|Updated: April 26, 2016
April 26, 2016: H-1B Premium Processing; social media effects on US immigration
The USCIS has announced that on May 12 it will commence adjudicating cap-subject H-1B petitions selected in the lottery and submitted with Premium Processing.
An article in the New York Times discusses how the US Department of Homeland Security, at Congress’s urging and in response to the San Bernardino, CA shooting, is working on using social media accounts to better identify ties to terrorist organizations. Examining the social media accounts of all visa applicants and those seeking asylum or refugee status in the United States is apparently underway although DHS may run into technical, logistical and language challenges throughout their analysis. This is not a new issue however; it harks back to the 2013 Channel 4 documentary ‘Don’t Blame Facebook’ in which our attorney Susan Willis McFadden was interviewed regarding the dangers of careless postings in cyberspace, including the case of two young Brits who were refused entry to the US in 2012 because one had Tweeted that he was going to ‘destroy America.’
April 19, 2016: Statistics on green cards and naturalizations; H-1B petition numbers
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics has released Annual Flow Reports regarding people who became Lawful Permanent Residents and people who became US citizens in Fiscal Year 2014. A total of 1,016,518 persons were granted green card status in FY2014, mostly from Mexico (13 percent), India (7.7 percent) and China (7.5 percent). You can also see that a total of 653,416 persons naturalized in FY2014, mostly from Mexico (94,889), India (37,854), the Philippines (34,591) and China (30,284).
The USCIS has reported
receiving over 236,000 H-1B petitions, including those filed for the advanced degree exemption, during the five-day filing period that began on April 1. Thus, on April 9, they performed a ‘computer-generated random selection process, or lottery,’ to select enough petitions to meet the caps, and premium processing will begin no later than May 16, 2016. All petitions not selected in the lottery will be returned to the petitioners.
April 12, 2016: H-1B cap reached; reciprocity for visa-free travel
The USCIS has announced that since filing began on April 1 it has received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap and the advanced degree exemption for fiscal year 2017. As a result, the USCIS will perform a lottery to randomly select petitions for adjudication. It will no longer accept H-1B petitions subject to the FY2017 cap, but it will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap.
As reported in the New York Times, the European Union is pressuring the United States to add additional European countries, specifically Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania, to the list of countries whose nationals are eligible to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. The European Commission will consider requiring US citizens to obtain visitor’s visas before traveling to Europe to urge the case for reciprocity.
April 5, 2016: B visa refusal rates; new site for AAO non-precedent decisions
The Department of State has released statistics on the refusal rates of B-1/B-2 visitor’s visas based on the applicant’s nationality during Fiscal Year 2015. Consular officers denied 20.41 percent of B visa applications for British citizens. The highest refusal rate was for citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia—85.71 percent.
The USCIS has updated the webpage for non-precedent decisions of the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO). The AAO reviews and adjudicates appeals filed by petitioners and applicants for certain categories of immigration status whose initial filings were denied, such as a Form I-129 for O-1 classification. The AAO’s non-precedent decisions from 2005 to present are now in a searchable database. See our website article How to Prove You’re an Alien of Extraordinary Ability to find out how AAO decisions can be useful in preparing your own case.
March 29, 2016: E-passports required for VWP travel; immigration statistics
From April 1, 2016, all visitors, including UK citizens, seeking to enter the US on the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA will require an electronic passport (‘e-passport’). Depending of their date of issuance, some machine-readable passports were previously accepted for travel on the VWP, but this will no longer be the case. The websites of the US Embassy in London and US Custom and Border Protection discuss this change; further information about e-passports can be found on this Department of Homeland Security webpage.
The Congressional Research Service report of March 14, 2016 contains a lot of interesting information on US immigration statistics and policy trends, such as the facts that immigration to the US has reached annual levels comparable to the early years of the 20th century and the total number of people in the US who were born abroad (outside the US) is the highest in US history.
March 22, 2016: H-1B filing dates; Senator Grassley’s H-1B concerns; new website article
Starting April 1, 2016, the USCIS will be accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year 2017 cap. If, as expected, more petitions are filed during the first five business days than can be accommodated under the annual quota of approximately 65,000, a lottery will be conducted among the petitions received to determine which petitions will be adjudicated. (An additional 20,000 H-1Bs are available to individuals with a US master’s degree or higher.) USCIS has also announced that it will begin adjudicating H-1B cap-subject petitions requesting premium processing no later than May 16, 2016. For more information on the H-1B caps and lotteries, check out our latest blog post.
Speaking of H-1Bs, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has publicly released his letter to the Judiciary Committee, dated February 26, 2016, discussing his concerns that the integrity of the H-1B is being threatened by new programs, such as that of the City University of New York, which would make some cap-exempt H-1Bs available for start-ups and entrepreneurs. See our Weekly Update of February 23, 2016 for more details.
With the increase in difficult Requests for Evidence and denials from the USCIS in response to L-1 petitions, and the relatively low chance of getting a cap-subject H-1B petition selected for adjudication, US companies who require foreign workers should think about an E-2 registration. Our new website article E-2 Visas: Better than L-1s? discusses some of the advantages of going the E route.
March 15, 2016: STEM OPT extension; work authorization for H-4 spouses; VWP update
On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published in the Federal Register a new final rule amending the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The rule, which will go into effect on May 10, 2016, allows applicants to apply for an extension of their STEM OPT from the current 17 months to 24 months. It also solves the ‘cap gap’ problem for F-1 students (with timely-filed H-1B petitions) whose F-1 status and employment authorization would expire before they could take up H-1B status on October 1.
The USCIS has released FAQs regarding the additional applications accepted as of May 26, 2015 for employment authorization (Form I-765) for certain dependent spouses in the US in H-4 status if the principal H-1B visa holder is in the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status.
US Customs and Border Protection has compiled FAQs regarding the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, offering an up-to-date summary of all the VWP/ESTA changes put into place since December 2015.
March 8, 2016: Known Employer Pilot; updated poverty guidelines
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced the March 3, 2016 launch of their ‘Known Employer Pilot Program’ to test a streamlined process for US employers seeking to hire foreign workers in certain visa categories, including H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, TN nonimmigrant classifications and EB-1-2 and EB-1-3 immigrant classifications. The pilot will allow employers (the first participants being Citigroup, Inc., Ernst & Young LLP, Kiewit Corporation, Schaeffler Group USA, Inc. and Siemens Corporation) to upload materials to an online Known Employer Document Library. Once the documents are verified, the employer would not be required to submit them anew with each individual visa petition. DHS plans to publicly announce the results of the pilot and, if it is successful, will seek to implement a permanent program open to all eligible employers.
DHS has released new poverty guidelines applicable to all I-864 Affidavits of Support filed on or after March 1, 2016. For additional information about the Affidavit of Support process please see our website articles A Beginner’s Guide to the Affidavit of Support and I-864 Affidavits of Support: The Problem of ‘Domicile’.
March 1, 2016: Updated ESTA form; EVUS enrollment for Chinese nationals; our new blog
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced that a new version is now available online of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) form used by travellers to apply for visa-free travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. The updated form now includes questions addressing the travel eligibility requirements imposed by a recent change in US law. CBP suggests that the updated form will help them determine when to grant waivers allowing ESTA travel to people who have recently travelled to certain countries (including Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen) for government-related, humanitarian or business purposes.
Beginning in November 2016, Chinese nationals travelling to the US on 10-year visitor visas (B-1/B-2, B-1 or B-2) will be required to enroll online with CBP’s Electronic Visa Update System (‘EVUS’) to keep their biographic information up to date. Travellers with visas already issued in their passports will be able to continue using those visas, but they will not be admitted to the US after November 2016 without first enrolling in EVUS (enrollments will generally last for two years or until passport expiry).
We are happy to announce a new blog section on our website! Please visit our Blog page for further insights and commentary on immigration news, policy and issues. Our first post discusses in more detail the class-action lawsuits filed against Disney for replacing US citizens with foreign workers on H-1B visas (as discussed in our Weekly Updates of June 9, 2015 and January 26, 2016). Check back with our blog regularly for additional thoughts about what’s happening in the world of US immigration.
February 23, 2016: More VWP changes; new H-1B opportunities for entrepreneurs
The Department of Homeland Security has announced that it has added three more countries to the list of countries that travellers must not have visited in the last five years if they wish to enter the US on the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA. Foreign nationals who have visited Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen in the past five years can no longer enter the US without a visa even if otherwise eligible for VWP travel.
The New York Times has published an article discussing the City University of New York’s new visa program, the first of its kind, which would make some cap-exempt H-1Bs available for start-ups and entrepreneurs. A board of directors would serve as the necessary petitioning “employer” for H-1B status, and moreover the entrepreneurs would be exempt from the H-1B cap because they would be employed at a college for more than half their time in the US, collaborating with professors and students.
February 16, 2016: Renunciation of US citizenship
Following last week’s publication of the names of the latest quarter’s expatriates, BBC News has released an article discussing the woes of US persons living abroad that are contributing to high numbers of renunciations. These include a lack of congressional representation, an inability to bank with foreign institutions that do not wish to comply with the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), and stringent requirements to report worldwide income which can lead to the possibility of double taxation. However, the recent increase in the renunciation fee (from $450 to $2,350) may convince some to reconsider giving up their US citizenship. If you would like more information about renouncing US citizenship, you may wish to look at our website articles US Citizenship—Having It, Getting It, Giving it Up, Giving Up US Citizenship: Is it Right for You? and Adiós, Uncle Sam: Renouncing US Citizenship.
February 9, 2016: Latest quarter’s expatriates; administrative processing in London
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who chose to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status during the quarter ending December 31, 2015. Following the previous quarter’s 1,426 (the highest number of expatriates ever), this latest list included the names of 1,058 individuals.
As of December 14, 2015, the US Embassy in London no longer allows applicants to check online the status of their pending visa applications that have been denied under Section 221(g), also known as ‘administrative processing.’ Rather, the Embassy will contact applicants by email if more information is required or if the visa is ready to be issued. See the Embassy’s website for further details.
February 2, 2016: Embassy’s new website; scheduling visa appointments
The US Embassy in London has now launched its updated website with new organization and mobile-viewing features under the new web address https://uk.usembassy.gov.
The visa appointment scheduling website has posted an announcement for people who are no longer eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA due to the recent changes discussed in last week’s Weekly Update. According to the scheduling website, affected travellers should apply for a nonimmigrant visa at least three months before their desired travel to the US. If applicants are unable to secure a visa appointment before their planned travel, they should follow the website’s instructions for requesting an expedited appointment.
January 26, 2016: Overstays in the US; Visa Waiver Program changes effective; lawsuits by US citizens who claim they were displaced by H-1B visa holders
The Department of Homeland Security has just released its FY2015 report of those persons who overstayed after entering the US on either the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA or on a visitor’s visa. Out of the 192 countries listed, the UK had the 9th lowest overstay rate, of just 0.43%.
The Visa Waiver Program changes reported in the December 15, 2015 Weekly Update are now in effect. It is possible that waivers from the bar on VWP/ESTA travel by persons who have travelled to Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan since March 1, 2011 may be available if the travel was for legitimate business reasons.
Now, a follow up on a story in our June 9, 2015 Weekly Update. The New York Times reports that two former Disney employees have filed suit against the company and two global consulting/recruitment firms, alleging that the three companies lied in obtaining H-1B visas for foreign citizens who then took the employees’ jobs. Class action status is being requested.
