DHS publishes Final Rules on Air and Sea Screening Programs

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a series of regulations regarding screening air and sea passengers, including the controversial Secure Flight program. The program, which was put into law by a final rule, gives the Transportation Security Administration completely take over screening airline passengers for names on government watch lists.

“Under [this] program, TSA would receive passenger and certain non-traveler information from aircraft operators, conduct watch-list matching, and transmit watch-list matching results back to aircraft operators,” said a DHS representative.

Additional notices were published, including a system of records for the advanced passenger-information system and a final rule giving air and sea vessel operators information on where to submit electronic information on their passengers.

Number of Foreign Students Entering the U.S. Grows

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, the number of foreign students who were sent admissions offers from U.S. graduate schools rose this year by eight percent, good news for the U.S. education system that saw a massive drop in international student populations in 2004. This year’s gain, coupled with last year’s twelve percent increase, will greatly contribute to the recovery from the hit U.S. institutions took when the admissions numbers dropped in 2004.

“Institutions are aware of the increase in competition for international students,” said Kenneth E. Redd, Director of Research and Public Analysis for the Council of Graduate Studies. “The fact that we have a large share of respondents who have these programs, at the same time that we know the international admissions offers are rising, is an indication that universities are trying to remain attractive to international students.”

Much of the increase in numbers see in the past three years comes from collaborative degree programs (partnerships with international universities). The majority of these collaborations are with European institutions; however, some are now being established with universities in India and China.

USCIS Publishes Proposed Rule to Terminate Forms I-551 Without Expiration Dates

Currently, there are a number of lawful permanent residents that have Forms I-551, the Permanent Resident Card, with no expiration date. However, this practice is being terminated by USCIS and individuals with Forms I-551 without expiration dates will be required to apply for replacement cards. In a proposed rule, just published by USCIS, these individuals would be given 120 days to apply for replacement cards.

In addition, the proposed rule calls to remove references to outdated application procedures for Firms 1-551. According to USCIS, “the application process proposed by this rule will enable USCIS to issue more secure Forms I-551 to affected aliens, update cardholder information, conduct background checks, and electronically store applicants’ biometric information that can be used for biometric comparison and authentication purposes consistent with the goals of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.”

USCIS intends to inform the public of this termination date by a notice that will be published in the Federal Register.

Written comments about this proposed rule should be submitted to USCIS on or before September 21, 2007 online at http://www.regulations.gov or via email at rfs.regs@dhs.gov. The DHS Docket number for this proposed rule, USCIS-2005-0056, should be included in the subject line of your email message.

CBP SENTRI Program Now Accepting Payments Online

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced last week that frequent travelers crossing the U.S./Mexico border can now use a web-based method to apply for and administer aspects of their participation in that organization’s Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) program.

SENTRI is a program implemented for frequent travelers that has created dedicated lanes and expedited processing for pre-approved, low–risk travelers. Applicants in the program voluntarily go through a background check, in-person interview and fingerprinting, and pay a 5-year membership fee. The program, launched online in November, 2006, has decreased processing times for these travelers from several weeks to the current average of four to six weeks.

With this new web-based method, SENTRI participants can now pay application and other fees related to SENTRI online. New applicants can now pay their initial $25 application fee through their online account. Current members can also pay other fees online, such as the membership card and the vehicle decal replacement.

“As the SENTRI program continues to increase in popularity with frequent travelers along the U.S.-Mexico border, we are excited to offer an online fee payment capability to better facilitate the application process,” said W. Ralph Basham, Commissioner of CBP.

New applicants can receive conditional approval of their applications online. They then schedule an appointment through the online scheduling tool. Finally, they complete the interview and fingerprinting process in person, and pay the final, remaining fee of $102. The total cost to participate in SENTRI is $127.

Please note that all individuals in families that participate in the program, must complete a separate account online and submit a separate application. This includes children; however, there is no initial cost for children’s’ participation in the program. Families, however, will be responsible for providing an additional fee of $204 at the time of the in-person interview.

Homeland Security and Vermont Partner to Create a WHTI-Compliant Document

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has signed on to launch a project in collaboration with Vermont to enhance the state’s driver’s license security and to develop a possible alternative document for crossing U.S. land and sea borders.

The project, coined the ‘Vermont Project’, is similar to a recent agreement with the state of Washington made earlier this year, and is one possible way to reach compliance with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). WHTI will require by January 31, 2008 that U.S. and Canadian citizens present either a WHTI-compliant identification document or a government-issued photo ID (e.g.: a driver’s license), along with proof of citizenship (e.g.: a birth certificate), to enter the U.S. Homeland Security intends to end the currently routine practice of accepting simply oral declarations at land and sea ports of entry. In addition, they will start implementing alternative procedures for entry for U.S. and Canadian children.

