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Important new regulations for immigrant workers

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The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published important new regulations for immigrant workers on November 18, 2016. The regulations become effective January 17, 2017.

Summary

The agency has amended its regulations to provide benefits to those in the employment-based first (EB1), second (EB2) and third (EB3) immigrant visa categories and their employers. The agency’s stated goal is to improve processes and increase certainty for employers seeking to employ and retain such workers, provide greater job flexibility for those workers, and clarify relevant Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies.

New Rules

There are a number of new regulations, some of which adopt current agency policy and others that are new. The following are some of the most important ones.

For occupations in which a license is required (e.g., doctor, lawyer, etc.), the USCIS will grant the H1B visa for up to one year, if the only obstacle to license issuance is lack of a Social Security number.

For the purpose of counting the number of days spent in the US in H1B visa status towards the normal six-year limit, the USCIS will consider any twenty-four-hour period spent outside the US as one day, regardless of the reason for the absence.

A former H1B visa holder who is no longer in H1B visa status, and regardless of whether he or she is in the US or abroad, may seek an exemption from the normal six-year limit. The foreign worker must be otherwise eligible and the beneficiary of an approved EB1, EB2 or EB3 petition for whom the visa is not current under the quota system as of the date that the H1B petition is filed.

Lengthy adjudication delays of permanent resident status will not support an extension of H1B status beyond the normal six-year limit if the immigrant fails to file for permanent residence or an immigrant visa within one year of the visa becoming current under the quota system. If the visa becomes unavailable again, a new one-year period will be afforded when an immigrant visa again becomes available. The USCIS may also in its discretion excuse failure to timely file upon a showing that the failure was due to circumstances beyond the immigrant’s control.

Credible documentation that an H1B visa worker faced retaliatory action from the sponsoring employer regarding a violation of that employer’s H1B labor condition application obligations may be considered by the USCIS as grounds to grant an extension of H1B stay, or a change of status to another visa classification, notwithstanding the worker’s loss of, or failure to maintain, his or her H1B status.

The definition of “same occupational classification” for purposes of establishing the portability of immigrants to new jobs, has been modified to mean an occupation that resembles in every relevant respect the occupation for which the EB petition was originally granted. “Similar occupational classification” is now defined as an occupation that shares essential qualities or has a marked resemblance or likeness with the original occupation. This guidance is similar to what agency memoranda have already stated.

Employment eligibility verification regulations are amended to authorize employers to accept as proof of employment eligibility Form I-797C and also state that the original employment authorization document is automatically extended for up to 180 days. This is a new rule and will help employers.

Background

The US limits the number of employment-based immigrants annually, by both visa category and country of birth. The quota allocation set in 1990 has never been increased. The annual supply for most categories and countries of birth seems sufficient to prevent lengthy waiting periods; the greatest source of delay are USCIS and Department of Labor (DOL) agency processing times.

The most significant exceptions are for immigrants born in India and mainland China. So many employment-based immigrants born in those two countries are in the queue that waiting periods of for most immigrant visa categories now are many years.

Employer-sponsored EB visas tend to be for specific jobs, at specific work sites, with stated duties and compensation. In general, sponsoring employers and immigrant workers must intend after immigration is complete to work in the same job at the same work site with the same duties for the same (or similar) compensation.

Congress addressed this problem in the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000 (AC21). The USCIS (and its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service) issued implementing policy guidance, which has been clarified and revised over the years.

The lengthy processing delays were also a problem for H1B professional workers, since there is normally a limit of only six years of status. AC21 provided for extensions beyond the six-year limit.

The EB1 immigrant visa category includes individuals of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers and executives. The EB2 category is for professionals with advanced degrees and individuals with exceptional ability. The EB3 category is for professionals and skilled workers, while the EB3W category is for other workers in short supply.

Read the full text of the new regulations here.

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