USCIS Fact Sheet for Asylum Applicants and Asylees Traveling Abroad

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently published a fact sheet regarding traveling outside the United States for asylum applicants, asylees and lawful permanent residents who obtained that status based on asylum status.

1) Asylum applicants: Asylum applicants who leave the U.S. without first obtaining advance parole via Form I-131 will be presumed by USCIS to have abandoned their asylum application. Please not that advance parole will not guarantee that the applicant will be able to return to the U.S. The applicant will still be required to undergo inspection by a USCIS immigration inspector.

2) Asylees: Asylees, those that have been granted asylum in the U.S., can travel abroad after receiving approval from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security via a refugee travel document. These documents are valid for one-year periods and are issued to asylees so that they may return to the U.S. after temporarily traveling abroad. It is suggested by USCIS that asylees obtain the refugee travel document before leaving the U.S.; however, in certain cases, this document may be issued abroad. Again, please note that the refugee travel document does not assure re-entry into the U.S. Asylees will also be required to undergo inspection by a USCIS immigration inspector.

3) Lawful Permanent Residents: Lawful permanent residents who obtained their immigration status based on their asylum status are allowed to travel abroad with refugee travel documents. Please see the above description (Asylee) for more information about international travel.

PLEASE NOTE: Asylum applicants who leave the U.S. without advance parole and return to the nation where they claimed to have been persecuted will be presumed by USCIS to have abandoned their asylum application, unless the applicant has a viable reason for that return visit.

Democratic Lawmakers Gearing up for Major Immigration Reform

Democratic lawmakers and their Republican supporters in the Senate are gearing up to work on a range of immigration reforms that would provide millions of illegal immigrants with a more direct path to citizenship than provided in a Senate bill passed this spring.

The revised legislation would not include the requirement in the previous Senate bill that required many of the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. to leave the country before being eligible for citizenship. In addition, they may revoke the funding for the proposed 700 miles of fencing to be placed along the border with Mexico, as funded by a bill passed into law earlier this year.

“I’m very hopeful about this, both in terms of the substance and the politics of it,” said Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the incoming chairman of the Senate Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship Subcommittee.

The proposed legislation would enable 10 to 11 million illegal immigrants to be eligible for citizenship without being required to return home. These immigrants would, however, be required to remain employed, pass background checks, pay fines and back taxes and enroll in English classes.

“There are going to be hard choices that are going to be made, because we need to build a bipartisan, broad-based coalition,” said Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), head of the House Democratic immigration group. “But I’m hopeful that in the environment in which we’re working now we can get it done.”

Tom Ridge and Travel Industry Lobbying Group to Propose Immigration Reform Package

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has collaborated with a travel industry lobbying group to prepare a package of immigration reforms that would make it easier for international travelers to visit the United States.

The proposed immigration reform package would have a two-fold effect: first, it would change U.S. visa processes and procedures at points of entry; second, it would call for a major public relations campaign to promote these changes.

According to a statement from the lobbying group, Discover America Partnership, Ridge will “evaluate the U.S. entry process and propose strategies for striking a better balance between secure borders and open doors.”

These changes, according to Geoff Freeman, executive director of the Discover America Partnership, are needed to counter a crisis in the perceptions global travelers have about visiting the U.S.

In a recent survey of international travelers from 16 countries throughout the world, the U.S. ranked the worst destination by 39 percent of participants for ability to obtain necessary documents or visas and disrespectful immigration officials.

“We will be working with Gov. Ridge to develop a package of big and bold ideas,” said Freeman. “There are a lot of different ideas out there.”

USCIS Posts Revision to Location to File Certain Applications for Naturalization

USCIS has revised its Direct Mail Program; now, certain filings of Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization, should be fined at a designated lockbox facility, as opposed to a USCIS Service Center. In addition, spouses of current members of the U.S. Armed forces should now file their Application for Naturalization at the Nebraska Service center, regardless of whether you are filing from within or outside the U.S.

Please note that USCIS’s notice does not change the filing location for Applications for Naturalizations filed by members and some veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who are eligible to apply for naturalization based on their military service. Those individuals should continue to file their Applications for Naturalization at the Nebraska Service Center, regardless of their location. This notice will become effective January 22, 2009.

If you reside in the following states or regions:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the Territory of Guam and the Northern Marina Islands

You should mail your application to:

USCIS Lockbox Facility
PO Box 21251
Phoenix, AZ

If you are using courier or express mail deliveries, you should mail your application to:

Attn: N400
1820 Skyharbor Circle S, Floor 1
Phoenix, AZ 85034

If you reside in the following states or regions:

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and the U.S. Virgin Islands

You should mail your application to:

USCIS Lockbox Facility
PO Box 299026
Lewisville, TX 75029

If you are using courier or express mail deliveries, you should mail your application to:

Attn: N400
2501 S State Hwy 121, Bldg #4
Lewisville, TX 75067

Notice on 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery

The Department of State (DOS), this week, released an information sheet regarding the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery. According to DOS, over 6.4 million entries were received during the two-month electronic registration period, an increase from the 5.5 million applications received last year. When taking into account all dependants of applicants, there have been a total of 10 million participants for the 2008 Diversity Visa Lottery.

