NewsBreaking Good News: USCIS Reduces Processing Times for 24 Forms, See New...

Breaking Good News: USCIS Reduces Processing Times for 24 Forms, See New Updates

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently announced a series of changes to the immigration rules and fees which may impact some applicants.

USCIS Adjusts Certain Immigration and Naturalization Fees

Recently, USCIS published a final rule to adjust certain immigration and naturalization benefit request fees for the first time since 2016. The new fees under the final rule will go into effect on April 1, 2024. The final rule is the result of a comprehensive fee review, as required by law. The review concluded that the current fee schedule falls far short in recovering the full cost of agency operations, including the necessary expansion of humanitarian programs, federally mandated pay raises, additional staffing requirements, and other essential investments.The final rule:

  • Lowers the agency’s required annual cost recovery by $727 million
  • Adjusts fees by a weighted average increase of 22%
  • Establishes a $10 million annual fund for asylum application fee waivers
  • Eliminates nearly all fee waivers and fee exemptions

While most immigration benefit fees will increase under the final rule, below are some examples of application types with fee decreases:

  • N-400 Application for Naturalization, online filing (with biometric services): $710 (-2%)
  • I-131 Refugee Travel Document for an individual age 16 or older (with biometric services): $165 (-25%)

Additionally, the final rule creates a new $600 Asylum Program Fee that most employers must pay if they file a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129CW, Petition for CNMI-Only Nonimmigrant Transitional Worker or Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.

Nonprofit organizations are exempt from the Asylum Program Fee, while companies with 25 or less full-time employees will receive a 50-percent reduction to $300.Nursing Abroad scholarships netherlands

These nonprofits and “small employers” will also qualify for “special fee discounts” in the new final rule. The full fee schedule list under the new final rule can be found here.

USCIS Strengthens H-1B Registration Process

Recently, 2024, USCIS also announced a final rule to strengthen the integrity of and reduce the potential for fraud in the H-1B registration process. Changes include:

  • Implementing a beneficiary-centric selection process rather than selecting by registration
  • Requiring valid passport or travel document information for each beneficiary to be registered
  • Prohibiting a beneficiary from being entered in the selection process under more than one passport or travel document

These changes aim to reduce potential abuse of the registration system and improve the chances of selection for all registrants.The final rule also clarifies that USCIS may deny or revoke an H-1B petition if:

  • The registration contained false information
  • The registration fee is not reconciled, disputed or otherwise invalid
  • Multiple registrations were submitted for the same beneficiary using different passport/travel document information

H-1B Registration Selection Process Updates

According to a recent reports, USCIS announced the initial registration period dates for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 H-1B cap season:

  • Registration period opens: March 6, 2024 at 12PM EST
  • Registration period closes: March 22, 2024 at 12PM EST

USCIS will implement the new beneficiary-centric selection process for FY 2025. Under this process, each unique beneficiary will have the same chance of selection regardless of the number of registrations submitted on their behalf.

Petitioners must provide valid passport or travel document information for each beneficiary, and a beneficiary may only be registered under one passport/travel document. On February 28, 2024, USCIS will also launch new organizational accounts and online filing options for H-1B petitions and associated Form I-907 for premium processing.

Proposed Rule to Modernize H-1B Program

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a proposed rule to modernize and improve the H-1B specialty occupation worker program. Proposed changes include:

  • Streamlining eligibility requirements for qualifying positions
  • Providing greater benefits for H-1B workers
  • Increasing flexibility for recent graduates with F-1 student status
  • Establishing new eligibility criteria for rising entrepreneurs
  • Altering the H-1B registration selection process to reduce potential for fraud and abuse

The proposed rule aims to increase efficiency, provide greater benefits for employers and workers, and strengthen program integrity.

Analysis of Recent Changes

The recent final rules and proposed updates demonstrate USCIS’s focus on improving the H-1B visa program through the following:

Increasing Program Integrity

By changing the registration selection process and requiring valid passport/travel documents, USCIS aims to reduce potential abuse and improve fairness.

The final rule granting USCIS expanded authority to deny petitions based on false or invalid registrations also serves this purpose.

Enhancing Flexibility

The proposed rule introduces measures like streamlining eligibility requirements that could reduce confusion and provide employers/workers more flexibility. Proposed changes surrounding F-1 student status may also increase flexibility.

Focusing on Beneficiaries

The beneficiary-centric registration selection process and other proposed provisions indicate a commitment to focusing on beneficiary needs rather than merely increasing registrations.

