Tag Archives: uscis

H4-EAD Back on Track!

There’s great news ahead for people who lost the right to work when their H4 visa work permits were revoked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2017.

On Tuesday, January 26, the Biden administration rolled back a Trump-era ban that prevented H4-EAD visa holders – many of them women of color – from working  in the US.

The DHS withdrew its proposal to rescind H‑4 work authorizations which means more than 100,000 H‑4 EAD recipients will keep their right to work.

The work permit, originally introduced by the Obama administration, was issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immediate family members (spouses and children under 21 years of age) of H-1B visa holders,  many of whom hold tech sector jobs.

The provision allowed dependent spouses to work, so families awaiting a transition to permanent residency did not have to struggle to survive on a single income.

The USCIS reported that 98% of H4 visa holders were from Asian countries – with 93% of approved applications for H-4 employment authorization issued to individuals of Indian origin, many of whom are highly skilled women in STEM professions.

When the EAD was revoked under the Trump administration it disenfranchised women from the South Asian community and put them at at-risk. Immigration advocates reported that losing the H-4 status had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of dependent spouses (overwhelmingly women).

Opponents said the rescission was forcing women into a cycle of dependency and depression. In online support groups women reported mental health issues, marital problems and domestic abuse from the loss of financial security, as seen in this video testimonial from a community member called Neha.

 

Immigration advocacy group SAALT reports that despite the hopeful news, it “continues to hear from community members who have been adversely impacted by significant delays in the processing of H‑4 work authorization documents.”

“These people must be protected, and the Biden administration must unilaterally extend the validity period of all expired H‑4 EADs and resolve USCIS processing delays,” SAALT added in their statement.

According to congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, the “months-long backlog created by changes made during the Trump Administration have created economic challenges for women, their families, and the communities in which they live.”

A letter signed by 60 members of Congress in December 2020 to then president-elect Biden, urged the immediate extension of H‑4 EAD expiration dates.

“We respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security publish a Federal Register notice on day one of your administration that would extend the validity period of all expired H4 EADs,” the members of Congress wrote. “In 2015…the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule allowing certain H4 dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally seek employment in the US. This rule presented an important step towards rectifying gender disparities in our immigration system, as around 95% of H4 visa holders who have secured work authorizations are women. Before the rule was granted, many women on H4 visas described depression and isolation in moving to a new country and not being allowed to work outside of the home. Unfortunately, these women are losing and will continue to lose their jobs until this is put right, disrupting the lives of their families and the functioning of employers in our districts.”

It’s hoped these extensions will be included in the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, in which President Biden has pledged to reform U.S. immigration and “restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.”

The bill plans a sweeping policy and regulatory overhaul to modernize a broken U.S. immigration system that will cover formalizing H-4EAD work authorizations, creating pathways to citizenship for undocumented individuals, essential workers  and individuals with temporary status, and resolving backlogs to increase the efficiency of employment-based immigrant processes.

SAALT said the move to preserve the program “signals the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting immigrant women workers who play an essential role as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. They called it  “a long overdue moment of hope for immigration policy.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
video clip: courtesy SAALT
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

The H-1B Visa is Under Attack. Again!

In the run up to the election, the Trump administration has doubled down on immigration, taking another swipe at the H-1B visa program to boost its America First platform. That means US companies, which have long relied on the H-1B visa to hire highly skilled immigrant workers, will find it even more difficult and expensive to bolster their workforce with qualified foreign hires.

Anupama Nayar

At Ismael Leyva Architects (ILA) in New York, HR Manager Anupama Nayar has been processing the H-1B applications of new recruits sponsored by her company, for the last six years. “These graduates from top tier STEM programs at US campuses already have degrees from storied universities in their home country,” says Nayar. “Some also bring 1 to 2 years of work experience and cutting edge skills – like knowledge of Revit, a building design software – that make them valuable contributors to ILA.”

A Brookings Institute study supports her view. “More than half (56 %) of the world’s engineering bachelor’s degrees are earned in Asia, compared to just 4 % in the United States.” It found that US employers have “significant difficulty in finding resident workers to fill STEM and other specialty occupations,” because the US educational system is unable to supply enough highly skilled resident workers that will keep American companies globally competitive.

