USCIS Continues to Increase Number of RFEs and Denials Issued

Posted in H-1B, L-1, RFE, USCIS, Visas

Since President Trump issued his “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order in April 2017, USCIS has been issuing Requests for Evidence (RFEs) at unprecedented rates. While the H-1B visa category was specifically targeted as one requiring stricter scrutiny and reform efforts, USCIS has also focused on other visa types for significant adjudication and approval changes. However, the underlying visa criteria and relevant immigration regulations have remained the same, signifying no controlling or concrete legal basis for the increase in RFEs and even denials.

The H-1B RFE trend appears to be the most pervasive given the following:

  • For fully adjudicated cases, RFEs were issued for 69 percent of H-1B petitions in Q4 FY 2017 (which began on July 1, 2017) versus for 23 percent of the petitions in Q3
  • 28,711 RFEs were issued in Q3 for 169,785 H-1B petitions USCIS received and 63,184 RFEs were issued in Q4 for 71,911 H-1B petitions received

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) reports that members are experiencing the same increased RFE rates for H-1B petitions in FY 2018, although official statistics have not yet been released.

The L-1 Trend

While the RFE rate for L-1 petitions has remained the same, there has been an increase in denials:

  • Q4 FY 2017 L-1B petitions for Specialized Knowledge workers were denied at a rate of 28.7 percent versus Q1 FY 2017 at 21.7 percent. The increase in denials continued into FY 2018 with a denial rate of 30.5 percent in Q1 and 29.2 percent in Q2.
  • Q4 FY 2017 L-1A petitions for Managers and Executives were denied at a rate of 21.4 percent, up from 12.8 percent in Q1.

Another possible contributing factor to consider is that USCIS’s Policy Memorandum, issued Oct. 23, 2017, directs adjudicators to review extension petitions with the same scrutiny as an initial petition. It replaced USCIS’s previous policy of giving deference to prior determinations of eligibility when there were not material changes in employment. It is now common for USCIS to issue RFEs for L-1 and H-1B extensions based on initial petitions that were approved without further question.  This may present problems for employers and employees in the context of L-1 extensions for employees who have been in the United States for a number of years as the RFEs request a significant amount of information about previous qualifying employment abroad, and such an employee may not have access to or the ability to compile the detailed historical data needed. In addition, it is common for entities to be restructured and former team members and supervisors to change positions, which could in some cases make it harder to find the required information.

While RFEs are seemingly being issued blindly, there are several things employers and employees should keep in mind:

  • Preparing detailed job duties/descriptions specific to the individual’s position that do not contain any vague or ambiguous terms may evidence upfront that the employment qualifies for the classification sought. Adjudicators seek to understand exactly what the employee will be doing on a daily basis and what tasks the job duties entail.
  • Providing documentary evidence of the employee performing managerial, specialized knowledge, or specialty occupation job duties (e.g., screenshots, emails, reports, presentations, and pictures of the employee carrying out a complex process) may show that the relevant criteria are being met. Including such detail and even a few pieces of supporting documentation upfront may reduce the chance of a RFE, which is certain to require a substantial amount more of both.

USCIS Publishes a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Remove Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 VISA Holders

Posted in Department of Homeland Security, E-Verify, Executive Order, Form I-9, H-1B, H-4, Immigration Law, Immigration Reform, President Trump's Administration, Uncategorized, USCIS

As an update (to this recent posting), we clarify that USCIS recently indicated in the Fall Unified Agenda the posting of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in November 2018 (see RIN 1615-AC15) on this regulation.

Please check back as this and other H-1B regulatory actions are anticipated in the near future.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed to remove eligibility for employment authorization to certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B workers in the publication of the Proposed Rule (RIN 1514-AC15). This DHS proposal was initially expected in February 2018 but was delayed due to review of other regulatory agenda items, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Cissna. DHS published this proposed rule in response to and in accordance with the priorities set out in the President’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order. DHS anticipates that this will reduce costs of production of employment authorization cards for H-4 nonimmigrants while acknowledging that employers may incur labor turnover costs.

