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Task Force on New Americans Connects in Michigan

May 31st, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Task Force in MIWith a strong history of taking in immigrants and refugees, the city of Dearborn, Michigan was the location for the seventh Regional Convening for the Task Force on New Americans, which is an effort designed to promote immigrant and refugee citizenship and integration developed by President Obama in 2014. The New Americans task force convening, which occurred in late May, brought together more than 70 community members and leaders from across the state to share information about local efforts with government officials and agencies.

Michigan’s overall populations numbers around 10 million residents. Among these people, around 6 percent residents are foreign-born. Of the approximately 600,000 foreign-born residents in the state, around 130,000 are classified as lawful permanent residents who might be eligible to gain citizenship.

“Ensuring that community members are aware of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship as well as the opportunities that it affords is a key part of our Task Force’s efforts,” according to a WhiteHouse.gov blog post authored by Cecilia Muñoz.

After Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly kicked off the event with welcoming statements and outlined the city’s immigrant and refugee history, White House officials offered a presentation of President Obama’s Stand Stronger public service announcement, which encourages the estimated 8.8 million lawful permanent residents in the country to take their next steps toward naturalized citizenship.

The event then offered the panel “Strengthening Integration and Building Welcoming Communities Across Michigan.” Panelists for the discussion, which focused on local efforts across the state to improve integration efforts, included representatives from the Michigan Office of New Americans, Macomb County, the City of Detroit, Global Detroit and the National Network for Arab American Communities. In addition to their discussion on integration efforts, the panelists also specifically addressed “concerns about harassment and abuse of Arabs and Muslims.”

Specific breakout sessions included discussion on several key integration efforts, including workforce training, worker rights, entrepreneurship, and the strengthening of pathways to naturalization.

For her part, author Muñoz, a Michigan native, writes, “I was particularly gratified to attend this special convening and connect with community members who are doing excellent work in a sometimes challenging climate.”

Federal Courts Face Onslaught of Immigration Cases

May 25th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

NM experiencing Illegal Reentry Cases RiseAs a direct result of policies resulting in felony charges for illegal re-entry immigrants, the federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexico has seen a massive increase in the number of cases on the docket over the last five years. In large part, the increase is due to policies of stricter enforcement measures as a means of dissuading further re-entry violations.

According to reported numbers of U.S. court statistics, the 2011 case load for the New Mexico courts weighed in at 2,078. By 2015, the number of cases for the state’s federal courts ballooned to 3,749. The figures translate into an 80 percent jump in illegal reentry cases in New Mexico, according to reported numbers from nonpartisan research organization Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Legal professionals say the rise in border apprehensions is at least partially behind the caseload increase. Additionally, the law allows U.S. attorneys to prosecute nearly all illegal re-entries as felonies, an element of a “fast-track” program, according to The Las Cruces Sun-News.

Prosecuting illegal reentry as a felony is intended to provide a means of doling out stricter and stricter penalties for repeat violators. Somewhat ironically, reports the Las Cruces publication, defendants in the cases tend to receive “time-served” sentences when criminal or drug charges aren’t involved.

“If the person comes back after receiving that felony, that ratchets up the potential for jail time or incarcerations,” says U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Damon Martinez says. “And each time they come back, the consequences gets worse. That is the deterrent effect of having that felony in place.”

At the same time, border districts in Texas and Arizona are likely to charge illegal re-entry immigrants with misdemeanors, which carry jail sentences of four to six months.

The inconsistency of the courts is only muddling an already-mired process. Judge William “Chip” Johnson, who serves in the Albuquerque court, is one official calling for uniform sentencing guidelines.

“I think we should have a uniform policy across the border,” Judge Johnson told Las Cruces Sun-News. In his nearly 15 years of serving as a federal district judge, he says, “each district has done it differently.”

High-Demand H-2B Visas Hit FY2016 Cap

May 23rd, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Cap reached for H-2B visas 2016U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is no longer accepting petition submissions for high-demand H-2B visas for fiscal year (FY) 2016 as the agency has received enough of the petitions to fill the congressionally mandated cap. The end of USCIS acceptance of submissions applies to those petitions for workers with a planned start date before Oct. 1, 2016, but it doesn’t apply to certain petitions that are deemed exempt from the cap.

