States Enact Record Number of Immigration-Related Legislation in 2010

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), state legislatures enacted a record number of laws and resolutions related to immigration issues in 2010. A total of 46 state legislatures and the District of Columbia enacted 208 new laws and adopted 138 resolutions, reported NCSL. Ten additional bills were passed by the legislatures, but vetoed by state governors. In comparison, in 2009, only 202 laws were enacted and 131 resolutions adopted.

Interestingly, there were less bills and resolutions introduced to legislatures in 2010, as compared to 2009. In 2010, just over 1,400 bills and resolutions were introduced; in 2009, over 1,500 were introduced.

Key focuses for introduced bills and resolutions were law enforcement, identification and driver’s license-related bills, and employment-related legislation. E-Verify-related legislation was enacted in four states in 2010. While the focuses above have been seen in previous years, a new topic introduced in 2010 was child abductions; three states passed laws to help prevent these abductions.

Immigration-related legislation at the state level has been steadily rising since 2005, when only 300 bills were introduced at the state level.

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USCIS Reaches Enough Petitions for Fiscal Year 2011 H-1B Program

USCIS announced yesterday that it has received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the annual cap for Fiscal Year 2011. According to USCIS, January 26, 2011 is the final receipt day for new H-1B cap-subject visa petitions in which the requested employment start date is FY 2011.

USCIS will now apply a computer-generated random selection process to all petitions subject to the annual cap that were received on January 26. All cap-subject petitions not selected in this random process will be rejected and the fee will be returned to the petitioner.

USCIS announced in late December that it had received more than 20,000 H-1B petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption.

The federal agency will continue to accept and process petitions filed to extend the amount of time a current H-1B visa holder may remain in the U.S., change the terms of employment for a current H-1B visa holder, allow a current H-1B visa holder to change employers, and allow a current H-1B visa holder to work concurrently in a second position.

Updated H-1B and H-2B Numbers Published by USCIS

USCIS has recently updated the number of cap-subject H-1B petitions it has accepted for Fiscal Year 2011. According to USCIS, as of January 21, 2011, 62,800 regular cap-subject petitions have been accepted and 20,000 master’s exemption cap-subject petitions have been accepted. A total of 65,000 regular cap-subject H-1B visas are available for Fiscal Year 2011, leaving just over 2,000 visas still available for the fiscal year.

USCIS also posted updated numbers for the H-2B program as well. According to USCIS, as of January 21, 2011, the agency has approved 35,146 H-2B beneficiaries for the first half of Fiscal Year 2011; 1,414 beneficiaries are still pending for that half-fiscal year. 8,869 beneficiaries have been approved for the second half of Fiscal Year 2011, with 3,446 currently pending. The agency’s targeted amount of beneficiaries for each half-fiscal year is 47,000.

USCIS Announces Three New Citizenship and Immigration Integration Grant Opportunities

Earlier this week, USCIS announced the availability of three new competitive grant opportunities for organizations interested in helping lawful permanent residents prepare for citizenship and promoting immigrant integration in the United States. Approximately $8.5 million will be available for citizenship preparation programs throughout the U.S.

“For more than two centuries, our nation has been a beacon of hope and opportunity for people from around the world,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of USCIS. “These grants will assist immigrants from coast to coast on their path to U.S. citizenship.”

Two of the new grant opportunities will be to help citizenship preparation programs that provide direct assistance to lawful permanent residents in the U.S. The third opportunity will help organizations that offer citizenship services in underserved communities.

Learn more and apply for these grant opportunities at http://www.grants.gov. The deadline for applications is April 1, 2011. Award recipients will be announced in September 2011.

ICE to Increase Audits of Employers this Year

According to a recent report, the Obama administration plans to increase the amount of audits conducted of employers’ I-9 records and information. According to John Morton, chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Employment Compliance Inspection Center will conduct audits of all sizes of employers, even large employers with large amounts of employees.

In the year that ended September 30, 2010, ICE had conducted audits of over 2,700 companies. This was double the amount of audits as conducted the previous year. Seven million dollars in fines were given to companies that hired and employed ineligible aliens.

USCIS Announces List of Countries Eligible for Participation in H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs

USCIS announced last week that the Departments of Homeland Security and State have identified a total of 53 countries whose citizens may be eligible to participate in the United States’ H-2A and H-2B visa entry programs. The H-2A program enables U.S. employers to offer employment to foreign nationals for temporary agricultural positions. The H-2B program enables U.S. employers to offer employment to foreign nationals for temporary nonagricultural positions. With just a few exceptions, USCIS will approve visa petitions for people from countries designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security as eligible to participate in these two visa programs.

Effective January 18, 2011, people from the following countries may be eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visas programs:

Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Nauru, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Samoa, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Tonga, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Vanuatu. Of these countries, the following were designated for the first time this year: Barbados, Estonia, Fiji, Hungary, Kiribati, Latvia, Macedonia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Please note that Indonesia is no longer a country applicable for these two visa programs. This new list will not affect the immigration status of any individuals currently in the U.S. with valid H-2A or H-2B visas.

Latest Updates on H-1B and H-2B Visa Counts

USCIS has just released the latest numbers for the amount of petitions received for the cap-subject H-1B and H-2B visa programs. According to USCIS, as of January 7, 2011, roughly 58,700 H-1B cap-subject petitions have been receipted by the federal agency. A total of 65,000 H-1B visas are available each year, according to current federal regulations. USCIS has also receipted 20,000 H-1B petitions for foreign workers with advanced degrees, leaving no additional available visa under that exemption.

USCIS also noted that it has receipted 2,129 H-2B petitions for the first half of the fiscal year, including 1,452 approved petitions and 677 pending petitions. A total of 33,000 H-2B cap-subject visas are available for each 6-month period.