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ISSO Scholar Services Communiqué

Volume 6, Number 1

February 26, 2010

The Communiqué is an on-going series of messages to departments who sponsor international scholars at Boston University. With the Communiqué, we offer information that helps in the processing of scholar immigration-related documents and petitions. We hope you find the Communiqué a useful tool in working with the ISSO and in successfully hiring and sponsoring scholars from around the world. Past Communiqués are archived on our web site. Click here to go to the archive page.


Changes to US Department of Labor Systems Mean Longer H-1B Processing Times

The H-1B sponsorship category is an employment-based category used for sponsorship of international employees in “specialty” occupations (including teaching and research positions as well as higher-level administrative staff positions within the university). The H-1B category is regulated by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as well as the US Department of Labor (DOL).  Under DOL regulations, many of the steps required for securing sponsorship in H-1B status involve documenting that the employer is paying a fair wage and certifying the conditions of employment. These steps are in place to strengthen the job market for US workers and ensure fair practices in the hiring of foreign nationals.

In the past, the ISSO was able to complete initial DOL steps in H-1B processing relatively quickly (within a few weeks), but could expect USCIS processing to take up to six months time. In 2008, the USCIS created a designated unit at the USCIS California Service Center to adjudicate all university H-1B cases, which helped to alleviate the serious delays we once experienced with USCIS adjudication.

In recent months, however, there have been a number of developments with the DOL steps in processing H-1B cases which have slowed down the initial processing steps and have significantly changed the timeline in which the ISSO is able to obtain H-1B Approval for sponsored faculty, researchers and staff members.

Key changes are as follows:

  1. New System for Labor Condition Applications

In Fall of 2009, the US Department of Labor (DOL) established an on-line certification system for Labor Condition Applications. This new system added 1-2 weeks of processing time as each case is subject to more extensive review by the DOL.

  1. Nationalization of Prevailing Wage Determinations

In January of 2010, the US Department of Labor implemented a national system for assigning Prevailing Wage Determinations. While Prevailing Wages Requests had previously been reviewed and evaluated at the state level, the new national center in Washington, DC, is now charged with assigning wage determinations for all H-1B petitions. Unfortunately, the Washington processing center has faced a number of delays in rolling out the new operation – including technical difficulties and weather-related closings of federal services. We anticipate that the nationalization of this step may add an addition 4 weeks or longer to H-1B processing.

 

As the DOL steps occur before the case is submitted to USCIS, the extended processing times affect all H-1B cases, including petitions for first-time employees, petitions to change employer or change of immigration category, as well as routine petitions to or amend employment conditions or to extend status.

It is important to note that there is no way to expedite Department of Labor steps in an H-1B petition. While hiring departments are able to pay a $1,000 “Premium Processing” fee to expedite USCIS adjudication, this only addresses the USCIS step of the H-1B sponsorship process.

Due to these DOL system modifications, the ISSO has revised their estimate of processing for H-1B cases, and would continue to encourage departments to forward requests for H-1B processing as soon as possible, generally 6-7 months in advance of the requested H-1B start/extension date.

 

Key Steps Required for H-1B Processing

Processing Step

Estimated Time Required 1

ISSO Review

1.  ISSO completes Initial Review of department request

1-2 weeks

US Department of Labor (DOL)

2.  ISSO obtains Prevailing Wage Determination from US Department of Labor – Washington DC Service Center

4 weeks

3.  ISSO prepares Posting Notice

4.  Hiring Department confirms posting

1 week

5.  DOL certifies Labor Condition Application (LCA)

1-2 weeks

US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)

6.  ISSO prepares petition and mails it to USCIS

1 week 2

7.  USCIS Adjudicates petition

Regular Processing -

Varies based on academic cycle - Estimated 12 weeks 3

Premium Processing - up to 15 days 4
TOTAL Time Estimated (Employee in US - extend, amend, change employer):

8-10 weeks

(2-3 months)

TOTAL Time Estimated (Employee in US – change immigration status):

20-22 weeks

(5-6 months)

US Department of State (DOS)

