UNITED STATES – Automatic Cap-Gap Solution for F-1 Students

Last year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced an interim rule that generates an automatic extension of status for certain F-1 students with approved H-1B petitions filed under the FY2010 H-1B cap.  This interim rule remains in force for the FY2011 H-1B cap this year.

A gap in status can occur between the time an employer files a petition for an F-1 student to change to H-1B status and the time the H-1B status becomes active on October 1st.  Specifically, in years where all H-1B numbers are exhausted, employers may not file an H-1B petition earlier than April 1st for the following fiscal year, which starts October 1st.  So, for example, if an F-1 student has approved optional practical training (OPT) work authorization that expires on July 1st, and her H-1B status cannot begin until October 1st, there would be a 3-month gap during which she could not work.  (And, incidentally, in this example she would be required to return to her home country until her H-1B status became active, at which time she would need to apply for an H-1B visa stamp at a U.S. consular post before she could re-enter the United States in H-1B status.) 

Once a timely H-1B petition has been filed, the automatic cap-gap extension will be invoked and will continue until the petition is approved.  If the student’s H-1B petition is selected and approved, the student’s extension will continue through September 30th.  If the petition is ultimately denied, withdrawn or revoked, the cap-gap protection is removed.  In that case, the student would have the standard 60-day grace period from the date their OPT ends to depart the United States. 

An F-1 student benefiting from cap-gap provisions will need to get an updated Form I-20 from his designated school official (DSO).  Indeed, a new I-20 will be the only document a student will have to demonstrate continuing OPT work authorization. In some cases, the student’s DSO may need to update the student’s SEVIS record to have the cap-gap extension properly applied.

F-1 students should not depart the United States during cap-gap periods.  The reason for this is that, technically, the EAD card of an F-1 student on OPT will have expired under a cap-gap situation.  Therefore, if the student departs the United States during the cap-gap extension period, she will not be able to return in F-1 status.  Instead, she would have to apply for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consular post abroad and plan to re-enter the United States after her H-1B becomes active on October 1st.

UNITED STATES – USCIS Updates Case Processing Times

The four U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regional offices have issued updated processing times.  The general trend seems to be slightly faster processing times for most employment-based case types.  As the economy has struggled, fewer petitions have been filed.  This has enabled USCIS to move cases faster through the process to final adjudication.  As the economy begins to improve and the volume of employment-based sponsorship increases, USCIS will need to maintain proper staffing levels to avoid having processing times backslide.

California Service Center

From an employment-based immigration perspective, the California Service Center (CSC) primarily processes non-immigrant petitions.  CSC processes cases filed for individuals whose worksites are in one of the following states: AK, AZ, CA, CO, GU, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, OR, SD, UT, WA, WI, and WY.

The processing time for most I-129s is 2 months.  This includes petitions for initial H-1B status, H-1B extensions, TN status, O-1 status, and H-3 status.  Petitions for L-1 individuals, H-2As, and H-2Bs are down to 1 month.

Interestingly, most applications for dependent spouses and children are at 2.5 months.  Applications for employment authorization for L-2 dependent spouses currently have a processing time of 3 months.

Vermont Service Center

Under the bi-specialization initiative, the Vermont Service Center (VSC) is the other regional processing center that focuses on petitions for non-immigrant employment-based immigration benefits.  VSC processes cases filed for individuals whose worksites are in one of the following states: AL, AR, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MS, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OK, PA, PR, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, VI, and WV.

For employment-based cases, VSC’s processing times mirror CSC’s processing times.  Most I-129 petitions have a processing time of 2 months, with the exception of L-1 individuals, H-2As, and H-2Bs.  Again, applications for dependents are at 2.5 months, and applications for L-2 dependent spouse work authorization are 3 months.

Nebraska Service Center

For employment-based immigration cases, the Nebraska Service Center (NSC) processes I-140 petitions for immigrant workers and I-485 green card applications, as well as derivative work and travel authorization benefits (EAD work document and advance parole travel authorization).  NSC processes cases filed for individuals whose worksites are in one of the following states: AK, AZ, CA, CO, GU, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, OR, SD, UT, WA, WI, and WY.

I-140 petitions now have a processing time of 4 months.  This includes petitions sponsoring Outstanding Researchers or Professors, or those with Extraordinary Ability.  I-485 applications for adjustment of status are down to less than 10 months. 

The processing times of applications for EAD work authorization and advance parole (AP) travel authorization remains at a troubling 3 months.  The concern here is for those who filed I-485 applications in the summer of 2007 when all priority dates became current, and whose priority dates then retrogressed.  Applications to extend EAD and AP can only be filed 4 months in advance.  With a processing time of 3 months, any delay in filing could result in a gap of work and travel authorization.

Texas Service Center

Under the bi-specialization initiative, the Texas Service Center (TSC) is the other regional processing center that focuses on I-140 petitions for immigrant workers and I-485 green card applications, as well as derivative work and travel authorization benefits (EAD work document and advance parole travel authorization).  TSC processes cases filed for individuals whose worksites/residences are in one of the following states: AL, AR, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MS, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OK, PA, PR, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, VI, and WV.

The processing times at TSC are the same as those listed above for NSC, except that I-485 applications for adjustment of status are taking just over 6 months.  This is a surprisingly fast processing time for this type of case.  Several months ago, many I-485 applications for adjustment of status were taking close to a year.  Please note that the processing time for an I-485 only applies to applicants whose priority dates are current.

To view the processing time of other case types not discussed here, please visit: https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplay.do;jsessionid=cab8BH8TCZBdC_JKj6Ils.  Select the desired regional processing center in the pull-down menu at the bottom of the page.

