DHS Announces Final Rule on STEM OPT Employment Authorization

The final rule adds employer obligations to the STEM OPT program.

The US Department of Homeland Security has released an advance version of its long-anticipated final rule that expands employment authorization for foreign students with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees. The rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on March 11 and take effect on May 10, 2016, will allow such students to extend their period of optional practical training (OPT) by an extra 24 months, for a total of 36 months of OPT employment authorization. Previously, students in STEM fields were allowed a total of 29 months of OPT. Foreign students with degrees in non-STEM fields will continue to be limited to 12 months of OPT.

The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring that employers implement formal training plans, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and US workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. The rule also allows US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to conduct site visits to employers of STEM OPT holders to ensure that the rule’s requirements are being complied with.

Previous 17-month STEM OPT employment authorizations issued before May 10 will remain valid until their expirations. Starting May 10, STEM students will have a chance to apply for an additional seven months of OPT.

Copyright © 2016 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

Department of State Releases March 2016 Visa Bulletin

Employment-based second- and third-preference China categories show significant advancement.

The US Department of State (DOS) has released its March 2016 Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin sets out per-country priority date cutoffs that regulate immigrant visa availability and the flow of adjustment of status and consular immigrant visa application filings and approvals.

What Does the March 2016 Visa Bulletin Say?

The March 2016 Visa Bulletin includes both a Dates for Filing Visa Applications and Application Final Action Dates chart. The former indicates when intending immigrants may file their applications for adjustment of status or immigrant visa, and the latter indicates when an adjustment of status application or immigrant visa application may be approved and permanent residence granted.

If the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines that there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, it will state on its website that applicants may use the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart. Otherwise, applicants should use the Application Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status applications. For March 2016, it is not yet clear whether employment-based (EB) applicants may use the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart or the Application Final Action Dates chart. USCIS will announce its decision within the next week.

Application Final Action Dates

To be eligible to file an EB adjustment application in March 2016, foreign nationals must have a priority date that is earlier than the date listed below for their preference category and country (changes from last month’s Visa Bulletin dates are shown in yellow):

EB All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed
China
(mainland born)
India Mexico Philippines
1st C C C C C
2nd C 01AUG12—
(was 01MAR 12)
15OCT08
(was 01AUG08)
C C
3rd 01JAN16
(was 01OCT15)
01JUN13

(was 01OCT12)

15JUL04
(was 15JUN04)
01JAN16
(was 01OCT15)
15MAR08
(was 08JAN08)
Other Workers 01JAN16
(was 01OCT15)
01FEB07
(was 22DEC06)
15JUL04
(was 15JUN04)
01JAN16
(was 01OCT15)
15MAR08
(was 08JAN08)
4th C C C C C
Certain Religious Workers C C C C C
5th
Nonregional
Center
(C5 and T5)
C 22JAN14
(was 05JAN14)
C C C
5th
Regional
Center
(I5 and R5)
C 22JAN14
(was 15JAN14)
C C C

Filing Dates

The chart below reflects dates for filing visa applications within a timeframe that justifies immediate action in the application process. Visit www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo for information on whether USCIS has determined that this chart can be used in March for filing applications for adjustment of status.

EB All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed
China
(mainland born)
India Mexico Philippines
1st C C C C C
2nd C 01JUN13
(was01Jan13)
01JUL09 C C
3rd C (was
01JAN16)
01MAY15
(was 01OCT13)
01JUL05 C (was
01JAN16)
01JAN10
Other Workers C (was
01JAN16)
01AUG07
(was 01JAN07)
01JUL05 C (was
01JAN16)
01JAN10
4th C C C C C
Certain Religious Workers C C C C C
5th
Nonregional
Center
(C5 and T5)
C 01MAY15 C C C
5th
Regional
Center
(I5 and R5)
C 01MAY15 C C C

How This Affects You

The largest changes in the Application Final Action Dates chart are in the EB-3 China category, which has advanced by eight months to June 1, 2013, and in the EB-2 China category, which has advanced by five months to August 1, 2012. The EB-2 India category advanced by three and a half months to October 15, 2008. The EB-3 category for the worldwide preference and Mexico categories advanced to January 1, 2016. The largest changes in the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart are in the EB-2 and EB-3 China categories, which advanced by six months each. Other classification categories saw only minimal advancement of one week to one month. Read the full March 2016 Visa Bulletin.

