District Court Invalidates New DOL and DHS H-1B Regulations

On December 1, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs that had requested to set aside two new regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The two rules, both published as interim final rules, changed the way Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) prevailing wages are calculated and changed the definition of a “specialty occupation”. As interim final rules, the DOL and the DHS bypassed the traditional, lengthier notice and comment rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), with both agencies invoking the good cause exception and citing to the emergent circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

USCIS to Expand Premium Processing Program, Increase Fee Rates

On October 1, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law a stopgap spending measure to fund the U.S. government through December 11, 2020. The spending measure includes a provision titled “Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act,” which authorizes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expand the premium processing program and to increase program fees.

State Department Issues Guidance on National Interest Exceptions to Proclamations Suspending Entry of Certain Foreign Nationals

On August 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of State issued guidance on scenarios that may qualify for a “national interest exception” under Presidential Proclamation 10052 of June 22, 2020 (“Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak”) and Presidential Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020 (“Suspending Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak”). Citing economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump issued the proclamations and temporarily suspended the entry of certain foreign nationals into the United States. Although both proclamations referenced exceptions for individuals “whose entry would be in the national interest,” formal guidance had not been released prior to this announcement.

New Executive Order Calls for Review of Federal Contracts and Directs Agencies to Take Action to Protect U.S. Workers

On August 3, 2020, the Trump Administration issued an executive order  (EO) directing the secretaries of the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to “take action … to protect United States workers from any adverse effects on wages and working conditions caused by the employment of H-1B [workers].”

ICE Issues Updated Guidance and Restricts Online Options for New Students for Fall 2020 Semester

On July 24, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) issued updated guidance for international students pursing education programs in the United States. The follow-up guidance states that active students in F-1 and M-1 status, as well as schools certified by SEVP, should abide by SEVP guidance originally issued in March 2020, enabling schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

ICE Announces Plans to Update Online Study Policies for Nonimmigrant Students for Fall 2020 Semester

On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced plans to update its online study policies for F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant students for the fall 2020 semester. According to the proposed policies, SEVP intends to prohibit F-1 and M-1 students from taking a fully online course load while in the United States during the fall 2020 semester.

CARES Act: Foreign National and Immigrant Eligibility for Paid Leave, Unemployment Benefits, and Stimulus Rebates

On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, intended to stimulate the national economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act provides $2 trillion in direct financial assistance, including paid leave, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and rebates to eligible individuals. Immigrants and foreign nationals in the United States may be eligible for some or all of the listed benefits, depending on the circumstances.

USCIS Completes FY 2021 H-1B Selection Process

On March 27, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has completed the initial H-1B selection process for fiscal year (FY) 2021. This was the first time USCIS used an electronic registration system to conduct the selection lottery. USCIS plans to notify petitioners with selected registrations by March 31, 2020.

DHS Relaxes I-9 Verification Requirements During COVID-19 National Emergency

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 20, 2020, that it will relax the in-person verification requirements of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification for employers operating remotely due to COVID-19. Beginning March 20, 2020, employers will not be required to review an employee’s identity and/or employment authorization documents while in the employee’s physical presence.

USCIS Suspends Premium Processing

On March 20, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing services for all Forms I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Forms I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers due to COVID-19 pandemic. The suspension includes new premium processing requests for H-1B petitions, including cap-subject petitions for fiscal year (FY) 2021, and supersedes the FY 2021 premium processing schedule announced on March 16, 2020.