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Verifying work authorization under USCIS’ OPT cap-gap rule

There are special rules that act to automatically extend the US employment eligibility of qualified F-1 foreign student visa holders beyond the period initially authorized. The rule that relates to F-1 visa holders seeking to change to H-1B work visa status is referred to as “cap-gap” because it is intended to fill the gap between the date the OPT (optional practical training) period would otherwise expire and the date that the new H-1B employment authorization starts.

The H-1B allows employers to temporarily employ a foreign national in a specialty occupation. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants H-1B status. There is a limit, or “cap,” on the number of individuals who can receive H-1B status, and H-1B employment generally begins on October 1, the start of the federal government’s fiscal year. 

OPT is an employment authorization for F-1 international students who have completed their studies. Typically, the OPT is granted for 12 months. STEM majors working for eligible employers may qualify for extensions totaling an additional 24 months. At the completion of the study program or the end of OPT, F-1 students have a 60-day grace period to take the steps necessary to either maintain their legal status or depart the US. For the non-STEM majors, that means their OPT status expires well before the October 1 start date of H-1B, hence the “cap-gap.”

To deal with this situation, USCIS’ OPT cap-gap rule automatically extends an eligible F-1 student’s status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US during the “gap.”

The cap-gap extension applies if all three of the following conditions are met:

  • An employer timely files a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with USCIS requesting a change of the student’s status to H-1B. Note: A petition requesting consular process does not qualify.
  • The H-1B petition asks for an October 1 start date.
  • The student’s status, including any applicable grace period, ends between April and September 30. 

How the OPT cap-gap protection is triggered by different events during the H-1B process

  • When an H-1B petition on behalf of the student has been filed with USCIS but not yet receipted, the student’s employment authorization automatically extends to June 1. While the extension is automatic, students can request from their school’s office of international students office an updated Form I-20 to serve as proof of legal status.
  • While the H-1B is pending with USCIS for processing, the student’s employment authorization automatically extends to September 30. Again, the student may, but is not required to, obtain an updated Form I-20 from the international students’ office. 

If USCIS denies the H-1B, or if the H-1B petition is returned as “not selected,” then there is no longer any cap-gap employment authorization. If the F-1 student’s OPT already expired, then the student has 60 days to depart the US or take other steps to maintain lawful status.

Employers are advised to request updated Form I-20s from their employees on OPT status as proof of valid work authorization, and to take note of the expiration dates.   

Note that if the student’s OPT expires before April 1 and the student is already in the 60-day grace period when the H-1B is filed, the cap-gap only extends the F-1 status, not OPT employment authorization. The student may remain in the US, but without OPT work authorization. 

Employers must verify the employment authorization for all employees in the US. Failure to do so may result in monetary penalties against the employer. Please contact Dentons for more information. 

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Verifying work authorization under USCIS’ OPT cap-gap rule

DHS publishes final rule governing FY 2020 H-1B cap season. Now it’s time to prepare your cap-subject petitions

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the final rule amending regulations governing H-1B cap-subject petitions. For a detailed discussion of the proposed rule, see our recent blog post here. The final rule, however, makes some changes different from those set out in the proposed rule.

No online registration for FY 2020 H-1B cap season

Though suggested in the proposed rule, the final rule clearly states that an online registration requirement will not be implemented for the FY 2020 cap season. The agency explains that before implementation, it wants to complete user testing and other evaluative tools to ensure the system and process are fully functional. Employers should be ready in 2020 for the FY 2021 H-1B cap season, when the process change will likely take place. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will announce the implementation in advance of the cap season in which it will implement the requirement.

Changing the order of the H-1B lottery selection for the FY 2020 H-1B cap season

Currently, H-1B cap-subject petitions filed under the advanced degree cap are selected first, and unselected petitions get a second bite at the apple—an opportunity to compete, along with the regular cap petitions, for one of the 65,000 visas available for workers holding bachelor’s degrees. The final rule reverses this order. Effective April 1, 2019, USCIS will first select 65,000 petitions from all submissions, including both regular and advanced degree petitions. USCIS will then run a second lottery to select enough qualifying petitions to meet the 20,000 cap exemption for individuals with advanced degrees from US institutions. DHS states that the change will increase the chances of H-1Bs being awarded to individuals with US master’s degrees or higher by up to 16%, or 5,340 workers. Time will tell. Why DHS thinks random holders of US master’s degrees will better serve American competitiveness than will holders of bachelors’ degrees in targeted fields of study, such as STEM, or who otherwise meet the goals articulated in President Trump’s April 2017 executive order directing an interdepartmental review of the H-1B visa program, was not addressed in the final rule.