January 19, 2016: Changes to the US Embassy website
The US Embassy, London has announced on its visa blog that the consular pages of its website will soon receive a new look and some reorganisation. Once the redesign is launched, the visa blog will post guides and tips to help visitors use the updated website.
January 12, 2016: Brits facing VWP problems; immigrant visa statistics
Our attorney Susan McFadden was interviewed on today’s ‘Rip Off Britain’ programme on the BBC, Rip Off Britain: Holidays, which addressed issues that Britons face when going on holiday. In particular, Mrs. McFadden spoke about why people could be denied ESTA authorisation for travelling to the US on the Visa Waiver Program when they appear to meet all the eligibility requirements. This program is timely, considering the changes made effective to the Visa Waiver Program on December 18, 2015. Perhaps those changes affected another British family as reported in a Washington Post article of December 23, 2015; the family planned a trip to Disneyland, received ESTA authorisation and made it all the way to their departure gate in Gatwick airport before they were told that they were not eligible to travel to the US. See our Weekly Update of December 15, 2015 for a discussion of the VWP changes.
The Department of State has released statistics from the National Visa Center about the number and national origin of people waiting for immigrant visas in various family-sponsored and employment-based categories. These statistics do not include applications for permanent residence filed in the US by persons currently living there in non-immigrant status. As of November 1, 2015, a total of over 4.5 million people were on the waiting lists for immigrant visas.
January 5, 2016: Proposed small changes in employment-based immigration status
In 2015’s final issue of the Federal Register the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule that would make some small changes in the treatment of employment-based immigrant and non-immigrant visa holders. One welcome proposal would extend to holders of E-1, E-2, E-3, L-1 and TN visas the same 10-day grace period before and after visa validity that is currently granted to H-1B visa holders. The initial grace period would allow visa holders to make preparations in the US for beginning their employment, and the grace period after the validity ends would allow visa holders to either seek new employment, make preparations to change to another immigration status, or wind up their affairs before departing the US. In addition, holders of E-1, E-2, E-2, H-1B, L-1 and TN visas would be given a one-time grace period of up to 60 days after their employment ends. The grace periods would also apply to dependents. The proposed rule is open for public comment until February 29.
December 15, 2015: Forthcoming changes to the VWP; G&M festive season hours
As reported by CNN, the US House of Representatives passed legislation on December 8 that would decrease the number of people eligible to travel to the US on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Foreign nationals who have visited Iraq, Iran, Syria or the Sudan in the past five years will be prevented from entering the US without a visa even if otherwise eligible for VWP travel. In conjunction with President’s Obama’s expressed concerns (see last week’s Weekly Update), these new limitations on the VWP are said to be in response to the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. According to the Guardian’s coverage of the subject, the legislation is considered likely to advance through the Senate and become law by the end of the year.
Our office will be closed for the holidays from December 24, reopening on January 4. While the office is closed, we will continue to answer urgent client e-mails. Other requests will be dealt with as soon as reasonably possible. “Weekly Update” will resume on the first Tuesday in January, so please check back with us then. We wish our readers a happy and healthy festive season.
December 8, 2015: USCIS statistics; reviews of K-1 visa program and VWP
To add to the data released about L-1B petitions last month, the USCIS has now published statistics for all forms received (totalling 7,650,475) and adjudicated during Fiscal Year 2015.
A story from Reuters reports that President Obama has asked the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to review the K-1 fiancé visa program. This request was made as part of the President’s response to the mass shooting which took place in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday, December 2, committed by a US citizen and his foreign-born wife who had entered the US on a K-1 visa. The article also mentions that border officials have been screening Visa Waiver Program travellers more closely since the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13.
December 1, 2015: Online civics practice
Are you preparing for your naturalization interview in the US? The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has provided practice civics tests in both English and Spanish on their website. Although the online practice tests are multiple choice, applicants at the naturalization interview will be asked ten questions aloud. A passing grade is six or more questions answered correctly.
November 24, 2015: Updated Foreign Affairs Manual; L-1B statistics
FAM-e, the new electronic version of the Department of State’s updated Foreign Affairs Manual and associated handbooks, is now available online at https://fam.state.gov/. FAM-e has a useful search function and contains updated language and a new organization and citation system, including the reorganization of Volume 9 (containing guidance on US visa matters) into six sections.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has published data on the number of L-1B petitions filed, approved and denied in Fiscal Year 2015. The USCIS denied about 25 percent of the petitions filed during FY 2015. Perhaps the release of the USCIS’s updated policy memorandum led to a decrease in the number of denials, as compared to the 35 percent denial rate in FY 2014, but it continues to be dishearteningly high when compared to the 6 percent denial rate in FY 2006 (see the National Foundation for American Policy’s report).
November 17, 2015: Green card lottery closed; H-1B issues
The application period for the FY2017 Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ is now closed. Applicants should heed the Fraud Warnings on the DOS website and be aware that they will find out if their entry was selected only by returning to the DV Entrant Status Check from May 3, 2016.
The New York Times has published another article regarding how difficult it is for US start-ups to compete with large outsourcing companies in securing H-1B classification for specialist foreign workers. Approximately 32% of all cap-subject H-1B petitions received by the USCIS in 2014 were filed by one of five companies who supply workers/consultants to US companies on an outsourced basis. These massive filings make it unlikely that small companies filing only one or two petitions will have a petition chosen for adjudication. (Ironically, the chief executive and president of the Times is a UK citizen and H-1B visa holder.)
November 10, 2015: New 9 FAM-e; updated information for new immigrants
The Visa Bulletin for December 2015 includes confirmation that the Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9, which contains all guidance on US visa matters (‘9 FAM’), will be replaced by the new electronic version ‘9 FAM-e’ as of November 18, 2015. While the content of the guidance will not change, 9 FAM-e will include updated language and a new organization and citation system.
The USCIS has updated its Welcome Guide for New Immigrants, to include revised general information on policies, programs and resources, and new sections about personal finance, taxes and financial scams and about the US education system, adult education programs and the health insurance marketplace. This is a helpful resource for people who have been granted Lawful Permanent Resident (‘green card’) status.
November 3, 2015: Global Entry for British citizens
As announced on the US Embassy in London’s website, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has today expanded its Global Entry programme to qualifying UK citizens. This programme is an automated entry system which allows registered ‘trusted travellers’ to skip immigration queues at designated ports of entry in the US and check themselves in at a kiosk. To register for Global Entry, British citizens must first be vetted by applying through the UK Home Office website, and if successful may then apply through the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES). CBP’s plans to make Global Entry available to all Brits meeting the requirements were reported over two years ago, as discussed in our Weekly Update of August 13, 2013.
October 27, 2015: Latest quarter’s expatriates
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who chose to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status during the quarter ending September 30, 2015. It included the names of 1,426 individuals. This is the highest number of expatriates per quarter ever, surpassing the previous high of 1,335 people who expatriated during the first quarter of 2015 (Bloomberg News).
October 20, 2015: Possible extension of employment authorisation for students; more DV information
In the October 19 Federal Register, the Department of Homeland Security published for public comment a proposed rule that would extend by 24 months the employment authorisation for some F-1 students who have earned degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses. The proposed rule would also solve the ‘cap gap’ problem for F-1 students whose F-1 status and employment authorisation would expire before they could take up H-1B status on October 1. The proposed rule would replace an interim rule from 2008 that was struck down on August 12, 2015 by a federal court on procedural grounds.
The US Embassy in London’s visa blog has posted further information about applying for the ‘green card lottery’ along with a warning to applicants to enter their own information only at dvlottery.state.gov and not rely on other people or agencies to do so on their behalf. They have also provided a slideshow presentation with more details.
October 13, 2015: Green card lottery update
In today’s Federal Register, the Department of State confirms the entry period and instructions for the Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ for 2017. It urges applicants not to wait until the last week of the registration period to submit their applications because website delays can occur if too many people try to enter at the same time.
October 6, 2015: Green card lottery; consular systems upgrade
The application period for the FY2017 Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ opened on Thursday, October 1, 2015 and will end on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at 12:00 noon (Eastern Standard Time). Applicants should read the instructions provided and heed the Fraud Warnings on the Department of State website, ensuring to check their application’s status online through the DV Entrant Status Check. From May 3, 2016, applicants will be able to find out if their entry has been selected in the DV program. For some additional information about the DV lottery, you may wish to look at our article Do You Feel Lucky? US Government Now Accepting Applications for the Green Card Lottery.
All US embassies and consulates will be closed to the public this Friday, October 9, 2015 to allow for an upgrade of the Department of State’s consular systems. If you had previously scheduled a consular interview on October 9, be sure to check if you have been contacted to reschedule the appointment. Those submitting visa applications after October 9 should be aware that delays in processing may occur due to the systems upgrade.
September 29, 2015: USCIS field offices
US Citizenship and Immigration Services has created new web pages for their international offices, containing helpful information about what services are provided at each office, instructions for filing applications, contact details and opening times. Information regarding the London field office can be found here.
September 22, 2015: Senator Grassley’s concerns about L-1B policy memo
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has publicly released his letter of September 15, 2015 to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), setting out his concerns with the updated L-1B policy memorandum that came into effect on August 31, 2015. Having previously written to the USCIS to urge the agency not to make L-1B classification any easier to obtain (see our Weekly Update of March 13, 2012), Senator Grassley now writes to question the advisability of USCIS using the new policy memo to increase L-1B approvals, leading to the possibility of foreign workers displacing US citizens from their jobs.
September 15, 2015: Updated ESTA website
Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) announced the launch of a new version of the website for Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”), which allows travellers from 38 countries to apply for authorization to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program—that is, without a visa. CBP hopes that the more mobile-friendly design, easier access to frequently asked questions, and increased availability to translations will make the ESTA application process simpler for visitors.
September 8, 2015: Loss of nationality fee change
Effective November 9, 2015, a $2,350 fee (“Administrative Processing of Request for Certificate of Loss of Nationality fee”) will be required by the US Department of State of all individuals seeking documentation of their loss of US citizenship. Currently, this fee is payable only by US citizens renouncing their citizenship before a consular officer. However, in today’s Federal Register DOS gave notice that it will expand the fee requirement to include those persons who are merely documenting before a consular officer the fact that they previously committed a potentially expatriating act with the intention of relinquishing their citizenship.
September 1, 2015: Preclearance news; immigrant fee payment
Further to our Weekly Update of June 2, 2015, the US Customs and Border Protection has published an article with more information about the expanded preclearance procedures and the additional preclearance stations planned for ten airports around the world, including London Heathrow and Manchester airports. The article discusses how these updates will affect passengers, airports and airlines.
The USCIS has announced it is making it easier to pay online the $165 immigrant fee, required of people immigrating to the United States as lawful permanent residents. The new payment process will require less information and will allow someone else to pay the fee on behalf of the new immigrant. Further information about paying the immigrant fee can be found on the USCIS Electronic Immigration System.
August 25, 2015: E-filing USCIS forms; updated L-1B guidance
The USCIS has announced that it is discontinuing its legacy e-Filing system for the online filing of Forms I-131, I-140, I-765, I-821 and I-907. All forms in the current system must be completed and submitted by September 20, 2015, after which paper versions must be used until the forms are made available on the USCIS’ new “Electronic Immigration System,” which is meant to be faster, more secure and easier to upgrade and update.
Previously released for public feedback, the USCIS has finalized its updated policy memorandum on the L-1B nonimmigrant visa classification, clarifying for USCIS officers how L-1B petitioners may demonstrate the specialized knowledge of an employee being sponsored for the visa. The memorandum will go into effect on August 31, 2015. We will wait to see how the new guidance influences the notoriously stringent adjudication of these petitions.
