Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Many USCIS filing fees will increase on December 23, 2016

Just in time for Christmas, USCIS will be increasing many of its filing fees. https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-announces-final-rule-adjusting-immigration-benefit-application-and-petition-fees. The increase is effective December 23, 2016. A complete schedule of affected forms is at https://www.uscis.gov/forms/our-fees.

In particular, the fee increases apply to, among others, forms I-129 (used in H-1B and other temporary worker filings), I-130 (petition for an alien relative e.g. a spouse of a U.S. citizen), I-485 (application to adjust status), I-751 (application to remove conditions on conditional residence) and I-765 (application for employment authorization). Note, however, the form I-907, for premium processing, is EXCLUDED from the fee increase. In order to avoid the increased fees, you must postmark or file any affected form prior to December 23.

If you are considering an early filing to avoid the fee increase, make sure that you are truly able to file early. For example, at this writing, an employer who wishes to file a cap-subject H-1B petition can do so only on or after April 1, 2017, and thus is unable to avoid the fee increase. In other words, an employer who filed such a petition prior to December 23 would receive a denial of that petition, because the cap is now full. Furthermore, make sure that any such early filing does not compromise the quality of your submission.

The above information does not constitute legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.

Calvin Sun, Attorney at Law
Immigration and nationality law
175 Strafford Ave., Suite 1, Wayne PA 19087
Office 610-296-3947, cell 215-983-3723
Skype and We Chat: calvin_t_sun
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Monday, October 17, 2016

Are you using CPT as a bridge to the next H-1B filing?

Last year, I prepared an H-1B petition for a company that wanted to hire a woman, “Gloria” (not her real name of course) as a financial advisor. Unfortunately, that petition did not get selected in the lottery. Therefore, following the end of her optional practical training (OPT), Gloria enrolled in a local college that provided an immediate curricular practical training (CPT). She therefore was able to remain in lawful status until this year. At that time, in April of this year, I prepared another petition by this same company for Gloria, and asked for change of status processing. The petition was selected and later approved, and Gloria is now working at that company in H-1B status.

This strategy of using CPT as a “bridge” to the next H-1B filing is a common one. Doing so allows a person to remain in status in the U.S., to work or continue to work for an employer (for example, the same employer as during OPT) and thus spares the person the trouble and expense of leaving, then later re-entering the U.S. However, if you are doing so now or are considering doing so, please keep the following pointers in mind to avoid potential problems. You and others know about this idea, but so does the immigration service. Therefore, they could review a CPT-to-H-1B petition more carefully than an OPT-to-H-1B petition.

If the immigration service believes that you failed to maintain the condition of CPT, or believes that the CPT is invalid, then they could deny any change of status associated with an H-1B petition.

For this reason, I strongly suggest you consider the following points in connection with any plans for CPT.

·         Choose a reputable school

Be careful when you choose a school. In particular, you want to avoid a school that is similar to Tri-Valley University. That school’s founder was sentenced to federal prison on charges of immigration fraud. The school allegedly issued fraudulent I-20s to students but never had true requirements for admission or graduation. As a result of the shutdown of the school, many students faced removal from the United States. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tri-Valley_University

For this reason, thoroughly investigate any school you are considering for CPT. At a minimum, the school should be accredited by the respective regional accreditation agency for the school’s location. Here is a directory of such agencies: http://www.chea.org/Directories/regional.asp.  Of course, your investigation should include more than just confirming such accreditation. However, the lack of such accreditation by a school should make you pause before considering that school. Not surprisingly, Tri-Valley University lacked accreditation.

You also could check online reviews of the school, such as on Yelp, or talk with current or former students or with the school’s international student advisor(s).

·         Comply with the conditions of the school and respective courses

Just as with a “regular” F-1 program, make sure you comply with all conditions of the school and courses you are taking. Attend all classes and complete all your assignments. According to immigration regulations, you must be making “normal progress toward completing a course of study.” If the immigration service determines, while reviewing your H-1B petition, that you failed to make such progress, they could conclude that you failed to maintain your F-1 status.

