Yesterday, the Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (“OFLC”) announced that it is experiencing problems with its iCERT system. While the iCERT Systems’ application and database are working correctly, the network infrastructure that supports the system is having performance issues that are causing delays in processing cases. These delays are currently impacting H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B cases. OFLC has not stated when it expects these problems to be resolved. The Hammond Law Group will keep you updated as further announcements are made on this issue.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (Public Law 114-113) was signed into law on December 18, 2015 and increased the fee for certain H-1B and L-1 petitioners. USCIS issued a web alert today that the additional fee now applies when a petitioner employs 50 or more individuals in the United States, with more than 50% of those employees currently in H-1B or L (including L-1A and L-1B) nonimmigrant status.
The additional fee must be included (1) with new petitions seeking H or L status or (2) when the petitioner seeks to have the nonimmigrant in H or L status change employers.
This is a departure from what the previously published regulations on the topic indicated, which also required the additional fee for extensions of H or L status. As things stand today, these are the only types of petitions that requires the additional fee but based on the back and forth that has surrounded this rule’s roll out, we will not know for sure until USCIS revises its instructions for the Form I-129.
The DHS has released the long anticipated proposed regulation which promised to provide greater portability to H-1b workers with approved I-140’s. A copy of the complete rule can be found here. Comments on the proposed rule are due on Feb 29, 2016 and the rule is not in effect until it becomes final, sometime after the comment period. Our office will be providing a detailed summary to clients next week. I hate to throw cold water on what should be a day of celebration but, a quick read through does not indicate that the portability provisions are as gracious as promised. There are however, other really good provisions which will be very positive for international professional workers and their employers. Happy New year and we wish everyone a great 2016.
Buried in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill that Congress is currently considering is a provision that would re-instate and double the “penalty” filing fee imposed on employers with 50 or more employees where 50% of those employees are H-1b or L-1b visa holders. The new fee would also apply to extensions. The new penalty fee for H-1b petitions would be $4,000 and for L-1 cases, $4500.
On October 1, 2015, Congress failed to extend the additional filing fees for petitioners whose workforces are heavily reliant on H-1B and L-1 employees. The law, known as Public Law 111-230, required an extra $2,000 fee for certain H-1B petitions, and a $2,250 fee for L-1A and L-1B petitions, whose company had 50 or more employees in the U.S., with over half of those workers on H-1B or L-1 visas.
All H-1B and L-1 fees, filed on or after October 1, should still include the base I-129 fee, Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, and American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) Fee, when applicable. Petitions with incorrect fees may be rejected. However, unless this fee gets reauthorized, petitions should enjoy the reprieve.
The “3-for-1 Rule” states that three years of work experience is equal to one year of education in the H-1B context. This rule has been followed for years without question but now the rule might not be as straightforward as it used to be. The Rule was routinely applied to cases where a beneficiary had only completed part of a bachelor’s degree program and was using years of experience to cover the remaining years. After the AAO’s recent decision, the rule should no longer be considered an uncomplicated 3:1 ratio. While this a non-precedential decision, the results could have far reaching effects, especially on how RFE’s are issued and responded to.
The AAO begins by stating that the 3-for-1 rule has been misapplied and is exclusively reserved for use by USCIS agency-determinations of educational equivalency. This means that going forward, technically the Service is the only one that can apply the rule.
Next, the AAO points out that not all years of experience are equal. The requirements for RFE’s are about to become very high. Petitioner’s will be required to “clearly demonstrated” that a beneficiary’s years of experience include the theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge required by the specialty occupation, that it was gained while working with peers, supervisors, or subordinates who have a degree or its equivalent in the specialty occupation and that the alien has recognition of expertise in the specialty. In short, letters of experience will now need to be very detailed and contain specific elements.
However, you also need to show that the beneficiary has expertise in the specialty. This is most easily demonstrated by recognition of expertise in the specialty occupation by at least two recognized authorities in the same specialty occupation. This will result in letters from experts becoming a requirement if you would like experience considered. The decision also outlined who can be considered an “expert” for these letters. Remember, even if you obtain great letters USCIS can still determine that those years don’t equal a year of baccalaureate experience.
Finally, the AAO found that only reliable credentials evaluation services that specializes in evaluating foreign education credentials can evaluate a foreign national’s education. So, the submission to the USCIS must now include an evaluation from a foreign credentials evaluation service, expert letters can only be used to show recognition of expertise not educational equivalency.
In sum, the 3 for 1 rule should not be considered the simple 3:1 ratio it has been in the past. Going forward, proving that a beneficiary meets the H-1B educational requirements through years of experience is a completely new animal.
In Valorem Consulting Group v. USCIS, the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri considered whether it was arbitrary and capricious for USCIS to grant an H-1b visa for only a one year validity period when the Beneficiary was expected to work on multiple projects for different clients. In this case, the District Court noted that the Administrative Procedures Act provides that it could only overturn USCIS’s decision if it was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The District Court reviewed the case and noted that the record showed that the Petitioner was a consulting company that offered a broad range of professional services to its clients. The Beneficiary was expected to “provide consulting services that vary depending on the client’s needs.” Documentation from the Petitioner and from two end-clients was also submitted. The court found that USCIS initially denied the case on the basis that the evidence the Petitioner had submitted was insufficient to demonstrate that enough specialty occupation work would be available. USCIS had expressed “concern that at some point [the Petitioner] could assign [the Beneficiary] to work for a client on a project that no longer qualified as a ‘specialty occupation.’” After an appeal was initiated, USCIS overturned the denial and approved the case for a one year period. The court dismissed the remainder of the claims other than the validity of the one year period. In reviewing the case, the District court noted that the nature of the Petitioner’s business led to the conclusion that it could not “represent what [the Beneficiary] would be doing on a regular and recurring basis.” It also upheld USCIS’s reliance on the Neufeld Memorandum. It stated that the Beneficiary was expected to provide services for the Petitioner’s clients and “that these tasks varied in nature and duration, making it difficult for USCIS to confirm that [the Beneficiary] was entitled to an H-1b visa and, if so, for how long.” Consequently, the District Court determined that USCIS’s decision to provide only a one year validity period for the Beneficiary’s H-1b was not arbitrary or capricious.