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.

USCIS Posts Update on H-2B Visas Received for the First Half of FY 2009

On July 1, USCIS updated the count of H-2B petitions the organization received for the first half of Fiscal Year 2009. According to USCIS, as of July 1, 2008, 17,305 H-2B petitions have been received; the cap for the first half of FY 2009 is 33,000.

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 Implements Online FOIA Request Status Check

USCIS has launched the new online FOIA Request Status Check service that offers customers a quick, secure method to check the status of requests they have made to the organization under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). With this new online program, customers, by entering their assigned control numbers, can receive immediate responses anytime regarding the status of their FOIA request.

Customers, after entering in their control number, will receive a response that states either ‘pending’ or ‘processing’. A ‘pending’ response lets the customer know the position of their request in relation to all other requests on that same processing track. A ‘processed’ response lets a customer know that their request was processed and they will be given a processing date. USCIS has noted that they will make daily updates to the status of all FOIA requests.