On Friday, March 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a temporary suspension of the premium processing option for all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017. This suspension includes Fiscal Year 2018 H-1B Cap cases, as well as cap-exempt petitions.

Premium processing is an expedited filing option for certain nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions.  Employers may submit a premium processing request on Form I-907 and pay an additional filing fee of $1,225 so that USCIS will take action on that petition within 15 calendar days. The premium processing option allows companies additional time to develop alternative employment strategies for its employees.  It also affords peace-of-mind for employer-sponsors and employee-beneficiaries. Most notably, premium processing reduces the risk of nonimmigrant status issues that may arise from an employee’s international travel plans.

USCIS stated that this suspension has been implemented in an effort to reduce overall processing times for regularly filed H-1B petitions, which are currently taking eight to 10 months to process. USCIS confirmed that the suspension is likely to last at least 6 months to allow adjudicators to catch up on the existing backlog.

Employees should contact HR, and companies are encouraged to work with their immigration legal counsel to evaluate options in light of the suspension.  Delayed processing times could affect continued employment eligibility as well as travel eligibility for H-1B employees.

USCIS has stated that it will accept an expedite request for an H-1B petition if the company can demonstrate that it meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • Severe financial loss to company or person;
  • Emergency situation;
  • Humanitarian reasons;
  • Nonprofit organization whose request furthers the cultural and social interests of the United States;
  • Department of Defense of national interest situation;
  • USCIS Error; or
  • Compelling interest of USCIS.
  • To demonstrate that a company’s need for an expedited H-1B approval falls under one of these criteria, significant documentary evidence must be submitted and the ultimate decision will be at the discretion of USCIS. Lane Powell will continue to evaluate options and provide updates.

UPDATE:  In a landmark decision on February 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted the Executive Order travel ban imposed on persons from predominantly-Muslim countries.  The Court upheld the temporary restraining order from Judge James Robart’s February 3, 2017, ruling in the lawsuit Washington v. Trump.  As a result, the travel ban is not in force. 

However, some heightened scrutiny still exists in the interest of security.  Persons with concerns about departing from or returning to the U.S. still may want to contact an immigration lawyer prior to travel.  However, citizens and nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, or with Muslim backgrounds, no longer should be subjected to unduly excessive questioning during visa processing or upon entry to the United States.   

Following is the history of the Executive Order and continuing implications. 

On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Orders barring admission into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries, suspending all refugee admissions, and barring entry by Syrian refugees. Though no countries are listed on the Order, the intent was the ban on entry into the U.S. by nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen by any persons “from” those countries with nonimmigrant or immigrant visas or status or as refugees.

Multiple lawsuits challenged the Order.  On January 28, 2017 federal courts in several districts issued stays limiting the Order, but the Department of Homeland Security through Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is not fully complying with the stays at all airports and ports of entry.

However, on January 29, 2017, Homeland Security issued a statement, indicating that allowing lawful permanent residents to return to the U.S. is in the national interest, so long as there is no serious derogatory information, as determined on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, CBP and visa officers applied an extremely heightened level of discretion for foreign citizens from Muslim countries (beyond the seven listed), but persons who are allowed to board flights by an large have been allowed to enter the U.S.

Here is a summary of the impact:

Impact on U.S. Citizens

  • The Order does not specifically apply to U.S. born citizens or naturalized US citizens.
  • However, dual U.S. citizens from the 7 countries reported that CBP notified them that their Global Entry trusted traveler authorization is being revoked.

Departing the United States

  • To minimize the impact of the Order, it is advisable to avoid unnecessary travel outside the United States.
  • On January 31, 2017, the Department of State began the provisionally revoking valid visas previously issued to any affected nationals from the 7 countries.  A provisional revocation of a visa does not require the person to depart the U.S., and anyone who receives notification should contact an immigration attorney to discuss implications.  UPDATE: The State Department has started to reinstate the revoked visas.

