Category: H-1B


Key Administrative Fixes to Immigration Laws on the Horizon: Visa Interview Waiver, Regulatory Changes, and Other Improvements

February 24th, 2012 — 5:58pm

On January 19, 2012, President Obama by Executive Order outlined several initiatives to improve visa and foreign visitor processing and promote travel as a way to create jobs and spur economic growth in the United States. The travel and tourism industry, he stated, is the country’s leading service sectors and sources of exports, yet its market share of spending by international travelers has dramatically fallen over the last 10 years. The President ordered all appropriate agencies to develop, within 60 days, an implementation plan to achieve a number of specific goals: (1) increase the nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent over the coming year; (2) ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of their application; (3) increase efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals of Visa Waiver Program participants; and (4) expand reciprocal recognition programs for expedited travel, such as the Global Entry program. The President also established a Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness to develop the “National Travel and Tourism Strategy.”

Dovetailing with this Executive Order, the White House  and the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and State (DOS) announced on January 31 steps they will take to attract and retain foreign-born entrepreneurs and highly skilled immigrants and stimulate economic growth. These include regulatory changes that would:

  • positively affect F-1 foreign students and their spouses;
  • permit spouses of certain H-1Bs to obtain work authorization;
  • broaden the scope of allowable evidence for EB-2 outstanding professors and researcher; and
  • make it easier for professional nonimmigrant workers from Australia, Chile, and Singapore to continue working while their extension of status requests are pending.

 

DHS also announced a new Entrepreneur in Residence Summit to seek information and ideas from the entrepreneurial community and academics on how to maximize current law to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent.

Waiver of Visa Interview

Several government initiatives aimed at reducing nonimmigrant visa wait times are now in play. Most significantly, DOS announced a new pilot program to waive the nonimmigrant visa interview requirement for certain visa renewals. Under the program, slated to run for two years, certain visa renewals that are more than 12 months but less than 48 months post-expiration will be eligible for renewal without a consular interview for the same visa category.  The visa interview waiver will be available to foreign nationals who have previously had their 10-print fingerprint scan collected; it will not be available to applicants who were previously denied a visa or who are listed in the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) or require a Security Advisory Opinion. Nor will the interview waiver be available to applicants who may have failed to comply with U.S. immigration laws or who are applying in a “high-threat” or “high-fraud” location.  Only certain types of visas will be eligible for this benefit, and although DOS has not yet released a comprehensive list, it is projected that F, J and M visas will be included.  On February 13, the U.S. Embassy, Beijing launched its visa interview pilot program for certain B, C, D F, J, M, and O visa holders consistent with the procedures outlined above by DOS. More details are likely to emerge over the next few weeks.

Additionally, Brazilian citizens younger than 16 or older than 66 who are applying for an initial visa or renewal visa (regardless of classification) and are citizens or residents of the country in which they are applying can forgo the consular interview and fingerprint requirement.

Expanded Service in Brazil and China

Besides the changes to the interview requirements in China and Brazil noted above, DOS has expanded its visa processing capacity in those countries by deploying additional personnel, expanding visa sections, and using new systems to facilitate travel from these countries. In late 2011, DOS had reported a record demand for visas for nationals from Brazil and China, a 50 percent increase in one quarter. For Brazil, the increase in demand reflected a 200 percent increase in five years; for China, a more than 30 percent increase from last year. Noting that every additional 65 international visitors to the U.S. translates into one additional travel and tourism-related job, Brazil and China are now considered key growth markets for the United States.

Visa Waiver and Global Entry Programs

The expansion of the Visa Waiver program to additional countries will mean that fewer international business and tourism visitors will need to apply for a visa. Citizens from 36 countries currently can participate; last month, Taiwan was nominated for inclusion.  Pressure is now on DHS and DOS to increase the number of countries whose eligible citizens can travel without making a formal application.

In another move to ease the international-arrival process, DHS Secretary Napolitano announced a final rule, effective March 7, 2012, making the Global Entry program a permanent one and providing CBP with the ability to expand the program to additional U.S. international airports. Global Entry allows certain pre-approved, low-risk travelers to streamline the international arrivals and admission process at airports.  Currently, the program is available to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and certain other nationals. In addition, the rule changes the age eligibility criteria to allow more families to participate in the program: persons under age 18 who meet the general eligibility criteria and have the consent of a parent or legal guardian will now be eligible to participate in Global Entry. DHS advises that those individual currently enrolled will not experience a break in membership or need to re-apply when the program becomes permanent. Members currently participating in the pilot will have their time credited to the five year membership. According to DHS, the majority of travelers using Global Entry are processed in under five minutes.

