(By Rahul Reddy & Rebecca Chen, Attorneys at Law)

If you are currently engaged in Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduating with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math, you may be eligible to apply for a 17-month OPT extension. In order to do so, it is crucial that you file for your extension before your current OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires. Otherwise, you will no longer be eligible to extend your OPT. In its 2010 memo titled “Policy Guidance 1004-03 – Update to Optional Practical Training”, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement states that in order to qualify for the 17-month extension, “The student must ensure that the Form I-765, supporting evidence and fee payment reach the proper USCIS Service Center before his or her current OPT expires. USCIS recommends that students file within 90 and 120 days of the expiration date of the current OPT.” The OPT STEM extension process requires approval from your school’s Designated School Official (DSO), so be sure to begin the process with your school early enough to obtain approval prior to submitting your Form I-765 to USCIS. As long as you properly file for your 17-month extension, your extension will start the day after your original OPT period expires. Additionally, once you properly file a request for extension, your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the extension application is pending. Although you will not receive any updated documentation until your OPT extension is approved, a properly filed extension request allows you to work using your expired EAD until the request is approved or denied.

 

How Do I Know if I am Eligible to Apply for the 17-month OPT Extension?

  1. You are eligible to apply for a one-time 17-month OPT extension, beyond your initial 12 months of OPT, if:

  2. You are currently approved for post-completion OPT;

  3. You have completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math field (see http://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2014/stem-list.pdf for a list of eligible degree fields);

  4. You have a job or job offer from an employer who is enrolled in the E-Verify program; and

  5. You have not previously received a 17-month OPT extension after earning a previous degree

 

Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Our experienced team of immigration lawyers in Houston & Dallas advises clients throughout the H-1B visa application process, including responding to various requests for evidence and consular processing issues. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.

  • (By Rahul Reddy & Rebecca Chen, Attorneys at Law)

This situation usually occurs when a visa holder’s passport expires prior to the end-date on the I-797 Approval Notice. If you are entering the U.S. as a nonimmigrant and your approval notice is valid until December 31, 2015, for example, but your passport expires on September 1, CBP will issue you an I-94 valid until September 1. Even though your petition was approved until the end of December, and your approval notice is valid until December, because your passport expires earlier, CBP will usually limit the I-94 to the passport expiration date. This is important, because the most recent I-94, not your approval notice, controls your status and length of authorized stay in the U.S. In the above scenario, if you stay in the U.S. beyond September 1 without filing an extension of status application, you will be considered out of status, despite the December 31 end-date on your approval notice.

If you find yourself in this situation and the I-94 expiration date has not passed, you can obtain a new I-94 that is valid until the petition end date by renewing your passport, exiting the U.S., and re-entering the U.S.  Present the renewed passport, your previous visa stamp, and I-797 Approval Notice, and explain the situation to the CBP officer at the port of entry, who should issue you a new I-94 valid until the approval notice end-date (December 31, 2015, based on the example above). While you can accomplish this by traveling to your home country and then returning to the United States, you may find it easier to travel to Mexico or Canada instead. 

If you decide to extend your I-94 by traveling to Canada or Mexico, here are some tips to ensure your experience goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Walk or fly across the border and back, rather than drive. Many visa holders have had success at border crossings such as San Diego, San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, and Brownsville (from Mexico), as well as Niagara Falls and Detroit (from Canada). While you may not have the opportunity to request a new I-94 if you drive across the border and back, crossing the border on foot or by flying will save you time at the border and will ensure that you have the ability to speak to a CBP officer who is able to issue you a new I-94. You will just need your valid passport with a US visa in order to enter Mexico or Canada. For example, at the San Diego/Tijuana border, simply cross into Mexico using the Pedestrian Bridge, make a U-turn, take the other side of the bridge back into the United States, and follow the “I-94 / Permits” line.

  • Ensure you bring the following with you:

(1)  Your old and new passports;

(2)  Your I-797; 

(3)  A letter from your employer verifying your employment, as well as your recent pay stubs (in case the CBP officer requests additional verification); and

(4)  Cash to pay the I-94 issuance fee (at the San Diego border crossing, this fee is $6, but it may vary elsewhere – the San Diego border crossing also accepts US credit cards).

  • Many border crossings are open 24/7, but check www.cbp.gov/contact/ports to verify the operating hours of the port of entry you wish to use. Be prepared to wait a few hours, depending on the time of day you choose to cross. 

If you realize that your I-94 has already expired, and you did not file an extension of status application because you believed your status was valid until the date on your approval notice, contact your employer and/or immigration counsel as soon as possible. Because you could be considered out of status, you will need to take steps immediately to remedy the situation. This is also why it is important that you check your I-94 details each time you enter the U.S. to ensure that the information is consistent with your application and passport. I-94 records are now automated and can be obtained by visiting http://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94.


Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Our experienced team of immigration lawyers in Houston & Dallas advises clients throughout the H-1B visa application process, including responding to various requests for evidence and consular processing issues. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.

 

 

 

What is Global Entry?

