Employers are advised that H-1B visa numbers remain available for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") has announced that, as of August 6, 2010, approximately 28,500 H-1B cap subject petitions have been received and counted towards the 65,000 H-1B cap. USCIS has also received approximately 11,900 petitions needed to meet the 20,000 cap for foreign workers with U.S. advanced degrees. Until USCIS announces that the respective caps have been met, employers can continue to file H-1B temporary worker petitions for foreign nationals requesting an employment start date on or after October 1, 2010. While both caps are still expected to be reached, the numbers so far appear to reflect the realities of the job market.  

The availability of H-1B visa numbers presents a great opportunity for employers to meet their hiring needs for the coming year. The H-1B visa is one of the few nonimmigrant visa options available to employers seeking to fill openings in "specialty" occupations. Many foreign national students who were unable to file H-1B visa petitions on April 1, 2010, because they had not yet graduated have since become eligible for H-1B sponsorship. We encourage employers to consider their hiring needs and start interviewing potential H-1B candidates and finalizing job offers immediately. Once the H-1B cap is reached, employers will not be able to obtain new H-1Bs until October 1, 2011.  

It is important to remember that the cap only applies to new H-1B cases, and not to extensions of H-1B status or a transfer of an H-1B visa from one employer to another. The cap does, however, affect those foreign nationals who are in H-1B status seeking to work for new employers, but who are currently exempt from the cap based on employment with an institution of higher education or not-for-profit or governmental research organization.

If you are considering the hiring of a foreign worker who will need H-1B sponsorship, we encourage you to contact one of our immigration attorneys as soon as possible to review your hiring plans. In the meantime, we will continue to provide you with the latest developments on the H-1B numbers.  

DHS Announces Fee Increase for ESTA Program

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that, beginning September 8, 2010, travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries must start paying operational and travel promotion fees when applying for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The total fee for a new or renewed ESTA will be $14. Travelers with an approved ESTA will not need to pay the ESTA fees when updating an ESTA application. However, travelers with new passports and re-applying for an ESTA will need to pay the ESTA fees.  

The VWP enables nationals of 36 participating countries to travel to the U.S. as tourists or business visitors for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. VWP travelers are required to apply for an ESTA through DHS' web-based system before boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea. VWP travelers can register online using the ESTA website at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. VWP travelers without approval through ESTA should expect to be denied boarding on any air carrier bound to the U.S. For this reason, we strongly advise our foreign national clients eligible for the VWP to register with the ESTA service as soon as possible. Although not required by the Department of State (DOS) or DHS, we also encourage our VWP clients to print out the ESTA application response showing authorization and carry that with them during any visa waiver travel.

Please do not hesitate to contact any of our immigration attorneys should you have questions regarding the ESTA registration process.