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US State Department’s October 2018 Visa Bulletin shows whose turn it is to immigrate

Applicants waiting to file for an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident may use the “Dates for Filing Applications” chart in the October 2018 Visa Bulletin to determine whether it is their turn to apply to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Each month, the US Department of State (DOS) publishes the Visa Bulletin, which shows immigrant visa availability for applicants waiting to file for permanent residence, either through a US consular post abroad or USCIS here in the US. There are two charts in the Visa Bulletin: “Application Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications.” The former indicates dates when a final visa may be issued and a green card granted; the latter indicates the earliest dates when applicants may be able to apply.

Generally, the Dates for Filing Applications chart has cutoff dates later than those in the Application Final Action Dates chart. This allows applicants to apply earlier and gives the government time to process the applications.

After the DOS announced the dual chart system in 2015, USCIS announced how it uses the charts.  Under the current procedure, approximately one week after the DOS publishes its monthly Visa Bulletin, USCIS announces on its website which chart is to be used for the upcoming month. Applicants must follow USCIS’ announcement in determining when to apply.

Usually, USCIS uses the Application Final Action Dates chart which delayed filings, with the exception of only five times since 2015 when it indicated that the other chart may be used. It is therefore welcome news that USCIS has announced that the following Dates for Filing Applications chart may once again be used in October 2018. What this means is that employment-based applicants with a priority date earlier than the one indicated in the below chart, may now file their applications this month.

Dates for filing for employment-based adjustment of status applications
Employment-based ALL CHARGEABILITY AREAS (except those listed) CHINA (mainland born) EL SALVADOR, GUATEMALA and HONDURAS INDIA MEXICO PHILIPPINES
1st June 1, 2018 October 1, 2017 June 1, 2018 October 1, 2017 June 1, 2018 June 1, 2018
2nd C June 15, 2015 C May 22, 2009 C C
3rd C August 8, 2015 C October 1, 2009 C July 1, 2017
Other Workers C June 1, 2008 C October 1, 2009 C July 1, 2017
4th C C May 1, 2016 C C C
Certain religious workers C C May 1, 2016 C C C
5th
Non-regional center
(C5 and T5)
C October 1, 2014 C C C C
5th
Regional center
(I5 and R5)
C October 1, 2014 C C C C
US State Department’s October 2018 Visa Bulletin shows whose turn it is to immigrate

Where’s my visa?

Continued immigrant visa quota backlogs predicted for FY 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longer waiting times for many immigrant visa categories are predicted in fiscal year 2019, according to US State Department Visa Control and Reporting Division Chief Charles Oppenheim, who provided predictions of immigrant visa quota waiting times for fiscal year 2019, which starts on October 1, 2018. Here are highlights from the announcement:

EB1. This is the immigrant visa category for individuals of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers and executives. From its creation in 1990 till last summer, this category never experienced waiting periods (with the recent exception of some individuals born in India and mainland China). However, in August and September 2018, the State Department reported a waiting time for all countries of birth. It now predicts the continuation of a waiting period, and not to expect much forward movement before December 2018 or the first quarter of 2019.

EB2. This is the immigrant visa category for professionals with an advanced degree and individuals with exceptional ability. Since its creation in 1990, this category had not experienced waiting periods, with the recent exception of some individuals born in India or mainland China. However, in September 2017, a waiting period was reported for all places of birth. Now, the State Department expects this visa to again become immediately available starting in October 2018 (with the exception of people born in India or mainland China, who will continue to experience lengthy wait times).

EB3. This is the immigrant visa category for professionals and skilled workers. It typically has a wait period of only a few months, except for individuals born in India or mainland China, who have experienced lengthier wait times. While the State Department predicts a wait period for all countries of birth for September 2018, it expects visas in this category to become immediately available again in October 2018 (with the exception of people born in India, mainland China and the Philippines, who will continue to experience lengthy wait times.

