Coronavirus Lockdown: US Admission Process Updates – Part 2

In the last blog, we saw the fall 2020 course commencement decisions that the universities are likely to make.

As per the recent updates we received from the office of graduate and undergraduate admissions of a few universities, the fall 2020 admission process is going on and students who are still sending applications can connect with the admission office staff via video chat and email. Those who haven’t received any admits yet, have nothing to worry as the admission process will not be canceled and they will receive admits, though the decision may be released later than the usual time taken by the universities. 

Fall 2020 Graduate Admissions

The graduate application deadlines will not be extended for most universities. As we informed you in the last blog, those of you who haven’t received the I-20 approval yet, the staff are creating the I-20s but the shipments are being withheld until the mail services in India fully resume. For admitted students, the university will send an email with the student’s SEVIS number from the I20 which can be used to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee that is mandatory for the F1 visa application process. 

Fall 2020 Undergraduate Admissions 

In consideration of the disruption of exams and classes, most universities have extended the application deadline for fall 2020 undergraduate applications to May 1, 2020. 

Sending official transcripts and financial documents 

In case you haven’t been able to obtain your official academic records/transcripts due to closure of school or college, US universities are allowing you to send unofficial, digital transcripts for securing admission. 

Even if the deadlines for sending graduate applications have not been extended, most universities have extended their document deadline for graduate admissions to May 1, 2020. This is however applicable to only admitted students. This means you can send your official or university attested mark sheets/degree certificates/transcripts to the office and finish other paperwork by May 1. The packages need to be post-marked by May 1, 2020. Few other universities have also extended these deadlines up to mid-May. 

Most universities have also announced an extension to send financial documents. Some universities have extended this deadline up to May 15 while some of them have extended it up to July 1. 

In the next part, we will cover the updates on visa, program decisions and deferrals offered by universities. The next blog will be published on Saturday,  4th April 2020.

Why 2019 is a Good Time to Pursue MS in the USA – Part 1

Blog-Why-US-2019

For years, Indian students have been flocking to universities in the United States of America to pursue higher education – mainly MS degrees. However, due to uncertainties in the recent immigration policies, there is some reservation in the minds of MS candidates about whether the USA is still the best option. In this post, we are covering a few points about why 2019 is actually an opportune time to apply to American universities.

1] Trump’s New H1B Policy

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require technical expertise. In late January, US president Donald Trump announced changes in the H1B visa lottery system, which will favour students with advanced degrees in STEM fields from US universities. The new approach may result in an increase of up to 16% H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university.

Statistical Advantage of the New Lottery System


H1B-New-System 

2] Beyond H1B – A Path to Citizenship

In January itself, Trump expressed his views on merit-based immigration in a tweet. He indicated that reforms would be introduced to ensure ‘simplicity and certainty’ to the stay of H1B-holders in the USA and also incorporate a path to citizenship. Realizing the need for legal immigration of skilled workers, he has said “we want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.

11-01-19-Trump-01

Further, a new law has been proposed in the US Congress to abolish country-wise quota for Green Cards. If passed, it could benefit thousands of Indian professionals waiting for a long time to secure Green Card. The proposal has been co-sponsored by 13 Senators and received great support.

To conclude, our advice to students is that do not give up on your dream of pursuing an MS in the US because of unverified rumors. The quality of education provided in American universities, the research facilities and the internships and work experience you will be able to secure are unparalleled. Seize the opportunity and make the most of it!

Legislation for New Merit Based Immigration System Announced

On 2nd August, President Trump announced that he is backing a new legislation for an immigration reform (Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or the RAISE Act) for foreign individuals who apply for legal permanent status, or green cards, through their employer.

This is going to be immensely beneficial for Indian students in America in the long term. The legislation backs a merit based system which gives preferences to highly skilled individuals for immigration. The application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to the U.S economy.

