Visas

Changes to the H-1B Visa Process

By Peek & Toland on October 29, 2019

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final rule that made changes to the regulations that govern H-1B cap-subject petitions. This rule became effective on April 1, 2019. This rule reversed the order that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses to select H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption. The changes are designed to increase the number of selected petitions for H-1B workers who have a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. college or university.

DHS reportedly made these changes in response to the Trump Administration’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. This order instructed DHS to propose new rules to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the immigration system. More specifically, the order directed DHS to reform H-1B vis program administration to help ensure that H-1B visas go to the foreign workers with the most skills and who are the highest-paid.

Changes to the H-1B Visa Process

These changes, along with the increased amount of scrutiny that USCIS is placing on H-1B visa petitions, require significant preparation for U.S. employers who wish to submit H-1B visa petitions. Employers who expect to participate competitively in the H-1B visa program must take steps early in the process to ensure that their applications are complete. They also must take precautions to avoid requests for further evidence from USCIS. These requests serve only to substantially slow down the processing times of applications, which can be fatal to an employer’s ability to hire foreign workers using the H-1B visa process.

As a result of these changes, employers likely are to need the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer who can assist them through the often lengthy and complicated process of submitting petitions for H-1B visas. Since the application process is fraught with potential pitfalls, employers must start earlier than ever in preparing their applications. They should begin preparations even if they have not yet determined their lottery eligibility.

An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and present your options. Finally, we can help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

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Can Immigrants Work in the U.S. While Legally Present on a Student Visa?

By Peek & Toland on October 20, 2019

Immigrants can apply to study in the United States under three different nonimmigrant visas, and they can work under two of those visas. The most popular of these visas is the F-1 visa, which allows students to work while studying in the country. F-1 visas also permit individuals to continue working in the U.S. after their studies. Those individuals with degrees in a STEM field can extend their visas to work in the U.S. for up to 24 months.

However, there are limits on work even for F-1 visa holders. They typically only can work on campus, and only if they are attending school full-time and making good progress toward a degree. These individuals have to get special authorization under an available program to be able to work off-campus. F-1 visa holders also are limited to working no more than 20 hours per week and no more than 40 hours per week during vacations and school breaks. Finally, on the date that a student completes a course of studies required for a degree, a 60-day grace period for leaving the country begins to run. Students may not work during these 60 days.

Can Immigrants Work in the U.S. While Legally Present on a Student Visa?

Another alternative for students to work in the U.S. is the J-1 visa. This visa allows international students to participate in work-and-study-based exchange programs in the U.S. Sponsoring programs must have accreditation through the Exchange Visitor Program of the U.S. State Department. These programs allow students to gain practical training related to their academic studies that is unavailable in their native countries. J-1 visas are available for various programs related to different occupations and vary in length.

The immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience that you need when you are seeking any relief or benefit under federal immigration laws. We will determine the facts and evidence that are relevant to your case, evaluate your options, and help you decide the best course of action for your situation. We intend to place you in the best position possible to achieve your goals. Contact our Texas immigration attorneys at our office today and learn how we can assist you through this complicated situation.

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ICE Alters Internal Guidelines on U-Visas to Deport More Crime Victims

By Peek & Toland on October 2, 2019

In keeping with its pattern of limiting immigration on all levels and increasing deportation levels, the Trump Administration has established a new policy for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that will give the agency more discretion in deporting crime victims from the U.S.

Congress passed legislation that created the U-visa in 2000. The purpose of the visa was to encouraged immigrants with no legal immigration status to come forward and report incidences of substantial physical and mental abuse. In turn, these crime victims would become eligible to remain in the U.S. under U-visas, with the understanding that they cooperate with law enforcement officials in prosecuting their abusers.

ICE Alters Internal Guidelines on U-Visas to Deport More Crime Victims

At this point, however, even applying for a U-visa became a risky proposition. If denied, individuals could trigger deportations proceedings by calling attention to their lack of legal immigration status. Furthermore, since it now takes USCIS about four years to process and decide applications for U-visas, the threat of arrest while the application is pending is much higher than under past administrations.

