Articles Posted in H-1B

abscond.jpgA recent litigation regarding an H-1B visa audit, also known as a Labor Condition Application (LCA) Audit, raised a question that case law has not yet adequately addressed, even though the case isn’t unique. The case law in this area seems to muddle the facts without clearly addressing an employer’s obligation to pay the H-1B visa employee when he or she disappears and is never heard from. But prior to delving into the facts of our case, a review of the employer’s obligations is in order.

When does the Employer’s Obligation to Pay an H-1B Visa Employee Terminate?

The LCA obligates employers to pay H-1B employees an amount at least equal to the “prevailing wage” for their positions. (The Department of Labor (DOL) determines this wage.) There are two situations in which this obligation is known to be exempted. The first applies when an employer effectuates a bona fide termination of the employee. The second is when the employee experiences a period of nonproductive status due to conditions unrelated to the employment which take the employee from his or her duties (e.g. touring the U.S. or caring for an ill relative etc.) or render the nonimmigrant unable to work (e.g. maternity leave or an automobile accident etc.). The regulations, however, do not clearly address a situation in which the foreign national disappears.

magnifying-glass-967211-m.jpgLCA Compliance

Something that all H-1B and EB-2/EB-3 immigrant sponsors must keep track of is compliance with labor condition application (LCA) regulations. The labor certification process is designed to protect U.S. workers in two ways. It makes sure that aliens aren’t taking jobs that qualified U.S. workers are seeking and aren’t working for less than the usual or “prevailing” wage in their position. In simple terms, U.S. immigration policy tries to give employers no economic incentive to hire foreign workers (except for qualifications and desire for the position). LCA enforcement is how this is accomplished, and the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department (WHD) will initiate investigations if it suspects any lapse in LCA compliance. Penalties for violations are mostly monetary–but may include the loss of a company’s ability to hire foreign workers.

The plight of delinquent companies that knowingly violate LCA regulations isn’t the focus here. There are many companies that apparently didn’t know that they were in violation–and went on to contest their violations. (In fact, the only time the public hears about the details of one of these cases is if a violation is contested and the case goes to hearing.) Here are some common LCA issues employers sometimes stumble into.

  1. Employers can get in trouble for deferring paying labor-certified employees–as may happen during a contractual disagreement, even with full back-payment coming as soon as an agreement is reached. The WHD is all too eager to view things like this is as employers giving themselves more leeway with alien workers (than with U.S. ones). The payment arrangements detailed in the approved petition should be followed. If this isn’t possible, any deferred payment should come with interest, at the very least.

business-growth-3-1426748-m.jpgOnce again, Congress is considering a bill to raise the H-1B visa cap. The sponsors of this bill are three Democrats and three Republicans, the group of six being spread out across the ideological spectrum. (The primary sponsor is Orrin Hatch, who is the 29th most conservative of the 100-person chamber, and one of the co-sponsors is tied for fifth most liberal.) One would thus think that the bill has high hopes. However, if things go the way they have the last couple of times a cap raise was proposed, the bill will be shelved before any serious progress can be made. It seems that there is a general fear that allowing more H-1B workers into the country amounts to outsourcing or otherwise harms U.S. workers. However, a plain consideration of all the evidence should lead one to support raising the H-1B visa cap.

The first point to consider is that the current H-1B cap of 65,000 (with an additional 20,000 for workers with master’s degrees) is the same as the cap from the mid 90’s. In other words, it’s terribly outdated. The cap was first reached in 1997 and hit again in 1998. In response to this and increasing demand for IT workers, a law was passed to temporarily increase the cap to a height of 115,000 until returning to 65,000 in 2002. There were several reasons for instituting a temporary cap; one of those being the possible threat of Y2K related difficulties and outages, another being the experimental nature of Congress’ intent. However, the higher cap accompanied the .com bubble’s collapse and 9/11. Because of these and other issues, the political will and apparent need to import more specialized laborers was low at the end of the program, so the cap was not revisited.

H-1B visas are good for three years and one-time renewals are cap exempt, so the full effect of returning to the old cap wasn’t felt until 2008. It may be a “cheap shot” to say this, but the reduction of H-1B workers in the country seems to have coincided with the financial collapse and the recession rather than a boon for U.S. workers. But this needs to be said, because there is significant opposition to increasing the H-1B cap on economic grounds.


