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H-1B: The Buck Stops Where?

Who can pay the cost of the H-1B is a recurring question. And the US Department of Labor provides the answer.

The short answer is: the employer. However, like most legal questions, the more detailed answer is more complicated.

It is that time of year again—H-1B filing season. Employers, recent graduates, and professionals overseas are starting to prepare for the annual filing of new H-1B visa petitions to authorize professionals from other countries to be employed in the US.

The process is expensive. There are government filing fees and attorney’s fees, charges for expert evaluations of foreign education and/or experience and charges for translations. For some, there may also be costs associated with relocation, transportation, accompanying family members, etc. Even generous employers often question whether some of the expenses can be lawfully paid the employee himself or herself, or which of the expenses the employer may recoup if the employee leaves employment.

The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division issued Fact Sheet #62H, “What are the rules concerning deductions from an H-1B worker’s pay?,” in 2009. The DOL’s position is that there are certain expenses that can never be deducted from an employee’s pay. In pertinent part, these include:

  • The US Citizenship and Immigration Services training and processing fee;
  • The USCIS fraud protection and detection fee;
  • The USCIS optional premium processing fee;
  • A penalty for the workers failure to complete the full employment period authorized by the approved H-1B;
  • Any expenses, including attorney fees, directly related to the filing of the Form ETA 7035E labor condition attestation; and
  • Any deduction that would reduce the worker’s pay below the required wage rate, which is stated on the Form ETA 7035E.

The DOL does identify some expenses that can be paid by either the employer or the employee. Of course deductions required by law (e.g., income tax) can be made. Deductions authorized by the employee also are permissible, but only if:

  • There is a voluntary, written authorization by the employee;
  • For a matter principally for the benefit of the employee, such as reimbursement for travel to the United States or payment for food and lodging that was not incurred while traveling on the employer’s business;
  • For an amount that does not exceed the fair market value or the actual cost (whichever is lower) of the matter covered; and
  • The amount does not exceed the limits for garnishments set by the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

It is important to note that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services guidance in this area is much less comprehensive than the DOL. USCIS provides clear guidance on their position with respect to the various USCIS filing fees. While some may consider the differences as creating a grey area to justify allocating certain expenses to employees, conservative employers will want to minimize exposure to potential liability and the specter of a government enforcement action or civil suit by a disgruntled employee. Following the DOL’s guidance is the best practice.

Employers should review their employee handbooks, employment agreements, offer letters and collateral materials to ensure that they are in compliance with the DOL framework.

The full text of Fact Sheet #62H is available on the DOL website.

For more information about H-1B visa requirements or other questions regarding hiring the best and brightest from around the world, please contact the authors or your regular Dentons lawyer.

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H-1B: The Buck Stops Where?

New important dates for H-1B employers: March 1, 20 and 31

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency announced on January 9, that the initial H-1B petition registration period will be from March 1 to March 20, 2020, and that USCIS expects to notify employers whose registrations have been selected no later than March 31, 2020. The agency also provided new information about the H-1B cap-subject petition registration process.  

Petitioners must register using an online account. As of this writing, USCIS has not provided any details regarding the registration portal or ways to register an account, but has indicated that it will post the date employers may start setting up accounts on its website. 

Petitioners must electronically submit a separate registration request for each individual it seeks to petition for a cap-subject H-1B. No more than one registration may be submitted for the same individual by the same petitioner, or all registrations for that individual will be disregarded. 

USCIS will deliver lottery results by sending notices electronically and inform petitioners to file an H-1B cap-subject petition on behalf of the named individual within the filing period indicated on the notice. The notifications will be added to the registration accounts, and the account holders will receive notification via email or text message stating that an action has been added to their account. 

Petitioners should start the preparation process now by evaluating potential H-1B candidates to make sure that they are qualified to receive the visa if selected. Please contact your Dentons lawyer if you have any questions. 

