USCIS Extends Final Filing Date for U Nonimmigrant Interim Relief

USCIS announced earlier this month that it will extend the filing deadline for the expiration of the U nonimmigrant interim relief program. Persons interested in extending status may apply for this extension of U relief benefits by February 1, 2010, by using Form I-918, the Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.

In mid-December, USCIS published a notice to remind individuals that temporary benefits related to U nonimmigrant status were to expire on December 31, 2009. Prior to that, USCIS sent notices to individuals that may have been affected by the end of the relief program, with a reminder to file Form I-918 before December 31, 2009 in order to maintain eligibility for U interim relief benefits. No additional notices will be sent, USCIS notes; however, that deadline date has indeed been extended to February 1, 2010.

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USCIS Letter to Civil Surgeons Provides Guidance on Changes to Immigration Medical Examination

USCIS recently sent letters to U.S. Civil Surgeons regarding the removal of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection from the list of communicable diseases of public health significance. In the letter, USCIS details the policy change made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of January 4, 2010, individuals should no longer be tested for HIV infection during their immigration medical examination. HIV-positive status is no longer a valid reason to bar a person from entry or otherwise limit their immigration capacity in the United States.

In addition, as of December 14, 2009, immunization against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes zoster are no longer required for entry into the United States.

While Form I-693 has not yet been updated to reflect these changes, USCIS is guiding civil surgeons to disregard any reference to the above-stated immunizations as of December 14, and to disregard any reference to HIV testing as of January 4.

USCIS Reaches FY 2010 H-1B Annual Cap

After an extensive open period, USCIS has finally announced it has received enough H-1B petitions to reach the annual cap for Fiscal Year 2010. In the posted notice, USCIS remarks that the “final receipt date” for new H-1B petitions requesting an employment start date in Fiscal Year 2010 is December 21, 2009.

On December 21, USCIS received enough H-1B cap-subject petitions to reach the congressionally-mandated annual cap of 65,000 visas. USCIS had previously received enough petitions to fill the 20,000 visas reserved for those H-1B candidates that met the requirements of the “advanced degree” exemption.

USCIS will soon begin a computer-generated random selection process for all petitions received on or before December 21, 2009. All cap-subject petitions that are not randomly selected will be rejected and the filing fees will be returned to the petitioners.

Please note that USCIS will continue to process petitions filed to extend the time that an H-1B worker may remain in the U.S., to change terms of employment for H-1B workers, to allow current H-1B workers to change employers and to allow current H-1B workers to engage concurrently in a second H-1B employment position.

DHS Extends Deadline for REAL ID Material Compliance Deadline

After 46 out of 56 states and territories informed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that they would not be able to meet the December 31, 2009 REAL ID material compliance deadline, DHS has decided to extend that deadline date. This compliance deadline calls for states and territories to meet 18 interim benchmarks in their efforts to ensure consistency and security in the issuance of state driver’s licenses and state ID cards.

“In order to ensure that the millions of Americans traveling this holiday season are not disrupted, DHS is extending the Dec. 31 REAL ID material compliance deadline,” reported DHS in a recent press release. “The May 10, 2011, deadline for full compliance remains in effect, and the Department will continue to work closely with states to meet this deadline.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 is a federal law that demands certain security, authentication and issuance procedures for state driver’s licenses and state ID cards, in order for them to be accepted by the federal government for official purposes, such as proof of identity when boarding commercial airliners or entering federal buildings.

USCIS Planning to Add Self-Check System to E-Verify Program

USCIS is planning to add a new, self-checking system to its E-Verify employee screening program. The new self-checking system will allow persons to pre-screen themselves with the E-Verify system, prior to their employer’s check of their immigration status. Over 170,000 employers currently have signed up to use the E-Verify system to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Nearly all new hires are automatically approved by the system; those that aren’t are allowed to contest their non-confirmation by E-Verify.

The new program, according to federal officials, will cut down on the number of individuals that need to contest their non-confirmed status. “[E-Verify] protects employees from exploitive employers,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of USCIS. “It enables employers to ensure the lawfulness of their work force, and therefore comply with the law.”

New Proposed Rule Would Increase Certain Immigration Fees

The Bureau of Consular Affairs with the Department of State has just issued a proposed rule to increase certain immigration fees. According to the notice, the fee for processing applications for most nonimmigrant visas that do not require petitions and adult Border Crossing Cards will be increasing from $131 to $140. Additionally, some petition-based nonimmigrant visas, along with the treaty trader and investor visa, will also see an increase in application fees. The rule will also increase the fee for Mexican citizen minors who apply for entry from Mexico and whose parent or guardian either has a Border Crossing Card or is in the process of applying for a card, from $13 to $14.

These fee increases are being implemented, the Department of State says, in response to results from a recent independent cost of service study that found that the U.S. Government is not fully covering the expenses of processing these visa types with the current level of fees. Written comments regarding this proposed rule may be submitted up to 60 days from the publication of this notice in the Federal Register.

USCIS Posts Update of the Amount of H-1B Cap-Subject Visas Received for FY 2010

On December 4, 2009, USCIS published the latest numbers of the amount of H-1B cap-subject visa petitions it has received for Fiscal Year 2010. According to USCIS, roughly 61,000 cap-subject visas have been received and roughly 20,000 advanced degree petitions have been received.

USCIS will be approving a total of 65,000 cap-subject H-1B visas and 20,000 advanced degree cap visas. While the federal agency plans to accept more than 65,000 H-1B cap-subject applications (based on the premise that some will be rejected or revoked and others will be withdrawn by the applicants), it should be noted that the amount of applications received as of the most recent update is getting closer to the cap amount.