H-1B Count Update for November 20, 2009

This week, USCIS published an update of the number of H-1B cap-subject petitions they have received for Fiscal Year 2010. As of November 20, 2009, the federal agency has received approximately 56,900 H-1B cap-subject petitions. USCIS has already approved enough H-1B petitions for foreign nationals with advanced degrees to meet the target total of 20,000 visas allotted for petitioners that meet the advanced degree cap exemption. All H-1B petitions filed on behalf of foreign nationals, regardless of whether the nationals meet the requirements of the advanced degree cap exemption, will now count toward the general cap of 65,000.

USCIS will continue to accept H-1B petitions until it has received a “sufficient” number of these petitions to reach the mandate-defined limits of the visa program. This takes into consideration that some petitions received will be denied, revoked or withdrawn from consideration.

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Four USCIS Programs Extended Until 2012

In late October, President Obama singed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010, extending certain USCIS programs until September 30, 2012. Programs that have been extended until 2012 include the E-Verify program, the Immigrant Investor (EB-5) Pilot Program, and the special immigrant visa category for non-minister religions workers.

The law also extends the “Conrad 30” program. The “Conrad 30” program allows each state health department to submit requests directly to the Department of State to start the waiver process for foreign medical graduates who have obtained J-1 status to change or adjust to another status without meeting the required two-year foreign residence period. Prior to this recent extension, the law applied to foreign medical graduates that acquired J-1 status before September 30, 2009; today, that law has been extended to cover those that receive J-1 status prior to September 30, 2010.

USCIS Publishes Updates Count of H-1B Petitions Received

USCIS has just published another update of the number of H-1B cap-subject petitions they have received for Fiscal Year 2010. As of November 13, 2009, the federal agency has received approximately 55,600 H-1B cap-subject petitions. USCIS has, as of this date, approved enough H-1B petitions for foreign nationals with advanced degrees to meet the target total of 20,000 visas allotted for petitioners that meet the advanced degree cap exemption. All H-1B petitions filed on behalf of foreign nationals, regardless of whether the nationals meet the requirements of the advanced degree cap exemption, will count toward the general cap of 65,000.

USCIS comments that it will continue to accept H-1B petitions until it has received a “sufficient” number of these petitions to reach the mandate-defined limits of the visa program, with the understanding that a certain percentage of petitions received will be denied, revoked or withdrawn from consideration.

USCIS Is Conducting 25,000 Site Inspections of H-1B Employers

In response to a study conducted last year that found cases of fraud and other infringements in one out of every five H-1B applications, USCIS is stepping up its enforcement of the skilled worker program. This fiscal year, federal inspectors plan to conduct 25,000 on-site inspections of U.S. companies that have hired foreign workers under the H-1B program. This is five times as many inspections as there were last fiscal year.

In a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas commented that the inspections of companies began in July of this year. The program, according to Mayorkas, determines “whether the location of employment actually exists and if a beneficiary is employed at the location specified, performing the duties as described, and paid the salary as identified in the petition.”

This new enforcement initiative has been implemented in tandem with an increase in demands for detailed documentation for foreign worker applications from USCIS.

USCIS Will Accept Uncertified LCAs with H-1B Applications for the Next 120 Days

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced last week that they are implementing a 120-day period in which they will accept H-1B petitions filed without Labor Condition Applications (LCAs) certified by the Department of Labor (DOL).

USCIS has made this amendment to their regulations after receiving requests from members of the public asking them to allow acceptance of H-1B petition filings that include LCAs that have been filed with, but not yet certified by DOL. DOL’s implementation of the iCERT system has resulted in an increase in processing delays for certain LCA certifications. Certain employers and beneficiaries have been negatively affected by these increased processing times, limiting their ability to file H-1B petitions with USCIS in a timely fashion.

In order to accommodate those affected by processing delays of LCAs, USCIS began accepting H-1B petitions with uncertified LCAs on November 5, 2009 and will continue to accept these until March 4, 2010. However, USCIS will only accept such H-1B petitions if they are filed at least seven calendar days after the LCAs were filed with DOL and only if the petitioner provides evidence of this filing.

Department of Homeland Security Finalizing Plan to Collect Fingerprints or Eye Scans from International Travelers Exiting the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is finishing up its proposal to collect either fingerprints or eye scans from all international travelers at U.S. airports as the travelers leave the U.S. This new plan, which would be in effect in two years, would enable the U.S. government to track the 35 million international visitors that leave the country each year, including visitors who may have overstayed their visas. DHS expects the proposal will be submitted to the White House for review and approval by next month.

The proposal has caused concern, especially from those in the airline industry. Originally, the program would have required airlines to pay for the majority of the costs of the program; however, DHS now says it may remove that requirement. The program is expected to cost between $1 and $2 billion over a ten year period; a large portion of the costs will most likely now be paid by taxpayers and international travelers. Additionally, the program would not track international visitors leaving the U.S. at land borders, because of additional costs and associated delays in commerce and transactions. Eighty percent of international travelers depart the U.S. from land borders.

USCIS Posts Update of the Amount of H-1B Petitions Received

USCIS recently posted an update of the amount of H-1B petitions the federal agency has received. As of October 25, 2009, roughly 52,800 H-1B cap-subject petitions and 20,000 H-1B petitions that qualify for the advanced degree cap exemption have been filed with USCIS. A total of 65,000 H-1B visas are available for this fiscal year under the current annual cap limitations. USCIS comments that it will continue to accept cap-subject and advanced degree petitions until it has received enough H-1B petitions to fulfill the limits posed by regulations.

In previous years, USCIS received large amounts of H-1B petitions. In many cases the agency stopped accepting these petitions days or weeks after the initial acceptance date. This year, however, due to the economic recession, the amount of filed petitions is much lower. On April 17, 2009, in their first public notification about this year’s H-1B program, USCIS announced they had received roughly 43,000 H-1B petitions and 20,000 that qualified for the advanced degree cap exemption.