·         Keep evidence of attendance

Make sure you have evidence that you attended classes, for example, a sign-in sheet for the class sessions for your course. In Gloria’s case, in addition, we submitted a statement from the person who drove her, and included dates, times and starting and ending places. We also included gasoline, restaurant receipts and credit card statement entries that corresponded with times she was attending classes. This evidence will help convince the immigration service that you did attend classes.

·         Consider consular processing as an alternative to change of status, if necessary

Let’s suppose that in fact you are approved for H-1B status as a result of your employer’s petition filing. While this news is great, it is not the end of the story. You probably want to receive your H-1B status while remaining in the U.S., that is, without having to leave the U.S. In other words, you want to have this H-1B status via a change of status from F-1 to H-1B.

Therefore, USCIS must make TWO decisions regarding your petition. First, they must decide if you are eligible to have H-1B status, based in large part on the complexity of your job and your qualifications. However, they also must decide if you are eligible to receive a change of status. Suppose, for example (God forbid) USCIS finds a problem with your CPT, or problems with your F-1 status in general. In this case, even though they might separately grant you H-1B status, they still would deny the change of status portion of your petition. The result would be a requirement that you leave the U.S. and return with an H-1B visa in order to have your H-1B status.

Furthermore, this denial of the change of status means that you are unlawfully present following the denial. In this case, you are best served by leaving the U.S as soon as possible. Otherwise, depending on your length of unlawful presence, you could be subject to a bar of up to 10 years on returning to the U.S. you most likely would be limited to only your home country as the place for getting your visa. You most likely would not, for example, go to Canada or Mexico for that visa, unless those countries were your home countries.

You can avoid the risk of being denied a request for change of status by simply not asking for it in the first place. In other words, rather than ask for a change of status for the processing of your H-1B petition, you instead request consular processing. Under this type of processing, you and your employer specify, on the petition, the embassy or consulate that USCIS should notify if and when they approve your petition. Following such approval, you would leave the U.S., go to that consulate or embassy, receive an H-1B visa stamp, then return to the U.S. using that visa.

By following these steps, you can increase the chances of changing status from F-1 CPT to H-1B.

The above information does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Understanding when to use premium processing for your H-1B petition

Certain petitions that a petitioner files with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), including for H-1B, can receive premium processing. For an additional (at this writing) fee of $1225, via form I-907, a requester (such as a petitioner or attorney) can ask for a faster decision on the petition, possibly within 15 calendar days. This decision period is significantly faster than the normal H-1B period of two to three months.

Here are some reasons that premium processing might be a good choice.

1.       Begin authorized employment sooner

Let’s say that you and an employer are ready for you to start work in an H-1B job, but the only thing that holds you up is the approval of the petition. For example, consider John, who is finishing his F-1 program of study on June 15. He has found a job and his H-1B petition is exempt from the cap. That is, this petition is not subject to the 65,000 per year H-1B approval limit. John’s employer IS NOT required to file the petition only within the first five business days of April. John and his employer DO NOT have to worry about surviving any lottery. Most importantly, should John’s petition be approved, he NEED NOT wait until October 1 to begin work.

In this case, John’s employer could file a petition on (for example) May 30, request premium processing and ask for a start date of (for example) June 16. Should John be approved, then he could start working on June 16. Without a request for premium processing, John might not be able to work until perhaps the middle or end of August.

Note that this reason does not apply if your petition is subject to the cap, and if, at the time of filing, the cap is full. In such a case, your employer should have filed during the first five business days of April. However, assuming you are approved, the earliest you can begin working is October 1, because only on that date are new H-1B approvals available. In other words, receiving an approval notice on (for example) April 25 DOES NOT permit you to start working on that date. However, please see below for other reasons, in this case, for selecting premium processing.

2.       Reduce the risk of unauthorized employment

In many cases, a person who seeks H-1B status must wait for approval before starting work. However, in one situation, a person need not wait for approval. This situation is called “H-1B portability,” and it refers to a person who changes H-1B employers under certain conditions. If such a person changes jobs from a cap-subject employer to another employer (and of course, the second employer would need to file a petition for the person), then the person need not wait for the petition of the second employer to be approved before starting work.  Rather, the person need only wait until after the second employer has filed the petition, and then the person can begin working for the second employer. In other words, the portability provision allows an employee to begin working prior to an H-1B approval.

