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PROPOSED FEE INCREASE FOR IMMIGRATION APPLICATIONS
By GAIL SEERAM, ATTORNEY AT LAW (1-877-GAIL-LAW)
On June 11, 2010, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a proposal to increase the filing fees for immigration applications and petitions by a weighted average of about 10 percent but would not increase the fee for the naturalization application. The last fee increase by USCIS was in 2008.
USCIS is a fee-based organization with about 90 percent of its budget coming from fees paid by applicants and petitioners to obtain immigration benefits. USCIS’s fee revenue in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 was much lower than projected, and fee revenue in fiscal year 2010 remains low. According to USCIS, the fee increase is necessary to ensure USCIS recovers the costs of its operations.
USCIS encourages formal comments on the proposed rule through www.regulations.gov. The comment period runs for 45 days, beginning June 11, 2010 and ending July 26, 2010. At a time where the country is in a recession and unemployment is quite high, USCIS should not be considering such a fee increase, but should focus on reducing related costs and expenses.
Applicant should keep in mind that fee waivers requests will continue to be considered by USCIS. USCIS has the ability to waive fees on a case-by-case basis for “inability to pay.” In determining “inability to pay,” USCIS officers consider all factors, circumstances, and evidence supplied by the applicant. Below are the current and proposed fees for some commonly filed applications:
DHS ELIMINATING PAPER I-94W FORMS FOR VISA WAIVER TRAVELERS
By DILIP PATEL
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is eliminating the use of paper I-94W forms (“green” I-94s) for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers with an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) arriving in the United States at all airports by the end of this summer.
VWP travelers are encouraged to submit ESTA applications – online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov – as soon as they begin making travel plans. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time before travel, but at least 72 hours in advance of travel. ESTA authorizations are valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires. ESTA authorization for VWP travel is currently available to citizens and eligible nationals of 36 designated countries.
USCIS OMBUDSMAN RECOMMENDS TRANSPARENCY AND UNIFORMITY IN I-601 WAIVER APPLICATION ADJUDICATION PROCESS
For many individuals seeking to immigrate to the United States, and for others who are already here but want to apply for a green card, oftentimes grounds of inadmissibility stand in their way. There are dozens of grounds of inadmissibility based on criminal, health, immigration, or security violations that can render a foreign national ineligible from entering the U.S., adjusting status, and obtaining citizenship. Certain foreign nationals are, however, eligible to apply for and obtain waivers of these grounds. Waivers of inadmissibility are one of the few means of relief available to such individuals, but many applicants are reluctant to file them because of the high risks involved and the length of time it takes for a decision.
In a June 9 report, the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office proposed a new set of rules to revamp how the government adjudicates and decides these waivers. In reviewing the process, the Ombudsman found a number of problems, including the lack of access to case processing information, hugely disparate processing times – ranging from three days to more than a year—and discrepancies in interpretation of the “extreme hardship” standard. Its recommendations for improving transparency and consistency in the adjudication process include: (1) centralize processing all I-601 applications into one office; (2) provide for the concurrent filling of I-601 applications together with I-130, Petitions for Alien Relative; (3) prioritize the finalization of the overseas case management system in order to allow for posting processing times and tracking; (4) publish clear filing instructions for expedited processing; (5) improve coordination between consular officers and USCIS adjudicators; and (6) permit USCIS employees to request and obtain digitized files upon receipt of interview schedules.
Waivers of inadmissibility remain an avenue of last resort for many foreign nationals including those married to U.S. citizens. We commend the Ombudsman’s Office for reviewing this important form of relief, and encourage USCIS to implement these recommendations as soon as possible.
BE PREPARED: H-1B FRAUD DETECTION SITE VISITS ON THE RISE
More than 16,000 fraud detection site visits have been conducted since July 2009 when USCIS instituted a new Administrative Site Visit and Verification Program (ASVVP) within its Fraud Detection & National Security Directorate (FDNS). The FDNS is the arm of USCIS tasked with investigating potential immigration fraud. The stated goal of the site visit program is to verify that the H-1B business actually exists and that there is “on-site awareness of the H1-B petition and the beneficiary.” While FDNS randomly selects H-1B employers after an H-1B petition has been approved, FDNS conducts site visits of all religious worker visa sponsors as part of the adjudication process. H-1B employers should expect increased site visits and should make sure their LCA audit and other files are complete. Should you be visited, contact counsel immediately.
Dilip Patel of Dilip Patel Law Firm (Business and Immigration Attorneys) is board certified in immigration and nationality law. He can be reached at (813) 855-0066, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.dplawfirm.com
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