November 2015 Newsletter
In This Issue
USCIS Updates Welcome Guide for New Immigrants
USCIS has published an updated Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants. The guide contains practical information to help new immigrants settle into everyday life in the United States, including how to find a place to live, how to get a Social Security number and how the U.S. system of government works.
This publication, available in 14 languages, has recently been updated to include:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Announce Global Entry Eligibility to UK Citizens
On November 3rd, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that citizens of the United Kingdom are now eligible for the Global Entry Program. Global Entry is a program for trusted travellers, i.e., applicants who have proven that they are not a security risk, not violated immigration laws, and are eligible to enter the U.S., and allows individuals to travel more expeditiously through the security lines at certain airports. Individuals who have been approved for Global Entry are often allowed to go through the shorter TSA pre-check security lines.
Global Entry is available to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Citizens of Germany, the Netherlands, Panama, South Korea, and Mexico are also eligible for this program. Canadian citizens are not eligible for Global Entry, but enjoy similar benefits through the NEXUS program.
Click here for more information.
DHS Proposes Rule on Expanding F-1 STEM OPT
On October 19, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a new proposed rule on expanding F-1 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT). Specifically, the proposal would allow F-1 STEM students who have elected to pursue 12 months of OPT in the United States to extend the OPT period by 24 months (STEM OPT extension). This 24-month extension would effectively replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension currently available to certain STEM students. The rule also increases oversight of STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring the implementation of formal mentoring and training plans by employers, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools.
As with the current 17-month STEM OPT extension, the proposed rule would authorize STEM OPT extensions only for students employed by employers enrolled in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. The proposal also includes the "cap-gap" relief first introduced in 2008 for any F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and request for change of status. DHS said that the cap-gap relief allows such students to automatically extend the duration of F-1 status and any current employment authorization until October 1 of the fiscal year for which such an H-1B visa is being requested.
The proposed rule also responds to a court decision that vacated a 2008 DHS regulation on procedural grounds. The proposed rule includes changes to the policies announced in the 2008 rule to further enhance the academic benefit provided by STEM OPT extensions and increase oversight. DHS noted that "[t]hese on-the-job educational experiences would be obtained only with those employers that commit to developing students' knowledge and skills through practical application. The proposed changes would also help ensure that the nation's colleges and universities remain globally competitive in attracting international STEM students to study and lawfully remain in the United States."
Update on 'Visagate' Filing Date Fiasco: Temporary Restraining Order Denied
On October 7, 2015, a judge rejected a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in a class action challenging a new change to the October Visa Bulletin. By moving many filing dates back, the update to the bulletin radically restricted a previously announced benefit offered by a revised procedure for determining immigrant visa availability and filing adjustment of status applications. The class action was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle on September 28, 2015.
The complaint noted 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.
Varied explanations for the latest change, which some are calling "Visagate," were floated. For example, in a statement announcing the change, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) 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." USCIS also reportedly said that the agency was correcting a mistake and there was no way it could comply with the law without fixing the bulletin. USCIS also said that a retrogression in cut-off dates was not accounted for when the first October bulletin was issued.
USCIS Reports Satisfaction With Filing for Replacement Green Cards Online
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that more than 93 percent of applicants who filed for a replacement green card (Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card) online had a positive experience, and more than 95 percent would recommend online filing to others.
USCIS noted that since the agency introduced the electronic I-90 in March 2015, more than 168,000 applications were filed that way. Online I-90 filings now account for 47 percent of all I-90 applications filed. USCIS said it still accepts paper I-90 applications, but converts them into electronic records. Those filing an I-90 on paper can still create an online account to track the case electronically.
Congress Extends Four Immigration Programs until December 11
Congress has extended the EB-5, E-Verify, Conrad state 30 (physician J-1 waiver), and religious workers programs until December 11, 2015, as part of congressional passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government.
Members of Congress hope to reauthorize and reform the EB-5 program in the interim, although the outcome is uncertain due to political disputes and legislative scheduling pressures. In January, Reps. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced an EB-5 reauthorization bill in the House of Representatives. In June, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a reauthorization and reform bill in the Senate. At least two other bills to reform the EB-5 program have also been introduced. Conrad 30 supporters also hope to make changes, such as reducing backlogs in the wait for green cards.
USCIS Announces New Direct Filing Address for Certain I-140 Petitions, Workload Rebalancing
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that starting on October 19, 2015, the direct filing address has changed for Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) petitions submitted together with Form I-907 (Request for Premium Processing) petitions with a worksite location in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania. Those who are filing an I-907 to upgrade a pending I-140 to premium processing should mail the I-907 to the service center that has the pending I-140.
USCIS also noted that it recently rebalanced its workload for certain I-140 petitions and employment-based I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) applications between the Texas and Nebraska service centers.
The announcement, including address information, is here.
USCIS Will Close Vienna Field Office in December
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will permanently close its field office in Vienna, Austria, on December 31, 2015. The last day the office will be open to the public and accept applications is November 30, 2015. The USCIS field offices in Frankfurt, Rome, and Athens will assume Vienna's former jurisdiction, which includes Austria, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The U.S. Embassy in Vienna will assume responsibility for certain limited services previously provided by USCIS to individuals residing in Austria.
Additional details, including the new jurisdictional breakdown for countries in USCIS Vienna's former jurisdiction and detailed filing instructions for various services and forms are available here.
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
Having completed the Dublin Marathon in windy and rainy conditions, Kehrela is now fully recovered and is in the process of deciding her next challenge. Later this month she will be attending the AILA Rome District Chapter Conference and the ABIL Global Meeting in London.