Immigration Edge

Business Immigration Attorneys | Lane Powell Law Firm

Obama Immigration Executive Action: Impact on Business and Employment

Posted in Admissibility issues, Citizenship, DREAM Act, Employment eligibility and verification, foreign student, green card, H-1B, H-4 work authorization, Immigration reform, permanent resident, Visas

In a bold move, on November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his Immigration Accountability Executive Actions to address flaws in the current immigration system.  The plan contains three parts:

  1. Enhanced border enforcement and employer crackdowns for ongoing immigration violations;
  2. Administrative relief from deportation to allow certain undocumented immigrants to apply to remain in the United States; and
  3. Business-friendly policies to enhance U.S. competitiveness and attract foreign investment and talent.

While the focus has been on the administrative relief, the rest of the plan offers potential improvements for some employment-focused immigration categories:

  •  L-1B specialized knowledge workers:
    • Clarifying the rules to bring greater coherence and integrity, to “enhance companies’ confidence in the program”
  • H-4 spouses of H-1B workers:
    • Providing work authorization to spouses once the H-1B worker’s green card process is well underway
  • Foreign nationals caught in a backlog while seeking permanent resident status:
    • For foreign workers in line for a green card, removing unnecessary restrictions on natural career progression without being tied to one job
    • For their spouse and children, providing work authorization at an earlier stage through a registration process
    • Allowing spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to apply for waivers of unlawful presence without leaving the U.S.
  • For F-1 foreign students eligible to work after graduation from a U.S. college or university:
    • Expanding the degree programs eligible for extended periods of work beyond 12 months
  • For foreign inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up enterprises:
    • Making the “national interest waiver” category available for permanent resident status
    • Offering temporary parole in the U.S. under the “significant public benefit” standard
  • Employers using the PERM process prior to sponsoring foreign workers for green cards:
    • Modernizing the process, including the possibility of expedited, premium processing
    • Identifying demonstrated shortages and surplusages

Building on the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, through which young adults brought to the U.S. as children and lack status, the administrative relief plan has the following provisions.

  • Deferred Action for Parents (DAP).
    • Requirements for the parent
      • Have a U.S. citizen child (of any age); or
      • Have a lawful permanent resident child (of any age);
      • Arrived in the U.S. by January 1, 2010;
      • Have been continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2010;
      • Pass background checks;
      • Pay taxes (though evidence of payment of back taxes is not required).
    • Relief
      • Eligible to apply for deferred action, which will be granted for a 3-year period and can be extended.
      • Work authorization comes with the DAP approval.
    • Timing
      • The process should be available by Spring 2015.

 

  • Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
    • Requirements for the applicant
      • Arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old;
      • Arrived in the U.S. by January 1, 2010;
      • Have been continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2010;
      • Pass background checks.
    • Relief
      • Eligible to apply for deferred action, which will be granted for a 3-year period, and can be extended.
      • Work authorization comes with the DAP approval.
    • Timing
      • The plan is to have applications available by January 2015.

The administrative relief plan, a step in the right direction toward fixing our country’s broken immigration system, has the following limitations:

  • Neither DACA or DAP gives any immigration status.
  • Only temporary reprieve from deportation is available.
  • The programs do not grant green cards or citizenship.
  • They do not provide for any path to green cards or citizenship.
  • They are not available immediately.
  • Many undocumented persons will not be eligible.
  • The plan relies on the President’s prosecutorial discretion authority, recognizing that immigration enforcement is necessarily selective and that Congress funds capacity for about 400,000 deportations each year.

Nevertheless, the plan could expand the legal workforce by about four million.

Employers and businesses should be alert for opportunities to take advantage of the components of the plan.

U.S. Expands Visas to Chinese Citizens to 10 Years

Posted in Admissibility issues, China, foreign student, Visas

Chinese citizens who would like to travel to the United States now can have a visa valid for up to 10 years.  Previously, the limit was one year.  During President Obama’s November 2014 visit to China, the two countries agreed to reciprocal expansion of the timeframe.

