As we have seen the last two years, there are changes to the U.S. immigration system almost daily. Whether it be a new proposed regulation, case, executive order, blocking of court order, policy, or tweet, immigration has been a moving target. Some policies are proposed, suspended, and some are passed and now in place. Now more than ever it is imperative to keep up to date with the never-ending changes the immigration system is experiencing as increased scrutiny continues.
Social Security “No-Match” Letters
Social Security No-Match Letters are back again. In 1993, The Social Security Administration (SSA) began issuing notices called “Request for Employer Information” soon to be known as “No-Match Letters.” The purpose of the letters was to ensure the accuracy of earning records that are used to determine social security benefits. In 2012, the Obama Administration decided to stop issuing the letters. The No-Match Letters returned in 2019 advising employers that certain employee names and Social Security numbers on a named employee’s W-2 do not match Social Security records. The new notices now impose an affirmative duty to employers to respond to the SSA within 60 days of receipt of the notice. (See sample No-Match Letter at https://www.ssa.gov/employer/notices/EDCOR.pdf.) It is important to note that the letter is not, by itself, proof that the employee lacks employment authorization. However, total disregard of the letter combined with other evidence might establish that the employer had “constructive knowledge” that an employee does not have employment authorization. The notice imposes on employers a duty to resolve the question of whether an employee is authorized to work in the U.S. Therefore, employers must notify employees and request that they correct the discrepancy of information and provide evidence it is corrected or resolve the issue with the SSA. No specific penalties have been established on employers from failure to respond to the SSA. In fiscal year 2018, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened 6,848 worksite investigations compared to 1,691 in FY17; initiated 5,981 I-9 audits compared to 1,360; and made 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests compared to 139 and 172, respectively. All of these categories surged by 300 to 750 percent over the previous fiscal year. Given the rise in compliance audits and investigations by the SSA, HSI, and ICE, it is essential to establish consistent policies of maintaining records and responding to No-Match Letters.
Last month, USCIS announced that until further notice, employers should continue using the Form I-9 with edition date July 17, 2017, even after the expiration date of August 31, 2019, has passed. We will provide further information regarding the new Form I-9 as it is provided.
USCIS Announces Increase in Fee for H-1B Cap Petitions
In January 2019, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) amended its H-1B regulations, which now requires petitioners (employers) filing H-1B cap-subject petitions to first electronically register with USCIS during a designated registration period, whenever that may be. Only those petitioners whose registrations are selected will be eligible to file an actual H-1B cap-subject petition. Although the rule took effect on April 1, 2019, USCIS suspended the electronic registration requirement for the FY2020 H-1B cap filing season. On September 4, 2019, USCIS proposed a rule that would require petitioners filing H-1B cap-subject petitions to pay a $10.00 fee for each electronic registration they submit to USCIS. Please note that USCIS has not yet announced whether it anticipates utilizing the H-1B registration for the upcoming FY2021 H-1B cap filing season which begins on April 1, 2020, even though it has announced the fee increase.
Form I-539 No Longer Eligible for Premium Processing
In March 2019, USCIS revised Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and published new Form I-539A, Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The Form I-539 is used for certain nonimmigrants whom request to extend their stay or change to another nonimmigrant status. The most notable change of the revised Form I-539 is the requirement that every applicant pay an $85.00 biometrics fee and attend a biometrics appointment, regardless of age. Applicants usually receive a biometrics appointment within a few weeks after filing Form I-539. Thereafter, it takes at least another three weeks for biometrics to be completed. Due to this new biometrics requirement, Form I-539 applications are now separated from the primary applicant’s Form I-129 petition and processed on their own. Consequently, USCIS can no longer continue premium processing Form I-539 applications filed concurrently with Form I-129 petitions, such as an H-1B petition. As a result, H-4 spouses and children are now having to wait substantially longer to have their Form I-539 applications adjudicated and approved.
Changes to Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visa Application Forms
Forms DS-160/DS-156, Nonimmigrant Visa Application are used for nonimmigrant, temporary travel to the United States and for K (fiancé(e)) visas. Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application is used for immigrant visa applicants. These forms are filed electronically to the Department of State. On May 31, 2019, new questions were added to the Forms DS-160/DS-156 and Form DS-260. These additional questions require applicants to disclose five years of social media and contact history when applying for a nonimmigrant or immigrant visa. Specifically, applicants are now required to disclose the social media platforms they have used within the previous five years, as well as provide their username for each platform. Please note that passwords for these accounts are not required and should not be provided. In addition, the applications request the applicant’s email addresses and phone numbers used in the past five years. Despite concerns raised by stakeholders, the Forms DS-160/156 and DS-260 have been updated to solicit this information. On September 4, 2019, DHS proposed changes to several immigration and travel forms to also collect social media information from applicants. The forms that would be affected by the new social media questions include USCIS Forms N–400, I–131, I–192, I–485, I–589, and I–751; CBP’s ESTA; and others.
Supreme Court Agreed to Review Three Cases Challenging the End of DACA
On June 28, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to review three cases challenging the Trump Administration’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA or “Dreamers”). In total, four federal appeals courts have heard arguments on whether President Trump went through the proper procedure to end DACA. Both the Ninth Circuit and the Fourth Circuit held that Trump’s decision to end DACA was improper. Decisions are still pending in the Second Circuit and D.C. Circuit. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision by June 2020. This means that current DACA recipients can continue to submit their renewal applications until that decision. DACA recipients will continue to receive protection from deportation and work permits, unless and until the Supreme Court issues a decision otherwise.
What are the Numbers for H-1B Petition Denials?
The National Foundation for American Policy analyzed the report from the H-1B Employer Data Hub and found that, “Between FY 2015 and FY 2018 the denial rate for new H-1B petitions quadrupled from 6% to 24%. To put this in perspective, between FY 2010 and FY 2015, the denial rate for initial H-1B petitions never exceeded 8%, while today the rate is 3 to 4 times higher.” Denial rates for initial H-1B petitions nearly doubled from 13% in FY 2017 to 24% in FY 2018 and climbed to 32% in the first quarter of 2019 due to Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order. H-1B extensions and transfers also had comparable denial increases. Petitions filed for the same workers with the same jobs that were previously approved, are now being denied. In FY 2017 the denial rate for these petitions was 5%. The rate more than doubled in FY 2018 to 13%.
Denial Rate: H-1B Petitions for Initial (New) Employment
Source: USCIS, National Foundation for American Policy. *FY 2019 data through the second quarter of FY 2019. Percentages are rounded off. Data extracted and analyzed from USCIS H-1B Employer Data Hub.
Denial Rate: H-1B Extension Petitions for Continuing Employment
Source: USCIS, National Foundation for American Policy. *FY 2019 data through the first two quarters of FY 2019. Percentages are rounded off. Data extracted and analyzed from USCIS H-1B Employer Data Hub.
* “Changes” by David Bowie (1971)