Greece Now Designated as Eligible to Participate in the Visa Waiver Program

In early March, the Secretary of Homeland Security designated Greece as eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The program enables nationals of participating countries to visit the U.S. for tourism or business for periods up to 90 days without needed to obtain a visa. Nationals of VWP countries are required to meet certain eligibility requirements to enter the U.S. under this program without a visa and must have valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling. Additionally, these travelers are screened at the port of entry in which they enter the U.S. and are enrolled in the US-VISIT program.

Nationals of Greece that are eligible to participate in VWP can travel to the U.S. without a visa beginning April 5, 2010. Greek travelers may immediately apply for travel authorization under ESTA.

Countries designated as eligible for VWP include the following: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

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USCIS Changes Filing Location for Form I-131, the Application for Travel Document

USCIS recently announced revised filing instructions and addresses for Form I-131, the Application for Travel Document. As of March 19, 2010, applicants wishing to file Form I-131 should file their application either at the USCIS Vermont Service Center or at one of the USCIS Lockbox facilities. Detailed information about which location to choose is included in the revised Form I-131 instructions.

USCIS Service Centers will forward all incorrectly filed Form I-131 applications for 30 days. After April 19, 2010, all applications sent to the incorrect location will be returned to the applicant with a note guiding them to send the application to the correct location.

Individuals currently in removal proceedings (or those who have previously been removed from the U.S.) should submit their application to the following address:

Department of Homeland Security / Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Office of International Affairs
Attn: Section Chief, Law Enforcement Parole Branch
800 N. Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20536

Please note that applicants filing this form at a USCIS Lockbox facility may request to receive an email or text message letting them know that USCIS has accepted their application. Applicants interested in receiving this message should additionally complete Form G-1145, the E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, and attach it to the first page of their application.

USCIS Introduces New Initiatives to Strengthen E-Verify Program

USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week announced three new initiatives aimed at strengthening the accuracy and efficiency of the E-Verify system. These new initiatives include a new agreement with the Department of Justice that proposes to streamline adjudication in E-Verify misuse and discrimination cases. Additionally, a new telephone hotline has been created to better provide customer service to employees seeking information about E-Verify. Finally, new training videos have been developed that will focus on E-Verify, including employee rights and employer responsibilities. These videos will be in both English and Spanish.

“E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that helps employers across the country maintain a legal workforce,” said Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “The initiatives announced today will provide essential information to workers about their rights and ensure that E-Verify is used fairly while bolstering the Department’s efforts to protect critical employment opportunities.”

The new educational training videos are available online at either http://www.dhs.gov/e-verify or http://www.youtube.com/ushomelandsecurity. The new hotline number, which will be active starting April 5, 2010, is (888) 897-7781.

Utah and Virginia Pass E-Verify Laws

Two new states have just passed laws requiring employers to participate in the federal government’s E-Verify program. Both Utah and Virginia recently passed laws that would mandate employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility status of all new hires starting in 2010.

The Utah law, the Private Employer Verification Act, will require all private employers who employ 15 or more employees as of July 1, 2010 to register with and use E-Verify to verify the employment eligibility status of their new hires, in accordance with the requirements of the federal verification system. The law does not, however, apply to private employers of foreign nationals, in cases where the foreign national holds an H-2A or H-2B visa.

The Virginia law, the E-Verify Program (HB 737), requires only state agencies to enroll in and use the E-Verify program to verify the employment eligibility status of their new hires by December 1, 2012. This bill, in its original form, would have required all public contractors, local municipalities and private companies with 15 or more employees to additionally register with and use the E-Verify program; those measures were removed from the bill via amendments introduced in the State Senate. The State Senate additionally shifted the implementation date from December 1, 2010 to December 1, 2012.

USCIS Reminds Chilean Nationals of Certain Available Immigration Benefits

USCIS recently posted a reminder of U.S. immigration benefits available to certain eligible Chilean nationals. In the notice, USCIS comments that they understand the effects that a natural catastrophe can have on a person’s ability to establish lawful immigration status in the U.S. and that there are certain temporary relief measures available to Chilean nationals. These relief measures include:

Granting an application for change or extension of nonimmigrant status on behalf of a Chilean national who currently resides in the U.S., even when the request for change or extension of status was made after the person’s authorized period of admission expired.

Re-paroling individuals granted parole by USCIS.

Extending certain grants of advance parole and the expedited processing of requests for advance parole.

The expedited adjudication and approval of requests for off-campus employment authorization for certain Chilean F-1 students in cases of severe economic hardship.

The expedited processing of immigrant petitions for immediate Chilean relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

The expedited issuance of employment authorization for certain Chilean nationals.

The provision of assistance to lawful permanent residents that are stranded overseas without necessary documents.

USCIS Will Accept FY 2011 H-1B Petitions on April 1, 2010

Earlier this week, USCIS announced that it will start accepting H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2011 on April 1, 2010. The fiscal year cap for FY 2011 is 65,000. There will be an additional 20,000 H-1B petitions available for employers filing on behalf of persons who earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher; such persons will be exempt from the FY 2011 H-1B annual cap.

As they have done in previous years, USCIS will monitor closely the number of petitions they received and will notify the public of the date on which they have received the necessary number of petitions to meet this annual cap. If they receive more than this necessary number of petitions, USCIS will randomly select the number required to reach the annual cap limit from all petitions received on the final receipt date. In such a case, all cap-subject petitions not selected will be rejected, as will all petitions received after the final receipt date.

Please note that USCIS considers the acceptance date for petitions to be the date they receive a properly filed petition with the correct fee and not the date that the petition was postmarked.

Final Rule Regarding H-1C Visa Program Published in Federal Register

The Employment and Training Administration and the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor today published a Final Rule that will implement the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Reauthorization Act of 2005. This Act reauthorized the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act of 1999 and has now finalized the rules in this act for enforcement.

The two acts stated above allow certain health care facilities to file attestation applications to employ alien workers as registered nurses under the H-1C Visa program in areas in which there are shortages of nurses. Additionally, the acts authorize the Department of Labor to review, approve and enforce these applications. This final rule will take effect on April 5, 2010.