USCIS wants to increase fees!

USCIS proposes increasing filing fees of a lot of commonly used applications.  Most of them are for business immigration filings and family based immigration applications.  See some of the proposed fee increases below.

You can make a comment on the fee increase until July 5, 2016. USCIS depends on the fees to pay for its services. So USCIS was one of the few agencies not affected by the government shut down last year.

Proposed fees

Form Purpose Current Fee Proposed Increase Change
I-129 For Worker $325 $460 +$135
I-130 For Family immigration $420 $535 +$115
I-140 For Work based immigration $580 $700 +$120
I-485 Work/Family GC* $1,070 $1,225 +$155
I-539 Change visas $290 $370 +$80
I-765 Work authorization $385 $410 +$30
I-90 Renew GC $365 $455 +$90
I-129F Fiancé Visa $340 $535 +$195
I-751 Get a 10 year GC* $505 $595 +$90
N-400 Naturalize $595 $640 +$45
N-600 Citizenship Certificate $600 $1170 +$570

*Green Card

Nalini S Mahadevan, Esq

P: 314.932.7111  nsm@mlolaw.us   www.mlolaw.us

Disclaimer: Please do not rely on this blog for legal advice.  Call me if you want to get advice and sign an engagement letter with my law firm.

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Was I chosen in the H1B lottery?

The only way to know for sure that the application was rejected is when the application is returned with the fee checks, or no receipt is received a week from May 2nd, 2016, when all the applications that were chosen were entered in the database.  Another indication of an application being chosen is of course the fees being debited from the attorney’s bank account.

There is no process for inquiring about rejected applications with USCIS.

So hang tight and wait for your receipt or returned application.

Nalini S Mahadevan, Esq. – nsm@mlolaw.us – 314.932.7111 – www.mlolaw.us

Of course you know this is not legal advice and you must consult your own attorney!

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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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E-Verify returns!

E-Verify has resumed operations following the federal government shutdown. All E-Verify features and services are now available.

Information for Employers

Form I-9
The Form I-9 requirements were not affected during the federal government shutdown. All employers were required to complete and retain a Form I-9 for every person hired to work for pay in the US during the shutdown.

E-Verify
Employees who received a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC):
If an employee had a TNC referred between September 17, 2013 and September 30, 2013, and was not able to resolve the TNC due to the federal government shutdown, employers must add 12 federal business days to the date printed on the ‘Referral Letter’ or ‘Referral Date Confirmation’. Employees have until this new date to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to resolve their cases. If employers have an employee who decided to contest his or her TNC while E-Verify was unavailable, an employer should now initiate the referral process in E-Verify. Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because of a TNC.

Steps to take if an employee has received a SSA Final Nonconfirmation (FNC) or DHS No Show result:
If an employee received a Final Nonconfirmation (FNC) or No Show because of the federal government shutdown, please close the case and select “The employee continues to work for the employer after receiving a Final Nonconfirmation result,” or “The employee continues to work for the employer after receiving a No Show result.” The employer must then enter a new case in E-Verify for that employee. These steps are necessary to ensure the employee is afforded the opportunity to timely contest and resolve the Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC) that led to the FNC result.

Creating Cases: Three-Day Rule
You must create an E-Verify case for each employee hired during or otherwise affected by the shutdown by November 5, 2013. If you are prompted to provide a reason why the case is late (i.e., does not conform to the three-day rule), select ‘Other’ from the drop-down list of reasons and enter ‘federal government shutdown’ in the field.

Federal Contractor Deadlines
During the federal government shutdown, federal contractors could not enroll or use E-Verify as required by the federal contractor rule. If your organization missed a deadline because E-Verify was unavailable, or if it has an upcoming deadline for complying with the federal contractor rule, please follow the instructions above and notify your contracting officer of these instructions.

Information For Employees

If the federal government shutdown prevented you from contesting a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC), you will be allowed additional time to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If your TNC was referred between September 17, 2013 and September 30, 2013, and you were not able to resolve the mismatch due to the federal government shutdown, you should:

  • Add 12 federal business days to the date printed on the ‘Referral Letter’ or ‘Referral Date Confirmation’ that your employer gave you after you contested the TNC. Federal business days are Monday through Friday, and do not include federal holidays.
  • Contact SSA or DHS by the new date to resolve your TNC.
  • If you received a Final Non-Confirmation (FNC) because you could not contact DHS or SSA during the federal government shutdown, or because you could not contact DHS or SSA in the first ten days after the government reopened, please contact your employer and request that the employer re-enter your query. For more information about contesting your TNC or FNC, please refer to Employee section of the E-Verify website.

