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There is good news this week if you are seeking or are already in H-1B1, E-3, CW-1, or EB-1 visa status. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a final rule that amends its programs for these types of visas in an attempt to remove barriers and obstacles that have placed these types of workers at a disadvantage to similar workers in other visa categories.

This rule will become effective February 16, 2016, and will make the following welcome changes :

  • H-1B1 and E-3 visa holders will now be authorized for employment with a specific employer incident to their status. This means that you can work for your sponsoring employer without needing a separate employment authorization.

On Dec. 16, Congresional leaders released a $1.1 trillion spending bill that will increase the H-1B filing fee for any consulting firm looking to hire a nonimmigrant worker.

A fee of $4,000 will be applied to firms of at least 50 employees that have at least 50% of their employees on an H-1B or L-1 visa for any H-1B that isn’t an amendment. This will effectively double the previous legal fee of $2,000 which was established in 2010. The L-1 fee for companies with 50% of their workers on a visa is $4,500, according to the bill.

The increased fee will be used to help create “a biometric entry and exit tracking system,” the legislation said. The final vote is expected to happen Dec. 18. This will be a great stress to applicants and petitioners alike. This may also be in response to the high demand for H-1B visas, as well the uptick in the conversation among legislatures looking for immigration reform.

On top of this action, there is also a lack of action on the front of the I-squared Act. Introduced in the Senate in January, the Immigration Innovation Act of 2015, or the I-Squared Act, could really improve the visa application process for H-1B applicants in a variety of ways. The biggest of which is the potential for a much higher H-1B cap.

However, the latest attempt of amending the Immigration and Nationality Act by Congress has yet to be voted on by the Senate. Even though tech giants around the United States, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook, have lobbied for the Senate to vote for the bill, it appears that the bill has a very low chance of passing.

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Last Tuesday, the United States House of Representatives passed a legislation that would bar potential immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan, or those who have visited those countries in the last five years, from entering the United States without a visa. The bill, which passed 407 to 19, also completely changed the visa program for people from those respective countries, as it placed restrictions on would-be visa waiver participants.

Now, congressmen and senators are looking at possibly changing the K-1 visa program by making it even more difficult for applicants in what is said to already be an extensive vetting process. This comes in reaction to the attacks on Paris in November and especially the shooting in San Bernardino, California, as FBI Director James Comey said the woman suspected of participating in the shooting was “radicalized” before she applied for her K-1 visa to come to the U.S.

Congress has acted quickly, as it often does, with the subject of national security is on the table. But the idea of making the vetting process rigorous could prove easier said than done, unless they continue the trend of barring people from the aforementioned countries. It is going to be difficult for congress to come up with a law that covers all of the bases given the ambiguity that always comes with these sorts of cases.

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Amid the spread of fear and question marks here in America over the recent ISIS attacks, it may be good to take a second to recognize what happens when a refugee of any kind attempts to cross into American borders.

The refugee vetting process has several key checkpoints that any and all refugees must pass in order to enter the United States. The Homeland Security Department handles the process to allow refugees to enter the country, a process which forces incoming refugees to take fingerprints and submit in-person interviews overseas, where they are forced to provide even the most intimate details of their lives abroad. These details include information on their families, friendships, activities both social and political, their employment and other personal information.

Although the process of identifying Syrian refugees through documentation can be difficult, since many don’t have the necessary documentation to begin with, Syrian refugees have said that they often are forced to bring family records would often do the job for almost any other refugee from another country.

Refugees from all countries are screened by several different agencies, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, where they are first referred to whichever country that makes the most sense for resettlement. If that’s the United States, they are then screened by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center and then finally the Department of State. Refugees from Syria, in particular, are then subject to additional screening. All of this takes between 18 to 24 months before a Syrian refugee is approved for admission to the United States.

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There is no question that, going through history, the United States of America is and always will be a country of immigrants. This country was built from people coming from overseas and making a life in a foreign land. However, as the long-simmering and controversial debate over immigration continues to be a focal point in presidential debates, it may surprise some of you to see the successful companies founded by American immigrants.