This does not mean a Chinese citizen can remain in the United States for 10 years.  A visa allows a person who comes to a U.S. port of entry at an airport or border crossing to “knock on the door.”  Immigration officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the Department of Homeland Security determine the length of stay for each visit.  Immigration regulations allow for business visitors with B-1 visas and tourists with B-2 visas to remain for up to one year, but the more typical period of stay allowed is 90 days or six months, or a period needed to accomplish the purpose of the visit.  However, a 10-year visa eliminates the need for annual visits to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for visa renewals for subsequent travel to the United States.

Student F-1 visa and exchange visitor J-1 visa validity is increased from one to five years.  Even with a five-year visa, an exchange visitor generally only can remain up to 18 months, plus a grace period of 30 days after the status ends.  Students may remain in the U.S. for the period of time needed to complete the study, plus one year optional practical training after completing a degree, plus a 60-day grace period.

Visitors with B-1 or B-2 status are not permitted to work for a U.S. employer.  Students and exchange visitors have work options that must be closely tied to the study or exchange purpose of the visa.

DHS to Issue U.S. Work Permits for some H-4 Spouses

Posted in green card, H-1B, H-4 work authorization, Immigration reform

On May 6, 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially announced that the United States will offer employment authorization to H-4 spouses of H-1B specialty occupation workers, under certain conditions.

Historically, H-4 spouses of H-1B workers have not had the right to work in the United States, although they have been able to legally reside in the United States and enroll in U.S. schools during the period of H-1B approval.  Many spouses in H-4 status become eligible to apply for U.S. employment authorization when the H-1B principal is sponsored for Lawful Permanent Resident status by a U.S. employer.  However, due to quotas restricting the number of employment-based green cards issued each year, many H-4 spouses (especially from India and China) must wait for many years after such sponsorship before they can apply for employment authorization.  The new H-4 provisions appear targeted to benefit these individuals.

Eligibility for H-4 employment authorization is tied to the principal H-1B worker.  H-4 spouses will be eligible to apply for employment authorization if their H-1B worker husband or wife:

  • Is the beneficiary of an approved I-140 filed by a U.S. employer; or
  • Has been granted an extension of H-1B status beyond the six-year limit based on the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-313).

H-4 employment authorization application fees, forms and processes will be clarified through proposed regulations, which DHS has promised to release soon.  As of now, it is not clear when DHS will begin receiving and processing such applications.

This new opportunity for H-4 spouses represents DHS’s recognition of the potential value that spouses of skilled foreign workers bring to the U.S. economy.  Many spouses in H-4 status are themselves professionals or would-be entrepreneurs, but are unduly prevented from entering the U.S. workforce due to visa quota backlogs.  DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called the new H-4 employment rules an effort to “retain and attract world-class talent … [to] ensure [the United States] do[es] not cede the upper hand to other countries competing for the same talent.”

Click here to read a copy of DHS’s press release regarding H-4 employment authorization.

H-1B Lottery: How Will it Work if the Quota is Filled?

Posted in H-1B, Immigration reform, Uncategorized

April 1, 2014, is the first day USCIS will accept H-1B petitions for quota/cap-subject cases for FY 2015, commencing October 1, 2014.  Only 65,000 H-1Bs are available nationwide per year for new jobs for foreign workers requiring Bachelor’s degrees, and only 20,000 for those requiring Master’s or advanced degrees. With demand for H-1B workers high, the quota likely will be filled quickly, leading USCIS to conduct a computer-generated random selection process, known as the “ lottery,” to randomly select which of cases will be receipted and adjudicated under the cap.  Information gleaned from USCIS regulations and recent press release postings yields a few tips:   

