Immigration Alert: EB-1 Immigrant Visa Backlogs and Potential Impact
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) recently released the January 2019 Visa Bulletin. The employment-based first preference (EB-1) category, reserved for multinational executives and managers, individuals of extraordinary ability, and outstanding researchers, remains backlogged for all countries.
This Immigration Alert will discuss the background and potential impact of EB-1 retrogression, as well as possible alternate strategies for employers and foreign national employees.
Background: What is Immigrant Visa Retrogression?
Each year, by law, 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas (green cards) may be issued to qualified applicants. The visas are distributed among five employment-based (EB) preference categories and then allocated by country of birth according to Congressionally-mandated per country quotas. The EB preference categories are summarized in the monthly Visa Bulletin. Visa retrogression occurs when the number of individuals seeking a green card exceeds the number of visas available in the applicable EB preference category and specific country of birth. A “cut-off date” is then set and published in the Visa Bulletin. A queue to apply for the green card ensues and a foreign national is assigned a place in line based on his/her priority date.
For employment-based immigrants, the priority date is determined by the date that a PERM labor certification application is filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for the sponsored foreign national employee. In instances where a PERM labor certification is not required (e.g., for EB-1 petitions and EB-2 National Interest Waiver petitions), the priority date is determined by the date that an I-140 immigrant petition is filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In order for a foreign national to apply for a green card, his/her priority date must be available or “current” on the monthly DOS Visa Bulletin. An immigrant visa number is only available when the priority date is earlier than the cut-off date shown on the Visa Bulletin for the applicable EB preference category and country of birth.
Historically visa retrogression has been severe for foreign nationals born in China and India, particularly in the EB-2 and EB-3 preference categories and the result has been a multi-year wait to file green card applications. More recently, retrogression has impacted foreign nationals from every country who fall within the EB-1 category. While the EB-1 category has experienced retrogression for short periods in the past, it has not been prolonged, and typically has only occurred at the end of the fiscal year, as the supply of immigrant visas for that year was depleted.
What is the EB-1 Retrogression Forecast and What Does it Mean for Foreign Nationals?
- Over the next 8 to 12 months, the cut-off date for the EB-1 category is projected to advance to October 1, 2017 for Indian and Chinese nationals, and to June 1, 2018 for all other nationalities (EB-1 Worldwide). While priority cut-off dates are expected to advance, EB-1 Worldwide will likely remain backlogged for the duration of the fiscal year (through September 30, 2019). Such a prolonged EB-1 backlog is unusual, and may result in multinational managers and executives, individuals of extraordinary ability, and outstanding researchers waiting for lengthy periods before they may file green card applications.
- Foreign nationals who hold L-1 Intracompany Transferee nonimmigrant visa status could reach their visa maximum stay limit before they are eligible to apply for a green card, potentially resulting in interrupted U.S. work authorization and the need to depart the U.S. at the conclusion of their authorized temporary period of stay.
- Lengthy employment-based visa retrogression also denies sponsored foreign nationals and their dependent family members access to ancillary benefits that stem from the filing of an I-485, Adjustment of Status (green card) application. These benefits include eligibility for temporary international travel authorization, unrestricted U.S. work authorization for dependents, and the flexibility for the principal applicant to change jobs and employment locations once the I-485 application is pending for at least 180 days.
- The inability to apply for a green card may also result in the principal applicant’s dependent children (under age 21 and unmarried) “aging out” (i.e., turning 21). When a dependent child turns 21, he/she loses eligibility for dependent nonimmigrant visa status (such as L-2 and H-4 status), and may also lose eligibility to apply for a green card as the dependent of the principal applicant when an immigrant visa number finally becomes available.
Possible Alternative Strategies for Employers and Foreign National Employees
- Immigrant Visa Strategies: Immigrant visas in the EB-2 category are available for nationals of countries other than India and China and in the EB-3 category for nationals of countries other than India, China, and the Philippines. Employers may consider sponsoring EB-2 advanced degree professional or National Interest Waivers petitions or EB-3 professional or skilled worker petitions for foreign nationals who otherwise qualify for EB-1. This option would primarily benefit individuals born in countries other than India and China, as these foreign nationals are experiencing more severe retrogression in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories. EB-2/EB-3 Worldwide availability may be short-lived, however. If sponsorship in these preference categories continues to increase, EB-2/EB-3 Worldwide is likely to experience visa retrogression as well.
- H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa: To maintain uninterrupted temporary work authorization while waiting for green card issuance, employers may wish to explore changing L-1 nonimmigrant visa holders to H-1B status, where appropriate. The American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21) permits certain H-1B visa holders to continue to extend their nonimmigrant visa status beyond their visa maximum stay date while subject to visa retrogression and waiting for green card issuance. In contrast, L-1 visa holders are not protected by AC21 and are not permitted to extend their nonimmigrant visa status past the maximum stay date. As a result, foreign national employees in L-1 status reaching their nonimmigrant visa maximum stay date could be required to depart the U.S. if they are subject to visa retrogression and unable to apply for their green card prior to their visa maximum stay date. Changing to H-1B status may allow the sponsored foreign national employee to take advantage of AC21 protection and continue to work in the U.S. without interruption until a green card can be issued.
- Other Nonimmigrant Visa Options: Employers may wish to consider whether L-1 visa holders might also qualify for another nonimmigrant visa classification, such as H-1B1 Specialty Occupation status (for Chilean and Singaporean professionals), O-1 extraordinary ability status, TN status (for Mexican and Canadian professionals), E-2 Treaty Trader/Investor status, or E-3 Specialty Occupation Status (for Australian professionals), as these categories do not have fixed visa maximum stay dates. However, it should be noted that these strategies may have potential drawbacks that should be considered in the context of the particular facts and circumstances of each case.
- Overseas Assignments: Employers may wish to consider arranging temporary overseas assignments for employees, as time spent working for an employer outside of the U.S. does not count toward the L-1 visa maximum stay date. In addition, the permanent residence process can be pursued while a foreign national employee is situated outside the U.S.
Under the current Administration, it is unlikely that Congress will act to increase the statutory limit of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas that may be issued each year. Therefore, it is expected that visa retrogression will continue to complicate both nonimmigrant and immigrant visa strategies and workforce planning for employers for the foreseeable future. We encourage employers to work with their designated Gibney representative to troubleshoot and explore the full range of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa options in an effort to avoid interruptions in U.S. work authorization for valued foreign national employees.
For more information on immigrant visa availability, priority dates, and retrogression, please visit the USCIS website here.
If you have any questions about this alert, please contact your Gibney representative or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The general information provided herein is not intended to serve as a source of legal advice for any purpose. Please contact your designated Gibney representative or immigration counsel for specific legal advice.