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Fiscal Year 2014 Performance and Accountability Report, 107 million aircraft passengers underwent CBP processing when traveling to the United States in 2014. With so many travelers entering and leaving the United States each year, it is common for some individuals to be subjected to the added wait and hassle of undergoing “secondary inspection” by CBP when traveling, merely because they share a similar name with someone on a U.S. government watchlist. As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security states on its website, “Many people erroneously believe that they are experiencing a screening delay because they are on a watchlist. In fact, such delays are often caused merely by a name similarity to another person who is on the watchlist.”

One way to avoid additional screening delays and expedite entry into the U.S. if you encounter such problems is by enrolling in CBP’s Global Entry program. Instead of undergoing traditional customs inspection by a U.S. border control agent, the Global Entry program allows arriving travelers to become pre-approved as a “trusted traveler” for entry into the United States, and allows them to enter the U.S. by simply answering a few questions at an automated kiosk and scanning their fingerprints. Global Entry can help any U.S. citizen or permanent resident save time at Customs, but is especially useful for those who find they frequently encounter delays and secondary inspection when traveling. 

TSA Pre-Check

An added benefit of joining Global Entry is that all Global Entry members are eligible to participate in the TSA Pre-Check program. Pre-Check can allow you to skip the line at airport security, even when you are not traveling internationally. Pre-Check flyers not only save time in line, but also are able to pass through security screening without removing their shoes, jacket, or belt, or having to take laptops out from their bags. Registering for Pre-Check alone normally costs $85 for five years; however, Pre-Check is included with a Global Entry membership, making Global Entry a worthwhile alternative for those who also travel internationally. 

How Do I Join Global Entry?

In order to qualify for Global Entry, an applicant must first complete an online application through the Global Online Enrollment System (“GOES”, found at https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes) and pay the $100 application fee. Once the application is reviewed, you will receive a message in your GOES account instructing you to schedule a 30-minute in-person interview at one of the Global Entry enrollment centers, located at most U.S. international airports and major border crossings. At the interview, a CBP officer will ask you questions, take your photo, and scan your fingerprints to be entered into the Global Entry system. You will then be notified if your application is approved, allowing you to start traveling without future delays and inconvenience for up to five years.

 

 

Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is highly experienced in working with employment-based visas, adjustment of status, green cards, and PERM labor certification. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.

On July 21, USCIS released its final guidance concerning when an amended H-1B petition is needed due to a work location change, in light of the April AAO decision in Matter of Simeio Solutions, LLC. Previous statements by USCIS on this matter, particularly its web alert released on May 21, are considered interim guidance only; H-1B employers and employees should now rely on and follow the final guidance released on July 21, which provides:

When an Amendment is Needed

When an amendment petition is required will depend on when the H-1B employee changed work locations. If the work location change occurred:

(1)  On or before April 9, 2015: The final guidance states that “USCIS will generally not pursue new revocations or denials based upon failure to file an amended or new petition.” This means that if the work location change occurred prior to April 9, and there are no other regulatory violations, an amended H-1B petition is probably not required. The guidance states that if the employer chooses to amend the petition anyway, it must do so by January 15, 2016. Amending the petition is advisable if there are other grounds for H-1B revocation involved, besides the work location change.

(2)  Between April 10 and August 18, 2015: An amended petition is required, and must be filed by January 15, 2016. In this final guidance, USCIS has essentially extended the prior August 19 deadline that it set in May. 

(3)  On or after August 19, 2015: A work location change that occurs on or after August 19 requires an amended petition, and the petition must be filed prior to the start of work at the new location. 

The definition of “new work location” remains unchanged from USCIS’s prior guidance following the Simeio Solutions decision – an amended petition is only required if the new location is outside the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) of the work location(s) listed in the employee’s most recently-approved H-1B application. A list of MSAs recognized by the government is available at: www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm, but please contact an attorney if you are uncertain concerning the MSA boundaries.

Additional Information Regarding Amended Petitions

The final guidance also confirmed that if an amended petition is denied, but the original H-1B approval is still valid (unexpired), the H-1B employee may maintain his/her status by returning to one of the work locations covered by the original approved petition. 

In addition, the guidance confirmed that subsequent amended petitions may be filed while a previous amended petition is still pending, in order to allow the H-1B employee to start work at a new location. However, the previous petition must still meet all the requirements of H-1B classification. Due to the difficulty of documenting project work at client locations at which the employee is no longer based, we would advise avoiding, if possible, having multiple petitions pending concurrently for the same H-1B worker. This can be avoided by filing an amended petition in premium processing if it appears that the H-1B employee will be assigned at that location for less than 6 months.

How to Proceed Now

In light of this final guidance, H-1B employers should review potential amended petitions that they are currently preparing to file, or are considering filing. The timing of the work location change will, in most cases, become the main factor in determining whether or how to proceed with the amendment process. We recommend that employers contact their immigration counsel to review these cases and determine whether and when an amended petition should be filed.

 

Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Our experienced team of immigration lawyers in Houston & Dallas advises clients throughout the H-1B visa application process, including responding to various requests for evidence and consular processing issues. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.