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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

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

Scotland: A separate system for global mobility?

The Times has revealed plans by Scottish ministers to pave the way for a bespoke immigration system.

Scottish ministers are concerned that Brexit will lead to a fall in immigrant workers, who are vital to the Scottish economy. Alasdair Allan, the Scottish government’s Europe minister, raised this as an issue to the Europe Committee earlier this year. “The Scottish government,” he said, “will continue to call for a less restrictive and more humane system from the UK which recognises individual and demographic circumstances.”

Scottish ministers plan to present to the UK government next summer an “options paper” that will set out some concessions from the UK immigration system. The most far-reaching of the requested options could be Scotland having its own, points-based immigration system with Holyrood in control. At the other end of the spectrum, the Scottish government may simply look to expand the Scotland Shortage Occupation List or reintroduce a post-study work route to give foreign graduates the chance to stay in Scotland to find work. The Shortage Occupation List contains occupations the country has trouble filling from inside Scotland. Concessions are made to the usual immigration process to bring in workers for these roles from outside the EU.

We will bring you more details as they are disclosed.

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Scotland: A separate system for global mobility?

UK announces changes to Immigration Rules

uk-flag-and-passport

On November 3, 2016, the UK Home Office announced several changes to its visa policies. The new Immigration Rules, which go into effect on November 24, will primarily affect Tier 2 migrants and nationals of countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA).

Tier 2

The following changes will affect all certificates of sponsorship assigned by Tier 2 sponsors on or after November 24, 2016:

Increasing the Tier 2 (General) salary threshold for experienced workers to £25,000, with some exemptions

  • Increasing the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) salary threshold for short-term staff to £30,000
  • Reducing the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) graduate trainee salary threshold to £23,000, and increasing the number of places to 20 per company per year
  • Closing the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) skills transfer sub-category

The government has not yet announced a date from which intra-company transfer migrants will be liable for the immigration health surcharge.

Non-EEA partners

The government has introduced a new English-language requirement for non-EEA partners and parents. This affects those applying to extend their stay after 2.5 years in the UK on a five-year route to settlement under Appendix FM (Family Member) of the Immigration Rules (introduced in July 2012).

The new requirement will apply to partners and parents whose current leave under the family Immigration Rules is due to expire on or after May 1, 2017.

The English-language requirement applies to most immigration applications. This includes those seeking to enter the UK for employment under the points-based system, and students seeking to enter the UK under Tier 4 of the points-based system.

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UK announces changes to Immigration Rules

New rule extends US work authorization for certain foreign students

STEM image Professional

Important new US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations allow F-1 foreign student visa holders with degrees from American universities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to extend optional practical training (OPT) for 24 months beyond the 12-month period generally available to F-1 students on OPT. This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month STEM OPT previously available. The new rule is effective May 10, 2016.

Requirements

To qualify:

  1. The employer must be enrolled in the voluntary e-verify program (see USCIS website)
  2. The student must have completed a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in a STEM field
  3. The job offered must directly relate to the student’s STEM degree

Transition rules

Pending STEM OPT extension applications adjudicated prior to May 10, 2016, will only be valid for 17 months. Beginning on May 10, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue Requests for Further Evidence asking students with pending STEM OPT extension applications whether they wish to amend their application from 17 to 24 months—perhaps one of the few times when lengthy government processing times will benefit students.

The new rule gives students with pending applications the option to withdraw now and file a new application with a 24-month request, but with the important reminder that a student can only file for a STEM OPT extension if post-completion OPT has not expired prior to government receipt of a new STEM OPT application.

Also, students who already have received a 17-month STEM EAD will be able to file for a 7-month extension between May 10, 2016 and August 8, 2016, so long as 150 days still exist before the expiration of their 17-month STEM EAD and they file within 60 days of the date their Designated School Official (DSO) enters the recommendation for the 24-month STEM OPT extension into the student’s SEVIS record and other requirements are met, and they meet all other requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Background

An August 2015 blog post offers background about F-1 OPT, STEM OPT extensions and the litigation that called into question the validity of the old 17-month rule.

We also addressed this issue in October 2015, when DHS first published the proposed rule to address the litigation.

The new rule was expressly written to resolve the defects found in the administrative procedures used to pass the old rule. In addition to reviving the STEM OPT extension in compliance with required rulemaking procedures, DHS took the opportunity make the validity period even longer. This is certainly not the result desired by those who challenged the original rule in an attempt to limit executive authority to grant US employment authorization to foreign nationals.

Further information

The complete text of the DHS notice of the new rule is available at the Federal Register’s website. Furthermore, DHS has opened a website that contains more information on the new STEM rule.

Dentons lawyers help employers obtain and maintain E-Verify status, as well as regular and STEM OPT employment authorization document applications, employment eligibility verification I-9 records and visas to authorize employment in the US and in the more than 50 countries around the world where Dentons has offices.