In 2015, DHS published a final rule, which for the first time extended eligibility for employment authorization to dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers going through the permanent residence sponsorship process, but subject to green card backlogs. Specifically, H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers for whom I-140 immigrant visa petitions have been approved by USCIS but whose green card applications could not be approved due to backlogs, or those eligible for H-1B extensions because their permanent residence sponsorship was initiated at least 12 months prior to the end of their sixth year of H-1B status, became eligible for employment authorization. At the time, DHS announced that providing for this employment authorization was consistent with its mission to support U.S. employers’ drive to recruit and retain highly skilled nonimmigrant workers.

As DHS’s latest publication is only a proposed rule, it does not automatically invalidate currently valid employment authorization documents for H-4 spouses. Furthermore, even as a final rule, an effective date for cessation of validity of H-4 employment authorization cards would need to be provided by DHS. Until that time, H-4 employment authorization cards remain valid. Contact your attorney with any questions regarding employment authorization as well as Form I-9 and E-Verify compliance issues raised by this DHS proposal.

November 2018 Visa Bulletin Updates

Posted in China, EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-5 Program, India, Philippines, USCIS, Visa Bulletin, Visas

The Department of State (DOS) November 2018 Visa Bulletin shows movement in employment-based categories. The EB-1 category remained retrogressed for November 2018. Although it is likely that there will be some forward movement in December 2018 for EB-1 India, it will probably NOT return to “current” this calendar year. The EB-2 India category will likely move forward in December, but it will probably be only a week or so. The EB-3 category for India on the other hand may start seeing more significant advancement in December (weeks or possibly months). To provide context, the EB-3 India final action date moved very rapidly over the past year, advancing almost a year and a half. Current demand projections make it likely that EB-3 India could surpass EB-2 India at some point this fiscal year.  GT will be closely monitoring these advancements as they unfold.

Referring to the Final Action Dates, following are updates from the September Visa Bulletin:

EB-1: Mainland China and India had significant movement since September 2018, with a cutoff date of June 1, 2016, while El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras, Mexico, Philippines, and Vietnam all moved forward to April 1, 2017.

EB-2: The cutoff date for worldwide chargeability, El Salvador, Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam are all now current. Mainland China moved to May 15, 2015; India to March 26, 2009.

EB-3: In the EB-3 category, the worldwide chargeability, El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras, Mexico and Vietnam are all current. The Mainland China cutoff is June 1, 2015; India is January 1, 2009; and Philippines is June 8, 2017.

For those in the EB-5 category, the priority date remains current for all applicants other than those born in Mainland China and Vietnam, where the cutoff for China advanced to Aug. 15, 2014 and for Vietnam to Feb. 1, 2016.

For those seeking to adjust status, The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) website indicates that the department’s Dates for Filing chart must be used for filing Form I-485. This is generally not the case, as USCIS usually requires that applicants use the “Application for Final Action Dates,” which typically reflects earlier cutoff dates than that “Dates for Filing” chart.

Referring to the Final Action Dates, following are updates for the June Visa Bulletin:

Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases

Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications

Proposed Immigration Rule – Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds

Posted in Adjustment of Status, Department of Homeland Security, Immigrant Visa, Immigration and Nationality Act, Immigration Law, Immigration Reform, Non-Immigrant Visas, USCIS

USCIS has proposed rules that could deny entry to non-immigrants seeking admission to the United States and adjustment of status to permanent residence to immigrants if they rely on public benefits for food, housing or medical care, and other forms of public assistance. The proposed rule – “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” – is published in the Federal Register. The public may comment on the proposed rule during the 60-day comment period ending on Dec. 10, 2018. USCIS will review comments to the proposed rule and then revise and issue a final public charge rule that will include an effective date. In the interim, and until a final rule is in effect, USCIS will continue to apply the current public charge policy.

