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The Most Significant Changes in US Immigration Laws That Took Place in the Past Several Years
I. Restructuring of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service:
As of March 1, 2003, INS was dissolved into the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under DHS, the INS was split into three separate agencies:
- The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS);
- the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE);
- and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP).
II. Changes to B-Visitor Visa/Status
Changes of duration of stay on B (visitor's) visas.
Starting from April 2002 the minimum admission for 6 months is eliminated and is replaced with "the amount of time needed to accomplish the purpose of the visit". Maximum initial admission is cut from 1 year to 6 months. Moreover, B-visitors are not allowed to change their status to F-student, unless they have presented form I-20 to the immigration inspector notifying him of intention to study in the US . Or, in the alternative, have notified the consular officer of intent to study at the time they received the entry visa. Moreover, B-nonimmigrants are required to wait until their F or M student status is approved by INS before starting the studying. B-visitors are permitted now to accept honorarium for participation in a usual academic activity.
III. Student Visas
SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). The program requires institutions of higher educations and sponsors of exchange visitor programs to report to INS information on their foreign student population. When the program is fully implemented only those institutions that participate in the program would be able to produce SEVIS-compatible Form I-20. Affect: Schools that do not enroll in the SEVIS program (most likely small or non-accredited schools) would not be able to produce I-20 form, which is required for obtaining a student visa. Currently, a significant number of students come to study in small, in-expensive institutions and are able to receive visas. It might not be possible in the future.
IV. Travel Outside the US
Travel outside the US for any non-US citizen may involve risks.
The following categories are at risk:
It should be noted that H-1B and L nonimmigrants whose green card application is pending and who travel outside the US must carry with their original I-485 receipt notice, otherwise USCIS may consider them to have abandoned their Adjustment application.
- people who at any time after 1996 remained in the US illegally or worked without authorization for more than 180 days. These persons may be inadmissible to come to the US on any type of visa for 3 years.
- People who remained outside the US for over 1 year become inadmissible for 10 years.
- People who at any time have committed any criminal offense in the US (even LPR may find themselves inadmissible after traveling outside the US for a crime including that they committed over 20 yrs ago).
V. Business Immigration
Portability. AC21 American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act Introduced "Portability" concept, which means that a green card applicant may change employers after the adjustment application has been pending and was not adjudicated by INS in the first 180 days from filing. It should be noted that such a change in employment may take place ONLY if the new position is "same or similar" as the old position as it was described in alien's Labor Certification.
Concurrent Filing. USCIS has permitted concurrent filing of I-140 and I-485 petition. This measure reduces dramatically overall time of waiting for a green card..
VI. Electronic Filings
USCIS has now developed the technology to accept electronic filing as an option for the most commonly submitted immigration forms.
VII. Removal of LPRs
It should be noted that when a person has obtained permanent residency (green card) can still be removed (deported) from the US under certain circumstances. Many of the grounds of deportability are the same as grounds of inadmissibility (reasons to reject a green card application). In particular, grounds of deportability include:
- Crime of Moral Turpitude (within 5 yrs of admission);
- Multiple Criminal Convictions (CMT);
- Aggravated Felony;
- High Speed Flight from immigration officer (new: since 1996);
- Drug Offenses;
- Firearm violations;
- Miscellaneous Crimes;
- Crimes of Domestic Violence (new: since 1996) (domestic violence, stalking, child abuse, violation of protective order);
- Document-Related Crimes: failure to report a change of address, failure to register, document fraud, false claim to citizenship;
- Security Related;
- Public Charge;
- Unlawful Voting.
VIII. New 'U.S. VISIT System' for Travelers
The system will be in its first phase of operation at international air and sea ports of entry by the end of 2003. It will function by taking visitor's fingerprints and photographs and checking that information, as well as the visitor's names, against a computerized list of known terrorist and lawbreakers. This program will also help the Department to keep track of people who overstay their visas.
IX. New Certification Requirement for Health Care Workers
Under the new rule, which will come into effect on September 23, 2003, certain nonimmigrant foreign health care workers, other than physicians, who are coming to work in the United States, will be required to present a certificate granted by an approved independent credentialing organization before they will be allowed to enter the United States.
This ensures that all foreign nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists, medical technologists, medical technicians and physician assistants seeking to work in the nation's health care system have met certain statutory standards. The certification requirement was mandated by section 343 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Although the final rule takes effect 60 days from today, the DHS will continue to exercise its discretion under the Act to allow affected nonimmigrant health care workers sufficient time to obtain the requisite certification. For one year after publication of the final rule, the DHS will admit and approve applications for change of status and/or extension of stay for nonimmigrant health care workers.
