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Global Quakes Allow Immigration Relief

April 27th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Relief from USCIS for Quake VictimsWhen foreign nationals are affected by natural disasters– like the recent earthquakes in Ecuador, Burma and Japan– U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers immigration relief. When areas around the globe are hit with severe challenges, USCIS prioritizes those in need and offers assistance on multiple levels.

USCIS offers assistance on request to those in need. The relief measures include:

  • A change or an extension of nonimmigrant status for those who are currently in the United States. This applies even if the request is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired.
  • Re-parole for those who were previously granted parole by USCIS.
  • Advance parole documents are prioritized with expedited processing.
  • F-1 students who are experiencing severe economic hardship receive expedited adjudication of requests for off-campus employment authorization.
  • In appropriate situations, USCIS expedites adjudication of employment authorization applications.
  • Fee waiver consideration for those who are unable to pay form submission costs.
  • Those who’ve received a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny but were unable to appear for an interview to present the evidence or to respond in a timely manner because of the natural disaster get USCIS assistance.
  • Those who need to replace immigration or travel documents issued by USCIS– such as a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)– can apply for replacement documents issued by USCIS.

In order to gain assistance, USCIS still requires those affected by disasters to file the forms that are regularly required for any particular relief or benefit that’s needed. Information on the forms should include an explanation of how the natural disaster created the applicant’s need for relief.

Portoviejo, Ecuador experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 on April 16.

On April 16, Japan’s Kyushu region experienced twin earthquakes. The first, now considered a foreshock, held a 6.2 magnitude. A quake measuring at a magnitude of 6.0 shook the region about three hours later.

The Burma earthquake struck on March 24, 2011 with a 6.9 magnitude.

USCIS offers information on the process for requesting relief measures from the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 (TDD for the deaf and hard of hearing: 800-767-1833).

More information is also available at  uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations.

H-1B Premium Processing Begins Soon

April 25th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

USCIS To Begin Processing H1-B PremiumU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is set to begin premium processing of H-1B petitions that are subject to the congressional cap of 65,000 for fiscal year 2017 on May 12. USCIS petition processing includes those seeking exemptions for individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher.

In its announcement about the premium processing, the citizenship and immigration agency explained it provides premium processing of the petitions for some employment-based petitions. For these, USCIS guarantees a processing time of 15 calendar days.

H-1B petitions that aren’t subject to the cap and petitions for any other visa classification go to a 15-day processing period for the premium processing service that begins on the date the request is received by USCIS offices. However, in cases where H-1B visa petitions are subject to the cap, including cap-exempt petitions where petitioners hold an advanced degree, the 15-day processing period begins on May 12. The begin date is firm and is independent of the date on the Form I-797 receipt notice, which shows premium processing fee payment.

In a March 16 release, USCIS announced the intention to temporarily adjust the premium processing practice. The adjustment is “due to the historic premium processing receipt levels, combined with the possibility that the H-1B cap will be met in the first 5 business days of the filing season,” according to the release.

In the two weeks after the resumption of premium processing for the H-1B cap-subject petitions, USCIS won’t use pre-paid mailers in sending out final premium processing notices and use regular mail instead, according to an April 20 release.

“USCIS will be doing this due to resource limitations as we work to process all premium processing petitions in a timely manner,” according to a  After the two week period, we will resume sending out final notices in the pre-paid mailers provided by petitioners.

USCIS encourages H-1B applicants to stay up to date on the topic by subscribing to the H-1B Cap Season e-mail updates, available on the H-1B FY2017 Cap Season Web page.

USCIS received more than 236,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which concluded in less than 10 days.

Citizenship and Integration Grants Deadline Nears

April 19th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Citizenship Grant USCISThe opportunity for organizations focused around immigration efforts to apply for grant funds from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) closes April 22. The two types of grants, valued at $10 million in total, are geared specifically toward immigrant assimilation and naturalization instruction.

The Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, administered by USCIS, is designed to assist those organizations that “prepare permanent residents for naturalization and promote civic integration through increased knowledge of English, U.S. history and civics,” according to the agency. The competitive funding opportunity is available to public and nonprofit organizations offering both citizenship instruction and naturalization application services.

Applicants, which could include entities like public school systems, universities and community colleges as well as civic, community and faith-based organizations and other similar organizations, are traditional types of institutions offering immigration services eligible for grant funding. State and local governments are also eligible to apply for support of any programs offered.

