Michael Aytes, USCIS Acting Deputy Director, testified before the House Judiciary Committee today to discuss the collaboration between USCIS and the Department of State (DOS) in the visa process. It is an important topic because, as we all recall, a major communication breakdown between the two agencies was, at least partially, blamed for the July, 2007 visa bulletin fiasco.
DOS is in charge of issuing immigrant visas to people overseas, who then travel to the U.S. and become permanent residents upon admission. USCIS, on the other hand, is in charge of granting Adjustment of Status to people already in the U.S., who become permanent residents upon I-485 approval. Both processes, however, use the same pool of immigrant visas administered by DOS.
According to Mr. Aytes, USCIS is now in weekly contact with the Chief of DOS' Visa Unit. USCIS and DOS are also working together on a plan to forward all approved family-based visa petitions to DOS, including those where the petitioner indicates the beneficiary will apply for adjustment of status in the United States.
Better coordination and more exchange of information between USCIS and DOS would definitely make the forecast of visa numbers more accurate, which in turn will benefit everyone, including immigrants.
Stephen A. "Tony" Edson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services, testified before the House Judiciary Committee today to discuss the Department's role in managing and issuing immigrant visas. Mr. Edson mentioned that USCIS currently uses approximately 90 percent of all available visa numbers in the Employment based categories. While DOS tries to reach 100% goal of the visa numbers allocated, increasing the percentage above 95 percent is difficult given that they are statutorily barred from exceeding the annual limits.
USCIS issued another announcement that the revised Form I-693 (dated 04/02/2008) must be used for any medical examination completed on or after May 1, 2008. The new form contains changes to the Tuberculosis (TB) Component of the Technical Instructions and vaccination supplement for civil Surgeons.
Based on the wording of this announcement, medical examinations performed before May 1 may still be reported using the old form. So people should still be allowed to submit an earlier edition of Form I-693, in a sealed envelop of course, even after tomorrow, as long as the actually exam took place before May 1, 2008. However, USCIS customer service was unable to provide a firm answer to this question.
The Department of State amended its regulations to offer a a completely electronic application procedure as an alternative to submission of the Form DS-156. Although a nonimmigrant visa applicant could obtain and prepare the Form DS-156 electronically now, he or she still must sign it manually. While the Department will continue to accept the EVAF (electronic Form DS-156) where necessary, it proposes to eventually eliminate the Form DS-156 entirely and replace it with the Form DS-160, an electronic form designed to be completed and signed electronically. The final rule took effect today.
This poses an interesting question: many people in the U.S. fill out Form DS-156 for their parents who do not understand English. They then mail the form to the parents to sign it, and bring it to the visa interview. With DS-160, although a third party is still allowed to assist the applicant to complete the form, the applicant himself/herself must sign it electronically. In this case, how exactly can a person living in the U.S. help an elderly relative living in another country who are not capable of completing the form by themselves? Hopefully DOS will provide a clearer explanation regarding this issue in the near future.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published an important SEVP policy guidance on optional practical training. The updates are intended for designated school officials at SEVP-certified schools. The policy guidance is not an official regulation, but contains critical information that F-1 students may find useful, especially with the recent rule change that allows OPT extension.
USCIS has revised Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, in accordance with the recent rule changes regarding OPT extension. The July 30, 2007 edition of the form will be accepted through July 8, 2008. After that only the April 8, 2008 edition may be used. Note that the USCIS announcement mistakenly stated April 4, 2008 as the latest edition of Form I-765.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is proposing to require biometric information (digital fingerprints), in addition to biographic data already being collected, from non-U.S. citizens departing the country from any air or sea ports. This is similar to the US-VISIT admission procedure which requires digital fingerprints and photographs from foreign visitors entering the country. If approved, DHS plans to implement this procedure by January 2009.
Update: The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on April 24, 2008
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows battered immigrants to petition for legal status in the United States without relying on abusive U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouses, parents or children to sponsor their Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) applications. USCIS recently provided guidance to adjudicators for processing such cases filed by self-petitioners.
In 2007, USCIS received 1.4 million naturalization applications; 460,000 in July alone right before the fee increase. Along with FBI name check delays, citizenship backlog has been piling up. USCIS is under tremendous pressure to clear the backlog and has done an impressive job so far. As a result of adding hundreds of immigration officers and extending working hours, USCIS has released the projected times for local offices to adjust citizenship applications.
