Does Your Company Have a Solid Business Immigration Strategy
Categories Compliance News & Updates

Does Your Company Have a Solid Business Immigration Strategy?

Occasionally bringing in one or two immigrant workers on an H-1B visa doesn’t have to be a big deal. With the help of skilled immigration attorneys, it’s not. But a company bringing in hundreds of workers and spending millions of dollars on immigration is in an entirely different situation. That level of immigration calls for a solid business immigration strategy.

Does your company have such a strategy in place? If not, do your executive management and HR teams continually struggle with business immigration requirements? It might be time to begin working with an immigration specialist to put together a solid strategy that includes regular reviews of company immigration policies. 

What Constitutes a Solid Strategy

A solid business immigration strategy is more than just a plan for filing visa applications. Employment and business visas are actually just a small part of a much larger equation. Never forget that immigration law is complex. It also changes frequently. Companies looking to bring immigrant workers into this country must consider cost, timing, employee needs, company needs, and legal compliance.

A solid strategy includes:

  • An understanding of all applicable visas.
  • A process for creating and managing records.
  • Procedures for tracking employment authorization.
  • Procedures for verifying compliance.
  • Policies defining conditions for employment.
  • Processes for assisting immigrant workers with paperwork.

A solid business immigration strategy also includes a working relationship with business immigration attorneys. Doing business immigration right often requires legal assistance. Whether that means hiring staff attorneys or collaborating with a firm like Graham Adair, legal assistance should be sacrosanct. 

How to Establish a Business Immigration Strategy

A company’s business immigration strategy can be as complicated as U.S. immigration law itself. Establishing a strategy is a matter following a multi-step process. Here are the steps:

1. Assess Immigration Needs

The first step is to assess the company’s immigration needs. What are the workforce gaps management intends to fill with immigrant workers? What types of positions would benefit more from immigration than internal recruitment? Above and beyond immediate issues, it’s important to assess the company’s future plans and their impact on employment and recruiting.

2. Assess Visa Needs

Next up is assessing a company’s visa needs. There are multiple types of employment visas with dozens of options combined. Work visas are issued based on skill sets, experience, job type, and so forth. Simply put, only specific visas apply in most situations. Companies need to know what types of visas their immigrant workers will need to obtain.

3. Create Written Policies

The third step, creating written policies, is the most comprehensive and time-consuming step. A full range of policies covering everything from hiring procedures to how relocation is managed are necessary. We recommend having policies reviewed by either a skilled immigration attorney or an experienced immigration consultant.

4. Create Internal Systems and Processes

Following the creation of written policies, management and HR need to create the internal systems and processes necessary to implement those policies. Additional systems and procedures are necessary to ensure ongoing compliance. Note that a company’s business immigration strategy is only as strong as its internal systems and procedures.

5. Analysis and Reporting

The final step is creating and implementing a means of analysis and reporting. Policies, systems, and procedures should be monitored and tracked with consistency. Generating regular reports keeps management in the loop. Report data can also assist immigration attorneys tasked with maintaining compliance.

If your company is heavily involved in business immigration, a solid business immigration strategy is a must. Likewise for having a working relationship with business immigration attorneys. Graham Adair attorneys know immigration law inside and out. We would be honored to be your company’s immigration law firm.

Categories Compliance News & Updates USCIS

Biometrics Fees For Dependents No Longer Required

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced that it is exempting the biometric services fee for Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

Beginning October 1, 2023, USCIS is exempting the $85 biometric services fee as part of the application process for Form I-539, which includes those apply for H-4 and L-2 status, among others. Applicants should not pay the biometrics fee if the application is postmarked on or after October 1st.

For those who file prior to October 1st, the biometrics fee will still be required and an ASC appointment will be scheduled. For cases filed after October 1st, USCIS may still determine  that biometrics are required, in which case the applicant will receive a notice with information about appearing for their biometric services appointment.

Overall, this is great news not only in terms of lower cost, but also for streamlining the approval process.

Please contact us with any questions at info@grahamadair.com.

Categories Compliance News & Updates USCIS

I-9 Update: examination of documents virtually

Earlier this week we received great news on the virtual examination of documents for I-9 purposes. The USCIS just announced that they will be publishing a revised form I-9 and accompanying regulations that will allow employers to establish procedures to examine documents remotely on a permanent basis and would exempt qualified employers from the physical reexamination for those previously completed I-9s.

