Computer Glitch Halts Visa Issuance at All U.S. Embassies and Consulates Around the World

The Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with its overseas passport and visa systems around the world. This means that all U.S. embassies and consulates are currently unable to print nonimmigrant visas (and immigrant visas) approved after June 8, 2015. In addition, U.S. embassies and consulates are currently unable to process new DS-160 applications submitted on or after June 9, 2015. U.S. embassies are recommending that visa applicants only attend their appointments if the Form DS-160 was submitted prior to June 9, 2015. Anyone who completed the DS-160 on or after June 9, 2015 is advised to only attend the appointment if the situation has been resolved.

Posted in Updates

USCIS Clarifies Guidance Concerning Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B Extension Petitions

On May 22, 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its May 19 alert concerning the suspension of premium processing for any H-1B extension petitions. The original guidance created much confusion as to what kinds of cases were subject to the suspension. Of particular concern was whether H-1B change-of-employer petitions would be impacted by the suspension. In the updated guidance, USCIS confirms that premium processing is not available to any cases requesting an extension of stay, including petitions for cap-exempt organizations or change-of-employer applications.

As a recap, starting May 26, 2015, USCIS will temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B extension of stay petitions until July 27, 2015. During this time frame, petitioners will not be able to file Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, for a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, requesting an extension of the stay for an H-1B nonimmigrant.

USCIS will continue to premium process H-1B extension of stay petitions filed with Form I-907 premium requests prior to May 26, 2015.

USCIS will refund the premium processing fee if:

  • A petitioner filed H-1B petitions prior to May 26, 2015, using the premium processing service, and
  • USCIS did not act on the case within the 15-calendar-day period.

Premium Processing Remains Available for Certain H-1B Petitions

Premium processing remains available for:

  • Form I-129 H-1B petitions subject to the H-1B cap and cap exempt petitions, as long as the petition is requesting:
    • A change of nonimmigrant status, or
    • Consular notification;
  • Form I-129 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals who already have H-1B nonimmigrant status, as long as the petition is requesting:
    • Consular notification, or
    • An amendment of a previously approved petition that does not include a request for an extension of stay; and
  • All Form I-129 H-1B1 petitions.

Why USCIS is Suspending Premium Processing

This temporary suspension will allow USCIS to implement the Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Spouses final rule in a timely manner and adjudicate applications for employment authorization filed by H-4 nonimmigrants under the new regulations. USCIS anticipates receiving an extremely high volume of Form I-765 applications once the H-4 final rule becomes effective on May 26, 2015, and needs to temporarily suspend premium processing to ensure that it can provide good customer service to both H-1B petitioners and H-4 applicants.

USCIS will monitor its workloads closely and may resume accepting premium processing requests before July 27, 2015, if it determines that it can once again provide customers with the level of service offered with premium processing.

Expedited Processing

Petitioners may request expedited processing for their H-1B extension of stay petition during the temporary suspension of premium processing. USCIS will review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and grant the requests at the discretion of the Director.

Posted in Updates

Filing Guidance for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses Now Available

On May 20, 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a guidance for eligible H-4 dependent spouses who want to apply for employment authorization under the “Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses” final rule. The information is also available on USCIS’ list of Frequently Asked Questions.

USCIS will only accept applications beginning May 26, 2015.

The H-4 guidance was issued one day after USCIS announced that it will temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B extension petitions from May 26, 2015 until July 27, 2015.

Posted in Updates

USCIS Temporarily Suspends Premium Processing for H-1B Extension Petitions

Starting May 26, 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will temporarily suspend premium processing for all H-1B extension petitions until July 27, 2015. During this time frame, petitioners will not be able to file an extension of the stay for an H-1B nonimmigrant under the premium processing program. USCIS will continue to premium process H-1B extension petitions filed prior to May 26, 2015. USCIS will refund the premium processing fee if:

  • A petitioner filed H-1B petitions prior to May 26, 2015, using the premium processing service, and
  • USCIS did not act on the case within the 15-calendar-day period.

Premium processing remains available for all other Form I-129 H-1B petitions, including petitions subject to the H-1B cap that are requesting a change of nonimmigrant status or consular notification. This temporary suspension will allow USCIS to implement the “Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Spouses” final rule in a timely manner and adjudicate applications for employment authorization filed by H-4 applicants under the new regulations.

Posted in Updates

Holy Moly! USCIS Received a Record of Nearly 233,000 H-1B Petitions!

USCIS Update: USCIS Completes the H-1B Cap Random Selection Process for FY 2016

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on April 7, 2015 that it has received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 visas for fiscal year (FY) 2016. USCIS has also received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption, also known as the masters cap.

