Photo of Toni Blackwood

Leading the firm’s immigration team, Toni has practiced in the business immigration field since 1990. A substantial part of Toni’s practice includes partnering with clients to develop comprehensive business immigration solutions. She advises employers on workplace compliance matters, from the proper completion and maintenance of Form I-9 and designing complete compliance systems, to company participation in E-Verify.

Effective October 1, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will require all applicants who are eligible for a green card based on sponsorship by their employer to appear for an in-person interview at a local USCIS field office. Previously, employer-sponsored applicants for green cards were exempt from the in-person interview requirement after USCIS determined decades ago that in-person interviews were usually unnecessary for this category of applicants. Adjudicating officers were still permitted to conduct in-person interviews for applicants when necessary. All applicants were and will continue to be subject to fingerprinting and background checks.

It’s time to begin preparing H-1B petitions for an early April filing and October 1, 2016 effective date.

What is H-1B Classification?
The H-1B classification provides work authorization to foreign nationals seeking long-term, but temporary, positions in “specialty occupations” with U.S. employers. A specialty occupation is one which requires theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, business, mathematics, science, arts, law and medicine, and which require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Congress has agreed to an omnibus appropriations bill, which contains a number of immigration-related provisions.  Though the vote on the bill is set for December 18, it is widely expected to pass.  In it, Congress has agreed to extend the EB-5 Regional Center program without change until September 30, 2016. The EB-5 Regional Center program permits foreign nationals to obtain a green card if they invest at least $1,000,000 ($500,000 if invested in a targeted employment area) in a U.S. business that creates at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers.  Several bills have been introduced over the past year to reform the EB-5 program; however, House and Senate leaders were unable to agree on the changes to the program before it was to expire on December 16.  Look for changes to the program in upcoming months.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today that it will be extending U.S. employment authorization to certain H-4 spouses of foreign nationals in H-1B status.  Family members of H-1B workers are permitted to enter the United States in H-4 status as dependents of the H-1B worker, but they are not authorized to work.  This change permits spouses in H-4 status to apply for an unrestricted work card provided that the principal H-1B employee:

  1.  Is the beneficiary of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or
  2. Has been granted H-1B status under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC21), which permits H-1B employees seeking permanent residency to extend their H-1B status beyond the usual six-years.

U.S. businesses often use the H-1B visa classification to employ non-U.S. workers in positions requiring a college degree or the equivalent. In most cases, H-1B classification conveys work authorization for a period of up to six years. The law sets a limit of 65,000 new H-1Bs per fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 set aside for workers with a master’s degree or higher. These limits are known as the “H-1B caps.” In 2013, the H-1B cap was exceeded for both categories in the first week applications were accepted. Many employers were disappointed when their applications were rejected in the ensuing lottery conducted to select the applications that would be accepted for processing under the caps.