USCIS Revises & Updates Two Essential Forms

This week, USCIS announced that it has revised two forms: Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-693, the Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, based on legislation changes.

The new Form I-765 was revised this week to include additional eligibility codes, in accordance with a recent Homeland Security interim final rule regarding the duration of Optional Practical Training for F-1 nonimmigrant students. The older version of this form, published on July 30, 2007, will continue to be accepted by USCIS up to July 8, 2008; after that date, however, only the revised Form I-765, dated April 8, 2008, will be accepted by USCIS. All requests using previous versions of the form will be rejected by USCIS.

In addition, USCIS this week revised Form I-693, the Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record. This form was revised based on changes to the Tuberculosis Component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Technical Instructions for Civil Surgeons. Form I-683, a medical form, shares with USCIS results of applicants’ medical examinations when they are filing for adjustments of status to become permanent residents. The form provides information essential for USCIS to ensure the applicants are not inadmissible to the U.S. due to public health reasons.

The new form lists seven tuberculosis classifications at the bottom of its first page. Civil surgeons should record the results of all medical examinations held on or after May 1, 2008 on the new form. Please note that the current vaccination supplement will not be accepted for any vaccination assessment conducted on or after May 1, 2008. More information about this new tuberculosis component is available online at

USCIS Guidance Regarding Violence Against Women Act Self-Petitioners

Earlier this month, USCIS issued a guidance notice to its adjudicators regarding Adjustment of Status applications filed by Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners currently in the United States who have not been inspected and admitted or paroled. According to the guidance, Adjustment of Status applications for approved VAWA self-petitioners will not be considered ineligible for adjustment of status just because a self-petitioner entered the U.S. without inspection and admission or parole. Further, the self-petitioner is not required to show that his or her illegal entry into the U.S. had a clear connection to the instance(s) of domestic violence, battery or extreme cruelty.

Based on this guidance, approved VAWA self-petitioners whose denied Adjustment of Status applications were filed on or after January 14, 1998, may file a Motion to Reopen or Reconsider using Form I-290B, if the sole reason for the denial of their request for adjustment was their illegal entry into the U.S.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) enables battered immigrants to petition for legal status in the U.S. without having to seek sponsorship from an abusive U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse, parent or child. The VAWA program enables victims of abuse to self-petition to seek legal immigration status in the U.S. These individuals, whose self-petitions are approved are able to file for Adjustment of Status using Form I-485 directly with USCIS to become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.

New Proposed Rule Would Require Travelers to Provide Digital Biometrics Upon Departure from U.S.

On April 22, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposed rule that would create a biometric exit procedure at all U.S. sea and air ports of departure. While most individuals that are not U.S. citizens are currently required to provide digital fingerprints and photographs to enter the U.S., the new US-VISIT Exit proposal would require these same people to also provide these digital data when leaving the U.S.

“The 9/11 Commission called for biometric entry and exit records, because biometrics confirm that travelers are who they say they are and the purpose of their travel is as they claim it to be,” said Michael Chertoff, Secretary, Homeland Security. “We’ve built an effective entry system, and combined with the proposed exit system, we’ll have made a quantum leap in America’s border security. Air and sea carriers would actively participate in the proposed exit system, and I look forward to an ongoing dialogue on solutions to meet this key 9/11 Commission recommendation.”

This proposed rule would require all commercial air carriers and cruise line owners/operators to collect and transmit biometric information from international travelers to DHS within 24 hours of those individuals leaving the U.S. This new procedure is scheduled to be implemented by January 2009.

House Extends Religious Worker Visa Program

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the Religious Worker Visa Extension Act of 2008, a bill that proposes to extend the ‘special immigrant non-minister religious worker’ visa program until January 1, 2010. In addition, the bill would provide an additional six-year extension of the religious worker program, as long as the Secretary of Homeland Security issues a final regulation that would control fraud in the visa program by end of 2008. The bill will now progress to the Senate and, if approved, to the President for final approval.

USCIS Conducts Random Selection Process for FY 2009 H-1B Visas

Yesterday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducted a computer-generated random selection process for H-1B petitions submitted for the Fiscal Year 2009 annual cap. H-1B petitions chosen during this selection process will continue to full adjudication. Individuals whose petitions have been chosen, if approved, will be eligible to enter the U.S. during FY 2009 under the H-1B program.

USCIS noted that they conducted two random selections, one for petitions qualifying for the 20,000 master’s or higher degree exemption category, and another for the general H-1B category that allows for 65,000 H-1B visas. This second selection process included all those master’s cap petitions not chosen in the initial selection, along with all other H-1B petitions submitted.

