Pre-Adoption Visitation Requirement Changed to One Parent from Two

Only One Parent Required to Travel to Adopt

This past January, President Obama authorized the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which redefines the term “orphan” to fall under the definition of “child” found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Moreover—since signing the new act into law—for adoptions that don’t fall under the purview of the Hague Adoption Convention, it isn’t necessary for both parents to travel before or during the adoption if an adopted child is going to enter the US on an IR-3 visa, which according to INA, allows for automatic US citizenship upon entrance.

Before the new legislation, in order for an adopted child to receive an IR-3 visa, both parents would have to travel to meet the child during the adoption. If only one parent travelled, then the child would enter on an IR-4 visa, and the other parent would need to re-adopt the child in the US for him/her to gain US citizenship. This process became costly and caused delays in the child securing all the benefits of US citizenship.

Revised Forms

USCIS is currently revising the orphan adoption forms, Forms I-600A and I-600. The new versions will likely include the new definition of “orphan”.

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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Special Immigrant Status for Iraqi Nationals

The US government passed Public Law 110-181, which will permit Iraqi nationals, who assisted and were employed by the US government in Iraq for one year and can prove it (i.e. have evidence of their employment), to apply for an immigrant visa to the US.

Yesterday, USCIS announced that Congress has passed a bill extending the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who worked for, or on behalf of, the US government. The President signed the extended bill into law on Oct. 4, 2013.

This program covers Iraqi nationals who — during the period between March 20, 2003 and Sept. 30, 2013 — were employed by, or on behalf of, the US government in Iraq for a period of at least one year. It was created by section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, as amended by Public Law 110-242. The program had expired with respect to principal applicants on Sept. 30, 2013, but has now been extended.

The extension permits USCIS to approve petitions or applications for visas, or adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident in any Iraqi SIV case under section 1244, which were pending with USCIS or with the Department of State (DOS) when the program expired on Sept. 30, 2013. USCIS may also approve an additional 2,000 cases, as long as the initial applications to the DOS Chief-of-Mission in Iraq are made by Dec. 31, 2013.

Spouses and children of principal Iraqi SIVs are also eligible for SIV status. They can continue to make applications, and there is no numerical quota for the number of visas that can be issued to spouses and children of SIV.

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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Comprehensive Immigration Reform’s Proposed Points System

A new element of the immigration reform Senate Bill 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” is coming into play, namely a proposed merit-based points system, similar to ones found in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The points system — an immigration-management tool that will be used to decide who is suitable to enter the US — would allocate new immigrant visas to foreign-born people who meet certain criteria. Each year, the new system would allow between 120,000-250,000 immigrants to obtain immigrant visas through an accumulation of points based on skill, employment history and education. This points-based system is intended to replace the current Diversity Visa Lottery.

The “Desired Immigrant”

This points system shows that the US government does indeed favor a particular type of immigrant, a “desired immigrant”. The system would be more beneficial to certain immigrants over others, like those seeking employment-based immigration. Many immigrants would be at a disadvantage, including women, middle aged and older adults, and those from developing nations. The points system would be divided into characteristics that the US considers beneficial in a visa candidate, such as education, occupation, work experience, English language proficiency and age.

The Two Tiers

PointsFig1PointsFig2

During the fifth fiscal year after the immigration reform bill is passed and the points system is introduced, DHS would assign merit-based visas in two “tiers”, and would give 50% of the visas to applicants with the highest number of points in tier 1, and the other 50% to applicants with the highest number of points in tier 2. Tier 1 is for high-skilled workers and tier 2 is for lower-skilled workers.

The points system favors employment and educational categories over the others; and desires immigrants who are educated, experienced, fluent in English, and young. The system seems to be heavily influenced by economics, placing large value in immigrants’ ability to generate economic worth.

Disadvantaged Immigrants

Moreover, the system is biased against women. Women in other countries frequently have less education and work experience opportunities, allowing the points system to naturally favor men. Though Tier 2 acknowledges women by creating a separate caregiver characteristic, it only grants 10 points, which doesn’t count for much when compared to the employment background characteristic, which totals 40 points.

Family-based immigration is also minimized in the system. Similar to the caregiver characteristic, the siblings or adult sons/daughters of US citizens characteristic only receives 10 points, which, again, doesn’t account for a lot. The system also emphasizes age discrimination and nationality bias, by preferring young immigrants who come from countries with low US migration.

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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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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Information Sharing Between Canada and the US

On December 13, 2012, US Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, and the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney signed a US-Canada Visa and Immigration Information-Sharing Agreement.

The agreement stipulates that the US and Canada are allowed to share information that concerns third country nationals who are applicants for visa or permit to visit the US and Canada. Such sharing will assist in safeguarding and protecting the security of Canadians and Americans, while promoting travel and business. Additionally, information sharing will cultivate improved decision-making by the two countries: visa applicants will be better screened and risks will be identified more quickly. It will also aid both countries in identifying terrorists, violent criminals and those who are a danger to the respective countries. Officers working in both immigration and refugee protection sectors will be given ample information about all applicants.

The US and Canada have the ability to send an automated request for data to each other, in the even that a third country national applies to either country for a visa or asylum. A request will normally have specific information; biographic information would include name and date of birth, whereas biometric sharing would include an anonymous fingerprint. If any information corresponds with a former applicant, then immigration information — such as if a person already applied for a visa and was refused, or was deported from the country — can be shared between the two countries.

Biographic immigration information sharing will begin in 2013, while biometric sharing will begin in 2014.

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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