Specific services grant recipient organizations offer include preparation for the naturalization interview as well as assistance in filing form or documents like Form N-648 or Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions.

The first grant, Citizenship Instruction and Naturalization Application Services -DHS-16-CIS-010-002, is for those public or nonprofit organizations that work to prepare permanent residents for citizenship with both citizenship instruction and naturalization application services.

The second grant, Citizenship Instruction - DHS-16-CIS-010-001, is limited to those organizations offering citizenship instruction only. The grant is designed to assist nonprofit organizations in efforts in establishing new citizenship instruction programs or to expand the quality and reach of existing ones.

Among the services organizations might provide to immigrants is interview preparation, which could include things like appearance at the naturalization interview. Assistance in filing forms or documents like Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions could be another element of service provided by an organization.

Application packages for Notices of Funding Opportunity can be downloaded at www.grants.gov/web/grants/search-grants.html. More information about the grant program and how to apply is also visit uscis.gov/grants or through email at citizenshipgrantprogram@uscis.dhs.gov.

USCIS Revises Naturalization Application Form

April 18th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Revision of N-400Implementing public comments to improve the application for naturalization required for full U.S. citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has published a new edition of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The changes in the new edition of the form is intended to streamline the paperwork process for customers and to also implement language improvements in instructions around documentation evidence requirement instruction, among other changes.

USCIS introduced its new version of the form on April 13, announcing the revision in a press release. While the new edition is available at uscis.gov/n-400, USCIS is still accepting the previous version of the form– the one published on Sept. 13, 2013– until Aug. 9, 2016  Beginning on Aug. 10, 2016, the agency will process new edition applications exclusively. USCIS will reject and return applications on previous versions of Form N-400.

In the release on the new edition of the form, USCIS describes three specific change:

  • Barcode removed. The new version of the form doesn’t include the 2D barcode technology encoded on the earlier version.
  • Application streamlining. Customers can now fill out those parts of the application that apply only to them. “For example, we added language on page one about your parents’ citizenship,” according to the press release. “Your answers will determine whether you complete Part 6, or continue directly to Part 7.”
  • Identified evidence. The agency has improved language in the form instruction “to help you identify what evidence you need to submit with your form and bring to your interview.”

USCIS posted the original draft of the latest Form N-400 revision on April 9 of last year when it was subjected to a 60-day public comment period. On Sept. 30, the form began a 30-day comment period, which USCIS describes as “numerous.”  

While the application for naturalization form has changed, citizenship eligibility requirements remain the same. USCIS offers information on how to complete the form and also eligibility requirements uscis.gov/n-400. Additional information is available through the agency’s Guide to Naturalization.

FY 2017 H-1B Process Moves Ahead

April 13th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

H1-B Process Moving AheadU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initiated a computer-generated random selection process– a lottery– to meet the caps for fiscal year (FY) 2017. In sum, USCIS received more than 236,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which concluded in under 10 days.

As expected, USCIS acceptance of the petitions was short-lived. The agency began acceptance of the petitions on April 1. Through an April 7 press release, the agency announced it had received a large enough pool of applicants– nearly one-quarter million– to reach the statutory 65,000 visas for FY 2017. The additional 20,000 H-1B advanced degree exemption had also been met in the onslaught of petitions.

USCIS began the random selection process on April 9 when it conducted the selection process for the advanced degree exemptions first. Once officials had their pool of 20,000 in this category, all remaining advanced degree petitions became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 cap category.

USCIS rejects and returns all unselected petitions along with filing fees. The exception to this is when the petition is found to be a duplicate filing.

USCIS will begin premium processing for the H-1B caps no later than May 16.

USCIS also continues to accept and process otherwise exempt petitions. The agency also notes those H-1B visa workers previously against the cap aren’t counted towards the congressionally mandated FY 2017 H-1B cap.

USCIS continues to accept and process petitions for such things as extensions to remain in the United States for current H-1B workers or for a change in terms of employment. Petitions are also still accepted for current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

H-1B visas are awarded to foreign workers in specialty occupations and require an established employer / employee relationship. H-1B visa petitioners must hold at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent for a position related to the field of study– usually science, technology, engineer or mathematics (STEM)– where a degree requirement is the norm.

USCIS provides more detailed information about the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program and current Form I-129 processing times, on the H-1B FY 2017 Cap Season Web page. Additional information is available from the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 or 800-767-1833 (TDD for the hearing impaired).

