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USCIS Publishes Long-Awaited Final Rule on Certain Employment-Based Visa Programs


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued a final rule to provide greater flexibility for high-skilled foreign professionals. The new regulations also codify current informal administrative guidance about statutory provisions added in 2000. The regulations take effect on January 17, 2017.

USCIS previously made many of these clarifications through a series of non-binding policy memoranda over the past 15 years, with no definitive rules in place.

USCIS said the final rule is intended to modernize and improve several aspects of certain employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs.

USCIS has also amended the regulations to better enable U.S. employers to hire and retain certain foreign workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions and are waiting to become lawful permanent residents.

Among other things, the final rule is intended to:

  • Clarify and improve longstanding policies and practices implementing sections of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act and the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act related to certain foreign workers, which USCIS said will enhance consistency in adjudication.
  • Better enable U.S. employers to employ and retain high-skilled workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions (Form I-140 petitions) while also providing stability and job flexibility to these workers. The rule increases the ability of these workers to further their careers by accepting promotions, changing positions with current employers, changing employers, and pursuing other employment opportunities.
  • Improve job portability for certain beneficiaries of approved Form I-140 petitions by maintaining a petition’s validity under certain circumstances despite an employer’s withdrawal of the approved petition or the termination of the employer’s business.
  • Clarify and expand when individuals may keep their priority dates when applying for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence.
  • Allow certain high-skilled individuals in the United States with E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, or O-1 nonimmigrant status, including any applicable grace period, to apply for employment authorization for a limited period if:
    1. They are the principal beneficiaries of an approved I-140 petition,
    2. An immigrant visa is not authorized for issuance for their priority date, and
    3. They can demonstrate that compelling circumstances exist that justify the agency’s issuing an employment authorization document in its discretion.
  • Such employment authorization may only be renewed in limited circumstances and only in one-year increments.
  • Clarify various policies and procedures related to the adjudication of H-1B petitions, including, among other things, providing H-1B status beyond the six-year authorized period of admission, determining cap exemptions and counting workers under the H-1B cap, H-1B portability, licensure requirements, and protections for whistleblowers.
  • Establish two grace periods of up to 10 days for individuals in the E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1, and TN nonimmigrant classifications to provide a reasonable amount of time for these individuals to prepare to begin employment in the country and to depart the United States or take other actions to extend, change, or otherwise maintain lawful status.
  • Establish a grace period of up to 60 consecutive days during each authorized validity period for certain high-skilled nonimmigrant workers when their employment ends before the end of their authorized validity period, so they may more readily pursue new employment and an extension of their nonimmigrant status.
  • Automatically extend the employment authorization and validity of Employment Authorization Documents (EADs or Forms I-766) for certain individuals who apply on time to renew their EADs.
  • Eliminate the regulatory provision that requires USCIS to adjudicate the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, within 90 days of filing and that authorizes interim EADs in cases where such adjudications are not conducted within the 90-day time frame.

USCIS received nearly 28,000 comments on the proposed rule from a broad range of entities and individuals.

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