Remember that this is still a legislation and not a law, however given that the president himself backs this legislation and Republicans control both senate and house – this is likely to be great news all around.

Following are the key highlights and how this might help highly educated Indian students who currently are / will be employed in the USA.

  1. Today green cards are awarded essentially by queue, and a candidate with higher education degrees, skills and a well-paying job is treated the same way as a candidate with low skills. To make matters worse green cards are awarded by limited country based quotas, putting Indian candidates at a disadvantage due to the large number of applicants. Merit based system will end this.
  2. The change is meant to make the application process fairer and allow applicants to know what their chances are of being approved before applying. Candidates would be able go online, answer questions about their education and employment experience, and learn if their background would help fill a workplace shortage in the United States. Applicants would also receive a score to give them a concrete idea of their chances of obtaining a visa.
  3. Although this proposal will go through many changes and debates – this is a step in the right direction. Indian students who are employed in the US after they complete their education are highly skilled individuals who possess advanced degrees with impressive research & academic backgrounds, so they should be able to clear bar for the merit based systems based on their qualifications and work experience without difficulty. This system is similar to the current immigration systems adopted in Canada and Australia – which have proven to be far better in terms of making immigration fair and efficient.

Great News (12 + 24 = 36 Months) STEM OPT Rule Survives!

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

12 Months: Granted to students on F1 (student) visa status completing undergraduate (BS/BA) or graduate (MS/MBA) degrees

24 Months Extension: Students with degrees from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) fields

Therefore, students completing a degree from the STEM field get an OPT period of total 36 months (Regular 12 months + 24 months extension), permitting them to work in the US without H1B visa.

STEM-OPTOPT is a temporary employment authorization that is directly related to a student’s area of study. Students pursuing their education in the US on student (F1) visa are eligible to work in the US under the F1-OPT visa program, which gives them an opportunity to apply the education obtained in an academic degree to a practical work experience.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) that challenged the STEM OPT regulations that allow F1 visa holders who have degrees in STEM fields to extend their one-year Optional Practical Training (OPT) period for an additional 24 months.

The dismissal ends this lawsuit, and the current rules governing 12-month OPT and the 24-month extension for students from STEM fields remain in place.

3 Solid Reasons why recent changes to H1B Visa program will help Indian students in America get more Jobs!

H1B visa

Several news articles have been published since 3rd April 2017 discussing the new rule affecting H1B visas.

Here are 3 things Indian students aspiring to study in the US should know.

1. More Visas for Students: This rule primarily affects India’s IT outsourcing industry which is the biggest user of H-1B visas. Of the top 10 companies sponsoring H1B visas, 89% visa applications are from outsourcing IT companies. This causes an acute shortage for H1B visas on a whole, reducing chances for Indian students who are directly employed by US companies , filing for H1B. With stricter regulations in place for Indian IT companies, more opportunities will open for students with advanced degrees. In other words, more visas will be available for students

2. More Jobs for Students: As this rule affects lot of outsourcing employers – these jobs need to be filled in US itself. Due to the lack of high skilled professionals with advanced degrees in US especially in the STEM areas, these jobs will open for students. As Indian students do have F1 visa with OPT – shortage of workers due to visa rules will help Indian students looking for jobs.

3. US Economy is booming and needs skilled knowledge workforce: Today US unemployment rate stands at just 4.7% lowest in 15 years. Stock market is up 15% since November 2016 – More and more investment is being made in businesses – all this means much more demand for skilled knowledge employees – all of which are in short supply today. Students should take advantage of this situation.

So Indian students doing MS in US are in reality, probably going to benefit from rules.

Why does the recently re-introduced H1B visa bill seem to be in favor of the Indian Students in USA?

Are you confused as to what the latest news regarding this “ Bill introduced in the US regarding H1B work visa” is? Keep reading further to understand what all the discussion is really about.

