Visas

What Are J Visas?

By Peek & Toland on March 11, 2020

J visas are the category of visas that citizens of foreign countries can use to become exchange visitors or participating members in work and study-based exchange programs in the U.S. These individuals can obtain J-1 visas to participate in one of several visitor exchange program categories. These categories include:

  • Professors, research scholars, and teachers
  • Trainees and interns
  • College, university, and secondary school students
  • Specialists in specific fields
  • Camp counselors and au pairs
  • Physicians
  • Summer work travelers

J-1 visas also may be available for individuals who want to enter the U.S. as government or international visitors. Most of these programs operate under privately funded programs that work under the direction of the Office of Private Sector Exchange in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Currently, more than 1,500 for-profit, non-profit, or government entities conduct these private sector programs. More than 300,000 people from almost all countries in the world come to the U.S. on J-1 visas each year.

What Are J Visas?

Another type of J visa is the J-2 visa, which allows spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of J-1 exchange visitors to accompany or later join them in the U.S. However, some J visa categories do not permit spouses or children to accompany the recipients. These categories include au pair, camp counselor, secondary school student, and summer work traveler. In situations in which spouses and children can obtain J-2 visas, they typically can work in the U.S. after they get an Employment Authorization Document from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Generally, they also may study or attend school while in the U.S. Individuals on J-2 visas only can remain in the U.S. as long as the J-1 visa holders stay in the U.S.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal immigration matters of countless individuals and businesses. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is to get the best outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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USCIS Issues Official Guidance on H-1B Visa Electronic Registration System

By Peek & Toland on February 26, 2020

USCIS recently published its formal notice in the Federal Register about the implementation of the H-1B visa electronic registration system. All employers seeking to submit H-1B cap visa petitions for the fiscal year 2021 must first register using this automated tool and pay a $10 registration fee per named beneficiary.

The initial registration period will run from March 1, 2020, to March 20, 2020. Employers must submit a separate registration for each prospective employee whom they wish to sponsor. If USCIS receives enough registrations, then USCIS will randomly choose the number of registrations that they project is necessary to meet the H-1B visa numerical allocations for FY 2021. USCIS will notify registrants whether their registrations have been selected no later than March 31, 2020. Those employers with registrations chosen will have an eligibility period in which to file their full H-1B visa applications.

USCIS Issues Official Guidance on H-1B Visa Electronic Registration System

Although employers can submit multiple registrations during a single online submission, they can only submit one registration per foreign worker during any fiscal year. If an employer provides any duplicate registrations for the same beneficiary during the same fiscal year, USCIS will invalidate all registrations submitted by an employer for that beneficiary.

USCIS also announced its intent to provide updated guidance and step-by-step instructions online closer to March 1, 2020. As of this date, USCIS has not published additional guidance. However, USCIS plans to hold a webinar for registrants on February 6, 2020, and a webinar for attorneys and applicants on February 11, 2020.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal immigration matters of countless individuals and businesses. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is to get the best outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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USCIS Showing Preference for Immigrants Holding Advanced Degrees in H-1B Visa Program

By Peek & Toland on February 24, 2020

In the past, the H-1B visa program consisted of a total of 85,000 H-1B visas. Out of the total number of these visas, 65,000 went to applicants with bachelor’s degrees, and the remaining 20,000 went to applicants with advanced degrees. There were separate random pools for workers who only held bachelor’s degrees and workers who held advanced degrees.

Last year, for the 2020 H-1B cap season, USCIS selected visa applicants only from a single pool of applicants. As a result, USCIS first randomly chose the regular 65,000 visa applicants, regardless of whether they had bachelor’s degrees or advanced degrees. The remaining 20,000 spots went only to applicants with advanced degrees. As a practical matter, this means that more individuals who held advanced degrees were awarded H-1B visas than in the past. USCIS states that this change increased by approximately 16% of the H-1B visa holders having a master’s degree or higher, which is about 5,300 more workers with advanced degrees.

USCIS Showing Preference for Immigrants Holding Advanced Degrees in H-1B Visa Program

For the 2021 cap season, however, the order by which USCIS selections H-1B visa petitions will be wholly reversed. USCIS first will select 65,000 applicants who hold master’s degrees or higher from a U.S. institution or a foreign equivalent. The remaining 20,000 visas will be for applicants who hold only a bachelor’s degree. This significant change in the H-1B visa selection process will result in far more workers with advanced degrees than in the past.

USCIS also is debuting its new electronic registration system this season, which will open for submissions on March 1, 2020, and close on March 20, 2020. Employers will need to create the appropriate online accounts and pay a $10 registration fee for each intended worker. At this point in the registration process, employers will only provide basic information about their company and intended workers. USCIS then will choose randomly from the registrations that employers have submitted, and only those employers will be eligible to proceed with filing H-1B visa applications.

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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New Restrictions on H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on January 21, 2020

According to a recent Forbes article, the year 2020 promises new restrictions on H-1B visas that are likely to decrease the number of H-1B visas further that the federal government issues. First, employers will be required to participate in electronic registration by paying a $10 fee and providing some information about their proposed applications. These registrations then are placed in a lottery each April for the 65,000 available H-1B visas and the 20,000 cap-exempt visas for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. As a result of the ease with which employers can enter the lottery at a relatively low cost, many expect that the electronic registration process will increase the number of applicants significantly. This process could have the effect of pushing out smaller employers in favor of larger employers with more applications. Additionally, since details on the selection and timing of applications following the lottery have been somewhat unclear, employers anticipate time pressures to figure into the ability to submit H-1B visa applications.

