill work authorization for timely filed extensions.  However, this gap-fill provision will now be extended to other classes of EAD benefits.
  • 10-day nonimmigrant grace period. Nonimmigrants have 10 days at the end of an authorized validity period, to depart the U.S. or take other actions to extend, change, or otherwise maintain lawful status.
  • 60-day nonimmigrant grace period. High-skilled workers in the E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1, or TN classifications, have a 60-day grace period (including those whose employment ceases prior to the end of the petition validity period) to more readily pursue new employment should they be eligible for other employer-sponsored nonimmigrant classifications or employment in the same classification with a new employer.
  • Employment Authorization for Spouses and Children of I-140 Principals. Where a person’s priority date under EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 is not current due to per country immigrant visa limits, spouses and qualifying children may apply for work authorization, so long as they can provide “compelling circumstances.”

As mentioned, these changes are not yet in effect.  We will provide additional guidance as more information on the implementation become available.

Canada Electronic Travel Authorization to be Strictly Enforced by September 29, 2016

In March 2016, the Government of Canada introduced an ETA requirement for U.S. green card holders, as well as nationalities that were formerly visa exempt. U.S. citizens still do not require an ETA to enter Canada.

The Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) Canada has stated that the “leniency period” in which travelers can board their flight without an ETA will end on November 9. However, various reliable sources confirm that the ETA requirement will be strictly enforced by September 29. Hence, we highly recommend that all travelers to Canada check whether they require an ETA or a visa before traveling.

To find whether or not you require an ETA, please go to: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas-all.asp.

Please contact your Graham Adair representative if you have any questions.

New 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Rule

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) final rule regarding STEM optional practical training (OPT) extensions will take effect on May 10, 2016. Most notably, the new rule allows F-1 STEM students to extend the standard 12-month OPT period an additional 24 months, for a total of 3 years. It also allows F-1 STEM students who are currently on an approved 17-month extension to apply for an additional 7 months.

F-1 STEM OPT students who are currently on an approved 17-month extension may apply for an additional 7 months, provided they have at least 150 days remaining when the petition is filed with USCIS. Applications will be accepted from May 10 – August 8 only.

Individuals who receive the 24-month extension would have a total of three years of OPT status. In addition, individuals who earn a second STEM degree at a higher educational level are now eligible for an additional 12-month period of OPT plus another 24-month extension (for a total of 6 years of OPT status). F-1 students currently on a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree are now eligible to use a prior STEM degree as the basis for a 24-month extension—as long as both degrees are from accredited institutions and the OPT employment is directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.

The new regulations carry additional requirements for employers, who must provide compliant training plans and complete regular validation reports. There are also new obligations for OPT extension employees, who must submit annual self-evaluations.
Under the new rule, the DHS may conduct worksite visits. The DHS is required to provide 48 hours’ notice, unless the employer is non-compliant or if the visit is triggered by a complaint. As with the prior rule, employers must be enrolled in E-Verify and comply with reporting requirements.

Please contact us with any questions on how the new STEM OPT rule impacts you or your employees.

Federal Court Vacates OPT 17-Month STEM Extension Rule

Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows certain graduating F-1 students to obtain twelve months of employment in areas related to their academic field of study. The STEM OPT extension allows an F-1 student to extend his or her OPT employment for an additional 17 months if the student’s F-1 program degree was in an appropriate Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) field, and if the student has a job or job offer from an employer registered in the USCIS’s E-verify program.

On August 12, 2015, the US District Court for the District of Columbia held that the Department of Homeland Security’s 2008 interim final rule implementing the 17-month OPT STEM extension was invalid, because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented the rule without proper notice and comment. (Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. DHS). However, the court also found that vacating the rule immediately would cause substantial hardship for both F-1 students on STEM OPT extensions and US employers in the technology sector. Therefore, the court ordered that the 2008 interim final rule not be vacated until February 12, 2016, and that during this time, DHS may choose to submit the rule for proper notice and comment.

Graham Adair will provide updates as they become available. Should you have questions, please contact your assigned attorney or paralegal.

– By Dena Neese

Big Changes in U.S. Immigration

Last night, President Obama announced some significant changes to U.S. immigration policy that will take effect in coming months.  Some of the items announced, such as suspending deportation proceedings for certain groups of people, will go into effect immediately.  Other aspects of the plan will require input from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the State Department, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among others, and will likely require changes to the current regulations.

