DREAM Act Fails to Receive Approval in U.S. Senate

On October 24, the U.S. Senate voted 52 to 44 to not support the DREAM Act of 2007. The act was eight votes shy of being approved by the U.S. Senate. The DREAM Act, which has been introduced in and rejected by the Senate numerous times, calls for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant students and illegal immigrants wishing to join the U.S. military. Many of the youth that would have received the advantages of the bill are children who were brought to the U.S. at very young ages and were raised in this country. Supporters of the bill, including Senators Reid (D-NV), Durbin (D-IL), Lugar (R-IN), and Hagel (R-NE), labored judiciously in support of this immigration legislation. However, as has been the case in recent past, the proposal did not receive majority support from the Senate. Further, President Bush and the White House have vocalized their lack of support for such legislation.

USCIS Notes that Certain H-1 and H-4 Petitioners Denied Extensions of Stay May Request Review of their Cases

According to USCIS, H-1 and H-4 nonimmigrants, who entered the U.S. via a grant of Advance Parole, may apply for an extension of their status, as long as there is a valid and approved petition. Individuals who have received denials of such extensions because their last time they entered the U.S. was under Advance Parole may wish to seek a review of their cases and can begin this process via the California Service Center Liaison Assistance Form.

Senate Includes Key Immigration Amendments in the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill

On October 23, 2007, two immigration-related amendments were added to the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill in the U.S. Senate. The first of these, the Grassley-Sanders amendment, adds an additional fee of $3,500 to the H-1b visa program. This additional fee would be used to create a special education fund to support students in the fields of math, science and engineering. The second amendment, the Schumer-Hutchison amendment, calls to increase the amounts of domestically located nurses and physical therapists by recapturing unused green cards from the years 1996 and 1997. This amendment, before being passed by voice vote, was added to by a second-degree amendment.

The Durbin second-degree amendment would aim to increase the amounts of nursing students and teachers in the U.S. and would create $1,500 fee for recaptured green cards from its first tier counterpart amendment. This second-degree amendment would also require that petitioning healthcare workers attest that they have satisfied any outstanding work commitments to work in their home country.

These amendments have now been included in the Senate’s current version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. They now will need to be reconciled with the House’s version of that same bill. If reconciliation happens on these amendments, the full bill will then be sent to President Bush for ratification. However, Bush has noted that he may veto the bill because it exceeds the budget he outlined by nearly $9 billion.

USCIS Creates Special Processing Center for H-2A Petitions

USCIS announced on October 17 the creation of a new customer service initiative to improve the processing of H-2A (Temporary/seasonal agricultural worker) petitions. USCIS intends to initiate a series of measures to streamline the H-2A process. The first of these will be to establish a special USCIS unit dedicated solely to processing H-2A petitions at their California Service Center. That service center has established specific mailing addresses to be used for all H-2A petition filings. Effective immediately, it is suggested that petitioners use the following addresses when they submit H-2A petitions (note: this change will become required when USCIS publishes a notice in the Federal Register):

Direct Mail:
U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
California Service Center
ATTN: H-2A Processing Unit
P.O. BOX 10140
Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-1040

Private Courier mail:
U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
California Service Center
ATTN: H-2A Processing Unit
24000 Avila Road, Room 2312
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

USCIS suggests that petitioners mark the outside of their envelopes with the text, “H-2A” and to attach a sheet of paper with those same words to the top of the petition package. This, USCIS notes, will ensure speedy identification of H-2A petitions to be separately processed by the newly created, special processing unit. All petitions received at other service centers (until the mandatory date) will be forwarded to the California Service Center for processing.

Senate Rejects Amendment to Limit Funds to Sanctuary Cities

On October 16, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposed local immigration enforcement amendment that was introduced by Senator Vitter (R-La) as part of the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill.

The amendment would have restricted the use of funds in the spending bill for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, a program that gives funds to local law enforcement agencies, to support ‘sanctuary cities,’ those cities that prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with federal agents in the search for illegal immigrants.

A motion to kill the amendment, which was introduced by Senator Mikulski (D-Md) was passed by the Senate with a vote of 52-42. Senator Mikulski also introduced an amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would extend the ‘returning worker exemption’ of the H-2B visa program through Fiscal Year 2008. This measure was passed by unanimous consent by the Senate.