What gives the US an advantage is its status as the global hub of academic training – in 2020 over one million international students made up 5.5% in higher education enrollment. So US companies seeking highly skilled members, especially in the metropolises, have a wealth of talent within their reach to help bridge that gap.

At ILA, a small Manhattan-based architectural firm, Nayar fills the requirement for skilled workers by hiring masters graduates from universities like Columbia, Cornell and Pratt, to bolster its roster of highly skilled employees. Several of the new hires are qualified foreign students.

“The majority of the H-1B visas we sponsor are for students from India, China and South Korea,” says Nayar.  Since 2014, ILA has sponsored up to ten applications a year through the H-1B lottery system. Once candidates and their petitions are approved, usually 5 to 6 employees receive their H-1B, a visa that’s valid for three years with a three year extension.

Nayar says every job she lists attracts almost 60% of applicants from highly qualified foreign graduates from top architecture schools; but with the pandemic and the economic downturn, hiring has slowed down. But since 2017, changes to immigration law have starkly reduced the number of H-1B visas that ILA sponsors.

“In the last 3 years it’s been difficult keeping up with immigration changes. We are reducing sponsorship because of high costs, time, increased scrutiny on petitions, and recent immigration complexities,” says Nayar. Last year she processed only three H-1B applications for ILA and received just one H-1B approval. Her company still sponsors green cards but as evolving USCIS policies create green card quota backlogs – ILA has reduced the number of permanent resident sponsorships.

Immigration wait times for Indians have more than doubled. Now, Indian-origin employees could wait a lifetime (more than 50 years) to get their green cards, the next step to the path on citizenship.

“It’s worth investing in talented employees, but the high cost of fees and sponsorships that accompany the H-1B process,” says Nayar, “makes it more difficult.”

Behind this shift is a Trump directive issued in June to ‘put American workers first’ by suspending several job-related nonimmigrant visas, including “H-1Bs, H-2Bs without a nexus to the food-supply chain, certain H-4s, as well as Ls and certain Js.”

The directive to “restore American greatness” aims at preserving jobs for American citizens in the economic recovery from the coronavirus. The  Department of Labor  (DOL), tightened regulations on H-1B  visas by forcing companies to pay substantially higher wages to hire foreign recruits, and justified the wage increase by claiming that H-1B migrants displace native‐born American workers and reduce wages of native‐born Americans.

That move “has essentially shut down the legal immigration system,” said Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, at an Ethnic Media services briefing on October 30. Nowrasteh, the Director of Immigration Studies at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, called the rise in H-1B minimum wage levels “enormously destructive.” It will force H-1B workers to find new jobs or leave the US, and deny businesses the opportunity to invest in new talent by making them unaffordable.

He pointed out that the wage increase was based on “incomparable datasets” from old economic research and will in the long term, “reduce legal immigration to the US.”

The reforms are proving to be an effective deterrent. The H-1B lottery based system is being replaced by salary-based selection and increases in wage levels. They require companies to pay high skilled workers at the 95 percentile of their profession’s category, up from the 65 percentile.

“If an employer has to pay a new hire with little or no work experience the same as employees with several years experience, foreign students become too expensive to hire. If a salary range is $50 to $60 thousand, and the new proposed wage pitches it at $80 to $90 thousand, it becomes a tough decision to hire a foreign skilled worker.”

“So of course, there’s no way we will do that,” states Nayar.

However, the idea that immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans is a myth, reports the George W. Bush Policy Institute. Rather than taking America jobs, “72% of 7.6% of immigrants were self-employed compared to 5.6% of native-born Americans and they founded more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies.” Immigrants have been responsible for half the labor force growth over the last decade and immigrant-owned businesses tend to have an average of 11 employees. In fact, Nayar’s own company ILA, was founded by an immigrant who strongly believes in giving opportunity to talented immigrants.

That sentiment, however, will not inform the immigration policies of a second Trump term. Civil rights advocates at the briefing reiterated that bans to protect the American labor market and prevent job losses caused by the virus, are likely to stay in place if Trump is re-elected; 14th Amendment protections on citizenship and naturalization could also be under attack, warned Ali Noorani, President & CEO of the National Immigration Forum.

“If we see a second term, there will be a steady stream of executive orders or even litigation to chip away at those rights.”