Pew Explores Political Immigration Divide

April 11th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Immigration Divided by Election Candidates

Democrats and Republicans appear to remain miles apart in their views around the impact of immigration on the United States. According to the Pew Research Center’s Campaign Exposes Fissures Over Issues, Values and How Life Has Changed in the U.S. report, Democrats are still more likely than Republicans to hold favorable views on issues surrounding immigration.

According to the report, which was published March 31, Democratic and Democratic-leading registered voters say immigrants in the country today do more to strengthen the nation than to burden it– by a 78 percent to 17 percent margin. Among respondents who self-identify as Republican or Republican-leaning, 56 percent told pollsters immigrants contribute to the country through their talents and hard work. Thirty-two percent of respondents said immigrants hurt the country by taking jobs from citizens.

The study further breaks down views on immigration based on support of the various presidential candidates. Not surprisingly, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters view immigration favorably by wide margins.  Seventy-eight percent of those identifying as Clinton supporters and 82 percent of Sanders supporters see immigrants as a foundational strength to the United States.

The field among GOP presidential candidate supporters much less surprisingly shows greater contrast. Donald Trump supporters most adamantly align with the Republican front runner’s conservative immigration stance to harden policy implementation.   Almost seven out of 10 Republican voters– 69 percent– who identify as Trump supporters say immigrants burden the country. Only 20 percent of this subset say immigrants strengthen the country.

For those who support Ted Cruz, the strength / burden question breaks down to a 51 percent to 36 percent margin. John Kasich supporters are reported as much more equitable in their views with 49 percent viewing immigration as a strength as opposed to 40 percent of supporters who see immigrants as a burden.

Pew also reports the majority of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents– 57 percent– say undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be able to remain in the country under certain conditions. Forty-one percent support deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning supporters, 88 percent say undocumented immigrants should be provided with a path to a legalized status. Eleven percent of the segment say no path to legalization should be given.

The Pew research is based on telephone interviews conducted in mid- to late-March among a national sample of 2,254 aged 18 or older. The interviews were conducted with respondents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

 

Mobilizing USCIS

April 6th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

USCIS MobilizingU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service continues its focus on customer service with the introduction of a website mobile design. The site, which was introduced at the end of February, adds access and functionality to mobile and tablet users.

According to a USCIS release on the mobile design, the introduction of the news site correlates to the rise in the popularity of highly portable devices. In the last year, around 30 percent of visitors accessed the site through a phone or tablet. Even more notably, more than half the visitors to the agency’s Spanish site used a mobile device.

Mobile site features include:

  • “Hamburger” icons for key navigational links as well as collapsible segments for easier viewing and navigation on small screens
  • Bottom-of-the-page links as opposed to left- or right-column links
  • “Stacked” table layouts for vertical scrolling as opposed to horizontal scrolling

As is intended with all mobile designs, the site focuses on allowing functionality over the confines of a small screen.

It means that it’s easier than ever to access the trusted immigration information you need,” according to the USCIS release.

The mobile design is just one leg of the agency’s tech-driven user experience improvements. Last summer, USCIS introduced Twitter Office Hours. With this, immigrant followers of @USCIS get the opportunity to receive personalized direction on immigration process questions by using #AskUSCIS. Twitter Office Hours, which USCIS still describes as a pilot program, offers assistance with filing as well as process expectations after filing.

Late last year, USCIS launched self-help assistant Emma. Emma, named after poet Emma Lazarus, whose words are inscribed on the base holding the Statue of Liberty base, is designed to streamline common questions away from USCIS call centers by providing customers with available web links to information. Currently, the virtual assistant is available only in English. Early next year, USCIS plans to introduce a Spanish-language version of the service.

Where mobility is concerned, USCIS also plans continuing updates to its E-Verify mobile responsive look. Officials say changes to the site are underway as the agency incorporates suggestions based on user feedback through the E-Verify Listens community.

User feedback for potential changes are also part of the mobile design plans. “As always, we count on your feedback to help improve our site as we work to improve it more,” according to the release. “Tell us what you think in an email to uscis-feedback@uscis.dhs.gov.”

Elections Impact Civics Testing Answers

April 4th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Civics test Affected by ElectionU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reminds immigrants preparing to naturalize as U.S. citizens that the correct answers on the U.S. history and government (civics) test can change with federal and state elections. Because of this, current knowledge about elected representatives is a critical component to test preparation.

When immigrants from around the world want to become U.S. citizens, knowledge of the country’s culture and history are essential components of the process– and must be demonstrated through civics testing. But the fluid nature of elected representation means test answers can change, and that naturalization candidates must strive to maintain current knowledge around government operations.

