RELIEF Act Introduction Brings Both Senate Immigration Bills To Standstill

The journey of H.R.1044/S.386 through the Senate hit another roadblock as S.2603, the Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act, was brought up for a vote by unanimous consent. At least one senator objected, blocking the unanimous consent fast-track and stalling both bills for the time being. A unanimous consent vote on H.R.1044/S.386 was originally expected to be held on Thursday, October 17th.

The RELIEF Act was introduced to address the massive green card backlog, with the goal of eliminating the backlog over five years. Building on S.744, the 2013 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, the bill would clarify spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents as immediate relatives and exempt “derivative beneficiaries” of employment-based petitions from the annual caps that contribute to the backlog. It would also protect children who qualify based on a parent’s petition from “aging out” while waiting for approval, helping to keep families together.

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

Amended Public Charge Rule Will Not Go Into Effect on October 15th

Earlier this afternoon, a federal judge in New York issued an injunction against the recently amended “public charge” rule. We discussed the amended public charge rule a few weeks ago. People deemed to be a public charge may be prevented from applying for permanent residency. The amended rule altered the definition of “public charge” to include an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period. Additionally, it was broadened to include many common services, such as public housing assistance, food stamps, supplemental income, and certain Medicaid costs.

The temporary injunction issued today will prevent the amended public charge rule from taking effect on Oct. 15.

The rule is being challenged in several federal courts by immigrants’ rights groups and more than a dozen state attorneys general. While the public charge requirement has been a long-standing rule, it has not previously been defined this specifically.

As the rule continues working its way through the court system, we will continue to monitor it and provide updates. But for now, people filing for permanent residency will not be subjected to the newly amended public charge rule.

For more frequent updates, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

UPDATED: Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act Goes Before Senate

UPDATED 9/20/19
H.R.1044/S.386 went before the Senate on Thursday and was blocked by a Senator who expressed unenumerated concerns about how the new rules would impact specific industries. Leading proponents of the bill say they will work to address those concerns and bring it up for a vote again next week. We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.

9/19/19
After passing the House with 365 bipartisan votes, H.R.1044, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act will be brought before the Senate today, September 19, 2019 as S.386. U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Kamala Harris have led negotiations with Senator Rand Paul, who agreed to remove his hold on the bill after reaching a reasonable compromise.

H.R.1044/S.386 would remove the per-country quotas for employment-based immigrant visas, reducing the green card backlog. The per-country quota currently remains at 7% of total annual green cards, meaning Iceland (pop. ~338,000) has the same quota as India (pop. ~1.3 billion). The resultant backlog has resulted in extreme wait times and uncertainty for employers that rely on highly-skilled immigrants. Eliminating the quotas and backlog is intended to ensure that the United States continues to attract top talent from around the world.

The bill is expected to be brought up by Unanimous Consent, expediting the process. We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.

Plan to Terminate H-4 Work Permit Program Delayed, DHS Seeks to Put Lawsuit on Hold

A memo from the U.S. Department of Justice, dated 9/16/19, has indicated that anticipated changes to the visa program which has allowed H-4 visa holder spouses of H-1B workers to obtain Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) will not be issued until the spring of 2020 at the earliest. The plan to eliminate the work authorization for H1-B spouses was formally introduced in February of 2019, with a proposed rule from USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization.” The new regulations, currently under federal review, were initially expected to be published this year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is currently hearing a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the H-4 EAD rule. The suit was filed by anti-immigration group Save Jobs USA, arguing that the DHS had no authority to issue the initial H-4 EAD rule, which was introduced in 2015. DHS lawyers maintain that the suit should be put on hold due to the ongoing efforts by the administration to rescind the program. According to the memo …DHS’s intention to proceed with publication of the H-4 EAD proposed rule remains unchanged. At this point, DHS has informed counsel that it believes the earliest possible publication date for that rule would be in spring 2020. Although that timeframe is aspirational, DHS believes that the September 27, 2019 oral argument should be removed from the calendar and postponed…”

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

 

USCIS Proposes New Rule on H-1B Registration Fee Requirement

On Wednesday September 4, 2019, USCIS published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would require payment of a $10 fee from all petitioners filing a H-1B cap-subject petition. The rule would apply to each registration submitted for the selection process, and is expected to be applicable to 2021 fiscal year cap filings. The 30-day public comment period is now open, with comments due 10/4/19 via mail or the Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov.

The new fee, which was excluded from the original January 2019 final rule that introduced the new online registration requirement, is expected to result in a marginal increase in costs for selected selected petitioners, and a cost savings for both unselected petitioners and the government. This is one in a series of steps toward implementing the new electronic registration system for H-1B filing. Details remain to be released about the new process, which will be in place for the April 2020 H-1B filing season.