Noorani recommended that immigration advocates pursue opportunities to build coalitions with policy makers both conservative and moderate, to support constructive immigration reform.

Or, in a second term, the administration is likely to continue its war on immigrants.


Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents

Massive Fee Hike Endangers Vulnerable Immigrants

Just days before a massive filing fee increase was set to go into effect for naturalization applications, and before a first-in-history fee for asylum applications was to be imposed, a federal judge granted a nationwide temporary reprieve.  See the 35-page order here.  

The Trump administration sought to increase the filing fees for naturalization by over 80% , eliminate most fee waivers for low-income immigrants, and create new financial barriers for immigrants seeking asylum protection in the U.S. The fee increases, which USCIS claims are necessary to subsidize the fiscally-challenged agency, were originally scheduled to go into effect on October 2, 2020. 

Federal Judge Rules that Fee Increase Will Endanger Vulnerable Immigrants

On September 29, 2020, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on some of their claims, and wrote:  

“The public interest would be served by enjoining or staying the effective date of the Final Rule because if it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigrant benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”

The plaintiffs, which included several non-profit organizations which serve the immigrant community, also argued that defendant Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was improperly appointed, and therefore his actions, such as proposed fee increases, are unlawful.  

Plaintiffs also made the case that the USCIS fee rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs federal agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to appeal.

Immigrant Rights Groups Applaud the Ruling

One of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, issued the following statement on the court’s order:  

“USCIS’ Fee Rule is unlawful and incredibly destructive, and we applaud the court’s decision to protect millions of immigrants and their families. 

The Rule, which disproportionately harms people of color, is a blatant attempt by the Trump administration to create financial barriers for asylum seekers, families, and would-be citizens in order to prevent them from obtaining United States residence or U.S. citizenship. 

This is immoral, classist and a blatant violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The injunction will ensure that millions of low income immigrants, applicants for naturalization, asylum seekers, survivors of domestic violence and survivors of human trafficking will be able to affordably apply for the immigration benefits they are eligible for.”

What This Means for Immigrants Seeking Benefits

Until further notice, applicants will not be subjected to the fee increases as outlined in the regulation.  It is expected that USCIS will issue an update regarding the impact on the order on new editions on forms that were to be implemented on October 2, as part of the fee increase.

Monitor this issue closely and refer to the USCIS website for updates.  


Richard Herman is a lawyer without borders. A nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author and activist, he has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration.  He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.”  He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

Image:Neelam Sundaram on Unsplash

Naturalization Fees Spike On Oct 2

If you are eligible for naturalization, or some other immigration benefits, now is the time to apply!

After concluding their biennial review of fee collections last month, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a significant increase in filing fees for many applicants. The USCIS fee increase, as given in the Final rule document, will take effect from Oct 2, 2020.

The average weighted fee increase is 20%.

For the first time in U.S. history, USCIS has also introduced a fee for asylum applications and an elimination of many existing fee waivers. 

On September 2, 2020, USCIS issued this policy guidance

Here are some of the important upcoming changes:

Naturalization

The N-400 naturalization application fee will increase from $640 to $1160 for online applications and $1170 for paper applications – an 83% increase!  

Not only will applicants pay higher N-400 filing fees, but they also will not have the option to apply for a fee reduction ($320), a whopping 266% increase in the filing fee, for those whose income is greater than 150% and less than 200% of the poverty level.  

USCIS has also eliminated the N-400 fee waiver for those with income greater than 200% of the poverty level.

Unfortunately, while this may not have been the intention, the effect of these fee increases is to create a wealth test to become an American citizen.

This new fee structure does not correspond to the inflation rate increase in the United States during the two years from the previous assessment. Justifying the increase, the USCIS says that the fee was held below cost in the past and the new fee will reflect the full cost of providing the service.

However, this fee increase does not consider how much of a barrier finances are to immigrants looking to naturalize. Financial and administrative barriers stand in the way of naturalization for 13% of Mexican and 19% other lawful immigrants, according to a 2015 survey, published by Pew Research. Besides the financial burden, the new fee penalizes immigrants who abide by the law and forces them to turn to predatory financing to afford the USCIS fee.

It is a fact that naturalization offers many economic and social benefits to legal immigrants. 

