Posted On: January 26, 2012

On-Line Processing of U.S. Passport Cards

On January 24, the Department of State's Office of Passport Services implemented a 90-day pilot program allowing for on-line U.S. passport card applications. The U.S. passport card is a wallet-sized passport that serves as a lower cost alternative to a passport book as it is only $30. However, it is not valid for international air travel and is limited to land and sea travel to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The pilot program allowing for on-line passport card applications is available to adult U.S. citizens living in the United States and Canada who currently possess a valid 10 year U.S. passport book. It is intended to save applicants both time and money as applicants can now submit their application on-line by uploading a digital photo and making an on-line payment rather than having to mail in the requisite documents. To apply for the passport card using the online application, visit travel.state.gov.

Posted On: January 19, 2012

President Issues Executive Order to Improve Visitor Visa Processing

On January 19, 2012, President Obama issued an executive order establishing visitor visa processing goals and a Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness. The goal is to promote travel and tourism which will, in turn, create jobs and stimulate economic growth in the U.S. The travel and tourism industry ranks as one of our country's leading service sectors and sources of exports, but the U.S. market share in this lucrative industry has dropped from 17 percent to 11 percent over the last 10 years. The decline is a result of a combination of factors, including greater international competition, changes in global development, and stricter security measures folllwing 9/11.


The new executive order seeks to improve current visitor visa processing by implementing the following goals:


(i) increase nonimmigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent over the coming year;


(ii) ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions;

(iii) increase efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals of Visa Waiver Program participants; and

(iv) expand reciprocal recognition programs for expedited travel, such as the Global Entry program.


To view President Obama's executive order in full, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/19/executive-order-establishing-visa-and-foreign-visitor-processing-goals-a

Posted On: January 18, 2012

New List of H-2A and H-2B Participating Countries

USCIS has issued a new list designating the countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B programs. The H-2A and H-2B visa categories permit U.S. employers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to fill temporary and/or seasonal agricultural jobs (H-2A) and nonagricultural jobs (H-2B). Effective January 18, 2012, nationals from the following 58 countries are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B programs: Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nauru, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Samoa, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Tonga, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Vanuatu. Five new countries were added to the list this year, including Haiti, Iceland, Montenegro, Spain and Switzerland. The country designation is valid for one year and nationals from countries not designated on the list may still obtain an H-2A or H-2B approval if USCIS deems it to be in the interest of the U.S.

Posted On: January 8, 2012

Proposed Changes to Unlawful Presence Waivers

On January 6, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans to implement changes to the processing of unlawful presence waivers for certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. The current procedure requires those who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. to return to their home country to consular process their immigrant visas. Howerver, individuals who have been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days will trigger a 3 or 10 year bear to re-entry upon departure. Those subject to the bar can apply for unlawful presence waivers in their home country by showing that the bar would be an extreme hardship to their U.S. citizen spouse or parent, but the adjudication of such waivers can take weeks, months, or years. Under the new proposed regulations, individuals will be able to apply for the waiver of unlawful presence while remaining in the U.S. which will reduce the period of waiting and separation. If found qualified, the individual will be granted a provisional waiver and will still be required to depart the U.S. for consular processing of their immigrant visa. At the time of the consular interview, the provisional waiver will be applied and the immigrant visa will be granted assuming there are no other grounds of inadmissibility. The newly proposed procedure will only apply to immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen spouse or parent and to those who are subject to the 3 or 10 year bar for unlawful presence. Family members of lawful permanent residents or those without a qualifying relationship to a U.S. citizenship spouse or parent will not be able to benefit from the new procedure. Likewise, individuals seeking waivers for other grounds of inadmissibility will still be required to depart the U.S. in order to apply for a waiver. Please note that the new waiver process will not be made effective until DHS publishes the proposed regulations and the final rule is issued.

Posted On: January 6, 2012

Feb. 2012 Visa Bulletin Shows Huge Jump for EB-2 India and China

The new visa bulletin is out at this link: http://travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5640.html. The most significant movement can be seen in the employment-based 2nd preference category (EB-2), i.e. members of professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability, for India and China. The EB-2 category for India and China has jumped from January 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010.


The employment-based categories are as follows: EB-1 remains current for all countries; EB-2 remains current, except for India and China (Jan. 1, 2010); EB-3 is at February 22, 2006 for all countries, except for India (Aug. 15, 2002) and China (Dec. 1, 2004); EB-3 other workers is at February 22, 2006 for all countries, except India (Aug. 15, 2002), China (April 22, 2003); EB-4, religious workers, EB-5, and targeted employment areas and regional centers are all current. Family based petitions are backlogged, with the most recent date at June 8, 2009 for F2A (spouses and children under 21 of lawful permanent residents) and the longest queue for F4 Philippines (brothers and sisters of U.S. Citizens) of Nov. 1, 1988.

Posted On: January 5, 2012

Updates on Visa Processing in India

As of January 1, 2012, the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai is no longer processing Immigrant Visa petitions. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and U.S. Consulate in Mumbai will be the only consular posts in India accepting Immigrant Visa applications. Individuals who are currently in the process of applying for an Immigrant Visa at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai are advised to contact ChennaiIVU@state.gov for further details and instructions.

Please also note that visa processing in India has becoming increasingly subject to administrative delays. When applying for a visa, an applicant may encounter unforeseen and undetermined delays due to additional administrative processing. The admininstrative delays may be on account of name checks, security clearances, or review of petition information. Applicants are therefore advised to be prepared and plan accordingly for these possible adminstrative delays.

Posted On: January 4, 2012

Illegal Immigrants Contribute to Social Security

Many make the argument that illegal immigrants are a burden to the system because they don't pay taxes. However, illegal immigrants actually contribute billions of dollars annually to the Social Security Administration from the deductions taken on their paychecks. The most recent figures from Social Security show that employers in 2009 reported wages of $72.8 billion from workers who could not be matched to legal social security numbers in their system. The majority of these unmatched numbers are believed to belong to illegal immigrants. Jeannie Economos of the Farmworker Association Florida, states the following:

"When you hear people voicing anti-immigrant sentiments, one of the first things they say is, 'They don't pay any taxes, and they just take money out of the system . . . But that just isn't true. Yes, some are paid under the table, but the majority are paid by check, and they pay taxes out of those checks."

But unlike other workers who contribute to Social Security with the hopes of benefiting from it in the future, these illegal immigrants will not likely be in a position to make a claim or derive any benefit from their contributions. To see the article on this matter in full, please see http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2017113852_immigtaxes29.html.