USCIS Updates FY 2010 H-1B Numbers; 45,000 Petitions Received

USCIS has just updated information regarding the number of H-1B petitions it has received for Fiscal Year 2010. According to USCIS, as of April 27, 2009, the government agency has received roughly 45,000 H-1B petitions that would be counted against the annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visa numbers for the fiscal year. As a reminder, USCIS has already received and accepted roughly 20,000 petitions from individuals with master’s degrees or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education; that cap-exempt category has been filled for FY 2010.

On April 9, USCIS had roughly 42,000 petitions; only 3,000 additional petitions have been received since that date. While it would appear that the amount of petitions submitted is fairly stagnant, it is important to note that 6,800 of the total 65,000 available H-1B petitions are reserved for Chilean and Singaporean nationals. Employer interested in submitting cap-subject H-1B petitions should plan on filing their petitions as soon as they can.

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U.S. Consulate Services in Mexico Suspended Until May 6

In response to the recent outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico, the U.S. Department of State has announced that it will suspend all visa and passport appointments at the U.S. Embassy and all of its Consulates in Mexico through May 6, 2009. This announcement is precipitated by a previous announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that strongly urges U.S. citizens to limit their travel to Mexico.

Individuals with appointments scheduled between April 27 and May 6 will receive emails from the Embassy/Consulate’s scheduling center with a request to reschedule. Appointments may also be rescheduled by calling 1 (800) 719-2525.

Senators Durbin and Grassley Introduce Legislation to Amend H-1B and L-1 Visa Programs

Yesterday, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2009, a bipartisan designed legislative act that aims to reform the H-1B and L-1 visa programs.

The Durbin-Grassley bill would make changes to the H-1B program by requiring that all employers who wish to hire H-1B workers would need to first make a good-faith attempt to recruit a qualified U.S. worker for the position. The bill would restrict U.S. employers from using H-1B workers to displace qualified U.S. workers. In addition, the bill would prohibit the practice of posting employment ads calling for H-1B only candidates and would prohibit employers from hiring additional H-1B or L-1 workers if more than half of their current workforce are H-1B and L-1 visa holders. In addition, new processes would be established to investigate, audit and penalize visa abuses.

“The H-1B visa program should complement the U.S. workforce, not replace it,” Durbin said. “Congress created the H-1B visa program so an employer could hire a foreign guest-worker when a qualified American worker could not be found. However, the H-1B visa program is plagued with fraud and abuse and is now a vehicle for outsourcing that deprives qualified American workers of their jobs. Our bill will put a stop to the outsourcing of American jobs and discrimination against American workers.”

The two senators had introduced a bill similar to the current one last year; that bill failed to become law.

USCIS Updates Number of H-1B Petitions Received for FY 2010

USCIS has again updated the number of filings for H-1B petitions for the Fiscal Year 2010 H-1B program. According to the government agency, roughly 44,000 H-1B petitions counting toward the annual cap of 65,000 have been received as of April 20, 2009. USCIS is continuing to accept H-1B petitions subject to this Congressionally-mandated annual cap.

USCIS has, in addition received roughly 20,000 petitions for H-1B visas from aliens with master’s degrees or higher from U.S. academic institutions. Even though the cap for this exempt category is 20,000, USCIS notes that they are continuing to accept applications from individuals that meet the category’s requirements.

Finally, USCIS notes that for cap-subject H-1B petitions filed with requests for premium processing during the initial five-day acceptance window, the 15-day premium processing period began April 7. For petitions filed after the initial five-day period, premium processing begins on the day that USCIS receives the petition.

DHS Delays Implementation of E-Verify Rule Again

On Friday, April 17, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would again postpone the mandate that all federal contractors (and their subcontractors) verify their employees’ employment eligibility using E-Verify, the government’s online electronic employment eligibility verification system. The requirement, which was supposed to have originally gone into effect on January 15. The Bush White House delayed it until February 20, and in late January, the Obama White House delayed it again, until May 21. The current delay would push the mandate back even further, this time until June 30.

After first being published as a final rule in the fall of 2008, the requirement that government contractors use E-Verify received criticism from a number of groups. Last fall, business groups that include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management filed suit to block the implementation of the requirement on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Some Restrictions on U.S. Policy Toward Cuba Lifted by Obama Administration

The Obama administration announced this week that they will implement a series of changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba as a first step toward bridging relationships between the two nations. Policy changes in regards to U.S.-Cuba relationships include the lifting of all restrictions on transactions related to the travel of family members to Cuba, the removal of restrictions on the transmittal of money to family members in Cuba, the authorization of U.S. telecommunications’ network providers to make agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite communications facilities that link the U.S. and Cuba, and the addition of certain humanitarian items to the list of items eligible for export to Cuba.

In a press release announcing these changes, the White House stated, “In taking these steps to help bridge the gap among divided Cuban families and promote the freer flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people, President Obama is working to fulfill the goals he identified both during his presidential campaign and since taking office.”

The White House believes that, through provisions that enable the strengthening of relationships between Cuban Americans and their families in Cuba, we can foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy in that nation. “There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” the press release stated. “Accordingly, President Obama will direct the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to support the Cuban people’s desire for freedom and self-determination by lifting all restrictions on family visits and remittances as well as taking steps that will facilitate greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba and increase the flow of information and humanitarian resources directly to the Cuban people.”

New iCERT System Provides One-Stop Visa Services for Employers

The Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) has announced the creation of a new, one-stop visa portal system. The iCERT System will give employers ease of access to employment-based visa application services and immigration news and information from OFLC.

As of April 15, 2009, employers and their authorized representatives will be able to register with the iCERT System and create a account to file Form 9035E, the Labor Condition Application (LCA), used with H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 visa petitions.

Additionally, OFLC has created a help desk unit at the Chicago National Processing Center to serve as a resource for employers submitting LCAs with the government.