Upcoming Regulatory Proposals 

As mentioned above, DHS also announced a number of regulatory changes that would:

  • expand the eligibility requirements so that more F-1 students would be eligible for 17-month optional practical training (OPT) rather than 12-month OPT now available to them;
  • permit spouses of F-1s to enroll in part-time academic classes, rather than only vocational or recreational classes;
  • provide work authorization for H-4 spouses while their H-1B spouse waits for his or her adjustment of status application to be decided;
  • expand the scope of evidence of academic achievement to prove that a professor or researchers is outstanding; and
  • permit E-3 Australians and H-1B1 Chilean and Singaporean nationals to continue to work for 240 days with their same employer while their extension of status requests are pending, provisions that are available to other nonimmigrant workers.

All of these initiatives come as welcome news, from the more modest to bold. The regulatory changes and visa interview waiver could positively impact American business and facilitate the entry and employment of needed talent at a time when the U.S. continues to struggle to recover economically and remain competitive. But, as highlighted below, real change must happen – and happen fast – at the adjudicatory level, where immigration and consular officers wield tremendous power and ability to keep out skilled foreign nationals. Rigid, restrictive interpretations of regulatory eligibility requirements by front-line decision makers will trump more generous policies time and time again.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, H-1B, Visa waiver program

Update on H-1B Visas

November 2nd, 2011 — 2:13pm

H-1B Professional Specialty Worker Cap Update: As October 1 marked the beginning of the new fiscal year, visas are now immediately available for new H-1B cap-subject petitions. As of October 7th, USCIS reports that 41,000 new H-1B cap-subject petitions were receipted and another 19,100 petitions for foreign nationals with advanced degrees for FY2012. There are 85,000 new H-1B visas available annually, of which 20,000 are designated for advanced degree holders.  For FY2011, H-1B visas became unavailable as of January 26, 2011.

Tough Penalties Levied Against School District in Maryland for H-1B Violations Become Final:  A Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge approved a settlement agreement with Maryland’s Prince George’s County School District (PGCSD), located in the Washington, D.C. metro area, to pay sizeable fines for major violations of the H-1B program, including failure to pay wages and to maintain documentation as required. Under the agreement, PGSCD is barred from hiring any new foreign workers for two years and must pay a civil penalty of more than $100,000 for violating the H-1B program and over $4 million in back wages to more than 1,000 teachers.

Over the last several years, government agencies involved with the H-1B program have stepped up their enforcement and auditing efforts. Employers and their human resource personnel are wise to make sure their public access files and other records relating to their H-1B employees are up to date and in good order.

Comment » | H-1B

Administration Announces Initiatives to Promote Foreign Entrepreneurial Talent

August 22nd, 2011 — 10:28am

For years, America has sought the best and the brightest from business, academia, science, and the arts.  And, U.S. companies have sought to attract key, highly skilled professionals needed to manage, expand, and re-invigorate their operations here. But visa backlogs, limited visa availability, restrictive agency interpretations, and rigid adjudications all have had a chilling effect on those companies who seek to expand and create jobs in the U.S. through the petitioning of foreign personnel. Entrepreneurs, self-styled capitalists, and other self-employed self-starters, large and small, have experienced particular difficulty and uncertainty when applying for nonimmigrant or immigrant visa eligibility, never knowing whether their cases would be approved.  In many instances, the evidentiary burden as applied to them has been disproportionately onerous; in other instances, the documentary evidence required has been misconstrued and disconnected from real business practices.

It is against this backdrop and a tanking economy that USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently outlined – with much fanfare – “a series of new policy, operational, and outreach efforts” designed to help invigorate the economy and stimulate investment by making it easier for highly-skilled immigrants to start and grow companies and create jobs in the United States. Citing the need to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent of all kinds, immigration officials announced plans that could positively affect immigration visa eligibility in several categories if their plans are more than mere fantasy and hype.