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

USCIS and DHS Publish Final Rule on Public Charge Grounds for Inadmissibility

On Wednesday August 14, USCIS and DHS published in the Federal Register the new final rule amending the regulations by which DHS determines admissibility on “public charge” grounds. Specifically, this is a change in the rule and a clarification of the definitions of what constitute a “public charge” and “public charge benefits.” The rule will go into effect at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time on October 15, 2019, and cases filed prior to this date will be adjudicated based on the previous guidelines. The new rule will not affect currently pending cases. If any foreign nationals have received assistance from one of the programs designated below, they should advise our office at the initiation of any nonimmigrant or immigrant process so we can evaluate if the receipt will pose a problem.

The rule defines the term “public charge” to mean an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).

The agency considers the following programs as grounds for inadmissibility:

  • Supplemental security income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • State general relief or general assistance
  • Medicaid programs covering institutionalization for long term care
  • Nonemergency Medicaid
  • Supplemental nutrition and assistance program (SNAP, formerly food stamps)
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based rental assistance
  • Public Housing

The rule will also affect those in nonimmigrant status if they have received any of the aforementioned public benefits above the designated threshold (12 months within any 36-month period). If they do receive such benefits, they will no longer be eligible for an extension or change of state.

The final rule does not include receipt or potential receipt of the following benefit programs as grounds for inadmissibility:

  • Emergency medical assistance
  • Disaster relief
  • National school lunch or school breakfast programs
  • Foster care and adoption
  • Head Start
  • Child Health Insurance Program including Medicaid for Aliens under 21
  • Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit
  • Public benefits received by individuals who are serving in active duty or in the Ready Reserve component of the U.S. armed forces, and their spouses and children
  • Public benefits received by certain international adoptees and children acquiring U.S. citizenship
  • Medicaid for pregnant women
  • Medicaid for school-based services (including services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

Benefits received by the applicant’s U.S. citizen children or other family members are not considered in determining whether the applicant is likely to become a public charge. The final rule also clarifies that DHS will only consider public benefits received directly by the applicant for the applicant’s own benefit, or where the applicant is a listed beneficiary of the public benefit. DHS will not consider public benefits received on behalf of another as a legal guardian or pursuant to a power of attorney for such a person.

USCIS will exercise its discretionary authority, in limited circumstances, to offer an otherwise inadmissible foreign national the opportunity to post a public charge bond. The final rule sets the minimum bond amount at $8,100; the actual bond amount will be dependent on the individual’s circumstances.

If a foreign national has received any of the public benefits listed above, we urge them to contact our office so that we can advise on the potential impact and the best possible course of action.

Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act Passes in the U.S. House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, July 11, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 with a vote of 365 to 65. The Bill was introduced by Representative Zoe Lofgren, Representative Ken Buck and 112 other House sponsors and seeks to eliminate per-country numerical limitations for employment-based immigrants and to increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrants from 7% to 15%.

Currently, the wait for an employment-based green card and a family-based green card for non-immediate family members depends on an individual’s country of birth. This has resulted in significant backlogs for countries with higher numbers of employment-based green card applicants, including India and China, and for countries with higher numbers of family-based green card applicants, including the Philippines and Mexico.

Proponents of the Bill believe that reducing the green card backlog will ensure that the U.S. continues to attract the world’s top talent and will allow close relatives of U.S. citizens from oversubscribed countries to emigrate to the U.S. a lot sooner.

Senator Rand Paul introduced the Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement (BELIEVE) Act on the same day that the House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act. Senator Paul’s proposal will, among other things, eliminate the per-country numerical limitations for employment-based immigrants, increase the number of employment-based green cards available each year, and grant spouses and children of E, H, and L visa holders work authorization. Senator Paul’s Act does not contain any family-based immigration provisions.

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.

USCIS has Updated Policy Manual in Regard to Services Provided to Public

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its policy manual regarding services to the public, including general administration of certain immigration benefits, online tools and providing up-to-date information.

Notable updates include revisions to “case specific information,”  “expedited treatment” and “service request procedures.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has issued a 13-page response to the USCIS policy manual update.

In matters involving “case specific information,” the AILA takes issue with some field offices requiring mobile devices to be shut off. These mobile devices often allow access to case specific information. See excerpt from the AILA regarding this matter below.

“USCIS might consider a general policy requiring that all electronic devices be switched to “silent” or “vibrate” when inside a facility and further establish criteria for permissible use of such devices during interviews and appointments, such as accessing case specific information, conducting case related research, and responding to an urgent or emergency situation.” Sec. h paragraph 3.

USCIS currently has vague guidelines regarding “expedited treatment” matters. Section g. of AILA’s response would like USCIS to provide more specifics on scenarios where expedite requests will be granted. Not only would this provide clarity to applicants, but it would also cut down on requests, which in turn would save USCIS a lot of manpower in sifting through inordinate amounts of non-qualifying expedite requests.

In regard to matters involving “service request procedures,” the AILA document provides requests to improve and expedite services provided by USCIS.

Graham Adair will continue to provide updates if and when additional changes are made.