 

For an employer to be eligible for this, the employer must:

 

  • Be enrolled in E-Verify and in good standing;
  • Complete the E-Verify tutorial that includes fraud awareness and antidiscrimination training (this should be done by all the employer’s users of E-Verify);
  • Offer the procedure to all employees in the site where it implements the procedure, except that an employer may choose to limit this to employees who work exclusively remotely or on a hybrid schedule;
  • Examine copies (front and back, if the document is two-sided) of the documents or an acceptable receipt to ensure that the documentation presented reasonably appears to be genuine;
  • Conduct a live video interaction with the individual presenting the document(s) to ensure that the documentation reasonably appears to be genuine and related to the individual. The employee must first transmit a copy of the document(s) to the employer (per the step above) and then present the same document(s) during the live video interaction;
  • Indicate on the Form I-9, by completing the corresponding box, that an alternative procedure was used to examine documentation to complete Section 2 or for reverification, as applicable;
  • Retain clear and legible copy of the documentation (front and back if the documentation is two-sided);

 

This new procedure takes effect on August 1, however employers who are eligible for the new procedure may use this procedure in relation to those I-9s that were completed based on COVID-19 flexibilities. To take advantage of this new procedure in relation to the I-9s completed during the previous period, employers must:

 

  • Have been enrolled in E-Verify at the time they performed a remote examination of an employee’s Form I-9 documentation for Section 2 or reverification while using the COVID-19 flexibilities;
  • Created an E-Verify case for that employee (except for reverification); and
  • Performed the remote inspection between March 20, 2020 and July 31, 2023, can use the alternative procedure to satisfy the required physical examination of the employee’s  documents for that Form I-9. Such employers should not create a new case in E-Verify. All employers that use the alternative procedure instead of physical examination as described above must follow the steps of the alternative procedure and add “alternative procedure” with the date of examination (i.e., the date the employer performed a live video interaction as required under the alternative procedure) to the Section 2 Additional Information field on the Form I-9 or in Section 3, as appropriate.

 

We are pleased to see these changes from USCIS, which more closely mirror the realities of a post-pandemic workplace. Please contact us with any questions at info@grahamadair.com.

Temporary Work Visas
Categories Compliance News & Updates

How Layoffs Can Affect Workers with Temporary Work Visas

While Graham Adair immigration attorneys frequently work with employers looking to bring foreign-born workers to San Jose, Austin, and Lehi, we also work with companies based throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Unfortunately, the economic slowdown we have been experiencing in the U.S. is happening in many major countries around the world, which has resulted in an increase in layoffs affecting employees across the spectrum, including foreign nationals. These days, we are seeing more of those clients due to Q4 2022 layoffs.

Certain industries – primarily big tech – have been hit unusually hard by layoffs over the last two quarters. This is especially troubling for those of us who practice immigration law for the simple fact that tech companies make significant use of foreign labor. When times are good, they regularly utilize L-1 and H-1B visas to help foreign nationals move here to work.

When times are not so good, foreign national employees are impacted by layoffs along with the general workforce. Those affected by layoffs often do not understand their options. If they fail to act quickly, they could face the prospect of having to depart the U.S.

H-1B Employer Responsibilities

The rules regulating H-1B visas force employers to take some responsibility for laid-off workers who now need to leave the country. For example, employers who voluntarily terminate employment must pay to get foreign workers back home. But paying for airfare doesn’t cover the cost of shipping possessions, paying for other family members, and other related expenses.

Affected workers can be stuck with a significant financial burden as a result of being laid off. Making matters worse are layoffs that happen suddenly and without warning. Informing workers that layoffs are coming in just a few short weeks doesn’t give them much time to come up with contingency plans.

Having little time to prepare can be especially difficult for workers here on L-1 visas. The L-1 visa is governed by separate rules. For starters, a visa holder’s employer bears no responsibility for getting them back home. As such, the entire cost of travel and shipping falls on the worker.

What Laid-Off Workers Can Do

U.S. immigration law does not leave laid-off workers without options. The options are few and time constraints are looming, but laid-off workers can immediately start taking actions to keep themselves in this country. One of the first things we recommend they do is start looking for new jobs with employers willing to sponsor them.

