USCIS Issues Policy Guidance on Customer Service

USCIS has issued a new customer service manual. The guidance is intended to be comprehensive and controlling. It supersedes any previous USCIS guidance on customer service.

These are some of the highlights:

Expedited Processing

Applications that were not filed via Premium Processing may be eligible for expedited processing if it meets one or more of the following criteria:

• Severe financial loss to company or person;
• Emergency situation (i.e. applicant is gravely ill);
• Humanitarian reasons (i.e. outbreak of war in the home country);
• Certain nonprofit organizations;
• Department of Defense or national interest situation;
• USCIS error; or
• Compelling interest of USCIS.

Please note that USCIS does not consider petitions that have Premium Processing Service available. USCIS may request additional documentation to support expedite requests.

Requests for expedited processing can be done in one of the following ways:

• Call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283.  The NCSC will then forward the Service Request to the office with jurisdiction over the case;
• Schedule an InfoPass appointment at a local USCIS office; or
• Write a letter to the field office or service center processing the case.

Expedite requests can be done for cases that are approaching regulatory processing times. For example, an application for EAD work authorization can be given a service request to expedite when it has been pending for more than 75 days.

Email Correspondence

USCIS service centers provide designated email boxes for customers to inquire about their pending or adjudicated petitions or applications. The email addresses for the Service Centers are:

• California Service Center: csc-ncsc-followup@dhs.gov
• Vermont Service Center: vsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov
• Nebraska Service Center: ncscfollowup.nsc@dhs.gov
• Texas Service Center: tsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov

Prior to submitting an email inquiry, customers must have called the NCSC to submit a service request. If the customer has not received a response within 15 days of the call to the NCSC, then the customer can email the service center where the case is pending. The email must include the service request reference.

If no response is received within 21 days of the email to the service center, customers may contact the USCIS Headquarters Office of Service Center Operations at: SCOPSSCATA@dhs.gov.

Complaints

There are several ways to submit complaints:

• Call NCSC and ask to speak with a supervisor;
• Make an InfoPass appointment at a local USCIS office;
• Written complaint by mail, email, or fax;
• Contact the Office of Inspector General directly; or
• Contact USCIS headquarters directly.

The customer service manual directs that customers should not be expected to know where to first submit a complaint, and that complaints should not be dismissed because the proper procedure was not followed.

The manual further directs that all complaints should be responded to in writing, by phone, or verbally (where the complaint is submitted in person). Responses should explain steps taken to resolve the issue. In cases where the complaint cannot be resolved in a reasonable time, the response should acknowledge the receipt of the complaint, when a resolution is expected, and any additional action that needs to be taken.

Graham Adair is committed to providing excellent customer service to its clients. We closely monitor all cases and work with USCIS as necessary to proper outcomes. If you have any questions or concerns on how your case is being handled by USCIS, please feel free to contact us at info@grahamadair.com.

September 2014 Visa Bulletin: EB-2 Shows Steady Progress

For September, there is not much movement in the employment-based categories except for EB-2 India. Still, the progress is not significant, and this can be attributed to various factors. Charles Oppenheim, Chief of Visa Control and Reporting Division (U.S. Dept. of State), explained that EB-2 India cut-off could have moved forward more dramatically for September. However, worldwide EB-1 and EB-2 India demand in July and the beginning of August were higher than expected. This increase resulted in fewer available visa numbers for EB-2 India.

Mr. Oppenheim also predicts that EB-2 India will retrogress in FY2015, and this could occur as early as November. “Current USCIS filings based on forward movement of the India EB-2 cut-off may not results in a significant increase in requests for visa numbers until early FY 2015. When that occurs, we can expect to see retrogression based on the need to hold number use within the annual limit.”

Meanwhile, EB-3 China continue to advance, moving from October 1, 2006 to November 1, 2008. Also noteworthy is the progress of EB-3 Philippines, moving to the same priority date as EB-3 worldwide.

For more information on the September 2014 Visa Bulletin, please click here.

Graham Adair will be working with our clients who have priority dates that will become current on September 1, 2014. If you have any questions about this bulletin or its impact, please feel free to contact us at info@grahamadair.com.

U.S. Consulates in Canada Temporarily Suspend Third-Country National Visa Processing

The seven U.S. consulates in Canada have announced that they will not accept any new third-country national (TCN) visa applications for the summer months of June, July, and August. Any currently existing application appointments will be honored, but going forward nationals of countries other than Canada will be required to obtain a visa appointment at U.S. consulates elsewhere in the world. The U.S. consulates in Canada will resume TCN visa application processing in September.

