Homeland Security Publishes Final Rule for the Secure Flight Program

Late last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the publication of the final rule for the Secure Flight program, an endeavor that would shift the responsibility of matching pre-departure watch lists from individual aircraft operators to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). These changes were suggested by the 9/11 Commission.

TSA believes that, by shifting this responsibility to their organization, they can do a more effective job of solving issues related to misidentifications of valid travelers, when those travelers’ names are similar to names found on the watch list.

“Secure Flight is a critical tool that will further improve aviation security and fix the major customer service issue of watch list misidentifications, a frustratingly common occurrence for travelers under the existing airline-based system,” said Michael Chertoff, secretary of DHS. “We know that threats to our aviation system persist, and Secure Flight will help us better protect the traveling public while creating a more consistent passenger prescreening process, ultimately reducing the number of misidentification issues.”

Under the Secure Flight program, airlines will be required to collect passengers’ full names, dates of birth and gender when those passengers are making their flight reservations. These addition data collected will assist TSA in parsing valid travelers from those on the watch list.

The Secure Flight program, according to TSA, will be implemented in two pages. In early 2009, TSA will begin taking over matching responsibilities from the airlines for passengers traveling domestically. In late 2009, TSA will take over matching responsibilities for travelers coming to the U.S. on international flights.

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New Fee Structure for SEVIS Students and Schools

On October 27, 2008, USCIS will implement a new fee structure for the SEVIS program (Students, Exchange Visitors and Schools). These new fees will fund a range of enhancements to the SEVIS program.

Foreign students applying for F, M or J visas, on October 27, will be required to submit the following SEVIS I-901 fees:

I-901 F-1/M-1 Visa Applicants: $200
I-901 J-1 Visa Applicants: $180
I-901 Special J Visa Categories: $35 (a subsidized amount)
I-901 Government Visitors: No payment

Schools petitioning for initial SEVP certification will be required to submit the following fees:

Petition Fees: $1,700 (these fees were previously $230)
Site Visit Fees: $655 per campus (these fees were previously $350)

Schools that have already received SEVP certification will be required to submit the following fees:

Petition Fees for Change of Ownership: $1,700 (these fees were previously $230)
Site Visit Fees for the Addition of a Campus: $655 (these fees were previously $350)
There is no fee for recertification.

DHS Issues Final Supplemental Rule Regarding No-Match Letters

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Supplemental Final Rule earlier today that gives additional information regarding their No-Match Rule. This rule, which was originally proposed in June 2006 and published as a final rule in August 2007, provides clarification for the steps responsible employers should take to resolve discrepancies they see in ‘No-Match’ letters issued by the Social Security Administration. In addition, the rule helps these employers comply with legal regulations that aim to stem the employment of unauthorized workers in the U.S.

There had been a pause in the implementation of this rule due to a preliminary injunction issued by a U.S. District Court last year. A supplemental proposed rule addressing concerns raised in the injunction was published earlier this year by DHS. DHS plans to return to that District Court shortly to request that the injunction be removed.

“The additional information in this supplemental rule addresses the specific items raised by the Court, and we expect to be able to quickly implement it,” said Michael Chertoff, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security. “The No-Match Rule, along with E-Verify, will increasingly make the pleas of ignorance from businesses that seek to exploit illegal labor ring hollow, and equip their responsible competitors with the tools they need to hire and maintain a legal workforce.”

President Bush Announces the Addition of Seven New Countries to the Visa Waiver Program

President Bush today announced that seven nations have met the requirements to be admitted to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea will soon be able to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism without a visa. All of these countries currently allow U.S. citizens to travel to their countries without visas. In roughly one month, Bush said, the U.S. will extend the same courtesy to their citizens.

“For years the leaders of these nations have explained to me how frustrating it is for their citizens to wait in lines and pay visa fees to take a vacation or make a business trip or visit their families here in the United States,” said President Bush. “These close friends of America told me that it was unfair that their people had to jump through bureaucratic hoops that other allies can walk around.”

President Bush Extends Funding for E-Verify Program

Late last month, President Bush signed into law an over $630 billion continuing resolution to continue funding the budgets of a number of U.S. agencies until March 2009. As part of this resolution, funding for the E-Verify program would be extended until March 6 of next year. Both the Senate and the House approved this resolution days prior to the President signing it into law.

E-Verify is the U.S. government’s voluntary system that allows employers to verify and check the employment eligibility of new hires through the internet. The program was scheduled to end in November 2008 without extension or reauthorization. This resolution provides $100 million in funds and 255 positions for the E-Verify program.

Michigan Works with DHS to Create Enhanced Driver’s License

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the state of Michigan have been working together to enhance features of that state’s driver’s license as a potential alternative document for crossing U.S. land and sea borders. Earlier this week, DHS and Michigan reached an agreement to work together to create an enhanced driver’s license that will include information about the holder’s identity and citizenship that would be compliant with regulations of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

“With this agreement, Michigan’s leadership has shown both its innovative spirit and its commitment to national security,” said Stewart Baker, Assistant Secretary for Policy, DHS. “The state enhanced driver’s license will bolster security through advanced technology, and at the same time it will make travel faster and easier.”

As part of this agreement, Michigan will develop and enhanced driver’s license that volunteer residents who apply and qualify for the document can use to verify identity when crossing U.S. land and sea borders. There will be an additional fee for this enhanced license, which will include additional security features that are seen on passports and passport cards. Interested applicants must present proof of their citizenship, identity and residence to receive the enhanced license.

New Immigration Court to Open in Charlotte, NC

After a long wait, a new immigration court is scheduled to open in Charlotte, NC on November 4. North Carolina has one of the fastest growing immigration populations in the United States and the lack of an immigration court has placed much unneeded stress on that state’s immigrant populations.

In 2007, North Carolina had 2,883 cases in immigration court; those individuals had to travel to Atlanta to see an immigration judge. “We have a backlog of 500 to 600 cases in our office any one day that we are trying to help,” said U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC). ““An immigration court will speed up illegal alien deportations …. It will also help legal immigrants playing by the rules because they will no longer have to travel to Atlanta to deal with immigration matters.”

The new immigration court will be located at 5701 Executive Center Drive in Charlotte. The city, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Southeast, has a population of more than half a million people. The city’s new immigration court will cover immigration cases in North Carolina and may potentially cover cases in other, neighboring states. Currently, the Atlanta immigration court covers cases in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.