Finding a new employer can keep the worker in the country. There is paperwork involved in order to transfer sponsorship from one employer to another, as well as some compliance issues to iron out. But with the help of an experienced immigration attorney, that delicate process can be navigated successfully.

For workers in L-1 status, it is unlikely they would be able to transfer their L-1 visa to another employer. If finding another job is not possible, laid-off workers could consider the H-1B visa or a self-employment option. There are a number of additional visa options that may require the individual to adjust the primary purpose of their status, which is not always desired. However, these options would enable a foreign national worker to stay in the U.S. while figuring out a more suitable arrangement. 

An increasing number of people have been looking at starting their own business venture. The advantage to a foreign national of starting their own business is that the company can be their sponsor going forward. Of course, there is the challenge of launching a viable startup and nurturing it to become a profitable venture.

Seek Expert Legal Advice

As a foreign national, finding yourself in the position of being laid off can be scary, at minimum. It can mean the end of a dream to live and work in the U.S. long enough to get a green card and eventually apply for citizenship. But do not assume that being laid off means it’s all over. There are often several options available.

We would recommend seeking out expert legal advice from an attorney that specializes in immigration law. An immigration attorney is the most capable person to advise on the best course of action. Above all, don’t give up hope. There are ways to lessen the blow and continue pursuing career aspirations. 

 

Categories Compliance Department of Labor Department of State News & Updates USCIS

2022 Immigration Summary and a Look Ahead to 2023

As our planet emerged from the worst ravishes of the COVID-19 pandemic, we experienced a number of factors that impacted U.S. immigration. This article reviews some of the issues we saw in 2022 and how they impacted immigration in the United States. We also explore the possibilities for 2023, whether the economy continues to struggle or we see a nice economic rebound.

 

Easing of COVID Travel Restrictions

 

The COVID-19 pandemic posed a grave threat to the health, safety and security of citizens of every country and, as a biproduct, brought the international travel industry to a near standstill. Thankfully, as we approach the end of 2022, recovery of the global travel industry is well underway and restrictions on international travel are easing. Given this exciting news and the time of year, we are providing an update on the current status of U.S. travel restrictions for the holiday season.

 

One of the most important issues we experienced related to international travel has been the ability to secure visa appointments at U.S. consular posts around the world. Some countries, India in particular, have experienced significant backlogs. As a result, it has been important to understand how to navigate the process of requesting expedited visa appointments. Proving the need for emergency travel has become critical for international travelers coming to the United States for business travel or work purposes. The process varies from post to post, but the threshold for making successful arguments has emerged and we have had significant success helping clients make these expedited appointments.

 

To combat the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the U.S. labor market throughout the pandemic, the United States government enacted several measures to limit the entry of non-U.S. citizens to the United States. These measures included, but were not limited to, requiring all non-U.S. citizens traveling to the United States by air to show results of a negative COVID-19 test to board flights bound for a U.S. port of entry. Additionally, all travelers enroute to the United States by land or air, were required to provide evidence of their full vaccination status to gain admission to the United States. Moreover, all travelers were required to adhere to a strict mask mandate while on aircrafts traveling to the United States and in major travel hubs, such as airports and train stations, within the United States.

 

With case numbers continuing to diminish, these restrictions have eased. All non-U.S. citizens traveling to the United States by air are still required to show proof of full vaccination status to gain U.S. entry. However, as of June 2022 international travelers are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 test result to board a flight to the United States. Additionally, the federal mask mandate requiring masks on public transportation, conveyances, and at transportation hubs is no longer in effect. Individual airlines and airports may still require travelers to wear a mask, but the mandate is no longer being federally enforced. Please note that the CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.

 

H-1B Cap

 

The H-1B program allows U.S. companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in professional occupations typically requiring a minimum of bachelor’s degree or higher, or its equivalent. Congress has a mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B visas (commonly known as the “regular cap”) and an additional 20,000 H-1B visas for beneficiaries who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher (commonly known as the “advanced degree cap”). For nearly a decade, USCIS has received more H-1B petitions than it can accept for processing, which results in the use of a computer-generated random selection process (the “H-1B Lottery”). Each year, foreign nationals applying for an H-1B visa take their chances with the H1B lottery. Foreign nationals selected in the lottery are notified and invited to submit their full H-1B petition within the specified deadline, which is typically 90 days from the notification date. If 85,000 H-1B petitions are not properly filed by the specified deadline, a second or even potentially a third lottery is held.