While this feature may sound attractive, in terms of saving time, please remember what the Bible says: “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.” That is, simply because a person CAN do something doesn’t necessarily mean that the person SHOULD do it. In this particular case, working for the second employer prior to getting approval for that employer, though lawful, involves the risk that the petition could be denied. In such a case, the person will have been working without authorization.

For this reason, I suggest a more conservative approach: the second employer files the H-1B petition, and at the same time requests premium processing. In the meantime, the person stays with the first employer. Then, once the second petition is approved, presumably in 15 days (and only if approval occurs), the person leaves the first employer and joins the second. This approach involves a longer wait than if the person had started work immediately, but in my view, it reduces risk.

3.       Peace of mind and reduced uncertainty

Some people might want to request premium processing even if a faster petition approval gives them no earlier start date for employment. This situation is a common one, in which an employer files a cap-subject petition in the first five business days of April. If this petition is approved, and if (as has been the case in the past few years) the cap already is full during the filing period, then the person can work only on October 1.

Premium processing DOES NOT advance the start date for authorized H-1B work in this situation. In other words, the start date still must be October 1. Nonetheless, a person simply might want to have peace of mind and reduced stress by knowing, more quickly, the result of the decision. That is, such a person would want to know sooner (perhaps mid-May with premium processing) rather than later (perhaps June or July, with regular processing).

Choosing premium processing is your decision. Unlike other H-1B attorney and filing fees, I believe that it is OK for the employee to pay the premium processing filing fee. Premium processing does not require either the employer to sign the I-907, though it can if it wants. Rather, an attorney is able to submit the request.

 If you do choose premium processing, be sure of your reason, and be aware of what it does and does not allow you to do in your particular case. Also, please be aware that according to USCIS, choosing premium processing does not give your petition any additional chance of selection in the lottery.

The above information does not constitute legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Understanding, and transitioning to, a 24-month OPT STEM extension

On May 10, 2016, the optional practical training (OPT) extension for those in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics ( STEM) field changed in several important ways. These changes affect those who will be applying for an extension on or after this date. However, the changes also are important to those who, on that date, are still awaiting a decision on their STEM extension. They also are important to some of those who, on that date, will still be within an already-granted, 17-month STEM extension.

Changes to OPT STEM extension
The most important changes to the STEM extension are the following:

-          24 months of extension time
An OPT STEM extension now is 24 months rather than 17 months. Therefore, following a program completion, a person could have, with a STEM extension, 36 months of OPT time rather than 29 months.

-          The ability to rely on a previous STEM degree for a STEM extension
Under the pre-May 10, 2016 rules, a person who wanted a STEM extension had to rely on the degree that immediately preceded the person’s original OPT period. Under the rules now, a person can file for, and potentially be approved for, an STEM extension based on a previously obtained STEM-eligible degree. In fact, that degree could have been earned as far as ten years in the past.

Suppose, for example, a person earns a STEM bachelor’s degree in 2015. This person then receives a non-STEM master’s degree, and later begins a one-year “regular” OPT based on that master’s degree. During this regular OPT, the person gets an offer for a job related to the STEM bachelors’ degree. Assuming the job and the person were otherwise eligible, this person then could apply, after May 10, 2016, for a STEM extension based on that previously-obtained bachelor’s degree, and the extension, if approved, would last for 24 months.
-          Two lifetime STEM extensions

Under the rules now effective May 10, 2016, a person is eligible for up to two lifetime STEM extensions, rather than only one.
Continuing our previous example: suppose this person returns to school immediately following the earlier STEM extension. The person then obtains a Ph.D. degree in a non-STEM subject. This person then can have one year of OPT in a job related to the major field. However, this person then can apply for a second STEM extension, and this extension is possible because of that earlier bachelor’s degree.