EB5. This is the immigrant visa category for immigrant investors. It will remain available to all individuals, regardless of country of birth, but with wait times for people from China and Vietnam. For the latter, visas will be more readily available after October 2018 until March or April 2019, when the wait time will be the same as that of Chinese investors.

The State Department reports immigrant visa waiting times in its monthly Visa Bulletin, which can be found here. The current month and links to past months are available.

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Where’s my visa?

Home Office publishes details of settlement scheme for EU citizens

 

 

 

 

 

EU citizens will be able to apply for settled status in three easy steps and for less than the price of a passport, under plans outlined by the Immigration Minister today. For more information, please contact your Dentons lawyer. For the full text see the Gov.UK website.

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Home Office publishes details of settlement scheme for EU citizens

Where’s my green card?

Longer waiting times expected for EB-5 immigrant investors

The US Department of State estimates longer waiting periods for EB-5 immigrant investors from the top six participating countries: China, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Taiwan and South Korea.

Waiting periods have long existed for immigrant investors born in mainland China and recently, EB-5 visa applicants from Viet Nam have been facing them. The State Department’s Visa Bulletin for June 2018 shows that EB-5 immigrant visas are only available to people born in China and Vietnam who applied before August 1, 2014. Now, the State Department predicts the likelihood, in the near future, of waiting periods for people born in the other four above-named countries.

The State Department predicts that, for people born in India, EB-5 will remain currently available until 2019 and that EB-5 is likely to remain available without longer waiting times for people born in Brazil, Taiwan and South Korea until 2020.

The US limits the number of immigrant visas and green cards issued each fiscal year. The limits are based on both visa category and country of birth. Each country has potentially the same supply. Only 10,000 EB-5 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year (October 1, 2017, was day one for FY2018). This small allocation is shared by immigrant investors and the family members who immigrate with them.

In addition to the countries mentioned above, the State Department reports increases in demand from Russia, Japan, Colombia and Venezuela.

While each country is entitled to 7 percent of the annual supply (i.e., 700 visas), any unused visas are allocated in order of immigrant petition receipt date, regardless of place of birth. In the past, that resulted in more China-born immigrants. As the demand from other countries increases, expect fewer unused visas and longer waiting periods.

For example, in FY2017 China received 75 percent (or 7,567) of all EB-5 immigrant visas because of unused visas allocated to other countries. Due to increasing demand from other countries, China will likely get fewer visas this year and in the future. The State Department puts the number at 4,500 in FY2018 and 3,500 in FY2019 (or less than half that of FY2017).

The bottom line: It is more important than ever for immigrant investors to file their petitions as early as possible. The date that the government receives the petition is the priority date.

The Visa Bulletin allocates immigrant visas by priority date. The sooner immigrants make their investment and file the petition, the faster they will get resident status. Petitions are processed slowly by the government. Since the priority date is the date that petitions are first received, immigrant investors are already in line during processing.

There are federal legislative and regulatory proposals pending that would at least partially address this problem. But these are only proposals and it is not clear when they will become law, if ever. One thing is certain: Unless and until Congress increases the annual supply of EB-5 visas, increasingly long waiting periods will create hardships on immigrant investors that will likely result in less job creation for American workers.

EB-5 refers to the employment-based, fifth preference immigrant visa classification. EB-5 is the US immigrant investor program that grants immigrant visas and resident status (or green cards) to individuals who make an at-risk investment that creates, directly or indirectly, full-time equivalent jobs for at least 10 American workers. The required dollar amount of investment is currently US$1 million, although US$500,000 is acceptable in targeted employment areas where the government wants to encourage job creation, generally high-unemployment or rural areas.

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Where’s my green card?

No more EB5 job creation through tenant-occupancy models: New USCIS policy reduces availability of immigrant investor funds to create jobs for Americans

On May 15, 2018, USCIS revised its Policy Manual, effective immediately. The agency will no longer count the jobs created for US workers through tenant occupancy of EB5 properties. The result of this change is to reduce the amount of immigrant investor funds available to create jobs for US workers.