Dentons analysis

Employers need to submit full H-1B cap-subject petitions during the first week of April. Please contact your lawyer now to be fully prepared.   

Meanwhile, Dentons will continue to closely monitor any changes to the regulations surrounding the H-1B program, particular regarding the pre-registration requirement, and update you as needed.

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DHS publishes final rule governing FY 2020 H-1B cap season. Now it’s time to prepare your cap-subject petitions

Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families

Time appears to be almost up for more than 100,000 foreign citizens working in the United States under an Obama-era special authorization for spouses of foreign workers here on the H-1B visa.

When Congress failed legislatively to address the lengthy wait times for many professionals and their families to be granted resident status, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2015, under the Obama administration, issued a regulation to allow H-4 visa spouses of qualified H-1B professionals to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD). Some members of Congress complained that the executive branch was overstepping its authority by making law—which is Congress’s job—and the regulation was the subject of much debate during the last presidential election. Now the Trump administration is seeking to make good on the President’s campaign promise to eliminate EADs for H-4 spouses.

This change especially impacts US employers of people born in India.

The reason why Indian-born professionals are impacted is because there are numerical limits on the number of green cards granted each year. To promote the diversity of new immigrants to the US, there are quota limits on the place of birth. No more than 7 percent of the total number of family-sponsored and employment-based visas available in a fiscal year may be issued to natives of any one independent country. As the demand for Indian-born professionals is far greater than the annual supply of green cards under the quota, this has created a backlog.

In 2018 for instance, the backlog of Indian-born professionals waiting their turn to get a green card was well in excess of a half million individuals. As a result, it now takes many years for an Indian-born professional to receive his or her green card. As a consequence, Indian-born professionals comprise the bulk of H-4 EAD holders.

Under the current regulation, an H-4 spouse can request an EAD if the H-1B professional is the beneficiary of either an approved employment-based immigrant visa petition, or a Department of Labor alien employment certification application or employment-based immigrant visa petition filed at least 365 days prior to the end of the sixth year of the professional’s H-1B status.

In April 2017, President Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which, among other things, directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with other agencies, to review H-1B-related policies. The H-4 EAD regulation was one of the policies reviewed and the result was its proposed elimination.

US employers rely on H-1B professionals to make up for the shortage of qualified American professionals while keeping jobs in the US. CEOs of major US companies, sent a letter to DHS opposing the plan to eliminate the H-4 EAD. The letter pointed out that “[t]hese spouses are often highly skilled in their own rights,” and “revoking their US work authorization will likely cause high-skilled immigrants to take their skills to competitors outside the United States.

These US employers found some support in Congress. Senators Kamala D. Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to DHS and USCIS opposing rescission of the H-4 EAD, pointing out that the proposed change would disproportionately impact South Asian women (in 2017, 94 percent of H-4 EAD were women and 93 percent were from India).

But the administration has not changed its position. In November 2018, DHS published its mid-year regulatory agenda, which included a proposed rule to revoke the H-4 employment authorization final rule. DHS stated that “[s]ome U.S. workers would benefit from this proposed rule by having a better chance at obtaining jobs that some of the population of the H-4 workers currently hold, as the proposed rule would no longer allow H-4 workers to enter the labor market early.” With record low unemployment levels and US employers already complaining of recruiting problems, it is unclear where the DHS thinks employers will find these US workers.

The new rule, if adopted, is expected to become effective in the first half of 2019 and would impact all 100,000+ individuals currently holding an H-4 EAD. Researchers also estimate that the proposed rule will affect entire families, including the H-1B professionals themselves, because many will not be able to afford to live on one income if their dependent spouse is forced to abandon his or her career. This is especially true in areas such as Seattle and the Silicon Valley, which employ high numbers of H-1B workers and have a high cost of living. Entire families may leave the US, taking their job skills to other countries to compete with their former employers—whose only options to remain competitive may be to outsource the jobs or set up their own offshore facilities. Nearshoring to Canada has become increasingly popular, due to the relatively lower cost of doing business there and proximity to the US.

