USCIS reaches FY 2020 H-1B regular cap

NITONG nakaraang April 5, 2019, o apat na araw pa lamang mula sa pagtanggap ng mga H1B Petition na bilang sa Fiscal Year 2020 cap, ang US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) ay naglabas na ng balita na ito ay nakatanggap na ng sapat na mga H1B Petition para umabot sa congressionally-mandated 65,000 H1B visa regular cap para sa Fiscal Year 2020.  Ang susunod na titignan ng USCIS ay kung sapat na ang natanggap na mga H1B Petition para sa master’s cap o yung may mga advanced degree.  Ang Master’s Cap exemption ay 20,000 bawat taon.

Sino nga ba ang maaaring makasama sa Master’s Cap exemption? Ayon sa batas, ang may eligibility para sa Master’s Cap exemption ay yung mga indibidwal na nakapagtapos ng master’s degree o mas mataas na degree mula sa United States institution of higher education.  Ang tinutukoy na “institution of higher education” ay isang public o non-profit educational institution na “accredited” o binigyan na ng “preaccreditation status” ng US Secretary of Education.   Hindi nakasaad sa batas kung kailangang ang educational institution ay accredited na noong panahon ng pagtatapos ng estudyante o sa petsa sa hinaharap kung kailan ang estudyante ay humihingi immigration benefit sa USCIS.   Ito ang isyu na isinalang sa Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) sa Matter of A-T-Inc.

Sa Matter of A-T-Inc., ang H1B employer ay nagfile ng H1B Petition sa ilalim ng Master’s Cap exemption para sa dayuhang empleyadong nakatapos ng Master’s degree (“Beneficiary”) sa isang educational institution o unibersidad sa California.  Ang Director ng California Service Center ay naglabas ng desisyon na denied ang H1B petition sapagkat ang nasabing unibersidad ay hindi accredited noong magbigay ito ng Master’s degree sa Beneficiary.  Dahil dito, ayon sa California Service Center, ang Beneficiary ay hindi nakapagtapos ng kanyang Master’s degree sa “United States institution of higher education”.

Sa kanyang apela sa AAO, iginiit ng H1B employer na hindi nakasaad sa batas na kailangang ang Master’s degree ay magmula sa United States institution of higher education noong panahong ay degree ay ginawad.  Sinabi pa ng H1B employer na noong isinalang na sa USCIS ang H1B Petition sa ilalim ng Master’s Cap exemption, ang sinasabing unibersidad ay may accreditation na.  Sa madaling salita, ang Beneficiary ay nakapagtapos ng kanyang Master’s degree bago nakakuha ang unibersidad ng preaccreditation o accreditation status, ngunit noong ang H1B employer ay nag-file na ng H1B Petition, ang unibersidad ay may preaccreditation status na.

Ayon sa interpretasyon ng AAO ng batas, ang mga kwalipikasyaon ng educational institution ay kailangang nasunod na sa pahanon na ang master’s degree ay ipinagkaloob, at hindi sa hinaharap na panahon.  Kung ang educational institution ay may preaccrediation o accreditation status na noong ipagkaloob ang master’s degree, ito ay nagpapatibay ng kalidad ng edukasyon para sa Master’s Cap exemption.  Kung ang educational institution ay nakakuha lamang ng nararapat na preaccrediation o accreditation status noong humihingi na ang beneficiary ng immigration benefit sa USCIS, maaaring masabing tagilid ang kalidad ng edukasyong kanyang nakamit.  Sinabi pa ng AAO na kung ang beneficiary ay nakakuha ang kanyang master’s degree noong ang education institution ay may preaccrediation o accreditation status, kapag ang educational institution pagkaraan ng panahon ay mawalan ng accreditation, ang beneficiary ay pasok pa rin sa Master’s Cap exemption.

Ano ang mangyayari sa mga di nakasali sa cap-subject petition?  Ang USCIS ay magbibigay ng mga “Rejection Letters” sa H1B employers at isasauli din ang filing fees nila.