“EB5” refers to the US employment-based fifth preference immigrant visa. EB5 is a program (sometimes called “traditional EB5”) Congress created in 1990 to stimulate the US economy through job creation for US workers using investment by foreign investors. In 1992, Congress created the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program (regional center EB5), a temporary program that Congress has repeatedly extended, most recently through September 30, 2018. (See our previous posting “EB5 immigrant investor visas are available again”).

Both types of EB5s generally require that at least ten full-time equivalent new jobs for US workers be created by each immigrant’s investment. A key advantage of a regional center EB5 is that “indirect” and “induced” jobs are included in the job creation count (in addition to “direct” jobs), whereas a traditional EB5 counts only direct jobs.

Direct jobs refer to US workers employed directly by the business that received the EB5 investment. Payroll tax records show direct jobs. Indirect and induced jobs refer to employees of other business as a result of EB5 investment. The calculation of indirect and induced jobs is based on an economic analysis using models accepted by USCIS.

The “tenant-occupancy” model counts job creation by independent tenant businesses that lease space in buildings developed with EB5 funding. In the past, USCIS accepted the tenant-occupancy model.

USCIS’ skeptical attitude toward the tenant-occupancy model can be traced back to early 2012 when it rolled out a Request for Evidence (RFE) template for tenant occupancy seeking evidence that the projected jobs attributable to prospective tenants would represent only newly created jobs, and not jobs that had merely been related from another location. In December of that year, USCIS issued “Operational Guidance for EB-5 Cases Involving Tenant-Occupancy,” which clarified that to claim tenant jobs, the economic analysis must project the number of newly created jobs that would not have been created but for the economic activity of the EB5 commercial enterprise. In making that projection, the claimant must use economically and statistically valid forecasting tools. USCIS made determinations on a case-by-case basis and would generally require an evaluation of the verifiable details provided and the overall reasonableness of the methodology as presented.

The 2012 memo suggested two ways to demonstrate a causal relationship between the EB5 investment and tenant jobs:

  1. “[M]ap a specific amount of direct, imputed, or subsidized investment to such new jobs” (i.e., “show an equity or direct financial connection between the EB5 capital investment and the employees of the prospective tenants”); and
  2. Utilize a “facilitation-based approach,” seeking to “demonstrate that the economic benefits provided by a specific space/project will remove a significant market-based constraint” and “result in a specified prospective number of tenant jobs that will locate in that space.”

Beginning in 2013, USCIS modified its tenant-occupancy model position. The agency’s RFE template identified the following three distinct areas of concern:

  1. Will there be tenants to occupy the space once construction is completed?
  2. Will the tenant jobs be “new jobs” and not “merely relocated”?
  3. Are the job creation estimates based on a reasonable and transparent methodology?

Over the years, practitioners in the EB5 field have reported that in tenant-occupancy cases, USCIS, when issuing RFEs or Notices of Intent to Deny, tended to require EB5 immigrants to either (i) remove tenant jobs from the job creation calculation; or (ii) submit additional evidence that shows by the preponderance of evidence (more likely than not) that the tenants will be there to occupy the commercial space when the project is finished, that the tenant jobs are not merely relocated from another commercial space within the same geographical area, and that the estimated number of tenant jobs is a reasonable estimate.

Given the lengthy adjudication time, the capital at stake and the uncertainty involved, many EB5 immigrants gave up claiming tenant jobs. Subsequent formulations of EB5 projects largely steered away carefully from the tenant-occupancy methodology to avoid potential issues.

Now, USCIS has formally rescinded its previous guidance and will no longer consider tenant-occupancy methodology. The agency will continue to give deference to Form I-526 and Form I-829 petitions directly related to previous approved projects, absent material change, fraud or misrepresentation, or legal deficiency of the prior determination.

USCIS is accepting comments on the new policy until May 29, 2018.