The direct cost of each failed expatriate assignment is estimated to range from $250,000 to $1 million, according to researchers. More important, the departure of these highly skilled workers represents a brain drain and a significant loss of talent for most companies.

Dentons helps employers develop strategies to recruit the world’s best and brightest to fill posts in the US and abroad. For more information, please contact the authors or your Dentons lawyer.

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Proposed end of H-4 employment authorization likely to affect over 100,000 families

DHS new rule on H-1B lottery process: Who’s the winner?

 

Following President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order issued back on April 18, 2017, a long-awaited new rule has been proposed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would change the existing H-1B selection process, although perhaps not before the April 2019 filing season.

Online registration

The proposed rule would require petitioners seeking to file cap-subject H-1B petitions to first electronically register with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during a designated registration period, which would begin at least two weeks before April 1. The registration would require information about the employer, as well as the individual H-1B beneficiary.

USCIS would then select at random from the online registration database until the limited supply available under the quota (65,000 regular cap and 20,000 US advanced degree holders) is exhausted.

The big change is that US employers would only file complete H-1B petitions for the named beneficiaries who have been selected. Government processing fees would only be paid for selected petitions.

Similar to current processing, DHS would prohibit more than one registration from the same petitioner for the same beneficiary during any given year. Further, the new rule would require petitioners to attest to their intent to file an H-1B petition for the named beneficiary in the position for which the registration is filed.

DHS believes that this will prevent US employers from submitting a large numbers of registrations but not following up with complete filings of H-1B petitions for the selected beneficiaries—something that was not possible under the existing system. The proposed rule states that USCIS would closely monitor whether selected registrations are resulting in the filing of complete H-1B petitions. If USCIS finds that petitioners are registering numerous beneficiaries but are not filing petitions “at a rate indicative of a pattern and practice of abuse of the registration system,” it would investigate and could hold the employers accountable.

Selection process

The proposed rule would reverse the order by which the H-1B cap petitions are selected. Currently, USCIS first selects 20,000 with US graduate degrees, and then allow the unselected to be considered a second time, with the rest of the world, for the 65,000 quota. The proposed rule reverses this order. The proposed rule claims that it would increase the likelihood that a US graduate degree holder would be selected by up to 16 percent, but no explanation for that calculation is provided in the rule.

Petitioners whose petitions are selected will be notified to file complete H-1B petitions for the named beneficiaries within a designated filing period, expected to be at least 60 days.

Dentons analysis

The new rule reduces USCIS’ workload, since it does not have to handle the return of unselected petitions. However, this is not likely to speed up the slow processing of H-1B petitions, since the agency generally relies on contractors to handle mailroom services, rather than the officers who adjudicate petitions.

While the new rule may reduce some paperwork for US employers, it will not likely reduce the costs, since the cost of evaluating potential H-1Bs and registering is still incurred prior to the employer signing the petition. In fact, the extra step of registration creates extra work for employers and lawyers.

The anti-fraud provision of the rule attempts to address some of the realistic problems in the H-1B problem, but at the same time creates uncertainty for US employers and would most likely result in employers that have made bona fide job offers backing out for fear of the heightened scrutiny and potential liabilities.

DHS estimates that it will spend nearly $280,000 to develop the new system and $200,000 per year to maintain it. The proposed rule does not charge employers for the registration. How long the agency will forgo charging employers for registration is hard to predict, but USCIS has very few services that it provides to employers without a fee.

It is clear that this change will detrimentally impact the ability of US employers to continue to employ foreign workers. Current law allows the continued employment of F-1 OPT/STEM OPT and J-1 workers while the H-1B is pending, until their petitions are selected and approved OR even until the government announces they are not selected or not approved. The new rule means that fewer employers will have fewer H-1B petitions pending. The situation will be even worse if the new rule speeds up adjudications, as faster adjudications means faster denials. In sum, the new rule will result in fewer US employers being able to meet their staffing needs with pending H-1B petitions.