August 18, 2015: US government in Cuba
In accordance with the announcement on July 1 that the US and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic relations, the US Embassy in Havana was officially reopened on July 20, 2015. In time for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Havana visit on August 14, 2015 for the flag-raising ceremony, the Department of State has updated its list of USCIS offices to show a USCIS field office in the newly reopened Embassy.
August 11, 2015: New security requirements for VWP
The US Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh C. Johnson, announced last week that new security criteria have been added to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in an effort to find out more about the people traveling to the United States visa-free. These changes include requiring e-passports for all VWP travelers entering the US; mandating that VWP countries screen travelers using the INTERPOL Lost and Stolen Passport Database; and requiring that VWP countries’ governments consent to increased use of US federal air marshals on flights from VWP countries to the US. An article in the New York Times suggests these changes are designed to combat a perceived threat from people from VWP countries who have gone to Syria and Iraq to train with Islamic State and other groups.
August 4, 2015: Latest quarter’s expatriates; immigration discussions with Bono
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who chose to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status during the quarter ending June 30, 2015. It included the names of only 460 individuals. This is the lowest number of expatriates per quarter since 2012—quite a turnaround from the first quarter of 2015 which saw the highest number of expatriates ever, according to Bloomberg News.
In an interview with The Irish Times, U2’s Bono paid tribute to the young people involved in last month’s collapse of an apartment balcony in Berkeley, California. He spoke of the long tradition of Irish visitors and emigration to the US, including the opportunities available through the J-1 visa program, and of the challenges posed to immigrants by the current political climate. The interview took place after Bono and Yoko Ono unveiled a tapestry on Ellis Island marking the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s securing permanent residence in the US.
July 28, 2015: Biometric collection upon exiting the US; renunciations in Edinburgh
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun using a mobile hand-held device to collect biometric data from foreign nationals exiting the US at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. CBP officers will compare the collected data to the travellers’ information taken upon entry to the US. The testing phase of the project will expand in the autumn to Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles.
The US Consulate General in Edinburgh will now accept and act on applications for the renunciation of US citizenship. Previously, the US Embassy in London was the only place in the UK where renunciations could be accomplished. Please see the Consulate General’s website for more information.
July 21, 2015: A pause in the service
This being the summer holidays, your correspondent is travelling again. Please check back next Tuesday for a resumption of Weekly Update.
July 14, 2015: SEC cracks down on EB-5 scheme; Premium Processing again available for H-1B petitions
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit on July 6, 2015 against persons who allegedly targeted Chinese investors for a multi-million dollar fraud. The defendant company, which it was claimed held massive oil and gas reserves, was marketed as a route to lawful permanent residence through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program. The press release contains links to the Complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco, as well as to EB-5 ‘Investor Alert’ notices in both English and Chinese.
Extension of stay H-1B petitions are now again eligible for Premium Processing Service, as announced yesterday by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. PPS had been temporarily suspended as to those H-1B petitions while the USCIS geared up to process employment authorization document (work permit) applications filed by certain dependent H-4 spouses. For details, see our Weekly Update entry of May 26.
July 7, 2015: A pause in the service
Your correspondent is travelling. Please check back next Tuesday for a resumption of Weekly Update.
June 30, 2015: DOS technical issues resolved
The Department of State announced yesterday that all visa-issuing US embassies and consulates are now back online, scheduling visa interviews and issuing visas. In fact, DOS reported that 410,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued between June 21st and June 29th alone in efforts to clear the backlog caused by the worldwide technical issues. The US Embassy in London has updated its visa blog, confirming the good news that nonimmigrant and immigrant visas, as well as US passports, are once again being issued, but applicants should continue to expect slight delays in processing.
June 23, 2015: Department of State IT woes continue
The most pressing topic in US immigration continues to be the inability of most US embassies and consulates around the world to either (1) evaluate DS-160 online visa application forms submitted on or after June 9 or (2) print visas that were approved after June 8. However, Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that as of noon yesterday a total of 22 visa posts had been reconnected to the database required for visa approval and issuance. The situation at the Embassy in London can be monitored on its Visa Affairs webpage.
June 16, 2015: Kerry v Din decision; Department of State technical issues
The Supreme Court of the United States yesterday decided the case of Kerry v Din, noted in our Weekly Update entry of October 14, 2014. The plurality opinion, in which three Justices joined, held that the US citizen plaintiff had no constitutionally-protected ‘liberty interest’ in being able to live in the United States with her husband, a foreign national for whom she had filed an immigrant petition. In the absence of such a constitutional right it was not necessary to decide whether the explanation she had been given for the denial of his immigrant visa application satisfied the Due Process clause of the Constitution. Two additional justices concurred in the result, but found that she had been afforded due process and so there was no need to decide whether such a liberty interest existed. The dissenting opinion, which four Justices joined, would have found both a protected liberty interest and an unconstitutional lack of due process. Additional interesting and accessible commentary can be found in the Supreme Court’s blog.
On June 12, 2015 the Department of State announced that the Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with its overseas passport and visa systems, worldwide. Due to technical difficulties in the systems performing required national security checks before issuing visas, visa applicants will experience a delay in processing as DOS works to resolve the problem and clear the backlog of visas waiting to be processed. Additionally, some visa interviews may need to be rescheduled, in particular those from June 14 to 20 for applicants whose DS-160 visa application forms were submitted on or after June 9, as instructed on the Visa Appointment Service. Applicants are advised to check the Embassy’s visa page for updates on the situation.
June 9, 2015: H-1B visa holders replacing US workers; data on L-1B petitions
As reported in the New York Times, as of January 30 of this year Walt Disney World in Orlando laid off about 250 of its IT employees. Most were replaced by non-US citizens holding H-1B visas (nonimmigrant visas for highly skilled workers in specialty occupations), employed by an Indian outsourcing firm. Not only did the American employees lose their jobs, but they were required to train their replacements before leaving their positions. Although 120 of those laid off found new jobs at Disney and about 40 retired, the high-profile story has reignited debate on the H-1B visa program and its effect on US workers.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has published data on the number of L-1B petitions so far filed, approved and denied in Fiscal Year 2015. As of March 31, almost 30 percent of petitions filed during FY 2015 were denied. This corresponds with the National Foundation for American Policy’s report, to which we referred in our update of March 24, 2015, finding that 35 percent of L-1B petitions filed with the USCIS in FY 2014 were denied, compared to only 6 percent in FY 2006. It remains to be seen how the USCIS’ updated policy memorandum will affect these statistics.
June 2, 2015: New CBP preclearance locations
On May 29, the US Department of Homeland Security announced that it intends to begin negotiations to expand air preclearance operations to ten additional airports outside the US, including London Heathrow and Manchester here in the UK. Preclearance stations, already found in 15 airports around the world, allow travellers to go through US immigration and customs procedures in the departure airport before boarding rather than upon arrival in the US. A precleared passenger may then disembark in the US airport as if from a domestic flight, avoiding the inspection queues and delays in the US that sometimes make it difficult to catch a connecting flight. The negotiations for preclearance also include airports in Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. According to the press release, in 2014 nearly 20 million passengers travelled to the US from the ten airports proposed for new preclearance operations.
May 26, 2015: Employment authorization updates; premium processing
As of today, May 26, 2015, the USCIS began accepting applications for employment authorization (Form I-765) for certain dependent spouses in the US in H-4 status if the principal H-1B visa holder is in the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status. However, this change is coming into effect during a time of lengthy delays in the processing of employment authorization applications; the USCIS has not been adjudicating Form I-765s within the fixed time period of 90 days nor issuing interim employment authorization, as required by regulation. In fact, on May 22, 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed against the USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security for these unlawful delays in adjudicating Form I-765s for qualifying nonimmigrant visa holders.
Even if the addition of employment authorization for certain H-4 spouses does not increase USCIS delays in adjudicating I-765s, it will at least affect the USCIS adjudication of some H-1B petitions. The USCIS has announced that it will temporarily suspend premium processing for all I-129 petitions for the extension of H-1B status filed between May 26, 2015 and July 27, 2015 in an effort to implement the new H-4 final rule in a timely manner.
May 19, 2015: Nothing to report
As we have no news from the US immigration world to report, ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on May 26. Until then, we wish our readers a happy and healthy US Memorial Day and UK Bank Holiday weekend.
May 12, 2015: Latest quarter’s renunciations
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who chose to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status during the first quarter of 2015. The list identifies 1,335 individuals—the highest number ever, according to Bloomberg News. The Bloomberg article reports the widely-held belief that the increase in expatriations is due to increasingly stringent tax and regulatory requirements imposed upon US citizens living abroad, of which FATCA (the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) is the most recent.
May 5, 2015: No more extra pages for US passports
The US Department of State has announced in the Federal Register a proposal to discontinue as of January 1, 2016 the service of adding additional pages to US passports. The stated reason is that once the “Next Generation Passport” is introduced on that date, adding pages to those passports could compromise the effectiveness of the new security features. As of January 1, US passport applicants will be able to choose between a 28-page or 50-page passport at the same fee; those who apply from abroad will automatically be issued the 50-page format.
April 28, 2015: Embassy webchat; US doctors for USCIS-required medical examinations
The US Embassy in London will hold another webchat tomorrow, April 29 from midday to 1pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released an updated Find a Doctor locator to help green card applicants find local doctors in the US who are authorized to perform the medical examinations necessary to the application process.
April 21, 2015: US Cluster Mapping Tool; Immigrant Visa Unit update
As part of the SelectUSA Initiative, the US Embassy in London has recommended that people looking for business or investment opportunities in the use the US Cluster Mapping Tool, created by the Harvard Business School and the US Economic Development Administration. Doing so will apparently help potential investors or businesspeople identify industry-specific regional clusters and make informed investment decisions.
We have been informed by the Immigrant Visa Unit at the US Embassy in London that during the months of May and June immigrant visa appointments will be scheduled for the afternoons, rather than the mornings as is their normal practice. Persons previously scheduled for morning appointments in May are being contacted and told of the change. Anyone needing a morning appointment will have to wait until July or later.
April 14, 2015: H-1B lottery
The USCIS has now performed a lottery to randomly select petitions for adjudication from the nearly 233,000 H-1B petitions received during the filing period. The petitions that are not selected in the lottery will be rejected and returned with their filing fees. According to its announcement of March 12, 2015, the USCIS will begin adjudicating H-1B cap-subject petitions requesting premium processing no later than May 11, 2015.
April 7, 2015: FY2016 H-1B cap filled
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that since filing began on April 1 it has received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap for fiscal year 2016. As a result, the USCIS will perform a lottery to randomly select petitions for adjudication. It will no longer accept H-1B petitions subject to the FY2016 cap, but it will continue to accept and process petitions that are exempt from the cap.
March 31, 2015: L-1B policy memo; H-1B statistics for FY2014
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has now released its promised updated policy memorandum on the L-1B nonimmigrant visa classification, clarifying for USCIS officers how L-1B petitioners may demonstrate the specialized knowledge of an employee. The memorandum will be posted online for a 45-day public feedback period and will then go into effect on August 31, 2015.
In advance of tomorrow’s start of the H-1B filing season for petitions subject to the fiscal year 2016 cap, the USCIS has released a report on H-1B petitions filed and/or approved in fiscal year 2014.
