USCIS to Begin Accepting Electronic Registrations on March 1, 2020

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it would begin accepting electronic registrations for H-1B candidates subject to the annual quota for fiscal year (FY) 2021 on March 1, 2020. The registration period will run through at least March 20, 2020. USCIS intends to notify selected registrants no later than March 31, 2020.

U.S.-Iran Tensions Raise Concerns for International Travel

On January 4, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) detained and questioned more than 60 individuals of Iranian descent at a Washington State border crossing as they attempted to return to the United States from Canada. According to news reports, CBP officers questioned a number of the travelers about their families, military backgrounds, and ties to Iran.

New USCIS Policy Guidance Alters Criminal Sentence Evaluation, Clarifies Definition of “Good Moral Character”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently adopted new policy guidance altering the way immigration officers evaluate criminal sentences and make good moral character determinations. These changes may impact a foreign national’s eligibility for certain immigration benefits, including admissibility as a visa holder, permanent resident, or naturalized citizen.

USCIS Proposes Significant Fee Hikes

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed a new fee schedule designed to mitigate an approximate $1.3 billion shortfall in the annual budget of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). According to DHS, immigration fees would increase by a weighted average of 21 percent across the board. In reality, however, the fee changes would not affect all immigration benefits equally. Fees for some commonly used classifications are set to go up significantly.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on Ending DACA

On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument on the legality of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that provides work authorization and protection from deportation to young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The roughly 80-minute session focused on two primary questions: whether the Court had the authority to review DHS’s decision to end DACA and, if so, whether the decision was legal.

Public Charge Rule Update: Making Sense of All the Moving Pieces

The Trump administration’s public charge rule is on hold, at least temporarily. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State each introduced a version of the rule. Both versions were scheduled for implementation on October 15, 2019, and would have established expansive new tests to be used by those agencies when determining if certain visa applicants were likely to become public charges—a determination that would generally make them inadmissible to the United States.

President Trump Introduces Health Insurance Requirement for Immigrant Visa Applicants

According to a proclamation issued by President Donald Trump on October 4, 2019, the U.S. Department of State will begin issuing immigrant visas only to those foreign nationals who will have health insurance once admitted to the United States, or who can prove that they have the financial means to cover their own medical expenses.

ICE Begins STEM OPT Worksite Inspections

There have been an increasing number of reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun conducting workplace site visits for F-1 students employed pursuant to optional practical training (OPT) in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. While ICE has had the authority to conduct on-site inspections since 2016, it has not exercised that authority until recently. Given this new development, companies that employ STEM OPT workers are encouraged to be prepare in case ICE visits their workplaces.

DHS Promulgates Public Charge Rule to “Promote Self-Sufficiency,” Penalize Reliance on Public Benefits

On August 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the final version of its public charge rule in the Federal Register. According to a statement by DHS, the rule is intended to formalize the way in which the agency determines if an individual applying for a nonimmigrant visa or adjustment of status (to obtain a green card) is likely to become a public charge—a determination that would generally make the person inadmissible to the United States.

August 2019 Visa Bulletin Shows Extensive Retrogression Across Employment-Based Categories

The August 2019 Visa Bulletin, released by the U.S. Department of State earlier this month, shows substantial retrogression affecting employment-based categories worldwide. The State Department expects the retrogression to be short lived and anticipates that the final action dates should return to those listed in the July 2019 Visa Bulletin by the start of fiscal year 2020 in October 2019.

Congress Considers Removing Country Caps for Employment-Based Immigrant Visas and Proposes Changes to H-1B Visa Program

On July 10, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019, by a vote of 365 to 65. The bill is intended to reduce lengthy immigrant visa (green card) wait times by eliminating per-country caps for employment-based green cards. In addition, senators have reportedly reached an agreement on a version of a companion bill (S. 386) in the U.S. Senate that presently includes an amendment imposing tighter restrictions on recruitment and creating new reporting requirements for H-1B visa sponsors.

Supreme Court to Hear DACA Appeal

The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear the appeals over the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program during its next term. In its order, the Court consolidated three pending DACA appeals and granted one hour for oral argument. The Court is expected to decide, once and for all, whether the Trump administration can end the DACA program.

USCIS Caseload Redistribution May Mean Shorter Processing Times but More Travel for Green Card and Naturalization Applicants

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be redistributing certain naturalization and green card cases to field offices with lighter caseloads for processing. In its announcement, the agency said that since the end of 2015, it has received more green card and naturalization applications than expected.