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Analysis of the 60-Day Grace Period for Nonimmigrant Workers

The Department of Homeland Security issued final regulations on November 17, 2016 entitled “Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers” to provide relief to high skilled workers born mainly in India and China who are caught in the crushing backlogs in the employment-based preferences. The rule took effect on January 17, 2017. My prior blog analyzed the key provisions of the rule. This blog examines the provision that authorizes a 60-day grace period for workers whose jobs get terminated while employed in nonimmigrant status.

The rule provides two grace periods to nonimmigrant visa holders. 8 CFR 214.1(l)(1) provides for a 10-day grace period at the start and end of the validity period for E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, L-1 and TN nonimmigrant workers [note that H-2B, H-3, O and P nonimmigrants already enjoy 10-day grace periods in existing regulations].  8 CFR 214.1(l)(2) allows E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1or TN nonimmigrant workers a grace period of 60 days based upon a cessation of their employment. The 60-day grace period is indeed a salutary feature. Up until January 17, 2017, whenever workers in nonimmigrant status got terminated, they were immediately considered to be in violation of status. There was also no grace period to depart the United States. Therefore, if a worker got terminated on a Friday, and did not depart on the same day, but only booked the flight home on Sunday, this individual would need to disclose on a future visa application, for all times, that s/he had violated status. Derivative family members, whose fortunes were attached to the principal’s, would also be rendered out of status upon the principal falling out status. Thus, the 60-day grace period not only gives the worker more time to leave the United States, but it also provides a window of opportunity to transition to another employer who can file an extension or change of status within the 60-day period. Similarly, the worker could also potentially change to some other status on his or her own, such as to F-1, after enrolling in a school. Prior to January 17, 2017, nonimmigrant workers who fell out of status upon cessation of their employment, and sought a late extension or change of status had to invoke the USCIS’s favorable discretion pursuant to 8 CFR 214 .1(c)(4) and 8 CFR 248(b)(1)-(2) by demonstrating, among other things, extraordinary circumstances.

Several questions have come up relating to when the 60-day grace period will trigger and how often can it be used. It would be useful to reproduce the provisions authorizing grace periods in their entirety for purposes of analyzing these questions.

§214.1 Requirements for admission, extension, and maintenance of status

(l) Period of stay. (1) An alien admissible in E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, L-1, or TN classification and his or her dependents may be admitted to the United States or otherwise provided such status for the validity period of the petition, or for a validity period otherwise authorized for the E-1, E-2, E-3, and TN classifications, plus an additional period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends. Unless authorized under 8 CFR 274a.12, the alien may not work except during the validity period.

(2) An alien admitted or otherwise provided status in E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1 or TN classification and his or her dependents shall not be considered to have failed to maintain nonimmigrant status solely on the basis of a cessation of the employment on which the alien’s classification was based, for up to 60 consecutive days or until the end of the authorized validity period, whichever is shorter, once during each authorized validity period. DHS may eliminate or shorten this 60-day period as a matter of discretion. Unless otherwise authorized under 8 CFR 274a.12, the alien may not work during such a period.

(3) An alien in any authorized period described in paragraph (l) of this section may apply for and be granted an extension of stay under paragraph (c)(4) of this section or change of status under 8 CFR 248.1, if otherwise eligible.

The answers to the questions I raise are not definitive as all of them involve a case of first impression, although some are based on the DHS’s responses to comments in the preamble, and USCIS may disagree. I do hope, however, that my attempted responses will be helpful for those who need to claim the grace period in situations that are not so clear cut.

How many times can I use the 60-day grace period?

The rule at 214.1(l)(2) states that you are entitled to the 60-day grace period “once during each authorized validity period.” 214.1(l)(1) defines validity period as a nonimmigrant who “may be admitted to the United States or otherwise provided such status for the validity period of the petition, or for a validity period otherwise authorized for the E-1, E-2, E-3, and TN classifications, plus an additional period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends.”

It thus appears that you are entitled to the 60-day grace period once during each validity period of the petition. Take for example an individual who has been admitted into the US under an H-1B visa petition with a validity period till December 31, 2017. If she gets terminated from her job with Company A, she will be entitled to the 60-day grace period that allows her to maintain H-1B status despite the cessation of employment. She finds a new job with Company B, which files an H-1B petition and extension of status within this 60-day period, resulting in an H-1B petition that is valid from August 1, 2017 to August 1, 2020. She arguably is now within a new validity period. If she gets terminated again by Company B, she should be able to seek another 60-day grace period.