The new bill, titled “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act,” has been re-introduced in Congress by certain republicans (this bill was already introduced in earlier years, but was never passed). It proposes key changes in the H1-B program that allows skilled workers from foreign countries to fill high-tech jobs in the US.
The bill has proposed two changes – the gist of which is as follows:

– Making it harder to get H1B for low paying jobs
– Removing Masters quota for H1B

Looking deeper into these proposed changes it looks like these will actually likely help Indian students in the USA!

American economy is currently booming and unemployment rate is at its lowest in two decades, which implies increase in job creation.

H1B visa (work visa) is designed to be used for foreign workers with highly specialized skills. Total of 85000 visas are issued every year, which comprise of 65,000 for general quota and 20,000 for US Advanced degree quota for Master’s students. Last year a whopping 233,000 applications were submitted for the limited quota of 85000.

First, a lottery was conducted for the US Master’s degree quota applications to select 20,000 petitions and then the petitions that were not selected in this this first round were added to general quota pool and lottery was conducted on this pool to select the overall 65,000 petitions for general quota. This is pretty standard over the years.

Currently the Indian IT outsourcing companies use up to 70% to 80% of the general 65000 H1B quota. This causes an acute shortage for H1B visas, creating a shortage for Master’s students from India in the USA who are added up to the general quota for H1B lottery.

For details on top H1V visa sponsor companies in 2017 kindly visit the following report from Myvisajobs.com(http://www.myvisajobs.com/Reports/2017-H1B-Visa-Sponsor.aspx). The report shows that of the top 10 companies sponsoring H1B visas, 89% visa applications are from IT companies with average salary under $100,000 per year, and only 11% are from US companies all of which have an average salary above $100,000.

Most of the American companies that employ highly educated students who have completed their Masters studies in the USA- offer a high starting salary. Also Indian students graduating in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) category have a period of up to 3 years on OPT where they can work on student visa before getting their get their H1B work visa. So even if the starting salary is not as high as $100,000 per year, 70% of Indian students (especially those working in computer science related fields) reach that mark within first 3 years depending on their skills and field of work.

Today many talented students with MS decrees are missing out on H1B visas because they are being denied the H1B visas in the lottery system.

Also eliminating Master’s degree quota of 20000 visas for H1B should not affect the Indian students with MS degrees, as the absence of H1B petitions from the IT companies would make room for highly paid foreign employees with advanced education and skills.

All in all, it seems like Indian students studying in American Universities will benefit from proposed bill.

Again, note that this is just a bill not the final rule – and likely will at least take a minimum of 12-18 months before it gets enacted (if it passes this time).

 

US relaxes green card rules for talented individuals with advanced degrees

US has relaxed the tests used to grant a National Interest Waiver (NIW) to EB-2 category of green card applicants

 The EB2 Green card category

Green card also refers to an immigration process of becoming a permanent resident in the USA. The EB-2 Green Card is a category offered to talented immigrants with advanced degrees or especially rare skills. Most of the Indian students who have completed their Masters education in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)category fall under EB2 green card category

EB2 Green Card Processing

Commonly, a permanent job offer and an approved labor certificate are pre-requisites to file for a green card.

Filing the labor certificate is the first step in green card processing. It is a rigorous process where your employer has to be ready to sponsor your green card by offering you a permanent job and has to undergo a series of steps to prove that no US workers are available to fill the position you are employed in, and hence you deserve green card. This process can take from six months to 3 years in some cases.

An NIW allows individuals in the EB-2 category to skip the cumbersome ‘labor certification’ process.

National Interest Waiver (NIW) Petition

On December 27 2016, the US authorities have eased the tests to get National Interest Waiver (NIW).  So, even if a person has no employer, he/she may file an NIW petition on behalf of himself/herself in order to initiate a green card filing process under the EB2 category.

