Massachusetts’ Immigrant Program for Students

Massachusetts has created a loophole program, called Global Entrepreneur in Residence (GER), to permit foreign students to stay legally in the US.

Foreign students who attended college in Massachusetts and who want to pursue entrepreneurial activities in the state can apply to the GER Program, which is being run by the Massachusetts Tech Collaborative, an independent state agency designed to promote the advancement of technology in the state. Chosen individuals will be given a job at a participating universities in Massachusetts—the students will work part-time and will submit visa applications sponsored by the university. The program is expected to grow 46,000 jobs for students.

US immigration law dictates that foreign students can study at US colleges and universities under a student visa—after they graduate, their visas expire and they have to find a US employer to sponsor them for an H-1B visa. The H-1B visa system inherently poses a disadvantage for entrepreneurs, the system only allows for a once-per-year application process—in the form of a lottery—and the slots fill up quickly. On April 7, 2014, USCIS reported that it had secured its quota of 85,000 H-1B visa petitions only five days after it began receiving applications.

This is why the GER Program’s loophole is important: colleges and universities are immune to the cap and can submit applications for employers at any time. This means foreign graduates have a higher chance of obtaining a visa through the GER Program, and through employment with higher-education institutions, because these institutions are exempt from the cap.

The House bill proposed to devise a new category of startup visas for foreign entrepreneurs, while also raising the amount of H-1B visas accessible to immigrants with advanced degrees. While the Massachusetts program is yet to be funded, this is a great start for foreign graduates whom the US needs to retain!

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri
nsm@mlolaw.us

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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The US needs more H1B visas

The Visa Lottery

On April 7, USCIS announced that it had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 visas for fiscal year (FY) 2015. USCIS has also received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS received about 172,500 H-1B petitions during the filing period which began April 1, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. On April 10, 2014, USCIS completed a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption. For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees, unless it is found to be a duplicate filing.

Advanced Degrees Get Two Bites of the Apple

The agency conducted the selection process for the advanced degree exemption first. All advanced degree petitions not selected then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit.

On March 25, USCIS announced that they would begin premium processing for H-1B cap cases no later than April 28.

Non-Cap-Based H1B Visa Applications

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap will not be counted towards the Congressionally mandated FY 2015 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:

  •  Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

Premium Processing H-1B Visas

USCIS provides premium processing service for certain employment-based petitions and guarantees a 15-calendar-day processing time.

USCIS will continue to accept Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, with fee, concurrently with the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, during the time period that premium processing is unavailable. Petitioners may also upgrade a pending H-1B cap petition to premium processing once USCIS issues a receipt notice.

While the Form I-797 receipt notice indicates the date USCIS received the premium processing fee, the 15-day processing period set by 8 CFR 103.7(e)(2) will begin no  later than April 28, 2014. This allows for USCIS to take-in the anticipated high number of filings, conduct the lottery to determine which cases meet the cap, and prepare the volume of cases for premium and regular processing.

The 15-day processing period for premium processing service for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap, or for any other eligible classification, continues to begin on the date that the request is received.

Clearly, since there are so many applications, more visas should be issued. The cost of non-availability of specialized knowledge workers for the US economy is enormous!

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

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The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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Can OPT lead to H1B?

As we get into the H1B filing season for 2015 (H1Bs are filed in 2014 for the following year), students on F1 visas and their employers are anxious about being selected in the H1B lottery.

This year like last, I suspect the demand will overwhelm availability of H1B visas for student and other applicants. Last year, USCIS received 124,000 applications for 65,000 H1B visas, including 20,000 H1B visas set aside for US Master degree holders.

STEM Students

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students are at an advantage. They are able to avail of OPT (optional practical training) for 29 months, and hence get two bites of the H1B apple. They can apply this year and the next while maintaining status in F visa and being lawfully present in the US.