March 24, 2015: L-1B denials and policy guidance; no more technical issues
The National Foundation for American Policy has released a report on the high rate of USCIS denials of L-1B petitions for transferring employees with specialized knowledge to the United States. Fully 35 percent of L-1B petitions filed with the USCIS in FY 2014 were denied, compared to only 6 percent in FY 2006. Another discouraging finding of the report was that petitions seeking to extend the L-1B classification already held by an individual were denied by the USCIS at a higher rate than initial L-1B petitions, so someone who had already been found to hold specialized knowledge required to fill a US role could suddenly be told that he actually no longer fills those requirements. These disheartening facts show how desperately needed is the L-1B policy guidance from the USCIS promised by the White House as part of the SelectUSA Initiative.
The Department of State and the US Embassy in London have taken down their warnings about technical issues causing delays in email correspondence and visa issuance.
March 17, 2015: H-1B filing season; Department of State technical issues; new website article
Starting April 1, 2015, the USCIS will be accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year 2016 cap. If, as expected, more petitions are filed during the first five business days than can be accommodated under the annual quota of approximately 65,000, a lottery will be conducted among the petitions received to determine which petitions will be adjudicated. (The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of individuals with a US master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.) Last year, the USCIS received approximately 172,500 petitions during the first week of filing. USCIS has also announced that it will begin adjudicating H-1B cap-subject petitions requesting premium processing no later than May 11, 2015.
As seen on the US visa appointment scheduling website, the Department of State, including US embassies and consulates around the world, is currently experiencing technical difficulties due to system maintenance. Visa applicants should be aware that these issues may cause delays in visa processing and issuance as well as e-mail correspondence with consular posts. The US Embassy in London confirmed this by reposting its November 17, 2014 entry on its blog to give notice that it is currently unable to send or receive e-mail.
We have added a new article to our website: Promising Progress for Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Start-ups. It discusses some of the difficulties facing entrepreneurs who would like to be able to get visas to live and work in the United States, and how their lot may be changing for the better. We hope you will find it informative.
March 10, 2015: Updated poverty guidelines; medical instructions
The Department of Homeland Security has released new poverty guidelines applicable to all I-864 Affidavits of Support filed on or after March 1, 2015. For additional information about the Affidavit of Support process please see our website articles A Beginner’s Guide to the Affidavit of Support and I-864 Affidavits of Support: The Problem of ‘Domicile’.
The US Embassy in London has updated its online instructions for immigrant visa applicants’ medical examinations. Its instructional leaflet was also recently updated, but applicants should refer to the website stating that four photographs will now be required for the medical rather than only one as shown in the leaflet.
March 3, 2015: US employment for some H-4 spouses
Effective May 26, 2015, some H-4 visa holders will have the opportunity to apply for employment authorization in the US. As announced by the USCIS last week, to be eligible, the dependent H-4 must be married to an H-1B visa holder who either 1) is the principal beneficiary of an approved I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker or 2) has been granted an extension of H-1B status under a provision of US immigration law which allows H-1B nonimmigrants seeking lawful permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the usual six-year limit. The USCIS estimates that up to 179,600 individuals will be eligible to apply for employment authorization under this rule in the first year and 55,000 annually in subsequent years.
February 24, 2015: Embassy webchat; Supreme Court case on immigrant visa denials and consular nonreviewability
The Embassy will hold another webchat tomorrow, February 24 from midday to 1pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
As we first mentioned in our update of October 14, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States granted review in Kerry v. Din. That case, arising from the denial of an immigrant visa to the husband of a US citizen, challenges the general doctrine disallowing judicial review of consular decisions. Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments. For an analysis of the arguments, see today’s post on the Supreme Court’s blog.
February 17, 2015: Giving up US citizenship
According to BBC News, London’s mayor Boris Johnson, dual US and UK citizen, has announced that he intends to give up his US citizenship due to the fact that his “commitment is, and always has been, to Britain." In making this decision, he does not reference his necessity to pay US taxes, such as the outstanding US capital gains tax bill he reportedly settled recently (see our updates of November 25, 2014 and January 27, 2015). Mayor Johnson is not alone in considering expatriation as evidenced by the Internal Revenue Service’s lengthy quarterly list of people who chose to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status during 2014’s final quarter. It included the names of 1,062 individuals—the second highest number of expatriates per quarter in the last seven years.
February 10, 2015: FAM updates; visa appointments in Canada; myUSCIS website
The Department of State has updated the section of the Foreign Affairs Manual regarding medical ineligibilities for both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. Among other changes, 9 FAM 40.11 N now specifies that people who have had mental health problems with associated harmful behaviour are not ineligible for a visa if a year has passed without any harmful behaviour related to their mental health disorder.
The US consulates in Canada have upgraded their online system for scheduling visa appointments. The new system came on line on February 1, 2015 and offers the most up-to-date availability of appointments. Petition-based visa holders in the US looking to renew their visas in Canada should be aware that wait times for appointments will vary significantly by post and by season.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is developing a new website to help people get immigration information, identify their immigration options and find the right forms. The new “myUSCIS” at https://my.uscis.gov/ will roll out in phases, starting this month. The goal is to provide a convenient source for trusted immigration information that can be used anytime, anywhere and on any device.
February 3, 2015: Busy visa application season
If you need a visa to travel to the US for holiday this summer, you should consider applying as soon as possible. As the Embassy posted on their visa blog, the summer months saw many visa applications last year, and the same is expected for 2015.
January 27, 2015: Boris Johnson’s US taxes
As a conclusion to the story of Boris Johnson’s current US tax issues (see our update from November 25, 2014), the Mayor of London, a citizen of the United States, has reportedly now settled the US tax bill which he was refusing to pay last year. We wish Mayor Johnson a happy trip to the US next month.
January 20, 2015: Embassy webchat
The Embassy will hold another webchat tomorrow, January 21 from midday to 1pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
January 13, 2015: Updates for land border crossings
The US Customs and Border Protection has released a free “Border Wait Time” app for travellers crossing into the US by land. Directions to the closest land ports of entry, estimated wait times and open lane status for pedestrians, passengers and commercial vehicles will be available with the app. People who are admitted to the US at a land port of entry and receive a paper I-94 Arrival Record should also be aware of the new address for returning I-94s which were not handed in upon next leaving the US.
January 6, 2015: Warning of EB-5 scams
The US Securities and Exchange Commission and the USCIS have jointly issued an ‘Investor Alert’ to persons interested in obtaining lawful permanent resident status through the EB-5 immigrant investor programme. After describing some recent enforcement actions taken against EB-5 programme organisers the agencies list investigative steps that should be taken by every would-be EB-5 participant.
December 23, 2014: A pause in the service
Your correspondent is celebrating the holidays. “Weekly Update” will resume on the first Tuesday in January. Please check back with us then.
December 16, 2014: Two court cases to watch
A Washington State-based labor union representing workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has been granted permission to pursue a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and challenge a 2008 interim final rule that expanded work authorization for foreign students studying in STEM fields. The federal district (trial) court held that the union could challenge the 17-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) work authorization for STEM students on the grounds that the union’s members suffered greater competition for jobs than would have been the case without the extension. Given that extending OPT for all students is one of the aims of the executive action announced by President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security on November 20, this issue will recur as the agency tries to balance the needs of students and those of US workers.
As reported in our October 14 Weekly Update entry, the Supreme Court of the United States will consider during its current term a case raising the question whether a US citizen’s constitutionally-protected interest in marriage entitles her to bring a lawsuit in federal court to force the Department of State to provide a ‘facially legitimate and bona fide’ reason for its decision to deny her husband an immigrant visa. The Department of State, which sought review of the decision in the lower court, has now filed its opening brief, which can be found here.
December 9, 2014: Renouncing US citizenship; G&M festive season hours
As comment continues on Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s refusal to pay his US tax bill, an opinion piece in the New York Times on Sunday discussed the columnist’s own reasons for giving up his US citizenship. He particularly focused on the IRS’s strict, confusing and, some would say, unfair financial reporting and tax filing requirements of US citizens who live abroad. If you are considering renouncing your US citizenship, you may wish to look at our website articles US Citizenship—Having It, Getting It, Giving it Up, Giving Up US Citizenship: Is it Right for You? and Adiós, Uncle Sam: Renouncing US Citizenship.
Our office will be closed from December 24 through January 1, inclusive. While the office is closed, we will continue to answer urgent client e-mails. Other requests will be dealt with as soon as reasonably possible. We wish our readers a happy and healthy festive season.
December 2, 2014: USCIS statistics
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has released its latest performance statistics for fiscal year 2014.
November 25, 2014: Boris Johnson’s issues with US taxes; changes to US immigration enforcement system
Dual UK and US national Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, became the subject of much press, inspiring articles in The Telegraph, The Guardian, Financial Times and The Evening Standard, when he admitted to National Public Radio that he is refusing to pay capital gains tax required by US authorities for the profit gained from the sale of his UK property. US citizens, wherever they live in the world, are required to file tax returns, report worldwide income and pay US taxes when necessary. Our website articles Adiós, Uncle Sam: Renouncing US Citizenship and Giving Up US Citizenship: Is it Right for You? discuss how some of these requirements can lead people to consider giving up their US citizenship. Mayor Johnson’s refusal to submit to US tax law has also added a new spin to his efforts to make the US Embassy pay its London congestion charge fines, reportedly totaling over £7 million.
On November 20, President Obama announced his planned changes to the country’s immigration enforcement system. A key part of the overhaul includes a new program for unauthorized immigrants with US-citizen children, about four million people, to gain a new legal status that would defer their deportations and allow them to work legally.
November 18, 2014: Embassy e-mail and payment issues; overhaul of US immigration enforcement system; K-1 and immigrant visa documents
The London Embassy is currently experiencing problems with their e-mail and payment systems. Persons needing to pay for services at the Embassy should bring cash (US dollars or the sterling equivalent). These issues may be related to a reported breach by hackers of the State Department’s computer system.
According to the New York Times President Obama is planning to announce before the end of this year plans to overhaul the United States’ immigration enforcement system. Changes may include opening more opportunities for illegal immigrants who are parents of US citizens, expanding immigration benefits for legal non-immigrants with high-tech skills and revamping a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, which prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety and repeat immigration violators. We look forward with interest to the eventual announcement.
The National Visa Center no longer requires original documents (other than the original signed Affidavit of Support) for processing immigrant visa applications. The Embassy has thus released a new checklist setting out the documents required on the day of the consular interview for K-1 and immigrant visa processing.
November 11, 2014: US visas for Chinese nationals
The White House Press Office has announced that starting tomorrow, November 12, 2014, qualifying Chinese nationals will be issued tourist and business visas valid for up to ten years—the longest validity possible under US immigration law—and student and exchange visas valid for up to five years. Currently, B-1/B-2 visitor visas for Chinese citizens are valid for only one year. Under the new reciprocal agreement, Americans should also be given the same validity length for these types of visas for visiting or studying in China.
November 4, 2014 – New ESTA; green card lottery closed
Yesterday US Customs and Border Protection posted a new ESTA form that must be used, effective immediately, by all persons seeking authorisation to travel to the US on the Visa Waiver Program. The brief press release announcing the changes did not specify whether existing ESTA authorisations would continue to be honoured, but the posted list of FAQs states that persons with current, valid ESTA authorisations do not need to reapply. Although the CBP statement refers only to ‘additional data fields of information’ now required on the ESTA form, such as contact information, parents’ names and employment details, careful readers will see that the crucial eligibility questions have also been rewritten and augmented.
