07 Feb 2017

Employer’s Guide to H-1B Visa Filing in Uncertain Times

The recent spurt of Executive Orders and speculations that the current Administration plans to severely curtail the availability of H-1B visas even further than has been the case in the last few years has caused much consternation and fear in many employers and hopeful employees. The source of much of this speculation and forecasting is an allegedly leaked Executive Order on H-1B and L-1, and two competing bills currently making their way through the House.

It is crucial that employers and employees sift fact from fiction as each prepare to head into H-1B season for Fiscal year 2018. The law as it currently stands:

H-1B “cap subject” applications can be filed with USCIS on April 01, 2017. This year, much like last year, we expect USCIS to receive enough applications that a lottery will be necessary to select the lucky few that will be able to proceed with their H-1B applications. The H-1B “Cap” refers to the annual numerical limitation set by Congress on the number of workers authorized to be admitted on an H-1B-type visa or authorized to change status if already in the United States.

Under the Immigrant Act of 1990 (IMMACT), Congress imposed an annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for each fiscal year (Undergraduate degree) plus an additional number of 20,000 H-1B visas for those with a US Masters degree. The total number of cap subject H-1B visas available in any fiscal year is 85,000.

This number has NOT increased for Fiscal year 2018; therefore, employers who want to file H-1B visas for employees would be best served by making sure that they and the respective employee is ready with all requisite documents, and that the H-1B application is filed with USCIS on April 01, 2016. The cap is expected to be reached within the first three days.

H-1B Plan of Action for Employers:

  • All employers should have identified candidates and potential employees by the end of February at the latest
  • Labor Condition Applications (LCA) must be filed and certified before the H-1B can be submitted. Please note that it takes, on average 5 working days for an LCA to be certified. If you are new employer, allow a minimum of at least 10 days for the LCA to be certified.
  • ALL H-1B applications MUST be mailed to USCIS on March 31, 2017 in order for them to arrive at USCIS on April 01, 2017 i.e. the first day that USCIS will accept H-1B applications for FY 2018.

*Please see advice regarding actions for TN/OPT workers below

Proposed Amendments to H-1B Visa that are pending in Congress

“High Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017” (H.R. 670)

Introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, this bill aims to do the following:

  • Eliminate Per Country Cap for Employment based Visas so that there is no backlog for people of particular national origin as has been the case for Nationals of India and China
  • Increases Minimum Wage: Re-sets the dependent wage exemption level from $60,000 to $130,000 or higher (Dependent employer is defined as a company with minimum of 50 employees where at least 25 are on H or L status)
  • Allows for Transparency to benefit the Employee: Employers must provide the employee with a copy of their immigration paperwork within three years of the date on which the petition was filed with the Government, AND provides for prohibiting liquidated damages for H-1B employees who cease employment prior to a date agreed to by the employee and the employer
  • Reforms the Prevailing Wage System to effectively eliminate the lowest wage (Level 1 wage) and increases wages in the remaining two levels
  • Allows for Market Based H-1B Visa Allocation: Prioritizes allocation of H-1B visas based on wages as follows:
    •  Employers paying prevailing wage level 3 at 200% of prevailing wage, then 150% of prevailing wage (including cash bonuses and similar compensation);
    •  Employers paying level 2 at 200% of prevailing wage, then 150% of prevailing wage (including cash bonuses and similar compensation);
    • Employers paying level 1 at 200% of prevailing wage, then 150% of prevailing wage (including cash bonuses and similar compensation);
  • Change of job location to require higher wage: Requires that if employers have beneficiaries work 30 days or more in an area of employment other than the one indicated at the time of filing, they must pay the prevailing wage of the area of employment with the highest prevailing wage at the same wage level indicated at filing.
  • Reservation of Visas for StartUp Employers: The bill sets aside 20% of the total available H-1B visas for small and start-up employers. Employers MUST sign an attestation that any beneficiary filing under this subsection will not be required to work at a third party location for  more than 30 days
  • Removes the need for Amended H-1B Petitions: Streamlines H-1B filing requirements and reduces administrative costs by clarifying that an amended petition need not be filed with USCIS upon an employee worksite change, if the petitioner has already secured a valid, certified Labor Condition Application for the new place of employment.
  • Enforcement Authority: Allows USCIS to pass on information to the Department of Labor to initiate investigations against the employer for violations of H-1B regulations

