USCIS will temporarily suspend Premium Processing for all H-1B Petitions

Last Friday U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") announced that it will temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B petitions starting April 3, 2017. Premium Processing is an optional service for certain nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions that guarantees initial adjudication of a petition within 15 calendar days for an additional fee of $1,225. As regular processing times have increased significantly over the past 18 months from 2-4 months to upwards of 9-12 months, many petitioners are paying to have their cases premium processed to facilitate quicker start dates and international travel. USCIS provided no end date but said this suspension could last up to 6 months thus having a major impact not only on the upcoming annual H-1B cap-subject lottery but also for hiring plans for cap-exempt institutions like universities and teaching hospitals, many of which have summer/fall start dates that are now in jeopardy. 

This is not the first time USCIS has suspended Premium Processing service. On May 26, 2015, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for extension of stay H-1B petitions. This was in response to the high volume of cases USCIS anticipated receiving due to new regulations allowing certain H-4 dependents to qualify for employment authorization. The suspension lasted two months until July 13, 2015.  

The following are examples of how the suspension of Premium Processing will impact foreign nationals and their employers over the coming months: 

  • H-1B Fiscal Year 2018 cap-subject petitions for both the regular cap and U.S. Master's Cap: The suspension will limit if/when foreign nationals can travel abroad during cap-gap, as an F-1 student seeking readmission to the U.S. during this period would need USCIS to have approved the H-1B petition and request for change of status.  
  • Cap-exempt H-1B petitions: The suspension will affect when H-1B foreign nationals may start working at cap-exempt employers such as universities, teaching hospitals. and non-profit research institutions, and may even impact hiring decisions if the candidate is not eligible to start working for several months while awaiting approval of the H-1B petition. This will impact employers seeking to file both change of status and consular processed H-1B petitions.
  • H-1B change of employer petitions: H-1B employees will still be able to "port" or change employers based on the new employer's petition being physically received by USCIS; however, their international travel may be affected once they are beyond the date of employment authorized on their prior H-1B approval notice until the new change of employer petition has been approved.
  • H-1B extension petitions: H-1B extension petitions can be filed up to 6 months in advance of a foreign national's expiration. If timely filed, a foreign national's status and work authorization is automatically extended for up to 240 days beyond the expiration date. USCIS has stated they are prioritizing these petitions to ensure adjudication before the 240 days expire. However, foreign nationals will not be able re-enter after traveling abroad once the date on their current H-1B approval notice has passed until their H-1B extension has been approved. 

USCIS has noted they will consider expedited processing requests on a case-by-case basis if the beneficiary/petitioner meets at least one of the notoriously difficult expedited processing criterion which include: severe financial loss to company or person, emergency situation, humanitarian reasons, nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the U.S., Department of Defense or national interest situation, USCIS error, or compelling interest of USCIS.

Please contact Iandoli Desai & Cronin P.C. at info@iandoli.com if you or your organization has any questions regarding timing or if you need assistance in preparing petitions this month.

Revised Executive Order on Travel Ban released

On March 6, 2017, the new administration re-issued an Executive Order that halts all refugee admissions for at least 120 days and bans entry into the United States for at least 90 days for persons from six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.  Iraq, which had been included in the prior Executive Order, is not included in this updated version. The notable points of this latest Executive Order ("EO") include:

  • The EO expressly states it revokes Executive Order 13769, originally issued on January 27, 2017. Executive Order 13769 was the subject of dozens of lawsuits and temporary restraining orders across the country: most notably, in Washington State and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed an injunction blocking key parts of that prior Order.
  • Effective March 16, 2017, nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are prevented from entering the United States for a period of 90 days, does not apply to the following:
    • lawful permanent residents ("green card holders") from those six countries;

    • persons from one of those six countries with a valid visa obtained on or before January 27, 2017;

    • A foreign national with a valid travel document other than a visa (for example, advance parole), valid as of the date of the EO or issued thereafter;
    • dual nationals of those six countries when traveling on a passport of a non-designated country (for example, a dual Iranian Canadian citizen seeking to enter the U.S. on a Canadian passport);

    • persons traveling on diplomatic visas, NATO, or U.N.-specific visas; and,
    • foreign nationals granted asylum, refugees already admitted to the U.S., granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.
       