  • Research shows that naturalized citizens have higher employment rates and can earn up to 70% more than non-citizens 
  • Full protection of the U.S. Constitution
  • Protection from potential deportation
  • Ability to travel overseas and live outside of the U.S. without fear of abandoning the right to the green card;
  • Ability to vote and have an impact on elections
  • Ability to sponsor parents, siblings and married children for permanent residency; and
  • Ability to work in more U.S. government-related jobs that require security clearances.

Non-Immigrant Workers

In the proposal, USCIS has also proposed to split the I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker (application cost of $460) into multiple forms, with most forms having a higher fee. For instance, the I-129H2A—Named Beneficiaries application fee will be $850, an 85% increase. The change would apply to all classifications sought through the Form I-129.

Registration of Permanent Residence or Adjustment of Status

The USCIS fee structure will also change for the Form I-485 applicants. An unbundling of filing fees will mean that they will have to pay extra for work authorization (Form I-765) and their travel document (Form I-131). This new structure will result in nearly doubling the fee, which will be $1130 for I-485, $550 for I-765, and $590 for I-131. 

Drop in Immigration

These changes come at a time when there has been a significant decrease in legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. According to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), there was a 7.3% (86,894 people) drop in immigration from FY 2016 to FY 2018, and the majority of the decrease has been in the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, including children, spouses, and parents, reported Stuart Anderson for Forbes. 

Certain countries, including Mexico and China, are over-represented in the declined applicants with a decrease of 7.3% for Mexico and 20% for China, adds Anderson. Numbers in other segments of immigration also indicate the direction taken by the Trump administration: 

The annual ceiling for refugees and asylum seekers is set by the President in consultation with Congress. The 30,000 ceiling for FY 2019 was the lowest since the creation of the resettlement program in the 80s, according to Migration Policy. There has also been a marked change in the number of people approved for asylum, with a decrease in 43% from FY 2016 to 31% in FY 2019. The ceiling is at 18,000 for FY 2020, adds the report.

The Need to Reform USCIS 

Unlike most government agencies, the USCIS relies on fees for its funds. In FY 2019, the USCIS fee carryover went into the negative for the first time since 2007, and it is expected to reach $1.5 bn this year, says Migration Policy research. The researchers add that a decreasing petition rate and greater processing times are two important factors in the turnaround: a one million drop in petitions in FY 2018 resulted in a $152 million drop in fees, and continued drop in a petition with highest fees in FY 2019 resulted in a $13 million drop. At the same time, money spent on vetting applicants and detecting benefit fraud increased significantly (an increase of $96 million for vetting and $202 million for fraud from FY2016 to FY 2020). 

The Bottom Line

These facts and figures clearly indicate a need to change the priorities of the USCIS, so that it can not only support itself but also ensure that it facilitates the people depending on it for swift processing. Unfortunately, the new changes indicate a continuation of policies to make naturalization difficult for lawful immigrants and further increasing the backlog of cases. 

This final rule will take effect from Oct. 2, 2020, and will apply to any application postmarked on or after this date. If you have a petition or application to submit, then consider submitting it before the date to avoid the new fees.


Richard Herman is a lawyer without borders. A nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author and activist, he has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration.  He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.”  He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

 

Update: Indian Travel Ban Extended

According to the latest Travel Advisory, all scheduled international commercial passenger services to India shall remain closed till 1830 hrs GMT of April 14, 2020. In view of these temporary travel restrictions, all Indian nationals are advised to:

I. Stay safe and isolated within the residential premises and follow the advisories updated on CDC web site https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ and other state and federal advisories relevant to COVID19.

II. Please follow social distancing norms and avoid any non-essential local travel.

III. Approach the local health department officials in case you or your family member(s) experience any of the symptoms mentioned in the CDC website https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/

IV. For extension of visa in the US during this restriction period, please apply online at USCIS website https://www.uscis.gov/visit-united-states/extend-your-stay and and http://uscis.gov/coronavirus. This is per the advice of concerned US authorities, with whom, the Embassy is also in touch.

V. Please also continue to check the website of the Embassy of India in Washington DC (www.indianembassyusa.gov.in) and social media (Twitter & Facebook) for latest updates. In case required, please contact the Indian Embassy or one of Indian Consulates depending upon your location in the US at the 24/7 helpline details mentioned in our previous article here.

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