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.