Consular Offices Abroad Have Resumed Accepting I-130 Petitions

According to USCIS, U.S. citizens who live abroad, including members of the armed forces, can now resume filing the Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-130, with a U.S. embassy or consulate in countries where there is no USCIS international office.

USCIS international offices will continue to accept I-130 petitions from U.S. citizens living in countries where those offices are located and there is no expected interruption in this service. For more information about these international offices, visit: https://egov.immigration.gov/crisgwi/go?action=offices.

All consular offices and internationally-based USCIS officers will also accept petitions from certain individuals who do not live abroad in the following cases:

~ Emergency situations, such as life and death, health and safety, etc.
~ Situations where allowing for an overseas filing would be considered in the national interest, such as processing petitions filed by U.S. military personnel stationed overseas who are in the middle of a transfer of orders.

According to the Department of State, a U.S. citizen who has been living outside of the U.S. for a minimum of six months is considered as residing overseas, for the purposes of accepting filed-in forms I-130. Please note that U.S. citizens who are outside the U.S. for short periods of time, but who live within the U.S. should file their I-130 petitions with the correct service center in the U.S., not abroad.

Homeland Security and Washington State Agree to Develop Enhanced Driver’s Licenses

Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the state of Washington signed a Memorandum of Agreement to launch a new, pilot program that aims to enhance the security of that state’s driver’s licenses and, in addition, serve as an alternate method to cross the United States’ land and sea borders.

This pilot program is one way to fulfill portions of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which would soon require U.S. citizens reentering the country from Canada, Mexico, Central and South American, the Caribbean and Bermuda by either land or sea to present a valid U.S. passport or other document approved by Homeland Security.

Under the new agreement, Washington would develop an enhanced driver’s license for its residents who voluntarily apply and qualify, and would include a document acceptable for reentry at U.S. land and sea ports. This enhanced driver’s license would be more expensive than the currently provided one, would require additional proofs of identity, citizenship and residency and would contain security measures similar to a U.S. passport.

The agreement is the first step toward making reasonable alternatives for ease of travel for conscientious and law-abiding U.S. citizens and is a good step toward a sensible overall border security initiative.

DOJ Announces the Opening of 3 New Immigration Courts

The U.S. Department of Justice late last week announced that it will open three new immigration courts in Kansas City, MO, Dallas, TX and Charlotte, NC. The U.S. currently has 54 immigration courts, but a need for additional courts is warranted, says the DOJ, due to growing concerns about mounting immigration caseloads throughout the country.

“It’s the geography, and the need has grown,” said Charles Miller, spokesperson, DOJ. “[We want] to make this easier for those individuals who have notices to appear before immigration judges [to have access to the court system].”

USCIS Proposes Renovating or Replacing Offices with New Customer-Centric Facilities

Last week, the USCIS announced a new “model office concept” that they hope will change their district and field offices into “standard full-service, community-based customer processing facilities,” according to USCIS. The new offices will contain every resource necessary, according to USCIS, for the processing of all immigration benefits.

In a USCIS press release, the organization stated that these new, customer-centric offices would “make it easier for clients to access services by eliminating the need for them to travel to multiple locations during the application process.” The new model of offices would also increase the level and efficiency of provided services. There would be more opportunities for USCIS officials to conduct interviews, answer questions and conduct naturalization ceremonies at a single location.

USCIS plans to renovate or replace roughly 12 facilities each year. The process will begin with four full-service offices in the Miami area. In addition, USCIS will replace offices in Orlando, FL, Denver, CO Dallas, TX, West Palm Beach, FL and Portland, OR.

Senator Kennedy Pushes for a Return to the Issue of Immigration Reform

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has changed his strategy to push forward meaningful immigration reform. He has shifted his efforts from coming up with new legislation to suggesting reconsideration of a comprehensive immigration bill adopted by last year’s Senate Judicial Committee, in an effort to garner key Republican support.