In the years since 9/11, there have been ongoing efforts to improve U.S. security and make the visa processing system more efficient. Several government agencies have teamed up to create new all-encompassing databases–and have been engaging in a continuous review of immigration and visa issuing practices. Along with new requirements in the system, such as interviews and other security checks, these things have caused ever-increasing delays in visa processing and issuing. Though apparently unexpected, this result is not surprising. However, one issue in all of this stands out as having the potential to cause much unforeseen and bewildering difficulty: the Technology Alert List (TAL) and export control.

The TAL has historically been a way for the U.S. to keep track of technologies developed within its borders that could be (violently) used against it–and to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. The current TAL is in fact two lists in one: one is the list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” and the other is the Critical Fields List (CFL). The CFL is an extensive set of fields of study and industry, each capable of producing what are known as “dual-use” technologies. The first use of a dual-use technology is for standard economic purposes, and the second is for war. The CFL consists of

Conventional Munitions;
Nuclear Technology;
Rocket Systems;
Chemical, Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering;
Remote Sensing, Imaging and Reconnaissance;
Advanced Computer/Micro-Electronic Technology;
Materials Technology;
Information Security;
Laser and Directed Energy Systems Technology;
Sensors and Sensor Technology;
Marine Technology; and Urban Planning.

At this point, the reader may be wondering how this can cause issues with visa processing. Considered alone, the CFL’s connection to it is unclear. Export Control is the missing link in all of this. Products developed in the U.S., while sometimes not government property, always fall under its commerce authority. The government regulates them, and this regulation includes deciding whether foreign workers can come into its borders to work with these products.

When a foreign national (FN) starts the process of obtaining a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy, the officers have the ability to check to see if the applicant’s U.S. employment plans involve anything that might be dual-use. This is because they have the duty to check for legal inadmissibility to the U.S., and grounds for inadmissibility include an FN’s attempting “to violate or evade any law prohibiting the export from the United States of goods, technology, or sensitive information.” This clearly includes the CFL. So, if the FN’s plans in the United States involve something on the CFL, consular officers will undergo their procedure for when an FN is suspected of being inadmissible. This procedure is to create a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO).

In theory, this is only done when necessary. In practice, their policy is to always initiate an SAO unless the consular officers are 100% sure that the immigrant’s plans in the U.S. aren’t CFL related. If there is one created, the processing time for a temporary worker visa normally increases by at least 3-6 months, if the case isn’t outright denied. Further, when the delay is due to an SAO, there is almost no way to tell. The only thing one can do about this is to take steps to avoid an SAO in the first place.

The first step is to know whether a non-immigrant’s work in the U.S. could be construed as CFL related. A good way to evaluate this is to do the same thing as consular officers: just assume that it is (CFL related) unless there is a 100% chance that it is not. If it is, then the employer is advised to submit a report of technologies that the FN will be working with to the Department of Commerce, asking if they have dual-use purposes. (Not all things in the CFL are dual-use, after all.) Hopefully the answer is no, but if the answer is yes, options dwindle–but aren’t exhausted yet.

If an FN with a pending visa has a CFL dual-use issue, additional evidence may be required to swing the case in his or her favor. It is advised to gather as much detail as possible on what the FN will be doing and to find U.S. sources to back this up as industry standard. This information could be brought to a visa interview and/or be included in the petition. Also, it would be very helpful to show that the dual-use aspects of the technologies the FN will be working with are already public information or able to be found in an academic course. If this is possible, then it can be shown that giving the FN trouble over CFL issues won’t do the U.S. any good.

visa.jpgThe process of employment based non-immigrant visa stamping before a US Consulate abroad has experienced a revolutionary change–both procedurally and systematically–in the past decade by the US Department of State (“DOS”). These changes continue to evolve on an ongoing basis to improve security background measures and cross agency sharing of information. Such measures have caused consular processing to become more complex, and in some cases, time consuming. But on a positive note, the nonimmigrant visa application process itself has taken on a digital format. This digital format has streamlined the application process and caused an expeditious scheduling of the visa stamping interview. The DOS stated that its digital application process will enhance US national security and cause better cross agency communication. On another note, however, the revamped nonimmigrant visa application process and concerns for national security have caused a heightened consular practice and the issuance of letters of visa rejection pursuant to Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 221(g). In addition, some consular processes have exhibited heightened scrutiny of visa applications (especially in the H-1B and L-1 employment visa areas) which in some cases resulted in the consulate’s return of the underlying visa petition to the US Citizenship & Immigration Service (“USCIS’) with a request for revocation of the approved petition itself. In other cases, the visa application resulted in the launching of investigation by the USCIS field offices, or by the consulate itself.

What is a 221(g) Letter and What does it Mean?

