Bureau of Consular Affairs Currently Experiencing Passport / Visa Systems Errors
The Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with their visa systems. These issues have resulted in delays in printing visas and may mean rescheduling some visa interviews. This issue is not specific to any particular country or visa category. The system in place to perform required national security checks before visas are issued is experiencing technical difficulties. As a result, the Bureau of Consular Affairs is unable to print visas. Individuals who submitted online applications or were interviewed for visas on or after June 9, 2015 may experience a delay in visa processing.
Overseas and domestic passports are still being processed. Additionally, emergency passports to U.S. citizens overseas with urgent travel needs are still being issued. Passport applications accepted overseas on or after May 26, 2015 were affected, but overseas passports are now being issued. If you applied for a U.S. passport between May 26, 2015 and June 14, 2015 and have travel plans within the next 10 business days, please consider requesting an emergency passport at the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you originally applied. Information about how to apply for an emergency passport is available on the website of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
As of June 24, 2015, 39 visa processing posts have been reconnected, representing two-thirds of the global nonimmigrant visa volume. See the US Department of State website for the list of the reconnected posts. The Bureau of Consular Affairs is urgently working to correct this problem and expects the system to be fully operational soon.
OPT Program Expansion
Clark Hill has learned details on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may be planning to expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. The planned expansion of the OPT program was first announced in November 2014 as part of the President's executive action on immigration, see Clark Hill's November Immigration Update. However, the administration has not given any details as to what that expansion might look like.
According to what we have learned, the new expansion would allow:
- Foreign students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees to receive up to two 24-month extensions of their OPT, in addition to the initial 12-month OPT period, for a total of up to six years of employment authorization post-graduation; and
- Foreign students graduating without a STEM degree access to the 24-month extension if they received a prior degree in a STEM field, such as where a foreign student is graduating from an M.B.A. program but has a bachelor's degree in chemistry.
2016 H-1B Cap Update
On April 7, 2015, US Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") announced that between April 1, 2015 and April 7, 2015, USCIS received more than enough applications for new H-1B visas for the 2016 fiscal year. USCIS announced on their webpage that nearly 233,000 H-1B petitions were received, exceeding the 65,000 general-category cap and the 20,000 master's cap.
In a May 13, 2015 teleconference, USCIS confirmed that of the 233,000 H-1B cap submissions received, 50,000 of those submissions were received for the master's cap.
Visa Priority Dates - July 2015 Visa Bulletin
The July Visa Bulletin has been posted. EB-1 and EB-2 Worldwide is expected to remain current for the foreseeable future.
Clark Hill has learned more regarding how the rest of the visa numbers could move the rest of this year. EB-2 China is expected to continue moving forward, but at a slower pace. As the result of the advancement of EB-2 India earlier this year, advancement in this area is expected to slow down toward the end of this fiscal year. Unless there is a significant decline in EB-2 worldwide demand, no movement in EB-2 India is expected for the rest of this fiscal year.
EB-3 worldwide is expected to reach the summer of 2015 by the end of this fiscal year (essentially "current"). The EB-3 China cut-off date is expected to remain the same through the rest of this fiscal year. EB-3 India is expected to advance by one to two weeks. EB-3 Mexico will continue to follow EB-3 worldwide.
For a summary of priority dates, retrogression, and how these dates impact US green card processing, please visit the Clark Hill Website.
Washington Apple Orchard Fined Millions After ICE Audit
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reached a multimillion dollar settlement with a Washington-based apple orchard after an audit revealed that nearly 1,000 workers were unauthorized to work in the U.S. The company agreed to pay $2.25 million in civil penalties to remedy issues with Employment Eligibility Verification form (Form I-9) issues. See the ICE website for further details.
In the summer of 2014, the Clark Hill immigration team was contacted by a company in New York asking for help with an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form audit. ICE contacted the company and asked them to produce all of their I-9 forms within three business days. The Clark Hill immigration team immediately reviewed a sampling of the I-9 forms and provided the company with training and advice on how to fix the forms. On June 2, 2015, ICE returned to the company and informed them that no fines would be issued, only a warning. This result, and all results, cannot be predicted for other employer clients; however, initial fines in this area can be over $300,000, even when every worker is work authorized. This was a large win for the company, and largely due to the great training and advice provided by the Clark Hill immigration team.