USCIS Testing Revised Citizenship Test

The Federal Government has revised their citizenship exam to make it more meaningful, say representatives of the U.S. government. The new exam will focus less on trivia such as the name of the president’s house and more on concrete aspects of American democracy. This new exam will be pilot tested in volunteers in various cities in the U.S. this winter.

“The idea is not to toss up roadblocks, it’s to make sure people who apply for citizenship and want to become citizens understand and adhere to the values we have as a society, the values that are part of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” said Shawn Saucier, a spokesman for the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

During this pilot process, USCIS officials hope to work out any problems with the revised test and conduct a variety of quality assurance tests. USCIS plans to use the finalized, new citizenship test in early 2008.

Passports Will Soon be Required to Enter the U.S. Via Air

The Departments of State and Homeland Security announced last week that all citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Bermuda will be required to show a passport when entering the U.S. by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere, as of January 23, 2007. This change in procedure is part of a series of changes resulting from recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The new travel document requirements are part of the two departments’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

The plan will be implemented in two phases. In the first phase, all citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Bermuda will need to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the traveler’s identity and nationality to either enter or re-enter the U.S. from within the Western Hemisphere.

The second phase, which will be published in a separate proposed rule will affect all travelers entering the U.S. via land and sea border crossings. Current discussions support the idea that all U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Bermuda may be required to show a U.S. passport or other document approved by the Department of Homeland Security that establishes the traveler’s identity prior to entering or re-entering the U.S.

We will let you know more about these two phases as they are published.

More than 900 Companies Submit Letter for Reasonable Solution to Immigration Problems

The American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), a strong supporter of immigration rights, has been working diligently on behalf of legal immigrants and their lawyers to lobby on behalf of much needed immigration changes for years. The most recent effort by AILA is a letter, signed by more than 900 U.S. companies negatively affected by current H-1B and employment-based immigration visa caps. This letter asks for changes to immigration legislations to provide them with access and ability to bring to the U.S. international workers in various capacities. We are excited by the communal support for change by these many businesses. Hopefully, with the change in power in the Congress and Senate, we will soon see immigration relief legislation enacted.

USCIS to Transfer Form I-129F for K-3 Spouses of U.S. Citizens to Two Centralized Locations

In late October (Oct. 23), the USCIS’s National Benefits Center (BNC) began transferring the Petition for Alien Fiance(e), Form I129F, the petition for K-3 spouses of US. Citizens, to the California and Vermont Service center locations. The location for these forms was based on the location of the related Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This transfer is directly related to USCIS’s ongoing initiative to use a centralized filing and bi-specialized adjudication system.

USCIS will continue to forward approved Form I-129F (K-3 visa) petitions to the National Visa Center for consular processing. It will, however, keep approved Form I-130 petitions for retrieval when a beneficiary applies for an adjustment of status, except in cases where the petitioner clearly states on Form I-130, that the beneficiary will use the consular process.

USCIS rationalizes this process because most K-3 beneficiaries apply for permanent residency by filing the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, Form I-485, after their arrival in the U.S. Rarely do they use their approved Form I-130 petition to apply for an immigrant visa abroad. By retaining this form, USCIS will minimize the unnecessary movement of flies.

Coast Guard Collecting Biomarkers and Digital Photographs in the Mona Passage

On November 13, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started a pilot program that will collect biometric information from illegal migrants who were attempting to enter the U.S. through the waters between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (the Mona Passage).

As part of the pilot program, the Coast Guard will compare digital fingerprints and photographs of these illegal migrants against data in the US-VISIT database. This database includes information about wanted criminals, immigrant violators and individuals who have had previous encounters with government.

“The Coast Guard’s role in maritime border security is to support the national policy of orderly, safe and legal migration while ensuring safety of life at sea,” says Admiral Thad Allen, commandant, Coast Guard. “Since 9/11, it has become increasingly important to know who is attempting to gain access to the United States, and this project gives us the means to positively identify and take appropriate actions regarding individuals intercepted at sea.”

Robert Mocny, acting director, US-VISIT program, says: “Biometrics make it virtually impossible to use forged documents or claim a fraudulent identity …. The Coast Guard’s comparison of biometrics collected at sea to those collected through the US-VISIT program will greatly enhance our ability to intercept those who pose a threat to national security.”

USCIS Has Reached FY 2007 Cap for Special Immigrant Translators

The USCIS announced late last week that it has received enough petitions requesting special immigrant status form Afghani and Iraqi translators to meet it’s FY 2006 visa cap. The program allows for the immigration of up to 50 Afghani and Iraqi nationals per year who have worked directly with the U.S. Military as translators.

The USCIS will continue to accept new filings until November 17. All new filings submitted after that day will be returned to the submitter. Petitions received before this cut-off date will be processed for the next available visa cycle.

Change in Visa Fees for Indian Nonimmigrants

Please note that the USCIS has increased U.S. Visa Fees. Effective November 8, 2006, Indian applicants for nonimmigrant visas will no longer be required to pay the Visa Issuance Fee of $50 (US). These applicants, however, will be required to pay the Visa Application Fee of $100 (US), the VFS Service Charge and the $500 (US) Fraud Fee for Blanket L Visa Applications.

Please also note that, as of November 13, 2006, all U.S. Consular offices in India will adjust their consular exchange rate form 48 Rs./dollar to 46 Rs/dollar.

Democrats Take House, Senate. Good News for Immigration Reform

The Democrats have taken control of both the House and the Senate in November’s Mid-Term Election. This change in leadership will have a wide range of meaning for many issues facing the country. Immigration reform, specifically, will become a hot topic in the coming months. Both President Bush and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who will be the new Speaker of the House in January, agree that positive changes in immigration policies are imminent.

There is a good chance that Congress will be able to pass comprehensive immigration reform, President Bush said. “[It is] an issue where I believe we can find some common ground with the Democrats.”

In the past year, we have seen a staunchly conservative, Republican-controlled House refuse to provide supportive immigration legislation; instead, a majority of laws passed in 2006 have focused on making legal immigration more difficult and ostracizing the large, international population interested in viable, effective immigration policies. The recent election, though, will assuredly provide good news for potential immigrants and U.S. businesses that desperately need changes in immigration policy that support their need to recruit international workers.

CSC No Longer to Fax Approval Notices for Premium Processing Cases

As of December 1, 2006, the California Service Center (CSC) will not fax approval notices for premium processing cases. Because there has been a major increase in receipts and time allotted to faxing copies of these notices, the CSC will be eliminating this step in the process. According to the CSC, “This change in process will increase efficiency and allow our customers to receive notices in a more timely manner.” The CSC will, however, continue to fax requests for evidence related to premium processing cases.