Immigration Blog

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H-4 and L-2 Time De-Coupled From H-1B and L-1 Time

USCIS has recently clarified that any time spent in H-4 status will not count against the six-year maximum period of admission applicable to H-1B aliens. Thus, an alien who was previously an H-4 dependent and subsequently becomes an H-1B principal will be entitled to the maximum period of stay applicable to the classification.

USCIS finds this approach most consistent with the statutory framework, which allows eligible aliens to obtain a full six-year admission period as an H-1B alien. Further, from a policy perspective, this interpretation promotes family unity by affording each qualified spouse the opportunity to spend six-years in H-1B status while allowing the other spouse to remain as an H-4 dependent and without undermining the Congressional intent to limit a principal alien’s ability to work in a specialty occupation for six-year maximum period.

For example, a husband and wife who come to the United States as a principal H-1B and dependent H-4 spouse may maintain status for six years, and then change status to H-4 and H-1B respectively. Note that, upon the switch, the new “principal alien” would be subject to the H-1B cap if not independently exempt. USCIS will consider, in the context of any applications for change of status from H-4 to H-1B, whether the H-4 alien complied with the requirements of accompanying or joining the H-1B alien, and whether the alien otherwise maintained valid nonimmigrant status.

Also, in light of the similar statutory provision set forth in INA 214(d) applicable to L-1 and L-2 aliens, this memorandum provides that time an alien has spent time in L-2 dependent status will not count against the time available to the alien in L-1A or L-1B status.

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Procedures Announced to Correct Case Type at Backlog Center

On January 10th the DOL changed their Public Disclosure System for cases pending at the Backlog Elimination Centers to include the Case Type of the pending case (RIR or TR). The DOL has announced a procedure for employers or their authorized representatives to follow if they believe the case type as reflected on the Public Disclosure System (PDS) is incorrect (e.g., if it is listed as TR but they believe it should be RIR, or vice versa). In such an event, e-mail the general information e-mail box at the appropriate Backlog Elimination Center (BEC) (either info@phi.dflc.us or info@dal.dflc.us). The subject line of the e-mail must read “Incorrect Case Type – Case # [insert case number].” The body of the e-mail should explain why the employer believes the case type is incorrect. Any supporting documentation may be attached as a pdf. The BECs will review the case and reply as soon as possible based on the volume of requests. Depending on the volume of inquiries received, it may take the DOL a few weeks before the case type is corrected in the Public Disclosure System.

Information provided by AILA (InfoNet Doc. No. 07011965 posted Jan. 19, 2007)

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Passports Now Required For Air Travel to U.S.

As of January 23, 2007, citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda are required to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere.

The department expects a smooth transition to the new passport requirement based on the numbers of travelers arriving at U.S. airports with passports. Over 90 percent of U.S. citizens, 97 percent of Canadians, and virtually 100 percent of Mexicans and Bermudans flying to the United States immediately before the rule took arrived with passports.

The air requirement is part of the departments of State and Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. This change in travel document requirements is the result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, which Congress subsequently passed into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

A separate proposed rule addressing land and sea travel will be published at a later date with specific requirements for travelers entering the United States through land and sea border crossings. As early as Jan.1, 2008, citizens traveling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security to enter the United States.

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DOL Clarifies Several RIR Conversion Issues

The following information was provided by AILA:

Q: Question 16 seems to indicate that we can challenge the prevailing wage before recruiting. If we send in a challenge, what will be the turn-around time to receive a response? If we already obtained a SWA wage, can we submit that in as an alternative source and will the BEC honor that SWA wage? (This could happen, e.g., because the SWA and BEC select different OES codes.)

A: We are making all efforts to review a wage challenge as quickly as possible. A SWA issued wage obtained by an employer independent of the application process will be considered as part of the evidence to rebut a BEC-issued wage, but it will be given no special evidentiary weight.