  • The EO allows for consular officers or the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP"), in their discretion, to issue a visa or permit entry, on a case-by-case basis, for individuals affected by this order if the foreign national demonstrates that denying entry would cause undue hardship, his/her entry would not pose a threat to national security, and would be in the national interest.  The specifics of how to seek or request this waiver is unclear from the text of the EO, but the EO lists several examples of circumstances, including returning students or temporary workers outside the U.S. on the effective date of the order, foreign nationals seeking to visit or reside with a spouse, child, or parent who is a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or non-immigrant, persons needing urgent medical care, landed Canadian immigrants applying for U.S. visas in Canada, or U.S. government-sponsored exchange visitors.
  • Additional countries may be added for restrictions or limitations based on input from the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, or the Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • As of the effective date of the EO, all refugee admissions under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program are suspended for at least 120 days, with admissions resuming only after the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence have determined that additional procedures for screening refugees described in the order are adequate.
  • Reduces the number of refugees in Fiscal Year 2017 to 50,000 (the Obama Administration had set the commitment figure at 110,000), with exceptions for admitting refugees to conform with international agreements or other limited circumstances.
  • Directs the Secretary of State to examine existing law to determine the extent to which state and local governments "may have greater involvement" in determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdiction.
  • Suspends Visa Interview Waiver Program, requiring individuals from all countries who seek to renew their nonimmigrant visas to undergo in-person interviews.

In addition to posting this latest Executive Order, major media reports the Trump administration has also circulated a Fact Sheet and Q&A for implementation of the EO. We will bring further updates related to this new Executive Order as they become available.

The latest on the President's Executive Order impacting non-immigrants, immigrants and U.S. businesses

On Friday January 27, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order that contained sweeping changes to processing arrivals at our nation's airports and land borders of non-immigrants with a variety of work and travel visas, immigrants, lawful permanent residents, and refugees. Although styled as imposing temporary measures, it is having a dramatic impact on thousands of individuals in the U.S. and abroad, and contains language that suggests long-lasting changes to the visa application process abroad and the adjudication of immigration-related applications within the U.S. This news release summarizes the Executive Order, the litigation that has followed, and the Order's effect on individuals and employers in the coming weeks.

What is in the Executive Order?

  • Major items in the Executive Order include a temporary suspension of visa issuance abroad and entry into the U.S. for individuals from 7 countries, a temporary suspension of admission of all refugees, an indefinite suspension of refugees from Syria, and suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program for all non-immigrant visa renewals (by citizens of all countries).
  • The Order covers "immigrants and non-immigrants" and includes anyone with a valid visa (including professional work visas, student visas, and tourist visas) and returning lawful permanent residents. The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") later released a statement indicating the entry of lawful permanent residents would be considered in "the national interest" but it did not assure their entry. Rather, the statement included the caveat "absent derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations."
  • Section 5 of Order directs the Secretary of State to suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program ("USRAP") for 120 days, and specifically states that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is suspended indefinitely, with exceptions for 1) if admitting the individual would be in the national interest; 2) if the person seeking admission is from a religious minority facing religious persecution; 3) to conform to international agreement; or 4) if the person is in transit and there would be undue hardship if he/she were denied admission to the U.S.
  • Section 8 of the Order requires the Secretary of State to immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program ("VIWP"), a worldwide program which allows U.S. consuls to waive in-person visa interviews for nationals of any country who have been recently vetted for security clearances and who seek a visa renewal.

What is the status of litigation regarding the Executive Order?

