U.S. Immigration Updates– Week of March 6, 2023

DOS Issues Final Rule Updating Regulation on Signed Photos for Visa Processing

Effective April 5, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) is updating its regulation regarding visa applicants’ furnishing of signed photographs as required under the Immigration and Nationality Act § 221(b). DOS said the updates reflect changes in technology, including the ability to upload digital photographs electronically as part of the online visa application process.

The final rule clarifies that immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants may upload digital photographs electronically as part of the online visa application process instead of submitting ink-signed photographs. The electronic signature on the DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, or the biometric signature for the DS-260, Online Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, will be “considered as signing the digital photograph and any paper photographs that may be otherwise submitted.” Additionally, the rule amends language concerning the nonimmigrant photograph to clarify that the submitted photograph must meet the specifications prescribed by DOS and deletes language allowing immigrant visa applicants to submit black-and-white photographs.

SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 5, 2023; and https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-03-06/pdf/2023-04405.pdf


USCIS Issues Guidance on Eligibility for O-1B Visa Classification

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance on March 3, 2023, effective immediately, clarifying how it evaluates evidence to determine eligibility for O-1B nonimmigrants of extraordinary ability in the arts and nonimmigrants of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

The policy updates include a new chart in the USCIS Policy Manual’s appendix describing examples of evidence that may satisfy the O-1B evidentiary criteria, as well as considerations relevant to evaluating such evidence. The chart is also intended to assist petitioners in submitting appropriate evidence that may establish a beneficiary’s eligibility.

USCIS said the guidance also improves readability “to help adjudicators with a predictable and transparent application of the O-1B evidentiary requirements, in support of consistent decisions and improvements in efficiency.”

The guidance in the Policy Manual “is controlling and supersedes any related prior guidance on the topic,” USCIS said.

SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 5, 2023; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/uscis-issues-clarifying-guidance-on-eligibility-for-the-o-1b-visa-classification


USCIS Announces Premium Processing; New Online-Filing Procedures for Certain F-1 Students Seeking OPT or STEM OPT Extensions

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on March 6, 2023, the expansion of premium processing for certain F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 students seeking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT extensions who have a pending Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and wish to request a premium processing upgrade. Online filing of Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, is now also available to F-1 students in these categories. USCIS continues to accept the latest paper version of this form by mail.

Premium processing expansion for certain F-1 students will occur in phases, and students requesting premium processing should not file before these dates:

· Beginning March 6, USCIS will accept Form I-907 requests, filed either via paper form or online, for certain F-1 students who already have a pending Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, if they are filing under one of the following categories:

o (c)(3)(A) – Pre-Completion OPT;

o (c)(3)(B) – Post-Completion OPT; and

o (c)(3)(C) – 24-Month Extension of OPT for STEM students.

· Beginning April 3, USCIS will accept Form I-907 requests, filed either via paper form or online, for F-1 students in the above categories when filed together with Form I-765.

USCIS will reject premium processing requests for a pending Form I-765 if received before March 6, and will reject any premium processing request for an initial or concurrently filed Form I-765 that is received before April 3. To file Form I-907 online, an applicant must first create a USCIS online account, which provides a convenient and secure method to submit forms, pay fees, and track the status of any pending USCIS immigration request throughout the adjudication process. There is no cost to set up a USCIS online account, which offers a variety of features, including the ability to communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox and respond to Requests for Evidence online.

Applicants who previously filed a paper Form I-765 and wish to file Form I-907 online to request premium processing should reference the USCIS Account Access Notice they received for the Online Access Code and details on how to link their paper-filed cases to their online account, or they will not be able to file Form I-907 online and will need file a paper Form I-907 with the Chicago lockbox. As previously announced, the expansion of premium processing is part of USCIS’ efforts to increase efficiency and reduce burdens on the overall immigration system and is being implemented in a phased approach.

The addition of online filing for Form I-907 brings the total number of forms available for online filing to 16. The Forms Available To File Online page has links to file all of these forms. USCIS continues to accept the latest paper versions of all forms by mail. More than 1.8 million applications, petitions, and requests were filed online in FY 2022, a 53% increase from the 1.2 million filed in FY 2021.

SOURCE: USCIS Newsroom, March 6, 2023: https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/news-releases/uscis-announces-premium-processing-new-online-filing-procedures-for-certain-f-1-students-seeking-opt


USCIS Starts H-1B Registration Process for FY 2024

On March, 1, 2023, at noon Eastern Time (ET), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) opened the initial registration period for H-1B petitions for FY 2024. The period will last through noon ET on March 17, 2023.

“If we receive enough registrations by March 17, we will randomly select registrations and send selection notifications via users’ myUSCIS online accounts,” according to USCIS. “If we do not receive enough registrations, all registrations that were properly submitted in the initial registration period will be selected. We intend to notify account holders by March 31.”

The selection process is vital to employers and applicants. “An H-1B cap-subject petition, including a petition for a beneficiary who is eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may only be filed by a petitioner whose registration for the beneficiary named in the H-1B petition was selected in the H-1B registration process,” notes USCIS.

While often called the H-1B lottery, the annual selection process involves two lotteries. “After registration closes, USCIS will conduct the fiscal 2024 H-1B cap selection in two lotteries to meet the 85,000 annual visa cap,” notes the Society for Human Resource Management. “The first lottery will involve all registered beneficiaries and will select enough registrations to meet the regular cap of 65,000. The second lottery involves

registered U.S. advanced-degree holders who were not chosen in the first lottery to meet the advanced-degree cap exemption of 20,000.”

SOURCE: Stuart Anderson, Forbes, March 1, 2023: USCIS Starts H-1B Registration Process For FY 2024 (forbes.com)

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