New Fee Structure to Start On or After July 30, 2007

All individuals should note that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) plan to implement a new fee schedule on or after July 30, 2007. This new fee schedule will substantially increase application fees for a range of visa types.

It is essential to note that the existing fee schedule will, however, remain valid for Forms I-485, I-131 and I-765 until August 17, 2007. Existing fees for these visa applications will remain in place for this extended period of time in response to the reversal and re-extension of employment-based Adjustment of Status cases related to the July 2007 Visa Bulletin. Do note, though, that the existing fee schedule only applies to forms submitted in relation cases based on employment-based visa priority dates as published in the July 2007 Visa Bulletin, not all cases.

USCIS comments that this new fee structure is being implemented to reduce the application processing times; the agency notes that their goal is to reduce processing times by 20 percent by 2009.

USCIS does note that they have implemented certain fee waivers, including a fee waiver for the $80 biometric fee for individuals who receive fee waivers for their visa applications (e.g.: asylum applicants, some juvenile immigrants).

USCIS Renews Suspension of Premium Processing for Alien Worker Petitions

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that they will extend the temporary suspension of the Premium Processing Service for Form I-140, the Immigrant Alien Worker Petitions. This suspension was originally announced on June 27, 2007 and first became active on July 2, 2007. USCIS commented that they expect the volume of Form I-140 petitions filed with a request for premium processing to exceed the organization’s ability to process such cases.

This suspension of the Premium Processing Service, which is used to ensure adjudication of cases within 15 calendar days of receipt, will continue until further notice. USCIS will announce to the public when this suspension has been removed and we will update you accordingly.

USCIS Launches Pilot to Test the Secure Information Management Service

USCIS just launched its first pilot program to test the Secure Information Management Service (SIMS), the agency’s newest web-based information management tool. The pilot program was deployed on July 5, 2007 to process inter-country adoption applications domestically in Memphis, Tennessee and Newark, New Jersey, and internationally in Frankfurt, Germany; Bangkok, Thailand; and Mexico City, Mexico.

During the initial phase of this pilot program, all inter-country adoptions filing requirements and processing dates will not change. Applicants will remain required to submit Form I-600A (the Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition), Form I-600 (the Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative), and Form N-600 (the Application for Certificate of Citizenship).

After submission of these forms, USCIS will create an individual customer account in the SIMS database and process the applications. During this pilot period, USCIS will work with its employees, the customers and relevant adoption agencies to look specifically at how the pilot tool is working.

USCIS’s goal is to expand the SIMS tool nationwide to include all agency petitions and applications. “The cumulative results of SIMS, the inter-country adoption pilot, and the overall USCIS transformation effort will change the way we do business and will streamline outdated processes,” said Emilio Gonzales, director of USCIS. “These improvements will not only mean better service for our customers, but will also enable us to enhance security, prevent fraud, and equip us with the means for better interaction with other state and federal agencies.”

Senate Approves House Amendment to the Passport Backlog Reduction Act

Two days ago, the Senate passed the House amendment to the Passport Backlog Reduction Act of 2007. This amendment, that the Senate passed by unanimous vote, will become active once the President signs it into law. The original bill, passed by the Senate on June 29, allowed for the temporary rehiring of Foreign Service retirees to help reduce the backlog in passport applications.

This new amendment contains additional language that allows these rehired retired individuals to assist in passport fraud investigations. In addition, it shortens the period of authorization for these rehired individuals. The expiration date for this authorization period was moved up from September 30, 2010 to September 30, 2008 in this amendment.

USCIS Reverses Earlier Ruling & Will Now Accept Employment-Based Applications to Adjust Status

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that it will immediately start accepting employment-based applications to adjust status (Form I-485) that are filed by alien applicants whose priority dates are current under the July Visa Bulletin (No. 107). USCIS will accept applications as long as they are filed no later than August 17, 2007.

On July 2, USCIS had announced that it would no longer accept any additional employment-based applications to adjust status. This announcement had been made after USCIS received an update from the Department of State (DOS), in which DOS stated that it would not authorize any additional employment based visa numbers for the fiscal year.

However, after consulting with USCIS, DOS decided that Bulletin No. 107 (published June 12, 2007) should be used as the current July Visa Bulletin in regards to determining the availability of employment visa numbers. Visa Bulletin No. 108 (published July 2, 2007) has been officially withdrawn.