This primarily will impact individuals who are currently working in the U.S. who had intended to make plans to apply for a U.S. visa in Canada over the summer months. If a visa application is required during June – August 2014 that application will need to be made in another country, unless the client holds a valid Canadian passport.

Please contact an attorney at Graham Adair if you need guidance or advice on this topic.

172,500 H-1Bs Received

Today USCIS announced that it received approximately 172,500 H-1B petitions in the H-1B cap filing period between April 1 and April 7, 2014. USCIS has completed the computer-generated lottery to select the petitions that will be processed under this year’s cap.

The lottery was first completed for the petitions eligible for the 20,000 H-1Bs available under the U.S. Master’s Degree cap; any petitions not selected in that lottery were then included in the lottery for the 65,000 available H-1Bs in the regular cap.

USCIS announced that premium processing will begin no later than April 28, 2014. They will begin the process of returning petitions and filing fee checks over the coming weeks. We are estimating that we should have confirmation on nearly all cases by the end of May.

Graham Adair will begin notifying clients as soon as filing fee checks are deposited by USCIS. Please contact us directly at info@grahamadair.com with questions.

FY 2015 H-1B Cap Reached

Today USCIS announced that it has received sufficient H-1B petitions to reach the annual limit for both the regular and advanced US degree caps. The computerized random selection lottery for the US master’s cap will be conducted first. Cases not selected will then be dropped into the lottery for the regular H-1B cap. So, in essence, US master’s cap cases will have two opportunities for selection.

We are hoping to get specific numbers from USCIS by next week. We anticipate that USCIS will soon start depositing checks on cases that are selected. It could be a few weeks, and maybe even until mid-May, before receipts begin showing up for cases filed with regular processing. For cases filed with premium processing, courtesy email notifications should begin by the middle of this month.

Graham Adair will begin notifying clients as soon as checks are deposited. Please contact us directly at info@grahamadair.com with questions.

Telephone Scam Update

We reported last month that USCIS issued a notice regarding a scam wherein some companies and individuals who had filed recent petitions received phone calls saying that errors were made and payment was required to correct immigration records. It has come to our attention that similar scams are ongoing.

 

 A recent one involves a scammer calling the individual’s home from a number that shows up on caller ID as 911. The caller claims that there was some deficiency in the initial petition, that the individual is undocumented, and that s/he, therefore, has been scheduled for deportation. To get updated documentation and avoid deportation, the person is told to pay a fee over the phone.

It is not clear how scammers are getting personal contact information. We will continue to work with AILA and USCIS to determine how this can be avoided. If you are targeted by this or another scam, please contact us so that we can help you report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

New Telephone Scam Targeting Individuals with Immigration Petitions

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued  an alert regarding a telephone scam that is targeting companies and individuals who have filed petitions with the USCIS.  Filers are receiving phone calls from scammers who claim to be from USCIS; they are saying that mistakes have been made in the applicant’s immigration records and that payment is required to correct the mistakes.  They are also requesting personal information during this process.

The scammers use “Caller ID spoofing,” which is a technique that displays a misleading telephone number to deceive caller IDs.  The calls appear to come from the USCIS.

If you receive a phone call requesting personal information and/or payment over the phone, do not provide itPlease be advised that the USCIS does not ask for any form of payment or personal information over the phone.

If you are targeted by this scam, please let us know.  We can help you report it to the Federal Trade Commission.  To find out where to report scams in your state, you may also visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams.

How This Immigration Bill Impacts Employers

The highly publicized bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in the Senate has pushed forward to draft an immigration reform bill that many believe will make it through Congress and result in comprehensive immigration reform. Many of the bill’s provisions impact U.S. employers.

H-1B Visa Reform

Currently, there is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas allotted every year. This year, the H-1B cap was exceeded during the first five days of the filing period and resulted in a lottery to select which petitions USCIS will accept. Recognizing the need for more visas, this bill proposes to increase the minimum number of H-1B visas to 110,000, with an allowed increase of 10,000 every year depending on demand from the previous year. The maximum allowable number is 180,000 H-1B visas.

Additionally, the number of exemptions for those with advanced U.S. degrees increases from 20,000 to 25,000. However, the bill limits the exemption to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) occupations.

