As published in the Immigration Daily on November 24, 2023

This is the fourth of four articles on the notice of proposed rulemaking, “Modernizing H-1B Requirements, Providing Flexibility in the F-1 Program, and Program Improvements Affecting Other Nonimmigrant Workers,” published in the Federal Register on 10/23/23. Written comments are due on or before 12/22/23.

USCIS is reinstating the deference policy which instructs officers to consider prior determinations involving the same parties and facts, when there is no material error with the prior determination, no material change in circumstances or in eligibility, and no new material information adversely impacting eligibility. Here USCIS may consider including the word “clear” to emphasize that errors, changes, eligibility, and adverse information should not only be “material”, but should be “clear” errors, changes, eligibility, and adverse information to reduce the chances that a decision will just be made on difference in opinion between two officers.

Eliminating the itinerary requirement for H programs – the reason being that the itinerary is largely duplicative of information already provided in the LCA.

Where USCIS approves an H-1B after the initially requested validity date has ended (typically through favorable motion to reopen, reconsider, or appeals), USCIS may issue an RFE asking whether the petitioner wants to update the dates of intended employment, and if the petitioner wishes, it can submit a different LCA that corresponds to the new requested validity dates even if the LCA is certified after the date the H-1B petition is filed. USCIS would then approve the H-1B petition for the new requested period of time for which eligibility has been established rather than require the petitioner to file a new or amended petition.

H-1B cap exemptions are changing in a way that may benefit a number of organizations in that the  requirement that a nonprofit research organization be “primarily engaged” in basic research and/or applied research and governmental research organization that its “primary mission” is the performance or promotion of basic research and/or applied research would be changed to replace “primarily engaged” and “primary mission” with “a fundamental activity of” to allow for such organizations that conduct research as a fundamental activity, but are not primarily engaged in research or where research is not the primary mission, to meet the definition of a nonprofit research or governmental research entity.

On the same subject of cap-exempt organizations, and those working for companies on the site of the exempt organization, DHS proposes to change the phrase “the majority of” to “at least half” to clarify that H-1B beneficiaries who equally split their work time between the exempt entity and a nonexempt entity, may be eligible for cap exemption. In this context, and taking into account that many positions are performed remotely, the proper focus is on the job duties, rather than where the duties are performed physically. Also that the requirement that a beneficiary’s duties “directly and predominantly further the essential purpose, mission, objectives, or functions” of the qualifying organization would be replaced with the requirement that the duties “directly further an activity that supports or advances one of the fundamental purposes, missions, objectives, or functions” of the organization.

USCIS is proposing an automatic extension of cap gap work authorization from September 30 to April 1 in the next year to deal with delayed adjudications and avoid potential disruptions in employment authorization. This will cover automatic extension of F-1 status, post completion OPT and STEM OPT.

USCIS is clarifying that petitioners can put in any date after October 1 for cap cases as long as the requested date does not exceed six months beyond the filing date without fear of the petition being rejected.

On beneficiary-owners, DHS wants to encourage beneficiary owned businesses to participate in the H-1B program with the idea that the beneficiary must perform specialty occupation duties the majority of the time even though he or she may perform duties that are directly related to owning and directing the business. The non-specialty occupation duties must be directly related to owning and directing the petitioner’s business although a beneficiary-owner may perform some incidental duties, such as making copies or answering the telephones. Non-specialty occupation duties may include but are not limited to signing leases, finding investors, and negotiating contracts. (It would appear that this petition must give a breakdown of the percentage of time spent performing each job duty). DHS is trying to set reasonable conditions for when the beneficiary owns a controlling interest, meaning that the beneficiary owns more than 50% of the petitioner or when the beneficiary has majority voting rights in the petitioner. There will be limitations in that the time given for initial approval and first extension is 18 months and any subsequent extension will not be limited and can be approved for up to three years.

This concludes our series.

The above article and the ones preceding it do not entirely cover all parts of the proposed rule. Readers can peruse the complete proposal in the Federal Register, Volume 88, No. 203, October 23, 2023. Parts covered were those deemed most important and interesting by this writer. In summing up, other than the beneficiary centric proposal, there are some novel propositions, some included as the result of successful court challenges, and some that just make common sense. The DHS comment that “[W]hen DHS considered the immense cost savings that registration provides to both USCIS and stakeholders and the significant resources the agency would incur to revert back to a paper-based filing system for all cap-subject cases, the benefits of having a registration system still outweigh the costs and any potential problems caused by frivolous filings” is nonsensical in light of the catastrophic outlined abuses if the proposed beneficiary centric system is not ready in March.