Department of State Releases New Informative Website and Brochure

“Secure Borders. Open Doors.” is the newest information initiative released by the Department of State to help travelers to the United States understand the many changes to U.S. visa procedures. This initiative includes a new website, unitedstatesvisas.gov, and a customizable brochure. Both of these materials will be translated into local languages and distributed through U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. These informative materials will detail the processes by which individuals apply for visas, especially visas for business, education and tourist purposes.

Many changes have been made to visa policies since the September 2001 terrorist attacks and governmental restructuring in the wake of these attacks. While many immigration procedures remain the same, there have been changes across the board. This new initiative was launched to make sure visitors understand all U.S. visa regulations. This straightforward approach will hopefully better communicate the many changes that have taken and continue to take place in U.S. immigration procedures.

The Department of State plans to develop and distribute a range of other materials in the coming months and years to help promote widespread knowledge of U.S. immigration procedures.

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BCIS takes first step toward development of new citizenship test

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) announced the launch of a pilot project to standardized the English, government, and United States history tests administered to citizenship applicants. The first phase of the two-stage pilot focuses on the English language portion of the test. The BCIS is working with a professional test development company on the effort.

“The long-range goal is to devise a test that will be fair, consistent, and meaningful for naturalization applicants nationwide,” said William R.Yates, Acting Associate Director for Operations, BCIS. “The priority at the new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services is ensuring that we not only meet but exceed our customers’ expectations and that includes creating a level playing field for those seeking to become new Americans.”

As part of the English language pilot, consenting citizenship applicants will be asked to answer one test question at the end of their regularly scheduled naturalization interview. The pilot will include questions designed to gauge reading, writing, and speaking skills. The applicant’s response will not affect the outcome of the interview.

Five cities are slated to participate in this first phase of the naturalization test pilot – Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Newark. A BCIS team arrived in Newark today in order to train the officers who will administer the pilot and brief community-based organizations on the test redesign effort. Over the next three weeks, the team will travel to the other designated cities to implement the pilot in those locations.

To qualify for U.S. citizenship, applicants must demonstrate a basic understanding of English, including an ability to read, write, and speak the language. They must also be able to show that they know the fundamentals of U.S. history and government.

Currently, citizenship applicants are quizzed on these topics as part of the naturalization examination interview. The test questions are generally culled from a lengthy pre-approved list, but there is no standardized testing format or method for administering the questions. As a result, the test content and process can vary from officer to officer and from office to office.

“Whether you’re a citizenship applicant in Sacramento or San Antonio, you should have the same set of expectations about what kind of test you will experience,” said Gerri Ratliff, the BCIS project director for the test redesign effort. “Not only is it a matter of fairness, but it will also help ensure that applicants come into the test fully prepared.”

The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan recommended that the naturalization testing process be standardized and the content be revamped to make it more relevant. The goal is to have a new naturalization test in place by late 2004.

Update – Concurrent Filing of Employment-Based Visa Petitions

In late July of last year the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) amended regulations to allow for concurrent filing of employment-based visa petitions and applications for adjustment of status in cases where the approval of these petitions will enable beneficiaries to immediately receive visas. Before this amendment, only immediate relatives and individuals filing for family-based preferences were able to concurrently file visa petitions and adjustment applications. This amendment enabled this process to also apply to employment-based petitioners.

INS adjudicators were recently advised, however, to deny an adjustment application in a case where the concurrently filed visa petition is denied. This directly relates to both family- and employment-based petitions. Adjudicators are also advised, in cases like this, to also deny related applications, including employment authorization and advance parole. If, however, the original visa petition is overturned at any future point, the INS may reopen these denied forms (I-485, I-765, and I-131).

Please note that, for concurrent filing to be valid, immigrant visas must be immediately available. Questions related to this policy should be addressed to the INS HQ Office of Adjudications.

NEW BUREAUS TAKE OVER ALL INS FUNCTIONS

On March 1, 2003 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officially became part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The INS will also change its name to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). The BCIS will handle all immigration issues, including benefits, citizenship, and asylum and refugee cases. However, enforcement of immigration concerns will not be a part of the BCIS; these functions will be relegated to the Border and Transportation Security Directorate (BTS), another part of the DHS.

According to INS’ acting commissioner, Michael Garcia, “[While the] INS technically ceases to exist at the end of this month, … we are committed to making this transition as seamless and smooth as possible for those we serve.”

While the immigration organization’s name has changed, many aspects of the INS will remain the same under the new name. Offices will still be located in the same places; forms and information will still be available on their website and their National Customer Service Center; and INS forms and documents will remain valid and do not need to be replaced.

The BTS will be comprised of two bureaus: the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP). The BICE will comprise of the investigative and interior enforcement portions of the INS, US Customs Service, and the Federal Protective Service. The BCBP will include inspectors from the Agricultural Quarantine Inspects, INS and US Customs, along with Border Patrol. This Bureau will also focus on the movement of goods and persons across U.S. borders.

INS Reinstates Surcharges to Immigration Benefit Application Fees

In late February, the Immigration and Naturalization Service published a final rule in the Federal Register reinstating surcharges added to immigration benefit application fees. These surcharges will be utilized to support services for asylum and refugee cases, along with supporting the INS’ fee waiver program.

The INS published an interim rule January 24 eliminating the surcharge as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, but Congress repealed the section. The surcharge again became effective February 27.

All applications and petitions filed with the INS on or after February 27, 2003 will need to comply with new fee schedules, including these surcharges. All applications and petitions that do not include these surcharges will be rejected, and will be returned with a request to resubmit with the correct fee included.

All applications and petitions postmarked prior to February 27 that include the reduced fee will, however, be accepted.