The following extract from the preamble can aid us in this interpretation:

An individual may benefit from the 60-day grace period multiple times during hir or her total time in the United States; however, this grace period may only apply one time per authorized nonimmigrant validity period.

What if the new validity period filed by new employer Company B ends on the same date as the validity period of the petition filed by Company A?

Let’s now assume that December 31, 2017 is the final sixth year of this individual’s time spent in H-1B status. When the new employer, Company B, files the H-1B petition during the 60-day grace period, she is only entitled to H-1B status until December 31, 2017, which is the same validity period as the prior H-1B petition of Company A. If Company B terminates her, will she be entitled to a new 60-day grace period? The preamble to the final rule provides this guidance: “DHS clarifies that, while the grace period may only be used by an individual once during any single authorized validity period, it may apply to each authorized validity period the individual receives.” Although the end date of Company B’s H-1B petition, December 31, 2017, is the same as Company A’s, this is arguably still a new validity period even though it ends on the same day as the prior validity period. Therefore, she can argue that she is entitled to a new 60-day grace period. A new validity period should not be defined as having a different time frame from the older validity period; rather a new validity period resulted because of an extension request through a different petition. However, it is possible that USCIS may reach a different conclusion.

I got laid off by my employer while in H-1B status because the employer did not have enough business. Within 60 days, the employer got new business and rehired me again. Can I just resume employment with that employer without filing a new extension of status petition or leaving and returning to US again in H-1B status?

The purpose of the rule, especially at 214.1(l)(3), is to allow a worker to change or extend status within the 60-day period or to depart the US. However, if the worker is still within the validity period under H-1B classification, then arguably this worker can resume employment with the same employer. The worker never lost status during that 60-day grace period, and if joining the same employer, may not need to file an extension with the same employer. This is also a situation where the worker would most likely not be able to get a second 60-day grace period within the validity period of the same petition or admission. Legacy INS has indicated that when an H-1B worker returns to the former employer after a new extension of status has been filed through the new employer, the first company need not file a new H-1B petition upon the H-1B worker’s return as the first petition remains valid. See Letter, LaFluer, Chief, Business and Trade Branch, Benefits Division, INS, HQ 70/6.2.8 (Apr. 29, 1996); Letter, Hernandez, Director, Business and Trade Services, INS (April. 24, 2002).

Note, however, that if the employer laid off the H-1B worker, and did not notify USCIS regarding the termination, the employer could still potentially be liable for back wages under its obligation to pay the required wage under the Labor Condition Application for failing to effectuate a bona fide termination. See Amtel Group of Fla., Inc. v. Yongmahapakorn, ARB No. 04-087, ALJ No. 2004-LCA-0006 (ARB Sept. 29, 2006). Therefore, if the employer notified the USCIS, which resulted in the withdrawal of the H-1B petition, and the same employer files a new H-1B petition within the 60-day grace period, it could arguably create a new validity period. If the employee is terminated for a second time, it may be possible to argue that he is entitled to a new 60-day grace period.

Can I carry over unused days if I do not use all 60 days of the grace period?

The 60 days must be used consecutively and any unused days may not be used later in the same validity period or carried over into a subsequent validity period.

What if my job gets terminated when there are less than 60 days left of my nonimmigrant status?

The rule clearly states that you are entitled to a grace period of 60 consecutive days or until the end of the authorized validity period, whichever is shorter.

Can I get an additional 10 days grace period beyond the 60-day grace period?

In most cases the answer is “No”. However, there may be an exception where the cessation of employment was within the last 60 days of the validity period, and the worker was provided with a grace period of 10 days upon his last admission to the US. Under this limited case, the DHS will consider the nonimmigrant to have maintained status for 60 days immediately preceding the expiration of the validity period plus an additional 10 days. If the cessation of employment occurred when there were only 30 days left before the end of the validity period, then the individual should conceivably be able to claim a 30-day grace period plus 10 days.

Prior to my validity period ending in L-1A status, the same employer filed an extension of status, which got denied after the end of the prior validity period in L-1A status. Am I entitled to the 60-day grace period?

No. There is no grace period after an approved validity period has ended and when an extension of stay has been denied after that period. The 60-day grace period is intended to apply to individuals whose employment ends prior to the end of their approved validity period.

