Frequently Asked Questions

I-9 COMPLIANCE

What is an I-9?

Under the employer sanctions provisions of the US Immigration and Nationality Act, employers must verify the identity and US employment authorization of every employee hired after November 6, 1986 by completing and maintaining Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.

I am a small employer. Do I need to fill out I-9s?

Yes, every US employer must complete an I-9 every time an individual is hired to perform work in the United States for wages.

How can I find out more information about completing an I-9?

Please see the USCIS Handbook for Employers

It is such a short form. Why would my company need an audit?

Employers are often inconsistent in completing all required areas of the form, leaving blanks, missing signatures, checking incorrect boxes, and failing to complete the forms within the required timeline. Monetary and criminal penalties may accrue in the event of a government audit. As a result, it is worthwhile to conduct regular audits to ensure proper compliance.

VISAS

What kind of visa do I need?

US immigration law is complex. Any determination requires a thorough review of each individual case, including past US immigration history, professional and educational credentials, and job offer or family relationship. The Internet is a wonderful resource but please be wary of blogs and online advice. Instead, contact a reputable immigration lawyer for a consultation. Technology such as Skype and document scanning allows for consultations from abroad when necessary.

Do I need a visa for a business visit?

If you are from a country that is not part of the visa waiver program, you will need a visa issued by a US consulate abroad. B visa authorization is utilized for temporary visits to the United States, including meetings and seminars. It does not provide work authorization in the US.

Please note that ESTA Electronic System for Travel Authorization registration and fee payment is now required for visa waiver applicants for entry.

How can I make a visa appointment?

Each consulate has its own procedures so please refer to the US Department of State for information specific to your home consulate. An application form, fee payment, and electronic photograph are typically required before making an appointment.

I-94 RECORD

What is an I-94?

An I-94 is an Arrival/Departure record that is typically granted on admission to the United States.  A visitor must exit the U.S. prior to the expiration of the I-94 record or face potential penalties, which can be quite significant. Note that it is the I-94 that controls the length of stay, not the date on the visa, which is a travel document.  Visitors should be sure to check the expiration of the I-94 on each entry into the United States and correct any errors immediately. CBP has automated the I-94 system at sea and air ports of entry while I-94 cards are issued at land ports of entry. You must check your electronic I-94 record after each entry into the US.

NONIMMIGRANT VISAS

Case Status
While my case is pending with USCIS, can I track it?

Yes, cases may be tracked online using your receipt number.

Students
I am a student at a US university. Can I work?

F-1 students typically receive one year of Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) work authorization following graduation. These individuals must have a valid work authorization card before working. F-1 students may receive Curricular Practical Training (“CPT”) work authorization for work related to the curricular program. This must be noted on the SEVIS form by the designated school official.

H-1B
What is an H-1B?

H1B is a professional work visa for individuals sponsored by a U.S. company who are filling a temporary position in a “specialty occupation.” A “specialty occupation” is an occupation that requires a specialized Bachelor’s or higher degree, or the equivalent. Dependent family members may qualify for H-4 status, which does not provide work authorization.

Obtaining H 1B status for an employee involves three steps: labor condition application wage certification by the US Department of Labor; approval of an H-1B petition by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services; and, when required, visa issuance by the US Department of State at a consular post abroad.

How long can I stay in the US on an H-1B?

An individual may be admitted to the United States in H1B status for an initial period of up to three years. Extensions are possible for a total of six years cumulative for time spent with all employers. H-1B status may be extended beyond six years if a labor certification or I-140 application has been filed or pending for 365 days or an I-140 application has been approved.

What is the H-1B “cap”?

The H-1B visa category is subject to a numerical cap each fiscal year beginning October 1. Therefore, new H-1Bs are available for only part of the year. H-1B applications may be filed up to six months in advance of the start date, and as a result, new H-1B petitions may be filed on or after April 1 of each year.  Typically, an H-1B petition can be filed year-round for an individual who is currently working in H-1B status for another employer if he or she has already been counted towards the cap. Note that some employers, such as institutions of higher education or nonprofit research organizations, are not subject to the cap.

Can I work anywhere on an H-1B?

No. H-1B authorization is employer-specific.

What is the “cap gap”?

The cap gap refers to the period of time between the expiration of an F-1 student’s period of OPT authorization and the start of the new H-1B visa year on October 1. In some cases, the F-1 student may continue to work during this gap period.

TN
Are there special work options for Mexican and Canadian nationals?

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provides for TN admission to the United States of Canadian and Mexican citizens seeking to fill a temporary position in specific professional occupations. TN status may be granted for up to three years, with extensions following. Dependent family members may receive TD authorization, which does not provide work authorization in the United States.

L-1
My company wants to transfer me to the U.S. What is an intracompany transferee?