The announcement warns that the new rule may not be implemented in time for the April 2019 H-1B filing season, since there may not be enough time to fully test the system. If the new system has not gone into effect at least two weeks prior to the filing deadline, employers should be prepared to submit full H-1B petitions for all candidates on the first business day of April 2019.

Employers and stakeholders have until January 2, 2019 to submit comments on the proposed rule.

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DHS new rule on H-1B lottery process: Who’s the winner?

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

Trade deals and immigration

How will future trade deals impact UK immigration policy?

With Brexit negotiations between the UK and the European Union progressing, the UK is keen to start trade talks with the EU as soon as possible. While a trade deal with the EU is a priority, other countries, including India and Australia, have expressed that, in the fullness of time, they also would like to negotiate their own trade deals with the UK.

The UK’s Brexit Secretary, David Davis, has stated that he is looking for a “Canada Plus Plus Plus” trade deal with the EU, a reference to the recent deal between the EU and Canada. Labor mobility is a key element of that deal, making it easier for certain skilled professionals from Canada to work temporarily in the EU, and vice versa.

We can also learn from other trade deals:

  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal currently being negotiated between 11 Pacific Rim countries (notably not including the US, which withdrew from the pact) is also looking to include an element of labor mobility. For example, it is proposed as part of this deal that it will be easier for Australian employers to recruit people from Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico and Vietnam by exempting them from the usual requirement of advertising the role to Australians as part of the immigration process. In return, Australians will get reciprocal access to the labor markets of these six countries.
  • Likewise, one of the outcomes of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUFTA), which came into effect in 2005, was the US E-3 visa, which is available only to Australians. The E-3 visa is similar to the H1-B visa, however more generous in that it has a separate quota of 10,500, is renewable indefinitely and has the additional benefit of the spouse of the main visa holder being able to work. In contrast, the H1-B visa has a quota of 65,000 (for applicants of all other nationalities), is capped at six years and the spouse of the main visa holder is not able to work. Singapore and Chile enjoy similar preferential immigration routes to the US as a result of their free trade deals.

One of the key arguments for voting to leave the EU was that the UK would be able to negotiate its own trade deals. So what are our likely trading partners saying?

  • Australia has spoken of the need for “greater access” to the UK for Australian business people.
  • India has already stated that the UK will need to relax immigration rules and make it easier for professionals and presumably students from India to come to the UK.
  • The EU is another matter entirely with many competing priorities and parties. The degree of labour mobility post Brexit will depend on whether we see a “soft Brexit” or a “hard Brexit”, which is still very much to be decided.

What is certain is that any trade deal the UK negotiates after Brexit will be about more than goods and services. Labor mobility will be a key element and it is therefore inevitable that any future trade deals the UK agrees will have an impact on immigration policy.

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Trade deals and immigration

USCIS begins return of unselected H-1B petitions

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on May 3, 2017 that it completed data entry of all fiscal year 2018 H-1B cap-subject petitions selected in its computer-generated random selection process, and that it began returning all H-1B petitions that were not selected.

The agency did not provide a definite time frame for returning these petitions, but the unselected FY 2017 H-1B petitions were returned by the end of June 2016. The same timetable seems likely this year.

Petition approvals for selected cases have already started being sent. Because of the large volume, processing times vary greatly and petition approvals are likely to continue through the summer and even into the early fall, as was the case in prior years.

For the full text of the USCIS announcement can be found at the USCIS website.

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USCIS begins return of unselected H-1B petitions

‘Hire American’ executive order

End of days—or much ado about nothing?

The visa rules that allow US employers to temporarily hire certain foreign professionals is either going to change dramatically…or not, and there will have been much ado about nothing.

President Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order (EO) on April 18, 2017. This EO does not change any existing law or regulation. It merely calls on the relevant federal agencies to make changes. This means employers can anticipate more, not less, government regulation and new agency policies, limited by US immigration law made by Congress.

Here is the text of the immigration-related components of the EO:

Sec. 5. Ensuring the Integrity of the Immigration System in Order to “Hire American.” (a) In order to advance the policy outlined in section 2(b) of this order, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, and consistent with applicable law, propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud or abuse.