Note that the recent rule change regarding FBI name check doesn't apply to citizenship applications. So cases still awaiting FBI name check clearance will take longer than the projected processing times.
USCIS announced that it would allow F-1 students who are the beneficiaries of selected H-1B petitions for fiscal year (FY) 2009 to request a change of status in lieu of consular notification. This short-term measure follows an April 8, 2008 interim final rule that, among other actions, automatically extends the F-1 status of qualifying students who are the beneficiaries of approved H-1B petitions to cover the gap between the expiration of a student's F-1 status and the H-1B employment start date of October 1. Since the rule was published after the filing period had closed for new FY 2009 H-1B petitions, many petitioners of F-1 students did not include a request for a change of status with the H-1B petition.
To request a change of status in lieu of consular notification, petitioners (or authorized representatives) should send an e-mail with the request to the USCIS service center where their petition is pending within 30 days of the issuance of the receipt notice.
Please read this important announcement and take timely actions.
Thousands of people attended yesterday's peaceful demonstration against CNN in Log Angeles, weaving Chinese, American and Taiwanese flags. They demanded a sincere apology from CNN and the firing of Jack Cafferty.
Hostile comments from CNN commentator Jack Cafferty have outraged the Chinese community in the US. As a result, numerous Chinese organizations and immigration groups are planning for a large rally in front of CNN's Los Angeles building this Saturday. Here is the details if you are able to participate:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today conducted the computer-generated random selection processes on H-1B petitions, to select which H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2009 (FY 2009) would continue to full adjudication. USCIS conducted two random selections, first on petitions qualifying for the 20,000 "master's or higher degree" (advanced degree) exemption, and second on the remaining advance degree petitions together with the general H-1B pool of petitions, for the 65,000 cap. See the official announcement here.
CNN's news commentator Jack Cafferty gave a speech in the "Situation Room" that was full of hatred and discrimination against Chinese people. Read it for yourself:
"CAFFERTY: Well, ... We're in hawk to the Chinese up to our eyeballs because of the war in Iraq, for one thing. ... We also are running hundred of billions of dollars worth of trade deficits with them, as we continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export, you know, jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that we're buying from Wal-Mart.
So ... I think they're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years.
If you feel insulted, here is what you can do for now:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is proposing to raise fees to support the improvements recently made toward enhancing the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). According to the announcement,
NAFSA Association of International Educators provided the SEVIS 5.8 Training Slides for F/M Schools that offered more information about the 17-month STEM students OPT extension. Official instructions are expected to be released in the near future.
EB2 for both China and India moved forward by one month. EB3 slightly better.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a preliminary number of nearly 163,000 H-1B petitions received during the filing period ending on April 7, 2008. More than 31,200 of those petitions were for the advanced degree category.
USCIS announced today that it has received enough H-1B petitions to meet the congressionally mandated cap for fiscal year 2009 (starting October 1, 2008). USCIS has also received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the "advanced degree" exemption. The agency will conduct the selection process for "advanced degree" exemption petitions first. All "advanced degree" petitions not selected will be part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit.
The rule was published in the Federal Register today on April 8, 2008.
USCIS published a Q&A page to address some common questions regarding the new rule on OPT extension.
DHS released a copy of the interim final rule, which will take effect when being published in the Federal Register.
Following OMB's swift approval, DHS made the official announcement of the interim final rule on Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension. The new rule allows extension of OPT from 12 to 29 months for qualified students.
The press release also discussed that "To be eligible for an OPT extension, an F-1 non-immigrant student must:
USCIS addressed important questions from the Liaison Committee regarding EAD, AP, I-94, Premium Processing, and so on. If a multi-year EAD/AD combo document becomes reality, it would be a great relief to people stuck in visa retrogression. We want to thank USCIS for taking the initiatives to address several urgent issues, including recent policy change on FBI name check, a proposal to extend student OPT to 29 months, and a well-organized plan to handle the rush of H1B filings.
USCIS and the FBI today announced a joint plan to eliminate the backlog of name checks pending with the FBI. By increasing staff, expanding resources, and applying new business processes, the goal is to complete 98 percent of all name checks within 30 days. USCIS and the FBI intend to resolve the remaining two percent within 90 days or less. The goal is to achieve and sustain these processing times by June 2009.