  • USCIS expects to receive a high volume of H-1B petitions this year. 
  • The quota is likely to be exceeded in the first few days of April.
  • Regulations require USCIS to accept petitions received the first five business days of April.  With April 1st a Tuesday, the fifth business day will be Monday, April 7, meaning petitions must be sent by Saturday, April 5.
  • Initial review will sort out multiple or duplicative H-1B petitions filed by an employer for one employer.  Regulations require USCIS to deny or revoke those multiple or duplicative petitions that an employer files for the same H-1B worker, and they will not return or refund the filing fees.
  • Master’s cap petitions will be sorted from non-Master’s cases and subjected to the random process to select the 20,000 that will be processed. 
  • All cases not selected as part of the U.S. Master’s lottery will be entered into the bachelor’s cap lottery, in which 58,200 cases (65,000 minus 6,800 carved out for Chile and Singapore H-1Bs) will be subjected to the random system to select those that will be adjudicated. 
  • Rejected petitions will be returned to the attorney or employer along with the filing fees (except for multiple or duplicative filings by an employer for an employee).
  • For H-1B cap petitions accompanied by the premium processing fee – an extra $1225 USCIS filing fee – requesting processing within 15 days of filing, USCIS will delay the start of the 15-day period, possibly until Monday, April 28.
  • Employers probably will not know whether a petition has been accepted and made it through the lottery until processing has begun and USCIS sends a receipt notice, or until the attorney or employer receives the rejected petition.
  • Premium processing does not increase the change of being selected in the lottery, but may enable earlier notification of whether the petition was accepted or rejected.
  • Petitions filed without premium processing may take several months to process, but should be processed before October 1, 2014.
  • Because of the five-business-day rule, a petition that USCIS received on April 1, 2, 3, 4, or 7 has the same chance of being accepted and the same risk of being rejected as a petition sent on March 31.

In the unlikely event that the quota is not filled during the first five business days in April, then USCIS will continue to accept petitions day-to-day until the H-1B quota is reached.

Government October 2013 Shutdown to Haunt H-1B and other Foreign Workers

Posted in E-3 Australia, government shutdown, green card, H-1B, Immigration Filing Issues, permanent resident, Visas

Effective October 1, 2013, U.S. federal government operations are experiencing a lapse in appropriations due to the inability of Congress to pass a funding bill.  The shutdown is preventing employers from filing H-1B petitions for new employees, as well as from seeking extensions for existing H-1B workers.  Other immigration categories are affected, as well.  As a consequence, some foreign workers will be forced into a lapse of status that could impact not only current status, but also future efforts to obtain a green card. 

Shutdown Implications on H-1B Status

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security is the agency that adjudicates H-1B petitions.  Because it is funded by fees, USCIS is not shutdown and could process H-1B cases. 

However, the Department of Labor (DOL) is shutdown, with employees furloughed and operations suspended.  The DOL is the agency that determines prevailing wages for H-1B cases.  Before filing an H-1B case, employers submit a prevailing wage request to the DOL online with a Labor Condition Application (LCA).  The DOL has ceased accepting LCAs as of October 1, and also ceased processing LCAs pending as of that date.  Without an LCA certified by the DOL, USCIS cannot process an H-1B. 

Though it is open, USCIS is refusing to accept any H-1Bs, returning entire packages with a notice directing to “resubmit your petition with a properly signed Labor Condition Application,” because the “form you submitted is missing the Department of Labor official’s signature.” 

The DOL takes seven days to process LCAs.  To have avoided stalled H-1B petitions, an employer must have submitted an LCA to the DOL online by September 24, so that the LCA could have been certified and contain the requisite “Department of Labor official’s signature” by September 30, while the DOL still was functioning. 

As an alternative to the online LCA processing, the DOL could accept paper-filed LCAs.  However, mail and courier packages sent to the DOL after October 1 have been undelivered because all the workers are furloughed, and there is no one to receive any deliveries.  FedEx notices for attempted delivery say “Business closed.”

This aspect of the shutdown will prevent employers from hiring H-1B workers who otherwise would be able to transfer from existing employers.  It also will force current employees with valid status to appear to fall out of status if their H-1B expires after October 1 and an extension is not currently pending with USCIS.

USCIS could agree to accept H-1B petitions without signed LCAs, as it has done in the past, and also could accept pro forma, unfiled LCAs.  By simply accepting the petition and issuing a receipt notice, USCIS would give sufficient evidence that the H-1B worker could lawfully remain in the U.S. and continue working pending LCA certification and pending final H-1B adjudication.  Without such discretion, USCIS will force a worker to lose status and ultimately will make more work for itself when adjudicating subsequent petitions.  

Shutdown Implications on E-3 Status

E-3 status is similar to H-1B status, but is based on a treaty between the U.S. and Australia and only is available to Australian citizens.  E-3 status also requires an LCA.  As with H-1Bs, USCIS will not accept E-3 petitions with LCAs the DOL did not certify before the shutdown. 