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New important dates for H-1B employers: March 1, 20 and 31

New H-1B Registration Starts March 1, 2020

Hire American/Buy American policy used to benefit the government

In a move under the Hire American/Buy American Executive Order touted as aiding US employers, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services in November actually placed an extra burden on US employers sponsoring H-1B professional workers. The only real winner from this change is the US government—not American employers or workers.

The old rule

In the past, employers filed H-1B petitions with filing fees and the USCIS would then randomly select petitions up to the limited quota available. The agency had to deal with more than twice as many petitions as the quota allowed. It took the USCIS three months on average to return unselected petitions and the filing fees paid by employers, at considerable expense to the government.

The new rule

Under the new rule, the USCIS has increased both the fees employers pay and the steps employers must take. Now employers seeking to file H-1B, cap-subject petitions for the 2021 fiscal year will be required to first register and pay a non-refundable $10-per-petition registration fee.

A separate registration must be submitted for each H-1B requested. The registration must be completed between March 1 and March 20, 2020. Petitioners will receive electronic notification that USCIS has accepted the registration for processing. As before, employers are not permitted to submit more than one registration for a single employee in a fiscal year.

The USCIS will then run a random selection process on the registrations received and will notify petitioners whose registrations were selected. The petitioner will then have up to 90 days to file a full petition with supporting documents and all of the usual filing fees.   

Dentons insights

Imposing additional fees and procedures on US employers benefits no one but the government.

While employers will find out sooner than under the old rule if an employee’s petition is selected, that is no guarantee the petition will be ultimately granted. To the contrary, the increasingly conservative positions being taken by USCIS adjudicators in evaluating petitions—a process without legislative or regulatory approval—make denial more likely than ever.

And early notice of selection for the lucky few means earlier notice of non-selection for the majority of registrations. That is particularly bad news for most F-1 visa foreign students.

The old rule allowed continued employment of certain F-1 students whose authorization otherwise ended. Known as a “cap-gap extension,” this rule provided that a pending H-1B petition for a foreign student with OPT or STEM OPT ending before September 30 acted to extend employment authorization until September 30 or the date that the employer receives notice that the H-1B petition is not selected, whichever is earlier. Such rejection notices were usually not received until mid-June or later, which benefited many employers and students. Under the new rule, unselected registrations will not enjoy cap-gap benefits and employers will lose more workers sooner.

We also expect that US employers will see even longer USCIS-processing times for selected H-1B petitions.

In the past, the USCIS began processing petitions after the selection process was completed—usually mid-April—yet the agency would still be sending out petition approvals and denials into October. Under the new process, the USCIS says registrations will be selected by the beginning of April and employers will have 90 days to file. With some petitions filed as much as three months later under the new rule, it seems likely employers will sometimes see USCIS processing completed in December, or 90 days later than now.

The government claims this new registration process will dramatically streamline processing by reducing paperwork and data exchange, and will result in an overall cost savings to US employers. In fact, the real beneficiary of the new process is the agency itself.

By limiting the number of petitions eligible to file, the USCIS reduces its own workload. It will not have to deal with sending out rejection notices and returning unselected petition packages. Government efficiency is a good thing, but better without the pretense that the change helps Americans.

US employers will continue to bear the cost of recruiting and making offers to more prospective hires than they will ultimately be allowed to employ. They will still have to pay lawyers to evaluate jobs offered and candidate qualifications to make sure registrations are only done for qualified cases. The fact that some forms will not need to be typed or documents copied will save employers some money, but only on the clerical aspects of the process.

As with any new rule, there are clouds of uncertainty. Employers, candidates and lawyers must be prepared for last-minute process changes. The USCIS already announced that it will soon release more information regarding the new registration. And there is always the possibility that a court decision will ban the implementation of this new process and we will have to revert back to previous practices.

Dentons will continue to monitor this issue. Please contact your Dentons lawyer if you have any questions.

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New H-1B Registration Starts March 1, 2020

US green card waiting times lengthen for many

The US State Department predicts longer green card waiting times for many immigrants. Charlie Oppenheim, chief of the department’s Visa Control and Reporting Division, recently shared his analysis of current trends and future prospects with respect to immigrant visa supply and demand.

