USCIS Delays Implementation of I-9 Amendment

USCIS has just announced that it will delay the implementation of its new I-9 requirement rule for sixty days, until April 3, 2009. The interim rule, titled ‘Documents Acceptable for Employment Eligibility Verification, was originally published in the Federal Register in mid-December 2008. The rule streamlined the process for employers to verify the employment eligibility of new employees. In addition to extending the implementation of the new rule, USCIS is reopening the public comment period for an additional thirty days, until March 4, 2009, to give concerned members of the public more time to share their thoughts on the bill.

Employers are required to complete a Form I-9 for every newly hired employee to verify their identity and confirm their authorization to work in the U.S. The interim final rule will, when implemented, amend regulations regarding the types of acceptable ID and employment authorization documents that employees can present to their new employers. Employers will no longer be able to accept documents that have expired as part of the I-9 verification process.

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ICE’s SEVP Response Center Now Open

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that the SEVP Response Center (SRC) began its operations on Monday, January 26, 2009. The SRC is a new effort by ICE to expand its services to its stakeholders. The Center’s employees, according to Ice, are “knowledgeable in a variety of issues related to the F and M visa categories.” These staff members can help stakeholders with questions related to initial certification, re-certification, Optional Practical Training, SEVIS and F- & M-related policies.

SRC staff members, according to ICE, are available to answer questions from Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST. They can be reached directly at (703) 603-3400. ICE comments that there will soon be a toll-free number to reach the SRC.

Immigration Reform Advocates Call On President Obama to Begin Immigration Reform

Immigrants and advocates of immigration reform supported President Barack Obama’s run for president in droves and now that Obama has been sworn in, many advocates are seeking his support for the cause of immigration reform. This Wednesday, as Obama was sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts, thousands of immigration advocates gathered to call upon Obama and his administration to start the process of making sweeping changes to immigration policies in the U.S.

Among the calls to action requested by the advocates, who gathered in San Antonio, Texas and throughout the country, are an end to worksite and home raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the closure of Hutto Detention Center, the Texas-based detention center for immigrant children and their families.

Janet Napolitano is the New Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

On Wednesday, January 21, 2009, Janet Napolitano was sworn in as the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Napolitano was formerly the Governor of Arizona. Ms. Napolitano has an extensive background in political service and homeland security. Prior to her governorship, she had served as the Attorney General of Arizona and the U.S Attorney for the District of Arizona. Napolitano was one of the lead organizational heads of the investigation into the Oklahoma City domestic terrorism incident. In addition, as Governor of Arizona, she implemented one of the first State homeland security strategies in the U.S. and has made a number of legislative changes to issues related to immigration enforcement.

Napolitano received a J.D. in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Law. After law school, she served as a law clerk for Mary M. Schroeder, the Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and as an associate at the law firm, Lewis and Roca. Napolitano was the first woman to chair the National Governors Association and has previously chaired the Western Governors Association.

Major U.S. Ports of Entry Now Collecting Ten Fingerprints

This week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that biometric technology at major U.S. ports of entry have now been upgraded from a two- to a ten-fingerprint collection standard. This upgrade process began in 2007 as an effort to make entry into the U.S. more efficient and accurate.

“Since 2004, biometrics have facilitated legitimate travel for millions of visitors entering the United States,” said Robert Mocny, director of the US-VISIT program. “The 10 fingerprint upgrade makes this proven system even more efficient and enhances the security of our nation.”

Biometric information, including digital fingerprints and photographs, have been collected by immigration officials for nearly five years from all non-U.S. citizens between the ages of 14 and 79 year olds when applying for visas or arriving at major U.S. ports of entry, with just a few exceptions. State consular officials started collecting ten fingerprints from visa applicants in 2007. The upgrade has occurred in result of an interagency partnership between Homeland Security, FBI, the Department of Defense and the State Department, whose collaborative efforts, DHS says, has helped to prevent the use of fraudulent documents, protect visitors from identity theft and stop thousands of criminals and immigration violators from entering the U.S.

DHS Announces New Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an interim final rule that would replace the current Guam Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with a new program for both Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The new interim rule also gives the U.S. Customs and Border Protection the capacity to establish up to six new ports of entry in the region to administer and enforce the new VWP.

The revised, interim final rule, which is scheduled to start June 1, 2009, allows eligible nonimmigrant visitors to enter Guam and the CNMI without a visa for business or leisure travel. In addition, it will extend visiting time from 15 to 45 days. The current Guam VWP will remain in effect until the implementation date of this new rule.

Please note that travelers wishing to enter Guam and the CNMI under the new rule will be required to posses a valid and unexpired, machine-readable passport, along with a valid and completed Form I-94 and Form I-736. Travelers must not have previously violated the terms of any previous admission to the U.S.

Individuals from the following countries are eligible to participate in the new, Guam-CNMI VWP:

Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom (including Hong Kong).

USCIS Announces It Has Reached the H-2B Visa Cap for the Second Half of FY 2009

USCIS announced today that it reached the cap for the second half of Fiscal Year 2009 for the H-2B visa. This cap of 33,000 petitions was reached on January 7. New petitions for H-2B visas will no longer be accepted for the second half of FY 2009; potential applicants will have to request petitions for the first half of FY 2010.

The H-2B visa gives U.S. employers involved in industries with peak load, seasonal or temporary needs the capacity to utilize temporary nonimmigrant workers to fulfill their staffing needs. H-2B visa workers typically work in areas such as construction, farming, health care, landscaping and hospitality services. In 2005, the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act was passed; this Act divided the visa category’s annual cap of 66,000 available visas into two halves. USCIS enables companies to submit these filings six months in advance of the staffing need.