I ported while in H-1B status from Company A to Company B, and the petition for new employment is denied prior to the expiration of the validity period of the previous petition. Am I entitled to a 60-day grace period?

Yes. In this scenario, and as the preamble to the rule suggests, you will be entitled to a 60-day grace period. However, you will not be entitled to the grace period if the extension request is denied after the expiration of the validity period of the H-1B petition of Company A.

At issue is whether the grace period will be available if the same Company B files the H-1B again or must a new Company C file the new employer and extension petition? Since the grace period is applicable to the worker upon cessation of employment, it should not matter whether Company B or Company C files the new H-1B extension. However, readers should be forewarned that the USCIS still has discretion in determining whether the 60-day grace period is applicable or not. If Company B’s petition was denied for egregious reasons relating to fraud, the USCIS may likely not exercise its discretion favorably with respect to honoring the grace period.

Does it matter whether the employer terminates me or I leave the employer in order to be entitled to the 60-day grace period?

214.1(l)(2) states that the 60-day grace period triggers “on the basis of a cessation of the employment on which the alien’s classification was based.” Therefore, arguably it should not matter whether the termination occurred on the employer’s or the employee’s initiative. Again, the USCIS has discretion to decide whether a grace period will be applicable on a case by case basis.

Can I work during either the 60-day or 10-day grace period?

No. Because the rule was meant to facilitate the ability of nonimmigrants to transition to new employment, seek a change of status or depart the US, the rule clearly prohibits any form of employment.

The preamble to the rule even suggests that a nonimmigrant worker may not use the 60-day or 10-day period to work to start their own businesses too. However, if the activities for starting a business do not constitute work, especially if they would be permissible “non-work” activities under the B-1 visa, then one could argue that the person did not engage in prohibited activity during the grace period. However, this is risky given that the preamble has not made any distinction between work and non-work activities relating to the startup of a business.

Can I travel during either the 60-day or 10-day grace period in case of an emergency?

Although the rule is silent about travel, it is strongly advised that the nonimmigrant worker not travel during any of the grace periods. When the individual returns from the trip abroad, he or she will not be coming to join an employer and CBP will most likely not admit her. One of the purposes of the grace period is to facilitate departure from the US, and so it will be going against the intent of the rule if the individual departs and then tried to seek admission again. In the F-1 context, which provides a 60-day grace period to prepare for departure, see 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(iv), travelling back to the US is clearly not contemplated during this period.

Can I port to a new employer who files an H-1B petition during the 60-day grace period after my job was terminated by the old employer?

Yes. You are still considered to be maintain H-1B status during the grace period. If a new employer files the H-1B petition, you can exercise portability pursuant to INA 214(n) by commencing employment for the second employer after the H-1B petition has been filed with USCIS.

Can I request employment authorization in compelling circumstances while within the grace period?

Yes. The rule at 204.5(p) clearly states that the principal beneficiary of an approved petition when the priority date is not current can request a work authorization under compelling circumstances if the individual is in E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, O-1 or L-1 nonimmigrant status, “including the periods authorized by 214.1(l)(1) and (2)…..”

If I am unable to find a new job within the 60-day grace period, and find one after 60 days, and the new employer files the H-1B petition 80 days after the cessation of employment with my first employer, am I still eligible for an extension of H-1B status with the new employer?

The USCIS always has discretion to accept late filings based on extraordinary circumstances pursuant to 8 CFR 214.1(c)(4).

Can the USCIS give me less than 60 or 10 days of the grace period?

As noted, the USCIS can always exercise its discretion and will determine whether the facts and circumstances warrant shortening a grace period on a case by case basis. The following extract from the preamble is worth noting:

At the time a petitioner files a nonimmigrant visa petition requesting an extension of stay or change of status, DHS will determine whether facts and circumstances may warrant shortening or refusing the 60- day period on a case-by-case basis. If DHS determines credible evidence supports authorizing the grace period, DHS may consider the individual to have maintained valid nonimmigrant status for up to 60 days following cessation of employment and grant a discretionary extension of stay or a change of status to another nonimmigrant classification. See 8 CFR 214.1(c)(4) and 248.1(b). Such adjudications require individualized assessments that consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding the cessation of employment and the beneficiary’s activities after such cessation. While many cases might result in grants of 60-day grace periods, some cases may present factors that do not support the favorable exercise of this discretion. Circumstances that may lead DHS to make a discretionary determination to shorten or entirely refuse the 60-day grace period may include violations of status, unauthorized employment during the grace period, fraud or national security concerns, or criminal convictions, among other reasons.

