State Department Plans to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Applicants
The Department of State (DOS) intends to resume the renewal of H-1B nonimmigrant visas in the United States for certain applicants beginning with a pilot program in early 2024 and has sent its proposal to the Office of Managment and Budget for review. Currently, the State Department can only process visa applications at its embassies and consular posts abroad and does not offer a stateside option for visa issuance.
Although full details have not yet been released, according to reports, in its initial phase the stateside visa renewal program is expected to be limited to H-1B principal visa applicants (not dependents). There will be additional eligibility requirements for participation (for example, the applicant must be renewing a visa issued within a limited number of years before the renewal submission), and the program will be voluntary — applicants will still have the option of obtaining visas abroad through regular processing.
The pilot program is expected to be limited to nationals of countries whose visas are not subject to reciprocity fees. India will be eligible for participation in the pilot program, as there is no applicable reciprocity fee. These fees vary in amount and are meant to equalize the cost of a visa for each country’s nationals with the fees charged by that country to U.S. nationals seeking comparable visas. Because the fees vary and must be refunded if a visa cannot be issued, including them in the pilot program could have delayed the rollout.
The program is intended to help reduce consular delays, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued in certain locations. The pilot program will test the operational capacity of the stateside renewal program. Availability is expected to be capped at 20,000 applicants. If successful, the program will expand to other employment-based visa categories following its initial launch, although full implementation is likely to take some time.
SOURCE: US Office of Management and Budget, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Pending EO 12866 Regulatory Review (reginfo.gov)
Department of Homeland Security Plan to Amend H-1B Regulations Governing Specialty Occupation Workers
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to amend its H-1B regulations “governing H–1B specialty occupation workers to modernize and improve the efficiency of the H–1B program, add benefits and flexibilities, and improve integrity measures.” The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), expected to be published in the Federal Register on October 23, 2023, would also “narrowly impact other nonimmigrant classifications, including H-2, H-3, F-1, L-1, O, P, Q-1, R-1, E-3, and TN.” A 60-day public comment period starts following publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register.
Below is a non-exhaustive summary of highlights. DHS proposes to:
- Revise the regulatory definition and criteria for a “specialty occupation” and clarify that a position may allow a range of degrees if they have a direct relationship to the duties of the position;
- Clarify when an amended or new petition must be filed due to a change in an H-1B worker’s place of employment;
- Codify and clarify that if there has been no material change in the underlying facts, adjudicators generally should defer to a prior determination involving the same parties and underlying facts;
- Require evidence of maintenance of status to be included with the petition if a beneficiary is seeking an extension or amendment of stay;
- Change the definition of “nonprofit research organization” and “governmental research organization” by replacing “primarily engaged” and “primary mission” with “fundamental activity” to permit a nonprofit entity or governmental research organization that conducts research as a fundamental activity, but is not primarily engaged in research or where research is not a primary mission, to meet the definition of a nonprofit research entity;
- Provide flexibilities, such as automatically extending the duration of F-1 status, and any employment authorization granted under 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(3)(i)(B) or (C), until April 1 of the relevant fiscal year, rather than October 1 of the same fiscal year, to avoid disruptions in lawful status and employment authorization for F-1 students changing their status to H-1B;
- Clarify the requirements regarding the requested employment start date on H–1B cap-subject petitions to permit filing with requested start dates that are after October 1 of the relevant fiscal year;
- Select H-1B cap registrations by unique beneficiary rather than by registration;
- Clarify that related entities are prohibited from submitting multiple registrations for the same beneficiary;
- Clarify that beneficiary-owners may be eligible for H-1B status, while setting reasonable conditions for when the beneficiary owns a controlling interest in the petitioning entity; and
- Clarify that if an H-1B worker will be staffed to a third party, meaning they will be contracted to fill a position in the third party’s organization, it is the requirements of that third party, and not the petitioner, that are most relevant when determining whether the position is a specialty occupation.
SOURCE: USCIS notice of proposed rulemaking (advance copy), 88 Fed. Reg. 72870 (Oct. 23, 2023).
USCIS Clarifies Guidance on L-1 Petitions for Intracompany Transferees Filed by Sole Proprietorships and on Blanket L Petitions
On October 20, 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance to clarify that a sole proprietorship may not file an L-1 petition on behalf of its owner because the sole proprietorship does not exist as a distinct legal entity separate and apart from the owner.
The USCIS guidance further clarifies that an L-1 petition where the owner and beneficiary are the same constitutes an impermissible self-petition. The update also clarifies guidance regarding blanket L petitions, noting that the failure to timely file an extension of the blanket petition does not trigger the three-year waiting period before another blanket petition may be filed.
SOURCE: USCIS notice of USCIS Policy Alert, PA-2023-29 (Oct. 20, 2023)