Starting May 19, 2013, immigrants abroad who have received their immigrant visas can pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee of $165.00US online through USCIS ELIS, the USCIS Electronic Immigration System. USCIS ELIS is the much touted “transformation” of paper-bound immigration processing to electronic on-line processing which USCIS has promised will modernize its immigration processing.
The ELIS system permits an applicants to make a payment, file an application, and submit electronically scanned evidence directly to USCIS. It also permits an applicant to gain real-time information about his or her case and receive USCIS notices electronically. Despite substantial investment by USCIS in ELIS, it covers only a single form: An application used by certain foreign nationals who seek to change or extend their visitor, or student stay. Now ELIS is also to be used by immigrants abroad to pay a Immigrant Fee to USCIS before departing for the U.S. instead of making payment on pay.gov. Starting February 1, 2013, USCIS began collecting a $165.00US fee for each immigrant who receives an immigrant visa package from a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad to receive a green card in the U.S. The fee reimburses USCIS for the cost of immigration processing after an immigrant surrenders his or her visa package to USCIS.
USCIS has not stated when ELIS will be expanded to process any of the other dozens of paper forms which USCIS requires of immigrants and non-immigrants alike.
For many F-1 academic students who have graduated, received post completion Optional Practical Training (“OPT”), had an H-1B petition filed in their behalf with a start date of October 1, and “won” the H-1B lottery, such persons are entitled to continued, authorized F-1 stay and continued employment authorization up until September 30 of the year. This is known as a “cap gap” benefit. The question arises whether a cap gap H-1B beneficiary can travel outside the U.S. without adverse impact if the H-1B petition is pending or already approved.
While there is no guidance directly on point, in a policy Memorandum issued on April, 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) advises against travel for an F-1 student whose H-1B change of status petition has not yet been decided. It bases its reasoning on USCIS policy that considers the change of status portion of an H-1B petition as abandoned if the H-1B beneficiary departs the U.S. before USCIS decides the case. The Memorandum is silent regarding cap-gap travel if the H-1B petition is already approved. To be safe, H-1B cap gap beneficiaries should remain in the U.S. during the cap-gap interval and those considering travel abroad should consider making an H-1B visa application in September. H-1B visa status holders can enter 10 days in advance of their start date but can only begin work on October 1.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has reported that international travelers spent more than $14.4 billion on travel and tourism in the U.S. in just one month, March, 2013, which the Department reports is an increase of 3% over the prior year, and is part of the $43 billion spent during the first quarter of 2013. According to Department officials, international travel and tourism represents is the U.S.’s largest service export.
Travel and tourism supports almost 8 million U.S. jobs and recent increases in tourism account for strong job growth in the leisure and hospitality sector. The Administration has a strategy in place to increase travel and tourism to attract more than 100 million international tourists who may spent up to $250 billion per year and expand economic growth throughout the country. The Administration’s goal is to maintain and improve national security through better law enforcement cooperation in the Visa Waiver program, together with enhancements to visa and visitor processing, and processing at U.S. ports of entry while making the U.S. a destination of choice worldwide. The sheer size and significance of the travel and tourism sector of the U.S. economy and long term U.S. concerns regarding terrorism and national security underscore the difficulty in balancing these interests. But balancing them is what the Administration must do.
Starting April 30, 2013, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency has begun providing foreign national travelers to the United States with a passport stamp and making available an electronic record of admission instead of providing each foreign national with a paper I-94 as evidence of lawful admission. The paperless I-94 process is for foreign national travelers arriving by air and sea. While there is no legal requirement for foreign national to print out a paper form I-94 record, there are several good reasons to do so.
First, a traveler can check admission class and validity period to see that they match the CBP passport stamp and annotation. Second, having an I-94 paper printout can assist a foreign national in obtaining a state driver’s license as well as in obtaining a U.S. Social Security number. Finally, an employment authorized foreign national can furnish an I-94 printout to an employer in completing Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. Foreign nationals can go online to www.cbp.gov/i94 and print out their I-94 record.
Effective April 30, 2013, foreign national nonimmigrants arriving by air or sea will not have to complete a paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Document upon arrival in the U.S. Instead, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) will physically stamp each nonimmigrant’s admission and electronically record it from each applicant’s electronic travel record. According to CBP, nonimmigrant foreign nationals departing the U.S. will not need to do anything differently. If a foreign national nonimmigrant did not receive a paper Form I-94, CBP will automatically record the foreign national’s departure electronically from the carrier’s passenger manifest.
Electronic I-94 processing is expected to save CBP over $15 million annually. For foreign national nonimmigrants who need a paper confirmation of admission, CBP will have a website page where a foreign national nonimmigrant can print out their admission record information when needed for other pruposes.
Land border ports of entry are not presently included in this rollout and foreign national nonimmigrant will continue to receive a paper Form I-94.
CBP plans to rollout the electronic admission process over a 4 week period at the rate of 5 pilot ports of entry per week.
On April 8, 2013, USCIS announced that it received about 124,000 H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2014 reaching both the 65,000 statutory cap and reaching the special, additional 20,000 H-1B petition quota for foreign nationals with U.S. earned advanced degrees. It also announced that on April 7, 2013, it had conducted a random selection process to choose petitions to meet the 65,000 cap and the additional 20,000 advanced degree limit.
As it announced on March 15, 2013, USCIS will resume premium processing on April 15, 2013, which it temporarily suspended in advance of the predicted H-1B filing deluge which it just received. USCIS will also begin returning rejected filings, together with the attached filing fees.
USCIS announced on April 5, 2013 that it had received more than 65,000 cap subject H-1B petitions for bachelors degree holders, as well as more than 20,000 cap subject H-1B petitions for U.S. master degree holders during the first week that U.S. employers could file H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2014. Fiscal year 2014 begins on October 1, 2013.
The effect of this notice is twofold: First, USCIS will engage in a random selection process to choose H-1B cap subject petitions for the next fiscal year, and second, that USCIS will not accept any additional H-1B cap subject petitions received after April 5, 2013.
As of this writing, USCIS has not stated when its random selection process or “lottery” will occur. Those H-1B petitions not chosen will be returned to the employer, inclusive of the submitted fees. USCIS has announced that it will conduct its random selection process for H-1B for the 20,000 advanced degree exemption first. More information about the total number of H-1B petition submitted will be forthcoming, the agency announced.
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