Now, ICE has reversed one of its internal guidance documents concerning U-visas. Historically, ICE has looked to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to determine the likelihood of approval of a U-visa before denying a request for stay of removal by immigrant crime victims. If USCIS indicated that the visa application was likely to be approved, then ICE essentially would stop deportation proceedings until USCIS made a final decision on the application for U-visa. The only exception was for the presence of specific adverse factors, such as public safety concerns.

With its latest reversal of policy, however, ICE no longer will consult USCIS before denying a stay of removal. Instead, ICE officials will have the sole discretion to review the “totality of the circumstances” in deciding whether to grant or deny a stay of removal based on potential eligibility for a U-visa. However, many immigration attorneys have reported in recent years that ICE officials were not seeking input from USCIS on U-visa applications anyway, or only would seek input if the individuals were detained.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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Court-Ordered Sanctions Against USCIS Could Affect H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on September 11, 2019

A pending lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Guam concerns USCIS processing of H-2B visa petitions but carries implications for H-1B visa petitions, as well. Guam suffers from a shortage of skilled laborers due to its remote location. Traditionally, the approval rate for H-2B visa petitions was close to 100%. This meant that thousands of foreign workers arrived in Guam to work in the hotel, health care, and construction industries. In 2012, however, USCIS began denying most H-2B visa petitions, dropping the approval rate for these visa petitions to almost 0%. USCIS started to take the position that the jobs were not “temporary,” since Guam has become so reliant on the foreign workers in these industries. The approval rate has remained at about 0% every year since 2012.

Court-Ordered Sanctions Against USCIS Could Affect H-1B Visas

As a result, the Guam Contractors Association and several businesses filed a lawsuit arguing that the USCIS had changed the eligibility rules without notice and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The plaintiffs sought and received an injunction preventing USCIS from continuing to deny H-2V visa petitions exclusively based on temporary need. However, USCIS has continued its recent practice of denying almost all H-2B visa petitions.

Due to alleged injunction violations, the plaintiffs now have filed a motion for contempt and sought sanctions against USCIS. A U.S. Magistrate handling the case has recommended that the court granted the motion and order sanctions. Federal courts rarely find the federal government agencies in contempt of court and imposing sanctions is even rarer.

The decision to impose sanctions, in this case, could have wider ramifications, as it deals with USCIS changing its standard of adjudication. Businesses and immigration lawyers have criticized USCIS for abruptly denying or delaying H-1B visa petitions to request more information at a suddenly high rate as compared to the rate of past denials. This trend has caused the approval rate of H-1B visa petitions to drop precipitously in the last two years. At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your immigration problems. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

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What is the E-1 Visa and How Does It Work?

By Peek & Toland on September 4, 2019

E-1 visas are temporary visas for treaty traders from other countries to enter the U.S. These individuals engage in substantial trade in goods primarily between the U.S. and the countries in which these individuals are citizens. The U.S. maintains a list of specific countries that have treaties with the U.S. Only nationals of these countries are eligible for E-1 visas. Foreign nationals who already are in the U.S. in a lawful nonimmigrant status may request to adjust their status to an E-1 treaty trader, as well.

Substantial trade generally involves a continuous flow of sizable international trade items and numerous transactions over time. Trade that involves multiple exchanges of significant value can result in a more successful visa application. However, there is no required dollar amount of volume of goods for any of these transactions. Furthermore, to constitute primary trade, over 50% of the total volume of the business must be between the visa applicant’s country and the U.S. Among other items, trade may include goods, services, international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, technology, and some news-gathering activities.

What is the E-1 Visa and How Does It Work?

