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The State of Immigration in January

Globe on desk

Since early 2017, the Trump Administration has been implementing several bold and controversial laws that are completely reshaping – and in certain cases complicating – the legal immigration process. Many of President Trump’s updated policies have faced intense public and political backlash, culminating in what is officially the largest government shutdown in American history.

It’s important to stay updated on current political events and changing immigration laws if you’re planning to apply for a visa or have concerns about your application status. To help you successfully achieve your personal immigration dream, the Chicago immigration attorney at Panteva Law Group, LLC has compiled a list of critical legal and political updates that may impact your case.

Suspended USCIC Programs in Light of the Government Shutdown

A partial government shutdown began in December after Congress refused to fund President Trump’s $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall. The shutdown closed several vital federal departments, including the Department of the Treasury, the Homeland Security Department, and the Department of Justice. Fortunately, the lapse in annual funding isn’t affecting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) fee-funded activities. According to the USCIS, “Our offices will remain open, and all individuals should attend interviews and appointments as scheduled. USCIS will continue to accept petitions and applications for benefit requests, except as noted.”

However, these USCIS programs have suspended operations until the government shutdown is over:

The USCIS has provided a subscription link to anyone who is interested in receiving updates about these programs.

Visa Bulletin

Each month, the Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin that displays which green card applications can proceed based on when an applicant’s petition (such as an I-485 or I-130) was initially filed. Visa Bulletins prepare applicants for any potential advancements or retrogressions in the scheduled waiting period. By staying updated, applicants can complete their green card applications in advance and be ready for when a green card is available. By filing to file within the available time period, an applicant risks facing a retrogression in the following month’s Visa Bulletin, effectively closing their window of opportunity for filing a green card application.

The January 2019 Visa Bulletin shows significant improvement in wait times for both employment-based (EB) and family-based (FB) visa options. Fortunately, there aren’t any retrogressions for the month of January, though applications remain backlogged. The February 2019 Visa Bulletin sees a modest advancement in cutoff dates, but ultimately no improvement in the number of backlogged cases.

As previously stated, the EB-4 Non-Minister Religious Workers and EB-5 Region Center programs expired in 2018 and have not been reauthorized due to the government shutdown. These cases will not be approved until legislation is passed to reauthorize these programs.

New LCA Form for 2020 H-1B Applicants

The H-1B visa is a renewable employment visa that’s valid for 3-6 years. Recently, there have been many policy changes to the H-1B visa process. Last November, the Department of Homeland Security presented a proposal to modify the application process to favor immigrants who are graduates of American universities. Likewise, on January 11, 2019, President Trump tweeted that even more changes are coming: “H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the US.” In the past, the H-1B visa has never functioned as a facilitator for permanent citizenship, so many current visa holders are waiting with baited breaths for more information.

However, if you weren’t one of the lucky lottery winners selected for 2019, you’re probably gearing up to apply for a 2020 work visa. The USCIS is expected to start accepting application on Monday, April 1, 2019. The Department of Homeland Security and the USCIS are currently working on streamlining the registration and selection process by moving it online.

Currently, the H-1B Visa Cap is calculated as follows:

  • The annual cap for regular and non-advanced degree holders is set at 65,000
  • The annual cap automatically sets 6,800 petitions aside for Chile and Singapore
  • The advanced degree cap offers 20,000 additional visas for applicants who have earned Masters degrees or higher from a U.S. university

The Labor Condition Application (LCA) is a mandatory document that the H-1B sponsor/employer needs to file with the Department of Labor before an H-1B petition can be filed with the USCIS. On November 19, 2018, the Department of Labor issued an updated version of Form ETA-9035, which is required for all H-1B, H-1B1, and E-3 employment visas.

The new edition of Form ETA-9035 includes the following changes:

  • Employers are required to state if workers will be placed at an end-client or vendor worksite (the worksite address and the names of any third-party entities need to be included)
  • Employers need to estimate the total number of H-1B, H-1B1, and E-3 employees working at each location listed on the LCA
  • H-1B-dependant employers and employers who are found to have willfully violated LCA regulations must specify the basis for any exemptions

The typical processing time to certify an LCA form is about 7 working days. However, this processing time may increase if your employer hasn’t filed an LCA form in the past. In this circumstance, the Department of Labor requires at least 5 working days to verify your employer’s Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).

Explore Your Options by Contacting an Experienced Immigration Attorney

If you have any questions or concerns about changing immigration policies or regulations, contact the Chicago immigration lawyer at Panteva Law Group, LLC today. Our firm provides comprehensive immigration services and customized legal solutions to both families and businesses. Our founding attorney, Iskra Panteva, is recognized as a Top 40 Under 40 Lawyer by The National Advocates and is named as of the 10 Best Attorneys in Immigration Law by the American Institute of Legal Counsel. No matter your immigration concern, you can rely on Panteva Law Group, LLC to meticulously investigate your legal options and help you secure a beneficial case outcome.

We proudly serve clients nationwide. Contact Panteva Law Group, LLC at (312) 471-0014 to schedule a confidential consultation. Our firm provides Chinese, Bulgarian, and Spanish-speaking services.