On May 12, USCIS announced in a release it had received enough submissions to reach the congressionally-mandated cap for the visas, which enable unskilled laborers to work in the United States. The visas are awarded to temporary or seasonal workers.

Some H-2B visa petitions for FY 2016 are exempt from the cap, however. These include:

  • Those classified as “returning workers” who were previously counted against the H-2B visa cap during FYs 2013, 2014 or 2015
  • Those current H-2B workers already in the U.S. and petitioning for an extended stay or those looking to change their terms of employment or their employer
  • Those who work as fish roe processors, fish roe technicians or supervisors of fish roe processing

USCIS also exempts those working in the Commonwealth or Northern Mariana Islands or Guam from Nov. 28, 2009 until Dec. 31, 2019.

For H-2B visa returning worker requests, USCIS reminds petitioners to include the H-2B Returning Worker Certification as part of their submission in order to avoid delays. USCIS also encourages petitioners to write “H-2B Returning Workers” prominently on the envelope or cover page.

The Congressionally-mandated H-2B visa cap is set at the beginning of every fiscal year, which begins October 1. The visas provide a nonimmigrant classification to workers entering the United States.

H-2B visas typically run in high demand as U.S. business owners use the program to fill a high volume of unskilled jobs on a temporary or seasonal basis. Employers who are interested in hiring H-2B visa workers must show the U.S. Department of Labor that it has conducted recruitment efforts and that no U.S. workers are available to fill the role.

USCIS will begin accepting H-2B visa petitions for FY 2017 beginning on Oct. 1.

USCIS Extends TPS for Honduras, Nicaragua

May 18th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

TPS extended for Nicaragua and HondurasU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of the countries of both Honduras and Nicaragua. The extended TPS status, which applies to both nationals and those without nationality who last habitually resided in either of the countries, is effective from July 6, 2016 through Jan. 5, 2018.

USCIS gives current TPS beneficiaries who would like to extend their TPS status a 60-day re-registration period, which runs from May 16, 2016 through July 15, 2016. With each, USCIS encourages beneficiaries to re-register for the extended TPS status as soon as possible.

USCIS announced the extensions of TPS status for Honduran nationals and Nicaraguan nationals in separate press releases, both of which were issued on May 16.

In each case, extended TPS registration allows beneficiaries to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Applicants who request a new EAD will receive one that carries an expiration date of Jan. 5, 2018. And because some of those who re-register may not recieve their new EAD until after current work permits expire, USCIS is automatically extending EADs carrying a July 5, 2016 expiration by six months. Existing EADs are now valid through Jan. 5, 2017.

Current TPS beneficiaries who would like to re-register must submit:

  • Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status (no fee is charged for re-registrants)
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (regardless of whether an EAD is wanted)
  • Biometric services fee (or fee waiver request) for those registrants who are 14-year-old or older

The Form I-765 EAD fee (or fee waiver request is only required in cases where an EAD is wanted. No fee is required in cases where an EAD isn’t wanted.

Notably, while USCIS is in a transition to process TPS Nicaragua application electronically, applicants must still complete paper forms and submit them by mail. When USCIS offices receive the documents, agency workers will scan them into computer systems for processing.  Nicaraguan nationals who properly file extension submissions will receive a USCIS Account Acceptance Notice in the mail, which will include instructions for creating an online USCIS account.

With an online account, applicants can check case status, receive notifications and case updates, respond to requests for evidence and also manage contact information online. USCIS will also receive case notifications through the U.S. Post Office.

H-2 A Petitions Get E-Approval

May 16th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

H-2A E-ApprovalGovernment processing of forms for temporary agricultural workers got a lot faster in early May as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) have launched e-approval for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, for the H-2A classification, which is used for temporary agricultural workers. The procedural change means USCIS will now send H-2A petition approval information to DOS by the end of the next business day.

E-approval replaces a Form I-797 approval notice and also allows consular posts to proceed with processing an H-2A nonimmigrant visa application and also proceed with conducting any required interview.