Elections around the House of Representatives occur every two year; Senate elections occur every six years; and presidential elections happen every four years. With each election, the correct answers to questions pertaining to naming specific representatives can change.

With this in mind, USCIS directs test takers to these specifics:

  • Question 20: Who is one of your state’s U.S. senators? The full list of current senators is available at www.senate.gov.
  • Question 23: Name your U.S. representative. The full list of current U.S. House of Representatives is available at www.house.gov.
  • Question 43: Who is the governor of your state now? The full list of current governors, is available at http://www.usa.gov/Agencies/State_and_Territories.shtml
  • Question 47: What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now? The current answer is Paul Ryan, but politics could force a change on this.

The naturalization test includes 100 civics test questions. Applicants are asked up to 10 questions from a list of 100 questions in English. Six of the 10 questions must be answered correctly in order to pass the civics test.

USCIS offers a range of study materials to prepare candidates to the test. Study materials are also available in Spanish with English subtitles.

DHS Advises SEVIS Accuracy

March 30th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

SEVIS requiring accuracy from sthudentsThe Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reminds foreign-born students living in the United States for academic or vocational education to maintain up-to-date records within the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) in order to maintain status as a student. Current records means more efficient communication among all parties involved– students, their schools and officials with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP.).

The reminder, which comes in the form of a March 29 release, specifically emphasizes the importance of maintaining a correct current address. “Remember, if SEVP tries to contact you while your address is not correct in SEVIS, you will be unable to receive the message and to respond in a timely manner,” according to the release. “This could put your SEVIS record at risk for termination.”

Student who change their address or who have a different mailing address from the one on file with SEVIS are required to provide the new address their designated school officials (DSO) within 10 days of the change. The change can be made in person or by phone or e-mail.

In cases where a mailing address and a physical address are different, students should report both to their DSO. SEVIS generates correspondence to the mailing address through the U.S. postal service.

Sevis might need to contact students for reasons that include:

  • Notification of a school’s closing or revocation of SEVP certification
  • Notification of termination risk due to non-payment of the I-901 SEVIS fee or noncompliance with Form I-515A, Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor.

All SEVIS communication for the notifications are made through U.S. mail or email. SEVIS never uses a phone call in extending the notifications.

Students are also encouraged to utilize DSOs as a resource in answering questions about SEVP notices.

SEVP is part of the National Security Investigations Division. It works with government organizations interested  in information on nonimmigrant students in the United States. SEVP manages schools and nonimmigrant students in the F and M classifications on behalf of DHS.

West African Countries Win TPS Extension

March 28th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

As conditions in the West African countries of GuTPS extended for West Africainea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to present challenges in the wake of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has extended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) status to beneficiaries for an additional six months. The extension, which also applies to beneficiaries’ Employment Authorization Documents (EADs), is effective from May 22, 2016 through Nov. 21, 2016.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) originally granted TPS to the West African nationals in November 2014, according to a release from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS.) In October 2014, USCIS took steps to offer on-request relief to those who faced Ebola risk if they returned home.

“Although there have been significant improvements in the conditions in all three countries since their designations for TPS,” the March 22 USCIS release reads, “the lingering effects of the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak and continued recovery challenges support this six-month extension.”

The window for beneficiaries to extend their TPS designation runs from March 22 through May 23. TPS re-registrants can also apply for a new EAD, which will carry an expiration date of Nov. 21, 2016. “USCIS recognizes that some re-registrants may not receive their new EADs until after their current work permits expire,” explains the USCIS release. “Therefore, USCIS is automatically extending current TPS Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone EADs bearing a May 21, 2016 expiration date for six months.” These already-existing EADs are now valid through Nov. 21, 2016.

Re-registration for TPS requires current beneficiaries to submit these forms and fees:

  • Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status– no application fee is charged
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization– even if an EAD isn’t wanted
  • The Form I-765 application fee (or a fee-waiver request) for those who want an EAD; no fee is charged if the re-registrant doesn’t want an EAD
  • The biometric services fee (or a fee-waiver request) if they are age 14 or older.

Those individuals with still-pending initial TPS Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone applications don’t need to submit a new Form I-821. But if these individuals currently have a TPS-related EAD and want a new work authorization document, these items are required submissions:

  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
  • Form I-765 application fee– regardless of age
  • Form I-821 receipt notice copy of pending status

Applicants can check My Case Status Online for case status updates, or call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TDD for the deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-767-1833).

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