26 March 2009

New requirements for H-1B American visa applicants

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced changes to the requirements for H-1B American visa holders.

The H-1B visa allows foreign workers to live and work in the US on a temporary American visa, provided an American employer petitions the USCIS on behalf of the prospective employee to get the visa grant.  The foreign worker must have been working in a specialty occupation and the employer (petitioner) must file a labour condition application before the visa can be processed.

The new requirement means that employers who receive funds through the Troubled Asset Relief Program or covered funding need to fill in the revised version of the Form I-129 when filing the Labor Condition Application.

The changes are the result of the new "Employ American Workers Act" (EAWA) introduced by President Obama this year, and are part of the new administration's attempts to protect the jobs of American workers from having foreign workers take their place.

All H-1B petitions filed on or after 17 February 2009 will be subject to this act, including those who are already H-IB status and have not started employment as of that date.

The EAWA does not apply to H-1B petitions for those already working in another category on a different America visa, or those who are extending their H-1B visa to stay with their employer.

The next lottery round of petitions will be starting 1 April for the 2010 fiscal year. 

In related news, Network World News reports that legal experts are expecting that fewer H-1B visa petitions will be sent for the 2010 lottery because of the new EAWA requirements and the current economic conditions.  With 65,000 visa places to be filled, plus an extra 20,000 H-1B visas for American university graduates, experts are predicting the H-1B visa program will not fulfil its cap, and survey results have supported the prediction.

According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) survey, nearly three quarters of those surveyed expect there to be fewer petitions for the American visa type this year.

"The survey shows that fewer companies are going to file H-1B petitions for a number of reasons, but the main reason is the current economy," says Eleanor Pelta, AILA official and Morgan, Lewis and Bockius immigration partner in Washington D.C.

"That means the chances for many companies to get an H-1B are better. In the past, the demand was more than double the available visas so hiring a foreign national was really a crapshoot for most companies."

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in American visa and immigration services.

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