A set of milestones were established:
PERM FAQ's Fraud Rule - Round 2, released by DOL's Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC).
If you have knowledge of suspected criminal violations, misconduct, wasteful activities, and allegations of civil rights or civil liberties abuse, you may report them to the DHS Office of Inspector General. Calls can be made anonymously and confidentially. To make a report, call 1-800-323-8603 or email DHSOIGHOTLINE@DHS.GOV.
The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has listed immigration as one of the top 10 state policy issues for higher education in 2008:
#6-Immigration: With rising concern over the growing number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and the repeated failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, state legislatures across the nation are introducing record numbers of immigration bills. In terms of higher education, the primary issue is whether undocumented students may be granted residency status in a state in order to qualify for in-state tuition rates. To date, over 30 states have considered such legislation and 10 states have passed such measures.
A Must Read for people who are planning to file H1B petitions next week on April 1.
USA Today published a blog post demanding more H1B and permanent visas for the high tech industry.
...the average high-tech company has 470 openings it can't fill. Microsoft tops the list with more than 4,000. Collectively the members of the Standard & Poor's 500 have 140,000 unfilled openings for highly skilled workers.
What's needed is obvious. The H-1B program should be both expanded and overhauled...Beyond the H-1B program, more permanent visas need to be steered to highly skilled people...It's also hard to make the case that we should be driving away some of the best tech talent in the world, effectively forcing those people to work for overseas competitors.
If you are a long suffering immigrant, reading this story will likely ruin your weekend. But if you don't want to wait until Monday, here it is: "An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex" from the New York Times.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has revised the filing instructions for the Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130). Effective immediately, all petitioners filing stand-alone Form I-130s must file their petitions with the Chicago Lockbox instead of a USCIS Service Center. A USCIS Update was issued on Nov. 30, 2007, encouraging petitioners to file with the Chicago Lockbox while the form was being revised. Now that the revision is complete, filing with the Chicago Lockbox is required. As of April 30, 2008, all stand-alone Form I-130s submitted to any location other than the Chicago Lockbox will be rejected.
The Times got it wrong again. I feel compelled to set the record straight for 17,000 employees who work late nights and weekends to welcome lawful immigrants into our society. I will not stand idly by as the New York Times insults the dedicated and professional services they provide.
Oh, make sure you read the comments as well! Many actually offered real-life examples to prove why the NYT was correct after all. - Updated March 25, 2008.
In order to address a significant increase in naturalization applications (Form N-400), USCIS is expanding work hours and adding staff to complete these filings within their processing time goals.
If you have received a notice from USCIS that your naturalization interview has been scheduled on a Saturday, Sunday, or after traditional business hours, the notice is correct and you should appear at the scheduled time.
USCIS issued an interim final rule that prohibits employers from filing multiple H1B petitions for the same employee in a fiscal year.
USCIS will use a random selection process for all the master's degree or higher cap-exempt cases received on the first five business days available for filing H-1B petitions for a given fiscal year, if necessary. Petitions eligible for the U.S. master's degree or higher exemption that are not selected to receive an H-1B visa number from the 20,000 cap will be considered with the other H-1B petitions in the random selection for the 65,000 cap filed on the first five business days.
April 1, 2008 is the first day petitions may be received for an October 1, 2008 start date. When it is determined that the numerical limitations have been reached, USCIS employs a random selection process to choose among the petitions received on the "final receipt date." If the "final receipt date" falls within any one of the first five business days, the random selection will be run using all the cap-subject petitions received on those five days.
USCIS will reject and return the filing fee(s) for all cap-subject H-1B petitions that are not selected in the process described above. The new rule clarifies that this provision only applies to petitions that indicate they are cap-subject. If a petitioner claims to be exempt from the cap and is later found to be subject to the cap, USCIS will not refund or return fees and that petition will be denied if no cap numbers are available.
Petitions for the FY 2009 cap received before April 1, 2008 will be rejected. A petition is considered received when USCIS takes possession of and stamps the petition as received, not by the date the petition is postmarked.
Premium processing 15-day adjudication period (processing deadline) will not begin until after USCIS has completed the random selection process. USCIS will refund premium processing fees for any filings for which it cannot meet processing deadlines. Even if USCIS issues a refund of the premium processing fee, it will continue to provide premium processing for these filings until completion.
