24 of 27 VWP Countries Have Initiated E-Passports

The Department of Homeland security announced late last week that nearly all of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries have met the requirement for issuing e-Passports. Currently, 24 of the 27 participation countries have met the United States’ deadline that requires all newly issued passports to include a contactless biochip with the passport holder’s biographic information, along with a biometric identifier.

“The department is committed to shutting down the ability of terrorists and criminals to use false travel documents to move freely through our borders,” said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. “The upgrade to e-Passports is a significant advance in preventing terrorists from using lost or stolen passports to obtain entry into the United States.”

In July of last year, the DHS announced the new requirement for these e-Passports for all VWP countries, with a deadline of October 26, 2006 for implementation. The three countries that have not yet implemented these updated passports are Andorra, Brunei and Liechtenstein. The U.S. is working closely with these countries to ensure that they meet this requirement as soon as possible. Currently, all travelers from these three countries will need to obtain a visa to enter the United States if they hold a passport that was issued on or after October 26, 2006, until e-Passports are made available.

USCIS Announces a Change in Filing Procedures for Form 1-539

As of October 30, all local USCIS offices will begin forwarding any new filings for Form I-539, the Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, for F-1 and M-1 student reinstatement to either the California or Vermont Service Center. This streamlining process is part of USCIS’s initiative to enact centralized filing and bi-specialized adjudication.

The California Service Center will receive all applications from offices located in the following states: AK, AZ, CA, CO, GU, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, ND, OH, OR, SD, UT, WA, WI, and WY.

The Vermont Service Center will receive all applications from offices located in the following states: AL, AR, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MS, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, SC, OK, PA, PR, RI, TN, TX, VA, VI, VT, and WV.

All applicants seeking student reinstatement will receive a receipt notice from the service center charged with processing their case. District offices of the USCIS will continue to process student reinstatement cases received before October 30 using current procedures. In addition, local USCIS offices will continue to accept Form I-539 until provisions are in place that allow for direct mail filing.

Please note that if you have previously filed your application at a local USCIS office, you are not required to re-apply as part of this procedural change.

USCIS Announces Extension of Returning Worker Exemption to the H-2B Numerical Limitation

Press Office U.S. Department of Homeland Security Press Release

One Year Exemption to Remain in Effect until September 30, 2007

Washington, D.C.– U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that the “returning worker” exemption to the H-2B numerical limitation has been extended by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (H.R. 5122), section 1074, which was signed by President Bush on Oct. 17, 2006. The one year extension of the “returning worker” provisions will remain in effect until September 30, 2007.

Petitions filed for returning H-2B workers do not count towards the congressionally mandated bi-annual H-2B cap. “Returning workers” are exempt from H-2B cap limitations. In order to qualify, USCIS must have previously counted the “returning worker” against the H-2B numerical cap in one of the three fiscal years preceding the current year (i.e. between October 1, 2003 and September 30, 2006). Any worker not certified as a “returning worker” is subject to the numerical limitations for the relevant fiscal year. Petitions received after the “final receipt date” which contain a combination of “returning workers” and workers subject to the current H-2B cap will be rejected with respect to non-returning workers, and petitioning employers will receive partial approvals for those aliens who qualify as “returning workers” if otherwise approvable.

USCIS will continue to process petitions filed to:

• Extend the stay of a current H-2B worker in the United States;

• Change the terms of employment for current H-2B workers and extend their stay;

• Allow current H-2B workers to change or add employers and extend their stay; or

• Request eligible H-2B “returning workers.”

Vermont Service Center Creates PO Boxes for Certain Case Types

The Vermont Service Center has established PO Boxes for certain case types. These PO Boxes are as follows:

I-751 – PO Box 200
I-129 – PO Box 300
N-400 – PO Box 400
I-130 – PO Box 500
G-28 – PO Box 600

The Vermont Service Center notes that when submitting an application or petition to one of the above PO Boxes, that you use the following format for the Service Center’s address:

Vermont Service Center/USCIS
P.O. Box (Include here the PO Box #)

St. Albans, VT 05479

If you are submitting an application or petition for a case not listed above, you should use the following format for the Service Center’s address:

Vermont Service Center/USCIS
(Include here the type of form you are submitting)
75 Lower Welden Street
St. Albans, VT 05479

Congressional Report on Foreign Students Calls for a Need to Increase Competitiveness

The Congressional Research Service just issued a comprehensive report on factors related to foreign students in the U.S. According to the congressional report, concerns regarding competitiveness are now more important than security concerns, a major shift in focus from the way that foreign students were perceived after 9/11.

According to the report, “Higher education institutions in the United States are concerned over their ability to attract the numbers and quality of foreign students, and whether the new post-September 11 security measures impede the entry of potential students into the U.S. education system. The fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) increasingly rely on foreign students, and these fields hold a top priority with most research institutions.”

The report continues by justifying the need for foreign students in an economic situation where there is a high demand for the skill sets provided by the above-stated fields of study. Many groups and organizations involved in higher education, according to the report, are now looking for ways to “expand pathways for foreign students to emigrate.” Concerns have also been raised regarding issues related to the funding and English-language competency of foreign students.

Diversity Visa Lottery 2008 Now Open

The Department of State issued an informative bulletin regarding the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which is open from noon EST, Wednesday, October 4 to noon EST, Sunday, December 3.

The annual DV program allows for a maximum of 55,000 Diversity Visas to be issued each fiscal year to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. This program provides permanent residency visas to people that meet a set of simple guidelines. These guidelines include (1) nativity to a country eligible for the program; and (2) proof that you have met either the education or work experience requirement of the program. You must either have a high school education or its equivalent, or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform.

A computer-generated random lottery will draw selectees for these diversity visas. These visas will be distributed among the six geographic reasons; more visas will go to regions with lower rates of immigration and no visas will be provided to countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the past five years.

According to the Department of State, for DV-2008, natives of the following countries are NOT eligible to apply; their countries sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years:

Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.

Please note that people that were born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan are eligible for this program.

Interested applicants can either access the form for the program at www.dvlottery.state.gov.

Nebraska Service Center Now Accepting Concurrent I-485 Filings for I-140 Premium Processing

The USCIS recently noted that the Nebraska Service Center now accepts concurrent filings of I-140 and I-485 visa petitions for I-140 applicants seeking premium processing. According to the USCIS, the I-140 will be processed according to the premium processing program and the I-485 and all concurrently filed I-765 and I-131 applications will be processed according to regular processing timelines. Please do note that beneficiaries of I-485 applications are required to have an immigrant number immediately available in order to qualify for concurrent filing.