 

The biggest takeaways, from a business immigration standpoint, from the President’s speech include:

1. ICE will work to “expand and extend the use of optional practical training (OPT) for foreign students.”

2. The USCIS will provide clearer guidance on adjustment of status (I-485) portability so that individuals with pending applications have greater career and job flexibility during the green card process.

3. The USCIS will look to provide EAD work cards and advance parole travel authorization to those who have approved I-140s with retrogressed priority dates.

4. The USCIS will allow H-4 spouses to seek Employment Authorization Documents if the H-1B holder is “on the path to lawful permanent resident status.”

5. The USCIS will issue more clear guidance with respect to what qualifies as “specialized knowledge” in the L-1B context in an effort to improve consistency and reinvigorate employers’ confidence in the visa status.

6. The USCIS and State Department are seeking a method and means to modernize the Visa Bulletin and allocation process to ensure that backlogs are reduced and the process is workable and usable for all intending permanent residents.

7. The USCIS will enhance the National Interest Waiver process to allow greater flexibility in adjudications and permit foreign inventors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises to benefit the U.S economy.

8. The USCIS will create a parole system for “eligible inventors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises who do not yet qualify for a National Interest Waiver, but who: (1) Have been awarded substantial U.S. investor financing; or (2) Otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies or the pursuit of cutting-edge research.”

Graham Adair will monitor the development of these policies and changes in regulation as they work their way through the various government agencies.

How This Immigration Bill Impacts Employers

The highly publicized bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in the Senate has pushed forward to draft an immigration reform bill that many believe will make it through Congress and result in comprehensive immigration reform. Many of the bill’s provisions impact U.S. employers.

H-1B Visa Reform

Currently, there is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas allotted every year. This year, the H-1B cap was exceeded during the first five days of the filing period and resulted in a lottery to select which petitions USCIS will accept. Recognizing the need for more visas, this bill proposes to increase the minimum number of H-1B visas to 110,000, with an allowed increase of 10,000 every year depending on demand from the previous year. The maximum allowable number is 180,000 H-1B visas.

Additionally, the number of exemptions for those with advanced U.S. degrees increases from 20,000 to 25,000. However, the bill limits the exemption to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) occupations.

The bill provides a 60-day grace period for H-1B workers who separate from their sponsoring employer. During this time, they can either depart the United States or find a new employer to sponsor their H-1B. A timely filed petition during the 60-day grace period would keep the H-1B worker in valid status while the case is pending.

The bill would allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. if their home country allows reciprocal employment in similar situations.

However, with some benefits come some costs. As H-1B visas increase, the bill compensates by requiring employers to pay higher wages to H-1B workers based on a new 3-tier wage system to be developed by the Department of Labor. Also, before employers can hire an H-1B applicant, they are required to advertise the position to U.S. workers. Under the bill, the Department of Labor would establish a centralized website where all employers must post H-1B positions for 30 days before hiring an H-1B applicant.

Changes to the Green Card Process

Under this bill, the demand on the limited number of immigrant visas would be greatly alleviated. Cases filed under the EB-1 category would no longer be counted toward the annual limit, nor would cases for those holding doctorate degrees. Cases for dependent spouses and children would also not be counted.

Moreover, the bill establishes a “merit-based points” system that would replace the current Diversity Visa Program. Under Tier 1, beneficiaries can acquire points for factors such as education, length of employment, type of employment, family members in the U.S., and length of residence in the U.S. For the first four fiscal years after the bill’s enactment, merit-based visas will be allocated for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers, who provide non-seasonal and unskilled labor. For the Tier 2 track, employment-based immigrant visas are provided to those with cases pending more than 5 years.

An Increase in Government Oversight

Heightened security is a main focus of this bill. For this reason, the bill envisions 100% employer participation in E-verify by year five of the bill’s enactment.

It is anticipated that the Department of Labor would be more involved in employer enforcement as well. This bill removes the “reasonable cause” requirement and allows the DOL to investigate employers for any reason. The DOL would also conduct annual compliance audits of all employers with over 100 employees if more than 15 percent of them are H-1B workers.

