U.S. Immigration Updates – Week of January 1, 2024 + December 2023 Monthly Review

 

This Week’s Updates

USCIS Increases Premium Processing Fees

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has published a final rule in the Federal Register which will increase the premium processing fees for various immigration benefit types. These fee increases are due to an inflation adjustment and will take effect on February 26, 2024:

  • Premium processing fees will increase from $2,500.00 to $2,805.00 when filing Form I-129 petition for the H-1B, L, O, P, TN, or E nonimmigrant categories.
  • The premium processing fee will increase from $1,500.00 to $1,685.00 when filing Form I-129 for the H-2B and R-1 nonimmigrant categories.
  • The premium processing fee will increase from $2,500.00 to $2,805.00 when filing Form I-140 petition for various employment-based green card categories.
  • With respect to Form I-539, the USCIS will increase the premium processing fee from $1,750.00 to $1,965.00 for certain F, M, E, J, O, P, etc. nonimmigrant categories and will increase the premium processing fee for the Form I-765 application (only eligible for certain F-1 nonimmigrants) from $1,500.00 to $1,685.00.

If USCIS receives a Form I-907 postmarked on or after February 26, 2024, with the incorrect filing fee, it will reject the Form I-907 and return the filing fee. For filings sent by commercial courier (such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL), the postmark date is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

SOURCE: USCIS alert (Dec. 27, 2023)

 

Department of State Proposes Supplemental Questionnaire for Passport Applications

The Department of State (DOS) has published a 60-day notice seeking public comment on a proposed supplemental questionnaire to an existing passport application that would solicit information relating to the respondent’s identity, including family and birth circumstances, that is needed before passport issuance. If such information on Form DS-5513 is needed, a passport agency will mail the form to the applicant for completion and return, or the applicant can download and complete a fillable PDF version.

DOS will accept comments until February 26, 2024.

SOURCE: DOS notice, 88 Fed. Reg. 89002 (Dec. 26, 2023)

 

December 2023 Monthly Review

 DOS: Pilot Program for Domestic H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Renewals Announced

On December 21, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced a pilot program to resume domestic visa renewal for qualified H-1B nonimmigrant visa applicants who meet certain requirements. The pilot program will accept applications from January 29 to April 1, 2024.

Participation in the pilot is limited to individuals who have previously submitted fingerprints in connection with an application for a prior non-diplomatic nonimmigrant H-1B visa, are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement and meet other applicable requirements. DOS said the goal of the pilot is “to test the Department’s technical and operational ability to resume domestic visa renewals for specific nonimmigrant classifications and to assess the efficacy of this program in reducing worldwide visa wait times by shifting certain workloads from overseas posts to the United States.”

Applicants who meet the requirements can participate during the application window by applying online. Written comments and related materials must be received by midnight April 15, 2024.

SOURCE: DOS notice, 88 Fed. Reg. 88467 (Dec. 21, 2023).

 

Department of State Expands Consular Authority for Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Waivers

On December 21, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced that it had consulted with the Department Homeland Security and determined that several categories of interview waivers are in the national interest. As of January 1, 2024, consular officers will have discretion to waive the in-person interview for:

  • First time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and nonagricultural workers) and
  • Other nonimmigrant visa applicants applying for any nonimmigrant visa classification who:
    • Were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless the only prior issued visa was a B visa; and
    • Are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa’s expiration date.

Consular officers may still require in-person interviews on a case-by-case basis or because of local conditions. DOS encourages applicants to check embassy and consulate websites.

SOURCE: DOS notice (Dec. 21, 2023)

 

Department of State Advises on Passport Processing

On December 18, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) announced that passport processing times have returned to the agency’s pre-pandemic norm. As of December 18, 2023, DOS said, passport applications will be processed within 6 to 8 weeks for routine service and 2 to 3 weeks for expedited service, which costs an additional $60. Processing times begin when DOS receives an application at a passport agency or center and do not include mailing times.

DOS said that this year, demand for passports was “unprecedented.” Between October 2022 and September 2023, the agency issued more than 24 million passport books and cards, the highest number in U.S. history.

SOURCE: DOS notice (Dec. 18, 2023).

