Changes to CDC Vaccination Requirements for Immigrants

A recent update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding medical examinations for immigrants coming to the U.S. included two new changes. CDC has, first, made changes to the vaccination requirements for applicants examined by a panel physician abroad. The required vaccines include the following:

Age-appropriate vaccination requirements: rotavirus vaccine, hepatitis A vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, human papillomavirus vaccine (women only), and zoster vaccine.
Through 18 years of age: Hepatitis B vaccine.
Ages 6 to 59 months: Influenza vaccine.
Ages 10-64: Acellular pertussis-containing vaccines.

CDC has also noted that their tests for checking tuberculosis in immigrants entering the U.S. is not sufficient. The organization plans to phase in new procedures to be carried out by panel physicians, starting with eight countries the government organization deems most important, The major change includes more robust testing for children under the age of 15. Tuberculin skin tests (TST) will now be required for applicants under the age of 15 in countries with a World Health Organization estimated tuberculosis incidence rate of less than 20 per 100,000. If the applicant has a test rate of 5mm, they will be required to have a chest radiograph. If tuberculosis is suggested by this test, the applicant will be required to take treatment under a directly observed therapy program, prior to entering the U.S

Stand-Alone I-130 Petitions Must Be Submitted to the Chicago Lockbox

Earlier this week, USCIS revised the filing instructions for Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative. Effective February 19, all petitioners that file a stand-alone Form I-130 should file their petition with the Chicago Lockbox, as opposed to submitting the petition to a USCIS Service Center.

In December 2007, USCIS officially ‘encouraged’ petitioners to submit their stand-alone I-130 petitions to the Chicago Lockbox as the organization worked toward revising the I-130 form. That form has now been fully revised and filing with the Chicago Lockbox is now required of these petitioners.

Petitions filed with the Chicago Lockbox, after receipt, will be routed to and adjudicated at either the Vermont or California USCIS Service Center.

USCIS has created two separate P.O. Box addresses that correspond to the appropriate USCIS Service Center that will process the petitioner’s I-130 form. Petitioners who reside in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin or Wyoming are required to file their stand-alone I-130 petitions to the following address:

P.O. Box 804625
Chicago, IL 60680-1029

Petitioner who reside in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia or District of Columbia are required to file their stand-alone I-130 petitions to the following address:

P.O. Box 804616
Chicago, IL 60680-1029

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County International Airport Now Collecting 10 Fingerprints for Non-U.S. Citizens

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Tuesday that it has begun collecting additional fingerprints from international visitors at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County 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.

Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport is the eighth port of entry to begin collecting 10 fingerprints from international visitors. Numerous foreign visitors enter the U.S. at this air port of entry; on average, roughly 1,900 international visitors complete US VISIT biometric procedures at the airport. The majority of these international visitors come from Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and India. 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. Our upgrade to 10 fingerprint collection builds on our success, enabling us to focus more attention on stopping potential security risks,” said Robert Mocny, director of the US VISIT program.

Naturalization Backlog May Take Three Years to Clear Up

According to a recently published report by the Migration Policy Institute, it may take USCIS nearly three years to clear the naturalization backlog caused by an increase in applications received last summer. During the three summer months of 2007, USCIS received a total of 737,223 applications, three times the amount received during the same period the prior year. In October 2007, nearly 1 million naturalization applications were pending. Because of this surge in applications, the processing times for naturalization applications, according to USCIS has more than doubled. Applications filed during the summer of 2007 will take roughly 16 to 18 months to adjudicate, compared to a 6 to 7 month processing time period for applications filed in 2006.

USCIS officials believe this surge in applications is due to a number of reasons, including citizenship campaigns launched throughout the U.S., the heated political climate revolving around the immigration issue and the upcoming presidential elections. To counteract the effects of the surge, USCIS has expanded work hours for its employees and hired additional staff. USCIS also plans to hire an additional 1,800 employees (including retired USCIS staff) to assist in managing the naturalization backlog.

USCIS Update on E-Verify; More than 52,000 Employers Now Registered with the Program

In a recent press release, USCIS announced that more than 52,000 employers have voluntarily registered to participate in E-Verify, the agency’s web-based employment authorization status verification program. USCIS also noted that more than 1,000 new employers register to participate in E-Verify each week.

“We began with a small number of pilot employers in five states testing the viability of such a program,” said Emilio Gonzalez, Director of USC IS. “Today, more than 52,000 employers across the nation are participating in E-Verify. This program is proving to be a key component in promoting the integrity of the employment verification process of our workforce. E-Verify is a valuable tool, and we congratulate the thousands of employers who are making a positive impact on our nation’s security.”

