Government Official Introduces Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

In a press briefing last year, Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty discussed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a joint effort of the U.S., Canadian, Mexican and Bermudan governments to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the U.S. by legitimate travelers. In addition, the initiative will also attempt to reduce the market in stolen documents and minimize passport identity theft. The WHTI, which was mandated by Congress last year, will require all citizens of the above-stated nations to have a passport or other accepted secure travel document available when entering the U.S., as of January 1, 2008.

As part of the initiative, there will be registered traveler type programs that will speed the process of entry for those that have been previously screened and those that live in border communities. As of 2008, all U.S. citizens entering (and returning from) Canada, Bermuda and Mexico will be required to have passports or other acceptable documents to leave and return to the U.S. In addition, certain foreign nationals currently not required to have such documentation (e.g.: Canadian and Bermudan citizens) will be also required to present passports or other acceptable documentation to enter the U.S.

According to Harty, the initiative will be implemented in three phases:

“Phase One will be implemented by December 31, 2005 – that’s this December – and will affect United States citizens, Canadian citizens and citizens of Bermuda traveling to the United States by air or sea from countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America. That’s phase one.

Phase Two will be implemented one year later, by December 31, 2006, and will expand the requirement to all travel — to all travel to the United States from anywhere within the Western Hemisphere by air or sea, including travel from Canada and Mexico.

Phase Three will be implemented before the statutory deadline of January 1, 2008, and will institute the new travel document requirements at all air and sea and land border ports of entry.”

While the initiative may provide more strict borders, it sends a mixed message to the U.S. citizenship. Requiring such documentation to citizens of this country when leaving and returning to the U.S. may add a new layer isolationism to this nation’s immigration system and will assuredly slow down the process of travel for all.

British Airlines Implements Online Advanced Passenger Information System

The chief executive officer of British Airways, Willie Walsh, last week strongly suggested that all those traveling to the U.S.on the British airline should fill in their immigration information online at ba.com prior to coming to the airport in order to minimize possible delays.

British Airways has implemented these new procedures in direct response to new U.S.legislation requiring additional passenger information from all airlines for non-U.S. passport holders entering the U.S.This additional information includes information about non-U.S. residents’ country of residence and first night destination address, along with information found on those individuals’ passports.

While this information can be provided at the airport (or via a travel agent), British Airlines’ Walsh believes the online process will ensure the most speedy process for travelers. “The U.S.is our biggest single market,” said Walsh in a speech last week to the Guild of Travel Management Companies in London. “We have 38 flights a day there from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester…. The last thing we want and certainly the last thing our customers want is long delays at check-in.”

Bush and Mexican President Discuss Immigration Issues

This week, U.S. President George Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox spoke to each other about how the two countries could collectively improve border security and minimize the level of violence that occurs along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Primarily, they talked about the increased border violence, and the two leaders talked about the importance of working together to improve our border security and stop the violence,” said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.

Bush also gave an update to Fox on the Guest Worker Program and, according to McClellan, informed the Mexican president that he would continue to push for the nonimmigrant visa program.

In addition, according to McClellan, “they also talked about the security and prosperity partnership that was developed by Canada, Mexico and the United States, and talked about the possibility of meeting soon on that initiative.”

Atlanta National Processing Center Clarifies Filing Periods for PERM Labor Certification Cases

The Department of Labor’s national processing center in Atlanta (Atlanta NPC) stated that employers may file a PERM labor certification case after the prevailing wage determination validity period has ended. After this point, the employer can either file the PERM application or start the required recruitment within the validity period of the prevailing wage determination.

Validity periods of prevailing wage determinations that are issued by a State Workforce Agency ranges from 90 days to one year. Because employers can either file or begin the recruitment process during that period, cases where recruitment started during this validity period can be filed after the completion of the validity period.

This clarification of the regulations will ease the procedures for many employers, enabling a more smooth recruitment process.

DHS to Require Employee Immigration Status Verification

It appears that employers may have to conduct additional employee  verification in the near future. The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2007 states that employers will soon be required to check the immigration status of all workers. While employers currently are required to check proposed employees’ I-9 documents, they are not yet required to verify the authenticity of those documents. However, in the near future, I-9 documents will need to be verified prior to offering gainful employment to the proposed employee.

Currently in operation is a voluntary check system through which an employer may verify the immigration status of a proposed employee. This system is now in pilot stage, but, according to the DHS FY 2007 budget, will be a required process.

11 countries plan to lobby against U.S. immigration law

CARTAGENA, Colombia – Latin American diplomats teamed up Monday to lobby Washington against a tough immigration plan that would include a large wall along the Mexico-U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants.

Foreign ministers from 11 Latin American countries gathered in the seaside resort city of Cartagena, where they decided to send a scouting mission to Washington next week to identify key U.S. lawmakers on the immigration debate, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Francisco Lainez announced.