H-1B petitions from certain higher education, non-profit research organizations or government research organizations are still exempt from the cap. Qualified employers may file these petitions regardless of H1B visa availability.
Petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers do not count towards the congressionally mandated H-1B cap. This includes H1B extension, change of terms, change of employers, etc.
See the official announcement
See the Fact Sheet
Whether it was the Bill Gates effect or not, we welcome the introduction of two separate bills:
Lamar Smith (R-Texas) yesterday introduced a bill to address American companies' immediate need for high-tech, specialty workers. The "Strengthening United States Technology and Innovation Now Act (SUSTAIN Act)" raises the annual cap for H-1B visas to 195,000 for 2008 and 2009.
"When high-tech companies and firms go to American universities to recruit, they seek the best graduates regardless of their nationality," said Smith. "In many cases, the best students are foreigners. By denying them positions here in the U.S., we let many talented and highly educated workers take positions with our competitors overseas. That is not good for business and it is not good for the American economy."
Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) introduced another bill late Thursday, which would increase the cap in H-1B visas from 65,000 a year to 130,000 a year. In addition, there would be no cap on H-1B applications for foreign graduate students attending U.S. colleges and studying science, technology and related fields. Currently, there's a 20,000-a-year cap on visas for graduate students in all fields. Furthermore, The legislation would increase the H-1B cap to 180,000 in 2010 to 2015 if the 130,000 cap is reached the year before.
According to a NY Times article, USCIS has set a goal to process about 930,000 citizenship cases before September 30, the end of fiscal year 2008. This would make it possible for new citizens to vote in the November election. "Of 1,051,186 naturalization applications the agency is processing, 75 percent are still in the early phases of being logged in and placed in line for scheduling of several required steps...Only 262,780 applications are in the time-consuming later phases, when applicants must submit fingerprints and pass required background checks, and English and civics tests..."
Emilio Gonzalez has announced his intention to resign as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), effective April 18. See the official DHS announcement for more details.
US Consulate in Mumbai reported on its website today that EB2 India cut-off date will be 12/1/2003 starting next month, citing the April 2008 visa bulletin. If true or honored by the State Department, it is going to be exiting news for Indian nationals who are under employment-based second preference category. However, the official visa bulletin has been removed from DOS' website after being posted briefly. Please stay tuned ...
Bill Gates urged for more H1B visas while testifying before the House Committee on Science and Technology. "Congress's failure to pass high-skilled immigration reform has exacerbated an already grave situation," he said, "As a result, many US firms, including Microsoft, have been forced to locate staff in countries that welcome skilled foreign workers to do work that could otherwise have been done in the United States, if it were not for our counterproductive immigration policies."
"Microsoft has found that for every H-1B hire we make, we add on average four additional employees to support them in various capacities."
Full transcript of Mr. Gates' Testimony, including Q&A sections, can be read here.
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DHS has announced the appointment of Michael Timothy Dougherty as the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman. Mr. Dougherty previously served as Acting Director of Immigration Policy and Senior Policy Advisor for Immigration at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy and Planning. He returns to DHS after working as legislative counsel to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, where he advised the Senator on legal and policy issues related to homeland security and immigration.
March 1st marked the five-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Chertoff testified yesterday before the House committee to discuss the department's achievement and national security. He did mention the new policy on FBI name check:
In addition, USCIS has updated its guidance for adjudicating Green Card cases that have pending FBI name checks to make it consistent with the procedures used by ICE. Under this new guidance, USCIS will continue to require that a definitive FBI fingerprint check and Interagency Border Inspection Services (IBIS) check be obtained and resolved before granting a Green Card. USCIS will also continue to require initiation of the FBI name checks, but it will approve an adjustment of status application if the individual is otherwise eligible and no actionable derogatory or adverse information has been returned by the FBI within 180 days. At that point, the name check will continue, and if actionable information emerges as a result, the Department may revoke the adjustment of status. This change will help reduce the backlog of adjustment of status applications without compromising our to national security or the integrity of the immigration system.
Effective today, the new instructions for Form I-131 require that applicants for re-entry permits and refugee travel documents who are ages 14 through 79 provide biometrics (e.g., fingerprints and photographs) before departing from the United States. Other types of travel documents are not affected by this revised policy.
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