 

USCIS Reaches Annual H-1B Cap for FY 2024

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on December 13, 2023, that it has received a sufficient number of petitions needed to reach the congressionally mandated 65,000 H-1B visa regular cap and the 20,000 H-1B visa U.S. advanced degree exemption, known as the master’s cap, for fiscal year (FY) 2024.

USCIS said it will send non-selection notices to registrants through their online accounts. When the agency finishes sending the non-selection notifications, the status for properly submitted registrations that USCIS did not select for the FY 2024 H-1B numerical allocations will show:

  • Not Selected: Not selected—not eligible to file an H-1B cap petition based on this registration.

USCIS said it will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed for current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, are exempt from the FY 2024 H-1B cap. USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:

  • Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
  • Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
  • Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
  • Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in additional H-1B positions.

SOURCE: USCIS alert (Dec. 13, 2023)

 

DOL: Employment and Training Administration (ETA) Seeks Information on STEM and Non-STEM Occupations in PERM Schedule A

The Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is seeking information from the public to potentially consider revisions to Schedule A of the permanent labor certification process to include occupations in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), including Artificial Intelligence-related occupations, and non-STEM occupations, for which there may be an insufficient number of ready, willing, able, and qualified U.S. workers.

ETA said its request for information (RFI) will provide the public an opportunity to address whether and why STEM occupations should be added to Schedule A, offer information on which occupations should be considered as falling under the umbrella of STEM, and request data, studies, and related information that should be considered to establish a reliable, objective, and transparent methodology for identifying STEM or non-STEM occupations with a significant shortage of workers that should be added to or removed from Schedule A. “To the extent possible and wherever appropriate, responses to this RFI should indicate the question number(s) and include specific information, data, statistical models and metrics, and any resources relied on in reaching conclusions for its claims, rather than relying on general observations,” ETA said.

SOURCE: PERM Schedule A Request for Information, announcement, Dept. of Labor (Dec. 15, 2023).

 

USCIS Changes Filing Location for Form I-907 Filed for Pending Form I-140

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that as of December 15, 2023, it has begun transitioning the filing location for Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing, when filed for a pending Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, from the service centers to appropriate USCIS lockboxes.

USCIS noted that this change does not apply to those filing Form I-140 concurrently with an associated application (such as Form I-485, I-765, or Form I-131). The agency said it will soon announce a filing location change for these forms, but as of now, such forms should be filed with the service centers as listed on the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker page.

USCIS will reject any Form I-907 filed with Form I-140 that is received at the previous service center address.

SOURCE: USCIS alert (Dec. 13, 2023)

 

Department of State: Final Rule Eliminates Informal Evaluations of Immigrant Visa Applicants’ Family Members

Effective January 8, 2024, the Department of State (DOS) is amending its immigrant visa regulations by removing the section allowing a consular officer to conduct an informal evaluation of the family members of an immigrant visa applicant to identify potential grounds of ineligibility.

DOS explained that the existing regulation was promulgated in 1952, when a consular officer could more readily assess a family member’s potential qualification for a visa without a formal visa application. “Assessing eligibility for an immigrant visa is now a more complex task and not one which can be accomplished accurately with an informal evaluation,” DOS said.

SOURCE: DOS Final Rule, 88 Fed. Reg. 85109 (Dec. 7, 2023)

 

Department of Labor Continues to Look at Possibly Expanding the List of Exempt PERM Schedule A Occupations

The Department of Labor’s (Department) Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is considering updating Schedule A of the permanent labor certification process at 20 CFR 656.5 in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations. For this reason, the Department is issuing this Request for Information (RFI) so that the public may provide input on whether Schedule A serves as an effective tool for addressing current labor shortages, and how the Department may create a timely, coherent, and transparent methodology for identifying STEM occupations that are experiencing labor shortages in keeping with its requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq., to ensure the employment of foreign nationals does not displace U.S. workers or adversely affect their wages and working conditions. Information received from the public will help inform decisions regarding how to improve Schedule A and ensure that its purpose is met.

SOURCE: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/eAgendaViewRule?pubId=202310&RIN=1615-AC70.

 

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