The USCIS website has been redesigned and was launched today in both English and Spanish. Director Alejandro Mayorkas describes the updates as part of USCIS’ “ongoing commitment to improving the quality of service we provide,” and adds that the agency gathered user feedback as part of their efforts to make the site more accessible. The updated site boasts a better search function and easier navigation menus as well as a more user-friendly change of address online tool.
The Federal Government reopened today following a 16-day shutdown that left immigration courts and USCIS offices closed. The Immigration Courts are now open regular business hours and hearings for detained cases are continuing according to schedule. Non-detained cases scheduled for October 17th are being rescheduled, but all non-detained cases scheduled for the 18th and later are proceeding on schedule. For those non-detained cases that were not heard during the shutdown, the courts will send notices for rescheduled hearing dates. E-Verify is operational and USCIS has released information for employers regarding how the shutdown impacted E-Verify and Form I-9. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has also reopened and will release a notice addressing filing that were due during the shutdown soon.
During a rally for immigration reform on Tuesday, several House Representatives were arrested for blocking traffic. The Representatives, all Democrats, included John Lewis, GA; Kieth Ellison, MN; Charles Rangel, NY; Jan Schakowsky, IL; and Luis Gutierrez, IL. The rally was held on the National Mall, in spite of ‘closure’ due to the government shutdown, to urge Republican members of Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. While the Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that could be taken up by the House, House Democrats have released their own bill. The House bill is similar to that of the Senate and, it seems, is equally unlikely of passing in the Republican-controlled House.
An August report by the Department of Homeland Security has proposed reducing the number of available L-1 visas, which is not currently capped. The report by the DHS’s Office of Inspector General suggests that L-1 visas could be used to avoid the more restrictive H-1B visa process, although there is no definitive evidence that this is currently occurring. In fact, H-1B visas are more highly sought than L-1 visas and have been for years.
The intent of the L-1 visa classification is for a U.S. employer to transfer an executive or manager from one of its foreign offices to one of its U.S. offices and may also be used by foreign companies to establish a new U.S. office. There are two types of L-1 visa, the L-1A for executives/managers and the L-1B for those with specialized knowledge. The nebulous definition of what constitutes “specialized knowledge” is another issued raised by the report. L-1 visas also have perks that H-1B visa do not, such as the ability for dependent spouses to receive work authorization while in the U.S.
Since L-1 visa applications can be presented for adjudication to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers along the U.S.-Canadian border instead of being submitted to a USCIS office, the report also scrutinized whether CBP officers sufficiently trained to review the applications. While the CBP contends that its officer are properly trained, they have agreed consider training recommendations outlined in the report.
Stern & Curray will continue to monitor the impact of this report on L-1 visa applications. More information about this visa classification can be found under Employment Visas.
The shutdown of the federal government does affect applying for certain immigration visas. Fortunately, many services provided by USCIS, including processing of various petitions or applications for immigration benefits, will continue as they are fee-based. Therefore, applying to USCIS for non-immigrant petitions or permanent residence will continue at this time. USCIS offices are also open for interviews and appointments as scheduled.
Unfortunately, certain types of applications for immigration benefits are affected because they involve the U.S. Department of Labor, which is shutdown. Petitions to seek H-1B or E-3 status for employees cannot be completed at this time because a necessary component of these petitions is obtaining a labor condition application from the Department of Labor. Similarly, labor certification applications for employment-based permanent residence cannot be completed because the DOL is closed and therefore not accepting applications. While employers can complete preliminary work such as gathering information and documents, H-1B, E-3 and labor certification applications cannot move forward to completion until the DOL reopens.
The E-verify system is also shutdown. Therefore, employers will not be able to verify employment eligibility of any new hires or take any action in E-verify. The Department of Homeland Security has suspended the 3 day rule for E-verify cases that are affected by the shutdown and indicated that it will provide additional guidance once the federal government is reopened. We remind employers to be sure to continue to complete their form I-9’s for new hires within 3 days of hiring.
Immigration courts around the country are also affected. The court has announced that it will continue to hear cases of individuals in immigration detention, but is suspending all other functions due to the shutdown. Cases docketed during this time will be reset for future hearing dates.
The Department of State has announced that visa operations at U.S. consulates abroad will continue as they are fee-based.
We will provide further information as we receive it.