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New rule extends US work authorization for certain foreign students

Good news for US employers and foreign students—DHS STEM OPT extension rule published

STEM 2

On October 19, 2015, the US Department of Homeland Security published the much anticipated proposed new regulation authorizing the amendment of F-1 student visa regulations regarding employment authorization for foreign students. This will give much needed relief to US employers and the foreign students who work for them.

Since 2008, F-1 foreign student visa holders who graduate from US universities with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degrees are eligible to apply for 17 months of employment authorization in the US beyond the 12 months normally available. In addition, the 2008 regulatory change allowed F-1 students to apply for optional practical training (OPT) employment authorization up to 60 days after completion of the academic program. Finally, the 2008 change addressed the “Cap-Gap” program by making available additional employment authorization to F-1 OPT holders who are beneficiaries of H-1B temporary worker change of visa status petitions beginning on October 1 whose employment authorization would otherwise expire prior to September 30.

On August 12, 2015, the Washington, DC federal district court in Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. USDHS found that the DHS violated the Administrative Procedures Act in 2008 when DHS first created the STEM OPT regulation without the notice and comment period required by law. The court stayed its ruling to February 12, 2016, to give DHS time to take corrective action to minimize “substantial hardship for foreign students and a major labor disruption for the technology sector.”

The court effectively gave DHS until December 14, 2015, to publish a final regulation to correct the error (with some exceptions, a proposed regulation must be published a minimum of 60 days prior to a final regulation). That means the DHS should have published the proposed regulation no later than October 15. Failure to do so increases the chance of disruption. That said, the case was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and DHS attorneys will likely ask the appellate court to stay the lower court order and suspend the February deadline.

For the complete text of the DHS proposed rule.

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Good news for US employers and foreign students—DHS STEM OPT extension rule published

US executive action promises important new immigration benefits for some

 

President Obama Speaks On Homeland Security's Announcement About Deportations

US President Obama announced on November 20, 2014 a series of executive actions to crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to temporarily stay in the US without fear of deportation.  The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) announced that it is not yet accepting any applications for benefits under this program, stating that “[s]ome initiatives will be implemented over the next several months and some will take longer.”

Among the President’s initiatives is a plan to modernize, improve and clarify immigrant and nonimmigrant programs to grow our economy and create jobs.  This is intended to primarily benefit US businesses, foreign investors, researchers, inventors and skilled foreign workers.

The USCIS states that it will implement this initiative as follows:

  • Work with the Department of State to develop a method to allocate immigrant visas to ensure that all immigrant visas authorized by Congress are issued to eligible individuals when there is sufficient demand for such visas.
  • Work with the Department of State to modify the Visa Bulletin system to more simply and reliably make determinations of visa availability.
  • Provide clarity on adjustment portability to remove unnecessary restrictions on natural career progression and general job mobility to provide relief to workers facing lengthy adjustment delays.
  • Clarify the standard by which a national interest waiver may be granted to foreign inventors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises to benefit the US economy.
  • Authorize parole, on a case-by-case basis, to eligible inventors, researchers and founders of start-up enterprises who may not yet qualify for a national interest waiver, but who:
    • Have been awarded substantial US investor financing; or
    • Otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies or the pursuit of cutting-edge research.
    • Finalize a rule to provide work authorization to the spouses of certain H-1B visa holders who are on the path to lawful permanent resident status.
    • Work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to develop regulations for notice and comment to expand and extend the use of optional practical training (OPT) for foreign students, consistent with existing law.
    • Provide clear, consolidated guidance on the meaning of “specialized knowledge” to bring greater clarity and integrity to the L-1B program, improve consistency in adjudications, and enhance companies’ confidence in the program.

There is an additional, well publicized initiative to provide temporary legal status to certain individuals who have been in the US unlawfully for a continuous period of more than 5 years, if they are the parent of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.  More details on all of the initiatives can be found at the USCIS web site.

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US executive action promises important new immigration benefits for some

Upcoming changes to visas between US and PRC aim to facilitate travel and decrease need for renewals

BVisa

Effective November 12, 2014, the US and the PRC will both increase the validity of business, tourist, student and exchange visitor visas issued to each other’s citizens.

Chinese business visitors and tourists may be issued multiple-entry B-1 and B-2 visas for up to 10 years. Students and exchange visitors and their accompanying family members will be eligible for F, M and J visas for multiple entry for up to 5 years or the length of their program.

US citizens going to China for short-term business and tourism will also receive multiple-entry F and L visas for up to 10 years, while American students may receive X student visa residence permits for up to 5 years, depending on the length of their program.

This change will facilitate business travel and decrease the time and cost that has been spent on more frequent visa renewals without any change in government processing fees. This change does not impact the length of authorized stay.  Visas only authorize travel to another country and the immigration officer at the port of entry/airport inspection unit will determine the length of authorized stay.

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Upcoming changes to visas between US and PRC aim to facilitate travel and decrease need for renewals