USCIS Expands Pilot Program that Provides Employers with Web-based Work Authorization Confirmation

The USCIS has been operating a pilot program that enables employers to get automated confirmation of a newly hired employee’s work authorization after the completion of an Employment Eligibility Verification form (I-9). This pilot program has been provided to employers in six states. As of December 1, this program has been expanded and is now offered to employers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Web-based access is now provided to all employers who volunteer to participate in this pilot program.

Asa Hutchinson Calls For Greater Verification of New Hires’ Immigration Status

Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for border and transportation security, said last week that Congress has the ability to greatly improve homeland security by adopting and expanding a new pilot project that enables employers to verify the legal status of foreign workers.

This pilot project, which has been in operation since 1996, allows employers to check and verify each new hire’s social security number, name and birth date. While this program is currently voluntary, Hutchinson implied that it make become mandatory, especially in fields and industries renowned for having problems with hiring illegal workers.

Congress made the system widely available last year, but did not make it mandatory.

USCIS Update on H-2B Visa Cap for FY 2005

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced this week that it has received 61,747 H-2B petitions this fiscal year. The 2005 statutory visa cap is 66,000. Based on results from previous years, USCIS expects and intends to approve approximately 100,000 H-2B petitions, so that 66,000 recipients will officially utilize the visa category.

On March 29 of this year, USCIS stopped accepting new H-2B visa petitions for FY 2004. Only petitions that did not count toward the statutory cap were accepted. These applications were to:

1. Extend the stay of a current H-2B recipient;
2. Change a current H-2B recipient’s terms of employment; or
3. Allow H-2B recipients to change or add employers.

The H-2B visa is utilized by employers to find employees for peak load, seasonal or intermittent types of jobs. H-2B workers usually fill employment gaps in the fields of education, construction, health care, landscaping, lumber, manufacturing, and food and resort services.

Foreign Nurses Face Longer Immigration Wait Time

The State Department this week informed the public that foreign nurses, after January 1, will no longer be able to fast-track their work authorization process. The fast track system utilized temporary work permits while nurses waited for their green cards to be processed. This enabled nurses, and other foreign workers such as certain doctors and tech workers, to start working in the U.S. within 60 days, as opposed to the three years relegated by portions of immigration law.

This new policy of stricter regulation is based on the government catching up with their backlog of cases. These cases are now being processed. In addition, the government has decided that it will no longer issue these temporary work permits until it fully deals with its backlog, a process that could take many years.

This new limitation will assuredly affect a steady and efficient flow of immigration for foreign nurses and other workers, especially when the U.S. is facing a grave nursing shortage. We are working with advocacy groups and hoping to affect this legislation and explain to the authorities that this will be detrimental to the U.S. populace as a whole.

Bush Signs New Law that Amends L-1 Visas and Adds New Fee to L-1 and H-1B Visas

The USCIS announced this week that President Bush has signed into law the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY 2005, which includes the L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2004. Changes to the L-1 Visa are as follows, according to USCIS:

L-1B temporary workers can no longer work primarily at a worksite other than their petitioning employer if the work will be controlled and supervised by a different employer or if the offsite arrangement is essentially to provide labor for hire, rather than service related to the specialized knowledge of the petitioning employer.

The above-stated limitation applies to all petitions for initial L-1 visas filed on or after June 6, 2005. This regulation also relates to all L-1 individuals applying for extensions and amendments to their classification.

In addition to changes to the L-1 classification, the Omnibus Appropriations Act also enacts a new $500 fee, the Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, to be paid by petitioners seeking a beneficiary’s initial grant for an H-1B or L-1 visa, or for those petitioners wishing to change a beneficiary’s employer within those classifications. This new fee is applicable to all petitions for new or changes to existing H-1B and L-1 visas, with the exception of petitions to amend or extend stay filed by existing H-1B or L employers.

This new $500 fee (along with the currently required base processing fee of $185 to file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and any premium processing fees) is active for all petitions field on or after March 8, 2005.

Fee Hike for Form I-129W

The USCIS has announced that the fee for most H-1B and other visa applications filed on Form I-129W has been raised to $1500 in most instances. However, employers with 25 or less full-time employees (as defined on Form I-129W) will only pay a fee of $750. This fee, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, was enacted on December 8.

High Tech Companies Pushing for More Foreign Workers in the U.S.

U.S. technology firms and their lobbyists have been hard at work ensuring that they can continue to hire foreign workers in the U.S. in this post-9/11 environment. In response to the call for additional visas for foreign high-tech workers, Congress has approved the addition of 20,000 new visas for skilled foreign workers. To qualify, a foreign worker must have a graduate degree from a U.S. university and a job offer from a U.S. company.

There were originally only 65,000 H-1B visas allocated for this fiscal year, but these visas were claimed on the first day of FY 2005. Technology companies have pushed the government to appease their high need for more talented workers, resulting in the recently passed Congressional legislation.

The H-1B visa program soared during the high tech boom of the late ’90s and early 21st century. At the height of the boom, in early 2001, the allocation of H-1B visas was an astounding 195,000.

Federal Judge Says No to Proposition 200

In a ruling in late November, a federal district judge in Arizona has issued a temporary restraining order that would restrict the state of Arizona from implementing Proposition 200. The goal of this proposition, which was voted into Arizona state law last month, is to require state and local government employees to verify immigration status and report suspected violations to immigration authorities.