  • Attorneys with the American Immigration Lawyers Association ("AILA") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") have filed lawsuits on behalf of affected individuals in federal district courts in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington state. Judges in those federal courts have issued Temporary Restraining Orders ("TROs") based on plaintiffs' likelihood of success on Constitutional grounds.
  • New York's TRO provides a nationwide stay of removal preventing deportation for individuals with valid visas and approved refugee applications affected by the Executive Order.
  • Massachusetts' TRO has barred federal officials from detaining or removing anyone affected by the Executive Order for 7 days (until February 4), and further instructs Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") to notify international airlines that passengers flying into Boston's Logan Airport will not be subject to the Executive Order. Airlines had been refusing to board affected individuals.
  • Virginia's TRO specifically orders federal officials to allow lawyers access to "all legal permanent residents detained in Dulles International Airport."
  • Washington state's TRO bars federal officials from deporting two unnamed individuals in the U.S.
  • Judges in the federal district courts in these jurisdictions will hold hearings this week on these pending suits to determine whether to extend, modify or cancel the TROs. The outcomes are difficult to predict. If the judges are persuaded on the merits of the case, it is possible the TROs may be converted into preliminary injunctions while awaiting further judicial review, effectively stopping the Executive Order or parts of it from taking effect until the matter can be argued and decided by the court. Alternatively, attorneys for the Trump Administration may succeed in their argument that the President's broad discretion on matters of national security permits the actions contained in the Order. If a judge permits the TROs to expire without issuing a preliminary injunction, the Executive Order would be in effect until either a successful appeal by the immigrants to a higher court or possibly an ultimate decision by the Supreme Court.
  • In addition, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced she is filing a lawsuit today to challenge the Executive Order as unconstitutional.

What are the consequences of this Executive Order on individuals and employers?

  • Foreign nationals from one of the seven countries affected by this Executive Order -- either lawful permanent residents or holders of valid visas -- should not travel. There is no guarantee these individuals will be permitted back into the U.S. after travel abroad. This could have disastrous consequences for individuals, their families, and their employers, as they risk being unable to re-enter the U.S. for at least 90 days, if not longer based on how quickly they might be able to obtain a new visa (if needed). 
  • For those foreign nationals affected by this Executive Order who are currently outside the U.S., they should consider returning to the U.S. immediately via a direct flight into Boston's Logan Airport if possible before February 4 when the TRO expires.
  • If foreign nationals are asked to relinquish U.S. permanent residence, the returning lawful permanent residents should be aware they have a right to request a hearing before an immigration judge. Green card holders should not sign a Form I-407 to relinquish their residence if they desire a hearing.
  • Credible reports indicate that applications by nationals from these seven countries for immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") such as Adjustment of Status, Petitions for Non-Immigrant Workers, Applications for Employment Authorization, etc. have been suspended. Currently, issuance of visas abroad for these foreign nationals is also suspended, and sources indicate USCIS will accept but not complete final adjudication until further notice of applications filed by or on behalf of foreign nationals from those seven countries.
  • Employers should be aware of both the risk for delays with adjudication of applications and the risk travel presents for any employee needing to apply for a visa abroad. The suspension of Visa Interview Waiver Program will affect students and professional visa holders across the globe, as appointments for visa renewals in all countries will likely experience increased wait times since all visas applicants are now required to attend an in-person visa interview. There is also a greater likelihood of administrative processing (security) delays, given the additional information the Department of State will be seeking as contemplated by the Executive Order.
  • In addition, the broad language in Section 3 of the  Order states that the Secretary of DHS and the Secretary of State shall conduct a review to determine the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission or other benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"), including adjudications. This language suggests a full revisiting of the current processing procedures, which may also result in delays.

We will bring you further updates on this and other immigration-related news in our February newsletter next week. 

 

Breaking news! Executive Order expected later today may affect travel for thousands of non-immigrant visa holders and immigrants

According to a draft Executive Order obtained by major media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, President Trump seeks to suspend immigrant and non-immigrant entry into the U.S. by foreign nationals from countries referenced in the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act. That Act, passed in December 2015, included a provision that restricted the use of the visa waiver program by dual nationals of certain countries and by persons who had recently visited certain countries. According to CBP, the countries on the list (and those we expect to be affected by this Executive Order) include: 

  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Iran
  • Sudan
  • Libya
  • Somalia; and,
  • Yemen.

Accordingly, any foreign nationals from those countries, whether in the U.S. on temporary visas (including but not limited to F-1 students, E-1 and E-2 treaty traders/investors, E-3 Australians, H-1B professionals, J-1 exchange visitors, L-1 intercompany transferees, O-1 aliens of extraordinary ability, R-1 religious workers), or as permanent residents should be aware that if they travel outside the U.S., they risk not being re-admitted to the U.S. 