The advantage is that the student:

  • Can work full time.
  • Would qualify for the cap gap extension.
  • Can apply for the 17-month extension

The Takeaway

In essence, a STEM student on 29 month OPT gets 2 bites of the H1B apple, because the sponsoring employer is able to apply again the following year if the student is not selected in the H1B lottery the first time.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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A Second Look at Comprehensive Immigration Reform

In February, I wrote about why comprehensive immigration reform has a chance to pass this year; now, it’s time to discuss how immigration reform can strengthen the US as a whole.

Immigration reform has heavy bipartisan support, spearheaded by President Obama and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (FL). Sen. Rubio is a member of the “Gang of Eight”, the four Democrat and four Republican Senators who have introduced new immigration legislation to Congress — Rubio has also assumed the role of spokesperson for the pending bill in the Senate. The House is also sponsoring several other bills on immigration.

There are security and economic reasons for the US to reform its immigration policy, both of which will have a major impact on the US economy.

The Security Side and the Impact on Employers

Immigration reform is not going to happen without enhanced border security and metrics to measure the levels of security reached. Another measure of security to guarantee a legal workforce is to make both E-verify and Form I-9 compliance mandatory for all employers.  Senate has already earmarked $110 million dollars to these programs — employers should see new compliance regulations soon after a new immigration bill has passed.

In addition, electronic checking of departures by CBP will ensure that non-immigrants depart on the date their authorized stay expires, according to their Form I-94 record. Departures are currently recorded with a paper I-94, which is surrendered upon exiting the US. The new electronic I-94 will record departures from passenger manifests issued by airlines. Entries are currently recorded, but exits from the US are not recorded uniformly at all ports. In addition, the new bill will mandate that all passports be electronically read, which would reduce human error.

It is a misconception that highly skilled visa holders somehow depress US wages. On the contrary, where certain technical skills are in short supply, employers pay top dollar wages for visa holders and high fees to the federal government, as well as jump through legal hurdles to employ these workers. The cost of employing a foreign worker is more expensive than a domestic worker.

The Economic Side

Granting legal status to more immigrants will relieve our labor shortages in both high-skill and low-skill arenas. The educational background of native-born Americans typically includes high school and college education — few are without high school diplomas, and hardly any have Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). The educational background of immigrants, on the other hand, is quite different: while many lack high school education, others hold Ph.D.s in STEM fields.

Most of the debate on immigration reform has focused on giving legal status to undocumented immigrants, upon the condition that they pay fees and back taxes. This will certainly have positive effects on our economy; however, we have more to gain from immigrants, both young and old, who, after gaining legal status, decide to further their careers in the US. Once these immigrants feel reassured about their future in the US, they will be more willing to invest in their careers.

One of our current problems is that many skill workers have trouble gaining a foothold onto the path to citizenship. Foreign entrepreneurs and technologists who study in the US are often denied works visas and return to their home country to find success. This issue is both stunting economic growth and causing a brain drain in America.

The number of available temporary visas is rarely revised and is still dependent upon caps and quotas. Our economic conditions have not been taken into consideration. Increasing visas both for high skilled workers, and lower skilled entrants in agriculture and forestry, could have a positive effect on wages and reduce the number of illegal entrants and overstays.

Immigrants also bolster our productivity growth. According to the Wall Street Journal, foreign scientists and engineers, who came to the US with an H1B visa, contributed 10-20% of the yearly productivity growth in the US from 1990-2010. Attracting innovators to our country will undoubtedly create more jobs, as more innovation means more labs, universities and companies doing research. Yet, the US’s H1B visa program only creates 65,000 visas per year for highly skilled workers. That amount has proved to be insufficient, as H1B visas quotas fill very quickly as in the last cap.

There are clear economic and security needs for streamlined and comprehensive immigration reform, and lawmakers and politicians must take action. Congress is set to vote on immigration reform before the July 4 congressional recess.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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H1B cap has reached!