E-3 visas alternatively may be processed through the Department of State at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. However, they, too, insist on a certified LCA for E-3s.  In general, the State Department is open for visa processing.  It is possible to make an E-3 visa appointment at an embassy or consulate, but the E-3 will not be processed until the shutdown has lifted and the visa applicant presents an LCA certified with the “Department of Labor official’s signature.”

Options for Alleviating Implications on Temporary Workers

USCIS regulations provide for excusing a status lapse that occurred through no fault of the foreign worker. USCIS tends to insist on evidence of what caused the status lapse as well as efforts to avoid it.  Employers with workers facing H-1B or E-3 expiration must do the following:

  • File the extension application, even though it is certain the petition will be rejected;
  • Keep the evidence of rejection to submit when refiling after the government shutdown ends; and
  • When a petition is filed for the worker who fell out of status, request that USCIS exercise its discretion to forgive the lapse.

One other option for H-1Bs is that is the worker can request an additional 10 days added to the expiration date before status expires.  The request is made to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), another agency under the Department of Homeland Security.  CBP is located at land border crossings and international airports, and has inland “Deferred Action” sites what may provide evidence of the 10-day period.  CBP typically gives the additional 10-day period on request at entry to the U.S., for an H-1B worker who anticipates needing the time period to wrap up matters after the H-1B job ends, prior to returning home.  Under these circumstances, ten days could be enough time for the government to re-open, an LCA to be submitted and certified, and for USCIS to accept the H-1B petition.  Having the additional 10-day authorization could alleviate complications for some. 

Shutdown Implications on Future Green Card

The green card process can last for years, depending on backlogs and other factors.  Those affected by the shutdown could feel the impact on future applications for permanent residence.  

A general condition of seeking to adjust from a temporary status, such as H-1B or E-3 status, to permanent resident status with a green card, is that the person must have maintained status throughout the duration of stay in the United States.  There are some exceptions.  For most employment-based green card cases, under Section 245(k) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, certain types of status violation that lasted for under 180 days, including work without evidence of authorization, could be excused, enabling the person to become a permanent resident despite the lapse.  Again, excusing the status violation is up to the discretion of USCIS, but the circumstances of U.S. government intransigence merit the exercise of discretion.

Employers should note, however, that Section 245(k) does not excuse compliance with rules requiring employment verification.

USCIS could lighten the burden of the government shutdown on employers and their foreign workers.  Even if it does not, some exceptions and work-arounds exist.  But the unintended consequences of this October 2013 shutdown could haunt foreign workers for years into the future.

Government Shutdown and Employment-Related Immigration Implications

Posted in E-Verify, Employment eligibility and verification, H-1B, Immigration Filing Issues, Immigration I-9, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Visas

Effective October 1, 2013, U.S. federal government operations are experiencing a lapse in appropriations due to the inability of Congress to pass a funding bill.  Following are implications on immigration-related government services that may impact employers:

Department of State:  Visa processing.  As of October 1, 2013, visa issuance and full operations are to continue as usual.  However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, that facility may become unsupported. 

Department of Labor:  Employees furloughed; operations suspended.

No processing of Labor Condition Applications (LCA) for H-1B or other cases, prevailing wage requests of PERM applications. 

If a PERM application is ready to be filed, has a deadline, and cannot be efiled, mailing the application may be an option, but at the risk of potential processing delays. 

Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS):  As of October 1, 2013, USCIS reports that “all offices are open worldwide,” including the following:

  • Regional Service Centers and processing centers for applications and petitions
  • Local USCIS offices

USCIS has not reported whether it will accept cases for processing, in particular, H-1B petitions with an LCA not yet certified by the DOL.

Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman office:  Employees furloughed; operations suspended. 

Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Port of Entry Operations, including CBP Cargo Security and Revenue Collections, as well as Border Security programs, including Border Patrol and CBP Air and Marine Operations:  Continued operations, because they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property.

E-Verify:  Unavailable; operations suspended.  E-Verify, the free, internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, will be inaccessible during the shutdown. 

Employers must continue to complete I-9 forms in compliance with the law and when E-Verify becomes available, create cases in the E-Verify system.