Employer responsibilities
An employer who offers a STEM extension job to an F-1 student now must abide by several conditions. They include the following:

-          Enrollment in e-Verify (note that employers already had to comply with this requirement under the pre-May 10, 2016 STEM rules)

-          Preparation and agreement with a training plan for the student

-          Providing supervision and training for the student by qualified staff

-          Providing compensation and benefits commensurate with similarly situated US workers

-          Non-displacement of any US workers in order to accommodate the STEM student

-          Providing a job that matches the STEM degree and which will achieve the objectives of the student’s training plan
Student responsibilities

Major responsibilities of students include the following:
-          Ensuring and certifying that the student’s job be directly related to the qualifying STEM degree. In addition

-          Keeping the designated school official (DSO) informed of issues related to compliance with the training plan or any material changes to the plan

-          Complying with STEM extension unemployment limit of  150 days maximum

Eligibility for 24 month STEM extension
Three types of F-1 students could be eligible for this 24-month STEM extension. They are

-          Students who file for a STEM extension on or after May 10, 2016

-          Students with a STEM extension request  that is pending on May 10, 2016

-          Students who currently are in a STEM extension at May 10, 2016
If you are filing for a STEM extension on or after May 10, 2016, and you are approved, your extension will be for 24 months.

If your STEM extension request was pending at May 10, 2016, then you will be receiving a request for evidence (RFE), and it will inform you of the option to convert your 17-month STEM extension to a 24-month extension. It also will tell you the information you and your employer must provide, for example the training and mentoring plan.  If you respond to the RFE and your responses are satisfactory, and if you are approved, then you will receive a 24 month extension. If you do not respond, or if your responses are unsatisfactory, then if you are approved for any STEM extension at all, it will be for only 17 months.
If, at May 10, you already were in a 17-month STEM extension, then you might be eligible to convert it to a 24-month extension. In order to do so, you and your employer must agree to the additional requirements. Furthermore, you must have, at the time you file for the additional seven months, at least 150 calendar days remaining on your original STEM extension.  You also must file for these additional months by a certain deadline, which is the EARLIER of

-          August 8, 2016, or

-          Sixty days from when your advisor enters your recommendation for the seven month extension into SEVIS
If you are in this last group, i.e. you already are in a STEM extension and you qualify for the additional seven months, please note that you must pay an additional filing fee for those extra months.

The above information does not constitute legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.
Calvin Sun, attorney at law
We Chat - Weixin calvin_t_sun

Monday, January 25, 2016

Postponement, to May 10, 2016, of the deadline for new STEM OPT extension regulations

A Federal court has given the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) additional time to implement, properly, regulations concerning optional practical training (OPT) STEM extensions and F-1-to-H-1B “cap gap” extensions. The original deadline was February 12, 2016. The new deadline is May 10, 2016. This extension is important because a DHS failure to meet the deadline would mean an end to these two aspects of F-1 status.

In 2008, DHS announced regulations that allow for 17-month STEM OPT and H-1B cap-gap extensions.  However, due to circumstances at the time, DHS failed to give sufficient official notice of these regulations.
This failure led to a lawsuit, against DHS, by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), a union of computer professionals. The lawsuit challenged the legality of OPT STEM extensions. On August 12, 2015, the court issued its ruling. The court upheld the validity of these extensions, but at the same time held that DHS did not follow the correct steps in implementing the regulations. Ordinarily, the court would have invalidated the regulations immediately. However, recognizing the significant negative impact on students and employers, the court gave DHS until February 12, 2016 to announce and implement properly new regulations. That is, the court delayed, by six months, the effect of its order to invalidate the regulations. The court said that should DHS properly implement new regulations in time, those new regulations would continue. Here is the court’s decision, referencing the February 12 date: https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2014cv0529-43

On October 19, 2015, DHS did announce new OPT STEM regulations. The most significant change was the increase of STEM extensions to 24 months rather than 17 months. As required by law, DHS gave official notice and specified a time for interested parties to offer comments. Here is a link to the proposed regulation: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/10/19/2015-26395/improving-and-expanding-training-opportunities-for-f-1-nonimmigrant-students-with-stem-degrees-and
In January 2016, DHS asked the court to extend the original February 12 deadline. Its reason for doing so was the large number of comments it received. DHS argued that the number of comments meant that DHS needed more time to consult with interested parties, such as employers and universities, about the new regulations.