UNITED STATES – April 9, 2010 – H-1B Cap Remains Open

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has just announced that it has received 13,500 H-1B petitions under the regular H-1B cap of 65,000, and that 5,600 have been counted toward the 20,000 set aside for those with advanced U.S. degrees.  This means that USCIS continues to accept applications for initial H-1B status a week after the H-1B filing season opened up on April 1st.  This seems to be a reflection of the economy as it struggles to get back on track. 

Last year’s H-1B cap for FY2010 experienced a curious phenomenon wherein the 20,000 H-1B numbers set aside for those with advanced U.S. degrees were nearly used up within the first few days, but the 65,000 general H-1B numbers were available into December.  This was intriguing because of the inversion of the regular and advanced U.S. degree caps.  Ever since the 20,000 set aside came into existence, it has always taken longer to deplete than the 65,000 regular H-1B numbers.  This reflected a surplus of highly educated foreign graduates from U.S. universities who were hired in lieu of their bachelor’s or foreign degree counterparts.  Demand for H-1B numbers was certainly down last year overall, but the talent pool was larger and those with higher level degrees were still being pursued.

The lower demand of FY2010’s H-1B cap was in stark contrast to the FY2009 H-1B cap when 133,000 H-1B petitions were received within the first two days of filing.  Again, the usage of H-1B numbers appears to be in direct correlation with the health of the economy.

In light of the announcement today, H-1B petitions will continue to be accepted by USCIS.  If the 20,000 set aside for those with advanced U.S. degrees is exhausted first, H-1B numbers for these applicants will be taken from the regular cap of 65,000.  On the day USCIS determines that sufficient petitions have been received to meet the annual limit, a random selection lottery will be conducted for all cases received on that day. Cases not selected in the lottery will be rejected.

DHS Getting More Customer Service Oriented With E-Verify

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced an initiative to enhance customer service in three areas:

1. Telephone hotline;
2. Training videos; and
3. Streamlined adjudication of discrimination complaints for misuse of E-Verify.

Telephone Hotline

On April 5, 2010, a new hotline (888-897-7781) will open for general inquiries, issues and complaints. It will be an automated phone line that will eventually take the caller to a live representative in one of four areas:

1. General E-Verify information;
2. Completing Form I-9;
3. Contesting an E-Verify case; and
4. Filing a complaint regarding possible discrimination or misuse of E-Verify.

The hotline presents a nice first option for those seeking general information or redress for issues raised during the E-Verify process. However, with more than 192,000 participating employers at more than 705,000 worksites nationwide currently use E-Verify, it remains to be seen whether the hotline will be properly staffed. If it is understaffed, long waits could dilute the utility of the hotline.

Training Videos

Training videos have been created by the DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Each video is set up as re-enactments of real-world hiring scenarios in which the employees’ rights are considered to avoid potential discrimination or misuse of the E-Verify process. For now, there are two videos available. Each video is approximately 20 minutes long and is available for immediate viewing online at: www.dhs.gov/e-verify or
www.youtube.com/ushomelandsecurity. The videos are intended to help employers understand their responsibilities under E-Verify and to inform employees of their rights.

Streamlined Adjudication of Discrimination and Misuse Complaints

The Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has begun a two-way referral program with USCIS on claims of E-Verify misuse. When USCIS receives complains of potential discrimination, it will refer them to OSC. And when OSC learns of potential employer misuse of E-Verify that does not fall within its enforcement area, it will refer the complaint to USCIS. This streamlined process is intended to move complaints more quickly to a final determination and, if required, an investigation. OSC may initiate investigations of: (1) discrimination based on citizenship, immigration status, or national origin; (2) document abuse as part of the I-9 process; and (3) retaliation.

Ninth Circuit Court Rules Against USCIS’s Arbitrary RFE Thresholds

Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) in a case brought by the American Immigration Council challenging certain thresholds adopted in an EB-1 Extraordinary Ability immigrant petition case (Kazarian).  USCIS issued a request for evidence (“RFE”) and later denied the case.  In citing the basis for denial, USCIS stated that the petitioner had not sufficiently established that the beneficiary’s publications had received acclaim from the research community.  This standard is not required under the law.

The Ninth Circuit Court held that USCIS may not implement substantive or evidentiary requirements above what is established in the regulations.

The immigration community has seen an increase in requests for evidence over the past couple of years, including numerous instances in which novel and arbitrary standards have been listed in RFEs.  Perhaps this decision will send a message and reduce the incidence of such burdensome RFEs.  Although most cases are ultimately approved, it can create a significant hardship on petitioners/applicants and immigration practitioners to respond to requests that go beyond what is required under the law.

USCIS Updates Power of Attorney Signature Policy

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had previously issued a signature policy memorandum that would require signatures by an authorized company representative on all forms and letters for cases filed by the company.  This would remove a company’s ability to have forms and letters signed by outside counsel pursuant to a power of attorney letter.

For now, companies can continue to have forms and letters signed by authorized outside counsel, as USCIS has temporarily withdrawn its recent policy memorandum that would have required that signatures come from company representatives.  However, USCIS is expected to reissue a revised memorandum with future implementation date in the near future.

USCIS Confirms H-1B Numbers for FY2010 Have Been Exhausted

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued confirmation that the FY2010 H-1B cap was reached as of December 21, 2009.  This means that a sufficient number of cap-subject H-1B petitions have been filed with USCIS to meet the statutory limitation of 65,000.  Any petitions received on December 21st will be subjected to a computer-generated random lottery process.  Any cases received after December 21st will be rejected.

With the surge of H-1B filings in October, the advanced U.S. degree cap of 20,000 had already been used up.  This is a reversal of the normal trend wherein the regular H-1B cap of 65,000 is nearly always exhausted before the advance U.S. degree set aside.

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