 

However, on August 23rd of this year, USCIS announced that it had received a sufficient number of petitions needed to reach the congressionally mandated 65,000 H-1B visa regular cap and the 20,000 H-1B visa master’s cap, for fiscal year (FY) 2023. 127,600 H-1B registrations were selected in the first lottery and, of that group, USCIS received at least 85,000 H-1B petitions that were filed properly. This meant that, unlike for the 2022 cap, USCIS would not run a subsequent lottery for additional applicants. Thus, unsuccessful H-1B applicants must now consider other visa avenues or wait until the next year before re-applying for an H-1B visa.

 

In 2020, USCIS implemented an electronic registration process for the H-1B cap. Prospective petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions, including for beneficiaries eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must first electronically register via this system and pay the associated USD $10 registration fee for each prospective beneficiary. March 1, 2023 marks the first day that USCIS will begin accepting H-1B registrations for the fiscal year 2024, which will start on October 1, 2023. It is expected that the registration period will be open from March 1 – March 18, 2023. Given the tight time frame for registration, employers should begin identifying their H-1B needs, considering potential applicants, and discussing their strategy with their Graham Adair attorney today.

Companies should also consider strategies for those not selected in the H-1B lottery. For those from certain countries, there are other work visa options such as E-3, H-1B1 and TN. There are also visas based on investment, intracompany transfers, international student status, and cultural exchange programs.

 

Long Processing Times of PERM Applications

The Green Card process is threefold, comprising of the PERM process, which is a test of the labor market; the I-140 petition for immigrant worker, and finally the I-485, Adjustment of Status, which is the application for the actual green card.

 

Historically, the PERM process has been relatively fast in terms of government turnaround times. Unfortunately, since the pandemic began processing times have been increasingly longer every month. As of October 2022, the average processing time for all PERM applications is 249 days. This time does not include the time taken if there is a PERM Audit. If there is an Audit, the average processing time will extend by an additional 119 days on average. Currently, the DOL is processing PERM applications submitted in February 2022.

 

STEP 1- PERM PROCESS AND STEP-BY-STEP PROCESSING TIMELINE:

 

The total processing time for PERM varies based on the time taken for each step in the process.

 

  1. Prevailing Wage Request: The first step in the PERM process is to obtain a prevailing wage determination from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). All prevailing wage requests are submitted directly to the DOL using form ETA 9141. The PERM prevailing wage is the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment. This means that DOL will take several factors into account when determining the prevailing wage for your position. The average current processing time for this step is approximately 7-8 months. Currently, DOL is processing requests submitted in April 2022

 

  1. Recruitment Process: In this step, the employer must prove that there are no qualified U.S. workers for the position and that the foreign national is indeed the best candidate for the position. The job posting will run for 30 days after which the employer has to wait an additional 30 days. The additional 30 days are for resume screening and for interviewing. So, the minimum time for recruitment is 60 days. If there are minimally qualified U.S. workers who would accept the position if it were offered to them, the PERM process cannot be continued. However, a new PERM process can be completely restarted after a six-month waiting period.

 

  1. ETA-9089 Application: This is the application form submitted to the DOL by the employer to obtain the permanent labor certification also known as the PERM certification. This essentially concludes the PERM Certification Phase of the process. As mentioned above, the PERM certification is currently taking up to 1 year approximately without an audit and longer than a year if an audit is issued. We need the labor certification to be able to proceed with the next step.

 

The DOL provides frequent updates about current processing times, and this can be found here https://flag.dol.gov/processingtimes.

 

STEP 2- I-140 APPLICATION

 

The I-140 petition is filed with USCIS by an employer for a noncitizen worker to become a permanent resident in the United States. The processing time for I-140 petition is approximately 4-6 months under regular processing. There is a premium processing option for I-140 petitions that allows a decision within 15 days. When your priority date becomes current, we can file the Adjustment of Status application. Where priority date is current at the time of filing the I-140, we can concurrently file I-485, AOS with the I-140.

 

STEP 3- ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS (I-485) APPLICATION

 

This is the last step in the extremely long green card process. AOS is the application that you can submit to apply for lawful permanent resident status (also known as applying for a Green Card) when you are present in the United States. This allows you to get a Green Card without having to return to your home country to complete visa processing. The processing time is at least a year as long as priority date remains current.

