Suspension of Non-Immigrant Visas for U.S. Citizens to Turkey

The United States and Turkey have both suspended all non-immigrant visas effective immediately on October 8, 2017. The indefinite suspension prevents Turks from traveling to the US, and vice versa, on non-immigrant visas, which include tourist, business, student, and official/diplomatic visas. This applies to all sticker visas, electronic visas, and border visas.

The suspensions were prompted by the recent arrest in Istanbul of a U.S. consulate employee, who is a Turkish national. The arrest was made in connection with the employee’s alleged ties to cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been in exile from Turkey and living in the U.S. since 1999. The Turkish president has blamed Gulen for last year’s military coup attempt in the country, and has pushed for the US to extradite him.

Please reach out to the attorney overseeing your case or Sam Adair for advice on next steps, and follow us on Twitter for real-time updates as they become available.

USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for Some Categories of Applicants Seeking H-1B Visas

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has resumed premium processing of all H-1B visa petitions that fall under the Fiscal Year 2018 cap. Set at 65,000 visas, the 2018 cap was reached in April. Premium processing was also resumed for the 20,000 petitions annually set aside for workers with a master’s degree or higher educational degree from the United States.  If your H-1B petition was filed under the FY2018 cap and has not yet been adjudicated it is now eligible for premium processing.  

Additionally, USCIS had previously resumed premium processing for H-1B petitions filed on behalf of physicians under the Conrad 30 waiver program, H-1B cap exempt employers and for interested government agency waivers. Processing for all other H-1B petitions remains temporarily suspended; however, USCIS indicates that premium processing for other H-1B applications will resume in the near future.  

Please reach out to the attorney overseeing your case or Sam Adair for advice on next steps, check our website for further updates, and follow us on Twitter for real-time updates as they become available.

Trump Rescinding DACA

It was announced on September 5, 2017 that the executive order on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would be rescinded by the Trump Administration on March 5, 2018. This summary is provided to employers who may have employees currently working on Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) that were issued pursuant to DACA. This summary only addresses issues relating to employees who currently hold work authorization pursuant to DACA and not to any new potential applicants for DACA.

First, the rescission of DACA will go into effect on March 5, 2018. The USCIS will continue to accept DACA EAD extension requests until October 5, 2017. Any currently valid EAD cards will continue to be valid through their current expiration dates. Any applications that are filed and received by October 5, 2017 for extensions of previously approved DACA EADs should be granted for an additional two years. These applications for extensions can be filed 180 days prior to the expiration date on the current document.

We recommend that no one who has been granted DACA travel outside of the U.S. even if they are in possession of a valid Advanced Parole document that was previously issued. All pending Advanced Parole travel document applications will be administratively closed and refunded. The administration seems to be signaling that travel is not advisable and since we cannot control the risk here, we are advising against any international travel.

We recommend that you attempt to identify any employees currently working pursuant to DACA, and that they be informed that they can speak to one of the attorneys at Graham Adair about their status in order to determine what steps, if any, can be taken to protect their status going forward. This should happen as soon as possible to ensure that all eligible extensions are filed by October 5, 2017.

While this does give Congress some time to act and to legislatively protect the work authorization and status of these individuals, it is not a significant amount of time and therefore any employees currently working pursuant to DACA may be forced off of payroll when their EAD cards expire. We recommend that companies confirm that their I-9 re-verification processes are active and in place to catch any potential issues with expiring work authorization cards.

New In-Person Interview Mandate for Green Card Applicants

The USCIS announced that certain applicants for green cards will now be required to partake in an in-person interview. This new mandate will apply to anyone moving from an employment-based visa to permanent residency. Visa holders who are family members of refugees or people who receive asylum will also be subject to an in-person interview when they apply for provisional status, which must be met before a green card is distributed. This change is expected to significantly slow down the process of obtaining a green card. 

Further details about this new mandate have yet to be announced, but Graham Adair is closely monitoring any new developments, and we will release information as it becomes available. Please reach out to the attorney overseeing your case or Sam Adair for advice on next steps, and follow us on Twitter 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.

USCIS Fee Increase Chart

During a stakeholder meeting, USCIS clarified that it conducts a fee review every two years to make sure that the fee structure captures the costs of services.  This 21% weighted average fee increase is the first in 6 years.

