The recent changes, to the State Department’s Cut Off Date system for determining who can file their adjustment of status applications and when they can be filed, announced in the October 2015 Visa Bulletin brings welcome relief to many categories of immigrants who often wait in long queues before they are able to submit their adjustment of status applications. Continue reading “New Cut Off Date on Visa Bulletin Brings Welcome Relief for Immigrants”
Obama Eases Travel and Trade Restrictions with Cuba
The Obama administration announced wide-ranging changes to loosen travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba. The new rules allow American companies to open locations and hire workers in Cuba. U.S. companies will be allowed to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba. Additionally, the new rules will expand telecommunications services, facilitate financial transactions between the two countries, remove limits on the amount of money that can be brought to Cuba, and allow “certain persons” to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba. Read more about the Details of the Changes in this Blog Post by Jose Aquino, Esq. of the Duane Morris Cuba Practice Group.
Most travel restrictions for US citizens remain in place, but according to the announcement, additional close relatives will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for certain additional activities. Information about visa requirements and travel restrictions may be found here.
Check back often for updates on this rapidly evolving situation.
USCIS Issues Final Guidance on H-1B Amendments under Matter of Simeio
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released its final guidance on when to file an amended or new H-1B petition after the Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC decision.
Change in CIS Policy on worksite/location changes: On April 9, 2015, the USCIS’ Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) issued a precedent decision, Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC, ruling that when an H-1B employee changes work site locations, it is considered a material change that may require the filing of an amended or new H-1B petition with USCIS.
Previous USCIS Guidance: Under the previous USCIS guidance, if a new Labor Condition Application (LCA) was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) prior to the work site location change, no amended or new H-1B petition was required to be filed with USCIS.
New USCIS Guidance: Under the new USCIS Guidance, if an H-1B employee is changing work site locations and the new work site location is not within the same Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) as the current worksite location, then an amended or new H-1B petition must be filed with USCIS.
If the worksite change is within the same MSA, no amended or new H-1B petition is required; however, copies of the original certified LCA listing the current work site location will need to be posted at the new work site location prior to the H-1B employee beginning employment at the new location. After the requisite posting period, the posted original certified LCA copies must be placed in the Public Access File notated with the dates and places of posting.
Compliance: If an employer complied with the pre-Simeio decision USCIS Guidance, by completing a new LCA before the worksite change, and the H-1B employee work site changed occurred on or before April 9, 2015, USCIS will not pursue any new adverse actions against the employer after July 21, 2015 that are based solely upon a failure to file an amended or new H-1B petition to address the work site location change. USCIS will however, preserve the right to pursue any adverse actions (related to work site location changes) which have commenced or been completed prior to July 21, 2015, and will also still continue to pursue adverse actions for other violations.
However, USCIS provides a safe harbor, if an employer files amended or new H-1B petitions on or before January 15, 2016 to address prior work site changes for H-1B employees (including cases that followed the pre-Simeio decision USCIS Guidance for work site location changes prior to April 9, 2015, with the filing of new LCAs listing the new work site location). USCIS will consider those filings timely, and not subject to adverse action by USCIS for failure to file an amended or new H-1B petition to address the work site location change.
No End in Sight to State Department Visa Processing Delays
On June 15, we reported that the State Department computer system used for verifying the personal data of visa applicants and for printing visa stamps was crippled by a “glitch” causing worldwide delays. Today the State Department estimates that it will be at least another week before the problem is resolved. The agency also confirmed that it was a hardware failure, which has eliminated its ability to process it’s regular volume of 50,000 applications per day. Continue reading “No End in Sight to State Department Visa Processing Delays”
State Department Computer Problem Causes Worldwide Delays in Visa Issuance at U.S. Consulates
On June 12, 2015 the U.S. State Department announced that a computer glitch has hit the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) affecting the printing of U.S. visas at all consulates and U.S. embassies worldwide.
On June, 15, 2015 the State Department published the following State Department Update, indicating that there is no resolution to the problem and none in sight as of this writing. Continue reading “State Department Computer Problem Causes Worldwide Delays in Visa Issuance at U.S. Consulates”
Unfair Immigration-Related Hiring Practices: Employers Beware
In recent years the Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration Related Employment Practices (OSC) has stepped up enforcement against employers who commit violations during the hiring process. The primary source of information for the commencement of investigations against employers is a Department of Justice Hotline for workers who believe they have been mistreated by potential employers during the hiring process. Attorneys at the OSC follow up on every hotline call, often contacting employers directly to educate them and obtain additional information. From its experience on the hotline, the OSC has compiled a list of the most common hiring violations it encounters. While many seem obvious, they are worth reviewing with human resources staff, as they continue to reoccur and cost employers significant civil fines and pack pay awards.
