Yesterday, USCIS presented the next step in its ongoing efforts to offer a wider spectrum of online services for both employers and their legal representatives. During a public engagement session, USCIS unveiled additional details about the next step in their journey to modernizing their digital capabilities and filing processes: the establishment and launch of organizational accounts.
In short, organizations can now become part of an online collaborative space, a permission-based platform, and designate legal representatives, review, pay for and file I-129 petitions on behalf of their employees electronically. Notices for electronically filed I-129 and I-907 petitions will still be sent by mail but will also be available online. This added benefit will imminently help employers who opt to use the service eliminate the hardships that a lost or non-delivered receipt or approval can cause for their employees. Participating employers will also benefit from the elimination of USCIS mail room errors and risk of rejections as their submissions will be digital and stored for USCIS to access.
Companies interested in exploring the new system functionalities will have until the middle of February 2024 to discuss internally how their accounts should be structured. The Service has noted that each company should designate representatives who will have the authority to review, sign on behalf of the company, and pay (if necessary) the filing fees associated with submissions. Those designated individuals will be deemed as the “Administrators” for the company and will need to either create their own USCIS accounts or leverage their existing ones in the event they have served as company representatives for H-1B CAP registration purposes.
For companies, Administrators will have a wide range of account management capabilities: from creating working Groups, inviting other Administrators, Legal Representative Teams or regular working Group Members to collaborate on projects within the created corporate Group. Administrators are also the only account holders authorized to review, sign, and submit filings on behalf of the organization. A company can have more than one Administrator, and both we and USCIS recommend granting at least two individuals Administrator privileges. Members of corporate Groups will only have the capability to generate forms and review case histories, status, and notices issued on pending filings. They would not have the capability to sign, pay for, or submit filings. A company could set up multiple Company Groups (for example if different divisions manage the immigration function separately) but the system will not let any individual be a Member of more than one Company Group.
For law firms, Legal Representatives can help employers initiate their corporate Groups. Alternatively, they can also be invited by a company Administrator to collaborate with already existing Groups. They can further set up their own Legal Team and have their participating Paralegals establish USCIS accounts, draft, and access case information through the collaboration space. Legal Representatives can further draft, pay for and submit, with their clients’ approval and digital handshake, I-129 petitions.
The solution will be launched in time for the new H-1B registration cycle, which USCIS noted will open at the beginning of March this year. The Service, however, did not address how the recently proposed H-1B modernization rule will affect the operations and registration process for employers who opt to file their petitions online. Additionally, once launched, organizations will be able to also use their accounts to file cap-exempt petitions, including changes of employer, extensions or other exempt submissions.
Companies will be able to collaborate with various attorneys and their respective legal teams and can create an unlimited number of corporate Groups. Administrators will be able to add and remove members from the corporate Groups. However, USCIS emphasizes the importance of pre-planning the roles of each corporate team as the current solution does not allow for Members and Administrators of a given corporate Group to also be Members and Administrators of another corporate group for the same company. Additionally, Service representatives specifically warned about trial-and-error testing of the new system as registering an administrator account is extremely easy at the present time.
Finally, while the new platform is indisputably a positive step in streamlining the filing process for organizations, USCIS was open about two significant weaknesses in the pilot solution. The first weakness is that the current pilot will only be usable for online filings of standalone I-129 and I-907 submissions. While USCIS is working on integrating additional forms, the current system does not allow for the electronic filing of I-539 and I-765 applications for the H-1B employee’s spouse and children together with the I-129 and I-907., That capability is very important any employer’s H-1B employees, so employees may express a preference for companies to continue to file paper forms on their behalf together with their family’s applications.. The second critical weakness is that USCIS has not yet implemented electronic data interchange between employer’s and attorney’s case management systems and the USICS forms; USCIS states they are working on an API to the system but did not provide any timeline for when it would be complete.
Overall, while the Service was not clear on how the above issues and limitations will be addressed in the future, it is important to recognize the potential for improvement in efficiency that the newly introduced pilot program has for many organizations. The legal team at KILP recommends that those interested in participating meet with their attorneys and discuss how to properly set up their working groups and explore the viability of use for the program. While some petitions may still need to be mailed into USCIS, each company can safely test the electronic filing system for their H-1B CAP registrations and extensions as desired. There are at present no limitations on solely filing petitions electronically if accounts are created. As attorneys can help initiate working Groups by inviting the designated Administrator to collaborate, KILP highly recommends current and potential clients to connect with our attorneys to properly explore the full range of services the new platform will be able to offer and discuss the number of working groups and Administrators that might best serve organizational needs.
Please contact your Klasko Law attorney with any questions regarding this client alert.
The material contained in this alert does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.
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