Archive for June, 2011

Citizenship, I-9, and J Visa Resources Online

June 22, 2011

USCIS and Department of State (DOS) are making it easier to find information about immigration online.  USCIS has created the Citizenship Resource Center (http://www.uscis.gov/citizenship) that has information about the process of gaining US citizenship designed for individuals, teachers, and organizations. It also launched “I-9 Central” (www.uscis.gov/I-9central) a new online resource that provides employers and employees with resources, tips, and guidance on completing the I-9 form as well as a discussion of common mistakes and guidance on avoiding such errors.

The launch of I-9 Central follows the introduction of E-Verify Self Check, a service launched in March by USCIS that allows workers and job-seekers in the United States to check their own employment eligibility status online. In a related development, USCIS recently rolled out new E-Verify website content in Spanish. Perhaps the most important feature now is instructions for employees on how to resolve a tentative non-confirmation (TNC). Occurring in about three percent of all E-Verify inquiries, a TNC is issued when E-Verify is unable to match employee information with information in federal databases. In such cases, employees commonly need to visit a Social Security Administration office to resolve the discrepancy. With the new content in Spanish, employers will be better prepared to advise their employees on how to handle and resolve TNCs.

And, finally, the Department of State launched a redesigned website for the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program (http://j1visa.state.gov) aimed at improving the application experience by providing a one-stop shop for everything a J-1 applicant needs to know written in plain, easy to understand English.

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Finally, NSEERS Registration is Terminated

June 21, 2011

In late April, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the end of NSEERS (the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System), a special registration process for male foreign nationals from certain countries who are over the age of 16 and who entered the U.S. as nonimmigrants prior to September 10, 2001. NSEERS was implemented in 2002 as a national security measure following the September 11 attacks, and sought to record the arrival and departure of individuals mostly from Middle Eastern countries. Such registrants went through secondary inspection on each arrival to the U.S. and were required to register upon departure at one of the 100 plus designated ports of departure.  In the ensuing years, DHS and the Department of State have increased surveillance measures, thus rendering the program obsolete. While many foreign nationals – and especially those from the Middle East – continue to be referred to secondary inspection, such referrals are no longer automatic.

Employers Beware: Social Security “No-Match” Letters Resume

June 14, 2011

After a long hiatus, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has resumed issuing “no-match letters” to employers, advising them that certain Social Security Numbers (SSN) provided by employees do not match the names of the individuals that SSA has on file for such numbers.  (The SSA stopped sending no-match letters to employers in 2007 as a result of litigation.) While a “no-match” may be caused by the use of fraudulent documents by an individual unauthorized to work, it can also be the result of a simple typographical error or a change to an individual’s status such as a name change.

In the current environment of aggressive workplace enforcement by ICE, employers, with the advice of counsel, are wise to develop an effective strategy to address such letters in a lawful yet non-discriminatory manner. The new SSA no-match letters advise employers that its receipt, in and of itself, should not be the basis of adverse action against the employee. However, more detailed guidance on what exactly an employer’s obligations are remain unclear. On one extreme, an employer should not take adverse action against the employee merely on the basis of the letter. On the other, ignoreing such a notice can lead to trouble.  Stay tuned as more guidance unfolds.

ICE Expands STEM Programs Eligible for OPT

June 13, 2011

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently expanded by 50 the list of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree programs that qualify eligible graduates on F-1 student visas for Optional Practical Training (OPT). By expanding the list of STEM degrees (including such fields as neuroscience, medical informatics, pharmaceutics and drug design, mathematics, and computer science), the Administration announced it is seeking to address shortages of talented scientists and technology experts in certain high tech sectors.

Under the OPT program, foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities are able to remain in the U.S. and receive training through work experience for up to 12 months. Students who graduate with one of the STEM degrees can remain for 17 months.

Changes on the Horizon for EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

June 10, 2011

The Immigrant Investor Program, commonly referred to as the EB-5 Program, makes green cards available to eligible immigrant investors and their family members who invest $1 million in commercial enterprises that create at least 10 U.S. jobs (or $500,000 investment in targeted employment areas). At long last, the EB-5 Program may be undergoing significant changes in the upcoming months that will make the program more attractive to prospective investors. First created in 1990, the program has been plagued by changing interpretations, uncertainty, and slow processing times, leading many to call for its complete review. In May, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) responded, and promulgated proposed rules offering three fundamental changes to the way it processes certain regional center filings, but stopped short of a total overhaul.

The first change is a fast-track for applications of enterprises that are fully developed and ready to be implemented, with an option for premium processing to further accelerate the review. Premium processing guarantees processing within 15 calendar days. Second, USCIS proposes the creation of specialized intake teams comprised of economists and subject-area experts to review proposals, communicate directly with applicants, and streamline the resolution of issues without the need for formal requests for additional evidence (RFEs). Third, USCIS proposes an “expert decision board” comprised of economists and adjudicators and supported by legal counsel, to make decisions on new EB-5 regional center applications.

The proposal is available for public comment until June 17, 2011. Those who are interested in the EB-5 program are encouraged to weigh in.


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