Immigration Updates from the Immigration & Nationality Law Practice

June 30, 2010

Among increasing skepticism that Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2010, there are nevertheless several noteworthy updates to report in the immigration field.

“Green Cards” are Green Again

This month the USCIS started issuing the first newly revised Permanent Resident Cards, which for the first time in decades correspond in color with their nickname.  The new green cards incorporate enhanced fraud prevention features, and feature embedded radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) also Updated

The USCIS has also upgraded the format of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued to pending applicants for permanent residence and to certain other nonimmigrants including spouses in L-2 or E status.  The new cards include a machine-readable zone on the back of the card, to enhance scanning at ports of entry.

H-1B Petitions Still Far From Hitting Cap

As evidence of the continued retrenchment in hiring among U.S. employers, the Fiscal Year 2011 cap on new H-1B petitions is not yet close to being reached.  Since April, the USCIS has received approximately 22,900 cap-subject H-1B petitions counted toward the 65,000 maximum, and it has received approximately 9,700 H-1B petitions counted toward the additional 20,000 slots for graduates of a U.S. advanced degree program.  The government’s fiscal year runs from October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011.

State Department Increases Fees for Nonimmigrant Visa Applications

Beginning this month, the State Department has increased the processing fee for nonimmigrant visa applications, and introduced a tiered structure with fees differing according to the classification sought.  Applicants for visas that do not involve petitions or employment classifications, including visitors for business or pleasure (B-1, B-2), student (F, M), and exchange visitor (J) now pay $140 (up from $131).  Applicants for petition-based visas, such as the H, L, O, P, Q, and R categories, now pay $150.  The fee for E visas for treaty traders and investors is now $390, while K fiancé(e) visa applicants must now pay $350.

USCIS Proposes Fee Increases As Well

For the first time in three years, the USCIS has proposed increasing its fees to process petitions and applications for immigrant and nonimmigrant matters.  Most petitions and applications will see increases, although a few fees will remain static or even decrease.  Notably, the fee for filing an N-400 application for naturalization will remain unchanged.  The last time the USCIS increased the fee for this benefit, the resultant flood of applicants submitting their cases to beat the increase overwhelmed the agency, which only recently emerged from the huge backlog of citizenship cases.  Changes for common filings of MMWR clients include the I-129 petition for nonimmigrant worker (from $320 to $325); I-140 immigrant petition (from $475 to $580); I-485 application to adjust status to permanent resident (from $930 to $985); I-765 application for employment authorization (from $340 to $380); and I-131 application for travel document (from $305 to $360).  The fee increases have not gone into effect yet, though the USCIS anticipates them being in place before October 2010.  The public comment period runs until July 26, 2010.

Paper Arrival/Departure Records (Form I-94W) To Be Eliminated for Visa Waiver Entrants

By the end of this summer, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) branch of the Department of Homeland Security plans to eliminate the paper Arrival/Departure Records (Form I-94W) for visitors admitted pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program.  Visitors for business or pleasure from low-risk countries approved for participation in the program are required to submit an online application (ESTA) in advance of travel, which captures all the information required for the Form I-94W.  There will not be any change with respect to travelers using U.S. visas, who will continue to be processed with paper I-94s.