In 2000, acting in response to the lack of productivity by the then-INS, Congress enacted ameliorative legislation, providing certain benefits to H1B nonimmigrants. Chief among these is the new concept of "H1B portability" created by this legislation. The specific language creating H1B portability can be found in Section 105 of Public Law 106-313 (the "American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act"):
§105. INCREASED PORTABILITY OF H-1B STATUS.:
(a) IN GENERAL- Section 214 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:
"(m)(1) A nonimmigrant alien described in paragraph (2) who was previously issued a visa or otherwise provided nonimmigrant status under section 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b) is authorized to accept new employment upon the filing by the prospective employer of a new petition on behalf of such nonimmigrant as provided under subsection (a). Employment authorization shall continue for such alien until the new petition is adjudicated. If the new petition is denied, such authorization shall cease.
"(2) A nonimmigrant alien described in this paragraph is a nonimmigrant alien--
"(A) who has been lawfully admitted into the United States;
"(B) on whose behalf an employer has filed a nonfrivolous petition for new employment before the date of expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General; and
"(C) who, subsequent to such lawful admission, has not been employed without authorization in the United States before the filing of such petition.".
Subsequently, the INS and its successor, the CIS, published "policy memos" to guide their adjudicators in dealing with this legislation. While these policy memos are not a valid substitute for lawfully promulgated regulations (something the INS/CIS have failed to do in the many years since 2000), they are nonetheless instructive. The following questions and answers are taken from the most recent such policy memo:
Question 1. Can an H-1B temporary worker “port” under §105 of AC21 (INA § 214(n)) from one employer to another even after the alien’s I-94 or last approved petition has expired as long as he or she is still in a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General”?
Answer: Yes. Under certain circumstances, an H-1B alien may still be able to port to another H-1B employer even after the alien’s I-94 or last approved petition has expired. In order to port, however, such alien must meet all the requirements of INA § 214(n), including the requirement that the new petition be filed while the alien is in a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General.” USCIS has previously determined and issued guidance explaining what constitutes a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General.” One example would be:
Alien is in H-1B status. Employer A timely files a non-frivolous extension of the alien’s H-1B status. Alien’s original petition, approved for Employer A, expires during the pendency of the extension. Alien is then in a “period of stay as authorized by the Attorney General” while Employer A’s extension is pending. Employer B then files new petition and alien wants to port to Employer B. Under INA
§ 214(n), the alien should be permitted to port because he or she is in a “period of stay as authorized by the Attorney General.”
In other words, porting under INA §214 does not require that the foreign national currently be in H-1B status as long as he or she is in a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General.”
Question 2. Can there be successive H-1B portability petitions filed for an alien while the previous H-1B petitions remain pending (i.e. creating a “bridge” of H-1B petitions)?
Answer: Yes. However, to be approved every H-1B portability petition must separately meet the requirements for H-1B classification and for an extension of stay.
Question 3. If successive H-1B portability petitions can be filed, what happens if an alien’s nonimmigrant status expires while the H-1B portability petitions are pending and a petition in the “bridge” is denied?
Answer: As stated above, to be approved every H-1B portability petition must separately meet the requirements for H-1B classification and for an extension of stay. In the event the alien’s nonimmigrant status has expired while the petitions are pending, the denial of any filing in the string of extension of stay and/or change of status filings undercuts the “bridge” that “carried” any petition filed after the expiration of any approved status which will result in the denial of the successive requests to extend or change status