Customer Support

E-Verify Customer Support expects an increase in requests for assistance. Due to this increase, customers may experience longer than normal delays and response times. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your patience.

For any questions or additional information about how the federal shutdown affects E-Verify, please email E-Verify@dhs.gov. For questions about Form I-9, please visit I-9 Central or email I-9Central@dhs.gov. Employers and employees may also contact E-Verify at 888-464-4218. Customer Support representatives are available Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm local 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 2013. All rights reserved.

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Government Shutdown Affects Employers with Foreign Workers

We sent an alert to our clients a couple of days ago when we felt that the Federal Government shutdown was imminent. We didn’t really expect it to happen but it did! The shutdown is unfortunately affecting US immigration services, so writing about action to be taken or postponed for pending immigration applications became imperative.

The websites of the US Department of Labor (US DOL) are no longer functional because it is considered a non-essential service. For employers, this means that if there is a current or potential employee who has to start, extend or transfer to a new employer, the employer will not be able to file a labor condition application for an H1B visa. The implication is that no application for the H1B visa can be filed with USCIS because that application has to be supported by a certified labor condition application (LCA). In the past, when there was a prolonged outage of the US DOL website, USCIS allowed employers to file with uncertified LCAs. We hope this happens with this shutdown, if it is prolonged.

For employees whose cases are pending audit on a PERM case; or if a prevailing wage determination or Form 9089 (PERM application) is either to be filed, or has been filed or is pending with the US DOL, no action will be issued by the agency until the shutdown has been terminated.

USCIS is functional because it is a fee-for-service agency. Biometrics collection is used for many immigrant applications, as well as for re-entry permits required for multinational employees who have a green card through employment but are currently stationed overseas. Biometric services for employees are also still being collected.

US Department of State consulates are currently functional, processing visa stamps and interviews. These services are supported by a mix of fees and federal budget allocation: if the shutdown is prolonged, or if there is a budgetary crisis, then there may be a suspension of services at the consulates for both US citizens and non-citizen consular services. The budgetary crisis could impact both employment-based and other categories of visa issuance, including visitor and business visas. If business travelers want to attend or plan to attend meetings and conferences in the US, please plan to obtain a visa while consular services are still available.

The Social Security Administration is open with limited service; issue of Social Security cards has been suspended. Hence, new visa-based employees will be unable to obtain new social security numbers, which could impact I-9 forms. Although collection of social security numbers is optional, if the employer is an E-verify employer, the employer is required to collect a social security number for work authorization verification. Certain federal and state contractors are also mandated to collect this information. To alleviate this problem, the 3-day rule for E-verify is suspended for those cases affected by the shutdown. Employers may not take adverse action against employees because of the employee’s E-verify interim status.

Wage payments to some new non-immigrants may be a problem because of the non-availability of the social security number. New J non-immigrant visa holders who cannot obtain social security numbers should approach their sponsoring agency for direction.

E-verify is unavailable during the shutdown. Consequently, USCIS, which administers the program, will not be issuing non-confirmation letters (TNC), and employers will be unable to verify work authorization of new employees. Current time to process TNCs has been extended; but the obligation to collect, maintain and process Form I-9 continues as an employer mandate.

Border security is an essential service – there will be no shutdown of services at the border, but travelers are expected to face slowdowns in screening and higher security.

US Passport services, which are a fee-for-service program, are not affected by the slowdown. Of course the severity of the impact will depend on the length of the shutdown. We will post updates as they become available.

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 2013. All rights reserved.

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E-Verify & Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Another new component to immigration reform Senate Bill 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act”, is coming out of the woodwork. The new legislation calls for an extended, nationwide computer network of driver’s license photographs and biographic information of US citizens, run by DHS’s USCIS.

Seven percent of US employers use a similar network, the DHS-run system E-Verify, which helps USCIS to validate identity and legal status of new hires. The broadened network comes from the need to further prevent fraud during the hiring process, by allowing employers to re-verify any photographic or biographic identification presented by new workers. The system would ultimately make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to secure jobs in the US.

