State Department Clarifies National Interest Exception Rules for H, J, and L Visa Petitions Under Previous Presidential Proclamation Limiting Their Issue

August 17, 2020

Following the Presidential Proclamation from June 22, 2020, which severely restricted the abilities of qualified foreign nationals to enter the United States on nonimmigrant visas, the Department of State has issued rules by which to apply for “National Interest Exceptions” under certain conditions within the Proclamation.

See our summary of the original Proclamation here, with a clarification from the White House provided here. Our previous update regarding Canadian Nationals can be found here. Below, we have provided a summary of the State Department’s conditions for applying for a National Interest Exception from their website.

Exceptions for certain travel in the national interest by nonimmigrants may include the following:

H-1B applicants:

  • For travel as a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to conduct ongoing medical research in an area with a substantial public health benefit (e.g. cancer or communicable disease research).
  • Travel supported by a request from a U.S. government agency or entity to meet critical U.S. foreign policy objectives or to satisfy treaty or contractual obligations. This would include individuals, identified by the Department of Defense or another U.S. government agency, performing research, providing IT support/services, or engaging other similar projects essential to a U.S. government agency.
  • Travel by applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the United States in the same position with the same employer and visa classification.
  • Travel by technical specialists, senior level managers, and other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.  Consular officers may determine that an H-1B applicant falls into this category when at least two of the following five indicators are present:
  1. The petitioning employer has a continued need for the services or labor to be performed by the H-1B nonimmigrant in the United States. If an applicant is currently performing or is able to perform the essential functions of the position for the prospective employer remotely from outside the United States, then this indicator is not present.
  2. The applicant’s proposed job duties or position within the petitioning company indicate the individual will provide significant and unique contributions to an employer meeting a critical infrastructure need (for example, chemical, communications, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water systems).  Employment in a critical infrastructure sector alone is not sufficient; the consular officers must establish that the applicant holds one of the two types of positions noted below:
    1. Senior level placement within the petitioning organization or job duties reflecting performance of functions that are both unique and vital to the management and success of the overall business enterprise; OR
    2. The applicant’s proposed job duties and specialized qualifications indicate the individual will provide significant and unique contributions to the petitioning company.
  3. The wage rate paid to the H-1B applicant meaningfully exceeds the prevailing wage rate by at least 15 percent.
  4. The H-1B applicant’s education, training and/or experience demonstrate unusual expertise in the specialty occupation in which the applicant will be employed.  For example, an H-1B applicant with a doctorate or professional degree, or many years of relevant work experience, may have such advanced expertise in the relevant occupation as to make it more likely that they will perform critically important work for the petitioning employer.
  5. Denial of the visa will cause financial hardship to the U.S. employer.  The following examples, to be assessed based on information from the visa application, are illustrative of what may constitute a financial hardship for an employer if a visa is denied:
    1. the employer’s inability to meet financial or contractual obligations;
    2. the employer’s inability to continue its business;
    3. Or a delay or other impediment to the employer’s ability to return to its pre-COVID-19 level of operations.

H-2B applicants

  • Travel based on a request from a U.S. government agency or entity to meet critical foreign policy objectives or to satisfy treaty or contractual obligations.
  • Travel necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States. Consular officers may determine that an H-2B applicant falls into this category when at least two of the following three indicators are present:
  1. The applicant was previously employed and trained by the petitioning U.S. employer.
  2. The applicant is traveling based on a temporary labor certification (TLC) that reflects continued need for the worker.
  3. Denial of the visa will cause financial hardship to the U.S. employer.