USCIS received 124,000 H1B visa applications from Monday April 1, 2013 to Friday April 5, 2013 — the cap has not been filled this fast for about 4 years. The number of applications received includes both cap subject bachelor degree holders and US Master Degree holders for whom a special 20,000 visas are allotted.

US Master degree holders get two bites of the apple, when it comes to ‘cap’ time. All US Master degree applications not counted towards the 20,000 cap will be considered again in the regular cap of 65,000 visas. Master degree applications are subject to the lottery first, before the bachelor degree holders. Please keep in mind also that this 65,000 number is reduced by 5,800 visas set aside for Chile and Singapore, under Free Trade Treaties that the US has signed with these countries. The unused visas from this ‘carve out’ is added back to the general pool of available cap subject visas.

USCIS announced that it conducted a lottery to allot visas using a computer generated selection process on Sunday, April 7, 2013. All those applications not selected will be returned to the employers or attorneys. Of course, the return process may not occur for a while, as applications are vetted for accuracy and correct application fees. Application fees will be returned with the applications if the package is not selected in the lottery.

H1B applications filed with premium processing will be processed in 15 days, if they are selected in the lottery.

No more applications will be accepted by USCIS, but H1B applications to change employers, or extension of visa applications filed by non-profit employers and concurrent H1B employment, can still be filed with USCIS.

The Takeaway

Contact your Senator and Congressional representative to encourage an increase in the number of visas available for H1B visas. H1B visas filed by entrepreneurs are also subject to the cap. Entrepreneurs are employment multipliers for the U.S. economy.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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2014 H1B Cap Might Hit in the First Week

Speculation about the H1B visa cap has been all-consuming in the business community. For 2014, USCIS has stated that all 65,000 H1B visas, and 20,000 H1B visas reserved for US Masters degree holders, would be finished in the first 5 days of filing from April 1 (Monday) to April 5 (Friday).

USCIS also stated that it would monitor the number of petitions received and notify the public of the date on which the numerical limit of the H-1B cap had been met, which is called the final receipt date. If USCIS receives more than 85,000 visa application petitions (regular and cap visas, disregarding the carve-outs for Singapore and Chile under Free Trade Agreements signed by the US with those countries), USCIS will use a lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions required to reach the limit of 85,000 visas.

USCIS will reject petitions that are subject to the cap and are not selected. USCIS will also reject any petitions that are received after the necessary number of petitions needed to meet the cap are filled. The last time USCIS conducted a lottery for the H-1B cap was in April of 2008.

The Consequences

Pronouncements like this have led to a frantic need to file on the first day, so that the cap is not missed. The problem is that this artificial season does not necessarily meet the hiring cycles for US business and employers. In other words, US business employment practices are artificially constrained by the necessity to tailor employment hiring practices to coincide with a start on April 1. Depending on the industry, employers hire throughout the year, varying with the ebbs and flow of business.

The Takeaway

Immigration reform proposed by the 8 Senators has a more realistic view of the business world — i.e. releasing visas as the demand grows, in a stepped up basis. Now that we are talking about the ‘reality’ on the ground for employers and business, could we have a more realistic PERM labor system? I know, if wishes were horses…. But I can dream the immigration dream, can’t I?

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Why Comprehensive Immigration Reform Has a Chance to Pass This Year

Since President Obama was inaugurated for his second term, he has made Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) a key policy initiative for his administration. Interest groups from the left and right, and even some Republicans, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are also in support of a comprehensive overhaul of US immigration laws.

Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State in the Bush Administration), Henry Cisneros (former Housing and Urban Development Secretary) and Haley Barbour (former Mississippi Governor) are three of 4 leaders spearheading a high profile group by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. The group’s aim is to act as a sounding board, and to assist and shepherd the initiative into law by the summer of 2013.

Bipartisan support continues, as Senators from both parties have also offered Obama a framework of principles that they hope will be included in CIR. This bipartisan group consists of eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans: Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

A Round Up of Ideas Offered by Proponents

The draft of the Senators’ proposed bill, entitled the “Immigration Innovation Act”, increases available H1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 visas every year. It will create a market-based H1B escalator, which will allow for additional visas if the cap is hit early during the filing season, with a ceiling of 300,000 visas. The visas will be adjusted based on market demands.

