Current Events

Posted on: December 12th, 2016
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The Expiration of the Conrad 30 Program

By Greg Siskind

The Conrad 30 J-1 program for physicians working in underserved areas is set to expire on December 9, 2016. The Conrad 30 program allows states to sponsor up to 30 doctors per year to remain in the US and work in medically underserved communities rather than having to depart the US for two years under their J-1 visa requirements. The program has been extended numerous times since it was created in 1994. However, with the recent election and general polarization over immigration issues in Washington, some are concerned that this popular program will be extended as it has in the past.

 

Advocates for the program are also pushing for additional changes that would fix various technical problems that have been lingering since the program was last updated in 2004. One of those involves confusion over when physicians can change employers if problems arise with their employment. Another involves the timing of the filing if an H-1B application after a J-1 waiver is approved. Current law says it must be filed within 90 days. But if a doctor files for a waiver early, it might be impossible to complete training within 90 days and be eligible for the H-1B visa. The proposed solution would start the 90 day clock upon completion of one’s graduate medical education.

 

USCIS Fee Changes Scheduled to Take Effect on December 23, 2016

By James Hollis

On October 24, 2016, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a final rule to change the filing fees for USCIS applications and petitions. These filing fee changes take effect on December 23, 2016. This means that applications or petitions that are received by USCIS on or after December 23, 2016 must include the new fee. Applications or petitions which do not have the new fees after that date will be returned to sender, which can present significant complications to an employee’s maintenance of status if a last-minute petition is rejected by the USCIS mail room for not having the correct filing fee.

USCIS is a relatively uncommon Federal agency in that it is almost entirely self-funded by the filing fees it charges. For that reason, USCIS is authorized to set fees at a level that ensures recovery of the full costs of providing immigration adjudications. In addition, these fees must be set at a level such that the filing fees also cover the adjudications in cases where USCIS determines that a fee waiver is appropriate due to the needs of the applicant. USCIS last adjusted its fees in 2010.

The fee for many common USCIS forms is increasing as of December 23, 2016. The forms that are most relevant to doctors, international medical graduates, businesses, and hospitals are also affected. The fee for Form I-129, by which employers petition for nonimmigrant (H, L, O, E, etc.) visas, is increasing from $325 to $460. The fee for Form I-140, which employers use to petition for all forms of employment-based green cards, is increasing from $580 to $700. The fee for Form I-485, which allows applicants in the United States to adjust from a nonimmigrant status into a permanent resident status, is increasing from $985 to $1,140. Finally, the N-400 Application for Naturalization is increasing from $595 to $640. A further list of common forms and their new fees is included below.

Form Old Fee New Fee
I–129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker $325 $460
I–140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker $580 $700
I–485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status $985 $1,140
I–539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status $290 $370
I–765 Application for Employment Authorization $380 $410
N-400 Application for Naturalization $595 $640
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative $420 $535
I-131 Application for Travel Document $360 $575
I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card $365 $455

 

 

Surveying the First few Months of the 2017 “Conrad 30” J-1 Waiver Cycle

By Zack Johnson

If you are in the US in J-1 status for graduate medical training and are approaching the end of your program but have not yet applied for your J-1 waiver, act fast – the 2017 “Conrad 30” J-1 waiver season is now well underway.

Most states’ J-1 waiver programs started accepting applications for the 2017 Conrad 30 J-1 waiver cycle on October 3rd, the first business day following the October 1st start to the Federal fiscal year, while a handful of other states’ programs opened in September. In our last installment of Healthcare Immigration News, we discussed the timeframes for submitting applications to each of the Conrad 30 J-1 waiver programs that tend to get off to a quick start. We will now take a moment to look back at what has transpired since then.

There have been a few surprises in the early stages of the 2017 cycle, with atypical submission patterns for at least three states’ J-1 waiver programs. Illinois is one such state. The Illinois J-1 waiver program has procedures in place whereby applications are accepted across three separate filing periods, but in recent years the program has received so many applications in October that the second and third application acceptance periods have not been necessary. Not this year. The Illinois J-1 waiver program received just 28 applications in its first acceptance period, which spanned the month of October, and will therefore accept applications again from January 1st through the 31st.