Pursuant to Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to permanent resident (obtaining a green card) is inadmissible if the individual “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

Under 8 U.S.C. § 1601 (PDF)(1), “Self-sufficiency has been a basic principle of United States immigration law since this country’s earliest immigration statutes.”

Further under 8 U.S.C. § 1601 (PDF)(2)(A), “It continues to be the immigration policy of the United States that aliens within the Nation’s borders not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, their sponsors, and private organizations.”

While self-sufficiency has been the guiding principle of U.S. immigration law, as indicated in the above federal regulations, “public charge” has not been defined in statute or regulations. According to USCIS, there has been insufficient guidance on how to determine if an alien who is applying for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status is likely at any time to become a public charge. In determining inadmissibility USCIS has used the definition of “public charge” as an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” (See, “Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” 64 FR 28689 (May 26, 1999). In determining whether an alien meets this definition for public charge inadmissibility, USCIS considers several factors, including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills. No single factor will determine whether an individual is a public charge.

The proposed rule will apply to foreign nationals seeking admission to the United States on non-immigrant and immigrant visas, as well as those non-immigrants who have availed themselves of public benefits within the United States and are seeking to seeking to either extend their stay or change their status. Under the proposed rule, USCIS would only consider the direct receipt of benefits by the individual alien applicant. Receipt of benefits by dependents and other household members would not be considered in determining whether the alien applicant is likely to become a public charge.

Factors that would generally weigh heavily in favor of a finding that an individual is likely to become a public charge include the following:

  • The individual is not a full-time student and is authorized to work, but cannot demonstrate current employment, has no employment history, or no reasonable prospect of future employment;
  • The individual is currently receiving or is currently certified or approved to receive one or more of the designated public benefits above the threshold;
  • The individual has received one or more of the designated public benefits above the threshold within the 36 months immediately preceding the alien’s application for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status;
  • The individual has been diagnosed with a medical condition that is likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with the alien’s ability to support himself or herself, attend school, or work, and the alien is uninsured and has no prospect of obtaining private health insurance; or
  • The individual has previously been found inadmissible or deportable based on public charge.

Alternately, factors that would weigh strongly against a finding that a foreign national is likely to become a public charge include:

  • The individual has financial assets, resources, and support of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of the alien’s household size; or
  • The individual is authorized to work and is currently employed with an annual income of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of the alien’s household size.

This proposed rule could have wide-reaching effects on legal immigration to the United States. The rule proposes not only to define “public charge” and the factors to be considered in making current and prospective public charge determinations, but also to add requirements for “public charge bonds” for certain applicants who are more likely to become a public charge. It is important for interested parties to comment on this proposed rule by the Dec. 10, 2018 deadline.

President Trump Signs Continuing Resolution into Law

Posted in Continuing Resolution (CR), H.R. 6157

The President today signed H.R. 6157, a bill making Appropriations for Defense and Labor Health and Human Services & Education with a continuing resolution for other government programs not reauthorized by Oct 1. The continuing resolution prevents a government shutdown and extends vital programs, such as the EB-5 immigrant investor program, among others until Dec. 7.

To date, Congress has approved five of 12 appropriations bills. A four-bill minibus is in conference and the balance of three appropriations bills await further action. It is widely believed that additional congressional action will occur after the upcoming mid-term elections in November.

U.S. Senate Passes Minibus Appropriations Bill with Continuing Resolution

Posted in Continuing Resolution (CR), EB-5 Program

Yesterday, by a bipartisan vote of 93-7, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 6157, making appropriations for the Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies and providing for continuing appropriations until Dec. 7 for other programs, including EB-5 immigrant investor program extension.  

This appropriations package funds the two largest segments of the U.S. budget, which are among the top priorities for annual funding. The inclusion of the Continuing Resolution in this strategic and important legislative package helps to ensure consideration and passage before appropriations lapse on Sept. 30. 

The House is expected to take up the Senate-passed legislation next week upon their return from break. 