The web-based employment verification program, which USCIS operates in partnership with the Social Security Administration, enables participants to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their new hires. USCIS continues to expand the program; most recently, the agency launched a new photo screening tool that allows employers to compare a new hire’s photos against a Homeland Security database of roughly 15 million images. While the program is currently voluntary, some states, according to USCIS, “require certain employers to participate in and comply with a federal work authorization verification program.” In Arizona, for example, which requires detailed employer compliance to federal regulations, participation in E-Verify increased from 325 participants last year to 18,000 current participants.

DHS Proposes Changes to the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Program

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a series of proposed changes that would enable a more streamlined hiring process for temporary/seasonal workers hired to work in the U.S. under the H-2A visa category. These modifications would accomplish a number of things, including reducing certain limitations and delays U.S employers face and enabling employers more flexibility in petitioning for multiple, unnamed agricultural workers.

The proposed changes would also extend the amount of time a temporary agricultural worker could stay in the U.S. after the end of their employment period from 10 to 30 days. The changes would reduce the time a temporary agricultural worker is required to wait outside of the U.S. before again being eligible to return under H-2A status from six to three months. Finally, the proposed changes would enable H-2A workers to shift from one H-2A employer to a new, petitioning employer prior to approval of that change by USCIS, as long as that employer is a participant in USCIS’ E-Verify program.

“These proposed changes are designed to provide an efficient and secure program for farmers to legally fulfill their need for agricultural workers within the law rather than outside the law,” said Michael Chertoff, Secretary of DHS. “This common-sense simplification of H-2A will provide farm employers with a more orderly and timely flow of legal workers, while continuing to protect the rights of laborers and promoting legal and secure methods for determining who is coming into the country.”

The proposed rule to amend the H-2A program also includes certain provisions to tighten up the security and integrity of the visa program. Changes to current regulations regarding security/integrity issues include: requiring employers to attest to the scope of the proposed H-2A employment and their use of recruiters to find H-2A workers; limiting the employers’ and recruiters’ ability to charge fees to prospective H-2A workers; getting rid of employers’ ability to file H-2A petitions without first having an approved temporary labor certification; and restricting the approval of an H-2A petition from individuals from countries that consistently refuse or unreasonably delay the repatriation of their nationals.

USCIS Suggests Certain H-1B Cap Exempt Petitions Should be Sent to CSC

USCIS announced last week that it is introducing a new initiative to streamline H-1B petition adjudications. On February 1, 2008, USCIS introduced a special group at their California Service Center dedicated solely to processing H-1B cap exempt petitions. These petitions include those filed by institutions of higher education, nonprofit associations that are affiliated with institutions of higher education and nonprofit or governmental research organizations.

Note that the cap-exempt petitions that will be adjudicated by this special group do not include H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals seeking exemption based on their level of education (having a U.S. master’s degree or higher), those requesting an extension of stay, those wishing to change employers or those requesting an amendment to their petitions. These petitions should continue to be sent to originally stated addresses. However, petitioners requesting exemption based on the three criteria stated above (institutions of higher education, nonprofit associations affiliated with institutions of higher education and nonprofit or governmental research organizations) should, according to USCIS, start using a new mailing address when submitting their H-1B cap exempt petitions:

Direct Mail:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
California Service Center
ATTN: CAP EXEMPT H-1B Processing Unit
P.O. BOX 30040
Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004

Private Couriers:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
California Service Center
ATTN: CAP EXEMPT H-1B Processing Unit
24000 Avila Road, Room 2312
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Note that if a cap-exempt petition is received at a different service center, that petition will be forwarded to the California Service Center for processing and adjudication. This procedure will remain in place until USCIS posts specific filing instructions requiring the submission of these petitions to the California Service Center.

USCIS Faces Backlog in the Processing of Naturalization Applications

According to recent statements by Emilio Gonzalez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the average processing time for naturalization applications has dramatically increased. Currently, the wait time for these applications is roughly 18 months; an increase from the previous time period of just 7 months. In addition, Gonzalez commented that the average family-based adjustment of status application currently takes 12 months to process. These delays are due to a massive increase in requests for naturalization that were received by USCIS this summer; from June to August 2007, more than 3 million naturalization applications were received.

USCIS does plan to increase its staff and to automate procedures wherever possible; however, the backlog is immense and USCIS is hesitant to comment on when they can return to a standard 6-month average time period for processing naturalization applications.