EB1—Extraordinary ability; outstanding professors/researchers; multinational managers/executives

The employment-based first preference category is not expected to become currently available again for any country of birth. While people born in most countries are predicted to see movement of up to three months per month, Indian-born can anticipate little if any movement. India and China both have waiting times that are years longer than other countries.

EB2—Advanced degree; exceptional ability

EB2 is expected to remain currently available for all countries of birth, except mainland China and India, but that could change, as it did in the current fiscal year. The demand for Indian-born is so great that the predicted movement is only up to one week per month, while China is predicted to move up to two months per month.

EB3—Professionals; skilled workers; unskilled/other workers

The prediction for EB3 is similar to EB2, but with slow and irregular forward movement likely for China and the Philippines. India is predicted to show little to no movement until January 2020. The more limited supply of the “other workers” category makes it likely that it will not remain currently available for the entire fiscal year.

EB4—Religious workers; special immigrant juveniles

The prediction is for EB4 to remain currently available for most countries of birth. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are likely to see little if any movement because of the large demand in the special immigrant juvenile category. Mexico is predicted to see movement of up to four months.

EB5—Immigrant investors

The EB5 category is expected to remain currently available for most countries of birth; mainland China, Vietnam and India will continue to experience longer waiting periods. Mr. Oppenheim did not predict availability.

Note that the October 2019 Visa Bulletin’s EB5 Regional Center final action date is reported as unavailable because Congress and the administration have not yet extended that program. This program has always been temporary in nature and the government always has extended it, often after expiration. In contrast, traditional EB5 remains available.

Family-based preference categories

There are no limits on US citizens sponsoring their spouse, parents and unmarried children under age 21, so these are not reported in the Visa Bulletin.

For October, the F2A (family second preference) category for green card holders sponsoring their spouse and unmarried children under age 21 is reported as current across all countries of birth. Mr. Oppenheim predicted that demand will increase in late 2019 or early 2020, and the category can expect a Final Action Date by February 2020.

Background

The Department of State’s monthly online Visa Bulletin reports on the current wait times for the US immigrant visas (green cards) that are subject to numerical limits. The date the government receives an immigrant visa petition is considered the priority date. The immigrant’s country of birth is another factor impacting how long it takes to immigrate, although a married couple immigrating together can use either spouse’s country of birth for the entire family.

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US green card waiting times lengthen for many

The Government of Canada implements its New Preclearance Act

Effective August 15, 2019, the Preclearance Act of 2016 gives enhanced powers to US Customs and Border Protection officers working in preclearance areas located in Canada, much to the chagrin of many concerned Canadians. The Act was implemented in furtherance of the Preclearance Agreement, a treaty signed by Canada and the US in 2015. Please click here to read the Dentons client alert.

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The Government of Canada implements its New Preclearance Act

Federal legalization of hemp in the United States and its effect on US immigration laws

US immigration laws eased after the US 2018 Farm Bill removes hemp (and extracts of hemp such as CBD), from the list of controlled substances that have immigration consequences. Signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019, removes a major roadblock that hindered foreign investment and job creation in the US lawful hemp industry. Please click here to read the full article.

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Federal legalization of hemp in the United States and its effect on US immigration laws

Cannabis in the United States and its implications in naturalization applications

In response to requests from state and local officials for clarification and adjustment of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policies negatively impacting the legal immigration status of individuals who work or have worked in the legal cannabis industry, USCIS has updated its Policy Manual—but has not retreated from its position that cannabis-related activities will likely bar a lawful permanent resident of the US from naturalization, even if such activities take place in a state that has legalized cannabis. For a deep dive into the updated manual—including cannabis-related activities which, while not grounds for deportation may still be grounds for inadmissibility if the LPR travels abroad and attempts to re-enter the US—please click here.

