October 2015 Newsletter
In This Issue
State Dept. Moves Many Filing Dates Back From Previously Released October Visa Bulletin; Lawsuit Filed
On September 24, 2015, the Department of State issued an update that supersedes the previously released October Visa Bulletin. By moving many filing dates back, the update radically changed the recently announced benefit offered by a revised procedure for determining immigrant visa availability and filing adjustment of status applications. The revised process allows foreign nationals who have immigrant visa petitions based on family or employment to file adjustment of status applications once their priority dates are listed on a separate chart on the monthly Visa Bulletin, "Dates for Filing Applications." In the prior version of the October Visa Bulletin, these dates were significantly earlier than the priority dates available for final adjudications.
With the latest change for October, the Department of State moved the dates back substantially. In a statement announcing the change, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explained that following consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, the dates for filing applications for some categories in the family-sponsored and employment-based preferences were adjusted "to better reflect a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process."
The change means that potentially thousands of applicants who had already gathered documents, prepared applications, paid for medical examinations, and incurred other costs based on the previous dates now may have to wait many months to take the next steps in their green card cases, unless the situation changes. An informal survey of immigration lawyers revealed that about 80-90% of people who were eligible to apply for adjustment of status under the original Visa Bulletin were adversely affected by the changes announced by USCIS and DOS.
A class action challenging the new change was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle on September 28, 2015. The complaint notes that in the absence of relief, plaintiffs and class members, "who have spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars preparing adjustment applications in reasonable reliance on the binding agency policy statements DOS published, will be irreparably harmed and left without any remedy for Defendants' unlawful actions." The complaint asks the court to declare, among other things, that the September 24 revision of the October 2015 Visa Bulletin constitutes unlawful agency action in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL) filed a declaration supporting the complaint, and individual ABIL lawyers also filed declarations as experts. ABIL also plans to file an amicus brief in the litigation.
Below are a few examples of the extreme changes:
USCIS Resumes Final Adjudications of Employment-Based Adjustment Applications After Brief Suspension
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on September 24, 2015, that it had suspended through September 30, 2015, the adjudication of all employment-based Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) adjustment applications pending with USCIS through that date, because the Department of State reported that the statutory cap was reached for the employment-based preference categories for fiscal year (FY) 2015.
USCIS resumed final adjudication of employment-based adjustment applications on October 1, 2015, when visa numbers were again available. USCIS noted that applicants filing an I-485 on or after October 1 should review the "When to File" section on the Visa Bulletin Info Web page to determine whether they are eligible.
USCIS International Field Offices Website Upgrade
US Citizenship and Immigration Services has updated their website, providing new web pages for their international offices.
The updates pages provide information regarding the services provided by each office, instructions for filing applications, contact details and opening times. Information regarding the London field office can be found here.
Certificate of Loss of Nationality fee change
Effective November 9, 2015, a $2,350 fee ("Administrative Processing of Request for Certificate of Loss of Nationality fee") will be required by the US Department of State of all individuals seeking documentation of their loss of US citizenship. Currently, this fee is payable only by US citizens renouncing their citizenship before a consular officer. As of November 9, 2015, the fee will be required for all persons who wish to appear in front of a consular officer to provide evidence that they previously committed a potentially expatriating act with the intention of relinquishing their citizenship.
On-Line Payment of Immigrant Fee Simplified
The USCIS announced that it is simplifying the online payment process for the $165 immigrant fee required of people immigrating to the United States after their immigrant visa interview abroad. The new payment process will require less information and will allow someone else to pay the fee on behalf of the new immigrant. Further information about paying the immigrant fee can be found on the USCIS Electronic Immigration System.
White House Announces New Measures Under Citizenship Initiative
The Obama administration recently announced several new measures as part of its citizenship initiative. For example, on September 19, 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting and processing credit card payments for the naturalization application and biometrics fee. Previously, the fees could only be paid with a check or money order.
USCIS also said it is entering into a formal partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Farm Service Agency to provide temporary office space for USCIS officers in agricultural and rural communities that have significant numbers of immigrants but are not located near a USCIS office. Services under this pilot program will include biometrics collection, interviews for applications or petitions, informational appointments, and general presentations on immigration benefits.
USCIS also has begun live question-and-answer sessions on Twitter with USCIS experts answering non-case-specific questions.
The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration Statistics estimates that 8.8 million permanent residents (green card holders) are eligible to apply for citizenship. A recent analysis showed that the median time spent as a permanent resident before becoming a U.S. citizen was seven years. USCIS noted that green card holders who meet all eligibility requirements may apply for citizenship after five years, or after three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen.
CBP Redesigns ESTA Website for Visa Waiver Program
U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched a redesigned Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participants on September 10, 2015.
Some of the new features include access to frequently asked questions at any time during the application process; a mobile-friendly design that allows VWP visitors to apply and check the status of their ESTA applications using a smartphone; translation capability at any point in the application by choosing one of 23 languages; and availability of the Group feature at the beginning of the application process to make it easier for families and groups to submit their applications at the same time.
CBP said it conducted focus groups as part of the redesign process to better understand how to improve the website for the more than 19 million VWP visitors who use it each year. VWP visitors who have already applied for ESTA will be able to access their accounts on the new site. Travelers with valid ESTAs will not have to reapply for new ones until their current ESTAs expire or they receive new passports.
CBP noted that the VWP enables nationals of 38 designated countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa. All nationals or citizens of VWP countries must have an approved ESTA before boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States under the VWP. ESTA applications should be submitted at least 72 hours before travel. Once approved, the ESTA is generally valid for up to two years or until the applicant's passport expires. Authorizations are valid for multiple entries.
United States Announces 'Trusted Traveler' Trilateral Agreement with Canada and Mexico
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has joined Public Safety Canada and the Secretariat of Governance of Mexico in a trilateral agreement to expand "trusted traveler" programs. The new agreement, signed on July 10, 2015, outlines the first steps toward the creation of a North American Trusted Traveler network. The agreement is expected to make it easier for eligible travelers in the United States, Mexico, and Canada to apply for expedited screening programs.
As part of the agreement, Mexican nationals who are members of Mexico's Viajero Confiable program will be able to apply for the U.S.-Canada NEXUS trusted traveler program, making them eligible for expedited screening benefits upon arrival at international airports in the United States and Canada. The arrangement will also allow Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS to apply for Viajero Confiable, making them eligible for expedited screening benefits upon arrival at select international airports in Mexico. U.S. citizens are currently eligible to apply for the NEXUS and Viajero Confiable trusted traveler programs through existing partnerships between U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Public Safety Canada, and Mexico's National Institute of Migration. Eligible travelers will be able to apply for each program beginning in 2016.
At the 2014 North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico, the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico committed to the development of a trilateral trusted traveler network to facilitate air travel in North America. Facilitating secure air travel within North America is also a goal of the U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border initiative, the U.S.-Mexico 21st Century Border Management Initiative, and the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue.
USCIS Uses Secure Laminates on Certain Forms
On Oct. 5, 2015, USCIS began applying secure laminates to certain secure forms that authorize travel to the United States. The affected forms are:
These advancements are part of USCIS' ongoing efforts to further enhance and maintain the integrity of secure documents. Previously issued forms will remain valid. Visit their website to learn more.
Government Agency Links
Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:
Hodkinson Law Group News
This month started with Kehrela participating as the Discussion Leader on a panel discussing "Waivers of Inadmissibility for Non-Immigrants" at the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Minneapolis, MN. Later this month she will be speaking with MBA students at London Business School regarding US visa options for graduates. She will end the month by participating in the Dublin Marathon along with her two daughters.