The region will urge those lawmakers in coming weeks to change or defeat altogether a bill making its way through the U.S. Congress that would make it harder for undocumented immigrants to get jobs and would authorize construction of a fence along parts of the 2,000-mile Mexico-U.S. border.

Carolina Barco, Colombia’s foreign minister, said immigrants’ contribution to U.S. development “has been fundamental . . . but due to Sept. 11, the pendulum seems to have shifted in the opposite direction and migration is looked upon with a distrusting eye.”

”The point we have made with clarity is that [the border wall] doesn’t seem to us to be the solution,” said Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez.

The countries meeting in Cartagena — Mexico, Central American nations, Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic — met in January in Mexico City to discuss the same issue, demanding the United States to implement guest-worker programs and legalize undocumented migrants. At that meeting, they also condemned proposals for tougher border enforcement.

The U.S. House of Representatives already approved the bill in December, and the Senate will consider a version of the law next month.

Authorities estimate there are about 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, the majority of them coming from Latin America — mostly Mexico, but also countries as far away as Colombia and Ecuador.

These workers have come to play an important part in Latin American economies, sending billions of dollars home to their families each year.

Separately, Mexican lawmakers announced Sunday they were sending a congressional delegation to Washington this week to push for a migration accord and lobby against the border wall.

The foreign ministers plan to meet again in March, Barco said.

The one-day meeting was being held in Cartagena’s Convention Center, just a few yards away from elaborate, thick walls that encircle Cartagena’s old town. The walls, thicker than the length of a car and topped by cannons, were built in the 16th century to protect this Caribbean port city from marauding pirates and other foreign intruders.

Republican Party Officially Endorses Guest Worker Program

In late January, the Republican Party officially endorsed a Guest Worker Program to provide a means for a higher amount of foreigners to temporarily work legally in the U.S. This is good news for advocates of the Guest Worker Program; if the Republican National Committee had not supported this legislative measure backed by President Bush, the program would not have any chance for success.

Republican representatives, responding to an LA Times interview, stated that taking any hard-lined positional against immigrants would largely alienate the Latino vote, which was quite supportive of Bush and Republican candidates in the 2004 election.

Hopefully, the Republicans’ interest in promoting strong relationships and ties with the U.S.-based Latino population will ensure the Guest Worker Program becomes law in the near future.

President Bush Calls for More H-1B Visas

Earlier this month, President Bush called for a raise to the current H-1B visa cap at the 3M Corporate Headquarters. As part of his American Competitiveness Initiative, Bush emphasized the importance of creating a national culture that supported the inclusion of exceptional international workers. The following is an excerpt from President Bush’s speech:

“Now, in the meantime, there’s another issue that I want to discuss right quick. . . . There are more high-tech jobs in America today than people available to fill them. And if that’s — so what do we do about that? And the reason it’s important, and the American citizen has got to understand it’s important, is if we don’t do something about how to fill those high-tech jobs here, they’ll go somewhere else where somebody can do the job. In other words, there are some who say, we can’t worry about competition. It doesn’t matter, it’s here. Don’t worry about it, do something about it. It’s a real aspect of the world in which we live.

And so one way to deal with this problem, and probably the most effective way, is to recognize that there’s a lot of bright engineers and chemists and physicists from other lands that are either educated here, or received an education elsewhere but want to work here. And they come here under a program called H1B visas. And the problem is, is that Congress has limited the number of H1B visas that can come and apply for a job — a H1B visa holder can apply for a job at 3M. I think it’s a mistake not to encourage more really bright folks who can fill the jobs that are having trouble being filled here in America — to limit their number. And so I call upon Congress to be realistic and reasonable and raise that cap.

We’ll educate our kids. That’s the goal. Of course, we want every job that’s ever generated in America filled by Americans, but that’s not the reality today. In order for 3M to remain competitive, in order for this job base to remain strong, in order for us to be a leader in innovation, we got to be wise about letting kids come here who’ve got the skill sets needed to fill the jobs that help us remain the leader in the world.”

President Bush Calls for Guest Worker Program in this Week’s State of the Union Address

Keeping in tune with his strong support for creating a humane system to incorporate the multitude of illegal immigrants currently engaged in employment in the U.S., President Bush called for the House to support his Guest Worker program in the coming year. In his address, Bush said:

“Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our Nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty … allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally … and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.”

The Democrats’ official response to President Bush’s proposed immigration changes were as follows:

“The failure of the federal government to implement and enforce a rational immigration policy has resulted in a confusing patchwork of state and local efforts. We should welcome those who seek to lawfully join and contribute to our American family. At the same time, we must ensure that our homeland defense efforts begin with consistent federal action to protect our borders.”