In addition to not granting re-entry into the U.S. for visa and green card holders from the countries listed above, the proposed Executive Order references the suspension of issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of those countries. It remains unclear how long delays will be for those seeking adjudication of a visa, admission to the U.S. or other benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"). 

Although it has been widely circulated in the press, the proposed Executive Order is not yet final. The wording could be changed and it is also possible that such an order ultimately may not be implemented. We share this information with you so can be prepared for the actions the new administration is considering taking imminently. We encourage you to visit our website for further updates and details. 

Revised Form I-9 & new regulations concerning re-verification

Effective January 22, 2017, employers must use the revised Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, to verify the identity and work eligibility of every new employee.  Until January 21, employers may continue using the current Form I-9 last revised on March 3, 2013. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") added several enhancements to the revised Form I-9 including:  

  • A "smart" feature in the PDF version to help employers reduce technical errors when completing the form on the computer after downloading it from the USCIS website;
  • Certain fields will now give an error message when the entered data does not have the correct number of characters (i.e., social security number or date of birth);
  • Drop-down lists and calendars have been added for entering dates; and,
  • A quick-response matrix barcode ("QR code") will be generated once the form is printed to assist in streamlining audit processes. 

Employers should also be aware that under new regulations by the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") that became effective January 17, 2017, if an individual's employment authorization is due to expire, employers must re-verify their Form I-9 no later than the date of expiration of their current employment authorization to reflect the individual is still work-authorized in the U.S. in order to continue his or her employment. For persons presenting employment authorization documents ("EAD") for I-9, reverification applies upon the expiration of the automatically extended validity period for the EAD and not the expiration date indicated on the face of the EAD. We expect DHS to issue further guidance on this issue soon in the form of a revised M-274, Handbook for Employers, Guidance for Completing Form I-9. Also, USCIS is hosting a teleconference on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. EST to discuss the revised Form I-9.  USCIS will review the form's enhancements, discuss employment eligibility verification best practices, and answer questions about each section of the form.  You may sign up for this teleconference on the USCIS website.

The Form I-9 is a notoriously difficult form to execute properly, and yet errors can result in hefty penalties for employers.  Iandoli Desai & Cronin offers internal I-9 Audits and training sessions to ensure your company is compliant.  If you would like more information and/or have questions concerning I-9 procedures and enforcement actions, please contact the attorneys at Iandoli Desai & Cronin at info@iandoli.com

ACICS loss of accreditation: ESL Programs and OPT students must take immediate action

On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. This decision to no longer recognize ACICS will affect more than 16,000 international students attending nearly 130 SEVP-certified schools and programs. While the majority of SEVP-certified schools are not required to obtain accreditation and can provide evidence in lieu of accreditation, there are two instances when SEVP-certified schools must be accredited:   

  • English as a Second Language (ESL) programs; and,
  • F-1 students applying for a 24-month Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension.

The Department of Education has issued an 18-month timeline for schools and students affected.  Schools must either obtain accreditation from a different Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and update their Form I-17 or they will receive a notification to remove the ESL program from their Form I-17 petition. Affected students enrolled in a STEM degree should contact their school to find out if they plan to obtain accreditation elsewhere or should consider transferring if they wish to pursue an OPT STEM extension in the future.  For more information, please visit SEVP's website

New National Interest Waiver adjudication standard

In a recent precedent decision, the Administrative Appeals Office ("AAO") revised the analytical framework for assessing eligibility for national interest waivers ("NIW") thereby vacating the long-standing test set forth in NYSDOT (Matter of New York State Dept of Transp. 22 I&N Dec. 215 (Acting Assoc. Comm'r 1998).  According to the new decision (Matter of Dhanasar, 26 I&N Dec. 884 (AAO 2016)), USCIS may approve an NIW if the petitioner demonstrates: (1) that the foreign national's proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance; (2) that he or she is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and (3) that, on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirement of a job offer and thus of a labor certification.