Protect and Grow American Jobs (H.R.170)

Introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa and co-sponsored by Rep. Scott Peters, this bill is aimed at tightening, but not closing, a loophole that the sponsors believe large H-1B firms have benefited from. Key aspects of this bill include:

  • Preference for American Workers: Any company paying H-1B workers less than $100,000 would have to show that they attempted to, but could not Americans for the same job
  • The bill would also increase minimum wage payable to H-1B workers to at least $100,000
  • It eliminates the Master’s Cap
  • It applies to all employers with a workforce of at least 50 full time employees where at least 15% are on H or L visas.

The Leaked Executive Order

Executive Order on Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs

Disclaimer: There is no confirmation or indication that this “leaked” order even originated in the White House, but it has been reported on by several news sources. As of today, no bills or orders resembling this document has been signed.

Impact on H-1B Workers:

The (unconfirmed and unsigned) draft version of this executive order would not have a direct impact on the H1B program, but it would pave the way for changes to come in the future. Although lacking in specifics, the order instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to:

  • “in consultation with the Secretaries of State and Labor … restore the integrity of employment-based non-immigrant worker programs and better protect U.S. and foreign workers affected by those programs”
  • “consider ways to make the process for allocating H1B visas more efficient and ensure that beneficiaries of the program are the best and the brightest”
  • “… provide recommendations for making U.S. immigration policy better serve the national interest; and to recommend changes to the immigrations [sic] laws to move towards a merit-based system”

As stated above, specifics are lacking, and the instructions are all relatively vague. The order serves to direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to examine potential changes to be made in the future. It calls for the Secretary of Labor to issue a report on “… the actual or potential injury to U.S. workers caused … by work performed by non-immigrant workers in the H1B, L-1, and B-1 visa categories.” There is the potential for future changes to the program based on these reports, but the exact nature and extent of those changes remains to be seen.

Impact on L-1 Workers:

The leaked version specifically direct Department of Homeland Security to expand site visits targeting place of employment for L-1 employees. It also requires the Secretary of Labor to:

  1. provide within 18 months a report to the President describing the “extent of any injury to U.S. workers caused by the employment in the United States of foreign workers admitted under non-immigrant visa programs or by the receipt of services from such foreign workers by American employers; and
  2.  provide within 9 months a report on the “actual or potential injury to U.S. workers caused, directly or indirectly, by work performed by non-immigrant workers in the H-lB, L-1, and B-1 visa categories.”

Given the above and the general state of uncertainty, what should employers do:

  1. BE PREPARED FOR INCREASED ENFORCEMENT: Employers should not only anticipate increased workplace audits and document inspections from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but may also see the return of higher profile and heavily punitive actions such as workplace raids and worker detention. These high profile actions may also be highly publicized in efforts to make an example of businesses and workers that thwart the new administration’s vigilance.
  2. I-9 COMPLIANCE/E-VERIFY IS IMPERATIVE: Currently use of the federal Employment Eligibility Verification (E-Verify) system is only required for certain federal contractors and in a patchwork of states. About half the states have some form of law that addresses E-Verify, but these laws differ as to the employers to which they apply. Some states require all employers to participate, some only public employers, some public employers and contractors, some only contractors, etc.We are likely to see legislation making the use of E-Verify mandatory for all employers—or at least employers of a certain size—nationwide. Though previous attempts to make E-Verify mandatory have failed, these efforts have been part of broader, comprehensive immigration reform bills. Pursuit of mandatory E-Verify in a stand-alone legislative measure may be more successful.