 

Employers may need to recalibrate company policy to ensure they start employees’ PERM processes early due to the long wait times. If a PERM process is started too late, an H-1B employee might not be far enough down the road to extend beyond the 6-year limit for H-1Bs.  It is important to consult and strategize ahead of time to avoid unnecessary delays.

 

The Effect of Relocation

 

In 2020, we saw an influx of employees transition to a fully remote or partially remote work model as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, we saw that employers continued to allow their employees to work from home for at least part of the work week, with some employers continuing to allow full remote work. The rise of remote work has raised many questions relating to foreign national workers in the U.S.

 

Non-immigrant Visas

 

The H-1B visa is the most restrictive on worksite location and changes in worksite due to the Labor Condition Application (LCA) requirements. An LCA must be filed and certified by the Department of Labor (DOL) prior to the filing of an H-1B, H-1B1 or E-3 petition. Prior to the submission of the LCA to the DOL, the LCA must be posted at the employee’s work location/s to put workers on notice that the LCA is being filed. Unlike the H-1B, there is no specific guidance for worksite changes for E-3 and H-1B1 workers. However, we still recommend following the same protocols mentioned below for E-3 and H-1B1 workers.

 

Employers are required to file H-1B amendments when there are “material changes” to the work conditions of an employee in H-1B status, such as relocation outside the area of intended employment. The regulations define the area of intended employment as “the area within normal commuting distance of the place (address) of employment where the H-1B nonimmigrant is or will be employed.”[1] Additionally, if an LCA is filed within a Metropolitan Statistical Area, there is clearer guidance. Specifically, “[i]f the place of employment is within a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or a Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA), any place within the MSA or PMSA is deemed to be within normal commuting distance of the place of employment . . .”[2] This means that if an H-1B employee transitions from working fully in office to working from home within the same MSA, an H-1B amendment is not required. However, LCA notices must be posted at the new worksite (home address) in two conspicuous locations (i.e., home office, kitchen, living room, etc.) for 10 consecutive days. Thereafter, the notices should be placed in the employee’s Public Access File.

 

If an employee in H-1B status does move beyond commuting distance or outside the MSA or PMSA, that would be a material change and an H-1B amendment would be required. The LCA and H-1B amendment must list the employee’s new home address as their work address. Note that the employee cannot begin working at the new address until the H-1B amendment is filed with the USCIS. However, an approval is not needed before the employee can begin working.

 

Companies must ensure adequate notice is given before a move, so that a qualified immigration attorney can assess whether an amendment is required and timely file the amendment if needed.

 

PERM and I-140

 

As mentioned above, the first step in the green card process for most employment-based foreign national workers is the PERM process. Once the PERM is certified by the DOL, an employer must file an I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker with USCIS. The employer is required to show that it has the ability to pay the wage offered, that the foreign national possesses the education, experience and skills required in the PERM application, and that they are offering the same position as listed in the PERM.

 

Similar to the H-1B process, the PERM Labor Certification is location specific. Moving to a different primary worksite or switching to full remote work may require revisions to a pending PERM process or may require the filing of a new PERM and a new I-140. However, there are instances when the filing of a new PERM is not required. For instance, moving within the same MSA may not require the filing of a new PERM. Second, if an option to work from home, what we generally call “telecommuting”, was included in the Labor Certification, then a new PERM is generally not required. Last, if the employee plans on returning to the work location listed in the PERM by the time their green card is issued, a new PERM may not be required.

 

When the Economy Improves

 

Once current global economic challenges are behind us, the hiring needs of many companies will likely increase. This increase could further limit the availability of numerically capped nonimmigrant work visas like the H-1B visa. Earlier this year, as companies experienced a slight return to pre-pandemic hiring levels, USCIS received 483,927 registrations for the 85,000 available visa numbers and randomly selected 127,600 registrations, 37,600 more registrations than available visa numbers. This means that the chance of selection for this year’s lottery was roughly 26%.[3]

As it may be difficult to obtain an H-1B visa once the economy picks up again, it will be prudent for companies to consider long-term employment alternatives to the H-1B visa.

 

Some of our clients consider having employees who are unable to obtain an H-1B visa transfer to an overseas office to work abroad for a year and apply for the L-1 intracompany transferee visa once that year is complete. The L-1 visa is available to intracompany transferees who work as managers/executives (L-1A) or who possess specialized knowledge (L-1B) and requires that the foreign national worked with a qualifying organization (a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the U.S. petitioning company) at least one continuous year within the 3 years preceding the application.