8.  Prospective or returning employee who is out of the US makes appointment at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad to apply for an H-1B visa to travel to the US

4 weeks (longer possible in cases of federal security clearance delays)

Travel

9.  New employee with initial H-1B petition and approval H-1B visa may enter the US a maximum of 10 days in advance of H-1B start date

N/A

I-9 Compliance

10.  New/continuing employee must complete a new I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification with ISSO within 3 days of employment start/extension date

N/A

TOTAL Time Estimated (Employee out of US)

24-26 weeks

(6-7 months)

Notes:

1 Departments are advised to allow ample time for ISSO processing. The estimated processing times outlined above represent a standard case. Delays are possible due to incomplete or incorrectly-filed requests, changes to the proposed employment conditions, heavy case volume, technical errors, system failures, vacation times or holiday closures, etc.

2 Petitions for initial H-1B sponsorship (including petitions requesting change of immigration status for a person already in the US) require USCIS approval of the petition – completion of Step 7 – before the prospective employee can commence or continue BU employment). Petitions for amendment or extension of H-1B status or H-1B change of employer (for a person holding lawful H-1B status and continuing active paid employment) must be received by the USCIS – completion of Step 6 – before the expiration of status (or the end date of active H-1B employment in good standing with a prior employer), provided the employee does not have plans to travel abroad until the case is adjudicated by USCIS. As the timing of each case can be quite complex, departments must discuss the details of timing with the ISSO staff person handling the specific case.

3 H-1B cases for universities are currently adjudicated by a designated unit at the USCIS California Service Center. This CSC unit attempts to adjudicate cases within a 12 week period. This time may be shorter or longer based on case volume, which typically follows the academic cycle. Longer processing times are expected for cases submitted in late spring and summer.

4 While most standard immigration sponsorship fees are centrally funded and paid directly by the ISSO, the Premium Processing fee of $1,000 must generally be covered by the hiring department.

Further information about sponsoring an employee in H-1B category can be found at: http://www.bu.edu/isso/administrators/h1/index.html

USCIS Steps Up Routine Audits of H-1B Employer Sites

In addition to the more complex systems being implemented by the DOL for use by employers sponsoring H-1B employees, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has increased their routine audits of H-1B employer sites. In fact, Boston University has already received a handful of site visits in 2010.

USCIS auditors are primarily charged with determining whether a good faith H-1B petition was submitted on behalf of an employee, including verifying the employer’s good standing as well as the employee’s title, salary, duties and location of employment. On occasion, USCIS officials conducting the audit may ask to meet in person with the H-1B employee and/or to visit the work location.

USCIS officers auditing H-1B petitions will generally begin with the office responsible for filing the H-1B petition (at Boston University, this is the ISSO). Should a USCIS auditor show up unannounced at a work site location (in a lab, classroom or office), please direct them to first speak to Jeanne Kelley or Andrea Popa at the ISSO.

For USCIS audits of H-1B petitions, only an ISSO administrator should be answering questions on behalf of Boston University (the employer) and only the employee should answer questions related to any personal information requested by the auditing official. Department contacts, supervisors and colleagues should not attempt to answer questions posed by the USCIS official but should direct questions to the ISSO or the sponsored employee, as appropriate.


Your Scholar Services team,

Jeanne E. Kelley

Director
jkelley@bu.edu

M. Andrea Popa
Assistant Director for Scholar Services
apopa@bu.edu

Olivia K. Whitman

International Scholar Advisor
owhitman@bu.edu

 

International Students & Scholars Office
Boston University
888 Commonwelth Avenue, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02215

Tel: (617) 353-3565
Fax: (617) 358-1170

www.bu.edu/isso
issosch@bu.edu


 
Are you a new BU department contact or new host to an international scholar? Are you a BU affiliate who wants to receive the ISSO Communiqué? To update your department's contact information or to sign up for the ISSO Communiqué, please complete a Department Contact/Host Update Form on-line at: http://www.bu.edu/isso/administrators/contacts/index.html











































ISSO
Boston University
March 3, 2010

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office