The same logic would apply to the USCIS’s ability to exercise discretion with respect to the 10-day grace period.

How do I apply for the 60-day grace period?

There is no specific application or form. The USCIS will make an after the fact determination when you apply for an extension of status or change of status upon the cessation of employment. It is advisable to explain that you are using the grace period in a letter or affidavit.

(This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for legal advice)

High Skilled Worker Rule – Is There Scope For Porting On A Labor Certification?

By Cyrus D. Mehta & David A. Isaacson

Our firm provided selected comments to the  proposed DHS rule entitled “Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers.” These comments are based primarily on three recent blogs:

Including Early Adjustment Filing in Proposed DHS Rule Impacting High-Skilled Workers Would Give Big Boost to Delayed Green Card Applicants

Preserving H-1B Extension For Spouse And Freezing Age Of Child In Rule Impacting High-Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers

The Opportunity to Be Heard: Why New DHS Proposed Regulations Regarding I-140 Petitions Should Incorporate and Expand Upon the Rule of Mantena v. Johnson.

Our comments focused on areas that others may not have commented on, and may require the DHS and even the DOL to propose supplemental rules. However, if our comments are considered, they will greatly improve the proposed rule.

The centerpiece of the rule is to grant work authorization to beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions who are caught in the crushing employment-based backlogs. The requirement of demonstrating compelling circumstances has disappointed beneficiaries, along with further restrictions relating to the renewal of the work authorization. We do hope that the DHS removes these restrictions so that deserving beneficiaries are able to easily obtain work authorization.

It would also be highly desirable for beneficiaries of such approved I-140 petitions to exercise   job portability, and not be required to re-start the labor certification process through a new employer, even though the proposed rule allows for the retention of the old priority date under certain circumstances. Recognizing that INA 204(j) requires a pending I-485 adjustment application for 180 days, and thus the DHS may not be receptive to arguments that may justify portability, we proposed that DHS also consider promulgating a rule that would recognize the ability of applicants to file early adjustment applications based on a filing date that would be far ahead of the final action date in the State Department Visa Bulletin, even if theoretically one visa is only available in a preference category. The existence of a pending I-485 application would allow for true job mobility pursuant to INA 204(j).  If DHS does not accept our proposal for an early adjustment filing, we have proposed in our comment the following innovation, which we reproduce below:

“Modifying Labor Certification Rules to Provide Greater Flexibility to Beneficiaries of Approved Labor Certifications

Finally, we take this opportunity to suggest that USCIS propose to another Executive Branch department, specifically, the Department of Labor (“DOL”), some regulatory changes which would mesh well with those that USCIS has proposed and assist in accomplishing the goals of the President’s initiative.

First, we propose that the DOL should formalize a policy, previously suggested in some case law of the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (“BALCA”), whereby an employer who wishes to offer an alien prospective employee a position which in substance has already been the subject of an approved labor certification, even for another employer, does not need to go through the entire labor certification process all over again.

In Matter of Law Offices of Jean-Pierre Karnos, 2003-INA-18, 2004 WL 1278081 (Bd. Alien Lab. Cert. App. 2004) [hereafter referred to as Matter of Karnos], BALCA held that if “there is a bona fide job opportunity which remains the same, despite the change in employers,” then “[t]he absence of a contractual agreement between [the employers] does not negate the fact that a bona fide job opportunity exists” and thus “the change in employers, when an adequate test of the labor market has been performed and when the position remains the same, does not offend the policies of labor certification.” Matter of Karnos, 2004 WL 1278081 at *2-*3. This is, we would submit, consistent with the text and purpose of INA § 212(a)(5)(A), which focuses on the effect on U.S. workers of the alien filling a particular position, rather than the identity of the employer who wishes to hire the alien to fill that position.

In Matter of Karnos, the lawyer who had operated the law office that was the original employer, Jean-Pierre Karnos, had died before a final decision was made on the application for labor certification. Matter of Karnos, 2004 WL 1278081 at *1. James G. Roche, Esq., continued to run a similar law firm under the name of the Law Offices of James Roche, but could not demonstrate that he had any formal contractual relationship with Mr. Karnos so as to assume ownership of Mr. Karnos’s firm. Id. at *1-2. The initial Certifying Officer within the Department of Labor denied labor certification based on the difference in employers, as BALCA explained:

[T]he CO stated that Mr. Roche was “unable to provide that he and Jean-Pierre Karnos had a written contractual or inheritance agreement.” Therefore, the CO found that Mr. Roche was a separate employer and should not be entitled to the application signed by another party. The CO denied certification on the ground that two “distinctly different employers” were involved and there was no agreement to “attest to the legality of this condition.”

