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Question: An employer wants to petition me for the next 6 months because of my knowledge in his industry. I do not seem to qualify for any types of visas that I know about. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: Yes. You may qualify for the H-2B. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has just announced that, as required under the recently-enacted Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005 (“the Act”), the agency will begin to accept additional petitions for H-2B workers as of May 25, 2005. Under the Act, the USCIS has been granted a waiver of the normal requirement to issue regulations implementing the new law. Therefore, in order to implement these new provisions expeditiously, the USCIS has issued a Public Notice detailing filing requirements and procedures, and does not intend to supplement it with any further notice or regulation.

Question: Who Can Benefit From The Act?

Answer: Beginning on Wednesday, May 25, 2005, the USCIS started accepting filings for two types of H-2B workers: 1) For Fiscal Year 2005: Approximately 35,000 workers, who are new H-2B workers or who are not certified as “returning workers” (as explained further below) seeking start dates before October 1, 2005. 2) For Fiscal Year 2005 and 2006: All “returning [H-2B] workers,” meaning workers who were counted against the annual H-2B cap of 66,000 during any one of the three fiscal years preceding the fiscal year of the requested start date. In other words: (a) in a petition for a start date before October 1, 2005 (i.e., for FY 2005), the worker must have been previously approved for a start date in H-2B status between October 1, 2001 and September 30, 2004; (b) in a petition for a start date on or after October 1, 2005 (i.e., for FY 2006), the worker must have been previously approved for a start date in H-2B status between October 1, 2002 and September 30, 2005.

Question: What Is A Returning Worker?

Answer: If a previous petition for an H-2B worker was approved for an extension of stay, change in the terms of employment, or change or addition of employers, the worker was not counted against the annual cap at that time; therefore, that particular approval cannot in itself result in the worker being considered a “returning worker” for purposes of filing a new petition now. As a general rule, only previous petitions for a change of status or new employment that were filed during the requisite three-year period before the requested start date will qualify a worker as a “returning worker.” Any worker not certified as a “returning worker” will be subject to the numerical limitation for the relevant fiscal year.

Question: What Are The Filing Requirements?

Employers wishing to file petitions for H-2B workers who qualify under the Act should follow all current requirements, as well as the following additional requirements for returning workers: The petition must include a certification from the employer, signed by the same person who signs the I-129 form, stating, “As a supplement to the certification made on the attached I-129, I further certify that the workers listed below have entered the United States in H-2B status or changed to H-2B status during one of the last three fiscal years.” The list must set forth the full name of the worker(s). If the petition seeks a change of status, it must include evidence of previous H-2B admissions (i.e., a copy of each worker’s visa and I-94 admission record).

A single petition may be filed on behalf of multiple workers, including unnamed workers in “special filing situations” for business reasons. However, any returning workers must be listed in a certification as described above. For multiple-named workers, including returning workers, “Attachment 1” to Form I-129 must be included and completed. This is a supplement to the new I-129 form on which the names and other biographic information of multiple workers must be listed.

As usual, each petition must include a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The USCIS will accept a copy of the labor certification in those cases where the original labor certification has previously been filed with the USCIS. (Note that the USCIS and DOL both published proposed regulations in January 2005 that would substantially revamp the labor certification application process for H-2B workers and would replace the current procedure with a one-step, electronically-filed, attestation-based petition that would bypass the DOL and be filed directly with the USCIS.

Approval notices issued under the Act will include the names of all returning workers listed on the petition. Each worker must be prepared to show to the U.S. consulate abroad (when applying for an H-2B visa) or to the inspector at the port of entry (if the worker is exempt from the visa requirement) proof of his or her previous H-2B admissions (e.g., a previous H-2B visa in the worker’s passport, and a copy of a prior I-94 admission document). Although the Department of State will seek to confirm prior visas through its electronic system, an applicant for an H-2B visa under the returning worker provision who does not show these documents may be denied a visa and/or be denied admission when traveling to the United States.

Premium processing is available by including a Form I-907 and an additional $1,000 fee. Petitions for start dates of October 1, 2005, or later must include a new anti-fraud fee in the amount of $150.

Question: What New Sanctions Does the Act Include?

Answer: The Act contains new provisions including sanctions and civil monetary penalties (up to $10,000 per violation) for failure to meet any of the H-2B petition conditions for willful misrepresentation of a material fact. These new provisions become effective on October 1, 2005.

Question: What Happens When the Annual Cap is Reached?

Answer: Whenever the annual H-2B numerical limitation has been reached, the USCIS will reject any additional filings that are subject to the cap (i.e., other than for returning workers, extension of stay, change of employers, or change in terms of employment). For FY 2006 filings, the Act provides that the numerical limit for the first six months of the fiscal year shall be no more than 33,000, with the remaining 33,000 to be allocated on or after April 1, 2006. Employers may file H-2B petitions no more than six months in advance of the requested start date.

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I can get a temporary work permit?