National Interest Waivers (NIWs) for Entrepreneurs

First, the government announced that it “will clarify,” presumably with field adjudicators, that immigrant entrepreneurs may obtain employment-based second preference (EB-2) immigrant visas if they satisfy the existing requirements.  The law has always provided for such eligibility and perhaps USCIS is instructing adjudicators to merely apply the law. More notably, USCIS makes clear that entrepreneurs can qualify for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW), and sheds light on how such individuals can demonstrate that their business endeavors will be in the interest of the United States. Significantly, an individual seeking an EB-2 national interest waiver can self-petition; he does not need an employer to hire him.

Historically, the first step in proving EB-2 NIW eligibility, even for entrepreneurs, has been relatively easy. It requires that an individual is a professional holding an advanced degree or possesses “a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered,” or exceptional ability. The second step, proving that the entrepreneur’s investment in a business venture will substantially serve the national interest, has been more challenging. To do so – to qualify for a national interest waiver – the entrepreneur must demonstrate that (1) the proposed employment or work has substantial intrinsic merit; (2) that the benefit to be provided will be national in scope; and (3) that the national benefit is so great that it exempts the individual from undergoing the lengthy and costly process of testing the labor market for U.S. workers through the labor certification process.

In its August announcement, USCIS provides some examples on how an entrepreneur can meet the NIW, or second-step requirements.  To establish the national scope of the proposed benefit of the work, for instance, an entrepreneur could, describes USCIS, show a linkage between job creation in a locality and the spinoff of related jobs in other parts of the country. Alternatively, he could show that local job creation will have a positive national impact. USCIS also opines that an individual entrepreneur might be eligible for exemption from the labor certification process if he establishes that the enterprise is creating new job opportunities for U.S. workers or that it otherwise enhances the welfare of the United States. Through these examples and its broader pronouncement, USCIS seems to be signaling a break from current constructions of what is required and setting out new expectations for these kinds of cases.

Immigrant Investor (EB-5) Program

USCIS plans to enhance and streamline the Immigrant Investor (EB-5) Program. Some components of the streamlined program include a fast-track for applications of enterprises that are fully developed and ready to be implemented, premium processing for certain cases, and the implementation of direct communication between the applicant and USCIS to, among other things, resolve issues without the need for formal requests for additional evidence (RFEs). USCIS is developing a rollout of these changes with the first to be implemented in early September.

Expansion of Premium Processing for Immigrant Multinational Executives and Managers

USCIS also announced that it will expand premium processing service to multinational executives and managers immigrant visa petitions (EB-1-3). Premium processing, which guarantees adjudication in 15 days, is currently available for many other employment-based immigrant visa petitioners, including extraordinary ability foreign nationals and outstanding professors and researchers. However, EB-2 National Interest Waiver petitions remain conspicuously still absent from the premium processing list, an anomaly that is hard to explain. Surely, the certainty of a decision in 15 calendar days through premium processing would encourage a reluctant entrepreneur-petitioner to go forward and invest.  We hope USCIS will rethink this and add EB-2 NIW petitions to the list.

Nonimmigrant Visas

On the nonimmigrant side of the ledger, USCIS unfortunately provides little new guidance. It does, however, state that an H-1B beneficiary who is the sole owner (an employee-entrepreneur) of the petitioning company may establish a valid employer-employee relationship for the purposes of qualifying for an H-1B visa. This has long been a gray area and fraught with tremendous uncertainty in adjudication.

USCIS also announced plans to undertake extensive outreach efforts, including a series of engagement opportunities with stakeholders to seek input and feedback on how to address the unique circumstances of entrepreneurs, new businesses, and startup companies.  Certainly, other nonimmigrant work visas that are suitable for those in business – Es, Ls, and Os – will be the subject of such efforts and must be addressed. And, given the fanfare associated with the recent announcement, USCIS must be prepared to lay out its implementation plan in real and concrete terms.

Will New Policy Translate into Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Approvals?

Long advocated for by immigrant practitioners, economists, business, and others, the ideas outlined by Secretary Napolitano and Director Mayorkas are welcome news, even if symbolic. The United States needs capital and talent to jump-start the economy, and foreign investors and entrepreneurs — natural risk takers – have long sought status in the United States to conduct business here. Moreover, these initiatives require no new visa category to be enacted and no expansion of visa numbers. What these initiatives do require, however, is flexibility and a common sense application of the law by USCIS and State Department adjudicators. Such decision-makers must be instructed and trained to adapt the specific particularities of everyday business practice to immigration visa criteria, and abandon their more widespread rigid, checklist approach to adjudication.