“The public reaction to the July 2 announcement made it clear that the federal government’s management of this process needs further review,” said Emilio Gonzalez, director of USCIS. “I am committed to working with Congress and the State Department to implement a more efficient system in line with public expectations.”

Today’s announcement by USCIS enables any alien eligible to apply under the eligibility numbers provided in Visa Bulletin No. 107 the ability to apply for adjustment of status up until August 17, 2007. Please also note that eligible applications that have already been properly filed with USCIS will also be accepted. The current fee schedule, according to USCIS, will apply to all these applications up until August 17, 2007. The new fee schedule, which becomes effective on July 30, 2007, will apply to all other applications that are filed on or after that date.

House of Representatives Votes to Extend SSI Benefits for Elderly, Disabled Refugees & Asylees

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed by a voice vote the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act. This act, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, would extend the period of time in which elderly and disabled refugees, asylees and some other humanitarian immigrants would be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a federally sponsored income supplement program that provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter to elderly, blind and disabled persons.

Currently, eligible immigrants are eligible for SSI benefits for a total period of seven years; this proposed act would extend that period of eligibility to nine years between Fiscal Years 2008-2010.

USCIS Solves Problem with Issuance of Form I-797s from CSC

USCIS announced today that it has resolved the problems that led to delays in the issuance of Form I-797 notices from the California Service Center (CSC). The service center is currently in the process of creating and mailing these delayed approval notices. Individuals affected by this system delay should expect to receive these notices by July 20. Those that do not receive a notice by July 20 should submit an inquiry for review to the following CSC email address: CSC.NoNotice@DHS.Gov. Please note that you should include your receipt number and/or A number with your email inquiry.

Department of State Increases the Amount of Workers Processing Passport Applications

The Department of State (DOS) this week requested 200 additional workers for their Louisiana and New Hampshire locations. These employees, who will be shifted from other positions with DOS, will help process the giant backlog of passport applications, say officials. This need for additional workers was fueled by recent legislation that requires U.S. citizens flying to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to have passports to return to the U.S.

This new law, which went into effect this January, has caused an increase in the number of passport applications. It is expected that there will be 18 million total passport requests in 2007; last year, that number totaled about 12 million.

DOS published information in early June, informing the public that they had a backlog of 500,000 passport applications. DOS eased restrictions since June, allowing U.S. citizens flying in the Western Hemisphere to use government-issued identification and proof from DOS that they have applied for passports to re-enter the nation.

Nation Sees Surge in Applications for Naturalization

According to recent data, more legal immigrants are now attempting to become U.S. citizens. Much of this recent increase in requests for citizenship come from three sources, say government officials – proposed increases in fees to process applications for naturalization, “citizenship drives” conducted throughout the U.S. and new feelings of insecurity among legal immigrants currently in the U.S.

New fees are slated to take effect at the end of July. On July 30, the fee to apply for naturalization will increase to $675; that fee is currently $400. In addition, recent failed attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate have fueled concerns among immigrants about the future of immigration in the U.S. and the safety of their current status.

The amount of new, naturalized citizens has grown steadily over the past few years. Last year that number was roughly 702,000. In 2003, that number was roughly 463,000. However, large increases have been seen so far this year and the amount of applications have been increasing each month. In May 2007, 115,175 people submitted applications for naturalization. Last December, that number was only 65,782.

Employment-Based Preference Numbers No Longer Available

On Monday, July 2, the Department of State (DOS) issued a revised July 2007 visa bulletin that made unavailable visas for all employment-based preference cases. According to DOS, “the sudden backlog reduction efforts by Citizenship and Immigration Services Offices during the past month have resulted in the use of almost 60,000 Employment numbers. As a result of this unexpected action it has been necessary to make immediate adjustments to several previously announced cut-off dates.”

According to DOS, effective Monday, July 2, 2007, no further authorizations in response to requests for employment-based preference cases will be given. Individuals will now have to wait until October, when preference numbers are again available under the FY-2008 annual cap.

Last month, DOS announced that employment visa numbers were available for all individuals wishing to receive green cards sponsored by their employers (with the exception of unskilled workers). There was a great amount of excitement around this large-scale availability. However, the recent revision to the visa bulletin has completely limited this availability. We will keep you updated as information is published on this topic.