February 2014 Newsletter

In This Issue
  • H-1B Alert: Filing starts April 1 for next fiscal year
  • Highlights of US Embassy London webchat 29 January 2014
  • USCIS expands site visits to review of L-1 petitions
  • US Embassy London now allows visa applicants to bring mobile phones with them to visa interviews
  • Half a million companies now participate in E-verify, USCIS announces
  • USCIS adds countries to participation in H-2A & H-2B programs
  • New publications and items of interest
  • Government agency links
  • Hodkinson Law Group News



H-1B Alert: Filing starts April 1 for Next Fiscal Year

Congress sets a limit on the number of H-1B visas available each year. This past fiscal year, H-1B numbers were exhausted within the first five days of filing. The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL) anticipates that the numbers will run out quickly again this year.

If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives more petitions than it can accept, it will use a lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions filed during that period to reach the numerical limit. USCIS did this last year. The agency will reject petitions that are subject to the cap but not selected, as well as petitions received after it has the necessary number of petitions needed to meet the cap.

Every time an employer hires an individual for a specialty occupation, an H-1B number must be available. (An exception arises where the individual is already with another employer in H-1B status, but this employer cannot be a university/college or a non-profit government research organization.) When numbers run out, the employer must wait until the next fiscal year to file for an H-1B. In some cases, there may be no other nonimmigrant visa option for the individual and the individual may have to leave the U.S. or, at least, not be able to work for the employer until a year later.

While the H-1B numbers for the next fiscal year do not become available again until October 1, 2014, employers may file petitions to request numbers as early as six months in advance, beginning on April 1, 2014. That date signals the start of what has become an annual race to get petitions filed as early as possible to ensure acceptance before the cap of 85,000 visas is reached. The 85,000 cap includes the basic cap of 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 H-1B visas available to foreign nationals who have earned an advanced degree (master’s or higher) from a U.S. university.

As in past years, some foreign nationals are not subject to the H-1B cap, including individuals who already have been counted toward the cap in a previous year and have not been outside the United States subsequently for one year or more. Also, certain employers, such as universities, government-funded research organizations, and some non-profit entities are exempt from the H-1B cap. All other employers should be aware of the H-1B cap.

HLG encourages employers to review their hiring needs and determine whether they should initiate H-1B processing for anticipated hires, or even recent hires in other nonimmigrant status now.

You should consider filing an H-1B petition this April if:
  • You want to hire an individual who is not in H-1B status already.
  • You are hiring an individual who is already in H-1B status but is currently employed with a college/university (this situation requires a new H-1B number).
  • You are hiring an individual who is already in H-1B status but is with a non-profit government research organization (this situation requires a new H-1B number).
  • Your employee is in F-1 student status.
  • Your employee is in L-1B status and is considering seeking legal permanent residence in the United States.
  • Your employee is in another nonimmigrant status and may want to seek legal permanent residence in the United States.

HLG recommends that clients keep their US attorney apprised of all new hires needing H-1B status before October 1, 2014. Examples would include F-1 students hired with optional practical training that expires before April 1, 2014, or current L-1B non-immigrants who will have spent five years in that status as of any date before October 1, 2014. Contact us now if you have any questions or would like to file an H-1B petition.




Highlights of US Embassy London Webchat 29 January 2014

The following are interesting tidbits which were discussed during the US Embassy London's recent Webchat.
  1. The U.S. Government policy regarding criminal cautions in the United Kingdom remains under review. Applicants having a caution may experience lengthy delays during the application process. Apply as soon as possible and don't make final travel plans unless you have received a visa. These delays will affect applicants who may have already received a visa in the past after disclosing the caution.

  2. After a petitioner has received the I-130 Approval Notice for I-130s filed with USCIS in London, the applicant can expect to wait approximately 6-8 weeks before receiving a letter from the Embassy containing instructions as to the next step in the immigrant visa application process.

  3. If an individual has a valid visa in an expired passport and the visa has not been damaged, he/she may continue to use this visa when travelling to the United States with the new, valid passport.

  4. If a visa-holder changes their name due to marriage and obtains a new passport in their married name, they may travel using their current, valid passport, a copy of their marriage certificate and the valid visa in their previous passport, provided that the visa was not damaged when the passport was cancelled.

  5. If an application is in administrative processing, re-applying for a visa will not speed up administrative processing.

  6. A United Kingdom National Insurance number is not considered a National Identification Number for the purpose of applying for a visa.

  7. In order to qualify for an immigrant visa, an applicant in a same-sex marriage must be married to a U.S. citizen. If the union is not considered a legal marriage under the jurisdiction under which was performed, the applicant cannot qualify for an immigrant visa.

The entire transcript of the Webchat can be found here.




USCIS Expands Site Visits To Review of L-1 Petitions

USCIS's Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate has expanded its employer site visits to include review of L-1 post-adjudication petitions. Recent reports indicate that the agency is reviewing extensions of L-1 petitions and L-1 job duties and salaries to determine whether they are consistent with the L-1's classification as an executive or manager (L-1A) or specialized knowledge worker (L-1B).