So, will foreign companies that operate and expand operations in the U.S. see fewer hurdles when seeking to transfer their executive and managerial employees? Will self-starters with big ideas, some capital, and job creation prospects secure green cards? Will EB-5 immigrant investors have greater assurance that the conditions on their residence will be removed? Will foreign E-1 traders and E-2 investors – while not specifically addressed – have more confidence in their renewal applications? Most importantly, will these initiatives trickle down to the field?  Or, is the Emperor wearing no clothes.  Stay tuned….

Zulkie Partners is nationally recognized for its command of immigration law. We offer services that cover all aspects of corporate immigration law, including nonimmigrant work visas, permanent residence sponsorship and more.

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you further your hiring goals.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, H-1B, I-140, Lawful permanent resident

VIBE System Introduced to Facilitate Employer Vetting by USCIS

February 20th, 2011 — 3:54pm

USCIS has begun the beta testing of a new tool called the Validation Instrument for Business Enterprises (“VIBE”).  VIBE is purported to enhance and assist USCIS in assessing employers filing employment based immigration petitions.  The VIBE system will utilize commercially available data from independent information providers such as Dun and Bradstreet, and will allow USCIS to validate basic information about companies or organizations filing employment based petitions.  

USCIS has stated that it will not deny a petition based exclusively on information obtained via the VIBE system, rather, that it would give the petitioner an opportunity to respond to agency concerns regarding the business.  Employers are hoping to avoid the obstacles they faced when the Department of Labor used a similar commercially available database to implement its iCERT Portal, resulting in numerous Labor Condition Application denials for allegedly incorrect Federal Employer Identification Numbers.

Zulkie Partners is nationally recognized for its command of immigration law. We offer services that cover all aspects of corporate immigration law, including nonimmigrant work visas, permanent residence sponsorship and more.

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you further your hiring goals.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, H-1B, I-129, I-140

“Deemed Export” Attestation by Employers To Be Required on some I-129 Petitions

December 21st, 2010 — 3:38pm

Beginning December 23, 2010, a new “deemed export” attestation will be required on Form I-129 nonimmigrant visa petitions for H-1B, H-1B1 (Chile/Singapore), L-1, and O 1A petitioners.

The Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) require U.S. persons to seek and receive authorization from the U.S. government before releasing controlled technology or technical data to foreign persons in the United States. Under both the EAR and the ITAR, release of such information to a foreign national, even by an employer, is deemed to be an export to that person’s country or countries of nationality. One implication of this rule is that a U.S. company must seek and receive a license from the U.S. government before it releases controlled technology or technical data to its nonimmigrant workers employed as H-1B, L-1, or O-1A beneficiaries.

While these licensing requirements will affect only a small percentage of employer-petitioners because most types of technology are not controlled for export or release to foreign persons, a new certification attestation will be included on Form I-129. Most employers will simply certify that no license is required, but if an export license is required, then the employer must further certify that it will not release or otherwise provide access to controlled technology or technical data to the foreign national until it has received the required governmental authorization to do so.

For many years now, companies as well as universities have been required to comply with export control laws, but compliance is generally not managed by the same units that prepare I-129 petitions. Even though many activities at companies and universities can benefit from several exclusions to the export license requirement (e.g., the “basic research” exemption), to properly complete the new deemed export attestation on Form I 129, the petitioner would first have to inquire with the appropriate office at his or her company or university that handles export control issues. It would behoove these institutions to develop an institutional protocol for completing the form and assuring the signatory of the I-129 that their attestation is true and correct.

Employers considering sponsoring foreign workers should familiarize themselves with these laws and discuss with immigration counsel their impact on future visa petitions.

The technology and technical data that are controlled for release to foreign persons are identified on the EAR’s Commerce Control List (CCL) (generally “dual use” items) and the ITAR’s U.S. Munitions List (USML) (generally defense-related articles).

The CCL is found at www.access.gpo.gov/bis/ear/ear_data.html#ccl; the USML at www.pmddtc.state.gov/regulations_laws/itar.html. Additional information about applying for the appropriate licenses can be found at www.bis.doc.gov/deemedexports and www.pmddtc.state.gov/faqs/license_foreignpersons.html.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, H-1B, I-129

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