(b) In order to promote the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.

It is clear that the EO makes no new rule or change in law, unlike previous EOs like the travel bans. This EO merely instructs the relevant agencies to propose new rules and issue guidance, if appropriate, with the stated goal of protecting US workers and preventing fraud/abuse and suggesting H-1B reforms.

With so little information in the EO, what can employers expect. Limited insights can be gleamed from the backgrounder issued the night before this EO was issued, when the White House held a press briefing.

Enforcement

The EO merely instructs the agencies to issue proposals and guidance to prevent fraud or abuse. The backgrounder does not do much more than explain that the Administration seeks the strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the US of foreign workers. The EO calls on the Departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse. The backgrounder states:

And then again, you add that on top of the across-the-board reform process for guest worker and visa programs in general to make sure that they’re strictly complying with all the rules, laws, and protections for American workers, again, which there are many, but there hasn’t been this kind of systematic review. And this is something that the President, if you look, actually promised that he would have the Department of Labor go and do this kind of systematic review and take these kinds of actions.

We will monitor agency actions carefully to see how this develops, but employers are well advised to review the immigration-related records keeping and compliance systems. Annual affirmative audits and trainings are best practices that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency looks to when considering whether to reduce fines and penalties for violators. Employers are well-advised to consult with counsel on what steps can be taken now, as well as expected changes that can be planned for.

H-1B visa random selection and wages

The EO instructs these agencies to suggest reforms to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries. The backgrounder says that these agencies are expected to report back on proposed ways to change how new H-1B visa petitions are allocated.

Existing rules allocate the limited annual supply of new H-1B visa petitions for most US employers on a random-selection basis. The EO suggests that the foreign worker’s skills and compensation be taken into consideration. Ironically, this would give preference to requests from employers who pay foreign workers more than the average paid to Americans.

The backgrounder acknowledges that some immigration changes can only be made by Congress. Just like the Obama Administration, however, the Trump Administration seems willing to bypass Congress and act unilaterally and not wait for Congress to act.

From the backgrounder:

But you could be looking at things on the administrative side, like increasing fees for H1B visas.  You could be looking at things like if we could adjust the wage scale—a more honest reflection of what the prevailing wages actually are in these fields. Obviously, taking a more vigorous stance, which various—in the Department of Justice do with respect to enforcing gross and egregious violations of the H1B program. You could see potential—and again, we’ll have to get a full legal analysis and review from all the departments, but right now the lottery system disadvantages master’s degree holders. There’s ways that you could adjust the lottery system to give master’s degree holders a better chance of getting H1Bs relative to bachelor’s degree holders. There’s a lot of possible reforms that you could do administratively in addition to a suite of legislative actions.  

There is no change in the H-1B random selection process, which is already concluded for fiscal year 2018. Changes can reasonably be anticipated for fiscal year 2019 filings in April 2018. What skills, wage offers, or other factors will impact the likelihood of selection remains to be determinedassuming that the status quo changes at all.

We will continue to share more information and analysis as the law evolves.

The full text of the EO is published on the White House web site; click here to read the backgrounder press release. To read the President’s remarks on signing the EO click here.

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‘Hire American’ executive order

New H-1Bs for 2018 are gone

 

 

US employer demand once again greater than limited supply

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) once again received more H-1B visa petitions (for professional workers) from US employers than the limited supply allocated by Congress for fiscal year 2018.

The agency reported receiving 199,000 petitions during the first five business days of April—37,000 fewer than last year—the first time in years that the number of petitions has fallen.

The selection process was completed on April 11, but the agency did not announce by what date all accepted petition fee receipts would be issued, unselected cap-subject petitions returned with the uncashed filing fee checks, and approval notices for granted petitions sent.

As in years past, USCIS will reject and return filing fees for all unselected petitions that are not duplicate filings. Last year, most returns were received by June.

Congress authorizes USCIS to granted 65,000 H-1B visa petitions per fiscal year, plus an additional 20,000 petitions earmarked only for foreign nationals who earned a graduate degree from an American university. FY2018 starts October 1, 2017. For both of these quotas, the demand was greater than the supply, but USCIS has not provided a breakdown for each.