Employees of treaty traders also may be able to utilize E-1 visas to come to the U.S. Employees must meet the following criteria to obtain E-1 visas:

  • Be the same nationality as the employer and the treaty country
  • Meet the definition of “employee” under relevant immigration laws
  • Either be engaged in executive or supervisory duties or, if engaged in lesser tasks, have special qualifications

Individuals have supervisory or executive duties when they have ultimate control and responsibility for a significant component of the business operations or the entire business. On the other hand, special qualifications are skills that make individuals essential to efficient business operations. No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases every day and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to resolve your immigration law case successfully.

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Religious Worker Visa Laws to Change

By Peek & Toland on September 2, 2019

Changes soon will go into effect for a unique visa program that allows religious workers to immigrate to the U.S. or adjust their status to obtain legal permanent residency. This is an employment-based, fourth-preference visa program that permits both ministers and non-ministers to enter the U.S. to perform full-time, paid religious work. The federal government historically has restricted the number of non-minister religious workers able to obtain visas under this program to 5,000 per fiscal year. However, the federal government has placed no such restrictions on ministers and their spouses. As of September 30, 2019, the non-minister program is scheduled to end altogether, following a final extension of the program that President Trump signed on February 15, 2019.

As a result of the expiration of this visa program, non-ministers who want to immigrate to the U.S. or seek a green card must do so before September 30, 2019. This sunset date also applies to spouses and children who accompany non-minister religious workers to the U.S. Ministers who hold these visas are not affected by this date.

Religious Worker Visa Laws to Change

Several different criteria affect which religious workers qualify for this program. For instance, workers must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Workers must have been a member of a bona fide religious group for at least two years before their applications and continuously be engaged in religious work as an adult
  • Bonafide religious groups must be non-profit organizations in the U.S. or organizations affiliated with religious denominations in the U.S.
  • All religious work in the U.S. must be full-time, averaging at least 35 hours per week, and paid
  • Workers can be employed in a professional or non-professional capacity

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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Businesses Continue to Feel Impact of Crackdown on Approval of Foreign Worker Visas

By Peek & Toland on August 21, 2019

Two years following the signing of President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, U.S. businesses increasingly are feeling its impact. Companies traditionally have used the H-1B visa program to hire skilled foreign workers for three years. Now, however, this visa has become much more difficult to obtain for U.S. businesses. In 2017, the rejection rate for these visas was 13%. In 2019, the rejection rate now has risen to 32%. Likewise, the rejection rate for applications to extend the visas for an additional three years has increased from three percent to 18%.

One successful immigrant business owner has decided to quit seeking workers using the H-1B visa program. Previously, he recruited two people per year to work for his company under H-1B visas. Receiving several requests for evidence (RFE) in response to his applications has discouraged him from using the program at all.

Businesses Continue to Feel Impact of Crackdown on Approval of Foreign Worker Visas

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also has increasingly revoked H-1B visa applications often on the grounds of alleged fraud. For instance, when a healthcare staffing company tried to obtain H-1B visas on behalf of various clients, it took six months. By that time, the client already had moved on, unwilling to wait that long for foreign workers whose presence was not guaranteed. Once USCIS learned of the change, it accused the company of lying on its H-1B visa petitions and revoked them. Although there is no publicly available data on how often H-1B visas are revoked, it appears to some that revocations are becoming almost as universal as denials of these visas. The rising rate of revocation also discourages U.S. companies from seeking foreign workers using the H-1B visa.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today at and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

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State Department Requiring Social Media Information from All Visa Applicants

By Peek & Toland on August 1, 2019

Under a new State Department policy, visa applicants now must submit information about any social media accounts that they have used during the past five years, including their social media handles or user names, emails accounts, and telephone numbers. Submitting this information about allow authorities to access any photos, milestones, demographic data, and comments posted on these sites by applicants.

While the State Department had requested that visa applicants voluntarily submit this information beginning during the Obama Administration, it now is a requirement. Furthermore, the State Department previously was collecting social media information only from those visa applicants whom they had identified for additional scrutiny, such as those who had traveled to countries known to be controlled by terrorist groups. This group amounted to about 65,000. Now, except for a few applicants for official and diplomatic visas, everyone must submit the information. The policy change is expected to impact more than 15 million people.