E-Verify isn’t mandatory in all states: those US employers who utilize the system, do so voluntarily. If the new immigration bill passes, then E-Verify will have to undergo significant expansions, obligating all employers to send new employee — both foreigners and citizens — information to the system, in order to prove work eligibility.

Many fear that a nationwide computer network will be akin to a national ID system, allowing the government to keep tabs on its citizens. Another fear is that an expanded system would be available to other federal agencies, such as TSA or FBI, which would mainly use it to find suspects.

The federal government assures us that E-Verify doesn’t maintain its own information — it instead taps into other systems to establish information; the information vanishes once the task is accomplished. However, privacy guidelines released by DHS affirm that E-Verify can, depending on the situation, “give law enforcement agencies extracts of information on potential fraud, discrimination or other illegal activities, which points to information gathering at some level and analysis of identity data.”

If passed, the Senate bill will present grants to the states that give DHS access to their driver’s license photo records, clarifying that such access wouldn’t breach federal privacy law. Mississippi is the only state that has given DHS admission to its motor vehicle database, but only for biographic information and not photographs.

The Senate bill does not directly forbid DHS, or any other government agency, from using the information for anything other than work authorization, unlike the law that administers the census.

The Takeaway

E-verify is very likely to become mandatory for all employers, as it is supported by The Chamber of Commerce and employers. The issue of misuse of sensitive and private  information has been enhanced by the leaks of NSA surveillance methods; clearly these dangers need to be balanced with the needs for a workplace security.

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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Facts About Immigrants in Missouri

In 1990, the percentage of foreign-born in Missouri was only 1.6%; since then, Missouri’s cultural makeup has changed drastically to include large amounts of Latinos, Asians and other immigrant populations. Missouri’s current foreign-born population is 4%; 41.6% of “New Americans” in Missouri have become naturalized citizens who can vote. About 5% of Missouri’s ‘New Americans’ are either Latino or Asian.

These New Americans also contribute economically to Missouri as business owners, workers, professionals, tax-payers and consumers. Together, Latinos and Asians possess $9.8 billion in consumer purchasing power — their businesses make $5.1 billion and employ 34,000 people. Foreign students also enrich the community: Missouri’s total of 16,061 foreign students contribute $417.9 million to the state’s economy.

A little bit of food for thought: if Missouri’s unauthorized immigrants — which total 1.3% of our workforce — were deported from the state, we would lose $2.3 billion in economic activity and roughly 13,859 jobs.

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 Is I-94 so important?

Form I-94 and its Uses

This piece of paper that measures 4×5 inches is how a non-immigrant visa (NIV) holder proves that he or she has exited the country. Clients often call us because they were told when they re-entered the US that they did not surrender their Form I-94 on exit. The paper is also very important to international students because it shows that they are here for the duration of the status of their visa — i.e. they do not have to exit until their program is over, and this stay could, under the right circumstances, exceed the length of their stamped visa. The I-94 is also used for Form I-9 purposes, to record the foreign passport, visa and I-94 number, and serves as a List A document for purposes of worker identity and work authorization. No other document needs to be produced by the worker as eligibility to work, which protects both the employer and employee.

Now with the electronic I-94, the apple cart has been tipped! Years of procedure and practice are to be replaced by a new process that State DMVs, federal agencies and employers need to learn. Software has to be amended to accept electronic I-94 cards.  The good news is that a duplicate I-94 can be printed as long as the NIV is in the US; the I-94 record disappears as soon as the NIV exits the US.

Form I-102 should still be used to correct mistakes in the record (filing fee $330); however, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) should be contacted in case of mistakes in the I-94 passport stamp. If CBP issued you Form I-94, I-94W, or I-95 with incorrect information (ex: misspelled name, incorrect date of birth, visa classification or date of admission), you should not file Form I-102. You will need to go in person to the nearest CBP port of entry (POE), or the nearest CBP deferred inspection office (DIO), to have the information corrected. For locations and hours of operation, visit CBP’s website at www.cbp.gov.

If you would like more information, please read my overview of electronic I-94.

More resources:
FAQ on what to enter to retrieve an I-94
How to obtain a copy of the new I-94
ICE I-94 Fact Sheet

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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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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