USCIS Announces New Interim Final Rule Prohibiting Multiple H-1B Filings for the Same Employee

USCIS submitted today an interim final rule to the Federal Register that would prohibit employers from filing multiple H-1B petitions for the same employee. This new rule, USCIS comments, would help make sure that companies filing annual visa cap-subject H-1B visas would have an equal chance to receive H-1B visas for potential international workers. USCIS, according to the new rule, would deny or revoke multiple petitions filed by an employer for the same worker; filing fees associated with those petitions would not be refunded.

Note, though, that this rule does not limit related employers (e.g.: a parent company and its subsidiary) from filing petitions for the same international worker for different positions, as long as there is a real business need for that person.

USCIS Posts Latest Numbers for H-2B Visas Received for the First Half of FY 2009

USCIS has updated the public on the latest count of H-2B petitions received. According to USCIS, as of July 28, 2008, a total of 34,677 petitions have been received and counted toward the 33,000 H-2B cap for the first half of Fiscal Year 2009. The organization also notes that 21,909 beneficiaries have been approved, with 23,768 still pending. The organization’s target for total beneficiary applications to approve to reach the 33,000 cap (allowing for withdrawals, denials and revocations) is 40,000.

The H-2B visa program allows U.S. employers in industries that face peak loads, seasonal or intermittent labor needs to bring in additional temporary nonimmigrant workers to fill those needs. H-2B workers traditionally work in areas such as construction, health care, landscaping, lumber, manufacturing, food service and hospitality services. The H-2B visa cap allows for up to 66,000 H-2B visas to be provided each year. Note that petitions approved to extend an alien’s stay or change their terms of employment do not count against this annual cap limitation.

USCIS Changes and Updates Vaccination Requirements for Those Seeking to Adjust Status to Legal Permanent Resident

On July 24, USCIS announced a revised list of vaccines required for applicants seeking to adjust their status to legal permanent residents. The change in required vaccinations comes from guidance received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC, as stated in its revised Technical Instructions for Civil Surgeons for Vaccination Requirements, the following age-appropriate vaccinations have been added to the list of vaccinations required to adjust status to legal permanent resident: rotavirus; hepatitis A; meningococcal; human papillomavirus; and zoster.

This new requirement went into effect on July 1, 2008; however, CDC has approved a thirty-day grace period for medical exams conducted prior to August 1, 2008. On that date, though, these new vaccinations must be administered prior to an individual being granted adjustment of status.

USCIS has updated Form I-693, the Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, to include these new vaccines. The revised edition is dated June 5, 2008, and must be used on and after August 1, 2008 for all applicants seeking an adjustment of status to legal permanent resident.

Passport Cards Now in Production and Distribution

The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a joint statement today announcing that the new U.S. Passport Card is now being produced and being distributed. The U.S. Passport Card, according to the organizations, “is a convenient, wallet-sized document for land and sea travel between the United States and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.” Note that the Passport Card can not be used for international travel by air.

Starting June 2009, travelers entering the U.S. via land or sea will be required to show a single Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative-compliant document that displays both their citizenship and identity. The Passport Card will fulfill this requirement. In addition, the card will enable a more smooth travel process for frequent travelers (especially those living in border communities). Officials will be able to access photographs and other biographical data stored in secure government databases from a RFID chip included in the card.

Over 350,000 U.S. citizens pre-ordered the cards since the government started accepting orders in February of this year. More than 7,000 cards have already been mailed out and the remaining, according to the organizations, should be completed by the end of September 2008. After that date, the processing time for passport cards should be less than four weeks.

“We are pleased to offer Americans a choice of documents, the traditional passport book, and now the passport card, to meet their personal needs for international travel,” said Janice L. Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. “The passport card is the newest addition to the Department’s long history of providing secure, reliable services to the American traveling public.”

“We have been working closely with the U.S. Department of State to be able to provide another type of secure identification that is vital to protecting our nation’s borders” said Stewart Baker, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Policy. “The new passport cards will help facilitate legitimate travel while allowing our frontline personnel to focus more on those who may pose a threat.”