“He strongly feels we have to get moving,” said Laura Capps, communication director for Senator Kennedy. “The Judiciary Committee is well familiar with and invested in this bill.”

In collaboration with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Kennedy has been working throughout the winter on broad immigration reform. The two senators were hoping to introduce a new bill to the Senate this week. However, they have had difficulty in reaching an agreed-upon bill that would be conducive to a large majority of the Senate.

This weekend, Kennedy adopted the new approach of returning to previously adopted legislation as a starting point for the reform debate. “Senator McCain certainly thinks this is a good place to start as long as it’s a bipartisan effort,” said Melissa Shuffield, spokeswoman for the Republican Senator from Arizona. “This still has to be amended. This still has to be debated and he’ll be working with people on both sides of the aisle and the White House to come to an agreement on some kind of comprehensive reform.”

The bill that was adopted by the Senate Judiciary panel last spring, while different in certain ways from the bill eventually adopted by the Senate two months later, shares basic tenets with that bill. Both bills aimed to increase border enforcement and both supported a version of the guest worker program that would provide a path to legal citizenship for the nearly 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the U.S.

The differences between the two bills, however, resided in the method of providing that path to citizenship. The Judiciary Committee’s bill would give a path to citizenship to any person in the U.S. as of January 7, 2004 who had learned English, paid a fine and back taxes, and had a clean criminal record and work history. The bill that passed the Senate in May 2006 allowed only those illegal immigrants who had been in the U.S. for more than five years that path to citizenship. All others would be required to return to their home country and apply for guest worker status. And undocumented workers who had been in the U.S. for less than two years would be required to return to their home country without a proposed path to citizenship.

The Judiciary Committee’s bill allowed for 400,000 new guest worker visas each year, and allowed for increases in that cap if demanded by the economic market. The Senate bill dropped those numbers to 200,000 and removed the ability to expand the cap.

The question today is what will happen in the upcoming debate about immigration reform. Will the shift in power from a Republican-dominated House and Senate to a Democratic majority lead to immigration reform that supports the economic needs of U.S. businesses? Or will the reform eventually passed be more conservative in its provisions?

Update on the Status of DREAM Legislation

The National Immigration Forum recently posted an update on the legislative status of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). The DREAM Act proposes to eliminate the federal regulation discouraging states from giving in-state tuition rates for university education to undocumented individuals that graduated from the states’ public schools. In addition, the DREAM Act would provide a six-year conditional permanent resident status to some of these undocumented students after they graduate from high school. These particular students could then apply to have their conditional status changed to official permanent resident status after completing either two years of college education or two years of military service.

On March 1, 2007, Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1274, the American Dream Act, to the House of Representatives. Five days later, on March 6, 2007, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), along with ten co-sponsors, introduced S. 774, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, to the Senate. As of today, no further action has been taken on these bills, but motions will assuredly soon be taken.

Obama, Gutierrez Introduce Citizenship Promotion Act of 2007

Earlier this week, Senator Barak Obama (D-IL) and Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced in their two houses the Citizenship Promotion Act of 2007. This bill, if enacted into law, would authorize USCIS to request and receive appropriations that would make up the difference between current fees charged to citizenship applicants and the necessary resources needed to fund USCIS.

If this bill becomes law, USCIS would not need to implement the substantial increases in citizenship fees that they recently introduced. In turn, the process of becoming a citizen would not be hindered by exorbitant costs.

Co-sponsors of this bill include: Senators Bingaman (D-NM), Menendez (D-NJ), and Salazar (D-CO), and Representatives Abercrombie (D-HI), Grijalva (D-AZ), Honda (D-CA), Pastor (D-AZ), Reyes (D-TX), Schakowsky (D-IL), and Solis (D-CA).

USCIS Announces Direct Filing Procedure for Forms I-129 and I-539, Effective April 2, 2007

Today, the USCIS announced new direct filing instructions for a range of immigration forms recently transitioned into the Bi-Specialization Initiative, which had, before this time, required that applications/petitions be filed at a single, centralized location, then distributed to alternate service centers for receipt notice issuance and final case processing.

