USCIS Updates for the Month of March 2012

Temporary Extension of Accommodation for Sheepherders

Under the H-2A Visa Program, US employers can bring in foreign nationals to fill up temporary agricultural jobs in the United States. These non-immigrant workers can stay only up to a maximum period of three years in the United States while on this job. As per this extension, H-2A sheepherders, who have reached their 3 year limit, will have to depart the country by Aug 6, 2012 and remain outside for at least 3 months before they can apply again.

Citizenship and Integration Grant Opportunity

USCIS announced a competitive grant opportunity in order to promote immigrant civic integration. It is also aimed at helping the legal permanent residents to clear the citizenship process successfully. It has allocated approximately $5 million for this FY and organizations that get selected under this will be able to make use of it, to offer both citizenship and naturalization services to the permanent residents. USCIS will receive applications till May 7, 2012 and is expected to announce the recipients (approximately 31) in September 2012.

Acceptance of H-1B Petitions for the FY 2013

USCIS began to accept the H-1B visa applications for the FY2013 from April 2, 2012 onwards. This year’s H-1B limitation is 65,000 and the first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of those who have earned a US master’s degree or higher will get an exemption from the numerical cap. The USCIS will go in for a random selection of petitions, in case it receives more than the numerical cap for the year.

TPS status for Syria

Following violent agitations in the country, the Syrian Arab Republic has been placed under Temporary Protected Status by the USCIS. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security stated that the TPS designation will be effective till September 30, 2013 and eligible Syrian nationals in the US can register within September 25, 2012. By this announcement, Syria joins the list of countries like – El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan that are currently designated for TPS.

Proposal for a Process Change for Certain Waivers of Inadmissibility

On March 30, 2012 USCIS posted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) by which the time of separation of immediate relatives of US citizens will be considerably minimized, when they are trying to obtain an immigrant visa to the United States. If the US citizen relative is able to establish the fact that staying separated will result in extreme hardships, then he or she would be permitted to apply for a provisional waiver of the unlawful presence in the United States, while being present in the country. USCIS director, Alejandro Mayorkas, elaborated that the proposed change in the law will benefit families by reducing the time of separation.

Change in the Look and Feel of Form I-797C

Starting from April 2, 2012, Form I-797C (Notice of Action) will be issued with a new look and feel. This form will be printed on plain bond paper. This initiative is expected to lead to a savings of $1.1 million to the USCIS per year. It will also have on it, a direct intimation of the fact that this form will in no way grant any immigration status or benefit, to those who receive it.