State Department Requiring Social Media Information from All Applicants

Opponents of the policy have objected to it as overly broad and an intrusive breach of privacy for visa applicants. They also criticize the federal government for not stating how they would use the information gleaned from social media, or how that information about be a reliable sign that a person posed a security threat if allowed into the country.

The newly required social media information for visa applicants is part of the Trump Administration’s 2017 memorandum in which it announced that they would subject individuals coming to the U.S. to extreme “vetting” to minimize any security risks from entering the country. The federal government has categorized this information as part of the other demographic information that they require visa applicants to provide to confirm their identities. The State Department claims that the information will assist it in screening out terrorists and people who are safety threats. The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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H-1B Visa Revocations Increase

By Peek & Toland on July 29, 2019

According to a recent Bloomberg Law article, revocation of H-1B visas and denial of visa extensions that used to be automatic have increased dramatically in recent months. Competition for these visas is fierce. As of April, employers had submitted over 201,000 H-1B petitions for the 85,000 H-1B visas that will be available beginning in October.

These actions appear to be part of a larger effort by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to crack down on the H-1B visas that employers use to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. One of the primary users of the H-1B visa is the tech industry. Tech companies, as well as companies in other industries, often use staffing agencies to hire these workers. Some of the recent policy changes seem to focus on cracking down on staffing and consulting companies for alleged fraud in completing the visa petition process for these highly skilled workers.

H-1B Visa Revocations Increase

Denial of H-1B petitions increased from 7.4% in fiscal year 2017 to 15.5% in fiscal year 2018. Advocates state that revocation of H-1B visas have become nearly as common as denials. Scrutiny of all H-1B visa petitions has increased, which has translated into longer waiting times and far fewer approved petitions than before.

In response, USCIS claims that it has made no policy changes in the H-1B visa processing program, but that it has the authority to revoke these visas under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations. Potential reasons for revoking visas may include fraud, misrepresentations, violation of the terms of the approved petition, or that approving the visa violated regulations or was in error.

Revocations can place employers and foreign workers in a difficult position. Generally, the workers must leave the country within 30 days or face sanctions for remaining in the country illegally. Instead of being able to secure an extension of the visa as planned, the company will have to go through the lengthy H-1B visa lottery all over again. An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case, present your options, and help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you, based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

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Can I Change a Tourist Visa to a Student Visa?

By Peek & Toland on July 25, 2019

If you are in the U.S. on a specific nonimmigrant visa and wish to change your status to another nonimmigrant category, you must file the appropriate request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Therefore, if you entered the U.S. on a tourist visa, but now want to attend school in the U.S., you would have to apply for a student visa.

As soon as you determine that you want to change your status, you should take the steps necessary to submit your request, since processing times can be lengthy. You must change your status before your current status expires. You also should not modify your activities, such as by enrolling in school, until your new status has been approved. Otherwise, you could end up present in the U.S. without a legal immigration status. This could lead to you being deported or barred from returning to the U.S.

Can I Change a Tourist Visa to a Student Visa?

Generally, you can change your nonimmigrant status if you meet the following conditions:

  • You were lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa.
  • Your nonimmigrant status is still valid.
  • You have not violated any of the conditions of your immigration status.
  • You have not committed any crimes that would you ineligible.

However, you do not need to change your nonimmigrant status to attend school in the U.S. if you are the spouse or child of individuals who were lawfully admitted to the U.S. in specific nonimmigrant visa categories. These categories include temporary workers on H visas, international trade and investors on E visas, or representatives of foreign media on I visas, among others.

There also are some nonimmigrant statuses that do not permit you to apply for a student visa or other nonimmigrant status. These individuals include those who are in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, informants on terrorism or organized crime, or fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens or dependents of fiancé(e)s. The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your situation. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration issue.

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