Copyright © 2016 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

Department of State Issues March 2016 Visa Bulletin – China EB-3 Now Even with EB-5, Expectations Set For Coming Months

The July 2015 Visa Bulletin Brings Little ChangeThe March 2016 Visa Bulletin is now available online.  The significant news arises in the EB-3 category with respect to dates for filing visa applications: EB-3 Worldwide is now current. EB-3 China has advanced from Oct. 1, 2013, to May 1, 2015, making the native Chinese EB-3 and EB-5 filing dates identical. Compared to February, March 2016 brings modest-to-moderate movement forward in the “final action dates” for the employment-based cases.

Below are the two charts for March 2016:

APPLICATION FINAL ACTION DATES FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES

Department of State Issues March 2016 Visa Bulletin – China EB-3 Now Even with EB-5, Expectations Set For Coming Months

DATES FOR FILING OF EMPLOYMENT-BASED VISA APPLICATIONS

Department of State Issues March 2016 Visa Bulletin – China EB-3 Now Even with EB-5, Expectations Set For Coming Months

The Visa Bulletin also put forth the following projection of EB visa availability in the coming months, setting the expectations for stakeholders:

  • EB-1 : Projected to stay current

  • EB-2:

    • Worldwide: Projected to stay current

    • China: Movement up to five months

    • India: Movement up to three months

  •  EB-3:

    • Worldwide: Recent forward moment will generate demand – once materialized it will be necessary to establish a cut-off date

    • China: Movement up to five months

    • India:  Movement up to one month

    • Mexico: Will remain at worldwide date

    • Philippines: Movement up to four months

  • EB-4: Current “for most countries”

  • EB-5:

    • All countries (except China): Will remain current.

    • China: “Slow forward movement”

©2016 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

Department of State Releases February 2016 Visa Bulletin

Employment-based adjustment of status applicants must file using the Application Final Action Dates chart.

The US Department of State (DOS) has released its February 2016 Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin sets out per-country priority date cutoffs that regulate immigrant visa availability and the flow of adjustment of status and consular immigrant visa application filings and approvals.

What Does the February 2016 Visa Bulletin Say?

The February 2016 Visa Bulletin includes both a Dates for Filing Visa Applications and Application Final Action Dates chart. The former indicates when intending immigrants may file their applications for adjustment of status or immigrant visa, and the latter indicates when an adjustment of status application or immigrant visa application may be approved and permanent residence granted.

If the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines that there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, it will state on its website that applicants may use the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart. Otherwise, applicants should use the Application Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status applications. For February 2016, USCIS has announced that employment-based (EB) applicants may only use the Application Final Action Dates chart.

To be eligible to file an EB adjustment application in February, foreign nationals must have a priority date that is earlier than the date listed below for their preference category and country (changes from last month’s Visa Bulletin dates are shown in yellow):

EB

All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed

China
(mainland born)

India

Mexico

Philippines

1st

C

C

C

C

C

2nd

C

01MAR12—
(was 01Feb 12)

01AUG08
(was 01FEB08)

C

C

3rd

01OCT15
(no change)

01OCT12
(was 01JUL12)

15JUN04
(was 15MAY04)

01OCT15
(no change)

08JAN08
(was 01NOV07)

Other Workers

01OCT15
(no change)

22DEC06
(was 01AUG06)

15JUN04
(was 15MAY04)

01OCT15
(was 01SEPT15)

08JAN08

(was 01NOV07)

4th

C

C

C

C

C

Certain Religious Workers

C (was U)

C (was U)

C (was U)

C (was U)

C (was U)

5th
Nonregional
Center
(C5 and T5)

C

15JAN14
(was 08JAN14)

C

C

C

5th
Regional
Center
(I5 and R5)

C (was U)

15JAN14 (was U)

C (was U)

C (was U)

C (was U)

How This Affects You

The largest change in the Application Final Action Dates chart is in the EB-2 India category, which has advanced by six months to August 1, 2008. The EB-2 China category advanced by one month only, and the EB-3 China category advanced by two and a half months to October 1, 2012. Certain Religious Workers and EB-5 matters (Regional Center I5 and R5) became current once again, with the exception of China, which is backlogged to January 15, 2014, in the EB-5 category. Other classification categories saw only minimal advancement of three weeks to three months. Read the entire February 2016 Visa Bulletin.

Copyright © 2016 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

Visa Waiver Program Changes Now Being Implemented

visaVWP nationals who have visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria since March 1, 2011, or who hold dual nationality with one of the countries are no longer eligible for the VWP.