Returning to the U.S. by Air

  • For persons currently outside the U.S., anticipate enhanced questioning on return, related to activities inside and outside the U.S. and related to family and friends.
  • In some countries, airlines were asking travelers from the 7 countries to sign agreements that if Homeland Security refused to allow them to enter the U.S., the person would agree to pay the return airfare (under existing agreements, the airlines – not the U.S. government or individuals – are liable to cover the cost).

Returning to the U.S. at a Land Border Crossing

  • Entry at land border crossings almost involves more questioning than flying into the U.S. The reason is that some screening occurs through the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) before boarding a flight, but the traveler must wait for the immigration officer at the land border crossing to conduct the screening.

Canadians

  • National Security Advisor Flynn advised that dual nationals of Canada are not prohibited from entering the United States and usually should be allowed to enter.

Green card holders returning to the U.S.

  • Green card holders from countries other than the 7 listed report little difference in the admission process from before the Order.
  • Green card holders from the 7 countries who are dual citizens of other countries (such as Canada and the UK) may be subjected to minimal additional screening.
  • Green card holders from the 7 countries are being subjected to additional screening, which may involve a few additional questions by the immigration officer in primary inspection at the entry booth, or the person may be sent to secondary inspection for more extensive questioning ranging from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Some immigration officers and airline representatives have asked green card holders to sign a form (I-407) to abandon permanent resident status and be allowed to enter the U.S. as a visitor.  Permanent residents should not sign a form or relinquish the green card without speaking to a lawyer.
  • UPDATE:  Persons from the 7 countries generally no longer are singled out.

Temporary, nonimmigrant visa travelers

  • Temporary visas holders (such as with H-1B, O-1, L-1, F-1 students, business visitors, tourists, and Canadians and Mexicans with TN status) from the 7 countries may be subjected to enhanced primary or secondary screening.  UPDATE:  Persons from the 7 countries generally no longer are singled out.
  • Those returning to work generally have less questioning that those entering for the first time.

Visa processing overseas

  • Some U.S. embassies and consulates abroad had allowed returning visa applicants to forego an interview under visa interview-waiver programs, i.e., the drop-box for visa renewals. This option no longer exists. Now, all visa applicants must attend an interview.  UPDATE:  Drop-box visa processing has resumed.
  • Persons from other countries attending visa appointments may end up stuck outside the U.S. for some time and be unable to return while waiting for the visa stamp, though this now is less likely to occur.
  • All U.S. embassies and consular posts were instructed to immediately suspend the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Visa interviews for affected individuals are being canceled. The Department of State issued an urgent notice to citizens these countries, “please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees at this time. If you already have an appointment scheduled, please do not attend. You will not be permitted entry to the Embassy/Consulate.”  UPDATE:  Visa processing has resumed.

Questions on entry

  • CBP immigration officers at the Ports of Entry may ask travelers to provide social media access, such as contact for Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, etc. Such requests should be declined, as the information is not required.
  • For some travelers, a delay will result from a request to Headquarters in Washington, DC, to clear the person.
  • The Order was not directed to nationals of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, & UAE, nor to nationals of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey or other Muslim-majority countries. But some citizens of those countries report being subjected to enhanced secondary screening.
  • The highest scrutiny is being applied to citizens of one of the 7 countries, using a passport issued by one of the 7 countries, and travelling to the U.S. from one of the 7 countries.

Impact on USCIS petition and application processing

  • USCIS reportedly has ceased processing of all immigration petitions and applications for beneficiaries of the 7 countries, for forms that begin with an “I,” (I-130, I-765, etc.), but are processing forms that begin with “N” (such as N-400 naturalization applications).  UPDATE:  Processing has resumed.

Removal or questioning of persons in the U.S.

  • Persons with valid status in the United States are not subject to removal under the Executive Order.
  • Immigration officers who ask to enter the workplace or a home to ask for information about immigration in most cases may be refused if they lack a warrant.

Access to Counsel

  • A person who would like legal representation should ask for a “G-28” while in secondary at a Port of Entry, and even without a G-28, should state that they would like legal representation and to be able to speak to a lawyer and should not be dissuaded by an immigration officer saying the person is not entitled to counsel.

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.

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.