Issue 127 April 2019

USCIS Announces FY 2020 H-1B Cap Season Start, Updates, and Changes

On March 19, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the start of the fiscal year (FY) 2020 H-1B cap season, start dates for premium processing of cap-subject H-1B petitions, and the launch of its new H-1B data hub, while reminding petitioners of its new H-1B cap selection process. Below are highlights of the changes.

Start of FY 2020 cap season. USCIS began accepting H-1B petitions subject to the FY 2020 cap on April 1, 2019, and will reject any FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions filed before April 1. Form M-735, Optional Checklist for Form I-129 H-1B Filings (PDF, 262 KB), provides detailed information on how to complete and submit a FY 2020 H-1B petition.

Premium processing for FY 2020 cap-subject petitions. Premium processing will be offered in a two-phased approach during the FY 2020 cap season "so USCIS can best manage premium processing requests without fully suspending it as in previous years," the agency said. The first phase will include FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions requesting a change of status. The second phase will include all other FY 2020 cap-subject petitions.

Starting April 1, FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitioners requesting a change of status on their Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, may request premium processing by concurrently filing Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service. However, to prioritize data entry for cap-subject H-1B petitions, USCIS will not begin premium processing for these petitions immediately. USCIS said it will begin premium processing for these petitions by May 20, 2019, and will notify the public before premium processing begins for these petitions. If a petitioner does not file Form I-907 concurrently with a FY 2020 H-1B cap-subject petition requesting a change of status, the petitioner must wait until premium processing begins to submit Form I-907. Until premium processing begins for these petitions, USCIS will reject any Form I-907 that is not filed concurrently with a cap-subject Form I-129. Petitioners must appropriately select response "b" for Item 4 in Part 2 of Form I-129 to be eligible to concurrently file Form I-907, USCIS said.

Premium processing for all other FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions will not start until at least June 2019, the agency noted. Cap-subject petitioners not requesting a change of status may not submit their premium processing requests concurrently with their H-1B petitions. These petitioners will be eligible to upgrade to premium processing by filing Form I-907 once premium processing begins for this group. USCIS said it will notify the public with a confirmed date for premium processing for cap-subject petitioners not requesting a change of status.

At this time, premium processing for H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap, such as extension of stay requests, remains available, USCIS said.

New H-1B data hub. USCIS also announced a new "H-1B Employer Data Hub" that will be available on uscis.gov on April 1, 2019. The data hub is part of USCIS's "continued effort to increase the transparency of the H-1B program by allowing the public to search for H-1B petitioners by fiscal year, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry code, company name, city, state, or zip code. This will give the public the ability to calculate approval and denial rates and to review which employers are using the H-1B program," USCIS said.

New H-1B cap selection process. In January, the Department of Homeland Security announced a final rule amending regulations governing cap-subject H-1B petitions, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. The final rule reverses the order by which USCIS selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption, which will be in effect for the FY 2020 cap season. This change "increases the chances that more of these visas will be granted to those with an advanced degree from a U.S. institution of higher education," USCIS said.

More details are available at https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-announces-fy-2020-h-1b-cap-season-start-updates-and-changes. NAICS information and codes are available at https://www.naics.com/search/.

April Visa Bulletin Notes Movement in Many Employment-Based Categories

The Department of State's Visa Bulletin for April 2019 notes that Final Action Date movement in many employment-based preference categories continues to be greater than might ordinarily be expected. This is anticipated to continue for at least the next few months.

The Department explained that this movement is a direct result of fewer applicants proceeding to final action on their cases at consular posts abroad and at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices. Once large numbers of applicants begin to have their cases brought to final action, final action date movements will necessarily slow or stop, the bulletin says. Moreover, in some categories, final action date retrogression is a possibility if demand levels are excessive. Therefore, the recent rates of final action date advances will not continue indefinitely, but the bulletin notes that "it is not possible to say at present when they will end."