Certain H-1B visas remain available and USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions to:

  • Approve H-1B status to an individual coming to work for an employer that is exempt from quota limitations—generally the US government, American universities and certain related or nonprofit organization
  • Approve H-1B status to an individual counted previously against the cap and who is not subject to the FY2018 cap
  • Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position

The full text of the agency’s press release can be found at the USCIS website.

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New H-1Bs for 2018 are gone

H-1B blast off countdown 2017

T minus 59 days. The countdown has begun.  The date is coming.  It will be here soon.

It is the biggest event of the year in United States immigration.

Hundreds of thousands will apply, but only a lucky few will be chosen. Employers keen to recruit and employ the best and brightest talent from around the globe to meet American business needs are already gearing up.  Professionals eager to pursue their career in the United States are updating resumes and collecting diplomas and reference letters. This program is not the best way for a country to succeed, but the United States Congress continues to lack the will and wisdom to change a law almost 25 years old.

Are you ready?

April 1, 2017, is the first day that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) will accept new H-1B specialty occupation worker nonimmigrant visa petitions by employers for foreign professionals.  It is important for global mobility and human resource managers to start work now to secure preliminary Department of Labor approvals, foreign degree evaluations, etc., to be ready to file the petition for an April 1 receipt date.

Limited supply

Only a limited number of new H-1B visas are accepted each year due to legal quota restrictions. Every year, 65,000 new H-1B visa petitions can be granted, of which 6,800 are set aside for citizens of Chile and Singapore under free trade agreements with those countries. To the extent there were unused free trade agreement H-1Bs, those are added to the quota for the next fiscal year. There is an additional allocation of 20,000 new H-1B visa petitions that can be accepted if the foreign professional in question earned a graduate degree from a university in the United States.

Not all H-1B visa petitions are subject to numerical limits. Individuals already holding H-1B visas are not counted against the quota, and petitions filed by institutions of higher education or related or affiliated nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations or governmental research organizations are exempt from the limits. And H-1B workers performing labor or services in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam may also be exempt from the H-1B cap, provided their employers file the petition before December 31, 2019. Employers may not file a petition or an extension request for an employee more than six months before the employee’s intended start date.

Overwhelming demand

Last year, the USCIS received so many new H-1B visa petitions in the first week of April that the agency ended the application window on April 7. Approximately 236,000 new petitions were received, as compared to 233,000 in the prior year. As the regulations mandate, officers then selected—at random—which envelopes to open, and returned the rest unopened with the government filing fees. Only then did the agency begin the often long process of approving or denying the selected petitions on the merits of eligibility.

This year, the USCIS will once again receive more than it is allowed to accept. Again, the agency will randomly decide which envelopes to open and which to return unopened. The likelihood of a petition being selected in April 2017 is much lower than last year, taking into consideration the current state of the economy, the relatively low rate of American unemployment in typical H-1B specialty occupations, and the labor needs of US employers.

The countdown begins now (download dates directly into your Outlook)

T minus 59 days (February 1):  Start working with legal counsel now. Identify current and prospective employees who will need new H-1B visa petitions.

T minus 44 days (February 15):  By now, you and legal counsel should have requested the labor condition application certification from the Department of Labor.  Employers new to the process or who have not filed recently will need to create the appropriate accounts with the Department of Labor. Because the USCIS relies on Dunn & Bradstreet data (DUNS) as part of its employer background verification process, it is important for employers to create or update the company’s DUNS records to avoid inconsistencies with H-1B visa petition filings.

T minus 31 days (March 1):  Have all the required USCIS forms and supporting documents been signed and filing fee checks prepared?  There is still some time left to get last minute details completed, but this is when it gets very hectic. Government systems often become overloaded and delays at the Department of Labor for late filings are common.

T minus 1 day (March 31):  Envelopes should be properly addressed and delivered to the express service of choice with next business morning delivery instructions.

T minus 0 (April 1):  Just like at NASA ground control, this is the stage in the process where all the hard work resulted in successful delivery of the visa petition and you have to wait for the USCIS to announce whether the petition is selected or returned—usually within 3 weeks or so.

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H-1B blast off countdown 2017