Business Immigration Monthly – February 2023 – Work Visas


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H-1B Quota Registration Opens in One Week

The H-1B quota registration for FY2024 (October 1, 2023 to
September 30, 2024) will open on March 1st and will remain open for
only a little more than 2 weeks.

Similar to previous years, the USCIS in FY2024 will be
authorized to approve 65,000 initial regular H-1B quota petitions.
The USCIS will also be authorized to approve an additional 20,000
initial H-1B quota petitions for individuals who have earned a U.S.
advanced degree (a.k.a U.S. advanced degree exception).

Last year, the USCIS announced that it received more than
483,927 H-1B quota registrations which was an approximately 60%
increase over the previous year. Additionally, the USCIS indicated
that approximately 31% of the registrations (150,000) were filed
requesting the U.S. advanced degree exception. Because more than
85,000 H-1B quota registrations were submitted, the USCIS conducted
random selection processes of the registration submitted. Employers
with registrations selected were then allowed to submit H-1B quota
petitions during a 90-day window on behalf of the individuals
identified in the selected registrations. Unlike in previous years,
the USCIS selected last year a significantly higher number of
registrations (127,600) to ensure that it would not have to conduct
multiple selection processes to meet the quota numerical
allocations. It is assumed that the USCIS will again this year
select a higher number of registrations so that it does not have to
conduct multiple selection processes.

Because the H-1B quota registration filing period will only be
open for approximately 2 weeks, we would encourage all employers
who have not already forwarded their quota registration information
to our office to do so immediately. If the employers are not able
to timely submit the registrations, the next quota registration
period will not open for one year, in March 2024.

USCIS Continues to Expand Premium Processing

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)
continues to expand the availability of its Premium Processing
service to include I-140 petitions for EB-1 and EB-2
classifications.  Premium Processing allows applicants for
certain types of petitions to receive expedited processing of their
cases within a guaranteed period of time for an additional fee.
This expansion applies both to initial petitions, as well as
previously filed petitions, under the multinational executive or
manager category (EB-1C) and under the category for persons with
advanced degrees seeking a National Interest Waiver (EB-2). 
The fee for the USCIS Premium Processing service for these
categories is $2,500 and USCIS guarantees that it will complete its
initial review of the petition within 45 calendar days (not 15
calendar days as with other Premium Processing categories).

In March, USCIS indicated that it plans to expand the
availability of Premium Processing to certain F-1 students with
pending applications for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM
OPT employment authorization.  In April, the USCIS indicated
that it plans to expand the service to initial applications in
these categories. 

USCIS also stated a goal of making Premium Processing available
to certain individuals filing Form I-539 Application to
Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status in F-1 student and J-1 exchange
visitor categories. Beginning in May, certain individuals with
pending applications will be able to request Premium Processing
and, in June, certain individuals will be able to submit initial
applications with Premium Processing requests.  The USCIS did
not provide information yet about what types of Form I-539
Applications will be eligible for Premium Processing in the F-1
student and J-1 exchange visitor categories.

USCIS re-confirmed that it will adhere the legislative
requirement that the program not result in increased processing
times for cases filed without Premium Processing.

USCIS Extends COVID-Related Flexibilities

The USCIS recently announced that it was once again extending
its Covid-19-related flexibilities to March 23, 2023.  These
flexibilities allow for responses to certain requests to be
considered timely filed if submitted within 60 days after the
listed deadline on the request.

This extension applies to requests received between March 1,
2020, and March 23, 2023, and includes the following:

  • Requests for Evidence;

  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);

  • Notices of Intent to Deny;

  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;

  • Notices of Intent to Rescind;

  • Notices of Intent to Terminate regional centers;

  • Notices of Intent to Withdraw Temporary Protected Status;
    and

  • Motions to Reopen an N-400 Pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of
    Derogatory Information After Grant.

The notice also states Forms I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion
to Reconsider, and N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in
Naturalization Proceedings, are included in the extension if filed
within 90 days of a decision issued between November 1, 2021, and
March 23, 2023.

Finally, the announcement indicates that USCIS anticipates that
this will likely be the last extension of this policy. This is also
consistent with the current administration’s recent
announcement that federal government accommodations for the
pandemic will end in May. The notice also reminds stakeholders that
the flexibilities regarding electronic signatures became a
permanent policy in July 2022 and will not be affected when the
other pandemic flexibilities sunset.