While E-Verify is unavailable, according to the E-Verify website, employers will not be able to access the E-Verify account, and as a result, will be unable to do the following:

  • Enroll any company in E-Verify
  • Verify employment eligibility
  • View or take action on any case
  • Add, delete or edit any User ID
  • Reset passwords
  • Edit your company information
  • Terminate an account
  • Run reports
  • View ‘Essential Resources.’ Please note that all essential resources may be found by visiting www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

In addition, E-Verify Customer Support and related services are closed.  As a result: 

  • Employees will be unable to resolve Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs).
  • Telephone and e-mail support will be unavailable.  E-Verify will respond to e-mails sent, when the suspension is lifted.
  • E-Verify webinars and training sessions are cancelled
  • E-Verify Self Check will not be available

The following temporary policies have been implemented:

  • The ‘three-day rule’ for E-Verify cases is suspended for cases affected by the shutdown. This does NOT affect the Form I-9 requirement—employers still must complete the Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee starts work for pay.
  • The time period during which employees may resolve TNCs will be extended.  Days the federal government is closed will not count towards the eight federal government workdays the employee has to go to SSA or contact Homeland Security.
  • For federal contractors complying with the federal contractor rule, please contact your contracting officer to inquire about extending deadlines.
  • Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because of an E-Verify interim case status, including while the employee’s case is in an extended interim case status due to a federal government shutdown (consult the E-Verify User Manual for more information on interim case statuses).

Department of Justice (DOJ)

The DOJ has indicated that its trial attorneys and immigration judges will conduct removal (deportation proceedings) only for individuals in federal custody. All other cases are suspended during the shutdown.

Immigration Reform Passes Senate Judiciary Earlier than Expected

Posted in H-1B, Immigration legislation, Immigration reform

A congressional immigration reform proposal passed its first test and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21, 2013.  Action on the bill had been expected before the Memorial Day break, but not so much sooner than the self-imposed deadline. 

The Committee reached a key compromise related to H-1B specialty occupation workers, with the following provisions: 

  • H-1B numbers would increase, from 65,000 per year to a range of between 110,000 and 180,000.
  • Filing fees for H-1B petitions would increase substantially.
  • Employers must recruit U.S. workers but need not offer jobs to all U.S. workers who are qualified.
  • H-1B workers may not be paid less than U.S. workers with the same position, and employers dependent on the foreign workers must pay higher than Level 1 wages to the H-1B workers.
  • Outsourcing through job shops who employ H-1B workers is restricted.

The legislation would treat foreign graduates with U.S. science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degrees more favorably than those with other degrees, allowing them to skip the H-1B process and apply directly for permanent residence and a green card.

The bill contains widescale changes to immigration law going well beyond H-1B employment.  The next step will be debate of all the provisions by the full Senate   The House has just begun to start releasing its immigration reform bills.

I-9 Employer Verification Form – Use New Version Starting May 7, 2013

Posted in E-Verify, Employment eligibility and verification, Immigration I-9

Employers must begin using the new version of Form I-9 on May 7, 2013.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced publication of the revised Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification on March 8, 2013.  Employers are required to use the Form I-9 to verify the identity and employment authorization eligibility of employees. 

Changes to the Form

Employers should familiarize themselves with the Form.  It contains several changes, including the following:

The form now has two pages to complete; page one is for the employee to complete, while fields for information about documents reviewed and for the employer certification are on page two.   A warning on the bottom of page 1 — “STOP.  Employer Completes Next Page” – is designed to ensure that the employer does not overlook the second page.

  • Fields for additional data have been added:
    • “Other Names Used” (The “maiden name” field is gone.)
    • Boxes to fill for the Social Security number, instead of an open text field. (The instructions clarify that providing a Social Security Number is optional, unless the employer uses E-Verify, in which case the number must be added to the I-9.)
    • Employee e-mail address and telephone number (The instructions clarify that this information is optional, but that if it is provided, DHS may contact the employee in the event of a mismatch with Social Security records.)
    • “USCIS Number” (Though listed as an alternative to the “Alien Registration Number,” it is the same number.)
    • “Form I-94 Admission Number,” issued by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on entry to the U.S. – required only if it appears on a work authorization document
    • Foreign passport information
    • On page 2, a field for employee name from Section 1
    • A third set of fields for “List A” identity and employment authorization document information
    • In the “Certification” section, specification that the employee representative is attesting to the following:
      • I have examined the document(s) presented by the above-named employee;
      • The above-listed document(s) appear [sic] to be genuine and to relate to the employee named, an
      • To the best of my knowledge the employee is authorized to work in the United States.
    • Boxes for 3-D Barcode – the purpose of these fields are not described.