Applications using old fees that are postmarked before December 23 but received after this date will be accepted.  However, applications postmarked on or after December 23 must include the new fees or they will be rejected.

These are the filing fee increases for the most common employment-based petitions:

 

Form Old ($) New ($)
I-129 (H-1B, L-1, O-1, etc.) 325 460
I-539 (H-4, L-2, O-3, etc.) 290 370
I-140 (immigrant petition) 580 700
I-485 Adjustment of Status 985 + 85 (bio fee) 1140 + 85 (bio fee)
I-485 (child) 635 750
I-131 (adv parole, reentry prmt) 360 575
I-765 (EAD work authorization) 380 410
N-400 (citizenship) 595 + 85 (bio fee) 640 + 85 (bio fee)
Premium Processing Fee 1225 1225

 

Premium processing for I-485 (Adjustment of Status) applications will still not be available after the fee increase. For questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair attorney.

 

 

DHS Proposes Increase in Filing Fees

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to increase USCIS filing fees, as current fee levels are expected to produce an annual shortfall of $560 million. This is because the anticipated nearly $2.5 billion in revenue from current filing fees will not meet the projected budget of over $3 billion.

These proposed increases, however, are not final and will not take effect immediately: First, there will be a period reserved for public comment, after which USCIS will release a final rule outlining the fee increases.

Below are some of the proposed changes:

• Increase from $325 to $460 for Form I-129, which is used for H-1B, L-1, TN, and O-1, among other nonimmigrant worker categories.
• Increase from $580 to $700 for Form I-140 for those seeking permanent residence based on employment.
• Increase from $985 to $1140 for Form I-485, application for adjustment of status (green card).
• A new fee of $3,035 for the Employment Based Immigrant Visa, Fifth Preference (EB-5) Form I-924.

Premium Processing fees, however, will remain unchanged.

The recent increase in fees for certain H-1B and L-1 Visa Petitioners, signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 18, 2015, will remain in effect and unchanged. Specifically, petitioners employing 50 or more employees in the United States, with more than 50% of those employees in H-1B or L-1 status will need to pay an additional fee of $4,000 for H-1B and $4,500 for L-1 petitions if they are filing:

• Initially to gain status; or
• To change employers while remaining in the same status.

We will continue to monitor developments on these changes and will publish a news alert when the final rules are published.

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.

Annual H-1B Cap – 236,000 Received

Today U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has received enough H-1B petitions to meet the annual cap of 65,000, along with the additional 20,000 H-1B petitions reserved for the advanced U.S. degree cap.

For the filing period beginning April 1, 2016, USCIS received over 236,000 H-1B petitions, including those filed for the master’s cap. USCIS is using a computer-generated lottery process to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and the 20,000 cap under the master’s cap exemption. They will reject and return all unselected petitions with their filing fees. We expect that this process will take several months.

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

USCIS will begin premium processing for H-1B cap cases no later than May 16, 2016. Receipt notices for premium processing cases have already begun to be issued.

Petitions that are exempt from the cap will still be accepted and processed. This includes H-1B extensions and amendments, as well as petitions for change of employer.

We will stay apprised of developments related to the annual H-1B cap and will issue updates as they become available. Please contact Graham Adair with any questions.

DHS Proposes New STEM OPT Extension Rule

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to publish new proposed STEM OPT regulations on October 19, 2015. There would then be a 30-day comment period after which the comments would be reviewed and a final rule will be published in the Federal Register. The proposed regulations will allow for a 24-month extension of OPT status for F-1 students who have a designated STEM degree. This 24-month STEM OPT extension will replace the previous 17-month extension that was available until the regulations allowing the extensions were vacated by a Federal Court in August of this year. The proposed rule would also include the previous H-1B Cap Gap provisions that would allow individuals in the U.S. in F-1 OPT status to remain work authorized when their OPT status expires and they have a pending or approved H-1B application that will become effective on October 1st of the same year, so long as their H-1B application was filed and pending at the time their OPT status expires.

The new regulations should go into effect before the current STEM OPT extension regulations are set to be revoked in February 2016.

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