In adopting the new e-approval process, USCIS and DOS have a number of goals in mind. In its May 9 release on the new process, states goals include:

  • A reduction in possible delays for U.S. employers looking to employ H-2A agricultural workers
  • A reduction in the amount of paperwork routed between USCIS and DOS
  • A replacement of the current paper-based USCIS / DOS notification process with the updated electronic process to make the overall visa process more efficient for customers
  • A provision of greater efficiency and greater consistency in the transmission of information to DOS consular posts.

The new e-approval process, which doesn’t include charging additional fees for employers, still includes USCIS’ current practice of updating My Case Status online upon approving a case and mailing approval notices to petitioners.

Also coinciding with the launch of the new e-approval process, USCIS also announced it will begin using pre-paid mailers that are provided by petitioners in sending out receipt notices to H-2A temporary agricultural workers, which is a change from standard processing at USCIS service centers. Previously the service centers only used pre-paid mailers only for final decision notices.

With the pre-paid mailer change, petitioners can now submit of the mailers as a means of expediting the receipt notice and the final decision notice. With the pre-paid mailer processing change, H-2A temporary agricultural worker petitioners still hold the same requirements for their use with other forms and classifications.

Currently, pre-paid mailers provided by H-2A petitioners are primarily used to send receipt notices. USCIS send the final decision notice in a pre-paid mailer only if the H-2A petitioner has provided a second pre-paid mailer.

USCIS to Implement Discretionary Parole Grants for Some

May 11th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Veteran Families of WW2 to receive paroleIn an effort to honor World War II Filipino national veterans, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin allowing certain family members to come to the U.S. through a discretionary grant of parole while awaiting their immigrant visas. The parole policy, set to begin June 8, could affect an estimated 2,000 to 6,000 Filipino-American WWII veteran who are currently living in the United States.

The policy, announced in the Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century report issued in July 2015, is intended to enable many eligible individuals to provide support and care to their aging veteran family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

“The Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program honors the thousands of Filipinos who bravely enlisted to fight for the United States during World War II,” USCIS Director León Rodríguez said in a USCIS release. “This policy will allow certain Filipino-American family members awaiting immigrant-visa issuance to come to the United States and be with their loved ones. For many, it will also allow them to provide support and care for elderly veterans or their surviving spouses.”

The policy allows certain family members of Filipino WWII veterans might be eligible for discretionary grant of parole to come to the United States before their visa becomes available. The policy also allows for certain eligible relatives to request parole on their own behalf in cases where the Filipino WWII veteran and the veteran’s spouse are both deceased.

With the policy, USCIS officials will review each case on an individual basis to determine the appropriateness of parole authorization. When Filipino nationals arrive in a U.S. port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will review each case to make a final determination as to whether to parole the individual.

Interested parties in the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program can find additional guidance, information and learn more about the application process and where to file in Form I-131 instructions and the Federal Register notice published May 10.

USCIS won’t begin a review of applications until June 8, 2016. The agency encourages those interested in requesting parole to do so within within five years of the June 8 date.

USCIS Celebrates Public Service Recognition Week

May 9th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Employees immigrants USCISAs employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) continuously strive to improve their outreach to people from around the world who seek a better life, it comes as no surprise that personal stories of immigration are at the heart of the dedication for some of the dedicated workers. In a series of blog posts published on The Beacon in early May, USCIS tells the story of some USCIS employees in the agency’s celebration of Public Service Recognition Week.

The series, authored by writer Ben Rubenstein, relays the stories of four USCIS employees, each with a unique background that gives compassion and caring to the customers they now serve as agency employees. While these employees largely have years of separation between their former lives and the reality of their worlds today, the personal history of these everyday heroes fuels the passion each brings to their job.

Thirty-eight-year-old Slava Madorsky, for instance, is a USCIS Refugee officer who’s traveled the world interviewing applicants to determine their eligibility for refugee status due to prosecution or fear of prosecution. Officer Madorsky, who now trains officers for refugee interviewing, herself was born to Jewish parents in St. Petersburg– Leningrad during the Soviet era– in Russia. At age 11, Madorsky and her parents were granted refugee status in the United States.

“Coming from the Soviet Union, I was not used to people treating me well. One of my favorite things about the U.S. is how friendly people are,” she told The Beacon.

