The Departments of State (DOS) and Homeland Security (DHS) have issued a joint announcement regarding improved visa processing for international visitors. The two departments have worked closely over the past two years to create policies that, at the same time, ensure national security and welcome international visitors. Certain policies implemented have resulted in a significant reduction in processing times for work and study visas in certain scientific or technical fields in the U.S. Both departments have worked diligently to improve the clearance process for the Visas Mantis program over the past year. These efforts have been validated by the Government Accountability Office, which has stated that changes have led to significant declines in processing times for Visas Mantis clearances. Today, processing of Visas Mantis averages less than two weeks. In addition, the departments have extended the validity period for Visas Mantis clearances, which have reduced the amount of times a person must submit these clearance forms.
The Department of State has proposed a new rule that would amend passport regulations to include changes required by the new electronic passport. This rule would make the following changes:
. The definition of the term ‘electronic passport’ would include a damaged electronic chip in the passport as one basis for possible invalidation of a passport;
. The U.S. passport amendment process would be abolished, except for the convenience of the U.S. government;
. The reasons for issuing a replacement passport would be enlarged to capacitate new scenarios regarding electronic passports; and
. Unpaid fees would be a valid reason to invalidate a passport.
The Department of State is accepting comments from the public regarding this amendment for 45 days (from February 18, 2005).
The REAL ID Act of 2005 creates certain amendments to federal laws to protect against terrorists obtaining asylum in the U.S. The provision alters standards and certain burdens of proof regarding asylum applications and applications for withholding of removal. The amendment in the Act contain the following provisions:
. Requires all applicants to prove that the main reason for their persecution was related to race, religion, national origin, political opinion or social group;
. Enables judges to demand credible applicants to obtain corroborating evidence in all cases except where the applicant can not have or obtain said evidence without leaving the country;
. Authorizes determinations of credibility to be made based on either the demeanor or consistency of the applicants statements (written or oral) made at any time to any person, under or not under oath;
. Limits any court from reviewing discretionary judgments, decisions or actions, regardless of whether these judgments were made in the context of removal proceedings;
. Gets rid of the provision that mandated a study of vulnerabilities in our asylum system.
In late December the Department of Labor (DOL) published a regulation that would implement the re-engineered permanent foreign labor certification program (PERM) with an effective date of March 28, 2005. The Department is now encouraging employers to file applications electronically; applications submitted by mail will not be processed as quickly as electronically submitted applications.
In December of last year the Department opened two new National Processing Centers, in Atlanta and Chicago. The National Processing Centers are responsible for handling all permanent labor certification cases filed under PERM. These centers will also process all applications withdrawn from the current labor certification program and re-filed under the new PERM program.
Please note that until March 27, 2005 employers should continue to submit applications for permanent labor certification to State Workforce Agencies. However, applications postmarked March 28 or later that are sent to state agencies will be returned to sender. To utilize the e-filing system, please visit http://www.workforcesecurity.doleta.gov/foreign.
In October of last year, the USCIS invalidated the age-out provisions of the V visa in the case of Akhtar vs. Burzynski. While this provision would only apply to cases adjudicated at the Ninth Circuit, USCIS decided to apply the decision nationwide. While a regulatory solution is pending, effective immediately are provisions that state if a V-2 or V-3 visa applicant was denied approval based solely on the fact that they turned 21, said applicant will have their application approved. This applies also to extensions of stay for V-2 and V-3 visas.