The revised form clarifies the timeframe for completion, indicating that “Employees must complete and sign Section 1 of Form I-9 no later than the first day of employment, but not before accepting a job offer.” 

Applicability

As indicated on the instructions, the Form is required for newly hired employees.  When rehiring an employee within three years of the date Form I-9 was originally completed, employers have the option to complete a new Form I-9 or complete Section 3 of the previously completed form. 

Document Retention

Regarding document retention, the form instructions indicate that employers may, but are not required to, photocopy documents employees present for completion of the Form I-9, but that photocopies must be retained and presented with Form I-9 in case of an inspection by DHS or other federal government agency.

The I-9 is available on the USCIS website.

Senate Releases Sweeping Immigration Reform Bill

Posted in Citizenship, E-Verify, Employment eligibility and verification, Immigration legislation, Immigration reform, Investment immigration, Visas

Following are some highlights for the comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate on April 17, 2013.

H-1B Cap Raised, but New Restrictions on Temporary H-1B Workers.  In an effort promote market-based limits, the annual H-1B cap would be raised from 65,000 to 110,000, and would be adjustable upwards to as high as 180,000 per year if employer requests for H-1B workers rises.  The 20,000 additional H-1B slots currently available for U.S. Master’s degree graduates would be increased to 25,000, but would be limited to U.S. Master’s graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields only. 

However, the bill would also impose onerous new obligations and restrictions on U.S. employers hiring H-1B workers, reportedly including the following:

  • Higher wage obligations
  • Mandatory recruitment of U.S. workers and online posting for H-1B positions
  • Increased filing fees and limits on H-1B hiring for “ H-1B dependent employers” (more than 30 % of a company’s workforce are H-1B or L-1 employees)

Entrepreneur Start-up Visa.  The proposal offers up to 10,000 new temporary visas to entrepreneurs who create at least three jobs, raise at least $100,000 from angel investors, venture capitalists or other investment groups, and generate at least $200,000 in revenue.

Retirees and Snowbirds.  There is a “retiree visa” for purchasers for residences with $500,000 cash or more and also a provision for Canadian snowbird homeowners and renters. 

New Employment Eligibility Verification Obligations for U.S. Employers.  Within five years after the bill’s passage, all U.S. employers would be required to enroll in the E-Verify system.  Large employers would be required to enroll sooner, and mandatory enrollment would be phased in later for small businesses and certain industries (e.g. agriculture).  The bill would also incorporate “photo matching” into E-Verify screening for new hires, requiring employers to certify that the photograph on the identity document presented by the new hire exactly matches an identical photograph in the E-Verify system.

Merit-Based Point System.  A new merit-based option would make green cards available based on education, employment, length of residence, and other considerations.

Re-Allocation of Immigrant Visa Quotas to Clear Backlog.  The bill proposes various reforms to the current employment- and family-based immigrant visa quota system designed to reduce and eliminate visa processing backlogs.  Significant changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Derivative spouses and children of principal immigrants in both employment- and family-based categories would be classified as “immediate relatives,” and no longer be counted toward numerical limits.
  • Many employment-based immigrants would no longer be counted toward annual numerical limits, including all EB-1 categories (extraordinary ability, outstanding professors/researchers, and multinational executives/managers), doctoral degree holders in any field, and some physicians.
  • EB-2 classification would be expanded to include a new sub-category for foreign nationals who earned U.S. Master’s or higher degrees in STEM fields during the past five years, and have an offer of employment in a STEM field.
  • Per-year numerical limits on EB-2 and EB-3 visas would be increased.

W Visa for Lower-Skilled Workers.  The bill proposes a new nonimmigrant, temporary worker category, a W visa for workers to perform services or labor.  It will require registration and certification:

  • The employer must register.
  • The position must be registered.
  • The worker must request and receive certification for W status. 

Employers will need to recruit for U.S. workers for 30 days.  20,000 W visas would be available starting in 2015, with the number increasing to 75,000 in 2019.

