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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

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

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

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

Green card processing times for employment-based immigration expected to increase

 

Delays and increased processing times can be expected for employer-sponsored immigrants seeking green cards, based on a recently announced change by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS).

In a press release dated August 28, 2017, USCIS stated that the agency plans, effective October 1, 2017, to begin interviewing employment-based immigrants. This will impact employer-sponsored professionals, skilled workers, executives, manager, and outstanding professors and researchers, as well as individually sponsored immigrants with extraordinary or exceptional ability.

The press release states: “Previously, applicants in these categories did not require an in-person interview with USCIS officers in order for their application for permanent residency to be adjudicated. Beyond these categories, USCIS is planning an incremental expansion of interviews to other benefit types.”

This statement is inaccurate. In fact, the agency used to personally interview all immigrants. Decades ago, the policy changed and employment-based immigrants were only interviewed if a review of the application showed a need for an interview or as a random, quality-control measure. The primary reason for the change was to devote agency resources to more important tasks, after the agency determined the incidence of fraud detected by in-person interviews was not significantly greater than for applications processed without interviews. In addition, waiving the interview process allowed the agency to consolidate processing at regional centers where government workers were better trained in the special requirements for such immigration. Finally, remote processing at regional centers without direct public contact minimized the inconsistent processing experienced at local offices, as well as the incidence of fraud and corruption by government workers in direct contact with the public.

As Sir Winston Churchill famously stated: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Local interview processing times vary, but the new policy is likely to increase by more than four months the time it takes USCIS to process applications for adjustment of status and maybe much longer where local offices with significant immigrant populations, such as Silicon Valley, are doing the processing.

By the way, the State Department has always interviewed all immigrants. Although going this route is more costly in terms of travel and lost US work days, more immigrants and their employers may want to consider this option if USCIS processing times spiral out of control.

The full text of the agency’s press release can be found at the USCIS website and the Executive Order can be found at the White House website.

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Green card processing times for employment-based immigration expected to increase

New Form I-9 and E-Verify User Manual for US employers

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a revised Form I-9 and E-Verify User Manual. Employers should use the new Form I-9 for all new hires and for re-verification of current employees when their temporary employment authorization expires.

Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States, citizens and noncitizens included.

USCIS, which is an agency under the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), operates the E‑Verify program, an Internet-based system that allows any US employer to electronically verify the employment eligibility of a newly hired employee.

E-Verify is a voluntary program. However, employers with federal contracts or subcontracts that contain the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause are required to enroll in E-Verify as a condition of federal contracting. E-Verify is also a requirement for employers of F-1 foreign students employed under STEM Optional Practical Training. Further, employers in states that have enacted legislation require some or all employers to utilize E-Verify as a condition of business licensing.

The new Form I-9 is available at the USCIS website. The new E-Verify User Manual is available for download here.

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New Form I-9 and E-Verify User Manual for US employers

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

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

Travel ban executive order – the saga continues

The US Departments of State and Homeland Security both issued statements on February 6, 2017, confirming that the government has suspended the implementation of key provisions of President Trump’s travel ban on nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, and that visas that had been provisionally revoked are now valid for travel and may be used, once again, to come to the US, subject to the normal laws and procedures that existed prior to the President Trump’s executive order dated January 27, 2017.

This action comes as a result of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in State of Washington and State of Minnesota v. Trump, denying a US Department of Justice request for an immediate stay of a nationwide injunction granted by a US federal district court judge in Seattle in response to Washington State’s request for a temporary restraining order immediately halting implementation and enforcement of the immigration ban.

The EO initially barred the entry to the United States of lawful permanent residents with green cards, and imposes a 90-day suspension of admission for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa holders, and refugees and passport holders from the seven countries. Soon thereafter, the Department of State issued an urgent notice suspending visa issuance to citizens of those countries. The EO also suspended the resettlement of refugees from all countries to the US for 120 days, and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Previous injunctions had been issued in federal courts in Massachusetts and New York. Those orders temporarily enjoined federal agencies from removing people with approved refugee applications, valid visas and the nationals from the seven Muslim countries. The Seattle court’s decision is the broadest and has the largest impact.

Citizens from these countries are impacted

Nationals from the following countries are detrimentally impacted:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

The EO does not apply to citizens of other countries who merely visited the listed countries. Further, the US Customs and Border Protection Agency has stated that the EO does not apply to citizens of these seven countries, if they are dual citizens and use the passport of a non-affected country to enter the US.

Travel guidance

Nationals from the seven listed countries, including dual citizens traveling with the passport of another country and US permanent residents, may wish to delay travel to the US until the details of the implementation of the EO are more clear, even if they already hold a visa to enter the United States. If in the United States already, they may wish to defer departure as they may not be allowed to return or they may find themselves going through a more lengthy than usual secondary inspection on arrival in the US. There are also reports of airline personnel being understandably confused regarding the status of the EO, with resulting inconvenience to travelers.

Background

On February 4, President Trump tweeted the following about the Hon. James L. Robart, the district court judge who issued the nationwide order. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Criticism of the tweet and the EO was immediate and widespread. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, “The President’s hostility toward the rule of law is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous. He seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis.” Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: “We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

Broad media coverage of the confusion caused by the uncertainty surrounding the EO’s fate continues. Dentons continues to receive emails and calls from employers who are considering cancelling all travel for employees carrying passports from the impacted countries, including dual citizens and US lawful permanent residents. Similar concerns have been voiced by citizens of many countries that are not listed in the EO but are worried that their country might be next. Due to the reciprocal nature of diplomatic relations, it is likely that US passport holders traveling to the seven countries will experience similar difficulties upon their arrival. Iran, for its part, has said, it would stop US citizens entering the country in retaliation to Washington’s visa ban.

Dentons will issue further information as it becomes available.

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Travel ban executive order – the saga continues

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