When a non-immigrant avails herself to a consular stamping process, the US Consulate reviews the application and any other information available on the DOS intranet. Incidentally, that is the reason why our law firm always posts an additional copy of any nonimmigrant visa petition and any other responses to the Kentucky service Center for uploading on the DOS intranet. If the consular officer is not satisfied that she has everything in place to issue a visa, she is required by regulations to issue a letter explaining the reason for the denial, which invariably mirrors the language set forth in INA 221(g). The 221(g) refusal letter could also include a laundry list of documents that the consulate needs to make a final decision on the visa application. It is important to note that the applicant has one year to respond to the 221(g) letter with documents or information within one year from its issuance. Otherwise, the application will be deemed abandoned. In most cases, the visa applicant can submit the required information or documentation to the consulate by email.

3d-maze-4-1145534-m.jpgLast month we discussed alternatives to the H-1B visa. One very important reason to consider all options for potential employees revolves around the uncertainties of the H-1B cap process, discussed below.

As the H-1B cap season for FY 2016 approaches, employers and potential employees alike must be prepared. For the uninitiated, the H-1B cap refers to the statutory limit placed on visa’s available for temporary workers in specialty occupations. Currently, this limit is set at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 reserved for those with advanced degrees (also known as the Master’s cap). As more and more employers seek to benefit from highly skilled workers available internationally, particularly in the IT industry, the H-1B visa becomes more highly sought after. Additionally, the ability to extend the H-1B status past the standard six years with the approval of an employment based immigrant petition adds exceptional benefit to both petitioner and beneficiary.

USCIS begins accepting cap-subject H-1B petitions on April 1. In the past two years, the Service has received enough petitions to fill the numerical cap within 5 days. Thankfully, due to this massive influx of potential visa beneficiaries, a lottery system has been implemented. So long as USCIS receives the cap-subject petition within 10 days of the start of the filing period, it will be placed in a random lottery for selection. Those petitions eligible for adjudication under the 20,000 Master’s cap will be selected first. Those that qualify for the Master’s cap but were not selected are placed with all other petitions for possible selection in the 65,000 general cap. With over 172,000 petitions received by USCIS for the H-1B cap last year, there is only about a 1 in 3 chance of any petition being accepted for filing. All petitions that are not selected in this process are rejected and all documents and filing fees returned. Those not selected may have alternative visas available to them, though many will have to wait and resubmit a new petition the following year in the hopes of being selected in the lottery.

seattle-offices-1432221-m-thumb-150x236-89857.jpgIn most cases, guidance memoranda from USCIS to the field are met with praise. These memos are issued in many instances, often when a new law is passed, a court decision forces a reinterpretation of a current procedure, or when there are inconsistencies in a process. In 2010, then Associate Director Donald Neufeld issued a guidance memorandum regarding the placement of H-1B employees at a worksite not owned/operated/associated with the petitioning organization. While this memo has provided some guidance to attorneys and petitioners, the discretion allowed to USCIS adjudicators often relieves the Service of following the often clear directives this memo set out.

Many U.S. Citizen and Permanent Residents are able to “audition” for a position with a major company through a consulting firm. These firms have standing contracts to provide services to major organizations (think IBM, Microsoft, Nationwide, etc.). The consulting firm provides these services through the use of their employee, placed temporarily on-site with the major organization. While solely the employee of the consulting firm, the employee will work with employees/managers/executives of the major organization on a daily basis. Many times, the employee will prove to the major organization that they are an exemplary employee that fits their corporate culture, and be offered a position with the organization. Consulting firms are at a major disadvantage when attempting to fill needed positions due to the overreaching discretion of USCIS regarding third-party placements.

A shock to no one, the Government is often behind the times on many issues. This comes into play when reviewing the situation of the Consulting firm, and the IT field in general. Since the issuance of the Neufeld Memo, USCIS has made it overly burdensome for petitioners to show that an employer-employee relationship exists when the employee is placed off-site. Even when following the guidance provided in the memo, USCIS will often “move the goal post,” stating that the evidence submitted does not meet their standards of proof. Immigration Attorney’s must often be innovative in responding to requests for evidence from USCIS requiring proof of the employer-employee relationship, even when the Neufeld Memo requirements have clearly been provided.

travel-1194402-m.jpgWhen one thinks about the nonimmigrant workforce in America, most turn first to the H-1B visa. However, there are often ample alternatives to the H-1B process that will spare employers and foreign nationals alike from waiting until April to submit and the stress of the current “wait-and-see” lottery system. Each of the categories below allow for an employee to begin upon approval of the petition, rather than waiting for the beginning of the fiscal year in October.