Q: Question 20 states: “changes to the original ETA-750 will not be accepted if they collectively constitute a new job opportunity.” What is a “new job opportunity?” (e.g.: a change in the SOC code; a change in location?) If the DOL determines the change to be a new job opportunity, when will that evaluation be made? Will the DOL review the requested changes in the email and respond right away or will the employer have to submit the RIR conversion package and wait and see? If the DOL makes this determination, what will happen to the case? Does it stay a TR case and the changes will be acknowledged and a TR process can be done using the amended form? How and when will the employer be told the changes “constitute a new job opportunity?”

A: The legal standard for consideration of amendments has not changed. As always, the CO will look to the changes in the job description, duties, and minimum requirements to make such a determination. The evaluation will be made up front – at the time of the prevailing wage determination — so that the employer will be able to act accordingly. If the case becomes a new job opportunity, the case will not be convertible to RIR and a TR process will be required.

Q: In one part of the DOL’s 12/22/06 FAQ, it says the e-mail must be received before January 20. Elsewhere, it says not later than January 20. Note that January 20 is a Saturday. Can you please clarify whether e-mails actually sent on Saturday, January 20 are acceptable, and whether e-mails received until mid-night January 20th (or whatever is the last date) are acceptable?

A: We have posted a revised date for January 22, the following Monday. Emails must be received by midnight EST that night.

Q: The 12/22/06 DOL FAQ states that for conversion cases, when BEC has already placed the job order, the BEC will send all resumes to employer (around 2/1/07) for consideration by employer. If DOL is going to require employers to review resumes received from the job order placed by BEC, in addition to resumes employers receive as a result of their own conversion recruitment, will DOL allow employers to use the job order placed by BEC as the additional forms of recruitment? This question was asked at the 12/11 meeting and the answer provided by Bill Rabung was basically, “no” you can’t use the job order BEC places because the employer won’t be getting the resumes in response to the job order. However, now that a process and timeframe (2/1/07) for providing the resumes to employers has been developed and employers must consider these resumes, then it seems reasonable that employers can use the job order as a form of recruitment to support conversion.

A: Unfortunately, the answer is still “no.” The job order placed by the BEC is placed by the Department of Labor, and has at least one critical difference from the recruitment placed by the employer in an RIR opportunity: the employer’s name does not appear in the job order. In addition, the job order placed by the BEC will be removed once an employer submits its email requesting conversion to RIR. It will not be a complete 30-day placement in the standard fashion of traditional recruitment; in some cases it may last for only a day. And the difficulties in tracking those cases in which amendments are accepted after a job order is placed (essentially mooting the job order) adds to the difficulty. As a result, that particular piece of recruitment cannot be considered as part of the employer’s RIR; the employer did not place it and has not initiated it. We do not believe that this imposes a significant burden on employers who may as a result have to consider a small number of additional U.S. workers.

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DOL Announces New Procedures for RIR Conversions at BECs

On December 22, 2006, the Office of Foreign Labor Certification announced new procedures for conversion of traditionally filed cases currently being processed at the Backlog Elimination Centers to the Reduction in Recruitment (RIR), process. The full announcement can be found here: http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/pdf/backlog_faqs_12-22-06.pdf

Summary of the main points:

Why would an employer want to convert its TR case to RIR? RIR cases generally are completed and reach a disposition faster than TR cases. This enables the employer and alien beneficiary to move the case further to completion in the permanent labor certification process.

Who is generally eligible for RIR conversion under this “new” opportunity? An employer may file a request to convert to RIR if it has a currently pending TR application in one of the BECs (Dallas or Philadelphia) that meets the following conditions: ƒ The case has not already received a disposition, e.g. certification, denial; ƒ A Notice of Findings (NOF) has not been issued for the application, or a NOF has been issued but successfully rebutted at the time of sending the email request; ƒ The application is not for a Schedule B occupation; and ƒthe applicant or its attorney/agent has not received a Recruitment Report Instructions Letter from the BEC indicating that supervised recruitment has ended and providing instructions for the results.