“I applaud the leadership of the state of Vermont who came forward to join us in our effort to bolster security through secure identification,” said Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security. “This partnership helps us strike the right balance between security and facilitation, incorporating 21st century technology and innovation.”

Vermont, as part of the agreement with DHS, will create an enhanced driver’s license that will give their state’s residents (that voluntarily apply and qualify) a document they may use at U.S. land and sea ports. This ‘enhanced’ driver’s license will be a bit more expensive than the standard state driver’s license and will require proof of citizenship, identity, and residence. In addition, the ‘enhanced’ driver’s license will contain security features similar to a U.S. passport.

Final Rule Makes New Fee Structure Apply to All Form I-485s

USCIS recently posted a final rule regarding fee schedules for immigration petitions and applications. In the final rule, USCIS officially adjusted all fees for Form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, along with all applications requesting derivative benefits that are related to Form I-485 submissions.

Our readers should note that this final rule officially removes all temporary adjustments of fees allowed for certain employment-based applications in a previous rule. The fee structure that went into place on July 30, 2007 will now officially apply also for Forms I-485 filed in relation to Visa Bulletin No. 107 and to all “renewal” applications for advance parole and employment authorization based on pending Forms I-485 filed in relation to Visa Bulletin No. 107.

In addition, USCIS notes that applications that are submitted with the incorrect fee will be rejected.

Department of State Amends Time for Expedited Passport Processing

The Department of State has issued an interim final rule that changes the definition of ‘Expedited Passport Processing’ from the original three-day period to a variable amount of business days, which would be continuously updated on the Department of State’s website at http://www.travel.state.gov.

The Department of State has published this change to ensure that they can continue to offer services that stay consistent with their regulations, even in the face in increases in demands for those services. In addition, the Department of State informs that they’ve created this new regulation so that “the public can easily determine the current standards for expedited passport processing.”

This interim final rule became effective on August 16, 2007. Comments will be accepted by the Department of state up to October 15, 2007.

USCIS Asks that Employers Continue to Identify “Returning Workers” on H-2B Petitions with FY2008 Start Dates

USCIS is reminding employers who apply for H-2B visas for temporary labor workers that the “Returning Worker” provision in the legislation will expire on September 30, 2007. This provision enables all alien workers to be exempt from annual H-2B fiscal year caps if they were counted toward the H-2B cap limitations in any of the three previous years.

USCIS has recently received applications for H-2B “returning workers” for Fiscal Year 2008. The organization notes, though, that it is uncertain whether Congress will extend the “returning worker” provision. However, USCIS still believes that employers should continue to identify and certify all those temporary workers who can be classified under the “returning worker” category when filing petitions with an FY2008 start date. This will help USCIS to manage cases if the “returning worker” provision is extended by Congress.

USCIS Announces a Delay in Data Entry of Applications

USCIS announced today that it has received a large amount of applications in recent days and now has a front log of cases that are awaiting data entry. The federal organization plans to prioritize data entry for certain types of forms to ensure timeliness. Delays, it is important to note, will not affect eligibility for changes of status or extensions of stay, as long as all other eligibility requirements are met by those applicants.

USCIS does note, though, that premium processing cases will continue to be processed within 15 business days, in accordance to current regulations and amendments. For those cases, the date the application was received will be the basis for the 15-day period.

As of August 3, USCIS has completed data entry and issued receipt notices for applications received on or before the following dates:

California Service Center
N-400: 7/16/2007
All Other Forms: 8/1/2007

Nebraska Service Center
I-131: 7/1/2007
I-140: 7/1/2007
I-485 Employment-Based: 7/11/2007
I-765: 7/2/2007
N-400: 7/23/2007
All Other Forms: 8/1/2007

Texas Service Center
I-131: 6/26/2007
I-140: 7/30/2007
I-485 Employment-Based: 6/26/2007
I-765: 6/26/2007
N-400: 7/09/2007
All Other Forms: 7/30/2007

Vermont Service Center
I-129: 7/24/2007
I-130: 7/22/2007
I-539: 7/24/2007
N-400: 7/11/2007
All Other Forms: 7/26/2007

USCIS Lockbox
I-485 Family-Based: 7/24/2007

Please note that it should take roughly two weeks from the dates indicated above for you to receive your receipt notice in the mail. USCIS suggests you wait that 14-day period prior to contacting them for more information.

Department of Labor Creates an Email Inbox for Reports of Potential LCA Violations

The Department of Labor (DOL) has created an email address to receive and process all reports of potential violations of a recently published rule that aims to protect the integrity of the Permanent Labor Certification program. The final rule regarding labor certification was published on May 17, 2007.

While DOL is currently considering setting up a tol-free telephone number to intake information, currently employers, foreign nationals, U.S. workers and others may submit information on potential violations through the following email: laborcert.fraud@dol.gov.

This email address will be monitored by DOL representatives for all reports of purported noncompliance to labor certification regulations. The Employment and Training Administration will then determine the appropriate course of action for each report.