X. USCIS streamlines readmissions for certain H and L nonimmigrants with pending permanent residence applications
WASHINGTON -U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today published a final rule in the Federal Register to streamline the readmission of certain “H” and “L” nonimmigrants who have applied for adjustment of status to become permanent residents. The rule removes the requirement that such persons present a receipt notice (Form I-797, Notice of Action) for their adjustment applications when returning to the United States from travel abroad.
This rule benefits certain types of H or L nonimmigrants who have a pending adjustment of status application. H-1 nonimmigrants affected by this rule are the H-1B classification for “specialty occupation” workers and the H-1C classification for certain registered nurses. L-1 nonimmigrants affected by this rule are the L-1A classification for certain intracompany transferees who are managers or executives, and the L-1B classification for “specialized knowledge” workers. Dependents of affected H-1s and L-1s, who are admitted as H-4s and L-2s, are also relieved of the receipt requirement.
Generally, adjustment of status applicants must obtain Advance Parole (Form I -131, Application for Travel Document) from USCIS prior to leaving the United States or else their applications are deemed abandoned. H-1 and L-1 nonimmigrants (and their H-4 or L-2 dependents) are now exempt from this requirement. Previously, they were required to present a receipt for their adjustment application at the time of readmission to the United States following foreign travel. This final rule eliminates the unnecessary burden of presenting this receipt since the application information in the receipt is in USCIS databases available to immigration inspectors and adjudicators.
H-1 and L-1 nonimmigrants (and their dependents) with pending adjustment of status applications, who are not under exclusion, deportation, or removal proceedings, are reminded to comply with all other requirements of the regulations. Upon application for readmission to the United States , they must provide evidence to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Inspector at the port of entry that they are:
- Still eligible for H-1 or L-1 status,
- Coming to resume employment with the same employer for whom they were previously employed, and
- In possession of a valid H-1 or L-1 visa, if required.
In the case of H-4 or L-2 dependents, the spouse or parent through whom they received their H-4 or L-2 status must meet the above requirements and the dependent must remain eligible for admission in H-4 or L-2 classification.
For further information, contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center at or visit the USCIS website: www.uscis.gov
XI. USCIS reopens comment period on proposed rule for Religious worker visa classifications
WASHINGTON —U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that it is reopening the public comment period until November 16, 2007, on a proposed rule for special immigrant (SR/SD) and nonimmigrant (R-1) religious worker visa classifications. The notice extending the comment period is published in today's Federal Register.
In addition, the Federal Register notice informs the public that USCIS will consider comments received between the close of the original comment period (June 25, 2007) and November 16, 2007.
USCIS reopened the record to give interested persons additional time to review and comment on the proposed rule that highlights steps to eliminate fraud in the religious worker program and streamlines the process for legitimate petitioners.
Key revisions to the proposal, originally published in an April 25, 2007 Federal Register notice, include an across-the-board petition requirement allowing USCIS to verify both the legitimacy of the petitioner and the job offer before a visa is issued or the worker is admitted to the United States, and a reduction in the initial period of admission for a non-immigrant from three years to one.
More information on the proposed revisions for religious worker classifications is available in an accompanying Fact Sheet. The proposal is also available for review at www.regulations.gov (DHS Docket #USCIS-2005-0030).
XII. Backlog ends in permanent labor certification program
DOL has announced that as of September 30, 2007, the Backlog in the Permanent Labor Certification program has been eliminated, with nearly 99% of cases completed and the remainder awaiting responses from employers. Both of the Backlog Elimination Centers (BECs) have started a transition and shutdown phase that will continue through December.
The BECs will continue to use the general information email boxes as the communication source for a limited period. These addresses are: firstname.lastname@example.org (Dallas BEC) or email@example.com (Philadelphia BEC).
The Backlog Public Disclosure System will continue to be active until the remaining cases are completed. Case status can be checked at http://pds.pbls.doleta.gov
XIII. USCIS announces new naturalization test
On September 27, 2007 USCIS announced the 100 questions and answers that comprise the civics component of the new naturalization test to be administered beginning October 8, 2007.
USCIS has posted the 100 new question and answers, the reading and writing vocabulary lists, a side-by-side comparison of the current and new test, answers to frequently asked questions and other information about the new test online at: http://www.uscis.gov/newtest