 “Blue Card” for Agricultural Workers.  Agricultural workers would be eligible for a new type of legal status work authorization card: a blue card.  Ag workers would not be tied to a single employer.  Wages would be set by the Department of Agriculture, instead of the Department of Labor.  The ag workers must have done the following:

  • Worked in the U.S. ag industry for at least 100 days in the two years prior to December 31, 2012
  • Pay a $400 fee
  • Paid their taxes
  • Have no criminal record

The bill caps the blue cards at about 112,000 for the first five years.  Blue card holders could be eligible for permanent legal residency in five years.

Registered Prospective Immigrant (RPI).  Current undocumented noncitizens could apply for “registered prospective immigrant” (RPI) status with valid work authorization under the following circumstances:

  • Presence in the U.S. since December 31, 2011
  • Passing a background check
  • Paying a $500 penalty fee
  • Paying taxes

RPI status would be available for six years and could be renewed for another $500.  Permanent resident status would be available after payment of an additional $1,000 fee and the following:

  • The border is sufficiently secure.
  • All individuals who are waiting for green cards when the bill is enacted have been processed, that is, those in the country without authorization to the “back of the line.”
  • The RPI possessed the status for 10 years.
  • Tax payments are up-to-date.
  • The RPI demonstrates knowledge of US civics and English.

Path to Residency or Citizenship

The bill does not provide a direct route to U.S. citizenship for those adjusting from unlawful status, but it does not prohibit applying for citizenship.

Questions and Answers regarding I-94 Automation and the Elimination of Paper I-94 Cards

Posted in Admissibility issues, Immigration I-9, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

 

Why is CBP eliminating paper I-94 cards? CBP believes that filling out and issuing paper I-94 cards is an unproductive use of time, for both government officers and travelers. As part of post-9/11 initiatives put in place nearly a decade ago, information about travelers’ identities, travel documents, and U.S. visas is already in the U.S. government’s possession prior to their arrival to the United States on an air or sea carrier. Arrivals and departures of foreign nationals by air and sea are already registered electronically by DHS through this system. Therefore, CBP’s issuance of paper cards upon admission, and its collection, review, and data entry of cards at admission and departure is no longer a necessary effort. Perhaps more significantly, the manpower necessary to manage the system built on paper cards represents a major cost which the government wishes to eliminate.I am a temporary worker or visitor to the United States. How will I-94 elimination change my admission process? If I won’t have a paper I-94 card, how can I prove my lawful admission? At the time of your entry, you will still have an interview with a CBP officer regarding your purpose of coming to the United States and the length of your stay. Your passport will be stamped, and the stamp will indicate the class of your admission (or parole) into the United States, and a date for expiration of your authorized stay. There will still be an “I-94” record created and attached to your identity, but it will be in electronic, not paper form. CBP has created a website (http://www.cbp.gov/I94), where you will be able to access all the data that used to be on the paper I-94 card hyperlink here. To safeguard against privacy concerns, CBP’s I-94 website will require inputting multiple data points to log in to view the electronic I-94, including the following:

  • first, middle, and last name,
  • passport number,
  • country of citizenship
  • place of entry to the United States
  • date of entry into the United States, and
  • possibly more information.

Reportedly, electronic I-94 admission data will be available online to travelers immediately following admission, and available to DHS stakeholders (e.g., State Departments of Motor Vehicles, Social Security Administration, colleges and universities, etc.) within approximately 24 hours. For travelers who still wish to receive a paper I-94 card, CBP will issue paper cards upon request.

I work at a U.S. company which hires foreign workers. How will I be impacted by I-94 elimination? The absence of paper I-94 cards will change the way workers can provide you with proof of maintenance of status when you are sponsoring them for work-authorized classification. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will expect electronic I-94 printouts to be retrieved and printed from the Internet, and submitted along with immigration petitions, and you may have to assist your workers in accessing this information. Also, I-94 automation for air and sea travelers will change the documents you must accept when verifying a worker’s U.S. employment eligibility on Form I-9 or through the E-Verify system. In addition to paper I-94 cards—which will still be issued to some travelers—companies should be prepared to accept printouts of electronic I-94 data from CBP’s website. This I-94 data should be used to complete I-9 and E-Verify forms just like data from paper I-94 cards. Note that a passport stamp annotated with a work-authorized class of admission (e.g. H-1B) is not an acceptable document for I-9 purposes, and you must continue to fill out I-9 forms using I-94 data only.