The results of the Kentucky J-1 waiver program’s October acceptance period also fell short of what we have come to expect, and to an even greater extent than was the case for Illinois. Kentucky’s J-1 waiver program only accepts applications in the month of October, and for years that is all that has been needed as it is normal for the program to receive well in excess of 30 applications before October 31st. This year, however, just 23 applications were submitted.

In stark contrast to what we have seen this year in the J-1 waiver worlds of Illinois and Kentucky, the Indiana J-1 waiver has been going gangbusters. The program accepts all applications starting September 1st, but it prioritizes applications for primary care providers; first the processes the primary care applications, then, on January 1st, the program processes all applications for specialists in the order in which they were submitted. In recent years, the program has filled up all 30 of its waiver slots by about the middle of January or early February. This year, however, the program received over 30 applications from specialists alone by early October. The program announced on October 14th that it would continue accepting applications through December 31st, but only from applicants planning to work as primary care providers. Depending on how many primary care applications are submitted between now and the end of the calendar year, there could be some specialists who submitted their applications in a timely manner (based on norms) but will nonetheless be forced to scramble to assess what other options they may have for post-GME employment. While it is hard to say what accounts for this year’s surge in applications for Indiana’s J-1 waiver slots, it is tempting, based on geography, to conclude that there were folks who sought out opportunities in Indiana after learning how competitive the waiver application process tends to be in neighboring states like Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan (not to mention Ohio, whose program has a habit of opening late and taking a long time to process applications).

Outside of Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana, the 2017 Conrad 30 J-1 waiver season has started off pretty much as expected. In line with its norm of receiving over 30 applications on opening day, the Texas J-1 waiver program closed after receiving 35 applications on September 1st. The Connecticut J-1 waiver program also closed shortly after opening on October 3rd, having received 37 applications on the first day. If you are thinking as you are reading this that there are a lot of physicians and employers who are disappointed at having missed out on waiver slots in Texas or Connecticut, consider those who were vying for waivers in The Sunshine State – the Florida Department of Health’s J-1 waiver program received a whopping total of 59 applications upon opening on October 3rd.

No other states’ J-1 waiver programs filled up quite as quickly as Texas, Connecticut, or Florida, but that does not mean that those are the only states that are full. Maryland’s J-1 waiver program is also full, having received 30 applications by October 11th. The Conrad 30 J-1 waiver programs in South Carolina and West Virginia are both currently full as well, though these states’ programs are somewhat unique in that they have procedures for being pre-approved for slots. The South Carolina J-1 waiver program’s full complement of 30 slots was reserved as of about the middle of September, though interested parties can still be put on the program’s waiting list (in case anyone who has reserved a slot has a change of heart), and the West Virginia J-1 waiver program had already issued preliminary approvals for 30 applications by the end of September. It remains to be seen just how many of these slots will be filled by the September 30, 2017 end to the 2017 waiver cycle. The South Carolina J-1 waiver program wound up filling just 21 of its 30 slots in the 2016 cycle despite of the fact that all were reserved at one point, and only 17 of the West Virginia J-1 waiver program’s 30 waiver slots were filled once all was said and done.

Rounding out the list of states whose J-1 waiver programs have been popular thus far into the 2017 cycle are Minnesota, California, and Missouri. When we approached the Minnesota J-1 waiver program on the morning of the program’s November 30th application deadline to ask how many applications had been submitted, the program’s contact person said he was confident he had over 30 applications even without counting the applications in the box before him.

It is too early to tell how many applications were submitted to the J-1 waiver programs in Michigan or New York, which are both among the most competitive states in the US when it comes to waivers, but the truth will come out soon enough. Michigan’s J-1 waiver program has an internal policy that the number of applications received will not be revealed until after it has determined which ones will be recommended for approval, but the program almost never has slots left over after the November 1st application deadline and we expect for that to have been the case this year as well. The New York J-1 waiver program is similarly oversubscribed on an annual basis. Applications for J-1 waivers through New York’s J-1 waiver program had to be postmarked by November 30th, and we will all be shocked if fewer than 30 applications were submitted. Meanwhile, the J-1 waiver programs in California in Missouri ended the month of November having received 24 and 17 applications, respectively.

If you have not submitted your J-1 waiver application and are considering a state other than those listed above, you are in luck – slots should still be up for grabs! Just be sure you do not delay too much longer, though, as it is impossible to know just how long available waiver slots will last. Just ask the specialists who applied in Indiana.

 

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