For native Texan Maribel (Mary) Gonzalez, a career at the USCIS is something she fell into almost by accident. Considering that Gonzalez spent six years in the U.S. Army before joining USCIS, answering the call to serve seems to be a part of her general nature.

“I fell into this career by chance and it has been a blessing,” she said.

Another particularly noteworthy profile in the series is the story of Thor Vue. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand after the Vietnam War, the 39-year-old Vue is a U.S. Navy veteran and has earned a law degree from the University of California. He’s now a senior procurement analyst at the USCIS Office of Contracting in Williston, Vermont with a passion for volunteering in his community. As a volunteer, Vue volunteers as a board member for affordable housing, working directly with county supervisors and the county planning commission.

“I’m very sympathetic to affordable housing,” Vue told The Beacon. “That’s the environment I grew up in.”

USCIS Wins Accolades

May 4th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

USCIS Wins AccoladesU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is winning awards and gaining recognition for technological innovation that’s designed to improve immigration processes.  Winning an Igniting Innovation award and in the running to win a 2016 Service to America Medal, the agency is gaining recognition for its work in the development of user-friendly tools.

In late April, a panel of government and industry judges recognized USCIS as the overall winner for its work in the development of myUSCIS. Available in both English and Spanish myUSCIS helps users navigate the immigration process. Launched in December 2014, myUSCIS provides up-to-date information about immigration benefits, available resources for citizenship preparation classes, medical doctors across the country and the preparation tools for naturalization like the civics practice test.

The Partnership for Public Service has also recognized improvements at USCIS. Specifically, the agency’s associate director for Customer Service and Public Engagement, Mariela Melero, is a finalist for the 2016 Service to America Medals honoring excellence among federal employees. In the running for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, Melero was nominated for her work leading a team whose objective is to make finding immigration information quicker and easier. Her team has developed online and telephone services that are among the most customer-friendly in the federal government.

Melero and her team are behind the myUSCIS suite of online tools as well as the development of Emma, a virtual assistant that helps nearly 5,000 different users a day find answers to their questions in plain English. The team plans to release a Spanish version of the tool in the near future.

“The difference Mariela and her team have made for our customers by providing accessible customer-focused tools can’t be overstated,” said USCIS Director León Rodríguez in a release. “Her selection as a finalist for this award reflects the hard work Mariela does every day for our agency and our customers. I am extremely proud of her for this well-deserved recognition.”

For Melero, herself an immigrant, the work seems to be a way of giving back. “I came to this country with my parents as a refugee,” Melero said in the release. “It is both an honor and a privilege to be able to help others navigate our immigration system.”

Glimpsing International Student Numbers

May 2nd, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

International Students are Majority AsianWhile fewers schools in the United States are certified to host international students in 2016 than there were a year ago, the number of international students in the U.S. has increased over last year, according to a recent report put out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

According to March 2016 numbers, nearly 1.2 million international students hold visas with F (academic) or M (vocational) status. The number is up by 6.2 percent over numbers from March 2015. At the same time, 8,687 schools in the United States were certified to enroll international students as of March 2016, which is a decrease of 3 percent from a year earlier.

The report, prepared by officials with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), explores international student trends based on information provided by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is a Web-based system that tracks information about international students, exchange visitors and their dependents while studying in the United States. An ICE release highlights significant findings from its “SEVIS by the Numbers” report.

Nearly 479,000 of the international students– around 40 percent– are enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) coursework. Of these, approximately 417,000 students hail from an Asian country, representing an increase of 17 percent over the same time a year ago.

According to the report, 75 percent of M-status students are male. Of the top 10 countries of origin that make up the M-status students, only Canadian students had a majority female representation at 51 percent. Male students from China represent 23 percent of the total M-status student population. Within the M-status population, 64 percent of students were majoring in transportation and materials moving, specifically air, ground and marine transportation.

Top countries represented among the international student population include: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil and Mexico. The majority of international students– 77 percent– hail from an Asian country.

Of the U.S. schools attracting an international student population, New York University, the University of Southern California, Northeastern University, Columbia University and the University of Illinois make up the top five.

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.

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