Department of State Announces Welcome Corps Initiative

The U.S. State Department (DOS)  announced the creation of
a pilot program that will allow groups of private citizens to
financially sponsor refugees from around the world. 

The “Welcome Corps” program will allow groups of US
citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply to sponsor persons
found to be refugees by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
and who have been approved for resettlement in the United States
through the US Refugee Admissions Program.  The program
follows other recent programs allowing private sponsorship of
people from Ukraine, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti.

Persons interested in participating are required to form a
“Private Sponsor Group” (PSG) of at least five US
citizens or lawful permanent residents over age 18 and submit an
application through the Welcome Corps online portal.  
The PSGs commit to provide initial housing for 90 days and cash in
the amount of $2,275 for each sponsored refugee.  As part of
the application, the PSGs must pass background checks and submit a
plan detailing how they plan to assist the newcomers. 

Once an application is approved, the Welcome Corps team will
inform the PSG when a refugee has been identified for the group to
welcome.

CBP Launches Travel Compliance Page 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection  (CBP) has added a tab
to its website for travelers visiting the United States. In
addition to obtaining their I-94 and Travel History, some foreign
nationals who have arrived under the Visa Waiver program will be
able to access their travel compliance and view “How Much
Longer May I Remain in the U.S.?”  ESTA permits persons
who are enrolled in the visa waiver program to visit the United
States for business or pleasure and remain for up to 90 days per
visit.

After entering the traveler’s passport information, the
site reports the number of days a traveler has left to depart the
United States.  At many ports of entry, CBP no longer places
an admission stamp in a traveler’s passport or annotates how
long the traveler may remain in the United States.  The aim is
for the traveler to visit the CBP website or use the CBP One Mobile
Application.. The “View Compliance” page on the CBP
website will be helpful to ESTA travelers to track the number of
days remaining for their period of admission.  The site will
also report the number of days a traveler has overstayed or
remained longer than permitted.  CBP indicates the compliance
check is merely a tool to assist travelers, and “not an
official record for legal purposes.”

Travel compliance information at this time is limited to ESTA
travelers and is not available to travelers who use a visa to enter
the United States.  The travel compliance also does not
reflect any changes in immigration status or extensions granted by
USCIS.

Update on I-9 Investigations

A recent decision from the Office of the Chief Administrative
Hearing Officer (OCAHO) serves as a reminder to employers of the
importance of properly completing and maintaining the Form I-9
Employment Eligibility Verification.

Federal law requires that every employer who recruits, refers
for a fee, or hires an individual for employment in the United
States must complete Form I-9. The immigration law and associated
regulations set a monetary range for employer sanctions penalties
for Form I-9 paperwork violations.  When determining the
penalties, the government considers five factors:  the size of
the business, the employer’s good faith compliance efforts,
the seriousness of the violation, whether the I-9 was for an
unauthorized worker, and whether the employer had a history of
prior violations.  Regarding the size of the business, an
employer having less than 100 employees is eligible for
leniency.

In the recent decision, an Administrative Law Judge noted that
participation in E-Verify has no impact on a determination of good
faith compliance with the I-9 requirements.  An improperly
completed Form I-9 has less weight on the seriousness scale,
 but the failure to prepare the Form I-9 at all is considered
“one of the most serious violations because it completely
subverts the purpose of the employment verification
requirements.”  A Form I-9 prepared for an authorized
worker, including a worker who provides a false Social Security
Number, is an aggregating factor for penalty assessment.  An
employer having prior I-9 violations is subject to a higher penalty
range. Form I-9 paperwork violations continue until corrected, or
the employer is no longer required to maintain the Form I-9. 
In the decision, an employer was assessed penalties for Form I-9
paperwork violations and knowingly continuing to employ two workers
who lacked employment authorization.

On January 30, 2023, civil monetary penalty rates for I-9
violations were increased to the following:

Paperwork Violations –

Fines for Form I-9 paperwork violations range from $272 to
$2,701 per violation.

Civil Penalties for Unlawful Employment Practices






1st Offense 2nd Offense Subsequent Offenses
Not less than $676 and not more than $5,404 for each
unauthorized worker
Not less than $5,016 and not more than $12,537 for each
unauthorized worker
Not less than $7,523 and not more than $25,076 for each
unauthorized worker

There are also potential criminal penalties for engaging in what
is determined to be a pattern or practice of knowingly hiring or
continuing to employment unauthorized workers.

Due to the potential for significant penalties, employers should
routinely review their Forms I-9 to ensure compliance with the
program.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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