    E-Verify is free to use. Employers who wish to learn more about the I-9 or E-Verify, or who wish to conduct an audit to ensure you are in compliance before Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) comes knocking are encouraged to call us at (206) 623-3352. We will sit with you and train you to properly complete Form I-9 and help you  create a system to properly maintenance and purging or old I-9 records

  3. COMPLIANCE IS KEY: I-9 and E-Verify are not the only compliance requirements for employers. ALL employers with H-1B employees, must also make sure to have a Public Access File (PAF) per employee on hand. If you do not know what a PAF is, or how to create one, call us now!
  4. PLAN AHEAD: Employers with any employees on TN, H-4(EAD) or STEM OPT should plan ahead. It is likely that the current administration will re-negotiate NAFTA in such a way that TN visas may well be placed in immediate jeopardy. To avoid loosing any employees you currently have that may be on TN status, it is best to include these employees in your plans for H-1B filings for Fiscal year 2018. The same advice applies to all employees currently working on H-4 EAD’s and OPT’s which may be terminated at a moment’s notice.
  1. STAY UPDATED ON CHANGES TO EMPLOYMENT BASED VISAS: A close working relationship with Immigration counsel, whether in-house or outside counsel is key at this time. We are witnessing sea changes in Immigration Law enacted with very little or no advance notice. Your ability to make sense of the changing landscape with minimal loss to your business and the people that support you and your work will depend on your relationship with trusted advisors that are able to guide and support you.
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01 Feb 2017

Effect of Executive Order on Pending Applications at USCIS

The Recently enacted Executive Order that bars entry into the US from Nationals of 7 predominantly Muslim countries has now been expanded to also negatively impact ALL pending applications before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Pursuant to an article published in the Intercept, Daniel M. Renaud, Associate Director of Field Operations for DHS’ office of Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued a directive ordering ALL adjudications for nationals from the 7 affected countries to be stopped! https://theintercept.com/2017/01/30/asylum-officials-and-state-department-in-turmoil-there-are-people-literally-crying-in-the-office-here/

“Effectively [sic] immediately and until additional guidance is received, you may not take final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya,” wrote Daniel M. Renaud, Associate Director of field operations for DHS’s office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Field offices may interview applicants for adjustment of status and other benefits according to current processing guidance and may process petitions and applications for individuals from these countries up to the point where a decision would be made.”

“At that point, cases shall be placed on hold until further notice and will be shelved with specific NFTS codes which will be provided through the Regional Offices,” Renaud went on to say. “Offices are not permitted [to] make any final decision on affected cases to include approval, denial, withdrawal, or revocation.”

We are reviewing available recourse for our clients impacted by this decision. For those with pending Naturalization (“Citizenship”) applications, the law allows for applicants to file a lawsuit against USCIS in Federal Court and ask the Federal Court to adjudicate the case where USCIS refuses to adjudicate once the case has been pending for more than 120 days.

It is also unclear whether this policy is being implemented uniformly across all USCIS offices across the United States. However, if you or someone you know is from one of the 7 countries directly affected by the Executive Order, it is in your best interest to speak with your attorney, or seek immediate legal counsel if you do not already have an attorney helping you.

We are following all movements related to Immigration very closely, and while these are very fast moving actions, we will do our best to update you as news becomes available to us. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us at 206-623-3352 or visit us online at www.orbitlawpllc.com should you have any questions or concerns. We will try our utmost to help as best we can.

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28 Jan 2017

TRAVEL ADVISORY: Executive Order Applies to ALL Non-US Citizens!

President Trump on Friday, January 27, 2017 signed an Executive Order titled “Protection of the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States”, the executive order would bar entry to “Aliens” from certain countries from entering the United States for a period of 90 days.

The countries, currently affected by the order are: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

While previously thought to apply only to Individuals seeking admission i.e. Visitor Visa and largely admission as Refugees into the United States, Gillian Christensen, acting Department of Homeland Security Spokeswoman, confirmed in an email to reporters that the Executive Order also applies to ALL Non-US Citizens, including Lawful Permanent Residents who may have temporarily left the United States to visit family abroad, or for work!

As of this moment, there is NO set guidelines or policy regarding the right of individuals with valid visa to return to the US, this includes the category of individuals who may be in possession of a Student (F-1) Work (H-1, L-1, O-1, P-1, R-1 or any other category)

Our strong recommendation to persons who might be affected by the Executive Order is to refrain from traveling outside of the United States. Legal challenges to the order have been filed as of yesterday. These are fast moving developments and we will follow closely. We will provide updates as soon as further information becomes available.

Should you have any questions, please contact Kripa Upadhyay or Steve Tanijo or call us at 206-623-3352.

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