In order to be eligible to file an NIW petition, an applicant must have an “advanced degree” or “exceptional ability” in the sciences, arts or business and should demonstrate that he/she seeks employment in an area of substantial merit to the U.S

NIW applications have clear advantages over other regular EB2 green card petitions. Since there is no labor certification or permanent job offer requirement, an NIW is an attractive choice for scholars, researchers, post-doctoral research fellows, PhD students, and other advanced degree professionals.

Apart from offering speedier process in the path towards a green card, NIW holders can also avail of an unlimited H-1B extension, and their spouses too can apply for work authorization.

Indian students with advanced degrees will now have a fairer chance of obtaining an NIW, which in turn will speed up the process of obtaining a green card.

OPT Period Extension and H1B Visa

Every year U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts H1B petitions starting from 1st April. As such, petitions for the fiscal year 2017 will be accepted from 1st April 2016. The current quota for H1B VISA is 65,000 under the general category and 20,000 under the advanced degree exemption – also known as the Masters quota. Thus, the total quota stands at 85,000. In the previous year, USCIS received a total of nearly 233,000 H1B petitions under both the categories put together from 1st April to 7th April and then they stopped accepting new applications. For the first time, USCIS received more than the limit of 20,000 H1B petitions under the Masters quota (the exact number of applications is not declared by USCIS). Computer generated random selection process (lottery) is conducted for Masters quota petitions which selects 20,000 applicants for the Master’s degree cap completion. The H1B petitions filed under Masters quota cap, but not selected in the first round of lottery are then added to the general quota of petitions. The lottery is then conducted for this pool to select 65,000 petitions towards the general quota cap completion. USCIS rejects and returns the remaining H1B petitions.

Advantages of OPT Extension:

Since H1B VISA petitions are accepted only once a year i.e. 1st April, if the petition is rejected, the applicant has to wait for a further period of one year, i.e., till next April to be able to apply again. In case, a student has an OPT period of only one year, his OPT period lapses before the next April. Hence, he doesn’t get a second chance to apply for H1B visa and has no option but to return to his home country. But students under STEM category will now get an OPT period of 36 Months (Regular 12 months + 24 months extension). In other words, such students will get two more chances for applying for H1B visa if their first petition is rejected. For example, if a student applies for H1B visa on 1st April 2016 but does not get selected in the lottery of 2016, he would still be able to apply for H1B visa again on 1st April 2017 and once again on 1st April 2018.

24-Month STEM OPT Extension

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is amending it F1 non immigrant visa regulations on Optional Practical Training (OPT) for certain students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) from US institutions of higher education.

OPT is a period during which undergraduates (BS/BA) and graduate students (MS/MBA) with F1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than 9 months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for 12 months on a student visa towards getting practical training to complement their education. On April 2nd 2008 DHS announced a 17-month extension to the OPT for students in qualifying STEM fields to be eligible for the 12-month permit. Any degree in any field of studies is valid. For the 17-month OPT extension a student must have received a STEM degree as listed on the USCIS website.

DHS is now amending its rule regarding OPT under STEM category to extend the OPT period to 24 months. This 24-month extension effectively replaces the 17-month OPT extension previously available to certain STEM students. In short, a student can now work in America for up to 36 months after completing degree even if he doesn’t qualify for H1B visa during that period. This rule will be effective from May 10th 2016.

The rule also makes F1 students who subsequently enroll in a new academic program and another STEM degree at a higher education level eligible for one additional 24 months STEM OPT extension. In other words, a student can get 36 months OPT after undergraduate education (BS) and also after completing a graduate degree (MS) from STEM category.

The rule also permits an F1 student completing a non-STEM graduate degree to use a prior eligible STEM degree from a US institution of higher education as the basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension. For e.g. if a student has completed MS in STEM category and now completes MBA which is a non-STEM degree is also eligible for the 36 months OPT extension.

To improve the integrity of the STEM OPT extension, the rule limits eligibility only to students with degrees from schools accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education.

Keep yourself updated on our next blog on E-Verify requirements and Cap-Gap extension.