Temporary and Permanent U.S. Immigration Options for Information Technology Workers

U.S. employers seeking to bring foreign information technology (IT) talent to the United States, and IT workers seeking ways to obtain authorization to work in the United States, have several options.  Some of these are geared at college students or recent graduates seeking temporary training, and others are more suitable for degreed professionals,  with increased options for senior or well-established members of the profession. Here is an overview of the most common U.S. visa categories for the IT industry:

Temporary Work Visa Categories:

  • For foreign trainees and interns: J-1 intern up to 12 months (for those currently pursuing post-secondary education outside the U.S. or who graduated no more than 12 months ago) OR J-1 trainee up to 18 months (for those with a foreign degree + 1 year of work experience or 5 years of work experience abroad) – run through U.S. Department of State; H-3 Trainee for up to 24 months (for those seeking training that is not available in the home country, and which will benefit the individual’s career abroad) – run through U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services.
  • For foreign students in the United States: F-1 on-campus employment; F-1 curricular practical training (CPT; i.e., on the job training that is part of the curriculum); F-1 pre-or post-graduation optional training (OPT) for up to 12 months; and F-1 STEM OPT extension for up to an additional 24 months (for those with a U.S. degree major in a STEM field and whose employer is enrolled in E-Verify).
  • For degreed professionals (at least U.S. or equivalent foreign bachelor’s degree in an IT or closely related field):  TN U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement professionals in increments of up to 3 years (no max), for computer systems analysts and possibly software engineers under “engineers”; H-1B1 Chile or Singapore or E-3 Australia professionals in up to 2 years increments (no max); H-1B specialty occupation (most common, might be subject to annual lottery) for up to 6 years max in up to 3-year increments (with exceptions to max based on pending green card process).
  • For degreed or non-degreed IT workers: L-1A intracompany transferee (manager/executive) for up to 7 years; L-1B intracompany transferee (specialized knowledge) for up to 5 years – however, L-1B individuals applying abroad based on the employer’s blanket L petition must be degreed professionals (very common for large, global IT service providers).
  • For nationally or internationally renowned professionals: O-1 person of extraordinary ability for initially up to 3 years and then in 1-year increments, with the ability evidenced by awards, publications and published material about the individual, and similar evidence such as patents (not impossible, but challenging in the IT industry as employer-independent awards are rare).
  •  Via a commercial treaty between the United States and the country of citizenship of the investor and/or employee – the U.S. business must share that nationalityE-1 treaty trader or E-2 treaty investor, either as the investor or as a managerial or specialist employee (document-wise complicated and therefore likely underused; no max, admission in up to 2-year increments with visa stamp permitting travel usually valid for 5 years).

Permanent (Green Card) Work Visa Categories:

  • For multi-national managers/executives: EB-1-3 (similar to L-1A; no test of the U.S. labor market required).
  • For nationally or internationally renowned professionals: EB-1-1 person of extraordinary ability (self-petition possible) or EB-1-2 outstanding researcher/professor (both similar to O-1 but higher standard; no test of the U.S. labor market required); EB-2 advanced degree holder or person of exceptional ability + national interest waiver (where the IT work would have substantial merit and national importance; no test of the U.S. labor market required; self-petition possible but challenging in the IT industry).
  • For those not qualifying under the above: EB-2 advanced degree holder or person of exceptional ability or EB-3 professional or skilled worker PERM application for labor certification = test of the U.S. labor market with U.S. Department of Labor prior to filing petition with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.

Immigration counsel can help IT employers and individuals determine what options are feasible, and advise on expected timing and cost.

Tips for Consular Interviews in the New Normal: Making Sure Employees are Ready when Visa Interviews Resume

U.S. Consulates around the world are beginning to reopen and start scheduling visa appointments and it is critical for applicants to be well prepared for their interviews.  Recently, the Department of State revised its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), to include a new, heightened adjudication standard for blanket L-1 applications.[1] As detailed in our prior blog, the revised provision directs the Consular Officer to deny the L-1 visa if he/she “has any doubt” whether an applicant has established their L visa eligibility and if the “questions or issues cannot be resolved during the interview.” So the visa applicants should be prepared to confidently, concisely and directly provide the relevant information in responding at the interview.    We recommend that employees, who would be applying for blanket L visas at U.S. Consulates abroad, work closely with their immigration counsel and prepare for their visa interviews.  Oftentimes, Consular Officers have only a few minutes to review the documents and question the applicant.  Therefore, the applicant’s preparation for the interview is critical for a successful visa adjudication.

Here are some tips for applicants preparing for their L-1 visa interview:

  • Make sure to read carefully and thoroughly the L visa application package, especially the company support letter explaining the relationship between the companies, the job offered, and how the applicant qualifies based on her/his specialized knowledge or managerial/ executive experience.
  • Applicants should be familiar with the content of the application packet but should not try to memorize it or use fancy complex legal verbiage.
  • Applicants should be prepared to explain, in their own words, what makes their transfer to the US business critical.
  • Applicants should be able to highlight their accomplishments as they relate to their specific employment within the company.

Applicants should be able to give direct, on point and truthful answers to the following common L visa interview questions:

    • Why was he/she selected for this job?
    • Isn’t there a US worker with the U.S. employer who can do the job?
    • What is his/her specialty?
    • What managerial decisions does he/ she make?
    • Who will the applicant be working for?
    • Who does the applicant report to? Who will the applicant report to in the U.S.?
    • Will anyone report to the applicant in the U.S.? Be prepared to state names and titles of direct reports.
    • If the applicant is coming to the U.S. as a specialized knowledge employee and will be working at a third party site, who at the U.S. company will control his/her work? It is important to know the name and title of his/her manager in the U.S.
    • What company specific experience or knowledge does she/he have?
    • How long does it take to acquire this special knowledge?
    • How long will the applicant remain in the US? This is especially important if he/she would be coming to the U.S. on an intermittent basis, over a period of time.
    • What are his/her plans after the US assignment ends?

This list is not exhaustive and the Consular Officer’s questions will be more case specific at the interview and applicants should be well prepared to respond, with the assistance of their counsel.  The attorney can explain the legal framework and requirements for the highly scrutinized L intra-company transfer non-immigrant visa, which will help him/her in responding to the questions at the visa interview to ensure the successful case outcome and the visa issuance.

USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for all I-129s and I-140s

USCIS announced at 2:19 PM on 3/20/2020 that Premium Processing services for I-129 (E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.) and I-140 (EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3) is suspended temporarily.  Like many of us, USCIS service center operations have gone remote, so it is impossible for the agency to keep up with the demand for premium processing of applications. Continue reading “USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for all I-129s and I-140s”

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”