Google Inc., for starters, was co-founded by Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant, in 1998. Brin moved to the United States at age 6 in the thick of the Cold War in 1979 and went on to become one of the richest men in the country. AT&T was founded by Scottish immigrant in Alexander Graham Bell, who was also the inventor of the telephone and investment firm Goldman Sachs was founded by a German immigrant named Marcus Goldman.

Immigrants have left a huge mark on American shopping as well. Immigrants from all over the world started companies such as eBay (Piere Omidyar, France), Radio Shak (Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, England), Kohl’s (Maxwell Kohl, Poland), Big Lots (Sol Shenk, Russia) and Nordstrom (John W. Nordstrom, Sweden).

Among other famous companies founded by immigrants are the entertainment provider Comcast (Daniel Aaron, Germany), Yahoo! (Jerry Yang, Taiwan), Colgate (William Colgate, England), Sara Lee (Nathan Cummings, Canada), the chemical company Dupont (E.I. du Pont, France).

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History, numbers show U.S. politicians “solutions” for Refugees not ideal

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France on November 13, many American politicians have come out with their takes on whether or not Syrian refugees should be allowed to enter the country and applied for citizenship through refugee or asylum status. Many, especially those on the right, have shown their true colors by speaking out against allowing refugees from a war-torn country to enter the United States. It is clear that many of those in positions of power here in America are against the United States taking the “tired, poor and huddled masses,” to quote Emma Lazarus.

The United States House of Representatives passed a bill on Nov. 19 that would stall the program that allows Syrian refugees into the U.S. with a vote of 289-137. Of the 289 votes, 242 of them were Republicans who cited “national security” as the main reason for denying Syrians the right to refuge. The vote had enough of a majority to pass even after a potential veto from President Barack Obama. Although the Senate could still vote against the bill, it is clear that President Obama is one of few politicians on Capitol Hill that see Syrian Refugees for what they are: refugees looking to escape a terrible home for a better one. Before the vote took place, Republican Senator Elaine Morgan wrote an email to her colleagues suggesting that Syrian Refugees be moved to a “refugee camp” if admitted to the United States; as if to say we still lived in 1942. Morgan also wrote her own special commentary of the Muslim religion, saying their philosophy is to “murder, rape and decapitate anyone who is non-Muslim.”

One particularly puzzling case is that of Mayor John Cranley. Cranley, who recently discussed future plans for Cincinnati becoming one of the most “friendly cities” for immigrants in the next few years, had a less-than-humanitarian take on Syrian refugees in a statement following the Paris attacks:

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Mayor John Cranley cited several new initiatives he expects Cincinnati to take in making the South-west Ohio city the “most immigrant friendly city in the United States.” Cranley hopes to oversee an immigration Task Force, which Cranley started in 2014, to help create international attraction.

Among the initiatives the Task Force looks to bring forward are creating a center for new Cincinnatians that helps connect immigrants to services and other residents, launching a training program to help companies recruit international job candidates, providing immigrants with financial literacy training to help them navigate money management and home buying and marketing Cincinnati as an ideal location for manufacturing.

Another angle the Task Force looks to take is training police officers in cultural sensitivity, which could have something to do with the recent happenings in Cincinnati involving violence among the police force. Cincinnati is trying very hard to re-brand the local police force.

Given that the primary goals are creating jobs and spurring local growth, Cranley could be looking to primarily attract immigrants in the EB-5 program; where entrepreneurs and investors from overseas will come to the United States to invest in a commercial enterprise to help create jobs. The process is mutually beneficial to the Targeted Employment Area and immigrant alike, as the immigrant looks to attain Green Card Status through the program. There is also a Regional Center located in Cincinnati. Cranley may see that is the greatest opportunity fund several projects around the growing city.