Another new development concerns an anticipated rule that would redefine “specialty occupation,” “employment,” and the “employer-employee relationship.” For instance, internal USCIS documents have revealed a proposal to exclude computer programming from specialty occupations. Another possibility is that professions that do not require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree would not qualify as specialty occupations. Redefining “employment” also could affect information technology (IT) service companies, which already are seeing a much higher denial rate of their H-1B visa applications.

New Restrictions on H-1B Visas

Various other policies that could impact H-1B visas are currently the subject of litigation, whose outcomes are uncertain at this point. One such issue relates to the Non-Speculative Work Rule, under which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has demanded that companies provide a list of all work assignments that an H-1B visa holder will have for as many as three years into the future. This litigation is indicative of an increasing trend toward challenging H-1B visa denials in court.

Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

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Proposed Changes to Rules for H1-B, H-4, and Various Other Visas

By Peek & Toland on January 20, 2020

According to a recent Forbes article, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a document that outlines the proposed rules that it intends to put into effect in 2020. These rules will have far-reaching implications for employers, international students, foreign workers and investors, and individuals who are seeking asylum.

First, DHS intends to further tighten the restrictions on the H-1B visa program for skilled foreign workers. Denial rates for this popular visa program already have quadrupled over the past four years. The DHS unified agenda states that it will continue to take steps to ensure that only the best foreign nationals obtain visas through this program. It intends to revise the definition of the employer-employee relationship for the visa program and ensure that U.S. employers are paying appropriate wages to these visa holders. These changes, which DHS already appears to be informally implementing, given the suddenly high denial rates, are harming IT services companies and positions for computer programmers, who seem to be subject to increased scrutiny in recent years.

Proposed Changes to Rules for H1-B, H-4, and Various Other Visas

Another aspect of the H-1B program that the Trump Administration long has vowed to change is the work authorization for many H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders. Over the past several years, these individuals have received work permits that allow them to work in the U.S. while their spouses were H-1B visa holders, a feature that made the visa program much more attractive for many foreign nationals. DHS intends to publish the proposed rule in March 2020.

DHS also has announced proposed changes to the L-1 visas by revamping the definition of the employer-employee relationship and ensuring that U.S. employers pay these workers appropriate wages. U.S. companies report, however, that DHS already has cracked down on the L-1 visa program substantially. Informal policy changes to this visa program have led to 80 to 90% denial rates at U.S. consulates in India, and similar denial rates at U.S. consulates in China. Many of these denials are based on allegations by consular officials that U.S. companies should have only a limited number of employees with specialized knowledge. However, there is no basis in the law for this restriction.

The Trump Administration also is planning to move toward the elimination of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to work in the U.S. for limited periods in specific fields following graduation. Another change that could affect international students is the intention of DHS to block students from re-entering the U.S. for ten years if they violate their immigration status, even unknowingly, while attending U.S. colleges and universities.

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.

Posted in Immigration Reform, Visas

H-1B Denials Skyrocket

By Peek & Toland on December 30, 2019

Forbes is reporting that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is denying petitions for H-1B visas at historically high rates. The denial rate for new H-1B visa petitions for initial employment is at 24% as of the third quarter of FY 2019. This is four times higher than the initial denial rate for these visas in FY 2015, which was six percent. Between FY 2010 and FY 2015, the denial rate never rose above eight percent.

One of the types of companies that have been most hard hit by these skyrocketing visa denial rates is information technology (IT) services companies. Some evidence suggests that USCIS has singled out these companies for an unusually high level of scrutiny. A recent study showed that 12 of the 27 IT companies analyzed had H1-B visa denial rates of 30% or more, in contrast to denial rates ranging from two to seven percent in 2015.

H-1B Denials Skyrocket

Based on the latest data from USCIS, denial rates are highest for initial H-1B visa petitions or those that are requesting a visa for new or new concurrent employment. However, denial rates for continuing H-1B visa petitions also have increased. Continuing petitions, such as those that extend a visa for continuing work with the same employer, changes in the employer, and amended petitions. These visas typically are used for the same employees that USCIS previously approved for visas. As of the third quarter of FY 2019, the denial rate for continuing petitions was 12%, as opposed to being three percent in FY 2015 and five percent in FY 2017.

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 and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

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The Impact of Federal Immigration Policies on Universities

By Peek & Toland on November 28, 2019

The crackdown on legal immigration by the Trump Administration is leading to adverse effects for universities nationwide. For instance, many international students are reporting visa denials, which are leading to colleges and universities enrolling fewer international students. Likewise, colleges are having more challenges in recruiting and retaining foreign faculty members. In addition to visa denials, administrative delays have become extraordinarily lengthy, and requests for evidence have become commonplace. In many cases, even seemingly qualified visa applicants who meet all requirements are encountering visa denials. Immigration officials also appear to be applying standards for visa approvals inconsistently, which leads to two similar students receiving different results.

The Impact of Federal Immigration Policies on Universities

With a reported 46% increase in the time it takes for the federal government to process visa applications over the past two years, prospective students and faculty members are stuck in limbo while their positions go unfilled. College administrators claim that the inability to maintain multicultural populations is weakening the entire American education system.

Furthermore, colleges are reporting that existing international students and faculty members are experiencing difficulties with what used to be routine immigration matters, such as clearance for international travel and family visas. The uncertain and lengthy process is likely causing fewer international students to consider coming to the U.S. to study and scholars to conduct research and teach.

Other immigration policy changes are concerning to university officials, as well. Immigrant students often rely on SNAP and housing assistance to support themselves while in school. If they must rely on benefits to attend to school, but it potentially puts them at risk for being unable to remain in the U.S., they may simply choose not to attend school. Student advocates also fear that the public charge rule will discourage immigrant students from seeking federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants.

The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your immigration matter. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration case.

Posted in Immigration Reform, Visas

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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.

Posted in Visas

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