The application period for the FY2016 Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ is now closed. Applicants should heed the Fraud Warnings on the DOS website and be aware that they will find out if their entry was selected only by returning to the DV Entrant Status Check from May 5, 2015.
October 28, 2014: Green card lottery closing; Embassy webchat; latest quarter’s expatriates
The application period for the FY2016 Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ will end on Monday, November 3, 2014 at 12:00 noon (Eastern Standard Time). From May 5, 2015, applicants will be able to find out if their entry has been selected in the DV program by returning to www.dvlottery.state.gov.
The Embassy will hold another webchat tomorrow, October 29 from noon to 1pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. Following the link will also allow you to check out the new name and look of the US Embassy, London’s visa blog.
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who chose to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status during 2014’s third quarter. It included the names of 776 individuals—the third highest number of expatriates per quarter since 2007.
October 21, 2014: Nothing to report
Last week was an unusual quiet period in the turbulent field of US immigration law, with no developments of general application, so ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on October 28. Please check back with us then.
October 14, 2014: Supreme Court case on immigrant visa denials and consular nonreviewability; E visa appointments update
The Supreme Court of the United States has accepted for review a case raising the question whether a US citizen’s constitutionally-protected interest in marriage entitles her to bring a lawsuit in federal court to force the Department of State to provide a ‘facially legitimate and bona fide’ reason for its decision to deny her husband an immigrant visa. The Ninth Circuit (an intermediate court of appeals with jurisdiction over much of the American West) previously decided that it would invoke a narrow exception to the rule that consular visa decisions are nonreviewable, and ordered the government to give a reason for the refusal. (Originally the Department had simply cited the 1000-word section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allegedly justified the decision.) The Department then appealed to the Supreme Court by way of certiorari and the Court, exercising its discretion, accepted the case for review. A decision will be issued before the end of the Court’s current term in June.
The E Visa Team at the US Embassy in London has announced revised holiday opening times (since our update of September 30, 2014 below). The unit will not see registration applicants from December 22, 2014 through January 9, 2015. However, the unit will continue to see applicants of already-registered companies through December 23, 2014 and will resume normal service for these applications on January 5, 2015.
October 7, 2014: Completing Form I-9
The USCIS has produced a video to instruct US workers on how to correctly complete Form I-9 verifying their eligibility to work in the US. Employers are required to obtain a Form I-9 from every new hire.
September 30, 2014: E visa appointments; new website articles
While the US Embassy, London will be closed on December 25 and 26 and January 1, the E Visa Team will not see applicants for a more extended period of time over the holidays. They have announced on Twitter that the last E visa appointment of the year will be December 19.
We have added new articles to our website: our annually recurring article about the Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery,’ Do You Feel Lucky? US Government Now Accepting Applications for the Green Card Lottery, and another with some thoughts on the impermanence of US green cards, Maintaining US Lawful Permanent Resident Status. You can find the full list of our articles here. We hope that you will find them helpful.
September 23, 2014: Green card lottery application dates announced
The State Department has announced that the DV-2016 ‘green card lottery’ will be open for applications from October 1 to November 3, 2014. Applicants should read the instructions provided and heed the Fraud Warnings on the DOS website, ensuring to check their application’s status online through the DV Entrant Status Check. For some additional information about the DV lottery, you may wish to look at our article Do You Feel Lucky? US Government Now Accepting Applications for the Green Card Lottery.
September 16, 2014: New customs form
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a new customs declaration form which travellers will be required to present to CBP when they arrive in the US from abroad. While completing the hard-copy form on the airplane or upon arrival is still an option, travellers may now choose to complete the form online before they travel and then present the printed version to CBP when entering the US. The CBP has also expanded the definition of family members, as shown on the form, and clarified the definition of domestic relationships to ensure people travelling together know whether they should file a joint customs declaration for items acquired abroad.
September 9, 2014: Visa options for fiancé(e)s and spouses of US citizens
The Embassy’s Visa Services blog has posted a story about an engaged couple, one a UK citizen and one a US citizen, going through the process of deciding where to get married and which visa to seek. In this context, you may wish to take a look at our website articles for more information: Before You Say ‘I Do’: Options for British-American Couples, I Married an Alien, Get Us Out of Here: Immigrant Visas for Spouses of US Citizens Living in the United Kingdom, Unknown Unknowns: ‘Do I Really Need a Lawyer to Get My Spouse a Green Card?’ and Same-Sex Marriage and Spousal Visas as well as the newest addition, The K-3 Visa: Not Really an Option.
September 2, 2014: New consular fees
As published in the Federal Register, the Department of State has set new consular fees that will come into effect on September 12, 2014 (see DOS press release regarding effective date). While some fees will be reduced, such as the E-2 visa application fee and employment-based immigrant visa fee, others will substantially increase, notably the 422% rise in the renunciation fee from $450 to $2,350. The Embassy’s visa blog offers more information about determining whether you will need to pay the fee increase based on when you pay the application fee and when you go to the appointment.
August 26, 2014: Statistics on nonimmigrant admissions; give CBP feedback on ESTA
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics has released its Annual Flow Report regarding nonimmigrant admissions to the United States in Fiscal Year 2013. The report estimates that there were 173 million nonimmigrant admissions in FY2013. The largest category of admission was temporary visitors for pleasure, including travellers entering on B-2 visas and the Visa Waiver Program, which represented 79% of I-94 admissions. Mexican citizens made up 29.5% of I-94 nonimmigrant admissions, the most of any other country of citizenship, while travellers from the United Kingdom made up the second largest portion at 7.5%.
Representatives from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be in London on Friday, August 29, 2014 and Monday, September 1, 2014. They will host focus groups to collect feedback from UK residents regarding the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website. If you would like to participate, you can find more information on the US Embassy, London’s webpage or CBP’s website.
August 19, 2014: Visa issuance backlog
The US Embassy, London has announced that they are continuing to clear the backlog of visas waiting for issuance caused by the Department of State’s database’s technical difficulties. Our experience with the Embassy confirms the return to normal processing times.
August 12, 2014: Quarterly report of renunciations; visa reissuance program returns
The Internal Revenue Service has published in the Federal Register the names of those persons who renounced either their US citizenship or their long-term lawful permanent resident status during the second quarter of 2014. The list runs to 576; last quarter it was 1001.
Certain holders of J, O and P visas are now eligible for reissuance of their visas without the need for another Embassy interview. For a link to the Embassy’s ‘Visa Reissuance Wizard,’ click here.
August 5, 2014: Visa issuance difficulties subside; new information for people of extraordinary ability
The Department of State is making headway in its attempts to clear the backlog of visa applications that arose due to an IT difficulty. The London Embassy has announced that normal processing has been resumed in most of its cases.
Today we have updated our article How to Prove You’re an Alien of Extraordinary Ability with summaries of the most recent available Administrative Appeals Office decisions, up through June 2014. We invite you to review them for the light they may shed on evolving standards in this area.
July 29, 2014: Visa issuance delays; Embassy webchat
On July 23, The Washington Post reported that problems with the Department of State’s database used to approve, record and print visas are causing major delays and backlogs in consular posts. The US Embassy in London acknowledges the technical problems, announcing that the visa status check online will not be updated until the issues have been resolved. The Department of State assures the public they are working to resolve the issues as soon as possible.
The Embassy will hold another webchat tomorrow, Wednesday, July 30, on the subject of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas.
July 22, 2014: Nothing to report
Last week was an unusual quiet period in the turbulent field of US immigration law, with no developments of general application. Please check back with us next week, when history suggests that there will once again be news to report.
July 15, 2014: US visa validity
The Foreign Affairs Manual was amended on July 9 to show that the validity of visas should be limited to the validity of the applicant’s medical examination reports. This is consistent with the immigrant visa issuance policies that have been in place at the US Embassy in London for the past year. More information about the medical procedure for immigrant visa applications in London can be found in the Embassy’s instructional leaflet.
July 8, 2014: H-1B visa applications; enhanced security for flights to US
Beneficiaries of approved H-1B petitions with an October 1, 2014 start-date may now begin filing their visa applications at US consular posts. However, successful applicants should remember that they cannot use the visa to enter the United States until ten days prior to the beginning of the approved status period, as per the visa’s annotation.
The Transportation Security Administration announced on July 6 that certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States will be required to implement enhanced security measures. Officers may now ask travelers to power up their electronic devices for inspection, and powerless devices will not be permitted onboard. Remember to pack your chargers!
July 1, 2014: Visa issuance policy; cautions update
The Congressional Research Service has produced a new paper on US visa issuance policy. The 22-page report discusses not only the process of pre-issuance security checks and the bases for visa denial, but also the respective roles of the Departments of State and of Homeland Security. It is well worth a read.
Further to our previous Weekly Update postings regarding the London Embassy’s treatment of police cautions: Although the Embassy has not released any statement as to the new policy it has been developing over the past year, some contours of that policy are slowly becoming clearer. It now appears that the more recent the caution, the more likely it is to be treated as an admission of the underlying offense—and an admission has the same effect for US visa purposes as a conviction. However, older cautions, from 2007 and before, may in the context of a visa application still benefit from the more lenient treatment as the equivalent of an arrest.
June 24, 2014: LPR statistics for FY2013; Embassy webchat; possible reasons for expatriations
The Department of Homeland Security has published a statistical overview of the 990,553 people who became US Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) in fiscal year 2013. Sixty-six percent of the new LPRs were sponsored by family members; typically, 40% of new LPRs are immediate relatives of US citizens. In FY2013 there were 12,984 new UK-born LPRs, 1.3% of the total.
The US Embassy in London will host a webchat tomorrow, June 25, from midday to 1:00pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
An article in the Wall Street Journal of June 16, 2014 highlights the growing number of people who give up their US citizenship or lawful permanent residence. It suggests that their decision to expatriate is often due to the increasingly rigorous reporting requirements (of both income and savings) imposed on US citizens and LPRs who live abroad.
June 17, 2014: Tips for new immigrants
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued a help sheet for new immigrants as to how to find their A number and DOS case number (‘LND number’ if processing took place in London). These tips are particularly useful when paying the $165 immigrant visa fee online with the USCIS’ Electronic Immigration System (ELIS).
June 10, 2014: Naturalisation statistics for 2013; US immigrant visa processing; Automated Passport Control
The Department of Homeland Security has published a statistical summary regarding the people who naturalised to become US citizens in 2013. Mexico was the leading country of birth of persons naturalising in 2013 (13%), followed by India (6.4%), the Philippines (5.6%), the Dominican Republic (5.1%) and the People’s Republic of China (4.5%), while the United Kingdom did not appear on the list of the top 20.
A helpful diagram has been prepared by the Department of State to help people understand the general steps of the immigrant visa process, whether the immigrant visa petition is based on US employment or a US citizen relative. However, immigrant visa petitions being filed with the USCIS at the Embassy in London should continue to follow the separate instructions provided on the Embassy’s website.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun to allow US citizens, lawful permanent residents, Canadian citizens and eligible Visa Waiver Program travellers to enter the US through an automated process at some airports. Automated Passport Control (APC) will expedite the entry process by allowing travellers to use self-service kiosks to submit their customs declaration form and biographic information. CBP’s website contains further information about APC, including a list of participating ports of entry.
June 3, 2014: Nothing to report
As we have no news from the US immigration world to report, ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on June 10. Please check back with us then.