 

Another option is having the employees reenroll in another academic degree program in the U.S., but this option carries some risk for future H-1B petitions if USCIS determines that the employee was not maintaining their nonimmigrant status. This can happen if it is determined that the “primary purpose” of their F-1 status was not for student-related activities.

 

An employee who enrolls in another degree program can apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT is authorized in the first semester if it is related to the program of study. Further, CPT must be an integral, or essential, part of the program of study. It is imperative that the employee be able to prove that CPT was required in the first semester in order to prevent issues with securing long-term work authorization down the road.

 

Another aspect to consider after the current economic cooling is layoffs. Layoffs can impact green card processes for employees and cause delays. When a worker is laid off in an occupation related to the job opportunity and in the same geographic area involved in a PERM labor certification, it is prudent to wait six months to file the application. So once hiring ramps up again and companies are willing to sponsor more employees for the green card, it will be a good idea to look at the potential ramifications that layoffs can have on future green card sponsorship.

 

When ramping up hiring needs following an economic downturn, there are steps that employers may want to take to foster smooth onboarding. Thoroughly screening candidates to ensure that they meet the eligibility requirements for a particular nonimmigrant visa is important when business needs necessitate expediting the hiring process. Graham Adair assists its clients with the screening process through reviewing detailed job duties and the tools/skills needed to complete duties.

 

As more companies ramp up hiring needs, the field could become competitive and companies will need to come up with strategies to attract and retain top talent. This may involve green card sponsorship upon hiring, or sponsoring costs that are typically absorbed by the candidate, including paying for dependent spouse work authorization applications or paying to premium process nonimmigrant petitions filed with USCIS.

 

If Economy Stays Flat or Takes a Dive

 

The International Monetary Fund recently published its World Economic Outlook, in which it explains that “[g]lobal economic activity is experiencing a broad-based and sharper-than-expected slowdown, with inflation higher than seen in several decades.” The IMF predicts that global growth will slow to 2.7% in 2023 and indicated that this coming year “will feel like a recession for millions around the world.” Aside from the global financial crisis and the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is weakest growth profile since 2001.

 

Impact of RIFs and alternative employment options   

 

Given the current and predicted state of the economy, and as business needs change, many companies are considering reductions in force (RIFs). Foreign nationals may find themselves subject to mass layoffs and may be concerned about the implications of a layoff on their nonimmigrant status. 8 C.F.R. § 214.1(l)(2) provides a 60-day discretionary grace period upon termination of employment for foreign nationals admitted in E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1 or TN classification and their dependents. Those individuals seeking to benefit from the grace period must have a valid I-94 for the duration of this 60-day period, which starts immediately following the last official day of employment. The grace period can only be used “once during each authorized validity period”, meaning once per every nonimmigrant status approval. During the grace period, foreign nationals holding valid nonimmigrant status have the following options:

 

Transfer to a new employer

 

If the foreign national is in H-1B or E-3 status, they can transfer to a new employer during the 60-day grace period. We recommend including evidence of the termination date in the form of a letter or similar communication.

 

Change to another status

 

Foreign nationals holding nonimmigrant status can also apply for a “change of status.” Options include F-1 status (requires enrolling in a university); H-4 status (if they are a family member of an H-1B visa holder); L-1 status (if they previously worked for an affiliated company abroad within the requisite time period); J-1 (as an exchange visitor); or some other work status. We recommend applying for the change of status as soon as possible after learning of the termination.

 

Depart the United States

 

If the foreign national is terminated by their employer and chooses to depart the United States and is in H-1B, H-1B1, or E-3 status, the employer must agree to pay the employee the reasonable costs of return transportation abroad if employment is terminated prior to the end of the authorized employment period. However, the employer is not required to pay the transportation costs for dependent spouses, children, or household goods.

 

Impact on the PERM process

 

Another major concern for foreign nationals is the effect a layoff may have on the labor certification or PERM process. The PERM labor certification involves special rules that apply in the event of Reductions in Force (RIF), especially those that occur within the 180-day period immediately preceding the filing of the PERM application. Specifically, 20 CFR §656.17(k) explains that if an employer has had a layoff in the area of intended employment within six months of filing the PERM application that involves the same job, or a related job, then the employer has to document that it has notified and considered all potentially qualified laid off U.S. workers for the job opportunity and document the results of the notification and consideration. PERM cases invoking the layoff provisions are likely to trigger an audit, so it may be advisable for an employer to wait until six months after a layoff before filing a PERM labor certification application.