Matter of Karnos, 2004 WL 1278081 at *2.

In his request for review by BALCA, Mr. Roche clarified that while he could not establish a formal relationship with the late Mr. Karnos, “he was offering the same position of accountant, under the same terms and conditions, including the same wage, set forth in the original application.” Id. BALCA agreed that this was sufficient:

In general, a new employer must file a new application unless the same job opportunity and the same area of intended employment are preserved. International Contractors, Inc. [and Technical Programming Services, Inc., 1989-INA-278 (Bd. Alien Lab. Cert. App. 1990)]; Germania Club, Inc., 1994-INA-391 (May 25, 1995). When the employer has clearly demonstrated that the job opportunity, including the wage paid, remains the same such that there is still a bona fide job opportunity, a new application is not required.

In this case, there is a bona fide job opportunity and an adequate test of the labor market has been performed. The new Employer, Mr. Roche, has indicated that the duties of the job remain the same and that the salary is the same. The same job opportunity has been preserved. The absence of a contractual agreement between Mr. Karnos and Mr. Roche does not negate the fact that a bona fide job opportunity exists with Mr. Roche as the employer. The new Employer has clearly demonstrated that there is a bona fide job opportunity which remains the same, despite the change in employers.

Therefore, in light of the particular factual circumstances presented by this case, we hold that the change in employers, when an adequate test of the labor market has been performed and when the position remains the same, does not offend the policies of labor certification. The former Employer attempted to recruit a U.S. worker for the position and the new Employer has certified that the position remains the same as that originally petitioned for, in the same area of employment. In such circumstances, labor certification should not be denied solely on the change in employers. Thus, the CO improperly denied certification.

Matter of Karnos, 2004 WL 1278081 at *2-*3.

DOL should amend the governing regulations to make explicit, and expand upon, the holding of Matter of Karnos. Where a new employer wishes to sponsor an employee for a position that remains the same, and is in the same area of employment, a new application for labor certification should not be required.

We also propose that DOL should add to Schedule A, at 20 CFR 656.5, a new “Group III” comprising persons who will be employed in a same or similar occupation to one for which they already have an approved labor certification from a different employer. Under such circumstances, it is reasonable for the Department of Labor to conclude on a categorical basis that there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available, and that the wages of United States workers similarly employed will not be adversely affected, because a similar determination has already been made in the process of granting the previously approved labor certification.  New employers should under such circumstances therefore be able to process their labor certification through USCIS pursuant to 20 CFR 656.15.  At the very least, even if DOL is not willing to have Schedule III cover such same or similar occupations on a nationwide basis, it should cover instances in which the alien has an approved labor certification for a same or similar occupation, and the area of intended employment for the position covered by the Schedule III filing is within normal commuting distance of the area of intended employment for the position covered by the previously approved labor certification.”

 

Preserving H-1B Extension For Spouse And Freezing Age Of Child In Rule Impacting High-Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers

The purpose of this blog is to draw attention to two little know legal concepts, which must either be preserved or introduced through the proposed rule entitled Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers”. They are concepts worthy of promotion since they would greatly benefit delayed green card applicants, especially with respect to extending H-1B status beyond the six years and freezing the age of a child under the Child Status Protection Act under a new I-140 petition. While there are many other proposals in need of repair and improvement, I focus on these two since I have dwelt on them with passion in past blogs, here and here, and now is a time to advocate for their inclusion in the proposed rule.

This rule when finalized will provide relief to skilled immigrants who are presently on nonimmigrant visas and are caught in the crushing employment-based backlogs. The centerpiece of this rule would allow beneficiaries of approved employment based immigration visa petitions, known as I-140 petitions, to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD), although it has disappointed many by setting stringent criteria, which would deter most from taking advantage of it. This has been addressed in my prior blog – Allowing Early Adjustment Filing in Proposed Rule Impacting Skilled Workers Would Give Big Boost to Delayed Green Card Applicants. Those who are disappointed must continue to forcefully advocate so that EADs can be granted to deserving beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions less restrictively in the final rule.