Full text of the agency’s Policy Alert can be found here. Dentons represents regional centers, EB5 investment programs and individual investors on both traditional and regional center EB5 programs. Please contact your Dentons lawyer for more information.

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No more EB5 job creation through tenant-occupancy models: New USCIS policy reduces availability of immigrant investor funds to create jobs for Americans

Tier 2 Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship hit quota

Tier 2 Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)—which employers use to employ non-EU/EEA nationals in the UK—are scarce.

All Tier 2 Restricted CoS applications that employers lodged before the April CoS allocation meeting on April 11, 2018, were successful, provided they scored 46 points or more. This meant that migrants had to be earning a minimum salary of £50,000. The pressure on the Tier 2 system is due to the drop in the number of EU/EEA migrants coming to the UK to work.

Only 1,975 Restricted CoS were available in the May allocation. Based on recent allocations, this will (again) not be sufficient to meet demand. In April, the Home Office granted 2,193 CoS. April was the fifth consecutive month that the allocation limit was exceeded. Employers across all industry sectors are urging the government to increase the cap amid a growing skills shortage.

Only prioritized applications, such as those on the shortage occupation list, PhD level occupations and where the salary is more than £50,000, will have a chance of success in May. Figures to be released at the end of the month will reveal the true picture.

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Tier 2 Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship hit quota

Stricter unlawful presence rules for foreign students and exchange visitors

Individuals in the United States on F, J and M visas (including F-2, J-2 and M-2 dependents) who fail to maintain their status will start accruing unlawful presence earlier, potentially spelling trouble for future immigration benefits, according to new US rules.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Friday May 11, 2018, that the agency is changing the way it calculates the accrual of unlawful presence for nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors. The changes increase the likelihood that individuals in these two nonimmigrant visa categories will have problems on future immigration benefits.

Non-US citizens can be barred from obtaining visas, entering the US, and obtaining immigration benefits based on extended periods of unlawful presence in the US. If the individual accrues more than 180 days (but less than 1 year), he or she may be barred from re-entry for 3 years. Unlawful presence greater than 1 year can result in a 10-year bar.

The new policy, which becomes effective August 9, 2018, provides that nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors will start accruing unlawful presence either:

(1) the day after the visa holder no longer pursues the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after they engage in an unauthorized activity; or

(2) the day after they complete the course of study or program, including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period.

In addition, visa holders start accruing unlawful presence on:

(3) the day after their I-94 expires; or

(4) the day after an immigration judge orders their deportation or removal of the individual.

Under the previous policy, an F, J or M visa holder would start accruing unlawful presence the day after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified the visa holder that the individual violated his or her nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit. Accruing unlawful presence under this criterion required notification by the USCIS to the visa holder of the violation.

This change is very important. There has always been a clear distinction between violating status and being unlawfully present, with only the latter situation having severe consequences for visa holders. A person could be in violation of status and not be unlawfully present. For instance, a foreign student on an F visa could drop out of school or perform unauthorized work and not accrue unlawful presence.

This situation is very specific to nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors because their Form I-94 and admission stamp usually list duration of status (or D/S) and not a specific date. Typically, F, J and M visa holders can maintain status as long as they remain enrolled or continue to participate in the activity for which they were admitted in the first place. The situation is different from other nonimmigrant visas, such as H-1B and L-1A visas, where unlawful presence generally starts accruing on the day after their visa stay permission on Form I-94 expires.

Under the new rule, even foreign students and exchange visitors who violate status unintentionally and without being aware of it, will start accruing unlawful presence—and may be in for an unpleasant surprise when they later apply for a new visa.

This announcement comes less than a month after USCIS updated its web page regarding the optional practical training (OPT) extension for international students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). USCIS now specifically provides that the training experience of STEM OPT workers may not be conducted at the place of business or worksite of the employer’s clients or customers. Combined with last week’s policy change, such an arrangement could cause the visa holder to accrue unlawful presence and later trigger a re-entry ban and visa denial.

