USCIS Proposes Rule to Improve Employment-Based Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Programs

by Joseph McKeown

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) are now seeking public comments on a proposed rule to “modernize and improve certain aspects of employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs.” Coming out of President Obama’s 2014 executive actions, these changes could potentially affect a large number of skilled immigrant workers as well as many applying for an employment authorization document (EAD). Specifically, the new rule also proposes to “better enable US 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 (LPRs).”

The rule, published in the Federal Register as Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High-Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers, proposes many key changes that could have a significant impact on the careers and lives of certain foreign nationals. Among the highlights, USCIS proposes to:   

  • Discontinue the ninety-day adjudication time limit for the employment authorization document (EAD) application process and instead provide for automatic extensions of timely-filed I-765 applications assuming certain conditions are met;
  • Allow a ten-day grace period now available to H-1B workers at the beginning and end of the authorized stay to other non-immigrant categories including E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1, and TN classifications;
  • Establish a “one-time” grace period (no working allowed) for up to sixty days for certain highly-skilled nonimmigrant workers under E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, or TN status whenever their employment ends to pursue new employment;   
  • Allow US employers to employ and retain foreign workers who are beneficiaries of approved employment-based immigrant visa petitions (i.e., I-140 petitions) by allowing these workers to accept promotions, make position changes with current employers, switch employers, and pursue other employment opportunities;
  • Improve job portability for certain beneficiaries of approved I-140 petitions by limiting the grounds for automatic revocation of petition approval; 
  • Explain when applicants may retain their priority date to use when applying for adjustment of status (AOS) to lawful permanent residence, including when USCIS has revoked the I-140 approval because of the employer's business termination or I-140 withdrawal; 
  • Allow certain highly-skilled individuals in the United States in E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, or O-1 status to apply for one year of unrestricted employment authorization if they are the beneficiaries of an approved I-140 petition, are unable to adjust status due to visa unavailability, and can provide evidence that compelling circumstances exists which justify issuing an employment authorization document.

These proposed changes wouldn’t take effect until after the comments period ends February 29, 2016, and until after the final rule is published. Individuals should follow the instructions in the notice to submit comments.