May 27, 2014: Embassy webchat
The US Embassy in London will host a webchat tomorrow, May 28, from midday to 1:00pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
May 20, 2014: J-1 visa information
The Embassy has released a video for people thinking of applying for a J-1 visa to take part in one of the many Exchange Visitor Programs in the US. It gives helpful information about the J-1 visa procedure specifically, but also shows what it is like inside the Embassy for all nonimmigrant visa applicants.
May 13, 2014: Work for some H-4 spouses; new form for Diversity Visa applicants
The Department of Homeland Security has published a proposed rule to allow some H-4 spouses to obtain employment authorization (‘work permits’) in the United States. The scope is quite limited as the rule would apply only to spouses of H-1B holders who are in the end stages of becoming lawful permanent residents. The change has been proposed with the stated hope that it ‘would lessen any potential economic burden to the H-1B principal and H-4 dependent spouse during the transition from nonimmigrant to lawful permanent resident status, furthering the goals of attracting and retaining high-skilled foreign workers.’
Applicants who have been selected in the FY2015 Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ will be required to complete and submit online Form DS-260. This will replace the requirement of filing hard-copy Forms DS-230 and DSP-122 with the Kentucky Consular Center as all the information from those forms has been integrated into the new version of the DS-260, available for access from May 19, 2014. Please see the Department of State’s instructions on the immigrant visa application process.
May 6, 2014: 2014’s first quarter expatriates; I-94 arrival/departure history; new website article
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who have chosen to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status. Those individuals numbered 1,001 for the quarter ended March 31, 2014: the second highest number of expatriates per quarter since 2007, behind only 2013’s second quarter which had a total of 1,130.
On May 1, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) updated its webpage for retrieving I-94 arrival/departure records. Now visitors to the US can access a history of their arrival/departure dates and points of entry/exit (if known) going back five years from the request date. As well as being a helpful resource to visa applicants completing the details of their five most recent US trips on their DS-160 visa application forms, travellers may no longer need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to receive their arrival/departure history.
April 29, 2014: Statistical view of US immigration
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics has released its 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. The 124-page Yearbook provides a wealth of data on foreign nationals who during the US Government’s Fiscal Year 2012 were granted lawful permanent residence, were admitted into the United States on a temporary basis, applied for asylum or refugee status, or were naturalized. Among the interesting facts: During FY2012 (October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012) a total of 12,014 persons born in the UK became lawful permanent residents, representing just 1.2% of the worldwide total of 1,031,631. Of the 12,014 British-born new lawful permanent residents 6,148 were the immediate relatives (spouse, parents or minor children) of US citizens, while employment-based petitions accounted for another 5,175 new British-born permanent residents. The top five countries of birth for permanent residents in FY2012 were Mexico (146,406); China (81,784); India (66,434); Philippines (57,327); and the Dominican Republic (41,566).
April 22, 2014: Pause in the service
Your correspondent is travelling. Please check back on Tuesday, April 29, for the next Weekly Update.
April 15, 2014: FY2015 H-1B cap filled and lottery performed
On April 7, 2014, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that since filing began on April 1 it had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap for fiscal year 2015. In fact, USCIS received about 172,500 H-1B petitions, including those filed for the advanced degree exemption. As a result, the Service performed a lottery on April 10, 2014 to randomly select petitions for adjudication. It will no longer accept H-1B petitions subject to the FY2015 cap or those filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the advanced degree exemption, but it will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. The cap-subject petitions that were not randomly selected will be rejected and returned to the petitioner.
In commemoration of today’s US tax return filing deadline we offer a YouTube clip of the 1942 song ‘”I Paid My Income Tax Today.” Written by Irving Berlin (who donated the copyright to the US Department of Treasury) and sung by cowboy singer Gene Autry, it celebrates a citizen’s delight in helping to fund his government.
April 8, 2014: New website article; USCIS e-requests; press coverage on US immigration problems
We have added a new article, Four Basic Facts About US Visas, to our website. It deals with some general issues about US visas, such as where you can apply for a visa, how many times you can travel to the US on a visa, and the meaning of visa expiry dates. We invite you to revisit our Articles page shortly for the second instalment in this two-part series designed to explain some practical fundamentals of this surprisingly complex area of the law.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has expanded its e-request system to accept queries about USCIS-issued cards, documents or notices you believe to have gone missing in the post. Please check the e-request website for more information on what queries may now be submitted to the USCIS online.
Last week, our attorney Susan McFadden was quoted by The Times, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and other UK media outlets regarding Nigella Lawson’s apparent US immigration difficulties.
April 1, 2014: H-1B filing season; Chile joins VWP; Embassy’s advice on requiring a visa to travel
From today through April 7, the USCIS will be accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year 2015 cap. If, as expected, more petitions are filed during the first week than can be accommodated under the annual quota of approximately 65,000, a lottery will be conducted among the petitions received to determine which petitions will be adjudicated. (The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of individuals with a US master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.) Last year, the USCIS received approximately 124,000 cap-subject petitions during the first week of filing.
Chile officially became a member of the Visa Waiver Program yesterday, March 31, 2014, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement published in the Federal Register. Holders of Chilean passports and an ESTA authorization can now travel to the US for business and pleasure purposes without a visa. This announcement supersedes the DHS’s February statement that Chile would join the VWP in May.
The Embassy has posted via Twitter a new infographic to assist people in determining whether they need a visa to travel to the United States. According to the chart, an arrest, caution or conviction for any offense renders a person ineligible for travel on the Visa Waiver Program. Our website article Travelling to the US Without a Visa briefly discusses this debatable point.
March 25, 2014: J-1 visa problems; Embassy webchat
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization, has published a report about the exploitation of J-1 visa holders and the need to reform the cultural exchange program. It discusses shortfalls of the J-1 program, including the lack of enforceable regulations for participants’ pay or working hours, employers’ use of the program as a source of cheap labor, and even vulnerabilities potentially facilitating human trafficking. J-1 visa holders should review the pamphlet prepared by the US Department of State governing the rights and protections of workers in the US. The pamphlet also includes details of organizations which can be contacted in cases of exploitation.
The US Embassy in London is hosting a webchat tomorrow, March 26, from midday to 1:00pm on the subject of non-immigrant visas. It appears that questions about immigrant visas will also be welcome.
March 18, 2014: Online FOIA request
The Department of Homeland Security has released a new online form for submission of requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Privacy Act. The new system will provide requesters with an estimated date of completion of the DHS response. For additional information regarding records available under FOIA, see the DHS web pages on that topic.
March 11, 2014: Report on nonimmigrant overstays; firm news
The Congressional Research Service has published a report about people who enter the United States on nonimmigrant visas and overstay their authorized period of admission. While the report estimates that each year hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals overstay their nonimmigrant visas or enter the country illegally (with fraudulent documents or bypassing immigration inspections), it also points out that accurate statistics are unavailable due to lack of effective or consistent record keeping.
We are happy to announce that the experienced US immigration lawyer Katherine Chow has joined Gudeon & McFadden after years of practice in New York City. Kathleen Kavanagh remains with the firm in an advisory ‘Of Counsel’ capacity.
March 4, 2014: Chile to join Visa Waiver Program; updated poverty guidelines; Edward Gudeon Memorial RDC Service Award
On May 1, 2014 Chile will become the 38th member of the Visa Waiver Program. As of that date eligible holders of Chilean passports and an ESTA authorization will be able to travel to the US without a visa. To read the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announcement, click here.
The Department of State has updated the Foreign Affairs Manual to show the new poverty guidelines applicable to all I-864 Affidavits of Support filed on or after March 1, 2014. For additional information about the affidavit of support process please see our website articles A Beginner’s Guide to the Affidavit of Support and I-864 Affidavits of Support: The Problem of ‘Domicile’.
The Rome District Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association has just named its annual service award in memory of our late co-founder, Edward Gudeon. The Chapter states that this is “in recognition of the late Edward Gudeon’s many years of AILA membership and immigration practice in London, his commitment to the development and sharing of consular processing expertise and his tireless efforts over his many decades in practice to improve working relationships between attorneys and consular officers.” It is a fitting tribute to an excellent lawyer and human being.
February 25, 2014: New policy on cautions
Although a formal statement has yet to be released, it appears that the US government has completed reviewing its policy on UK cautions and has decided that cautions received for crimes involving moral turpitude or drugs-related offences will be treated as convictions for US immigration purposes. If this decision is finalised, visa applicants with such cautions would require a waiver of ineligibility, even if previous visa applications had been approved without a waiver. Waivers of ineligibility are currently taking 18 to 20 weeks from the day of visa application and consular officer’s recommendation. Please see our articles A Crime Involving Moral Turpitude! What in the World is That? and Washington, We Have a Problem! Ineligibilities and Waivers for additional information. We will report further updates on this matter when available.
February 18, 2014: US citizenship policies regarding ART
The Department of State has released a new informational sheet about children born abroad to US citizens using donor eggs, donor sperm or a surrogate mother. This includes one major change from previous policy: if a US-citizen mother gives birth to a child and is the legal mother in the country where the birth took place, her US citizenship will be transmitted to the child, even if Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) was involved.
February 11, 2014: Mobile phones allowed in Embassy; possible reason for I-130 delays; 2013’s fourth quarter expatriates
Yesterday, the US Embassy, London confirmed via twitter that mobile phones are now allowed in the consular section. However, large electronics such as laptops continue to be prohibited. An updated list of prohibited items can be found here on the Embassy’s website.
The New York Times published an article on February 8, 2014 regarding the slowdown of the USCIS’s processing of I-130 petitions for alien relatives. The article suggests that resources once put into the adjudication of I-130s are now going to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (‘DACA’), President Obama’s program to give deportation deferrals to young undocumented immigrants. Our recent experience with filing I-130s with the USCIS in the United States (rather than the USCIS field office at the US Embassy in London) shows wait times of almost 10 months, so regardless of the reason for these long delays, US citizens petitioning for their non-US citizen family members should plan accordingly.
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who have chosen to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status. Those individuals numbered 631 for the quarter ended December 31, 2013.
February 4, 2014: USCIS policy manual update; transcript of Embassy webchat
The USCIS has updated its policy manual to include a new section about US citizenship and naturalization.
The US Embassy, London has released a transcript of the webchat it hosted last week on the subject of immigrant and non-immigrant visas. The consular officers indicated that the US government is still in the process of appraising its policy regarding UK cautions. Applicants with cautions should continue to expect delays in visa processing, regardless of the type of visa or whether the applicant has previously been approved for a visa.
January 28, 2014: Immigrant visa statistics; Embassy webchat
The Annual Report from the Visa Office of the US Department of State makes for interesting reading. For example, during FY2013 the Embassy in London issued a total of 4,172 immigrant visas, less than 0.9% of the worldwide total. Of the worldwide total of persons who became lawful permanent residents in FY2013 through either adjustment of status or entry on an immigrant visa (but not including spouses, minor children, or parents of US citizens) persons chargeable to the UK numbered 6,513—just 1.7%.
The US Embassy in London is hosting a webchat tomorrow, January 29, from midday to 1:00pm on the subject of visas—immigrant and non-immigrant.
January 21, 2014: Nothing to report
As we have no news from the US immigration world to report, ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on January 28. Please check back with us then.
January 14, 2014: Same-sex marriages in Utah recognized by federal government
On January 10, 2014, the US Department of Justice announced that those same-sex couples who married during the brief period in Utah when such marriages were allowed are considered validly married under federal law and therefore eligible for all relevant federal benefits (such as immigration).
