Saturday, March 29, 2008

USCIS Works To Clear Green Card Delays

USCIS has confirmed it is conducting "sweeps" of applications for Adjustment of Status cases that can be reviewed for adjudication under its new policy of approving case that have been pending security checks for more than 180 days. USCIS has asked applicants to hold off on submitting inquiries on cases at the Service Centers that were delayed due to background checks until after April 30, 2008. CIS hopes to have identified and taken action on cases by that date.

In a report to Congress on the backlog problem, the Immigration Ombudsman stated that "as of May 2007, USCIS reported a staggering 329,160 FBI name check cases pending . . . with approximately 32 percent (106,738) pending over one year." The Ombudsman further stated that, "Delays in the name check process actually prolong an individual's presence in the United States while the check is pending. In this sense, the current USCIS name check policy may increase the risk to national security by extending the time a potential criminal or terrorist remains in the country."

The policy change provides that applications for immigrant benefits that have been pending with the Service for FBI name check requests and have been pending for more than 180 days can be approved without further wait. The policy change applies to applications for Adjustment of Status (I-485) and Applications for Waivers for Inadmissibility, but does not apply to Applications for Naturalization (N-400). Applicants will still need to wait until FBI fingerprint checks are completed and approved although applications waiting name checks can proceed. The apparent justification for the policy change on green cards as opposed to citizenship is that a negative name check response following a green card approval can result in action to revoke the green card. That is not necessarily true with citizenship applications where actions to revoke citizenship are far more difficult to accomplish.

Immigrant applicants that have applications for more than 180 days should contact their attorney immediately to expedite an approval.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

State Department to Add Eastern Europe To Visa Waiver Program

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it was moving forward with plans to add several East European Countries to the Visa Waiver Program. The program allows citizens from designated countries to come to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. The program is used almost exclusively by tourists, because it does not permit the visitor to extend their stay beyond the 90-day period or switch to another status, such as student. At present, the program is restricted primarily to countries in Western Europe, as well as Australia and Japan.

The new additions would include Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia and would go into effect later this year.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

USCIS Revises Filing Instructions For I-130 Petitions

USCIS has revised filing instructions for Petitions for Alien Relative (I-130), which are used by family members to sponsor other family members for permanent residency in the United States. Until recently, these applications, if unaccompanied by an application for Adjustment of Status in the United States (I-485), were sent to the local Service Center -- which means the Vermont Service Center -- for sponsors living in the Northeast. Effective immediately, these applications will now be sent to the following address:

United States Citizenship & Immigration Services
P.O. Box 804616
Chicago, IL 60680-1029

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Small Businesses Make Final Push to Save H-2Bs

Over 120 members of the Save Small Business (SSB) advocacy group descended on Washington last week in a final push to convince Congress to pass legislation that will free additional H-2B guest worker visas. Although SSB members reported that Congress is unlikely to pass a bill before the two week Easter and Passover break, they remain hopeful of a breakthrough. Their efforts center on the Save Small Business Act, which would make the H-2B returning-worker exemption permanent. To date, their efforts have been stifled by the greater immigration debate and opposition from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The 21-member caucus has opposed any piecemeal immigration-related legislation, preferring to pass these measures only in a comprehensive bill.

The H-2B visa allows U.S. employers to hire skilled and unskilled foreign workers to work in seasonal and peak businesses. On Long Island, this includes primarily summer business such as pool and landscaping companies as well as resort related business in the Hamptons. Congress has set a numerical cap at 66,000 H2B visas a year and that cap was reached the first week in January. This means no additional workers will be approved to start before October 1, 2008.

New Regulations to Prohibit H-1B Duplicate Filings

New regulations prepared by USCIS to prevent duplicate filings of H-1B "lottery" petitions have been cleared for publication by the Office of Management and Budget. (OMB). The action clears the way for the April 1st lottery, under which an estimated 200,000 applications are expected to flood the two regional USCIS office for 65,000 professional worker visas.

The regulation deals with the problem of duplicate applications, which some employers filed last year in order to increase the likelihood of being selected in the lottery. Although immigration officials have repeatedly stated that such applications will be rejected this year, the regulation was required to enforce that position.

The H-1B visa category is established for foreign professional workers coming to the United States to perform professional work at a prevailing wage established by the U.S. Department of Labor. Congress has allocated a total of 65,000 new H-1B visas each year for new applicants. The fiscal year begins on October 1st and new applications can be filed no more than 6 months prior to the anticipated start date. Thus April 1st is the earliest possible day to file applications for new foreign workers to begin work October 1st. Once the cap is reached, further applications are returned to the employer without being adjudicated. Last year USCIS received over 120,000 on the very first day and a computer generated lottery was instituted.

Because it is imperative that the applications arrive on April 1st, employers are advised to use a delivery service such as FedEx rather than the U.S. Postal Service. Not only are the delivery services more reliable, but they will deliver the application directly to the service center. USPS on the other hand delivers the documents to the local post office and may not arrive at USCIS until the following day.