USCIS may conduct announced or unannounced site visits as part of the visa petition process. Employers have been reporting that the FDNS inspectors' queries are similar to those made in H-1B site visits, particularly about whether wages are appropriate for the visa application, visa category, work location, hours, job duties, title, and experience of the employee. The employee may be questioned directly about his or her job duties.

FDNS's site visits are funded by the $500 anti-fraud fee paid with H-1B and L-1 petitions. Until recently, such compliance audits have primarily involved H-1B employers. More than 17,000 such visits occurred in FY 2011, which was an increase over 2010.

USCIS's Office of Inspector General in August recommended, among other things, that USCIS make a site visit a requirement before extending a one-year new office L-1 petition. USCIS concurred and said it expected to begin conducting post-adjudication domestic L-1 compliance site visits in FY 2014.

The report is available here.




US Embassy London now allows visa applicants to bring mobile phones with them to visa interviews

Mobile phones are no longer prohibited at American Citizen Services or visa application appointments. Applicants are still prohibited from taking large electronics to the Embassy; however, mobile phones are now permitted. Please click here for an updated list of prohibited items.




Half a million companies now participate in E-verify, USCIS announces

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on January 23, 2014, that more than 500,000 companies now use E-Verify. Employers use the online E-Verify system to check an employee's work authorization status. USCIS said that 98.8 percent of work-authorized employees are confirmed "instantly or within 24 hours, requiring no further employee or employer action."

USCIS noted that its efforts to enhance the system's security include agreements with select states' departments of motor vehicles to ensure the authenticity of driver's licenses that employees use as identity documents; Self Check, which allows workers to look up their own employment eligibility status and correct their records before they seek employment; and a program that locks Social Security numbers suspected of being misused for employment eligibility verification.

E-Verify has experienced significant growth since its establishment in 1996. Annual enrolments increased tenfold during the program's first 16 years, from 11,474 in fiscal year (FY) 1996 to 111,671 in FY 2012. During FY 2013, employers used E-Verify more than 25 million times.

To commemorate the half-million-participant milestone, USCIS released "E-Verify for Business Leaders," a video that introduces the program to prospective users. USCIS also updated its E-Verify website with "plain-language" content and easy-to-follow graphics.




USCIS adds countries to participation in H-2A & H-2B programs

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of State, has added Austria, Italy, Panama, and Thailand to the list of countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs for the coming year.

The notice listing the 63 eligible countries was published January 17, 2014, in the Federal Register.




New Publications and Items of Interest

Immigration enforcement actions in FY 2012. The Department of Homeland Security has released "Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2012." The report presents information on the apprehension, detention, return, and removal of foreign nationals in fiscal year 2012. Key findings include:
  • CBP determined that 194,000 foreign nationals were inadmissible.
  • DHS apprehended 643,000 foreign nationals; 70 percent were citizens of Mexico.
  • ICE detained approximately 478,000 foreign nationals, an all-time high.
  • 230,000 foreign nationals were returned to their home countries without a removal order.
  • DHS removed 419,000 foreign nationals from the United States. The leading countries of origin for those removed were Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
  • Expedited removal orders accounted for 163,000, or 39 percent, of all removals.
  • Reinstatements of final orders accounted for 149,000, or 36 percent, of all removals.
  • ICE removed 199,000 known criminal aliens from the United States, an all-time high.

Click here for the report.




Government Agency Links

Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:




Hodkinson Law Group News

In spite of the continuing rainy weather, Kehrela Hodkinson is continuing to train for her 2014 challenge, the Coast to Coast Walk, a distance of 190 miles from St. Bees, Cumbria to Robin Hood Bay in North Yorkshire. She will be walking to raise funds for Hospice in the Weald, a local charity. Tasha Wiesman continues to train for her next race by attending bi-weekly sessions at her local running club.

Kehrela Hodkinson continues to be active in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). She has once again been acclaimed in 'Who's Who Legal, Corporate Immigration 2013.' She is described as “‘the premier US immigration attorney in London’ and is thought of as a ‘fantastic lawyer.’”


Allison Ouvry has practiced law since 1996, concentrating in the field of business immigration since 2000. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the New York Bar, and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Women Lawyers in London group, and the London Library.
 


Tasha Wiesman is a member of the Illinois State Bar and assists in the preparation and filing of non-immigrant and immigrant visa petitions and applications of waivers of grounds of inadmissibility.
 
 
 
 
  
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Kehrela Hodkinson has once again been acclaimed as one of the top immigration lawyers worldwide in 'Who's Who Legal, Corporate Immigration 2013.'

She is described as "'the premier US immigration attorney in London' and is thought of as a 'fantastic lawyer.'"





Allison Ouvry has practiced law since 1996, concentrating in the field of business immigration since 2000.




Tasha Wiesman assists in the preparation and filing of non-immigrant and immigrant visa petitions and applications for waivers of inadmissibility.
Hodkinson Law Group | www.usvisalawgroup.com | +44 (0) 20 7299 2490
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