THE U.S. IMMIGRATION NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED BY AN INDEPENDENT ORGANIZATION.
New York, September 2011
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Washington, D.C.: The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has expanded its E-Verify self-check service to another 16 states, starting August 15. At the same time, the program became available in Spanish. E-Verify self-check was launched in March and was originally available in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, and Virginia. The program allows people to log on to the government-operated E-Verify website and check whether they are authorized to accept employment in the United States, and to verify that their work-eligibility information is entered correctly in the E-Verify database. It’s the first time that part of the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program has been available to individuals who are either employed or looking for work. The E-Verify program has been in place under its current name since 2007, and today 280,000 companies and employers use it to verify that employees and job seekers have permission to work in the United States. The program is free for employers to use, and for most it’s voluntary. However, federal contractors are usually required to use the program, and several states have passed laws that require local employers to use E-Verify. The 16 new states included in E-Verify’s self-check program are California, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
Fear that Visa Rules and Long Lines may Scare Off Tourists Seattle, WA: The long lines to get through customs at several major international airports in the United States, raises concern with the travel industry that tourist from overseas might feel they’re not welcome in the US. According to an Air Transport Association spokesperson, passengers get frustrated, sometimes having to wait for an hour and a half just to show passport and visa at the immigration checkpoint. According to the spokesperson, this is a cause for concern, since travelers from overseas is an important growth area for airlines in the United States. The association is hoping that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will add more officers to airport customs to speed up the immigration process for international visitors. The CBP does plan to hire more officers, but there are no numbers yet as to how many of the new hires will work in airports, and how many will be assigned to border patrol duty. The CBP acknowledges that waiting times to get through customs at US airports have increased “a little bit,” from an average of 17 minutes in spring of 2009, to 21 minutes spring this year. However, the airline industry claim those numbers, representing the average wait time in 23 airports, say little of the reality in the nation’s main international airports, like New York, Newark, N.J., Miami and Los Angeles. CBP says the agency is dealing with the increased waiting times. The CBP has started an “express connection” program at several airports, designed to assist travelers to catch connecting flights.
Lake City, SC:A new state law that takes effect January 1, 2012, requires all South Carolina employers who have at least one employee, to use the federal government’s E-Verify program to check the employment authorization status of all new hires. Even though it is still several months until it takes effect, state officials are already traveling around the state telling business owners to prepare themselves for the new immigration law, which they say is even tougher than similar laws already passed in a number of other states. The reason it is tougher, is that while some other states also require the use of E-Verify to confirm that new employees are allowed to work legally in the US, the rule is only applied to businesses with a certain number of employed workers. In South Carolina, all employers who have at least one employee must use the online employment verification system. The other thing that makes the South Carolina law particularly tough is the potential punishment for employers who don’t comply with the new law. Offenders who knowingly hire illegal immigrants will have to close shop for 10 to 30 days the first time they get caught. If they are ever caught again, they might have to close the business forever. While some employers in South Carolina have complained that the new E-Verify requirement will add to employers’ workload, others say that using the employment verification program is so easy that it is a small price to pay compared to having to shut down a business.
Calexico, CA:Border crossing has recently gotten faster and easier for travelers entering the United States at the Calexico East Port of Entry; at least for travelers who carry a radio frequency identification card (RFID), like a US Passport Card, a SENTRI card or a new green card. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) opened the “ready lane” for traffic in late August and a spokesperson says the new fast lane to the US will reduce the time to inspect each car at the border by 10 to 20 seconds. If you are in the last car in a line of 60, this means you will get across the borders 15 minutes earlier than you would have in the regular lane. The new lane can also be expanded to three ready lanes at one time, when necessary. The new ready lane will be open for traffic every day of the week from 6 a.m. to midnight. Although the ready lane get travelers across the border quicker than the regular vehicle lane, the new lane is not as fast as the already existing SENTRI lane. Those who travel with SENTRI border crossing cards have already been pre-checked by immigration authorities, and are considered to pose little risk to the United States. However, to go in the SENTRI lane, all who travel in a vehicle must be pre-approved and carry a SENTRI card. The ready lane, on the other hand, is open to travelers carrying a variety of ID cards, but it is limited to cards that are radio-frequency enabled.
Washington, D.C.: US citizen expats are upset with a new US visa rule that immigration lawyers predict will significantly lengthen visa processing times for foreign-citizen family members. Foreign citizens who wish to get a visa or a green card based on marriage to a US citizen must be petitioned for by the spouse. Immigration authorities in the US will from now on require all immigration forms I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to be mailed to a USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) office in Chicago. According to the authorities, centralizing the handling of the forms will make the process more consistent as well as more efficient. However, while efficiency might improve for US citizens who petition for their foreign spouses from within the United States, US citizens living abroad have previously been able to file all the paperwork at the US Embassy in the country where they reside. That process often takes just one to three months, involves less risk of paperwork being lost, and can normally be done without engaging the help of an immigration attorney. US citizens abroad say they do not see any important improvements with the new rule, and they complain that the USCIS did not do enough to warn US expats about the new rule. Part of the reason for the new rule is that the US Department of State, that operates US Embassies, charged the USCIS $3 million last year, for processing the I-130 forms. The USCIS believes it would be more cost-effective to process the I-130 forms centrally. The USCIS estimates the new rule will affect only about 10,000 applicants this year, a relatively small number. US expats, on the other hand, emphasize that many of those who will be burdened by the new rules are US service members, and US companies operating abroad.
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