On January 23, 2016, the court agreed, giving DHS until May 10, 2016, to implement the new regulations properly. Here is the court’s memorandum opinion: https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2014cv0529-51
Therefore, if you currently are working under a STEM extension that ends after February 12, 2016, that work authorization will continue even past this original deadline. Furthermore, if your original STEM authorization extends past the second deadline of May 10, 2016, then your ability to continue working will depend on whether or not DHS implements its new regulations properly by that time, and for the regulations to survive any legal challenges. If so, you would not only be able to continue working, but also possibly could extend your authorization for the additional time provided by those new regulations.

Please keep in mind that the regulations in dispute involve more than just OPT STEM extensions. They also involve the ability of certain H-1B beneficiaries to get an OPT cap-gap extension. Therefore, such persons also should be interested in seeing that DHS implements these new regulations properly and on time.

The above information does not constitute legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship. Unless otherwise stated, this information assumes a person is maintaining the conditions of his or her status.

Calvin Sun, Attorney at Law
We Chat: calvin_t_sun




Sunday, January 10, 2016

H-1B resolutions for the new year

If you are in F-1 status, either in finishing your studies or in optional practical training, then you may be thinking about H-1B status, in order to work lawfully in the U.S. At the same time, many people make resolutions for the new year. Therefore, may I suggest several resolutions for you with regard to H-1B status. Please keep in mind, however, that not all of these resolutions may apply to you.

·         Collect your immigration and related documents
The documents that are especially important are the following:

o   Passport

o   F-1 visa stamp

o   I-94 admission document

You might not have received a hardcopy I-94 when you entered the U.S. Instead, your I-94 might have been stored, in electronic format, on the web site of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). If so, you can download it from www.cbp.gov/i94

o   I-20

o   Employment authorization document (EAD), if applicable (e.g. if you have OPT)

o   Current resume

·         Collect evidence of any previous academic degrees
Even though you might be currently enrolled in an academic program, you still might want to get evidence of prior degrees even from several years ago, for several reasons. First, your most recent degree might not be the best match for the offered H-1B job, whereas an earlier degree might. Second, you might not be able to earn, in time for the April 1 beginning of filing period, a degree from your current program.

If you do not have such evidence with you right now, keep in mind that getting it could take time, particularly if the academic institution is outside the U.S., or if Mom or Dad must look for it at home. 
In any event, the academic transcript you submit should be an official one. That is, it should come from the office of the academic institution (typically the registrar) in charge of grades. It should also carry the insignia of that institution. Only in rare cases will you need to submit the transcript in a sealed envelope. Most other times, the transcript can be a photocopy. An unofficial transcript (e.g. a “print it yourself” transcript from your academic computer portal system) is unacceptable.

·         Request a credentials evaluation of non-US degrees
 If you choose to, or if circumstances require that you, rely on a non-U.S. degree, then you will need a credentials evaluation of that degree. The purpose of such an evaluation is to show that your degree is the equivalent of at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree.

One company that provides credentials evaluations is Educational Assessment, Inc. Their web site is www.educassess.com and their telephone is 706-613-0336.
·         Get certified translations of non-English documents

Any non-English document you provide must be translated into English, and be certified. With respect to the translation, you may, but are not required to, do any of the following:

o   use a professional translation service

o   have the translation notarized

o   have another person translate the document into English
That is, if you wish, you could translate the document yourself into English. Then, you can have someone other than yourself review the translation for accuracy. That person then should certify the translation, by signing a statement, on the translation, with wording such as the following:

I certify that I am fluent (conversant) in both the English and ______________ languages, and that the above/attached English document is an accurate translation of the document that is in the above-named non-English language.  This document is a/n __________________________________________(English description of document)
             Signature          _________________________________

Printed Name________________________________
             Address _______________________________________

Date: __________________
With respect to any document you provide, the chances are small that you will need to supply an original version. That is, you probably will be OK if you submit a photocopy of that document. Needless to say, of course, neither the original document nor the copy should be altered. Please be aware that the government does have the right to request an original version.

I hope this information is helpful to you.

The information above does not constitute legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship.

Calvin Sun, Attorney at Law
We Chat: calvin_t_sun