 The NIW category is a popular route for many foreign nationals to apply for lawful permanent residence (commonly referred to as "green card" status), provided they can prove they possess an advanced degree and their work meets the criteria outlined above.  Their field of employment may be in a variety of fields, including but not limited to business, entrepreneurialism, science, technology, culture, health, or education.  Notably, the NIW category is one of the few employment-based green card options for individuals to self-sponsor, meaning they may apply and demonstrate how they meet the criteria without an employer formally sponsoring them with an offer of permanent employment. If you would like to explore whether or not you qualify under this new standard, please contact the attorneys at Iandoli Desai & Cronin at info@iandoli.com.

DHS publishes new International Entrepreneur Rule

On January 17, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") published a final rule in the Federal Register concerning regulations to implement new International Entrepreneur parole authority. DHS lists increasing and enhancing entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation as its goals for this new rule which is scheduled to become effective on July 17, 2017. The rule provides guidance for the use of parole - on a case-by-case basis - for entrepreneurs of start-ups who can demonstrate they would provide significant public benefit to the U.S. through evidence of "substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation." Among the criteria adjudicators would consider are receipt of capital investment from U.S. investors with established records of successful investments and obtaining significant awards from certain Federal, State or local government entities. A foreign national who receives a grant of parole under this new rule would be permitted an initial stay of up to 30 months in the U.S., with the possibility of an additional 30 month extension to facilitate the applicant's ability to oversee and grow her or his start-up in the U.S.

We expect to bring you a detailed summary of this new rule in our February newsletter.

Visa Bulletin projections according to DOS's Charlie Oppenheim

In hopes of obtaining more in-depth analysis and insight into future immigrant visa availability than that provided in the monthly Visa Bulletin, each month the American Immigration Lawyers Association ("AILA") "checks-in" with Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, U.S. Department of State (DOS).  From these discussions, AILA can provide practitioners, employers and foreign nationals better projections so all parties can strategize accordingly.  Highlights from the December 2016 discussions include:

  • EB-1: Based on current demand, Charlie predicts that a "final action cut-off date" will need to be imposed for EB-1 India and EB-1 China later this fiscal year.  If this happens, Form I-140 petitions can continue to be filed with USCIS but Form I-485 Adjustment of Status application cannot be filed until the priority date for those preference categories is current.  This could result in several months of delay, as was seen in fall 2016, so applicants who may be affected by this potential retrogression should consider filing their applications as soon as possible. 
  • EB-2 Worldwide: Charlie expects to impose a "final action cut-off date" for EB-2 Worldwide at some point due to sizeable demand.  Lingering demand from cases that otherwise would have been approvable in August and September 2016 is partly responsible for this surge in demand, as are EB-3 India upgrades.
  • EB-2 China: China has already exceeded its EB-2 quarterly limit, so there is unlikely to be any major forward movement.
  • EB-2 India: Charlie continues to hope that EB-2 India will recover to the November 22, 2008 final action date retrogression from May 2015. However, EB-3 upgrades could negatively impact that recovery.
  • EB-3 Worldwide: Demand has declined, allowing Charlie to advance this category slightly in January 2017. However, at some point when EB-2 Worldwide becomes subject to a "final action cut-off date", we may see applicants filing petitions to downgrade from EB-2 to EB-3 which will increase demand.

Repeal of National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)

On December 23, 2016, DHS finally repealed its outdated and arguably discriminatory regulations relating to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), an obsolete special registration program that required immigrants from 25 Muslim-majority, Arab, and South Asian countries to register their presence in the United States. NSEERS was enacted in reaction to 9/11 and required certain foreign nationals in the U.S. to present themselves for fingerprinting, photos, and interviews at U.S. immigration offices, with further requirements to check-in at designated intervals. This program only applied to men over the age of 16 on non-immigrant visas (including tourism and work visas) from a list of 25 countries the Bush administration considered "havens for terrorists."

In 2011 the Obama Administration removed all 25 countries from the "special registration" list, which essentially suspended the program. In anticipation of the incoming Trump Administration, DHS officially repealed the program from the regulations. Only time will tell if the new administration will move to re-enact similar special registration rules, as the incoming president made campaign promises to that effect. Stay tuned for updates on our website at http://iandoli.com/newsandupdates/.