January 7, 2014: EB-5 green card programme threatened; US Senator to renounce Canadian citizenship
A memorandum from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), an investigative arm of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, outlines concerns that the EB-5 regional center programme may have been used by Iranian would-be terrorists to infiltrate the United States. HSI recommends that the regional center programme be eliminated as ‘there are no safeguards that can be put in place that will ensure the integrity’ of that programme.
US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has stated that he will be renouncing his Canadian citizenship. Although he was born in Canada he claims never to have realised that he might be a citizen of that country.
December 17, 2013: Festive season Update
Your correspondent is celebrating the festive season. “Weekly Update” will resume on the first Tuesday in January. Please check back with us then.
December 10, 2013: Festive season hours
Our office will be closed from December 25 through January 1, inclusive. Whilst the office is closed we will continue to answer urgent client e-mails, and other requests will be dealt with as soon as reasonably possible. We wish our readers a happy and healthy festive season.
December 3, 2013: Transcript from Embassy webchat
The US Embassy, London has released a transcript of its latest webchat which took place on November 26, 2013. Some points will be contentious, such as the statement that “[a]ny individual convicted of an alcohol or drug related driving offense is not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) - they must apply for the appropriate visa to enter the United States. Failing to do so could result in denial of entry at the border and a permanent ineligibility for misrepresentation.” For further information about these situations, please see our articles Washington, We Have a Problem! Ineligibilities and Waivers, A Crime Involving Moral Turpitude! What in the World is That? and Drink Driving and the US Embassy, London.
The consular officers also indicated that the US government is appraising its policy regarding UK cautions, so applicants with cautions should expect delays in visa processing: “Currently U.S. Government policy is under review regarding criminal cautions in the United Kingdom. Applicants having a caution may experience lengthy delays during the application process. Apply as soon as possible and don't make final travel plans unless you have received a visa. These delays will affect applicants who may have already received a visa in the past after disclosing the caution.”
November 26, 2013: Embassy webchat; I-130 processing times
The US Embassy in London is hosting a webchat today from midday to 1:00pm about nonimmigrant and immigrant visas.
On November 20, 2013, the USCIS updated the processing times on its website. There has been a tremendous slow-down in the processing of I-130 immigrant petitions for US citizens’ foreign relatives, and the processing time for spousal petitions is in excess of six months. In contrast, some US citizens eligible to file their I-130’s with a USCIS field office abroad, such as the office at the US Embassy in London, are enjoying processing times of under one month. For further information on filing in London specifically, please see our article I Married an Alien, Get Us Out of Here: Immigrant Visas for Spouses of US Citizens Living in the United Kingdom.
November 20, 2013: Third quarter expatriates
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who have chosen to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status. Those individuals numbered 560 for the quarter ended September 30, 2013, less than half the number who expatriated during the previous quarter.
November 12, 2013: Honoring US veterans
The US Embassy, London joined President Obama in remembering and paying tribute to America’s servicemen and -women on Veterans Day. According to the Census Bureau, there are 23.2 million veterans in the United States today.
November 5, 2013: DV-2015 now closed; updated article
The application period for the FY2015 Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery’ is now closed. From May 1, 2014, applicants will be able to check the status of their entries by returning to www.dvlottery.state.gov.
We have revised our article Unknown Unknowns: ‘Do I Really Need a Lawyer to Get My Spouse a Green Card?’ We hope that you will find it helpful.
October 29, 2013: Online form replaces DS-2001 for immigrant visa applicants
The Immigrant Visa Unit has updated their online instructions for applying for an immigrant visa at the US Embassy in London. Formerly, applicants were required to file the paper Form DS-2001 to notify the Unit that they had collected all the necessary documents and were ready for their appointments to be scheduled. Now, in order for the Immigrant Visa Unit to schedule an appointment, applicants must complete the online Notification of Applicant Readiness Form to show that they have submitted the immigrant visa application Form DS-260, scheduled the medical examination and are in possession of all the documents required on the day of the interview.
October 22, 2013: Federal government back in business; Embassy webchat scheduled
After agreement was reached on a continuing budget resolution to fund the US Government until January 15, 2014 all federal offices are now back to normal functioning. The USCIS has announced that the Government shutdown will be treated as an ‘extraordinary circumstance’ for purposes of forgiving untimely filing of H-1B, H-2A and H-2B petitions.
The Embassy will be holding another webchat this Thursday, October 24 from noon to 1pm on the subject of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.
October 15, 2013: No news during US government shutdown
As the US government shutdown continues, the US Embassy in London continues to conduct scheduled interviews and issue visas.
October 8, 2013: Embassy services during US government shutdown; updated courier information
Although the US government shutdown continues, services and operations at the US Embassy in London are still running as usual. The Embassy has issued a statement on the effects of the shutdown.
The visa appointment scheduling website has updated their list of courier ‘hubs’ located throughout the UK which are used for sending documents to and collecting documents from the Embassy in London and the Consulate General in Belfast. Helpfully, telephone numbers and opening hours are now indicated for each hub.
October 1, 2013: Embassy open during US government shutdown; new articles
The US government has shut down today as it was unable to finalize the budget, but the US Embassy in London has announced that any government shutdown will not affect Embassy operations or services.
We have added new articles: Same-Sex Marriage and Spousal Visas and our recurring article about the Diversity Visa ‘green card lottery,’ Do You Feel Lucky? US Government Now Accepting Applications for the Green Card Lottery. We hope that you will find them helpful.
September 24, 2013: Green card lottery application dates announced; Embassy webchat
The State Department has announced that the DV-2015 ‘green card lottery’ will be open for applications from October 1 to November 4, 2013. The web page bears an announcement that same-sex couples and their children are now eligible to take part. Click here to go to the Department of State’s Diversity Visa Program Instructions page for further information and application instructions. Applicants should heed the Fraud Warnings on the DOS website and be aware that the DOS no longer contacts ‘selectees’ by post (and has never used email for these purposes).
This Thursday, September 26, the Embassy will host another webchat regarding immigrant and non-immigrant visas. It is scheduled to take place from noon to 1:00pm.
September 17, 2013: A pause in the service
Your correspondent is travelling. ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on September 24th; please check back with us then.
September 10, 2013: Spread of the DS-260
From September 1, 2013, immigrant visa applicants filing with the US Embassy, London (and other posts around the world) must complete the new online DS-260 application form, replacing the paper forms DS-230 Parts 1 and 2.
September 3, 2013: New electronic forms for immigrant visa processing
Beginning today, the Department of State is transitioning to an online immigrant visa application. Immigrant visa applicants who are applying through the National Visa Center in the US will now need to apply online at ceac.state.gov using Form DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) and Form DS-261 (Choice of Address and Agent). These forms replace the paper Forms DS-230 and DS-3032. Additional information about use of the Form DS-260 can be found on the Department of State’s website.
August 27, 2013: Nothing to report
As we have no news from the US immigration world to report, ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on September 3. Please check back with us then.
August 20, 2013: Opening times for Embassy’s courier hubs; visa reissuance program suspended
Under the Embassy’s new appointment scheduling and courier system, introduced July 26, 2013, visa applicants may send documents to and collect them from the consular section via 27 hubs around the UK. We have been informed by DX Secure that these hubs are open Monday through Friday, 8am to 6pm, with the exception of the Belfast hub which is additionally open on Saturdays.
The visa reissuance program, which allowed some visa applicants to obtain new visas without an Embassy interview, has been suspended. All applicants must now schedule an appointment and attend a consular interview in person. There has been no indication when the visa reissuance program will resume.
August 13, 2013: Global Entry into the US expanded to Brits; both sides of the US citizenship coin
The US Customs and Border Protection reports that its Global Entry programme, an automated entry system which allows travellers to skip immigration queues at designated ports of entry in the US and check themselves in at a kiosk, is being expanded to include additional nationalities—including UK citizens. CBP began accepting these applications on August 9, 2013. It is currently limited to certain high-frequency travellers, but CBP says that ‘in the near future’ it intends to make it available to all Brits meeting Global Entry requirements.
The Internal Revenue Service has published its quarterly list of people who have chosen to renounce their US citizenship or long-term permanent resident (‘green card’) status. Those individuals numbered 1,130 for the quarter ended June 30, 2013. According to a recent article in the Financial Times those US citizens living in the UK who have not renounced their citizenship are being served by a rapidly-multiplying number of wealth managers specialising in expatriate US citizens in the post-FATCA world.
August 6, 2013: More guidance about visa issuance to same-sex partners
On August 2 Secretary of State John Kerry announced, to a gathering at the US Embassy in London, that when same-sex spouses apply for visas, the Department of State will consider those applications in the same manner that it will consider the applications of opposite-sex spouses. He also made it clear that UK civil unions do not constitute ‘marriage’ for US visa and immigration purposes.
The Department has released to the public a cable sent to all US visa-issuing posts, giving additional guidance on the subject.
July 30, 2013: New visa appointment booking system for London; guidance from the USCIS re same sex marriages
The new procedure for booking appointments at the US Embassy, London went live on Friday, July 26. To book appointments and pay application fees applicants may either call the Embassy’s Call Center or use the Embassy’s new online service at http://usvisa-info.com. Additional information is available in the Embassy’s Visa Services blog. Please note one error: The blog states that the fee for delivery of a passport to a particular address (rather than to one of the courier’s 31 UK ‘hubs’) is £30. The fee is actually US$30.
A new FAQ from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services on the subject of same-sex marriages makes it clear that they will be recognized as marriages for a full panoply of immigration benefits, including K-1 fiancé(e) petitions and waivers of inadmissibility. Same-sex spouses need not wait for new USCIS regulations before applying for these benefits.
July 23, 2013: Welcome to the Prince of Cambridge
We join the President and Mrs. Obama and the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim from the US Embassy London in celebrating the birth of the newest addition to the Royal Family.
July 16, 2013: New online appointment-scheduling system at the US Embassy, London
As of July 26, 2013, in order to schedule nonimmigrant visa appointments and pay MRV application fees, applicants may either call the Embassy’s Call Center or use the Embassy’s new online service at http://usvisa-info.com. Applicants requiring appointments for August and beyond must wait until the new appointment-booking service goes live on July 26. Additional information is available from the Embassy’s Information Service web page.
July 9, 2013: Visa appointments at the US Embassy, London; webchat
The US Embassy in London is currently scheduling visa appointments through July 26 only. There is no indication when later appointments will be released.
The Embassy will host another webchat to discuss nonimmigrant and immigrant visas on Thursday, July 11 from 12 noon to 1pm.
July 3, 2013: Same-sex spouses as immigrant visa sponsors
Yesterday, the Secretary of Homeland Security released a statement in response to the Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor decision invalidating part of the Defense of Marriage Act. She said, “[E]ffective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.” The statement also mentioned that as a general rule USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage was performed when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes.
June 25, 2013: The passing of Edward Gudeon
We sadly announce the unexpected and sudden death on 23 June of our friend and former partner, Edward Gudeon. He was 73.
A graduate of Bucknell University and Fordham Law School, Edward practiced as a criminal defense attorney in New York for over a decade before moving to London. In 1978 he set up London’s first law firm concentrating solely on US immigration and nationality law. He was actively engaged in that practice until his retirement in 2009, and enjoyed the highest level of esteem and respect from all who dealt with him. He took a great deal of pleasure in his too-brief retirement which afforded him the opportunity to spend more time with his family in both the US and UK and to continue his life-long hobby of photography.
Edward is survived by his wife Geri, two daughters, two stepchildren, five grandchildren and one step-grandchild.
