Recent changes to the H1B visa program are still favorable
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on November 18, 2016 published changes to the H1B program affecting highly skilled workers, and these changes took effect on January 17, 2017. Most of these changes affect those who already have H1B visas and have pending immigrant visa petitions with no available visas.
“Isabela” entered the United States on an H1B visa. She is an engineer who works on different development projects for her U.S. employer. Prior to sixth year H1B expiration, her U.S. employer was able to file a labor certification application and an immigrant visa petition. She has a priority date of 2015 on her immigrant visa petition and a visa is not yet available for Filipino nationals.
The visa bulletin for the month of February 2017 indicates that the visa priority date under the Philippines is 2011 and filing date priority date is 2013. Every year, Isabela’s employer files for a one-year extension of her H1B visa.
She heard about the changes in H1B program that took effect on January 17, 2017. Can she benefit from these changes? If she decides to leave her present employer, will she be able to use the prior approved immigrant visa if this already withdrawn by the employer? What options does she have?
No automatic revocation
In several cases where the employee decides to change employers, the first petitioning employer would take the adverse step of withdrawing the approved petition filed on behalf of an H1B visa holder. And in unfortunate cases, because of the lengthy wait for a priority date to become current, there are times where the petitioner’s business closes for valid reasons resulting in revocation of the immigrant visa petition.
With the recent amendment to the regulations, the USCIS will no longer treat an immigrant visa petition as automatically revoked based on withdrawal by the petitioner or termination of the petitioner’s business. This change applies to those whose petitions have been approved for 180 days or more. Hence, for some employers who may have malevolent plans of getting back at their employees for moving to another employer, there will no longer be an automatic revocation.
The USCIS set conditions for the non-automatic revocation to apply. The rule clearly states that as long as the approval has not been revoked for fraud, material misrepresentation, invalidation or revocation of a labor certification, or material USCIS error, the petition will continue to be valid for various purposes including (1) retention of priority dates; (2) job portability under INA §204(j) and (3) extensions of status under AC21 §§ 104(c) and 106(a) and (b).
Three-year extension after sixth year
Considering that immigrant visas are not readily available because of numerical limitations imposed by law, the H1B employee may request for a three-year extension instead of a the one-year increment. The extension request must show proof that the immigrant visa classification is over- subscribed, which is always the case for employment-based petitions (EB3) for nationals of Philippines. However, if the priority date is at least one-year current, the extension will only be for one year.
Besides the above changes in the highly skilled H1B visa program and the employment- based petitions, there are more changes that would benefit H1B visa holders. For Isabela and those similarly situated, the changes above are significantly critical especially to Filipinos who have to bear a lengthy wait before immigrant visas are made available.