Another important amendment added to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations measure on 10/16/07 was an amendment offered by Senator Mikulski (S.AMDT. 3311) that would extend the “returning worker exemption” in the H-2B program for fiscal year 2008. The amendment was passed by unanimous consent.

Individuals with Older Green Cards Will Soon be Required to Seek Replacement Cards

USCIS recently proposed a rule that would require all individuals to seek replacements of Permanent Residence Cards (green cards) without expiration dates. This rule, which would affect more than 750,000 green cards issued between the years of 1977 and 1989, would give individuals a 120-day period to file Form I-90, the Application to Replace Permanent Residence Card. These applicants, who would need to provide a $290 filing fee and an $80 biometric fee, would be required to have their biometric data collected at a local USCIS Application Support Center.

USCIS states that it will publish in the Federal Register the date upon which the validity of these old green cards will be invalid. Any permanent resident that does not file Form I-90 within the proposed 120-day period would not lose their permanent residence status, but would not receive a new green card prior to the official termination date of the outdated card. This, in turn, would make them in violation of current immigration registration requirements.

Please note that you do not need to wait for the publication of this final rule to seek a new, updated green card. You may file your Form I-90 at any time to receive a new green card with an expiration date.

Change in Fees for Indian Immigrant Applications to U.S.

Because of changes in the consular exchange rate between India and the U.S., certain fee amounts for Indians seeking to enter the U.S. have changed. Please note these new changes prior to applying for a visa to enter the U.S., which will go into effect October 15, 2007. The new fees are as follows:

NIV application fee: Rs. 4,000
Fraud Prevention Fee (Blanket L1): Rs. 20,000

USCIS Creates New Citizenship Test

USCIS has introduced a new citizenship test that they propose to use as of October 2008. A large portion of the questions on the new test will focus on principles of U.S. democracy, the American government system and responsibilities and rights of U.S. citizens, along with questions relating to U.S. geography and history. Note that many of these questions will have more than one correct answer.

All individuals who apply for citizenship on or after October 1, 2008 will take this new test as part of their naturalization procedures. Any individual who applies for citizenship before that date, but is interviewed on or after October 1, 2008, will have the choice of which citizenship test to take.

You can view the new test online at http://www.uscis.gov/newtest.

USCIS Announces That It Has Reached the H-2B Cap for the First Half of FY2008

USCIS announced on October 1, 2007 that it has received enough petitions to reach the H-2B visa cap for the first half of Fiscal Year 2008. Because of this, USCIS has created September 27, 2007 as the final receipt date for new H-2B worker petitions for that fiscal period. This date is the official date on which USCIS received enough petitions to adequately reach the limit of 33,000 H-2B workers for the first six months of 2008.

Currently, returning workers who were counted toward H-2B caps for FY 2004, FY2005 or FY2006 were exempt from the current limitation. However, Congress has not yet reauthorized or extended the returning worker provision for 2008. Because of this lack of legislative action by Congress, USCIS is required to count all petitions for H-2B visas for an employment start date of October 1, 2007 or later toward the FY2008 H-2B cap.

Department of Labor Eliminates Backlogs for Permanent Labor Certification Program

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced today that it has eliminated the backlog for foreign labor certifications. Ninety-nine percent of the cases have been completed and DOL is simply waiting for responses for employers from the remaining 1%. More than 300 workers spent nearly 3 years reviewing more than 350,000 pending labor applications; this backlog of cases was due to changes in U.S. regulations in 1997 and 2000.

“Clearing up the Permanent Labor Certification backlog has been a Presidential Management Agenda priority and the job was completed on-time, as promised,” said Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Labor. “Thousands of people are no longer left waiting and wondering, and the department is moving ahead with reforms to streamline existing foreign worker certification programs.”

The Permanent Labor Certification program processes requests for foreign workers when U.S. workers are not available to fill employment openings. Changes in immigration laws in 1997 and 2000 led to a large increase in paper applications for this program. This increase in applications led to a rise in processing times and a major backlog of cases.

“We applaud the accomplishments of the dedicated individuals whose critical role allowed the ongoing operation of employment-based immigration programs,” said Emily Stover DeRocco, Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training. “Their resolve to the mission of seeing the task through to its successful completion is an inspiration to all who serve and do the public’s business.”