Hello and welcome to the April 2008 Immigration Newsletter!
With the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announcing that it conducted two random selections (for approximately 163,000 petitions), VisaPro has started receiving receipt notices for the H-1B cases. The selection process started off with petitions qualifying for the 20,000 “master’s or higher degree” (advanced degree) exemption, and then on the remaining advance degree petitions together with the general H-1B pool of petitions, for the 65,000 cap. If approved these H-1B petitions will be eligible to receive an H-1B visa number.
Earlier this month, as expected, the USCIS announced that it has reached the congressionally mandated H-1B cap for the 2009 fiscal year, which for the US government begins October 1. This is the fifth consecutive year that the H-1B cap has been reached before the beginning of fiscal year. “Time is the remedy for everything” goes the old adage, but, time also flies swiftly without any relief for the many US employers who are seeking to hire foreign labor, using H-1B visa, to offset the severe shortage of workers. Even as the soothing effect of spring is showing up this month, there seems to be no respite in the offing for the H-1B cap woes of the US employers.
The U.S. Congress just doesn’t appear willing to cave into the growing labor needs, and the IT industry is not giving up yet. Proponents of the ‘H-1B cap increase theory’ have vowed to continue their effective dissemination of information and push hard to increase the number of visas available. We will keep you abreast of all the developments on this front in future issues of Immigration Monitor.
On April 10 USCIS released the preliminary numbers for the H-1B filings. They received nearly 163,000 H-1B petitions during the initial filing period, ending this year on April 7, 2008. It is notable that more than 31,200 of those petitions were for the advanced degree category. Let us break down the statistics in view of the numbers announced. The situation does not seem to be as bad as the immigration community initially thought it would be, with many people projecting that the number of petitions filed would be considerably greater. In a worst case scenario, let us assume that all 163,000 petitions were filed in the approved manner: 20000 of the petitions will be considered under the advanced degree exemption, leaving us with 143,000 petitions vying for the 58,200 slots available through the random selection process (Effective January 1, 2004, the H-1B1 program became available, allowing employers to request foreign workers in the U.S. in a specialty occupation from Chile and Singapore. Current laws limit the number of foreign workers who may be issued an H-1B1 visa to 6,800).
Our attorneys were very busy with H-1B filings during the first week of the month. Though most of our clients had planned for their filings early and were ready with the cases in advance, we feel that many of our readers are still puzzled about the selection process. We would like our readers to know that the increase in H-1B applications has compelled the USCIS to once again implement the random selection or “lottery” process for petitions. The USCIS will include petitions in the random selection process that are filed during the first five business days available for filing H-1B petitions for a given fiscal year, again, ending this year on April 7, rather than just the first two days as was the case last year. As soon as the cap is reached, the filing window is closed for another year, thus preventing many companies from hiring critically needed workers.
Before running the random selection process, USCIS will complete initial data entry for all filings received during the filing period. Due to the high number of petitions, USCIS is not yet able to announce the precise day on which it will conduct the random selection process.
USCIS will handle duplicate filings in accordance with the interim final rule published on March 24, 2008 in the Federal Register. USCIS will reject, and return filing fees for all cap-subject petitions not randomly selected and not found to be a duplicate.
Other Developments in Immigration Law:
OPT Extension for Highly Skilled Foreign Students
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an interim final rule that extends the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. The extension will be available to F-1 students with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program.
This new rule will greatly benefit many students, but VisaPro has observed some potential problems. The interim final regulation provides a “bridge” for F-1 students who are picked in the H-1B lottery, but requires the petitioner to have marked the petition for a “change of status.” Of course, many petitioners did not mark petitions “change of status” because of the very “cap gap” the interim final rule is intended to close. Though the regulation was published by ICE, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has contacted USCIS for guidance going forward, and USCIS is looking for a solution.
Filing Instructions for Petition for Alien Relative Revised
The USCIS has revised the filing instructions for the Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130). Effective immediately, all petitioners filing stand-alone Form I-130s must file their petitions with the Chicago Lockbox instead of a USCIS Service Center. A USCIS Update was issued on Nov. 30, 2007, encouraging petitioners to file with the Chicago Lockbox while the form was being revised.
Naturalization Case Processing Time Updated by USCIS
The USCIS announced on April 2, 2008,that it will finish more than one million naturalization cases during fiscal year 2008 – far exceeding the number of cases completed during the last fiscal year. They also updated the expected time it will take to complete naturalization cases, projecting processing times averaging 13-15 months. That’s a three month improvement from the 16-18 month projection that USCIS made just six months ago.
Supplemental Proposed Rule with Employer Guidance Regarding No-Match Letters
The DHS released a Supplemental Proposed Rulemaking for the No-Match Rule issued on August 15, 2007. This rulemaking addresses three issues cited in a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California enjoining the August 2007 No-Match Rule. This Supplemental Proposed Rulemaking provides a more detailed analysis of how DHS developed the No-Match policy and will help responsible employers ensure that they are not employing unauthorized workers.
Immigration Articles and Other Fun Stuff:
Now for the regulars — this month’s Immigration Article will focus on how L-1A visa provides an easier path for those interested in filing for permanent residence under the EB-1C category. Check out our In Focus section which will talk in detail about the effects of the interim final rule extending the period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. We have another interesting question for our opinion poll. We ask all our readers to cast their vote and we appreciate that people are taking the time to give us their opinion. Keep it up! Last month’s opinion was pretty one sided, with about 85 percent of the participants thinking that Bill Gates efforts will be fruitful enough to obtain an increase in the H-1B quota, whilst the remaining thought otherwise. Cast your vote to express Your Opinion.
Jeanne Howitz receives our congratulations for submitting the winning response for last month’s Immigration Quiz. We received a lot of responses for our question about the possibilities of concurrently filing for L-1A New Office petition and an EB-1C employment-based immigrant petition. We received a handful of answers, but Jeanne Howitz’s was the most complete and as a result she wins a free online consultation to discuss her immigration issues with one of our attorneys. We have a new question for you this month so put on your thinking cap, pull out your research tools and get ready to write. Give it a try; who knows, we may feature your name and answer in the next newsletter. All the Best!
See you next month with a lot more noise from the Immigration World!