USCIS Ombudsman Recommends Temporary Acceptance of Filed LCAs for Certain H-1B Filings
In August and September 2009, the ombudsman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received complaints concerning H-1B cases with incorrectly denied labor condition applications (LCA/ETA-9035) filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The ombudsman said that LCA processing delays and errors at DOL, coupled with USCIS’s current H-1B petition initial filing requirements, “are prejudicing employers and individuals who are unable to timely file original or extension H-1B visa petitions.” Untimely H-1B petition filings lead to several problems, the ombudsman noted, including: (1) the potential loss of employees’ legal status; (2) business operation disruptions due to the loss of continuity in the employment of key employees; and (3) economic loss to employees in the form of lost wages and costs of travel overseas due to loss of status.
Stakeholders have detailed to the ombudsman errors stemming from the new DOL LCA certification process, iCERT, launched on April 15, 2009. For example, the ombudsman noted, DOL is denying LCAs based on false FEIN (Federal Employer Identification Number) mismatches with DOL’s database. The ombudsman said that cases involving LCA certification problems represent up to seven percent of total iCERT filings from April 15, 2009, through the beginning of August 2009 (approximately 2,900 denials out of approximately 41,700 LCAs submitted).
The ombudsman noted that despite DOL’s jurisdictional ownership of H-1B-related LCA processing problems, these difficulties extend to USCIS through the agency’s requirement that petition filings include certified LCAs. “Any costs to USCIS[,] such as issuing RFEs or temporarily lowering production levels, are outweighed by the burden that incorrect denials have on employers and individuals,” the ombudsman said. “USCIS currently has the capacity to make what amounts to a minor processing modification to address a temporary situation.”
To mitigate the impact of LCA processing difficulties, the ombudsman recommends that USCIS:
(1) reinstate the agency’s previous practice of temporarily accepting an H-1B petition (Form I-129) supported by proof of timely filing of an LCA application with DOL, and issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) whereby the H-1B petitioner later provides the certified LCA; and
(2) establish a temporary policy under which the agency would excuse late H-1B filings where the petitioner has documented an LCA submission to DOL that was improperly rejected.