Refusing to hire workers who sound or appear foreign: Employers have been fined and required to pay back wages to non-U.S. citizen workers who were rejected on the basis of employer blanket policies of rejecting applicants who sounded or appeared to be foreign. There are many non-U.S. citizen workers who are authorized to work for any employer in the United States, include Legal Permanent Residents, Asylees, and Refugees.
Preferring to hire U.S. citizens is also an unfair employment practice, unless a law, regulation, government contract, or executive order requires that the position be filled by a U.S. citizen. Employers have been prosecuted by the OSC for including “citizen only” type language in employment advertising or application materials, as well as for communicating this preference to applicants during the hiring process. Fines for this violation have ranged as high as $100,000 in prior years.
Hiring non-immigrant visas holders while rejecting qualified U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who apply for the same jobs. Employers have been subject to investigation and fines during the H-2B application process after they did not hire U.S. citizens and green card holders who applied for the H-2B advertised jobs. This type of investigation is even more troublesome as it arises out of an information sharing agreement between the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice. Significant back pay awards to the affected workers are common in this type of case.
Hiring undocumented workers instead of employment-authorized individuals. The OSC is vigilant about investigating this type of complaint, which is often presented when a terminated worker complains about being replaced by an undocumented worker. The typical remedy is reinstatement and back pay for the affected worker.
No Duty to Sponsor: In spite of all of these admonishments, it is important to remember that employers have no obligation to “sponsor” any worker for immigration status under any circumstances. This means that, there is no obligation to file an H-1B petition or green card application on behalf of any employee. Foreign nationals who do not have unlimited work authorization to work for any employer in the United States are not protected by anti-discrimination provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, employers should still beware of treating various classes of foreign national employees differently. Having sponsorship policies in place, which include a time frame for the decision to sponsor as well as specific criteria and manager recommendations, is a best practice that allows employers to have defined criteria and time frames to review each individual employee for sponsorship consideration.
The ABCs of Alternatives to the H-1B
The H-1B Cap for the 2016 H-1B Cap Year (October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016) has been exhausted. 233,000 applications were submitted for approximately 85,000 slots. There is no relief in sight, as stalemate in Congress continues to prevent any meaningful immigration reform. Employers that want to hire professional workers who do not already have an H-1B from a prior lottery, will have to wait until next year or look for an alternative. While the list looks promising, in actuality it is a rare case when one of the alternatives fits an employer’s specific needs. Consulting with experienced immigration counsel is mandatory for finding a suitable alternative. The basic list of alternatives follows: Continue reading “The ABCs of Alternatives to the H-1B”
J-Visa Program Changes Now In Effect
The J-Visa International Exchange Visitor Program is designed to foster international exchange between the United States and the world. The program has categories for scholars, trainees, college interns, camp counselors, au pairs and many others. In spite of its original intentions, the program has gotten increasingly complex, expensive and difficult to use for employers and international visitors. This is due to stricter requirements and scrutiny now required of and by J-Visa program sponsors. The latest changes to go into effect now include the following: Continue reading “J-Visa Program Changes Now In Effect”
Avoiding Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination: Best Practices from the DOJ
The Department of Justice Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration Related Employment Practices has been actively investigating and prosecuting employers for large and small violations. While fines can be minimal, the intrusion into a company’s day-to-day operations as well as the strong likelihood of a follow-on I-9 Audit and multiple years of re-auditing by both the DOJ and the USCIS should be deterrent enough to encourage employers to get their policies and practices in order. Continue reading “Avoiding Immigration-Related Employment Discrimination: Best Practices from the DOJ”
E-Verify Capabilities Continue to Expand
E-Verify is an electronic employment eligibility verification system administered by the federal government. It is voluntary for most employers, but is required to be used by federal contractors and is mandated by several states. In spite of its voluntary nature, many employers choose to use the system in addition to the required I-9 process in order to verify the work authorization of their employees. The E-Verify system has continually been improved since its inception with new capabilities regularly being added. Three recent add-ons are discussed below: Continue reading “E-Verify Capabilities Continue to Expand”