USCIS is moving closer to being a fully electronic organization, according to Alejandro Mayorkas, USCIS director. Last week, Mayorkas announced that he wishes to transform the agency into a more streamlined paperless service.
“We are a paper-based agency, what that means is that all of our records are really kept in paper form and that is not very efficient. It has implications of operations, cost efficiency and accuracy,” Mayorkas said.
As part of this continued transformation, USCIS is currently converting Form I-539, the Extension of Change of Status into an electronic version and giving applicants the ability to create online accounts to manage their immigration status.
According to Mayorkas, the agency is current undergoing a ‘transformation,’ an effort to fully modernize USCIS. USCIS has a multi-year effort underway to move to a fully electronic environment in which all records are maintained in electronic form. Mayorkas noted that such a transformation would enable better access to services for applicants and lead to major cost savings for the agency.
The U.S. Army and Navy are now offering recruits a way to start the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship during basic training. This new feature involves changing the military’s no-visitors policy during boot camp, so that federal immigration officials can assist recruits in obtaining citizenship. The military notes that only legal immigrants can apply for citizenship via this route, and they must complete five years of honorable service as part of the process.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, then President George W. Bush signed an executive order that would allow for a speeding up of the citizenship process for military recruits. Prior to this change in process, members of the military were required to serve one year of honorable service prior to being able to apply for citizenship.
In a special hearing held by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) called for reform of the H-1B Visa program. “There seems little doubt that federal policies and regulations have played a large role in hampering growth,” said Issa, who referred specifically to the H-1B Visa Cap in his speech.
“Five years ago, Bill Gates and many others warned of the negative impact of strict caps on H-1B visas for technology workers on U.S. technology companies, with a commensurate positive effect on the high-tech industries in other countries, like China and India,” said Issa.
Issa isn’t the only Republican to voice support for changing H-1B regulations. Last month U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) also called for an increase in the amount of H-1B visas available per year.
Earlier this week, USCIS announced a final rule that adopted without any changes an interim rule to improve the I-9 Form process. The federal agency had received 75 public comments in response to this interim rule, which had been in effect since April 2009. All employers, agricultural recruiters and referrers who work for fees are required to verify the identity and employment authorization of each person they hire for employment in the U.S. Key changes made to the process by which eligibility is verified that were introduced in the interim rule and adopted in the final rule include prohibiting the acceptance of expired documents as proof of eligibility and the additional and modification of a number of acceptable documents of proof.
This final rule takes effect May 16, 2011. View an FAQ published by USCIS at: http://1.usa.gov/ijBf96
The first information about petitions submitted for the Fiscal Year 2012 H-1B program has just been posted by USCIS and, as expected, the amount of petitions received by the federal agency are low. As was seen last year, only a small handful of companies have submitted requests for highly skilled workers under the H-1B program. As of April 7, 2011, a total of 5,900 petitions have been received for the regular cap program and 4,500 petitions have been received for the H-1B Master’s Exemption category.
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.
Earlier this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted a new policy that may lead to additional deportations to Haiti. Just after the January 2010 earthquake that gravely affected Haiti, ICE halted all deportations to Haiti out of concern for people that would have been deported. In late January, however, ICE shifted its policy and deported 27 people to Haiti. One of those people died within days of arriving in Haiti, potentially of cholera, and another became very sick soon after arriving.
Many immigration and human rights organizations have voiced their concerns with ICE’s reversal of policy and are asking that the federal agency return to a halt of deportations.
“One year after the earthquake, Haiti remains in ruins and is now confronting a cholera epidemic. Our government is sending people back to horrific circumstances, possibly even death,” said David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association. “AILA urges the Obama Administration to immediately suspend deportations while life-threatening conditions in Haiti persist.”
On April 1, 2011, all USCIS Change of Address and Alien’s Change of Address forms (Forms AR-11 and AR-11 SR) changed filing locations. The new address to file these forms is as follows:
U.S Department of Homeland Security
Citizenship and Immigration Services
Attn: Change of Address
1344 Pleasants Drive
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
USCIS notes that any change of address forms mailed to the old location will be forwarded to the new Harrisonburg address until May 16. The option of notifying USCIS of a change of address online is also available at uscis.gov, but only for Form AR-11.
Last week, a number of high-tech companies were given the opportunity to speak to Congress about the H-1B visa program. In the meeting, representatives from various companies spoke about the importance of the H-1B program to technological companies in the U.S. and a few additionally made the case for easing the process to obtain green cards as opposed to changing H-1B regulations.
“These two groups don’t agree on everything…. They see the IT benefit of permanent residents as key,” said former Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-CT), who testified on behalf of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The American Council on International Personnel also shared its perspective in a statement that said: “American employers need an immigration system that includes both temporary and permanent visas as well as a timely, consistent and predictable process.”