On January 13, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) released an advance copy of an updated rule providing additional flexibility and enhanced opportunities for certain highly skilled workers. It covers workers who are in the U.S. in H-1B1 (from Chile and Singapore), E-3 (from Australia), temporary workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)-Only Transition Worker (CW-1), and immigrant classification for outstanding professors and researchers (EB-1).

Current regulation (8 CFR § 2741.12(b)(20)) allows other high skilled workers in the following nonimmigrant visa categories to continue to work for up to 240 days beyond their current expiration date as long as they file a timely extension request before the expiration date:

  • H-1B specialty occupation workers,
  • L-1 intracompany/multinational corporation transferees,
  • O-1 extraordinary ability aliens,
  • E-1/E-2 treaty traders and investors,
  • TN NAFTA professionals, and
  • Certain international organizational workers and so on.

Because the nonimmigrant visa categories of H-1B1 and E-3 were created after the prior regulation was published, visa holders in these categories have not been able to continue to work unless they submitted their extension requests early or paid an additional $1,225 USCIS premium processing fee for expedited services.

Additionally, DHS added in its regulation allowing immigrant visa (“green card”) applicants to include important patents or prestigious peer-reviewed funding grants as evidence to establish their eligibility as an internationally recognized outstanding professor or researcher in their specialized academic field. Under 8 CFR 204.5(i)(3)(i), USCIS would accept an applicant’s claim to have met the statutory requirement for having satisfied two of the six criteria, such as receipt of major prizes or awards, original authorship of scholarly articles, serving as a judge of the work of others. Although important patents or prestigious peer-reviewed funding grants previously could be used to support the international recognition criterion for final merits review by USCIS, DHS has now codified this as threshold eligibility evidence to meet the statutory requirement.

The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on January 15, 2016 with an effective date of February 16, 2016.