The majority of the applicants, according to DOS, were from Africa and Asia: 41% of applications were received from Africa, 38% from Asia, 19% from Europe, and 2% from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. More than 1.7 million applicants came from Bangladesh, the nation with the most lottery applications submitted. Nigerians submitted almost 700,000 applications and Ukrainians submitted just over 600,000 applications.

DOS comments that all winners of the lottery will be notified by a letter mailed from the Kentucky Consular Center confirming the name, date of birth, and country of chargeability for the applicant, along with a time/date stamp when the entries were registered. These notifications will be sent to winning applicants between April and July 2007. The letters will provide further instructions, including information on immigration fees.

Please note that there are companies attempting to defraud Diversity Visa Lottery applicants. Only letters from the DOS’s Kentucky Consular Center are considered valid. DOS notes that no other organization has been authorized to contact winning entrants. Please be cautious with these fraudulent companies.

NEXUS Program Expanded to Certain Land, Air and Sea Points of Entry

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced yesterday that NEXUS trusted traveler-crossing privileges have now been expanded to all land, air and sea points of entry where NEXUS locations are currently in place. NEXUS also intends to provide processing locations at a range of additional airports in Canada throughout the coming year.

NEXUS is a program maintained in collaboration with the Canada Border Services Agency that allows speedier processing at specific highway lanes in high-volume border crossing locations for pre-screened and approved travelers. In addition, there is a NEXUS kiosk at Vancouver International Airport, and at specific marine reporting locations in the Great Lakes and Seattle regions.

The NEXUS program “is a true success story and demonstrates the strength of our relationship with Canada,” said W. Ralph Basham, CBP Commissioner. “Since it’s inception in 2002, NEXUS has grown to over 110,000 members, a tribute to the benefits that this program offers. I appreciate that NEXUS improves security while encouraging and facilitating cross-border travel and commerce between our two countries.”

Membership with the NEXUS program fulfills all travel document requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which, as of January 23, 2007, will require a passport or other secure travel document by all U.S. and Canadian citizens who wish to enter or re-enter the U.S. by air. It is expected that NEXUS membership will also be an acceptable program for land and sea travel.

Congress Adjourns for 2006, No Immigration Reform

Even though there were numerous efforts by businesses and pro-immigration advocates, legislators and lobbying groups, the Congress adjourned this past Saturday without providing any relief from the highly restrictive H-1B Visa Cap and Employment-Based Green Card backlogs.

However, it is important to note that Congress’s hesitancy to take action may not be due to their unwillingness to enact reform, but instead may be due to the fact that we are currently in a lame duck session of Congress. We hope to see real reform happen early next year when Congress reconvenes.

Congress Approves Act That Expands the P-1 Visa for Professional Athletes

Congress today passed the Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals, Entertainers, and Teams through Legal Entry (COMPETE) Act of 2006, which had been approved by the Senate on December 6. This bill will expand the P-1 Nonimmigrant Visa to include additional categories of athletes wishing to perform or compete in the United States.

The Act will now include the following categories of potential international visitors:

(1) professional athletes;
(2) athletes, coaches or parts of professional teams that are located in the U.S.; these individuals must also be members of certain amateur foreign leagues or associations from which a significant amount of athletes are drafted by major league sports teams or their minor league affiliates; and (3) professional or amateur athletes who perform individually or as part of a group in theatrical ice skating productions that are coming to the U.S. as part of specific ice skating productions or tours.

Prior to the approval of this revised act, P-1 Visas were only limited to athletes who performed at an internationally recognized level of performance. The new revision will open access to a number of professional athletes and their coaches and will provide a more accessible environment for international competition.

Senate Approves Extension of Physicians for Underserved Areas Act

The Senate today passed the Physicians for Underserved Areas Act by a voice vote, three days after the bill was passed, also by a voice vote, by Congress. This bill, which must now be signed into law by the President for it to become active, would extend for two years the visa waiver program that allows foreign doctors who work in underserved areas to remain in the U.S. after completing their medical training.

Traditionally, individuals who come to the U.S. for graduate or medical education under the J-1 Visa category are required to leave the U.S. for two years before being allowed to apply to return. However, a law passed in 1994 allowed a waiver of this requirement for foreign doctors who agreed to spend at least three years working with patients in medically underserved areas (e.g.: the Appalachian mountain region). This program’s authorization expired on June 1, 2006. Once signed into law by the President, this bill will be reinstated for a period of two years.