On April 13, 2015, USCIS announced that it received nearly 233,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began April 1, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. On April 13, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and the 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS conducted the selection process for the advanced degree exemption first. All unselected advanced degree petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit. USCIS received 60,500 more H-1B petitions than in 2014 (FY 2015) when it received approximately 172,500 H-1B petitions. Here’s a comparison of H-1B usage in previous years.

Cases that are selected as part of the H-1B lottery will likely receive receipt notices within the next few weeks. For petitions not selected as part of the H-1B cap, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees, unless the petition is found to be a duplicate filing.

USCIS will begin premium processing for H-1B cap cases no later than May 11, 2015.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap will also not be counted towards the congressionally mandated FY 2016 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:

  • Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

Posted in Updates

Good News! Certain H-4 Spouses Can Apply for Employment Authorization

Beginning May 26, 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept Form I-765, Employment Authorization applications from H-4 spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who are seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.

Eligible individuals include certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants who:

  • Are the principal beneficiaries of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or
  • Have been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act (“AC21”). The Act permits H-1B nonimmigrants seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year limit on their H-1B status.(1)(2)

To be clear, this new rule will only impact approximately 179,600 H-4 spouses. It does not apply to all H-4 dependents.

This new rule is an important element of the President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which was announced in November 2014.

USCIS reminds those who are potentially eligible that this rule is not effective until May 26, 2015, and that no applications should be submitted before this date.
 


1 Section 106(a) of AC21 allows an alien to obtain an extension of H-1B status beyond the 6-year maximum period, when:

  • A labor certification is unexpired at the time of filing of the Form I-129 H-1B extension petition; and
  • The labor certification was filed with DOL or the I-140 petition was filed with USCIS at least 365 days prior to the date the alien beneficiary will have exhausted 6 years of H-1B status in the United States pursuant to 214(g)(4); and
  • The extension and I-129 petition are otherwise approvable.

2 USCIS will grant the extension of stay request made under section 106(a) of AC21, in one-year increments, until such time as a final decision has been made to:

  1. Deny the application for labor certification;
  2. If the labor certification is approved, to revoke the approved labor certification;
  3. Deny the EB immigrant petition; or
  4. Grant or deny the alien’s application for an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status.

Posted in Updates

DHS Considers “Known Employer” Pilot Program

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering a “Known Employer” pilot program to streamline adjudication of certain types of employment-based immigration benefit requests filed by eligible U.S. employers. The program would ideally make adjudications more efficient and less costly, while reducing paperwork and delays for both the department and U.S. employers who seek to employ foreign workers.

A goal of the pilot would be to expedite or otherwise facilitate legitimate cross-border business travel along the Northern border ports of entry, which is a bi-national commitment under the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as the U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border initiative. In particular, one specific commitment made by the U.S. and Canadian governments under the Beyond the Border initiative is to “explore the feasibility of incorporating a trusted employer concept in the processing of business travelers between Canada and the United States.”

DHS expects to launch the Known Employer program by late 2015.

Posted in Updates

Text of White House Fact Sheet: Immigration Accountability Executive Action

 

FACT SHEET: IMMIGRATION ACCOUNTABILITY EXECUTIVE ACTION

The President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions will help secure the border, hold nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants accountable, and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules. Acting within his legal authority, the President is taking an important step to fix our broken immigration system.

These executive actions crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

These are common sense steps, but only Congress can finish the job. As the President acts, he’ll continue to work with Congress on a comprehensive, bipartisan bill—like the one passed by the Senate more than a year ago—that can replace these actions and fix the whole system.

Three critical elements of the President’s executive actions are:

  • Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration at the Border: The President’s actions increase the chances that anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be caught and sent back. Continuing the surge of resources that effectively reduced the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally this summer, the President’s actions will also centralize border security command-and-control to continue to crack down on illegal immigration.
  • Deporting Felons, Not Families: The President’s actions focus on the deportation of people who threaten national security and public safety. He has directed immigration enforcement to place anyone suspected of terrorism, violent criminals, gang members, and recent border crossers at the top of the deportation priority list.
  • Accountability – Criminal Background Checks and Taxes: The President is also acting to hold accountable those undocumented immigrants who have lived in the US for more than five years and are parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. By registering and passing criminal and national security background checks, millions of undocumented immigrants will start paying their fair share of taxes and temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation for three years at a time.

The President’s actions will also streamline legal immigration to boost our economy and will promote naturalization for those who qualify.