I’m worried about errors on my record that will be undetectable until I’ve already completed the admissions process. Are there procedures for CBP to correct errors in electronic I-94 records? With paper I-94 cards, it is easy to spot obvious errors in the date or class of admission which correlate to errors in CBP internal databases, and it is relatively simple to request correction at the time of admission if an error is made. After I-94 automation, errors will likely not be detectable until after a traveler has completed the admissions process and left the CBP/international arrivals area of the airport or seaport. If you note that there is a clear error in your electronic I-94 record, or a discrepancy exists between the admission stamp in your passport and your I-94 record, you will have to appear at a CBP Deferred Inspection office to resolve these issues. We strongly recommend that all travelers with automated I-94s check their online records immediately upon admission to verify their accuracy.

If I don’t have a paper I-94 card, will I still be expected to turn in any documentation, or otherwise report my departure from the United States? According to CBP, in the advent of I-94 automation, you do not need to turn in any documentation at the time of departure, as long as you are departing the United States via air or sea. Departure manifests for air and sea carriers are automatically registered in DHS databases in a similar fashion to arrivals, so your departure from the country will close out your I-94 admission record in the same way your arrival created the record. However, if you depart the United States via a land border, your departure will not be automatically registered, so you will need to affirmatively report your departure. CBP has provided limited guidance regarding how to effectively do this, but we recommend that you print out a copy of your electronic I-94, and give it to CBP or the adjacent country’s border agency (e.g. Canadian Border Service Agency) as you undergo the arrival and inspection process there. Additionally, you might consider asking Canadian or Mexican border officials to date and stamp your passport to confirm your departure from the United States and entry to their country. If you fail to do either of these things, CBP will continue to allow foreign travelers to submit proof of departure from the United States according to these instructions.

I’m a Canadian citizen, so my passport isn’t usually stamped and I’m not usually issued a paper I-94 when I travel. This change won’t affect me, will it? Actually, it may. Canadian visitors traveling to the United States by air or sea will now have electronic I-94 records created and attached to their identity. As such, these individuals will go through the same process as all other foreign travelers, and will likely have their passports stamped and annotated with a visitor class of admission and, in most cases, a six-month period of authorized stay. Canadian visitors will also be able to access their electronic I-94 records online. Keep in mind, again, that I-94 automation will only be phased in at Pre-Clearance Operations at Canadian airports, and that procedures at the land borders will not change. Foreseeably, CBP officers stamping and annotating passports for all Canadian travelers could cause increased wait times for U.S. immigration inspection at Canadian airports. As I-94 automation is phased in for Pre-Clearance locations, we recommend you arrive extra early to the airport or book longer layovers if connecting to U.S.-bound flights.

What other issues should I be aware of?

  • Non-DHS agencies—federal, state and local—may not be fully aware or informed of the elimination of paper I-94 cards, and may still insist on presentation of paper I-94 cards to issue documents and benefits to foreign nationals. At least during the first few months of I-94 automation, we strongly recommend printing a copy of CBP’s public notice regarding the elimination of paper I-94 cards and carrying it with you to any appointment at a federal, state or local agency where you might need to present I-94 data.
  • Electronic I-94 data will only be available on CBP’s website for current, ongoing periods of admission. In other words, once a foreign national with an automated I-94 record departs the United States, his or her admission data will no longer be accessible online. Individuals who wish to maintain detailed information regarding their travel and admission should print and store I-94 records each time they enter the United States.
  • The name linked to each automated I-94 record will reportedly be the name from the individual’s latest U.S. visa. Individuals who have even a small discrepancy between the name listed on their passport and their U.S. visa may experience issues with Departments of Motor Vehicles or other state/local agencies, if they are required to present passport and I-94 documents on which their name is an exact match. (Note that there is no such requirement for employers completing I-9 forms – I-9s can be properly completed as long as passport and I-94 both reasonably appear to relate to the individual presenting the documents. Minor name discrepancies between documents are acceptable.)