The bill provides a 60-day grace period for H-1B workers who separate from their sponsoring employer. During this time, they can either depart the United States or find a new employer to sponsor their H-1B. A timely filed petition during the 60-day grace period would keep the H-1B worker in valid status while the case is pending.

The bill would allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S. if their home country allows reciprocal employment in similar situations.

However, with some benefits come some costs. As H-1B visas increase, the bill compensates by requiring employers to pay higher wages to H-1B workers based on a new 3-tier wage system to be developed by the Department of Labor. Also, before employers can hire an H-1B applicant, they are required to advertise the position to U.S. workers. Under the bill, the Department of Labor would establish a centralized website where all employers must post H-1B positions for 30 days before hiring an H-1B applicant.

Changes to the Green Card Process

Under this bill, the demand on the limited number of immigrant visas would be greatly alleviated. Cases filed under the EB-1 category would no longer be counted toward the annual limit, nor would cases for those holding doctorate degrees. Cases for dependent spouses and children would also not be counted.

Moreover, the bill establishes a “merit-based points” system that would replace the current Diversity Visa Program. Under Tier 1, beneficiaries can acquire points for factors such as education, length of employment, type of employment, family members in the U.S., and length of residence in the U.S. For the first four fiscal years after the bill’s enactment, merit-based visas will be allocated for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers, who provide non-seasonal and unskilled labor. For the Tier 2 track, employment-based immigrant visas are provided to those with cases pending more than 5 years.

An Increase in Government Oversight

Heightened security is a main focus of this bill. For this reason, the bill envisions 100% employer participation in E-verify by year five of the bill’s enactment.

It is anticipated that the Department of Labor would be more involved in employer enforcement as well. This bill removes the “reasonable cause” requirement and allows the DOL to investigate employers for any reason. The DOL would also conduct annual compliance audits of all employers with over 100 employees if more than 15 percent of them are H-1B workers.

Further, this bill increases fines on employers violating terms of the Labor Condition Application. For mistakes on an LCA, fines would increase from $1,000 to $2,000. For willful LCA violations, fines would increase from $5,000 to $10,000.

Conclusion

The “Gang of 8” bill is currently undergoing mark-up procedures in the Senate. At the same time, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives in seeking to draft its own immigration reform bill. These bills will then proceed to a vote.

Graham Adair continues to monitor developments on comprehensive immigration reform. We will provide updates as they become available.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

USCIS Issues New I-9

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) publishd a revised version of Form I-9.  The new version requires additional information from foreign national employees, including the email address, telephone number, and foreign passport information.

 

The revised form is effective today.  USCIS is providing a 60-day grace period so that employers can update their internal processes. During the grace period, the current version can still be used. After the 60-day grace period, which ends on May 7, 2013, employers must use the new I-9 or be subject to penalties for not using the correct version.

 

Starting today, the new Form I-9 can be downloaded at: www.uscis.gov.

 

If you have any questions about this new process or its impact, please feel free to contact us at: info@grahamadair.com.

Updates on Plan to Eliminate the I-94 Card

It was announced in 2012 that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol would move to eliminate the issuance of I-94 cards to arriving non-immigrants in the near future.  In 2012, I-94 cards were no longer issued to individuals arriving under the Visa Waiver Program.  However, CBP did not announce when or how it would eliminate I-94 cards for other arriving non-immigrants.  This is obviously a significant move for CBP and has ramifications across several branches the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and many state agencies who issue drivers licenses.

Although there is still no publically available timeline for when changes will happen, these are some of the details of CBP’s plan:

  • I-94 cards will at some point in the near future no longer be issued to passengers arriving at air and seaports with Advanced Passenger Information Systems (APIS) in place;
  • I-94 cards will continue to be issued at land border crossings and seaports not equipped with APIS;
  • In place of the I-94 card, individuals will be given a stamp in their passport that will include a handwritten annotation indicating non-immigrant status and the period of authorized stay in the U.S.; and
  • CBP will record admission to the U.S. in an electronic database; there is some question of whether individuals will be given a receipt confirming their information in the database, and CBP has taken this under consideration.

The eventual elimination of the I-94 card will impact employers when it comes to I-9 verification and participation in E-Verify since a valid passport and I-94 card are currently accepted as evidence of valid work authorization.

The attorneys at Graham Adair will continue to monitor and update our clients as these changes go into effect.  We will work with our clients to make this government process change seamless for our clients.

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