Promoting Innovation

Proposed criteria for H-1B eligibility for rising entrepreneurs directly aligns with USCIS’s interest in attracting talent to promote innovation. While certain changes like increased fees may prove controversial, the recent focus on program integrity, flexibility and beneficiary experience reflects an evolving perspective on high-skilled immigration policy.

H-1B Electronic Registration ProcessNursing Abroad DACA Student

Prospective H-1B cap-subject petitioners must first electronically submit a registration for each beneficiary they wish to file an H-1B petition for. USCIS then selects registrations randomly through a lottery system.

Here is an overview of the H-1B electronic registration process:

Create USCIS Online Account

To submit an H-1B registration, you must first create a USCIS online account. Both individual petitioners and legal representatives/organizations can create accounts.

Enter Beneficiary Information

Once logged into your account, you can enter information on the prospective H-1B worker you wish to register. This includes their biographic details and passport information.

Pay Registration Fee

A $10 registration fee must be paid for each registered beneficiary. Payment can be made directly through the USCIS online account system.

Await Selection

After the registration period closes, USCIS conducts a random computer-generated lottery to select registrations up to the H-1B numerical caps.File H-1B PetitionIf your registration is selected, you will be eligible to file an H-1B petition for the named beneficiary during the associated filing period.

H-1B Cap Season Key Dates

Here are the important dates to know for the FY 2025 H-1B cap season:

  • February 28, 2024 – Launch of USCIS organizational accounts and online filing
  • March 6-22, 2024 – Initial registration period
  • April 1, 2024 – Effective date for new USCIS fee schedule
  • April 2024 – Announcement of lottery selections
  • April-June 2024 – Filing period for selected registrations

Qualifying for H-1B Status

The H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Here are the main requirements:Specialty Occupation

The position must qualify as a specialty occupation, which requires:

  • Theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge
  • Attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty (or equivalent)

Employer-Employee RelationshipThe H-1B employer must establish that they have sufficient specialty occupation work available for the duration of the requested validity period and that they have full-time employment for the foreign worker.

Prevailing Wage

The employer must pay 100% of the prevailing wage for the position, as determined by the Department of Labor.

Labor Condition ApplicationNursing Abroad Couple sorting through paper work 1 1

The employer must attest to certain labor condition statements around wages, working conditions, worksite notices, etc.

H-1B Visa Process Steps

If selected in the H-1B lottery, employers must complete the following steps to obtain H-1B status for a foreign national employee:

  1. File LCA – Submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL).
  2. File I-129 – After LCA certification from DOL, file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with USCIS.
  3. Obtain Approval Notice – Receive the I-797 approval notice from USCIS confirming H-1B petition approval.
  4. Apply for Visa – With the I-797 approval notice, the employee can schedule an H-1B visa interview and obtain H-1B status abroad.
  5. Enter United States – With H-1B visa stamped, employee can enter the U.S. in H-1B status.

H-1B Extensions Beyond 6 Years

H-1B status is granted for up to an initial 3-year validity period but can be extended for an additional 3 years to a 6-year maximum stay.There are certain exceptions that allow employers to sponsor H-1B workers beyond the 6-year limit:

  • 1-Year Extensions – Available if a labor certification or I-140 immigrant petition was filed at least 365 days prior to end of 6-year limit.
  • 3-Year Extensions – Available if an approved I-140 petition exists but the foreign national is unable to obtain lawful permanent resident status due to per country limits.

H-1B to Green Card Process

Many employers utilize the H-1B program as a pathway to sponsor foreign national workers for permanent residence (green cards).The typical process includes:

  • H-1B Status – Sponsor employee for up to 6 years of H-1B work authorization.
  • PERM Labor Certification – Obtain certification from Department of Labor confirming no qualified U.S. workers are available for the position.
  • I-140 Petition – File immigrant petition with USCIS establishing basis for green card sponsorship.
  • I-485 Application – Submit adjustment of status application for employee (and dependents) to obtain green cards.

The entire process can take 5+ years based on backlogs. Employees can maintain H-1B status throughout process while awaiting green card approval.

H-1B Visa Cap Exemptions

There is an annual limit of 65,000 new H-1B workers each fiscal year under the H-1B “regular cap.” An additional 20,000 H-1B visas are available for advanced degree exemption beneficiaries.The following employers/employees are exempt from these numerical caps:

  • Institutions of higher education or related or affiliated nonprofit entities
  • Nonprofit research organizations or governmental research organizations
  • J-1 exchange visitors extending stay to work in H-1B for a cap-exempt entity
  • Physicians with employment contracts under the Conrad 30 waiver program

Additionally, H-1B1 visas for Singapore and Chile and H-1B2 visas for Guam/CNMI have separate allocations exempt from the regular H-1B cap.

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