Challenges with “Function Manager” Positions in the L-1A and EB-1 Multinational Manager Classifications

Posted in EB-1, L-1

In today’s world of evolving multinational organizations, from hierarchical to flat structures, and increased scrutiny of the L-1 visa category by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the challenges of the “function manager” position within the L-1A visa and First Preference Employment-based immigrant visa for Multinational Managers or Executives (EB-1 MM) classifications continue to cause concern for immigration practitioners, petitioning U.S. companies, and beneficiaries.

Functional Manager petitions filed with USCIS continue to be challenged with lengthy requests for evidence, requiring detailed information of company payroll records and W-2 statements of professionals managed, detailed managerial job duties for the position abroad and the prospective U.S. position, and detailed organization charts evidencing names, job titles, salaries, academic qualifications, and brief summaries of duties of professionals managed by the beneficiary.

The L-1A visa classification enables U.S. employers to transfer executives or managers from an affiliated foreign office to an affiliated office in the United States for a temporary period of stay.  Among other requirements, eligibility for this managerial classification requires the beneficiary to evidence that he or she:

  • Manages the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization;
  • Supervises and controls the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees, or manages an essential function within the organization, or a department or subdivision of the organization;
  • Has the authority to hire and fire or recommend those as well as other personnel actions (if another employee or other employees are directly supervised); if other employees are not directly supervised, functions at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and
  • Exercises discretion over the day-to-day operations of the activity or function over which the employee has authority.

See 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii).

To qualify for an EB-1 MM, the beneficiary must evidence that he or she was employed outside the United States in the three years preceding the proposed transfer for at least one year by a foreign affiliate, subsidiary, or parent of a U.S. corporation in a managerial or executive capacity.  The “managerial” requirements for this category are the same as under the L-1A classification described above.

As noted above, “managerial capacity” for the L-1A and EB-1 MM classifications envisages “personnel” management or “functional” management. Unfortunately, while the rules relating to managing employees are fairly well established, there has been less clarity regarding what is required to qualify a manager of an essential function –  referred to as a “function manager” or “functional manager.”

This ambiguity was clarified when USCIS issued a policy memorandum dated Nov. 8, 2017, which provides guidance for officers adjudicating L 1A petitions for function managers. This memo is based on the ruling from the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) in Matter of G- Inc., which is now an adopted decision and binds all USCIS employees including adjudicating officers.

Matter of G- Inc  and the USCIS Policy memorandum have helped us further understand USCIS’s concept of “function manager.”  Under its prior decision in Matter of Z-A, the AAO held that an L‑1A intra-company manager who primarily manages an essential function can also be supported by personnel outside the United States within an international organization who perform the day-to-day administrative and operational duties.

Matter of G- Inc. clarifies that, to establish that a beneficiary will be employed in a managerial capacity as a “function manager,” the petitioner must meet a five prong test and demonstrate that: (1) the function is a clearly defined activity; (2) the function is “essential,” i.e., core to the organization; (3) the beneficiary will primarily manage, as opposed to perform, the function; (4) the beneficiary will act at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and (5) the beneficiary will exercise discretion over the function’s day-to-day operations.

In its decision, the AAO noted that “essential function” means a “necessary,” “core,” or “fundamental” activity of a petitioning organization. Once the petitioner demonstrates the essential or core function, it must then establish that the beneficiary’s position meets all the remaining criteria for “managerial capacity” as defined in INA 101(a)(44)(A). The petitioner must show that the beneficiary will primarily manage that essential function by clearly describing the beneficiary’s duties and indicating the proportion of time dedicated to each duty. See 8 C.F.R. § 204.5(j)(5). The AAO noted that while he or she may perform some operational or administrative tasks, the beneficiary must primarily manage the essential function.

In determining whether the remaining criteria were satisfied, the AAO considered all factors relevant to these criteria, including the nature and scope of the petitioner’s business; the organizational structure and staffing levels; the value of the budgets, products, or services that a beneficiary will manage; and any other factors, such as operational and administrative work performed by staff within the organization, that will contribute to understanding the beneficiary’s actual duties and role in the business.  While it may be more challenging for a smaller organization to establish that a function is a clearly defined activity and is core to the organization, as well as to demonstrate that the manager is performing at a senior level, in a small organization the function manager may establish seniority with respect to the function managed rather than within the organizational hierarchy, as clarified in the test established in Matter of G- Inc.