The costs for Passport Cards are $45 for first-time adult applicants and $35 for children under the age of 16. Adults with currently valid passports can apply for Passport Cards by mail for $20.

USCIS Posts Clarification of Exemption Eligibility for Applications for Waivers of Grounds of Inadmissibility

USCIS has, as of late, received numerous Applications for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility (Form I-601) without the appropriate application fee due to confusion regarding these applications’ regulations. According to USCIS, the ability to waive or exempt payment of the $545 fee applied only to applications from certain requests filed by some Vietnamese, Laotian or Cambodian applicants by October 28, 1983. Please note that this regulated, now years dated, was put into place in 1977 and is no longer valid.

EOIR Urges Applicants to Use 9-Digit Registration Number when Filing Documents

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced this week that, as of July 21, 2008, all documents filed with the EOIR’s immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) should include the alien’s nine-digit registration number. Note that for cases with a nine-digit number, all digits should be included with the documents. For those with only eight digits, a zero should be inserted as the ninth number. While documents will not be rejected in the near future for not including these numbers in the format stated above, EEOR strongly urges applicants to file their documents with the correct registration number format.

Senate Votes to Lift Ban on HIV Travelers to U.S.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to lift the ban on individuals with HIV visiting/immigrating to the U.S. The U.S. is one of just 12 countries to have a ban on HIV visitors and HIV is the only disease specifically mentioned as a restricted disease in U.S. immigration law. The U.S. shares this law with countries such as Libya, Russia. Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

“There’s no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in a recent speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies HIV/AIDS Task Force. Kerry, a co-sponsor of the recent bill to lift the HIV travel ban, also pointed out that it can be easier for people with Ebola or the avian flu to enter the United States.

The current bill, also sponsored by Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith (R), would equate HIV with other communicable diseases. With those diseases, decisions regarding admissibility are made by medical and public health experts and not consular and immigration officials.

USCIS Extends Initial Work Authorization for Refugees to Two Years

On July 11, USCIS announced that it would extend the validity period for initial work authorization documents for refugees to two years after their arrival in the U.S. Previous to this legislative change, refugees were required to seek renewal of their Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) after one year.

This new policy was put into place to help assuage the financial burden refugees face in this country. While there is no cost for the initial refugee EAD, refugees do incur $340 for each renewal application they submit. USCIS commented that refugees, on average, request a minimum of one extension of their EAD validity period prior to adjustment of status.

Arizona Passes Legislation that Bars its Compliance with the REAL ID program

In mid-June Arizona joined roughly 12 other states in barring Arizona’s compliance with the REAL ID program, a federal program calling for a uniform standard for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. Janet Napolitano, governor of Arizona, voiced her concerns that REAL ID would cost at least $4 billion to implement, but the federal government, to date, has only provided for $90 million in funding to help Arizona and other states implement the identification program.

“My support of the REAL ID Act is, and has always been, contingent upon adequate federal funding,” Napolitano wrote in a letter detailing her support for Arizona’s bar on compliance. “Absent that, the REAL ID Act becomes just another unfunded federal mandate.”

South Carolina Passes Restrictive Immigration Legislation

On June 4, a new bill was signed into law in South Carolina by that state’s governor, Mark Sanford. The new legislation, HB 4400, is an omnibus immigration bill that mandates a series of limitations and restrictions for that state’s undocumented populations. Included in the law are the following provisions:

1) Employers are now required to verify the identity of all employees either via a South Carolina driver’s license or via the national E-Verify system.
2) Clinics and hospitals funded by the state can no longer provide non-emergency medical care to undocumented adult immigrants. (Note that this provision directly counters federal law that states medical care should be given without any form of discrimination. The South Carolina law, however, has not given enforcement of this provision to any particular state agency.
3) Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to attend public universities or receive scholarships funded by the state of South Carolina.

The new immigration bill includes legislation similar to that seen in an Oklahoma law passed last year.