J-1 applicants

  • Travel to provide care for a minor U.S. citizen, LPR, or nonimmigrant in lawful status by an au pair possessing special skills required for a child with medical, special education, or sign language needs. Childcare services provided for a child with medical issues diagnosed by a qualified medical professional by an individual who possesses skills to care for such child will be considered to be in the national interest.
  • Travel by an au pair that prevents a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident, or other nonimmigrant in lawful status from becoming a public health charge or ward of the state of a medical or other public funded institution.
  • Childcare services provided for a child whose parents are involved with the provision of medical care to individuals who have contracted COVID-19 or medical research at United States facilities to help the United States combat COVID-19.
  • An exchange program conducted pursuant to an MOU, Statement of Intent, or other valid agreement or arrangement between a foreign government and any federal, state, or local government entity in the United States that is designed to promote U.S. national interests if the agreement or arrangement with the foreign government was in effect prior to the effective date of the Presidential Proclamation.
  • Interns and Trainees on U.S. government agency-sponsored programs (G-3 on DS-2019): An exchange visitor participating in an exchange visitor program in which he or she will be hosted by a U.S. government agency and the program supports the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.
  • Specialized Teachers in Accredited Educational Institutions with a program (G-5 on DS-2019): An exchange visitor participating in an exchange program in which he or she will teach full-time, including a substantial portion that is in person, in a publicly or privately operated primary or secondary accredited educational institution where the applicant demonstrates ability to make a specialized contribution to the education of students in the United States.
  • Critical foreign policy objectives: This only includes programs where an exchange visitor participating in an exchange program that fulfills critical and time sensitive foreign policy objectives.

L-1A applicants

  • Travel as a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to conduct ongoing medical research in an area with a substantial public health benefit.
  • Travel based on a request from a U.S. government agency or entity to meet critical foreign policy objectives or satisfy treaty or contractual obligations.  An example of this would be supporting U.S. military base construction or IT infrastructure.
  • Travel by applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the United States in the same position with the same employer and visa classification.   Forcing employers to replace employees in this situation may cause undue financial hardship.
  • Travel by a senior level executive or manager filling a critical business need of an employer meeting a critical infrastructure need (for example, chemical, communications, dams, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, information technology, nuclear reactors, transportation, and water systems). An L-1A applicant falls into this category when at least two of the following three indicators are present AND the L-1A applicant is not seeking to establish a new office in the United States:
  1. Will be a senior-level executive or manager;
  2. Has spent multiple years with the company overseas, indicating a substantial knowledge and expertise within the organization that can only be replicated by a new employee within the company following extensive training that would cause the employer financial hardship; or
  3. Will fill a critical business need for a company meeting a critical infrastructure need.

L-1A applicants seeking to establish a new office in the United States likely do NOT fall into this category, unless two of the three criteria are met AND the new office will employ, directly or indirectly, five or more U.S. workers.

L-1B applicants

  • Travel as a public health or healthcare professional, or researcher to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, or to conduct ongoing medical research in an area with a substantial public health benefit. This includes those traveling to alleviate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that may be a secondary effect of the pandemic.
  • Travel based on a request from a U.S. government agency or entity to meet critical foreign policy objectives or satisfy treaty or contractual obligations. An example of this would be supporting U.S. military base construction or IT infrastructure.
  • Travel by applicants seeking to resume ongoing employment in the United States in the same position with the same employer and visa classification.  Forcing employers to replace employees in this situation may cause undue financial hardship.
  • Travel as a technical expert or specialist meeting a critical infrastructure need.  The consular officer may determine that an L-1B applicant falls into this category if all three of the following indicators are present:
  1. The applicant’s proposed job duties and specialized knowledge indicate the individual will provide significant and unique contributions to the petitioning company;
  2. The applicant’s specialized knowledge is specifically related to a critical infrastructure need; AND
  3. The applicant has spent multiple years with the company overseas, indicating a substantial knowledge and expertise within the organization that can only be replicated by a new employee within the company following extensive training that would cause the employer financial hardship.

H-4, L-2, and J-2 applicants

  • National interest exceptions are available for those who will accompany or follow to join a principal applicant who is a spouse or parent and who has been granted a national interest exception.

Exceptions under the proclamation for certain travel in the national interest by immigrants may include the following:

  • Applicants who are subject to aging out of their current immigrant visa classification before the Proclamation expires on December 31, 2020 or within two weeks thereafter.

Travelers who believe their travel falls into one of these categories or is otherwise in the national interest may request a visa application appointment at the closest Embassy or Consulate and a decision will be made at the time of interview as to whether the traveler has established that they are eligible for a visa pursuant to an exception.

Given the complexity of this situation, we strongly recommend that any client in H-1B, H-2B, J-1 or L-1 status contact their attorney before making any plans to travel out of the U.S.

We recognize that this is an extremely stressful time for our clients and immigrants in general and will be happy to consult with you if you believe you qualify for one of these exceptions. If you are not currently a client and have questions as to how this order may impact you.  Please call our office at 215-925-0705 or schedule a consultation online here.

 


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