Obama Administration Suggests Closing of Deportation Procedures for 1,600 Immigrants

In one of its first major public displays of changes in how immigration policies are enforced in the U.S., the Obama administration is recommending the closure of 1,600 deportation cases. In mid-January, the president’s administration recommended that deportation proceedings for 1,600 undocumented immigrants in Denver and Baltimore who are not considered a national security or public threat be closed. The administration made these recommendations after a “deep dive” review of nearly 12,000 pending deportation cases in the two cities.

While preliminary data from this review have not yet been published, a Homeland Security official has stated that the recommendation to close these cases is contingent on these immigrants being cleared through one more extensive background check.

The review of the cases in Denver and Baltimore are part of a major new initiative to review 300,000 pending deportation cases.

Department of State Launches New Online Passport Card Application Pilot Program

The Department of State’s Office of Passport Services has launched a new, 90-day pilot program that will allow adult U.S. citizens who live in the U.S. or Canada to apply for their passport card online. These citizens will not be required to mail in their current passport book, nor will they need to submit required forms. This new process will minimize the cost and time associated with applying for a passport card.

The pilot program, which launched on January 24, 2012, is available for use by U.S. citizens who currently hold a valid 10-year U.S. passport book. Applicants apply through the online program, in which they must upload a digital photograph and make an online payment (using the federal online payment program, Pay.gov). Applications posted through this new pilot program will still face the same review as paper-submitted and in-person applications.

The passport card was first introduced in 2008 as a response to new requirements included in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. In the past four years, over 4.5 million passport cards have been issued. A U.S. passport card costs $30 for people who currently have a passport book. It can be used to travel by land and sea to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, but cannot be used for international air travel.

Visit travel.state.gov to apply for a passport card online.

Countries Whose Nationals May Participate in H-2A and H-2B Visa Programs Identified

USCIS has identified the countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B nonimmigrant visa programs. Each year the Department of Homeland Security, in collaboration with the Department of State, designates in the Federal Register the countries listed as approved for participation in the programs. This year, a total of 58 countries were identified. New countries on this year’s list include Haiti, Iceland, Montenegro, Spain and Switzerland.

This notice is effective January 18, 2012. The full list of approved countries for 2012 is listed below:

Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
The Netherlands
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands
South Africa
South Korea
United Kingdom

Departments of State and Homeland Security Collaborate on New Visa Pilot Program

President Obama announced on January 19, 2012, that the Departments of State and Homeland Security are currently collaborating to improve and accelerate the visa process for certain types of travelers. Since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has added a number of detailed screening measures and checks that apply to every visa applicant. A new initiative will allow qualified foreign national visitors who have previously been interviewed and “thoroughly screened” in relation to a prior visa application to renew their visas without having to take part in another screening interview.

By eliminating this additional interview, the Departments of State and Homeland Security will save time and money for the applicant, as well as help support the foreign national’s choice of the U.S. as their next tourism destination. In addition, it will free up the Departments’ resources to interview more first-time visitors. This pilot program will apply to certain low-risk applicants, such as those renewing expired visas. High-risk applicants will still be required to take part in a screening interview.

Visa Requests from China and Brazil Increase in FY 2012

The Department of State (DOS) announces that visa processing from Brazil and China has increased by more than 50 percent in the first quarter of FY 2012, as compared to the same time period in FY 2011. At the same time, DOS notes, wait times for visa interviews have decreased in both countries. Wait times for interviews in China are down to just two days at any of the Department’s five visa processing posts. In Brazil, wait times are down to 15 days in Rio de Janeiro and 6 days in Brasilia.

In order to meet growing demands for visas in China and Brazil, the Department is deploying additional personnel and expanding visa sections in those areas. In China, officers adjudicated over 250,000 visas in the first quarter of FY 2012. In Brazil, nearly 280,000 visas were adjudicated in that same time period. Every 65 additional international visitors to the U.S. supports one travel and tourism-related job; an increase in visitors from these two nations translates directly into an improved economic outlook for that industry.

USCIS Changes Filing Locations for Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative

USCIS has changed the filing location for Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative. As of January 1, 2012, domestic petitioners should mail their stand-alone I-30 applications to either the Chicago or Phoenix Lockbox, depending on where they reside. This change will enable USCIS to balance workloads between the two lockbox locations and more effectively process I-130 forms.

USCIS notes that there will be no change in filing locations for petitioners submitting Form I-130 along with Form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Petitioners submitting these two forms together should continue to mail them to the Chicago Lockbox. Petitioners residing in a country with a USCIS office may either mail their I-130 forms to the Chicago Lockbox facility or may file their forms at the USCIS office with jurisdiction over the area where they live.

Phoenix Lockbox

USPS deliveries
ATTN: I-130
PO Box 21700
Phoenix, AZ 85036

Express and courier deliveries
Attn: I-130
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Chicago Lockbox

USPS deliveries
P.O. Box 804625
Chicago, IL 60680-4107

Express and courier deliveries
Attn: I-130
131 South Dearborn-3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

USCIS Proposes Procedural Change to Waiver of Unlawful Presence Pre-adjudication Process

USCIS has proposed an important change in their procedures regarding Form I-601, the Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. This procedural change would allow foreign nationals who have entered the U.S. without inspection to have their Forms I-601 pre-adjudicated before they leave the country in order to seek lawful entry into the U.S.

This proposed procedural change would potentially have a major impact on a large population of foreign nationals currently in the U.S. unlawfully. It would allow someone who would be entitled to a waiver under the current law to seek that waiver prior to departing the U.S.

According to USCIS, “By allowing these individuals to apply for waivers in the U.S. and making a provisional determination of waiver eligibility before the individuals must depart the country for visa processing, USCIS would provide a more predictable and transparent process and improved processing times, minimizing the separation of U.S. citizens from their families.”

USCIS Releases Update on H-2B Cap for First Half of Fiscal Year 2012

USCIS has published a new update of the amount of cap-subject H-2B visas received for the first half of Fiscal Year 2012. According to USCIS, as of December 30, 2011, the federal agency has received 17,176 petitions toward the H-2B cap amount of 33,000 for the first half of Fiscal Year 2012. This total includes 11,414 approved petitions and 5,762 pending petitions, and is an increase of just over 2,000 petitions since the last update on December 23, 2011.

The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker visa program enables U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals to fill temporary non-agricultural positions in the U.S. There is a Congressionally-mandated annual cap for how many H-2B visas can be issued each year; 66,000 per fiscal year. This total is then separated into two half-years, allowing for 33,000 visas for the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 to March 31) and 33,000 for the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 to September 30).