U.S. Visa Operations Reduced at Consulates in Russia

The Department of State has temporarily suspended all nonimmigrant visa operations at U.S. consular offices in Russia, due to the personnel cap imposed by the Russian government. The suspension starts August 23, 2017, and reduced operations will resume on September 1, 2017. At that time, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. This will likely cause backlogs in appointment and processing times, with the Embassy giving priority to diplomatic applications and those involving medical or family emergencies.

The Department has posted a Fact Sheet with further details https://ru.usembassy.gov/fact-sheet/. 

New Form I-9

USCIS has released a new version of Form I-9, https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central/whats-new. This new version of the form can be used now, or employers can continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16 for the next couple of months. 

Starting on September 18, 2017, the new version of the form (which contains a revision date of 07/17/17 N) will be mandatory. This means employers must start using the new version of Form I-9 for employees hired on or after September 18. Employers are not required to go back and replace any forms completed for employees hired prior to that date.

The new form contains just a few changes, outlined below. Although the changes are minor, it is critical that employers start using the new version on or before September 18, as failure to use the correct form version can result in significant fines.

  • The List of Acceptable Documents was changed to:
    • Add the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240) to List C. 
    • Combine all the certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350 and Form FS-240) into selection C#2 in List C.
    • Renumber the List C documents.
  • The  Form I-9 instructions were revised to:
    • Change the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name, Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.
    • Remove “the end of” from the phrase “the first day of employment,” which makes the language consistent with the regulation.
  • These changes are also reflected in a revised Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274).

H-1B Cap Notifications On The Way

As of May 3, 2017, USCIS has just completed data entry for H-1B cap cases received last month. All receipt notices and rejected petitions are now being sent. Based on experience from past years, it could take weeks for all notifications to be sent.

We have received many calls asking if all hope is gone for H-1B lottery selection. This announcement makes it clear that the answer is No, Hope is Not Lost! As in past years, the data entry, mailing and notification process takes time (weeks, even a month or two). Just because you've heard of others who have received receipt notices, or even rejected petitions, that does not mean all notifications have been sent. USCIS only completed data entry two days ago - the time for processing receipts and rejection notices, and then mailing out all those notices, takes time. 

We will not know the status of your case, and will not have a case number, until a receipt notice or rejection notice is received. As stated in its announcement "Due to the high volume of filings, USCIS is unable to provide a definite time frame for returning these petitions. USCIS asks petitioners not to inquire about the status of submitted cap-subject petitions until they receive a receipt notice or an unselected petition is returned. USCIS will issue an announcement once all the unselected petitions have been returned."

We will keep you updated as new announcements are released!

H-1B Cap Exceeded, Even With Reduced Filings

Although the number of H-1B filings was down for this year's cap, the cap was greatly exceeded and a lottery selection has been made. Of the 199,000 petitions submitted, approximately 85,000 H-1Bs will be granted. 

Receipt notices are being sent for those lucky enough to have made the lottery, with rejection packages expected soon thereafter. In past years, the notifications have taken weeks to send out, even up to a couple of months.

Compared to prior years, the number of submissions this year was down. Last year, 236,000 petitions were submitted for the H-1B cap, and 233,000 the year before. Even with the drop to 199,000 this year, this still leaves applicants with about a 50/50 chance to make the lottery. And not all cases selected in the lottery will be approved. USCIS accepts more than 85,000 petitions based on an algorithm predicting the number of cases it expects to deny.  

The USCIS announcement regarding the H-1B lottery selection is available here: https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-completes-h-1b-cap-random-selection-process-fy-2018

Current State of Affairs - UPDATE

UPDATE to the post below - Effective February 3, 2017 the Executive Order affecting travel is on hold due to a temporary restraining order. 

A lot has happened in the past week. An Executive Order was signed that restricted visas and travel for a number of immigrants, various U.S. agencies issued statements and interpretations of that order, several lawsuits were filed and injunctions issued, and today we have implementation of the order that is quite different from the original - with continued changes expected. And on top of all that, the rumor mill is going full speed with what we might expect next.

So let's stop, take a moment, and see what we actually have right now.

  • The Executive Order no longer applies to U.S. lawful permanent residents.
  • The Executive Order no longer applies to dual nationals who are using a passport from a country that is *not* on the list of restricted countries.
  • Landed immigrants of Canada (not including refugees) who hold a passport from one of the restricted countries, who have a valid U.S. immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, and whose travel originates in Canada and is through a land border or Preclearance location, may travel to the United States.
  • There are *no* current plans to expand the travel ban beyond the listed countries. The Department of State has specifically asked that we help stop these rumors! 
  • For individuals who are from one of the listed countries, and who would use a passport or travel document from one of those countries when traveling (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), it is recommended that you remain in the U.S. if you are here already and *not* leave the country.
  • A court order effective in Massachusetts until February 5 temporarily lifts the travel ban, effectively applying to flights to Boston only. At least one airline, Lufthansa, is permitting individuals to board flights to Boston during this period: http://www.lufthansa.com/us/en/Travel-information.
  • Refugee admissions remain on hold, although it is possible that some of the court injunctions could open them back up. We are watching to see how this is handled.
  • The ability of certain visa applicants to apply without attending an in-person interview still stands in many cases (those established by statute) - the Executive Order simply restricted the occasions when this can occur. *NOTE* This applies only to individuals who are already required to apply for a visa to enter the U.S., allowing certain individuals such as those applying for an extension within a short time frame, those applying for certain diplomatic/official visas, or those of a certain age, to submit their application without appearing in person. It does *not* affect the Visa Waiver program that allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the U.S. as visitors up to 90 days without a visa (those individuals only have to register online through ESTA - they do not have to apply for a visa in the first instance) - the Visa Waiver program remains unchanged.
  • Increased screening remains in place for all immigration benefits. Travelers and applicants can expect increased scrutiny and questioning. It is important to know your rights in such situations, which are outlined briefly here: http://www.aila.org/advo-media/tools/psas/knowledge-is-power-protect-your-rights.
  • CBP and DOS are continually providing updated information at: https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states and https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/news/important-announcement.html.

We will continue to see and hear many more rumors in the coming days, weeks and months. I urge you to look to reliable and official sources to discern what is real, and welcome you to contact me with any questions.