The April 2019 Visa Bulletin is at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin/2019/visa-bulletin-for-april-2019.html.

Trump Administration Plans to Close USCIS International Operations

According to reports, the Trump administration plans to close international U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices by the end of 2019. USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna told senior staff that the agency's International Operations Division, which operates in more than 20 countries, will be closed down. The duties of those offices will be transferred to U.S. embassies and consulates and to domestic U.S. offices and the Department of State (DOS), if DOS agrees. USCIS personnel staffing those offices will return to the United States.

DOS said if it reaches such an interagency agreement, "we anticipate a smooth transition and continued efficient processing of USCIS-related work at all of our missions overseas." DOS has more than 200 posts worldwide.

Director Cissna said in an email to staff that the closures will "better leverage our funds to address backlogs in the United States while also leveraging existing [DOS] resources at post." He noted that change "can be difficult and can cause consternation. I want to assure you we will work to make this as smooth a transition as possible for each of our USCIS staff while also ensuring that those utilizing our services may continue to do so and our agency operations continue undisrupted.

In addition to helping people apply for immigration benefits, these offices provide assistance in such tasks as helping U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including military personnel abroad, bring family members to the United States or help them apply for U.S. citizenship; international adoptions; refugee resettlement; and immigration fraud investigations.

According to the International Operations (IO) Division's website, the division's work includes reuniting families, enabling adoptive children to come to join permanent families in the United States, considering parole requests from individuals outside the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, and providing information services and travel documents to people around the world, including those with unique needs and circumstances. "Operating in a dynamic global environment with constantly changing political, cultural, environmental, and socio-economic contexts, IO has approximately 240 employees located in the U.S. and in three international districts composed of 24 field offices in 21 countries. Our employees are highly diverse and include foreign nationals in addition to U.S. citizens; foreign nationals make up more than half of the IO staff working abroad and approximately one-third of all IO employees."

Immigration advocates expressed concerns about further discouraging immigrants and disengaging the United States from the rest of the world. Barbara Strack, former chief of USCIS' Refugee Affairs Division, said the closures would "throw [the legal immigration system] into chaos around the world." She warned that the move would "smack all government employees abroad, including folks in the military, who have a foreign spouse or kids they are trying to bring to the U.S. legally."

More information about IO is at https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/directorates-and-program-offices/refugee-asylum-and-international-operations-directorate/international-operations/international-operations.

USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for All H-1B Petitions

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has resumed premium processing for all H-1B petitions as of March 12, 2019. All H-1B petitions may be upgraded to premium processing or filed originally with a request for premium processing.

In recent years, USCIS has discontinued premium processing for H-1B cap cases in April to allow sufficient time for application of the lottery and receipting-in of selected petitions. Last year, the agency extended the suspension of premium processing well beyond the cap filing season and expanded the suspension to include most H-1B petitions.

In January 2019, premium processing was restored for FY 2019 cap-subject petitions that were filed in April 2018 and remained pending. In February, USCIS resumed premium processing for non-cap H-1B petitions filed before December 21, 2018. Now USCIS has restored premium processing for all H-1B petitions.

It is not clear whether the agency will continue premium processing for all H-1B petitions once H-1B cap petitions are filed in the first week of April. It is possible that USCIS could discontinue premium processing again for H-1B cap petitions or even other types of petitions.

To request an upgrade to premium processing for pending petitions that have received a Request for Evidence (RFE), petitioners should include their request for premium processing, along with the required fee, when submitting the response to the RFE. The USCIS filing fee for premium processing is $1,410, which guarantees action on the petition within 15 calendar days of USCIS's receiving the request. If USCIS does not take adjudicative action within the 15-day window, the agency refunds the petitioner's premium processing fee and continues with expedited processing of the petition.

The USCIS notice, which includes additional details about where to send premium processing requests in the event of a transfer, is at https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-resumes-premium-processing-all-h-1b-petitions.