TN Visa

Based upon the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), the TN visa allows Canadian and Mexican nationals to enter the United States for employment in specific professional occupations. The beneficiary employee must meet any associated education requirement for the particular profession. This visa does not require any attestations by the employer to the Department of Labor via a Labor Condition Application (“LCA”). A TN may be extended indefinitely, unlike the six year cap on the H-1B visa. Additionally, for Canadians, this visa does not require approval from USCIS prior to entering. A Canadian may simply present themselves at the border to a CBP officer, and with the proper documentation, will be allowed entry in TN status. Depending on the intended Port of Entry, it is often safer to apply with USCIS and present an approval notice, rather than to rely on the knowledge and opinion of a Border Officer to grant status.[Crown]-Keep-Calm-And-H-1b-Season-Is-Over
On April 7, 2014, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it received approximately 172,500 total H-1B cap-subject petitions between April 1, the first day USCIS began accepting H-1B cap-subject petitions, and April 7, the last day to file an H-1B cap petition for FY 2015. This figure includes both regular cap-subject petitions and petitions filed under the U.S. Master’s cap exemption and far exceeds the statutory limit of 65,000 for regular cap petitions and 20,000 for U.S. Master’s cap petitions. Given the excess number of petitions, the USCIS completed the computer-generated random selection process (“lottery”) to determine which petitions would be accepted for adjudication. In the lottery process, the USCIS first selects 20,000 qualifying H-1B U.S.-Master’s cap-subject petitions from the pool of U.S. Master’s Cap petitions received. Those U.S. Master’s cap petitions that were not selected in the first lottery are then added to the pool of regular H-1B cap subject petitions. The USCIS then randomly selects 65,000 H-1B cap-subject petitions from the unselected U.S. Master’s cap petitions and the regular cap petitions. Our team has received questions regarding this process. Here is a summary of those questions and our answers:

Q: How will I know if my petition has been accepted?

A: While it is unlikely that the USCIS has processed all of the cap cases yet, the earliest way to know if your petition was accepted is to see if the filing fee checks have been deposited by the USCIS. If you have access to the check information, you may look to see if your filing fee checks were deposited. On the back on the checks, you will find your receipt number.*

Otherwise, the USCIS will notify our team by email or my regular mail (on the Form I-797) whether your petition was accepted or rejected. Please rest assured that the moment our team receives any notifications from the USCIS, we will immediately inform you of such correspondence.

* If our firm issued the checks, we kindly ask that you refrain from contacting our accounting team to request this information.

Q: When will I find out if my petition has been accepted?

A: With 172,500 petitions on their hands, it will take some time for the USCIS to inform you as to whether your petition was received or rejected. While we have received email notifications a few of our clients who filed under Premium Processing, notifying us that the petition was received, do not be alarmed if you have not received any communication from us or the USCIS regarding whether your petition was accepted or rejected. Right now, it’s simply a matter of waiting for the USCIS to process the numerous petitions they have on their hands.
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Thumbnail image for visa-approved11.jpgLooking back on the most recent H-1B Cap season, it becomes clear that the H-1B process works best when employers, employees and attorneys work clearly and efficiently together. There are many things that your employer’s attorney will need from you to determine if you qualify for a H-1B visa and to prepare the best petition possible for you. The basic things that will be needed from you include:

  • Your current passport
  • Your educational credentials (diplomas and transcripts)
  • Evidence of your current status, if applicable.

Your employer’s attorney will then use this information to demonstrate to USCIS that you meet the qualifications for an H1B visa. For you to qualify to accept a job offer in a specialty occupation you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have completed a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree required by the specific specialty occupation from an accredited college or university
  • Hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty occupation
  • Hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification which authorizes you to fully practice the specialty occupation and be engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment
  • Have education, training, or progressively responsible experience in the specialty that is equivalent to the completion of such a degree, and have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.

Thus, ensuring that the attorney has sufficient time to review your job description and your relevant education and experience will help give them an opportunity to thoroughly review your credentials and determine if you qualify or require and academic evaluation. An academic evolution will demonstrate to USCIS that your degree is the equivalent of a US degree in the specialty occupation field, or that your degree plus experience is the equivalent of a bachelor degree in the relevant field. It is very important to get a quality education evaluation as USCIS can reject poor ones. Thus, it is very important to get the attorney all your education information early so that they can review and determine the best course of action for your petition.
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