USCIS Announces New Actions to Reduce Backlogs, Expand Premium Processing and Provide Relief to Work Permit Holders
On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a trio of efforts to increase efficiency and reduce burdens to the overall legal immigration system. USCIS will set new agency-wide backlog reduction goals, expand premium processing to additional form types, and work to improve timely access to employment authorization documents. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resource constraints resulting from the prior administration, USCIS inherited a significant number of pending cases and increased processing times. Through today’s actions by the Biden administration, USCIS is acting to reduce these caseloads and processing times, while also ensuring that fair and efficient services are available to applicants and petitioners.
“USCIS remains committed to delivering timely and fair decisions to all we serve,” said USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou. “Every application we adjudicate represents the hopes and dreams of immigrants and their families, as well as their critical immediate needs such as financial stability and humanitarian protection.”
Reducing Processing Backlogs
To reduce the agency’s pending caseload, USCIS is establishing new internal cycle time goals this month. These goals are internal metrics that guide the backlog reduction efforts of the USCIS workforce and affect how long it takes the agency to process cases. As cycle times improve, processing times will follow, and applicants and petitioners will receive decisions on their cases more quickly. USCIS will be increase capacity, improve technology, and expand staffing to achieve these new goals by the end of FY 2023. The agency’s publicly posted processing times show the average amount of time it took USCIS to process a particular form – from when the agency received the application until a decision was made on the case. Internally, USCIS monitors the number of pending cases in the agency’s workload through a metric called “cycle times.” A cycle time measures how many months’ worth of pending cases for a particular form are awaiting a decision. As an internal management metric, cycle times are generally comparable to the agency’s publicly posted median processing times. Cycle times are what the operational divisions of USCIS use to gauge how much progress the agency is, or is not, making on reducing our backlog and overall case processing times.
Expanding Premium Processing
Today the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule that aligns premium processing regulations with the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act. The rule codifies premium processing fees and adjudication timeframes provided by Congress. Premium processing is an expedited adjudication service now available only to petitioners filing a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and to certain employment-based immigrant visa petitioners filing a Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. This final rule expands the categories of forms ultimately eligible for premium processing services, including Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status; Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization; and additional classifications under Form I-140.
USCIS intends to begin implementing, through a phased approach, premium processing availability of Form I-539, Form I-765 and Form I-140 in fiscal year 2022. USCIS will also adhere to the congressional requirement that the expansion of premium processing must not cause an increase in processing times for regular immigration benefit requests.
USCIS plans to begin this phased implementation process by expanding premium processing eligibility to Form I-140 filers requesting EB-1 immigrant classification as a multinational executive or manager, or EB-2 immigrant classification as a member of professions with advanced degrees or exceptional ability seeking a national interest waiver.
Improving Access to Employment Authorization Documents
USCIS continues to make progress toward a temporary final rule currently named “Temporary Increase of the Automatic Extension Period of Employment Authorization and Documentation for Certain Renewal Applicants.”
In recent months, USCIS has begun streamlining many EAD processes, including extending validity periods for certain EADs and providing expedited work authorization renewals for healthcare and childcare workers. The temporary final rule aims to build on this progress and to ensure certain individuals will not lose their work authorization status while their applications are pending.
Source: USCIS Press Release, March 29, 2022: https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/news-releases/uscis-announces-new-actions-to-reduce-backlogs-expand-premium-processing-and-provide-relief-to-work
USCIS Updates Guidance on Extraordinary Ability and Outstanding Professor or Researcher Visa Classifications
On March 23, 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on that it has updated its policy manual, effective immediately, to align existing guidance on certain first preference immigrants with a recent manual update relating to nonimmigrants of extraordinary ability. Specifically, USCIS is updating its guidance about two evidentiary criteria relating to immigrants of extraordinary ability and one relating to outstanding professors and researchers “to more closely align with recently issued nonimmigrant guidance pertaining to O-1A nonimmigrants of extraordinary ability,” the agency said.
The updated guidance clarifies that:
· For the extraordinary ability and outstanding professor or researcher classifications, “published material” about the person (or the person’s work in the case of an outstanding professor or researcher) in professional or major trade publications or other major media need not be a printed article; rather, a petitioner may submit more varied forms of evidence including a transcript of audio or video coverage.
· In the extraordinary ability classification, a person may satisfy the leading or critical role criterion through a qualifying role for a distinguished department or division in addition to an entire organization or establishment.
Source: ABIL Newsletter, March 28, 2022, and https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/policy-manual-updates/20220323-ExtraordinaryAbility.pdf
USCIS Updates Guidance on Employment Authorization Class of Admission Codes for E and L Nonimmigrant Spouses
Following an announcement by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on March 18, 2022, that it is updating guidance to address the documentation that certain E and L nonimmigrant spouses may use as evidence of employment authorization based on their nonimmigrant status, the agency announced on March 24, 2022, that as of January 30, 2022, USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection began issuing Form I-94, Arrival-Departure records, with new Class of Admission (COA) codes for certain E and L nonimmigrant dependent spouses who are employment authorized based on their status.
USCIS said the COA designations for E nonimmigrant spouses are E-1S, E-2S, E-3S, and L-2S for nonimmigrant L spouses. Forms I-94 containing these code designations are acceptable as a List C, #7 Employment Authorization Document issued by the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS said.
Source: ABIL Newsletter, March 28, 2022, and https://www.uscis.gov/i-9-central/covid-19-form-i-9-related-news/documentation-of-employment-authorization-for-certain-e-and-l-nonimmigrant-dependent-spouses
E-Verify Releases New Case Features
E-Verify announced in an email sent on March 21, 2022, that users can now close a case from the document upload page in E-Verify by providing one of the following reasons:
· The information entered was not correct;
· The employee voluntarily quit working for the employer; or
· Other (full explanation required in text box).
E-Verify also added a requirement to download the Further Action Notice before referring a case. E-Verify said this will ensure that users correctly process Tentative Nonconfirmation cases.
Source: ABIL Newsletter, March 28, 2022
Congress Considers Adding Visa for High-Skilled Workers
On Wednesday, March 23, the U.S. Senate voted to advance a bill that would provide funding to help boost American manufacturing and scientific research to help the U.S. compete with other global powers. Specifically, the legislation would create a new category for entrepreneurs, as well as allow for the exemptions to annual green card limits for foreign nationals with doctorate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
Both Democrats and Republicans have recently expressed support for increasing the number of visas for high-skilled workers, improving the chances they be passed into law.
Source: National Law Review, vol. XII, no. 85: https://www.natlawreview.com/article/immigration-weekly-round-major-shake-ups-us-asylum-law-congress-weighs-adding