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Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed several changes to its F-1 non-immigrant student visa regulations on optional practical training (OPT) for those working on degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The proposed extension would increase the OPT period to 24 months, which would allow STEM students to apply for a longer work authorization extension than before. The OPT program used to only last 17 months. The OPT period would start after the F-1 student completes his or her initial OPT period, which lasts 12 months. The proposal favors F-1 STEM students in several other ways.
Ideally, the longer amount of time for F-1 students would allow them to apply for several different H-1B job opportunities. H-1B visa could be a first step for F-1 students to begin a career and apply for their green card. In recent years, it has been difficult for F-1 graduates to apply for employment opportunities through an H-1B visa, given that the number of H-1B applicants has increased several years in a row. Last year saw almost two-thirds too many H-1B applications, as over 240,000 applied for a limit of 85,000 H-1B’s available.
Also, those STEM graduates who would leave the U.S. after completing the initial one-year OPT program can return and receive the same extension if they choose to return for a Master’s degree. Any F-1 student on a seventeen month extension can apply for the additional extension if the proposed ruling passes. If a graduated F-1 student with a STEM degree goes through an unemployment period, the proposal would increase that period to fill out a form I-765 from 30 to 60 days.
Several things must be completed before an F-1 student receives the extension, however. The Mentoring and Training Program (MTP) requires certain authorizations for those looking to extend their OPT program. The MTP requires the employers of F-1 students to prove that the students remains committed to work that has to do with their previous STEM education. The employer of an F-1 student using the STEM OPT program must be prepared to prove all facets of employment, including salary, hours, services, and benefits to show that the employee is being compensated properly. For the MTP, employers must show how the F-1 student will learn while on the job by stating their job description and goals to show it is a useful training opportunity. They will need to explain, in detail, the necessary skills that the student will learn while working for them. They will need to show how the training is directly related to STEM courses. They will also need to keep track of the student’s performance and evaluate them properly to show that the training is proving to be fruitful. Basically, employers have to be prepared to work for their STEM OPT workers to be employed and also show that they have helped train the student to help them in their future endeavors.
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The current EB-5 Regional Center program was extended to Dec. 11 as Congress attempts to draft a long-term resolution in the coming two months. In the mean-time, those looking to invest in American industry should take advantage of this extension before changes are made to the EB-5 program as the minimum investment will more than likely increase to $800,000 or more.
Clearly, Congress recognized the importance of foreign investments that create jobs for hard-working Americans. Foreign capital is a key part to the American economy, and Congress will look to spend the next two months finding a proper solution that all parties involved can be happy with the would-be revised legislation. The extension of the program was greatly in doubt as the Oct. 1 deadline initially approached.
Transparency appears to be an important goal for Congress. In the American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform of 2015 Act, which was introduced in June by Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy, the Regional Center Program would continue for five more years while adding transparency and security to the program.
Meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul is attempting to make the program permanent, as he introduced the ‘Invest In Our Communities Act’ on Oct. 1. Paul looks to raise cap of 10,000 total visas and make it so that regulators would no longer count dependents (spouses and children) as a part of the cap, making it all investors. This would effectively increase capital and jobs for skilled American workers around the country, if passed. Paul is clearly one of the programs greatest advocates.
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The American Dream is under fire after a government decision to backtrack on its promise to thousands of skilled immigrants, but justice may be coming in the form of a class-action lawsuit.
Following an initial publishing of the October Visa Bulletin (OVB) from the U.S. State Department (DOS) on September 9, 2015, it seemed that those who had previously been relegated to back-logged visa waitlists would have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency and green-card status. This policy optimization was rendered moot just days later after the DOS issued a revision that severely limited the number of immigrants eligible to apply for work visas under the new policies As a result, and as anticipated by most involved, a class-action lawsuit has been lodged against the DOS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Secretary of State John F. Kerry, and several other government defendants by those afflicted by the policy change.
The Lead Class Representative on the complaint is Chintan Mehta, an IT professional in Bothell, WA, spent thousands of dollars on attorney fees and medical examinations in preparation for his application only to be spurned by the revision. He and his co-plaintiffs represent thousands, of primarily of Indian and Chinese engineers, scientists, and many other skilled professionals that have had their lives and futures of their families put on hold due to a callous and unexplained renege by the US government. To-date, the DOS, USCIS, and the others involved have yet to come forward take responsibility for their actions.
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