These new procedures will affect, among other forms, the Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers, I-129, and the Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status, I-539. Direct filing in relation to other forms will be implemented piecemeal as all application forms are transitioned into the Bi-Specialization Initiative.

According to the newly published procedure, all applicants should Direct File their applications/petitions with the service center that will process their filings. This service center is based on their location of temporary employment or place of residence. The service center that receives their form will also be the place that creates the receipt notice and conducts final processing of their case.

As of April 2, 2007, all I-129 and I-539 forms should be filed directly with either the California or Vermont Service Center. Applicants are required to file their forms with the applicable center; applicants should also verify that they use the correct filing address (this information should be on the instructions of each form).

All employers that request premium processing of Form I-129 should also file a Request for Premium Processing Services, Form I-907. USCIS has provided guidance that they will accept these two forms filed in accordance with the old filing instructions during the first two weeks of the Direct Filing process. However, if these forms are filed to an incorrect filing location on or after April 17, 200, they will be rejected and returned to the applicant with the fee, along with instructions for correct filing procedures.

Technology Companies Speak Out Against the H-1B Visa Cap

As many of you know the USCIS reached its limit for Fiscal Year 2008 H-1B visa petitions in a single day. No more petitions for that visa category (with the exception of certain exemptions) will be accepted for this fiscal year. Technology companies, in response to this dire situation, have again raised their voice, calling for a change to the limiting and business-debilitating visa cap.

In Microsoft Corporation’s case, for example, nearly 1/3 of all its 46,000 employees in the U.S. either have work visas or are legal permanent residents. “We are trying to work with Congress to get the cap increased,” said Ginny Terzano, spokeswoman for the technology giant. “Our real preference is that there not be a cap at all.”

Microsoft and other leaders in the high tech industry, such as Intel and Oracle, have grouped together to form Compete America, a coalition/lobbying group that is publicly speaking against the limiting visa cap.

“Our broken visa policies for highly educated foreign professionals are not only counterproductive, they are anticompetitive and detrimental to America’s long-term economic competitiveness,” said Robert Hoffman, a vice-president at Oracle and co-chairman of Compete America.

“While we need to do more as a nation to encourage American students to pursue degrees in the fields of math, science, engineering and technology, the fact remains that more than one-half of the U.S. advanced degrees in these fields are typically earned by foreign students. U.S. companies must be able to recruit from this talent pool if we are to continue to innovate and create quality jobs here in the United States,” Hoffman stated. “Congress must reform the visa process for highly educated foreign professionals this year.”

USCIS Has Reached Cap for Fiscal Year 2008

The USCIS announced today that it has received enough H-1B visa petitions to meet the Fiscal Year 2008 cap. USCIS comments that they will use a random selection process for all the H-1B filings subject to the cap that were received on April 2 and April 3. Any petition received on those days but not chosen in the random selection process will be rejected and returned to the petitioner, along with the filing fee. In addition, any cap-subject petitions received on or after April 4, 2007 will be rejected. The earliest point that H-1B visas, subject to this cap, can be re-submitted will be April 1, 2008, when visas become available for Fiscal Year 2009.

As of end-of-day, Monday, USCIS received roughly 150,000 cap-subject H-1B petitions. The next step will be for USCIS to perform initial data entry of all those filings. Because of the amount of petitions received, we expect the random selection process will not begin for at least several weeks.

As of today, USCIS is not sure how many petitions were received for exemption H-1B visas, those 20,000 visas reserved for international petitioners with masters’ or higher degrees received in the U.S. USCIS will soon make an announcement regarding these petitions.

In addition, USCIS will continue to process petitions filed on behalf of H-1B workers that do not count toward the H-1B cap. These petitions include cases to extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the U.S.; change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers; allow current H-1B workers to change employers; or allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

USCIS also notes that any other H-1B cases that are exempted from the cap will not be affected by this announcement.