Further, this bill increases fines on employers violating terms of the Labor Condition Application. For mistakes on an LCA, fines would increase from $1,000 to $2,000. For willful LCA violations, fines would increase from $5,000 to $10,000.

Conclusion

The “Gang of 8” bill is currently undergoing mark-up procedures in the Senate. At the same time, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives in seeking to draft its own immigration reform bill. These bills will then proceed to a vote.

Graham Adair continues to monitor developments on comprehensive immigration reform. We will provide updates as they become available.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

USCIS Issues New I-9

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) publishd a revised version of Form I-9.  The new version requires additional information from foreign national employees, including the email address, telephone number, and foreign passport information.

 

The revised form is effective today.  USCIS is providing a 60-day grace period so that employers can update their internal processes. During the grace period, the current version can still be used. After the 60-day grace period, which ends on May 7, 2013, employers must use the new I-9 or be subject to penalties for not using the correct version.

 

Starting today, the new Form I-9 can be downloaded at: www.uscis.gov.

 

If you have any questions about this new process or its impact, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

Updates on Plan to Eliminate the I-94 Card

It was announced in 2012 that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would move to eliminate the issuance of I-94 cards to arriving non-immigrants in the near future.  In 2012, I-94 cards were no longer issued to individuals arriving under the Visa Waiver Program.  However, CBP did not announce when or how it would eliminate I-94 cards for other arriving non-immigrants.  This is obviously a significant move for CBP and has ramifications across several branches the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and many state agencies who issue drivers licenses.

Although there is still no publically available timeline for when changes will happen, these are some of the details of CBP’s plan:

  • I-94 cards will at some point in the near future no longer be issued to passengers arriving at air and seaports with Advanced Passenger Information Systems (APIS) in place;
  • I-94 cards will continue to be issued at land border crossings and seaports not equipped with APIS;
  • In place of the I-94 card, individuals will be given a stamp in their passport that will include a handwritten annotation indicating non-immigrant status and the period of authorized stay in the U.S.; and
  • CBP will record admission to the U.S. in an electronic database; there is some question of whether individuals will be given a receipt confirming their information in the database, and CBP has taken this under consideration.

The eventual elimination of the I-94 card will impact employers when it comes to I-9 verification and participation in E-Verify since a valid passport and I-94 card are currently accepted as evidence of valid work authorization.

The attorneys at Graham Adair will continue to monitor and update our clients as these changes go into effect.  We will work with our clients to make this government process change seamless for our clients.

Employer Alert on Site Visits

Site visits to employers sponsoring H-1B petitions have been increasing recently as USCIS continues to implement changes in response to its H-1B Benefit Fraud Analysis report from September 2008.  As site visits become more common, employers need to become familiar with what to expect and the topics and questions that may be raised by the inspector.

 

The California Service Center (CSC) advised employers that inspections typically check the work location listed on the I-129 petition.  (For employees who work offsite or at multiple locations, an itinerary should be provided in the petition.)  In  ddition to speaking to a company representative – typically the signatory of the  etition – and the beneficiary, the inspector may also ask to review documents related  to the petition and take photos of the worksite.

 

In practice, we have had inspectors:

  • Verify the information submitted with the petition, including supporting documentation submitted by the petitioner, based on a checklist prepared by USCIS;

  • Verify the existence of a petitioning entity;

 

  • Take digital photographs;

 

  • Speak with organizational representatives to confirm the beneficiary’s work location, employment workspace, hours, salary and duties; and

 

  • Speak with employees to confirm job details contained in the I-129 petition.

 

Furthermore, we have had inspectors request general information about other H-1B petitions pending or in process with the employer.  These requests have been made in person, by phone, and by email.

 

Site inspectors will report the results of their site inspections to the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS).  An FDNS Officer will review the information and determine whether an official inquiry should be made.  If so, the FDNS will provide an Immigration Services Officer (ISO) with a Summary of Findings (SOF), which may decide to request additional evidence from the petitioner or initiate denial or revocation proceedings.  When indicators of fraud are identified, the FDNS Officer may refer the case to ICE for criminal investigation.

 

If your company is contacted about a site visit, contact your Graham Adair attorney for guidance.

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