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Archive by Year: 2019

USCIS expands guidance regarding good moral character requirement for naturalization applicants

Posted December 20, 2019Articles

 

USCIS has expanded its guidance regarding unlawful acts that may prevent an applicant for naturalization from meeting the good moral character requirement. The good moral character standard was unclear as to what type of  unlawful activity would prevent an applicant from meeting this standard. USCIS considers an act unlawful if it violates criminal or civil law. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an applicant for naturalization must establish that they have been and continue to be people of good moral character during the statutory period before filing for naturalization and up until they take the Oath of Allegiance. USCIS officers will continue to perform case-by-case analysis to determine whether an act is unlawful and adversely reflects on an applicant’s good moral character. There are extenuating circumstances that can overcome the good moral character standard, but it must pertain to the unlawful act and must precede or be contemporaneous with the commission of the unlawful act.  

The list below are USCIS examples of unlawful acts that bar good moral character:

  • bail jumping;
  • bank fraud;
  • conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance;
  • failure to file or pay taxes;
  • false claim to U.S. citizenship;
  • falsification of records;
  • forgery uttering;
  • insurance fraud;
  • obstruction of justice;
  • sexual assault;
  • Social Security fraud;
  • unlawful harassment;
  • unlawful registration to vote;
  • unlawful voting; and
  • violation of a U.S. embargo

In addition to the unlawful acts listed above, USCIS has updated the policy guidance on how two or more driving under the influence (DUI) convictions could also affect good moral character determination. If you have any concerns or questions about your ability to naturalize, please contact Meltzer Hellrung for assistance.

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Why the New H-1B Registration Process is Actually a Good Thing for Business

Posted December 17, 2019H-1B

As any employer that has sponsored an H-1B employee knows, the cost of playing the H-1B lottery is high and the odds of winning are low (roughly 50%). A new electronic registration process that’s being rolled out for the upcoming fiscal year is a game changer and is the most advantageous ever for start-ups to sponsor H-1B candidates. Indeed, the new electronic registration process will cost less, provide transparency in selection, and provide faster notification of selection. Similar to last year, by reversing the order of the lottery (first master’s cap exemption then regular H1B cap), it will also favor those with a U.S. Master’s degree or higher.

Under this new process, employers seeking H-1B workers will complete a simple online registration that requires only basic information about the employer and each requested worker. The initial registration period will run from March 1 through March 20, 2020. After registration has closed, USCIS will run a random selection process on the electronic registrations and then notify the employer of those selected. Only those selected will be eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions. This means employers can test their luck, and if a sponsored H-1B candidate is selected, decide at that time whether to move forward with submitting an H-1B petition and incur the associated fees. This process will prevent an interruption in cash flow, as the filing fees for unselected petitions will no longer sit in account for extended lengths of time. 

We are here to help! Your Meltzer Hellrung team (Partner, Sr. Associate, and Paralegal) is proactive in pushing case work to filing, using our technology platform to provide transparency during the case preparation process.  We are also process evangelists, designing high-volume processes like H-1Bs to be efficient and less burdensome on your time, including 10-business day turnaround on H-1B transfers and automation of the creation, storage, and purging of your LCA Public Access Files.

We have two pricing models this year with the H-1B electronic lottery system:

  1. Cost Saver - You can pay 50% of the H-1B attorney's fee up front and we'll open the case, assess and address all issues for filing, file the H-1B LCA, and register the candidate for the electronic H-1B lottery system. When we find out who is selected in the lottery on 3/31/2020 and your candidate is among those selected, we would charge the other 50% of the attorney's fee and the government filing fees ($2460 or $3900 w/premium processing), prepare and print the petition for filing, and ship it to the USCIS for processing to an approval or denial. The main benefit of this approach is that it's cheaper for the company. The downside is that after we find out who is selected in the lottery, we'll have several hundred H-1B submissions that need to go out, which will take us roughly 60 days to complete. In other words, we won't be able to file immediately after we know someone was selected, which many employees will want, because we'll have a high volume of cases to get through. We guarantee we'll file before the 90-day window for filing after the lottery closes, but we can't guarantee submission in the first few weeks after the lottery.

  2. Fast Filing - You can pay 100% of the attorney's fee up front and we will fully prepare the entire H-1B lottery petition to a paper submission, enter the person in the electronic system, and then place the paper petition "on the shelf." If your candidate is selected in the lottery, we would bill you for the required filing fees and then ship the case to the USCIS as soon as filing fee payment is made. The benefits of this approach are 1) we'll be able to file after lottery selection faster because we'll have prepared the entire petition ahead of time and 2) this hedges the valid concerns we have with USCIS lottery systems failing in some way as this is the very first year of the electronic lottery and we expect over 200,000 submissions into a brand new system that has never handled this type of volume before. Should something happen to the electronic system, we believe USCIS will revert to the old paper petition filing system and conduct the lottery manually as they've done for the past 15 years.  