A “hold harmless” benefit in the new guidance allows the employer to commence recruitment without concern that the BEC will initiate job order activity before the employer can submit the recruitment request along with the recruitment, making the applicant ineligible to convert. Any applicant who sends in an e-mail with the specified language before January 20, 2007, indicating its intent to request conversion of its TR case to RIR status will be granted the assurance that the RIR conversion will not be denied solely because the BEC has initiated TR recruitment activities. Therefore, the employer is free to engage in recruitment for preparation for the RIR package without the concern that the BEC will begin TR recruitment activities.

What are the steps under this opportunity?

a) No later than January 20, 2007, the applicant or its designated attorney sends an e-mail to the appropriate BEC using specified language indicating its intent to convert a TR case to RIR status. The e-mail should also contain any proposed amendments.

b) The BEC will place the applicant’s case in “hold” status pending receipt of the RIR conversion package.

c) The BEC will send the applicant a receipt e-mail with the new prevailing wage for the position upon which to base the wage offered in its recruitment, and the status of any proposed amendments, i.e., accepted or not.

d) The BEC will send the employer any resumes the BEC has received in response to any job order activity or advertisement for the employer to consider in preparing its RIR recruitment results package. (Note: This only pertains to cases where a job order activity has been initiated or advertisement was posted by the employer before the employer sent the intent to convert e-mail. In such an instance, this advertisement may be submitted for consideration as part of the RIR conversion recruitment package.)

e) The applicant engages in recruitment and prepares the RIR recruitment results report and supporting documentation (the RIR conversion package).

f) The applicant or its designated representative sends the RIR conversion package to the appropriate BEC in hard copy, by regular mail, certified mail, or mail courier, with the subject “RIR Conversion Package – [case number]” no later than April 1st, 2007. If no package is postmarked for receipt by this date, the case will be closed. These applications do not revert to the TR queue and the decision to close is not subject to appeal.

g) Once the RIR conversion package is received by the BEC, the BEC staff will evaluate the package and determine whether the case can be converted to RIR status.

h) If the case meets the criteria for RIR conversion, the case will be converted and processed as an RIR application. If the case is not eligible, or exhibits other deficiencies that make it ineligible for RIR conversion, the employer will receive a letter advising that the RIR conversion request has been denied and the case will be processed as a TR case retaining its original priority date.

What types of cases are appropriate for an RIR conversion request? Job opportunities which hav an SOC code falling into the following:

1. “In (high) demand” Occupations as listed on O*NET
2. High growth industries identified by ETA: http://www.doleta.gov/BRG/JobTrainInitiative/
3. Any position(s) identified by SWA information as in-demand or shortage occupations.

If an employer’s job opportunity has a SOC code that is not within one of these categories, the employer is not prohibited from filing an RIR conversion request, but the applicant will have to provide evidence at the time of filing the RIR conversion package that the job opportunity is in an occupational field in a demand, high growth, or shortage occupation that is appropriate for a request for a waiver of supervised recruitment.

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RIR Conversion Guidelines For BEC Cases Expected Soon

Members of this firm recently attended a teleconference in which it was announced that the DOL would soon be publishing new procedures for conversion of traditional cases at the backlog centers to the RIR option. One of the presenters in the teleconference had just attended a meeting with the DOL and obtained some preliminary information on the new procedures.

Though the following has not yet been confirmed by any official announcement, it is expected that the new procedures will require notification to the BEC of the intention to convert to RIR. The BEC will then respond with the required wage and recruitment instructions. Those instructions are expected to include one print ad placement and one item from the menu of alternative recruitment strategies under PERM, the new labor certification process in place since April, 2005. There may be a date certain by which the conversion request must be received at the BEC or face case closure.

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USCIS Reaches H-2B Cap For First Half of Fiscal Year 2007

USCIS announced on December 5, 2006 that it had received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the first six months of Fiscal Year 2007. November 28, 2006 was the “final receipt date” for new H-2B worker petitions requesting employment start dates prior to April 1, 2007. The “final receipt date” was the date on which USCIS determined that it had received enough cap-subject petitions to reach the limit of
33,000 H-2B workers for the first half of FY 2007.