The L-1 “Intracompany Transferee” Visa category is useful for multinational corporations who wish to transfer key personnel from a foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch organization to a related company in the United States on a temporary basis. To qualify for L-1 authorization, the foreign employee must have been employed abroad by the related foreign corporation for at least one continuous year in the immediately preceding three years and must meet the criteria for an executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee. L2 spouses may apply for employment authorization in the United States.

What is a “Blanket”?

Executives, managers and professional specialized knowledge employees of companies holding L Blanket authorization may apply for L visas directly at a foreign consulate, without waiting for USCIS authorization first. Canadian citizens may apply directly at a port of entry.

E-1/E-2
I want to start a business in the US. What kind of visa do I need?

You should speak with an immigration lawyer about the options open to you based on your specific situation. E-1 and E-2 status is provided for traders and investors from certain treaty countries. Spouses of E-1 and E-2 visa holders may apply for work authorization in the United States, which will be demonstrated by a valid employment authorization card.

Spouse/Partner
Can my spouse work while I am on a temporary visa in the US?

Spouses of E and L visa holders may apply for authorization to work in the United States while in a dependent visa status. For most other categories, the spouse must obtain his or her own work visa in order to work in the United States.

Can my partner apply for a visa to live with me in the US?

Unmarried partners (regardless of gender) of E, H, and L visa holders may obtain B-2 status to accompany the primary visa holder. The US federal government does not recognize same sex marriages for purposes of immigration benefits.

PERMANENT RESIDENCY

PERM
What is a PERM?

The “PERM” process is often the first of three steps to employment-based permanent residency in the US. It is a labor program that is conducted on a national basis with standard recruitment requirements. Recruitment must be conducted precisely in accordance with the regulations to determine whether there is a US worker immediately available and qualified for a particular job. If there are no qualified US workers, the employer may file for labor certification with the US Department of Labor.

What are the advertising requirements?

The PERM process involves a wage determination filed with the Department of Labor, a job order posted with the Department of Labor for at least thirty days, at least two advertisements in the Sunday edition of the newspaper of the largest circulation in the area, and an in-house posting for 10 business days. For professional positions, the employer must utilize three additional forms of recruitment from a list of ten possibilities:
  1. Job Fair
  2. Employer’s Website
  3. Other Job Search Website 
  4. On-Campus Recruiting
  5. Trade or Professional Organization
  6. Private Employment Firms
  7. Employee Referral Program With Incentives
  8. Campus Placement Office
  9. Local or Ethnic Newspaper
  10. Radio and Television Advertisements
Once a PERM is certified, the company may file an I-140 immigrant visa application with the USCIS on behalf of the employee. At that time, the employee must demonstrate that he or she met the minimum requirements for the position prior to joining the employer (with the exception of individuals who have changed jobs substantially) and the employer must demonstrate its ability to pay the salary on a permanent basis. When a visa number is available, the employee can apply for permanent residency.

Are there any options other than PERM for employment-based greencards?

The I-140 application may be filed without an underlying PERM in some cases, including Intracompany Managers and Executives, Outstanding Researchers, National Interest Waiver cases, and for individuals who can demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.

How long does the US permanent residency (greencard) process take?

Timelines depend on the employment-based or family-based category and country of birth. Each month the US Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin listing the following month’s availability.

Marriage
I am a US citizen and I plan to marry a foreign national next summer. What do we need to do?

If your fiancée is outside of the United States, you should talk to an immigration lawyer right away. The fiancée visa process takes time and involves a petition to the USCIS followed by a visa interview at a consulate abroad. If you intend to get married outside of the United States, the process is lengthy as well, involving an immigrant visa petition filed by the US citizen spouse and then consular processing abroad.

I am a permanent resident and am marrying someone from my home country. Can my spouse enter the US right away?

Spouses of permanent residents fall into the Family 2A category, which is backlogged. See the visa bulletin for current timelines and priority dates. In the meantime, the spouse must obtain independent authorization to come to the US.

Other Options
Besides employment and family, are there any other options for US permanent residency?

Most immigrants must be sponsored by a US employer, US citizen relative, or US permanent resident spouse or parent. Other options include the diversity lottery, EB5 Investment, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), asylum, and refugee processes.

US CITIZENSHIP

I am a US permanent resident and want to become a US citizen. What is the process like?

Please contact Lisa Christoffersen or Abby Loomis to set up a consultation to discuss the specifics of your case. Please see the online USCIS Guide to Naturalization  for general information about the process.

What are some benefits of US citizenship?

Benefits include the rights to vote and to run for government office, and the ability to petition for family members to come to the United States.

Can I be a dual national?

Typically, the ability to hold dual nationality depends on the law of the foreign government. Some countries, such as Canada, typically allow dual nationality, while others do not.