Beginning February 1, 2008, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas to the U.S. will be required to pay a Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) application fee of $131. This fee increase was effective January 1, 2008; however, fees of $100 were accepted for thirty days (up to January 31, 2008) for those individuals that had made their application payment prior to January 1, 2008. All individuals who had made or will make their visa application payment after January 1, 2008 will need to make the full $131 payment or, if they had already made a $100 payment, pay the difference ($31) prior to being interviewed.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on Tuesday that it has begun collecting additional fingerprints from international visitors at Boston’s Logan International Airport. This increased security measure, is part of a larger departmental upgrade to enhance security measures at U.S. ports of entry and to better establish visitors’ identities upon arrival in the U.S. With some exceptions, all non-U.S. citizens between the ages of 14 and 79 will be required to comply with this new regulation upon entry to the U.S.
Logan Airport is the third port of entry to begin collecting 10 fingerprints from international visitors. Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport began this enhanced collection process on November 29, 2007 and Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport began collection on January 6, 2008. In the near future, 10-fingerprint collections will also begin at the following airports: Chicago O’Hare International Airport; San Francisco International Airport; George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport; Miami International Airport; Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport; Orlando International Airport; and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. By the end of 2008, all air, sea and land ports will transition to this enhanced security measure.
“Biometrics have revolutionized our ability to prevent dangerous people from entering the United States since 2004,” said Robert Mocny, US VISIT Director. “Our upgrade to 10 fingerprint collection builds on our success, enabling us to focus more attention on stopping potential security risks.”
A number of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have voiced concerns over the Department of Homeland Security’s new plan to increase border crossing rules at the end of this month. As of January 31, 2008, all travelers will be required to show documents (e.g.: birth certificates, passports or driver’s licenses) that prove their citizenship when attempting to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. Prior to this change in regulation, which is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, citizens of the U.S. and Canada could simply make an oral declaration of their citizenship status.
Senate Judiciary Chairman, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), for example, has voiced concerns that this new initiative is poorly planned and could affect the amount of trade with and travel to the U.S., especially at a time when a recession is foreseen for the U.S. economy.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs member Susan Collins (R-ME) has also publicly spoken about the restrictive nature of this requirement change:
“While I understand that the secretary views this initiative as separate from the requirement for a passport that the Congress has prohibited him from implementing until June 2009, the clear message we were sending to the department was to be more attuned to the legitimate travel and commerce of border community residents,” said Collins in a recent public statement.” For the department to impose an additional requirement of a birth certificate, which many residents do not have at hand, and to no longer accept common documents such as baptismal certificates and student ID cards as a supplement to license checks could well cause considerable difficulties and back-ups at the border.”
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, however, disagrees with these voices of dissent and has stated in a letter to senators that he has the right to terminate the practice of oral declarations at the U.S. border. It is questionable whether the vocalized dissent of these senators and others will have any effect on this January 31 change. We will keep you posted and up-to-date on this topic in the near future.
This week, the Department of Homeland Security posted a reminder to travelers that, starting January 31, 2008, all individuals entering the U.S. via a land and sea port of entry will be required to show documents that prove their citizenship and identity. This change especially affects Canadians and U.S. citizens who, up to now, have been able to enter simply by providing an oral declaration of their citizenship.
“For the safety of the American people, the United States cannot have an honor system at the border,” said Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “Requiring secure and reliable documentation at our borders will drastically reduce security vulnerabilities posed by permitting entry based on oral declarations alone. As travelers become accustomed to carrying documents to cross the border, and as we move to more stringent documentation requirements, our border officers will be able to more quickly and confidently identify crossborder travelers.”
Starting January 31, travelers will need to provide documentation from a specified list of acceptable documents of proof of identity and/or citizenship when crossing any U.S. land or sea port of entry. These documents include birth certificates and driver’s licenses. A full list of documents that are acceptable is posted online at http://www.cbp.gov. Note that individuals age 18 and under will only need to show a birth certificate to enter the U.S.
Earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the final rule for the REAL ID Act, which establishes minimum security standards for state issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. States must adopt and comply with specific requirements laid out in the final rule, according to DHS, which include the following:
1) Certain information and security features must be included in each ID card;
2) Proof of the identity and U.S. citizenship or legal status of each applicant must be established;
3) Source documents provided by the applicant must be verified;
4) A range of new security standards must be met by all offices that issue licenses and ID cards.
States have been given their first deadline for compliance with the REAL ID Act: December 31, 2009. By then, states must have upgraded the security of their licenses systems.
“The American public’s desire for greater identity protection is undeniable,” said Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “Americans understand today that the 9/11 hijackers obtained 30 drivers licenses and ID’s, and used 364 aliases. For an extra $8 per license, REAL ID will give law enforcement and security officials a powerful advantage against falsified documents, and it will bring some peace of mind to citizens wanting to protect their identity from theft by a criminal or illegal alien.”
On January 3, 2008, USCIS announced that it had received enough H-2B petitions to reach the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the second half of Fiscal Year 2008. January 2, according to USCIS, will be the ‘final receipt date’ for all requests for new H-2B worker visas with employment start dates prior to October 1, 2008. Further, USCIS has commented that it will reject any petition for a new H-2B worker for an employment start date prior to October 1, 2008 that was received by USCIS after January 2.
The H-2B mandatory visa cap allows for up to 33,000 H-2B workers for the second half of Fiscal Year 2008. Petitions received on or before January 2 will now go through a computer-generated random selection process. Cap-subject petitions not chosen in this selection process will be rejected and USCIS will return the fee to those petitioners.
Please note that petitions for workers currently in the U.S. under H-2B status do not count toward this bi-annual H-2B cap. USCIS states that it will continue to process petitions filed to extend the stay of a current H-2B worker in the U.S. or change the terms of employment for current H-2B workers and extend their stay. In addition, USCIS will process petitions filed to allow current H-2B workers to change or add employers and extend their stay in the U.S.
An Oklahoma law that went into effect on November 1, 2007 has resulted in a large amount of immigrants leaving that state. The law, which makes it a felony to harbor, transport or provide aid to an illegal immigrant, has caused an increased level of fear in Oklahoma’s Hispanic community and has had deleterious effects on that state’s construction industry. Many building companies have voiced their concerns over a lack of available workers and are considering a lawsuit against the state’s restrictive measure.
The Oklahoma law is a precursor to a similar Arizonan legislation that went into effect January 1, in which employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants could lose their operating licenses.
State legislators throughout the country are watching both of these states closely as they plan their own potential legislations. At the same time, immigration advocates are paying close attention to strategies used by opponents to these laws — their successes and their failures — as they gear up to protect undocumented workers throughout the U.S.
USCIS recently announced that the suspension of premium processing of R-1 Visa applications for religious workers has been extended until July 8, 2008. The initial six-month suspension of this service was first announced in Jun 2007. According to USCIS, because of the complexity of adjudicating R-1 visas, the organization is still assessing whether they can provide a 15-day processing service for these petitions.
In April of last year, USCIS proposed a range of revisions to its regulations for processing R-1 religions worker visa petitions aimed at eliminating fraud in that visa program. In addition, current established practices and procedures involved in the adjudication process include inspections, evaluations, verifications and compliance reviews, all of which exceed the time restraints imposed by a 15-day premium processing guarantee.
USCIS notes that, in the future, if it is able to ensure R-1 visa petitions can be adequately adjudicated in 15 days, the premium processing service for this visa category will again be made active.