For more than a half century, every president—Democratic or Republican—has used his legal authority to act on immigration. President Obama is now taking another commonsense step. As the Administration implements these executive actions, Congress should finish the job by passing a bill like the bipartisan Senate bill that: continues to strengthen border security by adding 20,000 more Border Patrol agents; cracks down on companies who hire undocumented workers; creates an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pay a fine and taxes, pass a background check, learn English and go to the back of the line; and boosts our economy and keeps families together by cutting red tape to simplify our legal immigration process.

 

CRACKING DOWN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AT THE BORDER

Under the Obama Administration, the resources that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) dedicates to security at the Southwest border are at an all-time high. Today, there are 3,000 additional Border Patrol agents along the Southwest Border and our border fencing, unmanned aircraft surveillance systems, and ground surveillance systems have more than doubled since 2008. Taken as a whole, the additional boots on the ground, technology, and resources provided in the last six years represent the most serious and sustained effort to secure our border in our Nation’s history, cutting illegal border crossings by more than half.

And this effort is producing results. From 1990 to 2007, the population of undocumented individuals in the United States grew from 3.5 million to 11 million people. Since then, the size of the undocumented population has stopped growing for the first time in decades. Border apprehensions—a key indicator of border security— are at their lowest level since the 1970s. This past summer, the President and the entire Administration responded to the influx of unaccompanied children with an aggressive, coordinated Federal response focused on heightened deterrence, enhanced enforcement, stronger foreign cooperation, and greater capacity for Federal agencies to ensure that our border remains secure. As a result, the number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the Southwest border has declined precipitously, and the Administration continues to focus its resources to prevent a similar situation from developing in the future.

To build on these efforts and to ensure that our limited enforcement resources are used effectively, the President has announced the following actions:

  • Shifting resources to the border and recent border crossers. Over the summer, DHS sent hundreds of Border Patrol agents and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel to the Southwest border, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) reordered dockets in immigration courts to prioritize removal cases of recent border crossers. This continued focus will help keep our borders safe and secure. In addition, Secretary Johnson is announcing a new Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan which will strengthen the efforts of the agencies who work to keep our border secure. And by establishing clearer priorities for interior enforcement, DHS is increasing the likelihood that people attempting to cross the border illegally will be apprehended and sent back.
  • Streamlining the immigration court process. DOJ is announcing a package of immigration court reforms that will address the backlog of pending cases by working with DHS to more quickly adjudicate cases of individuals who meet new DHS-wide enforcement priorities and close cases of individuals who are low priorities. DOJ will also pursue regulations that adopt best practices for court systems to use limited court hearing time as efficiently as possible.
  • Protecting victims of crime and human trafficking as well as workers. The Department of Labor (DOL) is expanding and strengthening immigration options for victims of crimes (U visas) and trafficking (T visas) who cooperate in government investigations. An interagency working group will also explore ways to ensure that workers can avail themselves of their labor and employment rights without fear of retaliation.

 

DEPORTING FELONS, NOT FAMILIES

By setting priorities and focusing its enforcement resources, the Obama Administration has already increased the removal of criminals by more than 80%. These actions build on that strong record by:

  • Focusing on the removal of national security, border security, and public safety threats. To better focus on the priorities that matter, Secretary Johnson is issuing a new DHS-wide memorandum that makes clear that the government’s enforcement activity should be focused on national security threats, serious criminals, and recent border crossers. DHS will direct all of its enforcement resources at pursuing these highest priorities for removal.
  • Implementing a new Priority Enforcement Program. Effectively identifying and removing criminals in state and local jails is a critical goal but it must be done in a way that sustains the community’s trust. To address concerns from Governors, Mayors, law enforcement and community leaders which have undermined cooperation with DHS, Secretary Johnson is replacing the existing Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) to remove those convicted of criminal offenses. DHS will continue to rely on biometric data to verify individuals who are enforcement priorities, and they will also work with DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons to identify and remove federal criminals serving time as soon as possible.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY – CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS AND TAXES

Every Democratic and Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration. Consistent with this long history, DHS will expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to include more immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. DHS will also create a new deferred action program for people who are parents of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) and have lived in the United States for five years or longer if they register, pass a background check and pay taxes.