We encourage employers who currently employ workers on F, J or M visas or who plan to do so, to carefully review the applicable rules, especially if you intend to subsequently apply for a new visa (e.g., H-1B, EB1, EB2) on their behalf.

For more information, please contact your Dentons lawyer and see the USCIS website for additional information.

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Stricter unlawful presence rules for foreign students and exchange visitors

USCIS to require applicant’s signature for delivery of green card and EAD

Delivery of alien registration cards (popularly called green cards), employment authorization documents (EADs) and reentry permits will soon require the recipient to present valid photo identification at the time of delivery, with some exceptions.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Friday, April 27, 2018, that the agency will soon start using the Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery service from the US Postal Service. The stated goal is to increase “the security, integrity, and efficiency of document delivery” and provide “better tracking and accuracy of delivery information, improving service to applicants.” This new process applies to the delivery of secure documents, such as green cards, EAD cards and reentry permits. USCIS plans to first roll out the new process to secure documents that were returned as non-deliverable, and to subsequently expand use of signature confirmations to all deliveries of secure documents.

In general, applicants will have to present a valid ID to sign their documents upon delivery. USPS offers several alternatives, including designating another person to sign on the applicant’s behalf, authorizing the hotel or the apartment complex where the applicant resides to accept delivery, etc. Applicants can also sign up for Informed Delivery, an online service from USPS that provides delivery status notifications and allows for parcels to be held for in-person pickup at a USPS post office location.

This announcement comes less than a month after USCIS indicated that it would destroy such secure documents (green cards, EAD cards and travel booklets) after 60 days if returned as non-deliverable by USPS. These two recent announcements serve as a reminder that all foreign nationals are required to keep USCIS informed of their current address, and to report any change of address within 10 days of relocation by filing Form AR-11, either online or by post.

For more information, please contact your Dentons lawyer and for the full text of the agency’s press release can be found at the USCIS website.

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USCIS to require applicant’s signature for delivery of green card and EAD

The travails of the ‘Windrush generation’ and the lessons for EU nationals

UK Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes has set out the government’s commitment to support the “Windrush generation,” immigrants who migrated legally from British colonies or former colonies in the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973. The term “Windrush” derives from the name of the ship, the Empire Windrush, that brought the first arrivals in Britain’s post-war drive to fill a labor shortage. The ship carried 492 passengers, many of them children, from the Commonwealth country of Jamaica. Under the British Nationality Act, they and thousands who followed after, enjoyed British citizenship and full rights of entry and settlement. In 1962, however, British law changed to end the automatic right of entry and, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as the Caribbean colonies gained independence—and their people different citizenship—a series of British laws further tightened immigration controls.

The story of Caribbean-born Britons took an inauspicious turn in 2012. Changes to immigration law that required documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, left people fearful about their status. As it turned out, their fears were justified. Recent reports in the British press about longtime legal residents of West Indian and Caribbean ancestry losing their jobs, being denied medical care, being evicted, and even detained and threatened with deportation because they could not prove that they had lived in the country since before 1973 produced a public outcry and, on April 17, 2018, an apology from Prime Minister Theresa May.

The current “hostile environment”—aimed at making it difficult for illegal immigrants to settle in the UK—has meant that many people living in the UK legally are being asked to document their right to stay in the UK when trying to access healthcare, applying for a job, opening a bank account, or renting a property, and some of the Windrush generation who arrived here as children are finding it difficult to do so because they have never had a need to update their passports and immigration documents.