June 18, 2013: Tips for filing an E-1/E-2 registration; passport control mistake
The E Visa Team at the US Embassy, London has identified five major avoidable mistakes and unhelpful practices which cause delays to their review of your company’s E-1/E-2 registration.
Most countries have quite stringent security and passport checks at airports these days, but sometimes things don’t go exactly to plan. This article shows how a nine-year-old schoolgirl was allowed to enter Turkey using a passport that identified her as a pink unicorn.
June 11, 2013: New use for USCIS online system; will foreigners no longer be ‘aliens’?
The USCIS has announced that immigrant visa holders must now use its ‘Electronic Immigration System’ (ELIS) portal to pay the mandatory $165 fee for issuance of their green cards. The system is also used by some nonimmigrant visa holders to e-file applications to extend or change their status.
Many of our clients find it amusing that the US Government refers to them as ‘aliens.’ However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals—the appellate court with jurisdiction over federal trial courts in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee—has opined that the term is ‘offensive and demeaning.’ It urges Congress to eliminate it from the statute books. Flores v USCIS, (6th Cir. June 4, 2013).
June 4, 2013: Preparing for summer travel to the US
The Transportation Security Administration, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has produced a Summer Travel Checklist of advice for travellers during the summer holidays. Travellers from the UK may wish to also consult a recent article in the Independent newspaper: ‘Heading for America? Prepare for the longest US immigration queues ever.’
May 28, 2013: A pause in the service
Your correspondent is travelling. ‘Weekly Update’ will resume on June 3rd; please check back with us then.
May 21, 2013: Wait times for Embassy appointments; USCIS Field Office information
If you need a visa to travel to the US, keep in mind the wait for a visa appointment before you book your summer holiday! Yesterday the US Embassy, London tweeted that it has a 24-day wait for B-1/B-2 visitor visa appointments and an 18-day wait for F or J visa appointments.
USCIS Field Offices have new web pages which include helpful information such as how to schedule appointments and how often they hold naturalisation ceremonies.
May 14, 2013: List of renunciants published; immigration statistics
On May 8, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published its latest quarterly list of people who have recently given up their US citizenship or long-term permanent residence.
The Congressional Budget Office has released statistics and graphs on immigration-related topics, analysing trends in immigration and policy proposals.
May 7, 2013: Facebook chats with a Visa Officer; more visa statistics; immigration issues for same-sex spouses of US citizens
The Department of State’s Visa Office has announced that it will host a live Facebook chat on a hot topic on the first Friday of every month. Questions of a general nature, not pertaining to an individual case, may be submitted in advance.
The Visa Office has also released its 2012 Report, which includes many statistics on the nonimmigrant and immigrant visas issued by the Department during Fiscal Year 2012.
A recent Financial Times article addresses the continuing visa plight of same-sex spouses of US citizens, including the implications for big business. One senator is proposing an amendment to the pending immigration bill to provide visas for Americans’ foreign same-sex spouses.
April 30, 2013: Instructions for retrieving automated I-94 details; new procedures for applying for a Social Security card
US Customs and Border Protection has released a video to show travellers to the US how to retrieve their I-94 details online. The automation of the form will begin at select ports of entry today.
The computerization of Form I-94 is also stimulating an update to the Social Security Administration procedures manual. Eligible entrants to the US will be able to apply immediately for a Social Security card, rather than having to wait 10 days after entry, as has previously been the case.
April 23, 2013: Phasing out the I-94; Embassy webchat
The Customs and Border Protection has released more information about the automation of the I-94 Arrival/Departure cards, including a schedule of when the paper form will be phased out at different ports of entry, beginning April 30. Under the new process for entry, the CBP officer will stamp the travel document with an admission stamp showing the date of admission, class of admission, and the date until which the traveller is admitted. Travellers will also receive on arrival a flier alerting them that they can find their admission record information at www.CBP.gov/I94. That website will not go live until the end of April.
The US Embassy, London will host another webchat to discuss nonimmigrant and immigrant visas on Thursday, April 25 from 12pm to 1pm.
April 16, 2013: H-1B petitions; statistics on new US citizens and lawful permanent residents
The USCIS has not yet announced which H-1B petitions, out of the approximately 124,000 received between April 1 and 5, have ‘won the lottery’ and will be adjudicated.
The Department of Homeland Security has released new statistical reports regarding the people who became US citizens and lawful permanent residents during fiscal year 2012.
April 9, 2013: H-1B cap already reached for FY2014
On April 5, 2013, the USCIS announced that they had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap for fiscal year 2014, only four days after the beginning of the filing period. Because the USCIS received between April 1 and April 5 what they believe to be enough petitions to fill both the regular and US advanced degree quotas, the Service performed a lottery on April 7, 2013 to randomly select petitions for adjudication. They will no longer accept H-1B petitions subject to the FY2014 cap or those filed on behalf of persons exempt from the cap under the advanced degree exemption, but they will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. This is the first year since FY2009 that the cap has been reached in the first week of filing.
April 2, 2013: I-94 automated from April 26; immigration policy trends reported
Further to last week’s update, the CBP has published their interim final rule on transitioning the I-94 from paper to electronic format, effective April 26.
The Congressional Research Service has released a lengthy report, called a “chart book,” about current trends in US immigration policy, including increased border security and immigration enforcement, improved employment eligibility verification, revision of legal immigration and options to address the millions of unauthorized aliens residing in the country.
March 26, 2013: CBP to discontinue the I-94; Embassy webchat scheduled
On March 21, US Customs and Border Protection announced that it has submitted to the Federal Register a rule that will automate Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. Currently, international visitors entering the US on a nonimmigrant visa must complete an I-94 and retain it in their passport as evidence of their lawful admittance to the US. The new rule will automate the I-94 information so that visitors will no longer need to complete and keep track of the hard-copy form. The CBP expects this to streamline procedures and reduce costs by up to $15.5 million per year.
The US Embassy, London will hold another webchat on the topic of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas this Thursday, March 28, between noon and 1 pm.
March 19, 2013: H-1B lottery likely
The USCIS has announced that it believes it will receive during the first week of filing (April 1 to 5) more than enough H-1B petitions to satisfy the entire FY2014 quota. If this is in fact the case, the agency will conduct a lottery among those petitions received during that week, to determine which petitions will be adjudicated. This lottery procedure was last used in April 2008. In order to deal with the avalanche of expected filings, those petitions that are accepted for adjudication and which request Premium Processing Service will for purposes of the 15-day guarantee be deemed to have been filed on April 15.
March 12, 2013: Embassy Twitter chat scheduled; Telegraph article about renouncing US citizenship
The Embassy will be hosting a Twitter chat about visas this Wednesday, March 14, from noon to 1pm. Tweet your question, using the hashtag #USVisas, and get an answer from a consular officer.
Our attorney Susan McFadden was quoted in a Daily Telegraph article discussing the increase in the number of Americans renouncing their US citizenship and the reasons for that increase.
March 5, 2013: Research on US citizens living abroad; no green cards for same-sex partners
A bill was introduced on February 8, 2013 in the US Congress that would require the establishment of a ‘Commission on Americans Living Abroad,’ to study how federal laws affect US citizens living outside the US. Among the topics that would be studied would be the impact of ‘FATCA’ (the ‘Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act’) on the ability of US citizens to get bank accounts abroad.
And on the subject of US citizens living abroad: A recent article in the New York Times featured a gay American who was forced to move to London in order to be with his British same-sex partner. US immigration treatment of same-sex partners was contrasted unfavourably with the straightforward approach under British law.
February 26, 2013: List of renunciants published; Embassy webchat scheduled
On February 14, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published its latest quarterly list of people who have recently renounced US citizenship.
The US Embassy, London will hold a webchat on the topic of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas this Thursday, February 28, between noon and 1 pm.
February 19, 2013: Affidavits of support; a delay is a ‘denial’
The Department of State has updated the Foreign Affairs Manual to show the new poverty guidelines applicable to all I-864 Affidavits of Support filed on or after March 1, 2013. For additional information about the affidavit of support process please see our website articles A Beginner’s Guide to the Affidavit of Support and I-864 Affidavits of Support: The Problem of ‘Domicile’ .
Further new guidance from the Department makes it clear, once again, that when a consular officer asks an applicant for additional information under Immigration and Nationality Act section 221(g) before adjudicating the visa application, the applicant must report this as a visa denial for ESTA purposes.
February 12, 2013: US Embassy to hold ‘Twitter chat’ regarding visas
The US Embassy in London will be holding a Twitter chat tomorrow, February 13, between noon and 1 pm. The consular officer will take questions on the subject of visas; the hash tag is #USVisas.
February 5, 2013: New poverty guidelines for I-864; DOS advises on waits for visa interviews and processing
The Department of Health and Human Services has issued its new poverty guidelines. These will become effective for I-864 ‘Affidavit of Support’ purposes on March 1.
The Department of State has created a new web page for persons applying for non-immigrant (temporary) visas. It allows the applicant to compare the waiting times for visa interviews and for the post-interview return of the passport experienced by applicants at all US visa-issuing posts.
January 29, 2013: US immigration law reform? I-130 processing speeds up; Tina Turner to expatriate
A bipartisan group of eight US Senators has announced a legislative proposal to reform the immigration system. It would provide a route to legal status for millions of undocumented foreigners currently in the US, increase the number of H-1B visas available each year, and grant permanent residence automatically to persons who earn advanced degrees at US universities in science, maths or technology.
Processing times for I-130 immigrant petitions filed with the USCIS in London continue to fall. As of January 24 the USCIS Field Office in London was processing I-130s filed on January 10.
Tina Turner has become the latest high-profile American to plan the relinquishment of her US citizenship. According to an article in a Swiss German-language newspaper she has been accepted by the local council and now awaits only formal approval from the canton and federal governments.
January 22, 2013: Inaugural address raises hopes for immigration reform
In his second inaugural address, given yesterday, President Obama raised hopes that immigration reform may be part of the legislative agenda for the coming two-year Congressional term. ‘Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.’ For the annotated text and a video of the address, plus analysis by the reporters of the New York Times, click here.
January 15, 2013: Visa application status checks; Homeland Security and Twitter
The Department of State now offers a website where applicants can check on the status of pending visa applications, whether immigrant or non-immigrant.
Susan McFadden was interviewed on a Channel 4 documentary broadcast on January 8; ‘Don’t Blame Facebook’ dealt with the dangers of careless postings in cyberspace. Susan spoke about the case of two young Britons refused entry to the US in 2012 because one had Tweeted that he was going to ‘destroy America.’
January 8, 2013: New fee for immigrant visa holders; provisional waivers for some IV applicants with ‘unlawful presence’ bars
Beginning on February 1 the Department of Homeland Security will begin charging immigrant visa holders a processing fee of US$165 for issuing them the Form I-551 ‘green card.’ The fee will be payable online after the applicants receive their immigrant visas but before they use them to enter the United States. DHS will not issue the green cards until the fees are paid.
The DHS will be putting into effect on March 4 a new procedure that will allow some family-based immigrant visa applicants to apply from within the United States for a provisional waiver of the 3- or 10-year bar due to unlawful presence. The new final rule was published in the Federal Register on January 3. Under current practice applicants cannot apply for a waiver of the bar until they have departed the US and had their immigrant visa interview in the foreign country. This often has the result, admits the DHS in its executive summary of the new rule, that applicants are separated from their US-resident families for over a year whilst awaiting a decision on the waiver application.