Preserving the Ability Of H-1B To Seek H-1B Extension Based On Other Spouse’s Labor Certification

The American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC 21) allows for an extension of H-1B visa status beyond the statutory time limitation of six years for those who cannot obtain a green card within this period. There are two pivotal provisions. AC 21 §106(a) allows for one year H-1B extensions beyond the sixth year if a labor certification application or I-140 petition was filed at least one year prior to the last day of the alien’s authorized admission in H-1B status. Under second provision, AC 21 §104(c), the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition can seek an H-1B extension for three additional years if it can be demonstrated that he or she is eligible for permanent residence but for the per country limitation.

The proposed rule seeks to provide this benefit only to the principal beneficiary and not to the spouse, assuming both are in H-1B status. While it is true that the other spouse who is not the direct beneficiary of a labor certification or I-140 petition can change status from H-1B to H-4 status, and seek an EAD as an H-4 spouse under the recently promulgated rule that allows for this, experience has shown that this can be a long process. Changing from H-1B to H-4 status can take several months, and there would also be additional delays in receiving the EAD. Even if the H-1B spouse proceeds overseas to apply for an H-4 visa, it would take at least 90 days before the H-4 spouse can obtain the EAD after being admitted into the US in that status. It is thus more convenient for the spouse who is also in H-1B status to continue to extend that H-1B status, and not disrupt his or her employment.

The rationale for not allowing a spouse who is also on an H-1B visa to use the other spouse’s labor certification or I-140 petition is not very convincing. The preamble discusses AC 21 §104(c), which limits H-1B nonimmigrant status beyond the six-years to the ‘beneficiary of a petition filed under section 204(a) of [the INA] for a preference status under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of section 203(b) [of the INA].” According to DHS’s logic, INA §203(b) applies only to principal beneficiaries, but not to derivative beneficiaries who are separately addressed in INA §203(d). The preamble also emphasizes that §104(c) refers to “the beneficiary” in the singular. The DHS uses this same logic to deprive the other H-1B spouse from extending H-1B status one year at a time based on the other spouse’s labor certification or I-140 petition filed 365 days prior under AC 21 106(a).

Unlike AC 21 104(c), which the DHS focused on, there is a clearer basis in AC 21 106(a) to allow an H-1B spouse to seek a one year extension of H-1B status beyond six years when the other spouse is the beneficiary of an appropriately filed labor certification.

On November 2, 2002, the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act (“21st Century DOJ Appropriations Act”) took effect and liberalized the provisions of AC21 that enabled nonimmigrants present in the United States in H-1B status to obtain one-year extensions beyond the normal sixth-year limitation. See Pub. L. No. 107–273, 116 Stat. 1758 (2002). The new amendments enacted by the 21st Century DOJ Appropriations Act liberalized AC21 § 106(a) and now permits an H-1B visa holder to extend her status beyond the sixth year if:

  1. 365 days or more have passed since the filing of any application for labor certification that is required or used by the alien to obtain status under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) § 203(b), 
  2. 365 days or more have passed since the filing of an Employment-based immigrant petition under INA § 203(b). 

Previously, AC21 § 106(a) only permitted one-year extensions beyond the sixth-year limitation if the H-1B nonimmigrant was the beneficiary of a labor certification or an I-140 petition, and 365 days or more had passed since the filing of a labor certification application or the I-140 petition. See Pub. L. No. 106-313, 114 Stat. 1251 (2000). The term “any application for labor certification” was absent in the original version of AC 21§106(a). Even under this more restrictive version of AC21 § 106(a), the Service applied a more liberal interpretation, permitting H-1B aliens to obtain one-year extensions beyond the normal sixth-year limitation where there was no nexus between the previously filed and pending labor certification application or I-140 petition and the H-1B nonimmigrant’s current employment. This is now fortunately preserved in the proposed rule, but there is no reason to also not allow a spouse to use “any” application for labor certification, which could be the labor certification filed on behalf of the other spouse.