Their plight, however, is not dissimilar to that of EU nationals, who must also think about what documentation they can produce to prove their right to remain in the UK. There are thousands of EU nationals who do not hold passports and/or do not have a paper trail to evidence their nationality or time spent in the UK. Without such documents, they will find it difficult to meet the requirements to apply for residency documentation confirming their status. Such EU nationals will feel the same level of anxiety and experience the same hostile environment that the Windrush generation are contending with. However, for EU nationals there’s the added pressure of having to complete their application within six months of December 31, 2020, being the end of the implementation period. Those who fail to do so enter uncharted territory, as there is no information at present on what will happen to EU nationals who haven’t obtained new residency documents.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, identified this very issue when speaking to The Telegraph for an article that appeared on April 18 on how the UK government’s handling of its Windrush citizens has led to fears that EU nationals could face similar problems. Verhofstadt said, “This could be worrying for millions of EU citizens in the UK who may fear that they could face similar treatment after Brexit.” He added that he expects that MEPs will be looking for safeguards for their constituents.

The UK government has accepted that the Windrush citizens are entitled to reside in the UK and to access public services, and has asserted its commitment to working with any individuals who do not have documentation to prove their right to be in the UK. A new dedicated Home Office team will help such individuals gather the evidence necessary to prove that they have been living or working in the UK, and when such evidence is gathered, will endeavor to resolve cases within two weeks and at no cost to the applicant. Unfortunately, however, while the Brexit talks have gone more smoothly as of late, there is not the same commitment between the UK government and EU governments to help EU nationals. Given the current climate of uncertainty, we are advising EU nationals and employers of EU nationals on their best course of action.

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The travails of the ‘Windrush generation’ and the lessons for EU nationals

Graduation: Time to request post-graduation work permission for foreign students

It’s April. Graduation is just around the corner. International students who are in F-1 status must consider their post-graduation plans. Now is the time to work with foreign student advisors and the USCIS for those seeking to work and gain practical training after graduation.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period of temporary employment in the US that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. An F-1 student may be authorized 12 months of OPT after completing a degree from a US university. Eligible students must apply within 30 days of the foreign student advisor (known to USCIS as the “designated school official” or “DSO”) for OPT into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record system.

The application time window is only open from 90 days before to 60 days after completing the degree. The latest possible start date for the OPT is 60 days after completing the degree. F-1 students must make sure to submit their applications, with application fee, within the time window. OPT will start after USCIS approves the Form I-765 and issues an employment authorization document (EAD).

An employer is not required when OPT is requested, but the student will need to find work soon or OPT will be lost and the student will need to leave the US if he or she is without work for more than 90 days after OPT is granted. F-1 students on OPT must report employment status to their DSOs, who will then update their SEVIS records. The reporting is important because a student with approved OPT but without current employer information in SEVIS is considered unemployed. This can have serious ramifications on the student’s future immigration opportunities. We are seeing an increasing number of requests from USCIS regarding OPT employment information when the student later applies for the H-1B work visa that is widely used by F-1 students to work in the US beyond OPT.

OPT can be extended by 24 months for F-1 students who graduate with a bachelor’s or higher degree in an eligible science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field from an SEVP-certified school accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education. Eligible students must apply before the end of the OPT as indicated on the EAD.

During the STEM OPT period, the permitted unemployment period is 60 days. Unlike the initial OPT, where employer involvement is minimal, STEM OPT requires that the employer enroll in USCIS’ E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. Dentons lawyers guide employers on the E-Verify registration process and advise on compliance issues.

Also, the employer must agree to employ the student for a minimum of 20 hours per week and to provide the student with formal training and learning objectives. To fulfill this requirement, the student and the employer must complete and sign Form I-983, which must explain how the training opportunity has a direct relationship to the student’s qualifying STEM degree. Dentons lawyers assist employers in developing STEM OPT-compliant training programs.

During the STEM OPT extension period, students must report to their DSOs every six months and supply updated information regarding their employment. If an employer terminates a student’s employment or if the student leaves the job, the employer has to report in either situation to the relevant DSO within five business days. STEM OPT students must submit annual self-evaluations and report to their DSOs regarding the progress of their training. Both student and employer must report to the relevant DSO any material changes to the training plan. Reporting and record-keeping are important in case the student applies for H-1B later.

For more information about STEM OPT, please contact your Dentons lawyer and see the USDHS website for additional information.

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Graduation: Time to request post-graduation work permission for foreign students