We include legal and regulatory updates to help keep your staffing firms compliant.

New H-1B Visa Process Finalized; Spouse Work Rights to End

US Citizenship and Immigration Services on Jan. 31 published a final rule changing the H-1B visa process. One change includes a new system that would require H-1B petitioners first to register electronically. Another reverses how H-1B petitions are selected during years when more petitions are received than there are visas available under Congressionally mandated caps.

The agency is set to begin accepting petitions under the caps for 2020 starting April 1. However, the electronic registration system is postponed until after the 2020 federal fiscal year. The agency said the move came after public comments and in order to test the system.

H-1B selection happens when the government receives more petitions in the first week after it starts accepting them than are available under Congressionally mandated caps of 65,000 for all H-1B petitions and 20,000 for just those with master’s degrees or higher.

In that case, USCIS holds a lottery to determine who gets an H-1B. Under the change, petitions would be randomly chosen from all available until the 65,000-cap is reached. Then it would randomly choose among those with master’s degrees under the 20,000 cap. It’s the reverse order of what was done in the past, and could result in more workers with higher-level academic degrees getting visas.

H-1B spousal work authorization. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has moved forward on its promise to reverse an Obama-era policy authorizing H-4 visa holders to work in the US. H-4 visas are given to spouses of H-1B visa holders. US Citizenship and Immigration Services published a notice of a proposed rule change in February with the White House Office of Management and Budget, the first step required to end the work authorization.

Invalid Workers’ Comp Policies Sold in California

California employers who purchased insurance with American Labor Alliance and CompOne USA may not have valid policies. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office in Feburary advised employers that purchased insurance from the two firms that these companies are not licensed to sell insurance in California.

The California Department of Insurance in December imposed a $4.3 million penalty on the companies for selling workers’ compensation and liability policies to employers of farm workers without being properly licensed.

Employers must maintain valid workers’ compensation insurance coverage for all workers, including part-time employees. If an employer does not have valid coverage for its workers, it can be fined $1,500 per employee not covered by valid workers’ compensation insurance, and face a stop-work order until valid insurance is acquired. The employer may also be required to pay employees’ lost wages during the work stoppage. Violation of the stop order could result in additional penalties of up to $10,000 and misdemeanor charges.

Seattle Targets IC Misclassification

The Seattle City Council passed a resolution in February targeting the misclassification of workers as independent contractors when they should be designated as employees.

The lawmakers requested semi-annual updates to the council, starting at the end of this year’s third quarter, on what the Office of Labor Standards and Labor Standards Advisory Commission is doing to investigate and correct misclassifications.

The resolution asks the Office of Labor Standards, the city department that investigates and enforces the city’s labor laws, to:

  • Propose policy solutions to help address this issue of misclassification;
  • Develop enforcement strategies and subject-matter expertise to resolve misclassification inquiries and complaints;
  • Develop outreach and education strategies for the Office of Labor Standards to inform workers and employers;
  • Work with the Office of Intergovernmental Relations on those issues most appropriately addressed by the state, and incorporate them into the city’s 2020 State Legislative Agenda; and
  • Work with experts in employment law to perform a thorough legal analysis on ways to mitigate the adverse impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems Corp v. Lewis on Seattle workers’ ability to band together to challenge an employer’s illegal acts.