USCIS will apply a computer-generated random selection process to all petitions which are subject to the cap and were received on November 28, 2006. This process will select the number of petitions needed to meet the cap. USCIS will reject all cap-subject petitions not randomly selected. USCIS will also reject petitions for new H-2B workers seeking employment start dates prior to April 1, 2007 that arrive after November 28, 2006. USCIS will continue to accept petitions for new H-2B workers seeking employment start dates on or after April 1, 2007 that arrive after the “final receipt date” only if such petitions are supported by a valid temporary labor certification.

Petitions for workers who are currently in H-2B status and returning H-2B workers do not count towards the congressionally mandated bi-annual H-2B cap. “Returning workers” are exempt from H-2B cap limitations. In order to qualify, the worker must have counted against the H-2B numerical cap between October 1, 2003 and September 30, 2006. Any worker not certified as a “returning worker” is subject to the numerical limitations for the relevant fiscal year. Petitions received after the “final receipt date” which contain a combination of “returning workers” and workers subject to the H-2B cap will be rejected with respect to non-returning workers. Petitioning employers will receive partial approvals for those aliens who qualify as “returning workers” if otherwise approvable.

USCIS will continue to process petitions filed to:

• Extend the stay of a current H-2B worker in the United States;
• Change the terms of employment for current H-2B workers and extend their stay;
• Allow current H-2B workers to change or add employers and extend their stay; or
• Request eligible H-2B “returning workers.”

More information about the H-2B work program is available at www.uscis.gov or by calling the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

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Congress Extends Availability of Visas for Nurses to Work in Underserved Areas

On 12/6/06, the Senate passed the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Reauthorization Act of 2005 (H.R. 1285). Passed by House on 6/20/06, the bill extends for three years the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act of 1999, which provides for up to 500 foreign nurses to come to the U.S. annually on H-1C visas to work in medically underserved areas.

Information provided by AILA.

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USCIS Expands Premium Processing Program

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced the expansion of the premium processing to include certain employer petitions, beginning August 28, 2006. Premium Processing allows petitioners to pay an additional $1,000 filing fee in exchange for 15-calendar-day processing of the case.

Beginning August 28, 2006, employers filing immigrant petitions on form I-140 for Professionals and Skilled Workers in the EB-3 category. “Professionals” are defined as individuals with a bachelor’s degree who are members of the professions, and “Skilled Workers” are those defined as those capable of performing skilled labor requiring at least two years of education, training or experience. Only individuals with I-140 petitions in these categories will be eligible to participate in the premium processing program.

Please note that Premium Processing will not be available for petitions in the EB-2 category, or for “Other Workers” in the EB-3 category.

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Glitch at BEC Results in Erroneous Labor Certification Withdrawals

A recent glitch at DOL resulted in the withdrawal of some pending Traditional and RIR labor certification applications at the BECs if a PERM was filed or approved for the same employer and employee, even if question 1A on the PERM application was answered “no”. Some received notices of the withdrawals, and others did not but are showing up in the case status system as “withdrawn”.

The DOL is working on resetting all these cases, except the ones where question 1A on the PERM application was answered “yes”, and expects to finish the process by November 30, 2006. It is unlikely that reset cases will show up on the system as corrected until November 30.
DOL states that the reset cases will be returned to their former places in the processing queue and that original priority dates will be retained.

DOL asks that, if you have one of these cases, you please refrain from inquiring with them until December 1. If, as of December 1, your case is still showing withdrawn, a mechanism will be worked out to address it. DOL is also asking that, if you have one of these cases, you NOT check the case status system until December 1, as the volume of checks has become quite high as the result of this problem and there is concern that the system will crash.
DOL will shortly issue an announcement regarding this problem and the solution, which will address, among other things, what to do with any ETA 750 forms that were returned in connection with the erroneous withdrawals.

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification has received reports that some employers/attorneys were sent back an original 750 with the inadvertent withdrawal. Since the Backlog Elimination Centers (BECs) have a second original 750 for these cases, the case will continue to be processed. The employer/attorney does not have to take any action at this time. In the unlikely event that the BEC requires the first original 750, the employer/attorney will be notified.”

Information provided by AILA.

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