The 20,000 H1B visa cap for US Masters and PhD students will also be abolished, allowing the US employer to employ foreign students of US universities with advanced degrees without limit.

This bill will provide the ‘plug and play’ workers needed by all sectors of industry, whether it be healthcare or hospitality; workers who are ready to hit the ground running, and keep services for the American consumer consistently available.

In addition, there is a proposal to allow dependents of H1B visas to work on their H4 visas.  Of course, there will be an increase in the filing fee, dedicated to worker re-training at the state level in technical fields.

The senators’ framework stipulates that, before illegal US immigrants can attain “probationary legal status”, they must pass a background check, as well as pay fines and back taxes. Illegal immigrants with serious criminal backgrounds will not be eligible for legal status. Additionally, the framework states that illegal immigrants will not be granted work authorization until the government increases enforcement, such as expanded border surveillance, to protect and secure the nation’s borders.

The President’s Plan Is Not So Differrent

Obama’s proposal for immigration reform comes in four parts:

  1. Strengthen our borders;
  2. crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers;
  3. hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; and
  4. streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.

Earned Citizenship

Almost 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the US. Obama proposes to give undocumented immigrants the legal means necessary to earn citizenship, which will also persuade them to come out from hiding and pay their taxes and adhere to the rules. Illegal immigrants will be held accountable: before they can obtain citizenship, they must pass national security and criminal background checks, pay back taxes and penalties, learn English, and go to the back of the line. Young people will also have the chance to gain citizenship faster if they seek higher education or serve in the military.

Mandatory E-verify

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has introduced a mandatory E-Verify bill, which will require all employers to verify the authorized work status of their US workers. Today, the E-Verify system is voluntary; however, Sen. Grassley’s bill requires all employers to comply within 1 year of enactment. The bill will reduce employer’s liability for wrongful termination, and use E-verify to screen an applicant with his/her consent. The bill also imposes a mandate on the Social Security Administration to develop algorithms to detect multiple users of single Social Security numbers.

How will CIR help our economy?

Our economy demands legal immigration that is simple and adept, so that it encourages the best and the brightest to remain in the USA. A shorter wait for permanent resident status for the highly educated immigrants will boost the economy — if it is easier for STEM graduates to stay in the US, they will bolster and create industries, therefore creating jobs.

University education in the US will get a boost from the revenues generated by foreign students and their families; estimates put the revenue generated by foreign students at about $20 to $40 billion dollars every year. Often, American universities spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars educating these students, only to lose them to Canada, Australia, UK and Europe, or the students’ home countries. A chance for these students to remain in the US and pursue their academic and entrepreneurial dreams will add to the economy.

The taxes collected from the highly educated will help ensure that our Social Security and Medicare budgets are met. This revenue stream will be enhanced by offering a chance for a legalized workforce to pay employment-based taxes. These taxes will reduce the strain on American social systems, such as hospitals and schools. A legal workforce will be paid the mandated prevailing wage. Without a Social Security Number, a worker cannot open a bank account, buy car insurance, obtain a driver’s license, or attend school or college. Hence, a legalized workforce will provide a boost to the insurance, banking and finance industries, and increase wages for all, as employers will now pay the legal minimum wage.

The proposals all call for supplemental visas so that foreign entrepreneurs wanting to begin startups, and foreign graduate students with STEM degrees, will either come to the US to work or remain in the US post-graduation. We want, and need, the best and brightest minds for the US to flourish.

See you in my next blog.

Nalini S Mahadevan, JD, MBA
Immigration Attorney
Lowenbaum Partnership, LLC
St. Louis, Missouri

The information is not meant to create a client-attorney relationship. This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Situations may differ based on the facts.

Tara Mahadevan

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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