The President is taking the following actions to hold accountable certain undocumented immigrants:

  • Creating a mechanism that requires certain undocumented immigrants to pass a background check to make sure that they start paying their fair share in taxes. In order to promote public safety, DHS is establishing a new deferred action program for parents of U.S. Citizens or LPRs who are not enforcement priorities and have been in the country for more than 5 years. Individuals will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for three years at a time if they come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born before the date of this announcement. By providing individuals with an opportunity to come out of the shadows and work legally, we will also help crack down on companies who hired undocumented workers, which undermines the wages of all workers, and ensure that individuals are playing by the rules and paying their fair share of taxes.
  • Expanding DACA to cover additional DREAMers. Under the initial DACA program, young people who had been in the U.S. for at least five years, came as children, and met specific education and public safety criteria were eligible for temporary relief from deportation so long as they were born after 1981 and entered the country before June 15, 2007. DHS is expanding DACA so that individuals who were brought to this country as children can apply if they entered before January 1, 2010, regardless of how old they are today. Going forward, DACA relief will also be granted for three years.

The President’s actions will also streamline legal immigration to boost our economy and promote naturalization by:

  • Providing portable work authorization for high-skilled workers awaiting LPR status and their spouses. Under the current system, employees with approved LPR applications often wait many years for their visa to become available. DHS will make regulatory changes to allow these workers to move or change jobs more easily. DHS is finalizing new rules to give certain H-1B spouses employment authorization as long as the H-1B spouse has an approved LPR application.
  • Enhancing options for foreign entrepreneurs. DHS will expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment, and generating revenue in the U.S., to ensure that our system encourages them to grow our economy. The criteria will include income thresholds so that these individuals are not eligible for certain public benefits like welfare or tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Strengthening and extending on-the-job training for STEM graduates of U.S universities. In order to strengthen educational experiences of foreign students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at U.S. universities, DHS will propose changes to expand and extend the use of the existing Optional Practical Training (OPT) program and require stronger ties between OPT students and their colleges and universities following graduation
  • Streamlining the process for foreign workers and their employers, while protecting American workers. DHS will clarify its guidance on temporary L-1 visas for foreign workers who transfer from a company’s foreign office to its U.S. office. DOL will take regulatory action to modernize the labor market test that is required of employers that sponsor foreign workers for immigrant visas while ensuring that American workers are protected.
  • Reducing family separation for those waiting to obtain LPR status. Due to barriers in our system, U.S. citizens and LPRs are often separated for years from their immediate relatives, while they wait to obtain their LPR status. To reduce the time these individuals are separated, DHS will expand an existing program that allows certain individuals to apply for a provisional waiver for certain violations before departing the United States to attend visa interviews.
  • Ensuring that individuals with lawful status can travel to their countries of origin. DHS will clarify its guidance to provide greater assurance to individuals with a pending LPR application or certain temporary status permission to travel abroad with advance permission (“parole”).
  • Issuing a Presidential Memorandum on visa modernization. There are many ways in which our legal immigration system can be modernized to reduce government costs, eliminate redundant systems, reduce burdens on employers and families, and eliminate fraud. The President is issuing a Memorandum directing an interagency group to recommend areas for improvement.
  • Creating a White House Task Force on New Americans. The President is creating a White House Task Force on New Americans to create a federal strategy on immigrant integration.
  • Promoting Citizenship Public Awareness: DHS will launch a comprehensive citizenship awareness media campaign in the 10 states that are home to 75 percent of the overall LPR population. USCIS will also expand options for paying naturalization fees and explore additional measures to expand accessibility, including studying potential partial fee waiver for qualified individuals.
  • Ensuring U.S. Citizens Can Serve: To further our military’s needs and support recruitment efforts, DHS will expand an existing policy to provide relief to spouses and children of U.S. citizens seeking to enlist in the military, consistent with a request made by the Department of Defense

 


Posted in Updates

NVC No Longer Requires Original Supporting Documents

As of November 12, 2014, the National Visa Center (NVC), which is responsible for the collection of visa application fees and supporting documentation for immigrant visa petitions, no longer requires original civil documents (such as birth, marriage, and police certificates) in support of immigrant visa applications. Instead, visa applicants will be required to submit photocopies of these documents and take the originals with them at the time of their interview.

 


Posted in Updates

U.S. & China Agree to Extend Visa Validity for Students and Visitors

Beginning November 12, 2014, the State Department will issue multiple-entry visas with extended validity period to qualified B category Chinese visitors, as well as Chinese students and exchange visitors and their dependents, who qualify for F, M & J visas. The new validity period may extend up to 10 years for business or tourist visitors and up to 5 years for students and exchange visitors, as well as their dependents. Currently, the validity of these visa categories are limited to a 12-month period.

According the the State Department, there will be no changes with the visa application fees, and that:

We expect that these changes in visa validity will be very popular among Chinese travelers. The U.S. Mission in China is taking steps to handle a potential increase in visa workload and intends to keep visa processing times as short as they have been over the past several years.

 


Posted in Updates