Roughly 163,000 petitions were received by USCIS during the April 1 to April 7 eligible filing period. Each petition was labeled with a unique numerical identifier. Individuals whose petitions were chosen should receive a receipt notice from USCIS by June 2, 2008. All unselected petitions will be returned with the filing fee, either to the petitioner or their authorized representative. USCIS plans for the total process of adjudication to take about eight to ten weeks. However, all petitions that filed with a request for premium processing, will be adjudicated within fifteen business days. The start date for that fifteen-day period will be April 14, the day the petitions were randomly selected.

Note, finally, that USCIS has placed some petitions in a ‘wait-list’ category. These petitions may be accepted for adjudication if some petitions chosen for the FY 2009 period are denied, withdrawn or found ineligible for other reasons. Petitioners whose cases are wait-listed will be notified of that status via a letter from USCIS. For each wait-listed petition, USCIS intends to either issue a receipt notice or return the petition with its fees within six to eight weeks.

USCIS Reaches H-1B Cap for FY2009

In an announcement made earlier today, USCIS has informed the public that it has received enough H-1B petitions to meet the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for Fiscal Year 2009. In addition, USCIS has received more than the 20,000 advanced degree exemption cap visas for individuals with masters’ or higher degrees from U.S. institutions. USCIS will first complete the initial data entry of all H-1B petitions received between April 1 and April 7; the governmental organization will then begin the random selection process. At the current moment, USCIS is not sure on which specific day the random selection process will begin. Note that all petitions that are rejected will be returned to the applicants along with their filing fees.

Annual Cap H-1Bs Submitted to the Wrong Service Center Will Not Be Rejected

Late last week, USCIS announced that it will not reject FY 2009 cap-subject H-1B petitions solely because they were received at the wrong service center. A petition sent by mistake to the California Service Center instead of the Vermont Service Center (or vice versa) will not, according to USCIS, be rejected solely on that error. However, this provision does not apply to petitions sent to either the Texas or Nebraska Service Centers.

USCIS has implemented this short-term measure solely for FY 2009 cap-subject H-1B petitions received at the wrong Service Center and only for those petitions received by USCIS prior to the close of business on the final receipt date. We’ll continue to update you on this season’s H-1B policies as they are published.

USCIS States a Goal to Complete One Million Naturalization Cases in FY 2008

Earlier this week, USCIS announced that it intends to finish over one million naturalization cases during Fiscal Year 2008, a number much greater than the amount of naturalization cases completed last year. In addition, USCIS has amended the expected time it will take to complete naturalization cases. That time is now 13-15 months, as compared to the 16-18 point projected time period the agency offered six months ago.

“By the end of the year, I expect USCIS will have finished 36 percent more naturalization cases than last year without compromising national security or the integrity of the naturalization process,” said Emilio Gonzalez, director, USCIS.

Strategies for reaching this goal include expanding the agency’s workforce by nearly 3,000 new employees, positioning employees to work in the USCIS offices most affected by the influx of naturalization requests, quadrupling the available funding for overtime pay and using offices and staff of the Asylum Office to conduct naturalization interviews.

Last year, USCIS received an exorbitant amount of naturalization filings. From June 2007 to August 2007, USCIS received nearly three million filings. In the entire previous year, the agency only received 1.8 million filings.

USCIS and FBI to Work Together to Eliminate Name Check Backlog

USCIS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced this week a joint plan to eliminate the backlog of name checks pending with the FBI. The two agencies have developed a set of milestones that prioritize the workload based on the age of the pending name check. All name check cases that have been pending for more than four years have already been eliminated, says the FBI.

“This plan of action is the product of a strong partnership between USCIS and the FBI to eliminate the backlogs and to strengthen national security,” said Emilio Gonzalez, director, USCIS.

The two agencies have set a new goal of completing 98 percent of all name checks within a 30 day period. The remaining 2 percent will be jointly resolved by the agencies within a 90 day proposed period. USCIS and the FBI aim to reach this goal by June 2009 by implementing a range of strategies, including increasing staff, expanding resources and utilizing new business processes.

H-1B Filing Period Officially Open; Deadline Extended to April 7

Yesterday marked the first day that USCIS began accepting new H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2009 for H-1B petitions for new employment start dates on or after October 1, 2008. Note that this year, USCIS has extended the filing deadline for these petitions to April 7, 2008. Petitions for new H-1Bs that are not submitted by this date may not be considered for employment in the U.S. until the last quarter of 2009. All H-1B petitions received between April 1 and 7 will be picked via a random lottery; petitions not selected in the lottery will be returned with their filing fees.

Please note that this deadline date does not apply to foreign nationals currently under H-1B status; these individuals are open to extend their status or change employers irrespective of the annual H-1B cap. In addition, individuals from Singapore and Chile are subject to a separate cap, which is currently open and will remain open through this fiscal year. Finally, some employers, such as non-profits connected to universities and some healthcare facilities are additionally exempt from the FY 2009 H-1B cap.