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Cannabis in the United States and its implications in naturalization applications

How US federal cannabis legalization would affect US immigration law

During the 115th US Congress, several bills were introduced to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Those receiving the most attention were: (1) the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act); (2) Marijuana Justice Act of 2017/Marijuana Justice Act of 2018 (Marijuana Justice Act); and (3) the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (Marijuana Freedom Act). While all three died when the Congress ended on January 3, 2019, they are likely to be reintroduced (without change) during the 116th Congress. For our analysis of how they might affect the ability of foreign nationals to enter the United States, click here.

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How US federal cannabis legalization would affect US immigration law

Significant changes in the work permit regulations in Uzbekistan

The Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan on March 25 approved a new procedure for employers to obtain a license and confirm foreign nationals. Changes to the framework including a broadening of the definition of “employer,” a more streamlined process, a significant increase in fees, and limiting three-year confirmations to certain categories of persons.

Read the complete Dentons article here.

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Significant changes in the work permit regulations in Uzbekistan

Measures to ensure compliance with the rules of stay in Russia

Russian Passport

We draw your attention to the entry into force on January 16, 2019, of Federal Law No. 216-FZ of July 19, 2018 on Amendments to Article 16 of the Federal Law on the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in the Russian Federation. This law considerably changes the area of migration relations that had been considered the least formalized. It involves measures for the foreign citizen to comply with the rules of stay in Russia (such as leaving Russia on time at the end of the period of stay and complying with the stated purpose of the visit), the liability for violation of which was previously imposed on the foreign citizen.

The new rules set forth that the inviting party (i.e., the organization or individual who invited the foreign citizen to Russia) is responsible for taking measures to ensure the foreign citizen complies with the rules of stay in Russia. The list of required measures and how they are applied is to be further determined by the RF Government. The RF Government resolution setting forth these measures has yet to be published; however, the draft resolution can be viewed here. According to the draft, it is assumed that the inviting party will have to take the following set of measures:

  1. Serve the foreign citizen a notice again signature that the foreign citizen needs to comply with the purpose of entry and warning the foreign citizen of liability for failure to comply, as soon he/she enters the country. The form of the notice is approved by the Ministry of the Interior of Russia.
  2. Provide the foreign citizen with the conditions he/she needs to comply with the stated purpose of entry (e.g., employing a foreigner who entered the country on a work visa, or arranging business negotiations for a foreigner who entered the country on a business visa).
  3. Stay in contact and correspond with the foreigner.
  4. Inform the Ministry of the Interior of Russia if it is discovered that the foreign citizen has not left Russia at the set time or if the foreign citizen fails to comply with the rules of stay, and also if contact is lost with the foreign citizen. The form(s) for doing this is/are approved by the Ministry of the Interior of Russia.
  5. Remind the foreign citizen in advance (at least 10 days before the visa expires) of the need to leave Russia. The reminder: (i) is sent to the foreign citizen by registered letter with notification or by email with confirmation that it has been read, or (ii) is personally delivered to the foreign citizen against signature.
  6. Assist the foreign citizen in overcoming various circumstances preventing him/her from leaving the Russian Federation on time (e.g., not having money to leave, loss of documents).

As stated above, this draft RF Government resolution with list of measures to ensure an invited foreign citizen follows the rules of stay in Russia has not yet been published. It is anticipated that the RF Government will publish the resolution in the near future. We will provide information about this on our website.

The Code of Administrative Offenses (Article 18.9(2) of the Code of Administrative Offenses) establishes the inviting party’s liability for failing to take the above-mentioned measures. This liability is in the form of administrative fines on the officer and on the organization of up to RUB 50,000 (on the officer) and up to RUB 500,000 (on the organization).

Considering the above, at this stage we recommend taking action to make a list of all foreign citizens your company has invited and who hold currently valid visas (whether work, business or guest visas). This will make it possible to then take all of the measures listed above to ensure they comply with the rules of stay in Russia.

Click here to read Dentons article.

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Measures to ensure compliance with the rules of stay in Russia