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Registration Period Announced for H-1B Cap FY 2021

Posted December 9, 2019Stephanie Wedel - Sr. AssociateH-1B

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Friday that it has completed a successful pilot testing phase and is implementing the registration process in the next H-1B lottery. Employers seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions for the fiscal year 2021 cap, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must first electronically register and pay the associated $10 H-1B registration fee.

This will be the first year that this registration process will be used. Under this process, employers will complete a basic electronic registration for each H-1B worker subject to the cap and pay a fee of $10.  USCIS will accept these registrations March 1, 2020 through March 20, 2020.  The lottery selection will then occur for these electronic registrations. Only those selected in this lottery will need to submit the full H-1B cap subject petitions with associated filing fees. The lottery results will be published by March 31, 2020, and those selected will have 90 days to submit the full petitions to USCIS.

USCIS will be posting detailed instructions on how to complete the registration process on their website (www.uscis.gov) as well as timelines closer to the initial registration period. USCIS will extend the registration period or open an additional registration period if sufficient registrations to reach the number of available allocations are not received.

Please reach out to your designated Meltzer Hellrung attorney if you have any questions.

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State Department Removes Stricter Guidance Update on Blanket L Visa Petitions

Posted November 20, 2019Kyle RobyArticles

In late October, the U.S. State Department updated its standard of review guidelines to consular officers within the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), instructing officers to require Blanket L visa applicants to show their eligibility for the visa through “clear and convincing evidence”. Officers were further instructed to deny applications where questions about the applicant’s eligibility could not be resolved quickly or easily during the interview.

As of November 14, 2019, the State Department has withdrawn these updated instructions on stricter guidance in the FAM, reverting the guidelines back to the previous review standard that officers only grant Blanket L petitions that are “clearly approvable.”

Blanket L petitions are commonly used by multinational organizations for the purpose of transferring large numbers of employees from international offices to U.S. offices, granted the organization meets the eligibility criteria for Blanket L certification. Eligible employees of these organizations may apply for either an L-1A intracompany managerial/executive transferee or L-1B specialized knowledge visa pursuant to the approved Blanket L petition, eliminating the need for an individual petition filing with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS).

Blanket L petitions at U.S. Consulates have historically been subject to stricter standards of review by consular officers, resulting in increased denials over the past several years. The now rescinded guidance was expected to encourage officers to scrutinize these types of petitions even more closely, likely resulting in further increased denial rates. It is unclear if the State Department will try to adjust the review guidelines again in the future.

Employers and their foreign national employees who are applying for the L-1 visa pursuant to a Blanket L petition at a U.S. Consulate should continue to ensure that they are well prepared for the interview prior to their visa appointment. It is strongly recommended for applicants to review and be prepared to describe their work experience, skills, and job duties in clear and concise detail to minimize risk of denial.

Meltzer Hellrung LLC will continue to monitor the above guidance in order to advise clients on best practices for these types of applications.

For more information on the Blanket L petition, U.S. Consular interviews, or visa interview preparation for foreign national employees, please contact your designated Meltzer Hellrung attorney.

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USCIS proposes comprehensive adjustment of its fee schedule

Posted November 15, 2019Jennifer Salviati - Sr. ParalegalArticles

On November 8th, 2019 The Department of Homeland Security released notice that it intended to publish a proposed rule which would comprehensively adjust the fee schedule of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). As an agency funded primarily by revenue generated by fees, this proposed effort would aim to close USCIS’ budget gaps which officials claim are caused by increased adjudication loads, increased operating costs and an overtaxed agency infrastructure.   

The proposed adjustments reflect a weighted average increase of 21% on all USCIS fees, however, the filing fees for certain processes such as those associated with Applications to Replace Permanent Resident Cards (Form I-90) and Immigrant Petitions for Alien Workers (Form I-140) will be adjusted downwards to account for what the agency believes to be inequities in the current fee structure in regards to the complexity of certain case types and the manpower required to adjudicate them in comparison to others.

The proposed rule, if enacted, would also see restructuring of the fees and filing procedures associated with certain common visa types that are currently filed on Form I-129, such as those for H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, O, R and L visas. The proposed rule sets forth plans to roll out new versions of Form I-129 which integrate the visa-type-specific supplements which are currently filed separately, and to charge different, separate, filing fees for each visa type instead of the current, uniform $460 fee for all filings on Form I-129.

USCIS claims that the adjustment of fees would allow the agency to begin to clear the oftentimes lengthy adjudication backlogs for certain visa types by allowing them to “…assign more resources to …particular adjudication as needs and priorities dictate.”

If the proposed fees are enacted, employers may see the following fees change:       

  • Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (H-1B): $560- 22% increase from current $460 fee
  • Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (L-1A or L-1B): $815- 77% increase from current $460 fee
  • Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (O-1): $715- 55% increase from current $460 fee
  • I-140- Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker: $545 -22% decrease from current $700 fee

Please contact your Meltzer Hellrung attorney if you have any concerns or questions about the proposed, prospective changes to USCIS filing fees.  

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