The United States on January 21, 2016, began to implement changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that were mandated under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act). Under the Act, which was included as an amendment to the December 18, 2015, omnibus spending bill (H.R. 2029), certain individuals are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted into the United States under the VWP. The affected are

  • nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country) and

  • nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

Individuals who are ineligible for the VWP are still eligible to apply for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa at a US embassy or consulate. Individuals who need a US visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States may be eligible for expedited visa processing at a US embassy or consulate.

A waiver of these restrictions may be granted on a case-by-case basis by the secretary of homeland security if he determines that such a waiver is in the interests of US law enforcement or national security. Procedures for seeking a waiver are not currently available, but will presumably be published in the future. Waivers may be available for

  • individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and subnational governments on official duty;

  • individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian nongovernmental organization on official duty;

  • individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;

  • individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and

  • individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

The VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Travelers must be eligible to use the VWP and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. ESTA approval is issued by US Customs and Border Protection through the ESTA portal. ESTA will usually inform a traveler within one to two days whether his or her application has been approved, after which the traveler may purchase a plane ticket and travel to the United States.

Beginning January 21, 2016, travelers who currently have valid ESTAs and who have previously indicated that they hold dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked. However, it is unclear how government agencies will implement revocations for individuals who have traveled to any of the four countries since March 1, 2011.

Individuals whose ESTAs are being revoked should receive notification that that they are no longer eligible to travel under the VWP; however, revocation can occur without notice. All individuals should confirm that their ESTAs remain valid prior to making final travel plans by checking the US Customs and Border Protection ESTA website.

A person whose ESTA is revoked remains eligible to travel to the United States but will first need to obtain a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a US embassy or consulate. Travelers affected by these new rules should apply for a US nonimmigrant visa well in advance of desired travel to minimize the chance of delays. The visa application process requires every individual traveler to complete an online visa application. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a US embassy or consulate before traveling to the United States. Individuals who will require a visa should check the website of the US embassy in their country of residence for instructions on how to apply for the visa. Visa processing times range from as little as one week to several weeks for an appointment, depending on the specific embassy or consular office.

Canadian citizens are visa exempt and are not participants in the VWP; thus, the new restrictions do not apply to Canadian citizens who have dual nationality in one of the specified countries.

© 2016 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Review Obama Immigration Action Case

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to hear a case challenging President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. The Supreme Court will decide whether President Obama can proceed with plans to defer deportation and provide work authorization to millions of individuals currently in the United States without lawful status.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in Texas et al. v. U.S. et al. today and indicated that it will take up an additional issue on whether the Obama administration’s action violates a constitutional clause that requires the president to faithfully execute the law (i.e., the Take Care Clause in Article II of the Constitution). The Court will hear arguments this April and a decision is likely to be issued this June, before the end of the Court’s current session.

In November 2014, the Obama Administration issued new policies allowing certain undocumented immigrants to apply for deferred action and work authorization allowing them to remain and work legally in the United States.  These programs were to apply to certain individuals brought to the U.S. when they were under the age of sixteen (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and also to undocumented individuals who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent resident children (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents).  Twenty six states filed suit to stop these policies from being implemented in December 2014. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction in February 2015, and, on November 9, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the injunction. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court on November 20, 2015 seeking immediate review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2016

USCIS Issues New Rule for Highly Skilled Workers: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued its long-awaited final rule regarding highly skilled workers from Australia, Chile, Singapore, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (“CNMI”), along with amendments favoring employment-based immigration. In summary, this rule:

  • facilitates more favorable processing of H-1B1 and E-3 treaty-based extension of status petitions;

  • adds E-3 Australian, H-1B1 Chilean/Singaporean, and CW-1 CNMI nationals to the list of those work-authorized nonimmigrants who can secure up to 240 days of continued employment authorization beyond their current expiration date simply by filing their timely extensions with USCIS before their current status expires;

  • clarifies that principal E-3 and H-1B1 nonimmigrants are authorized to work incident to their status and thus do not have to obtain independent employment authorization (applied in practice but not officially adopted as a formal regulation); and

  • expands the type of evidence that foreign nationals being sponsored under EB-1 outstanding professor and researcher permanent residency petitions can submit to include “comparable evidence” of their outstanding professor or research work.

This rule is expected to take effect on February 16, 2016.

©2015 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.