With regards to the absence of INA §203(d) in AC21 §104(c) or §106(a), does this suggest that that only the principal spouse can immigrate under INA §203(b) and the derivative needs INA §203(d)? But INA 203(d) states that the spouse is “entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration provided in the respective subsection (INA § 203(a), § 203(b), or § 203(c)), if accompanying or following to join, the spouse or parent. Thus, the derivative spouse still immigrates under INA 203(b).” INA § 203(d), which was introduced by the Immigration Act of 1990 (“IMMACT90”), is essentially superfluous and only confirms that a derivative immigrates with the principal. See Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978 (1990). Prior to IMMACT90, there was no predecessor to INA § 203(d), and yet spouses immigrated with the principal. Thus, it is clear that a spouse does not immigrate via INA § 203(d), and the purpose of this provision is merely to confirm that a spouse is given the same order of consideration as the principal under INA § 203(b).

In conclusion, there is a very good argument under AC 21 §106(a) that the H-1B spouse can use “any” labor certification, which includes the labor certification filed on behalf of the other spouse, to seek an additional one year H-1B extension. Furthermore, there is also an equally good argument, applicable under both AC 21 §106(a) and §104(c), that the exclusion of the mention of INA §203(d) is not fatal as a derivative spouse also ultimately immigrates under INA §203(b). The fact that “beneficiary” is mentioned in the singular and not in the plural should also not undermine support for the notion that any beneficiary, either as principal or spouse, can qualify for an AC 21 H-1B extension who is capable of immigrating under a labor certification or I-140 petition, or both. DHS must interpret existing ameliorative provisions in AC 21 that Congress has specifically passed to relieve the hardships caused by crushing quota backlogs in a way that reflects the intention behind the law.

On a separate note, there is also no need to penalize an H-1B worker from availing from an AC 21 H-1B extension if s/he fails to file an adjustment application or make an application for an immigrant visa within 1 year of availability. If the rule allows an H-1B extension based on a labor certification or I-140 petition filed by another employer, it may take some time for the new employer to obtain another labor certification and I-140 approval. The exception provided in the rule for failure to file within 1 year should include this circumstance, where the applicant is waiting for another labor certification and I-140 petition through a new employer.

Freezing The Age Of A Child Under The Child Status Protection Act Even Through A New Petition

 One of the bright spots in the proposed rule at 8 CFR §204.5 is to clarify that even if an I-140 petition is revoked by the employer, the priority date of that I-140 petition can still be used if a new employer files another I-140 petition. Even if the earlier I-140 petition is not revoked, and the same employer wishes to upgrade from an EB-3 I-140 to an EB-2 I-140 petition, the priority date of the earlier EB-3 I-140 petition can still be retained. The ability to retain an old priority date always existed in the rule, but the proposed rule also clarifies that retention of the priority date is further permissible when an employer revokes a petition or goes out of business.

The key issue is whether the new I-140 petition would be able to continue to protect the age of the child under the CSPA even if it is filed after the child has turned 21. We assume that the prior I-140 petition froze the age of the child under the CSPA age protection formula because it was filed prior to the child turning 21, the date became current, and an I-485 adjustment application was filed within one year of visa availability. There are many beneficiaries under this scenario, including the class of 2007 adjustment applicants whose priority dates under the India EB-3 have not become current after they retrogressed in August 2007.Alternative, we assume that when the priority date of the earlier I-140 becomes current, it would still potentially be able to protect the age of the child. At issue is whether the new I-140 petition continues to protect the age of the child.

The CSPA, as codified in INA 203(h), applies to the “applicable” petition, and without further clarification it may be difficult to bootstrap the new I-140 onto the “applicable” prior I-140 petition, which is no longer being utilized but was filed before the child’s 21st birthday. There is room to interpret the term “applicable” petition to include the new I-140 petition, especially since the new I-140 petition recaptured the priority date of the old I-140 petition. This should be made explicit in the final rule where the new I-140 petition is considered the “applicable” petition for purposes of protecting the age of the child under the old petition. If an old I-140 petition revoked by an employer can be used for purposes of preserving the priority date in a new petition, port to another employer or seek an AC 21 H-1B extension, it should also be preserved for preserving the age of a child under the CSPA. Similarly, even if the I-140 petition is not revoked, a new I-140 petition, filed either by the same or new employer should be able to freeze the age of the child if the old I-140 petition was able to do so.

Conclusion

 It is important that everyone impacted by this rule should strive to improve it by submitting comments. We will continue to blog on this rule with the goal of providing stakeholders with good ideas for comments. While there is no guarantee that the DHS will incorporate all good and worthy ideas, it is important to continue to float such ideas as they can never really die, and have the potential to be included in other rules or even subsequently through legislation. The deadline for submitting comments to this proposed rule is February 29, 2016.