Para sa mga H1b Petition na cap-exempt para sa 2020 tulad ng mga empleyadong aprobabado na ang H1B at kabilang na sa nakaraang H1B-cap, at pinananatili pa rin ang kanilang cap-number, ang USCIS ay patuloy pa ring tatanggap at magpo-proseso ng mga ito.   Para sa mga empleyadong ito na may aprubadong H1B petition, sila ay maaaring:

1. mag-file ng H1B extension;

2. magpalit ng mga tuntunin at kundisyon ng trabaho;

3. magpalit ng H1B employer; at

4. mag-file ng pangalawang H1B petition para sa kasabay o concurrent H1B employment.

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On April 5, 2019, the USCIS issued a news alert that it has received a sufficient number of H1-b petitions projected as needed to reach the congressionally-mandated 65,000 H1B visa regular cap for Fiscal Year 2020.  USCIS will then determine when it has received a sufficient number of petitions to meet the 20,000 H1-B visa US advanced degree exemption or the master’s cap.

Eligibility for the Master’s Cap exemption is reserved for an individual who has earned a master’s or higher degree from a US institution of higher education.  An institution of higher education is defined as a public or nonprofit educational institution that is accredited or has been granted preaccreditation status by the US Secretary of Education.  The statute does not, however, expressly state whether the institution must have been (pre-)accredited at the time the degree was earned or at some different point in time when a relevant immigration benefit is adjudicated. This was the issue raised before the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) in Matter of A-T-Inc.

In Matter of A-T-Inc., the H1B employer filed an H1B Petition under the Master’s Cap exemption for a beneficiary who earned his degree from an educational institution in California before the university obtained its preaccreditation or accreditation status.  However, when the H1B Petition was filed, the university already attained preaccreditation status.

According to the AAO, the provisions of statute are construed to require that the institution’s qualifications be established at the time the degree is earned.  This will help to ensure the quality of education necessary to merit a Master’s Cap exemption.  Assessing the educational institution’s qualifications at a later time – such as when an immigration benefit is requested for one of the institution’s graduates – does not advance those quality considerations.   Also, under the AAO’s interpretation of statute, an individual who earns a degree from a (pre-) accredited institution may continue to qualify for the Master’s Cap exemption even if the institution later closes or loses its (pre-) accreditation status.

What happens to the unselected cap-subject petitions?  The USCIS will issue “Rejection Letters” and return filing fees.  USCIS will also continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from cap – current H1B workers who have been previously counted against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, are exempt from the FY 2020 cap.  USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions to:

1. extend H1B Petitions;

2. change terms of employment for current H1B workers, such as higher position and higher salary;

3. allow current H1-b workers to change employers; and

4. allow current H1-b workers to work concurrently in a second H1-b position.

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Atty. Rhea Samson is a partner at Lindain & Samson Law Firm. Atty. Lindain and Atty. Samson are licensed attorneys both in California and the Philippines. They are also professors. Lindain & Samson Law Firm aims to provide excellent and effective legal representation to their clients, and support them in achieving their dreams. As professors, Atty. Lindain and Atty. Samson strive to educate the younger generation as they believe that education is the way for progress and to attain success in life in order to serve other people.

Visit us at our office at 3580 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1710, Los Angeles, CA 90010 or contact us by telephone at (213) 381-5710 or email [email protected].

Atty. Rhea Samson

ATTY. RHEA SAMSON is the principal of SAMSON LAW FIRM, PC. She has been a member of the State Bar of California for over 15 years and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for over 20 years. Atty. Samson received her Legal Management degree from the Ateneo de Manila University and her Juris Doctor degree from the Ateneo Law School. She was a Professor for over 10 years, teaching Obligations and Contracts, Labor Laws and Social Legislation and Taxation Law. Atty. Samson is the author of The Law on Obligations and Contracts (2016), Working with Labor Laws-Revised Edition (2014) and Working with Labor Laws (2005). Visit our office at SAMSON LAW FIRM, P.C., 3580 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1710, Los Angeles, CA 90010; Phone: (213) 381-5710; Email: [email protected].

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