While the USCIS Policy memorandum binds all USCIS employees, it is not binding on decisions at U.S. Consular posts abroad. The challenge remains for interpretation of the scope of “functional manager” in L visa applications under Blanket L filed abroad at U.S. Consular posts.  As per the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) that governs the responsibilities of the various organizations of the U.S. Department of State, 9 FAM 402.12-14(B)(d) states, “An executive or manager may direct a function within an organization.  In general, however, individuals who control and directly perform a function within an organization, but do not have subordinate staff (except perhaps a personal staff), are more appropriately considered specialized knowledge employees.”

Despite USCIS’s policy memorandum based on the Matter of G- Inc., denials of “functional manager” cases under the L visa classification by USCIS and at certain U.S. Consular posts abroad continue.  In this regard, EB-1 MM cases involving function management continue to be misunderstood by USCIS, resulting in lengthy RFEs and in some cases leading to denials.

USCIS Proposes Increase to Premium Processing Fee

Posted in Department of Homeland Security, Global Immigration, H-1B, H-1B Cap, H-1B Premium Processing, Immigration Law, L-1, Premium Processing, USCIS, Visas

On Aug. 31, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a final rule in the Federal Register to increase the premium processing fee for certain visa petitions to $1,410, effective Oct. 1, 2018. Premium processing, a service offered for certain petitions, requires U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to adjudicate a petition (i.e., approve, deny, or send a request for evidence) within 15 calendar days. The increase to the current fee, which is $1,225, is based upon the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index-Urban Consumers index (14.92%) since the premium processing fee of $1,225 was introduced.

DHS rationale for increasing the fee is to garner additional funds to provide certain premium-processing services to business customers and to make infrastructure improvements in adjudications and customer service processes. DHS estimates the department will receive an additional $44 million in revenue due to the increased fee. Recently, USCIS established a habit of suspending premium processing for certain petitions as it continually tries to reduce its backlog of petitions.

On or after Oct. 1, 2018, all premium processing requests must include the new fee. At this time, because of the previously discussed suspension of premium processing, most H-1B petitions are not eligible for premium processing. Only cap-exempt H-1B petitions that are filed exclusively at the California Service Center because the employer is cap-exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap exempt institution, entity, or organization; or those petitions filed exclusively at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer” with a concurrent request to notify a consular office abroad or extend the stay of a beneficiary are currently eligible for premium processing. Premium processing remains available for other petitions, such as L-1 or I-140 petitions.

USCIS Extends and Expands Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions

Posted in H-1B, USCIS

USCIS is extending the temporary suspension of premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions and, beginning Sept. 11, 2018, will be expanding this temporary suspension to include certain additional H-1B petitions. The suspensions are expected to last until Feb. 19, 2019.  While H-1B premium processing is suspended, USCIS will reject any request for premium processing filed with Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the Form I-907 and Form I‑129 H-1B fees, both forms will be rejected.

While the expanded temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers (excluding cap-exempt filing from qualified cap-exempt institutions), it does not apply to those petitions filed exclusively at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer.”

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage.

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to any other nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.

DHS Details Extension of Temporary Protected Status for Somalia Beneficiaries

Posted in Department of Homeland Security, Global Immigration, President Trump's Administration, Refugee, Temporary Protected Status, TPS, U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services, USCIS

Following the July 20 announcement of the granting of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Somalian beneficiaries, the Department of Homeland Security published a notice on Aug. 27 with instructions for the 18-month Somalian TPS extension from Sept. 18, 2018 through March 17, 2020. The 60-day re-registration period runs from Aug. 27, 2018 through Oct. 26. 2018.

For additional information, please see here and continue to check this site.