Category Archives: H-1B Visas and Status

How Will You Know When USCIS Declares a Snow Day?

whitehousesnowWhen local schools are closed due to snow, you will usually hear it announced it on local radio and TV stations (and you can hear the cheers from around the neighborhood).

But how do you find out whether the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at which you are scheduled to attend an interview or provide your biometrics has been closed due to bad (sometimes called “inclement”) weather? Sometimes the media may mention the closure of federal buildings, but it’s best not to count on this as your sole source of information.

If you have a lawyer, and he or she is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), your lawyer will likely receive an email with any notifications of USCIS office closings.

If you don’t have a lawyer working on your immigration case, however, you may need to do a little research on your own if the weather is looking bad. USCIS does not make any attempt to reach out to people individually — trying to call or even email the thousands of people who are scheduled for appointments on a given day would probably take well into that night!

USCIS will reschedule non-INFOPASS appointments due to its own closure automatically, but that’s done by letter, and could take weeks. (If you made an INFOPASS appointment to visit a USCIS office, however, you’ll need to go online and reschedule that one yourself.)

The most reliable source of such information is on the “Field Office Closings” page of the USCIS website. On most days, it will simply say (in the top paragraph under the date) “All offices are open on schedule today.” On other days, however, this page will state which of USCIS’s offices nationwide are closed. According to a USCIS spokesperson whom I contacted, they also make an effort to advise people via social media, including the USCIS Facebook page and Twitter.

If in doubt, you could also try calling the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283.

If you are still in doubt, do your best to make it to your appointment. Failure to do so could result in weeks of delay at best, and possible denial of your application for immigration benefits.

Countdown to Filing Time for New H-1Bs!

traffic_lightEvery year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) opens up the filing period during which employers can submit petitions for new H-1B workers . . . and every year, the window of opportunity closes very soon after. This year, USCIS will begin accepting petitions for workers who are subject to the fiscal year (FY) 2014 cap on Monday, April 1, 2013.

The reason this timing is so important is that only  65,000 new H-1B visas (or status changes) can be given out per year, unless the worker falls into an exempt category. And of those 65,000, up to 6,800 are set aside for H-1B applicants under the U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreements.

The most important exemption from this cap applies to the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed for workers who have U.S. master’s degree or higher. Other widely used exemptions are available to H-1B applicants who will work at either institutions of higher education or related or affiliated nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, or governmental research organizations.

Even with the exemptions, there is stiff competition for those 65,000 spots — more demand than supply. In fact, USCIS expects to receive more than 65,000 petitions within less than a week, by April 5, 2013. The agency will notify the public as soon as it has received 65,000 petitions subject to the cap, and reject petitions submitted afterward. For any petitions that come in over the 65,000 but before USCIS’s announcement cutting off filings, USCIS plans to use a lottery system to select which ones will be processed.

USCIS is also making a temporary change to its premium processing service. Petitioners may still request premium processing, but they won’t receive a USCIS decision within the normal 15-day period. Instead, USCIS will begin counting the 15-day promised speedy processing period starting on April 15.

One of the most important topics to consider if you are hoping to petition for or get a job as an H-1B worker is whether the cap will be an issue, or whether some exemption or alternative is available. For details on this, see Nolo’s article, “When the H-1Bs Run Out: Alternative Visas and Strategies.”

And for the USCIS press release on this topic and other information on H-1B visas, see http://www.uscis.gov/h-1b_count.

Small Businesses Face USCIS Suspicion When Petitioning for H-1B Workers

If your business’s gross annual income is less than $10 million, your workforce numbers fewer than 25, and your business has been in operation for fewer than ten years, guess what: You match the “fraud indicators” outlined by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in a recently released document, putting any petitions that your business files to hire H-1B specialty temporary workers under suspicion. They’ve even got a catchy name for it: the “10/25/10″ formula.

Supposedly this formula was developed after analysis of where the largest volume of fraudulent applications was coming from. Small comfort if you’re a small business owner or manager trying to hire someone from another country! The situation isn’t hopeless, but you can expect lots of requests for documents, and quite possibly a site visit.

For more information, see the press release, “LAC Wins Release of H-1B Fraud Documents for AILAfrom the American Immigration Council. And if you’re worried about these and other hassles associated with the H-1B visa, check out this recent article by San Francisco attorney Deborah Dyson: “When the H-1Bs Run Out: Alternative Visas and Strategies.”