 

Labor certifications are employer and job specific, meaning they cannot be transferred to another employer. If an employee is termed during the PERM process, the labor certification becomes null, and the foreign national will have to restart the process with a new employer.

 

Impact on the green card process

 

Relatedly, foreign nationals may be concerned about the effect a layoff will have on the I-140 and I-485 stages of the green card process. Once USCIS approves the I-140 petition and the beneficiary’s priority date becomes current, the foreign national can apply for adjustment of status (green card) by filing the I-485 application. If the foreign national is termed while waiting for their priority date to become current, meaning that they have not yet filed the adjustment of status application, the foreign national will need to find a new employer to restart the PERM and I-140 processes. However, USCIS will allow the foreign national to retain their original priority date.

 

If employees I-485 applications have been filed and pending for at least 180 days, they can move to a different employer and “port” the application so long as the new position is similar to the position listed on the I-140 petition. In this situation, the foreign national must submit Form I-485 Supplement J for USCIS to continue to process the adjustment of status application.

 

Ways companies can trim immigration budgets

 

In addition to RIFs, employers looking to decrease their immigration budgets may also consider no longer paying for premium processing of eligible petitions, dependent applications, and EAD/AP applications. They may also look at the current status and timing issues for their entire international employee population to identify which individuals need to start the green card process right away versus those who can afford to wait based on their maximum allowable period of stay in the United States.

 

It is important for companies to carefully review immigration policies to pinpoint areas where costs can be reduced without impacting overall business objectives. For example, some companies may want to confine immigration sponsorship to only positions that are difficult to recruit, or higher level positions instead of entry-level positions that require a lot of training.

 

H-1B benching

 

Benching occurs when an employer places an H-1B in unpaid, nonproductive status in violation of federal law. According to the Department of Labor, “H-1B workers must be paid the required wage rate for all nonproductive time caused by conditions related to employment, such as lack of assigned work, lack of a permit, or studying for a licensing exam.” Accordingly, at any point when an H-1B employee is not performing work or not in productive status due to a decision of the employer, the employee must still continue to receive the wage listed in the Labor Condition Application (LCA) filed in connection with the H-1B petition. In other words, even in instances of plant closures, holidays, or other periods of nonproductive time, which affect both U.S. and H-1B workers, H-1B employees must be paid their wages. DOL has prohibited benching to protect foreign workers from unfair treatment and to ensure that the job opportunities and wages of U.S. workers are also protected. Employers failing to abide by these requirements face potential penalties, including civil fines and a ban from participating in the H-1B or other programs. They are also subject to potential lawsuits from H-1B employees wishing to seek lost wages.

 

Reducing Salaries

 

Some employers may be considering salary decreases in lieu of layoffs. If this is the case, employers of foreign workers must comply with additional federal regulations, particularly those that relate to employees in H-1B or E-3 status. If an employer is looking to decrease the salary of an H-1B or E-3 employee, the new salary must still meet the prevailing wage listed on the LCA. Otherwise, the employer is required to file an amended petition and LCA.

 

If employers feel they cannot pay the wages specified in their LCAs, they have several options. One option is to file an H-1B amendment to change the foreign national’s employment status to part-time. A second option is to terminate the employee. But in no case should the employer reduce the base salary below the relevant LCA prevailing wage.

 

The past few years have been very interesting in the world of employment-based immigration. Companies have had to navigate an increasing number of challenges to an already complex process. We anticipate that these challenges will continue into 2023, and could exacerbated if the economy experiences a downturn. Advance planning is important during these times to ensure companies aren’t exposing themselves to liability and are maximizing their immigration program, especially in the event of reduced budgets.

 

[1] See 20 C.F.R. § 655.731(c)(7)(ii).

[2] See 20 C.F.R. § 655.715.

[3] Those in the advanced degree cap actually had a higher likelihood of success because a lottery is first run for only those with advanced U.S. degrees. Any applicants not selected in the advanced degree lottery were then placed into the regular lottery, thereby giving them another chance of selection.