Visa Processing Articles
While we are hopeful that this is not the case, it appears that the chances of the U.S. federal government shutting down on October 1st are increasing. We would like to provide some information as to how a possible government shutdown would affect the immigration cases pending or to be filed shortly. Our office has been receiving an increasing number of inquiries from alarmed clients as to what would happen should the federal government close on October 1 if a deal is not reached on the federal government’s budget. (See latest Google News)
How Would a Government Shutdown Affect Immigration Cases?
There is no simple answer to this question, as some federal government agencies would continue to operate, some would close partially and some would close almost completely. Since the last time this kind of shutdown happened was 15 years ago, there are no clear rules and guidance as to what would remain open and what would close. With respect to immigration, it appears that there would be some disruptions to pending cases and upcoming filings. Generally, the government is likely to stop all non-essential, all non-self-funded and all non-contractually funded services. It is also helpful to look at the preparations for the averted April 2011 government shutdown.
Since USCIS is funded primarily through application fees, it is expected that most of its services and centers would operate normally, perhaps with slightly diminished staff. Because USCIS is a government agency which relies on other government agencies to perform its services, there may be certain disruptions; however, overall, case processing at USCIS is expected to resume. Border processing of immigrants and border enforcement activities would continue as they are deemed “essential.”
Department of State – No (or Slow) Visa Applications; Visa Bulletin Uncertain; NVC Processing Could Continue
The Department of State (DOS) is expected to to cease non-emergency visa services and non-US citizen services at U.S. Consular Posts abroad. As a result, no new visas are expected to be issued and visa application interviews are likely to be cancelled (or postponed). U.S. passport applications will not be accepted and processing of submitted applications is likely to be put on hold.
As a comparison, according to data from the Congressional Research Service Report, during the last shutdown in 1995, approximately 20,000 – 30,000 visas went unprocessed each day and 200,000 applications for U.S. passports went unprocessed.
It is unknown at this point, however, whether the November 2013 Visa Bulletin, which is expected to be issued in early October by the Department of State, will be affected. Many of our readers are eagerly expecting each Visa Bulletin.
With respect to immigrant visa (family, employment, etc.) cases pending at the National Visa Center (NVC), it is possible that they would continue to be processed as NVC’s staffing funding was under contract.
Department of Labor – LCA, PERM and Audits
It is unclear exactly how the Department of Labor would be affected. We expect that ETA Form 9035 LCA filings, used most often in connection with H-1B filings, to be affected. This may mean that no new LCAs can be filed (and those filed may be put on hold) and, as a result, new H-1B filings can be delayed.
ETA Form 9089 PERM labor certifications are expected to be similarly affected. It is unclear whether the system allowing new PERM labor certification filings would be shut down; however, we expect that processing of PERM labor certification cases to stop during a shutdown. This holds true for processing of PERM audits and appeals at the BALCA. Shutdown in PERM processing would further cause PERM case processing delays, on top of the already significant PERM processing times.
While the full extent of the federal government shutdown (if it were to happen over the next couple of weeks) is unknown; we can anticipate some disruptions to government services affecting immigrants. Perhaps more severe would be the disruptions to visa applications at U.S. Consular Posts abroad, followed by delays or inability to file H-1B and/or PERM labor certifications. While some of these affected cases would be able to withstand delay, there would be a number of urgent visa or petition cases which would need to be filed or processed. The shutdown would also create a significant increase in the processing time backlogs for almost all immigration cases. We urge clients who have time-sensitive cases which may be affected by a possible government shutdown to plan accordingly.
We stand ready to help analyze any cases which are time-sensitive and may suffer severe negative impact by the shutdown. Please feel free to contact us. Our office would also continue to monitor developments and provide timely updates. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics.No comments
The Department of State (“DOS”) routinely publishes the denial rate for B-1/B-2 visitor visas for each fiscal year (October 1 to September 30). The fiscal year (FY) 2012 data has been published and we share it with our clients and readers.
It is interesting to note the countries with the highest and lowest denial rates. Andorra has a 100% denial rate, although we suspect that due to its small size, the actual number of applications may be really small and thus skewing the denial rate. Other countries with high denial rates are Bhutan (52%), Djibouti (65%), Haiti (54%), Laos (60%), Mauritania (54%), Monaco (57%), Senegal (67%), Somalia (61%), Gambia (73%).
Among the countries with the lowest visitor visa denial rates are Argentina (1.5%), Chile (2.8%), Croatia (4.4%), Cyprus (1.9%), Hong Kong (1.7%), Qatar (1.2%), South Africa (2.9%), Uruguay (2.7%).
We recognize that the value in these statistics is not so great for visa applicants since each visa application is reviewed on its own merits and each case is unique. However, the data is also helpful in noting the denial rates for countries who are hoping to become beneficiaries of the visa waiver program designation (one of the criteria is consistently low denial rate of visitor visas).
Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can help you. Also, please visit us again or subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to ensure that you obtain this and related immigration-related news and announcements.No comments
The Department of State (“DOS”) has reported that they are transitioning to an online immigrant visa application as of September 3, 2013. Immigrant visa applicants who are processing their immigrant visas (green cards) through the National Visa Center (NVC)/U.S. Consulate will now need to complete the DS-260 form online (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration). Similarly, the Form DS-261 (Choice of Address and Agent) form will be online as well.
The online DS-260 form was, until now, used only for immigrant visa applicants for a few selected consulates. With the upcoming transition, after September 3, 2013, DOS will require most immigrant visa applicants to complete the DS-260 form online (as opposed to the paper DS-230 form). Only Diversity Visa and Cuban Family Reunification Parole applicants will continue to use the paper forms (DS-230). It is important to note that nonimmigrant visa applicants (B-1, H-1B, L-1, etc.) should still continue to use the DS-160 electronic application.
NVC Pending Cases
For those immigrant visa applicants who have a case pending with NVC already, NVC may instruct some applicants who previously submitted Form DS-230 on paper to submit Form DS-260 online.
The Department of State (“DOS”) has announced and launched an online system which allows applicants who have cases pending with DOS to check the status on their applications. The system works for both Immigrant Visa (IV) and Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV) applications filed/pending at either the National Visa Center (NVC) or at a U.S. Consular Section abroad.
The system asks for a case number (for IV cases) or Application ID/Case Number of consular cases and displays (at this point, fairly limited) information about the designated case. We hope that DOS would continue expanding the functionality and the availability of information to make it more valuable to applicants who have cases pending with DOS.
It is important to note that the DOS Visa Status Check system is different and separate than the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) online status check system which provides information on cases filed with USCIS (such as petitions for an immigration benefit or applications for status).
We welcome the introduction of DOS’s Visa Status Check system but hope that DOS would expand the system to allow more detailed information to be provided in order to make the system really useful and to allow applicants for visas to obtain timely information on the outcome of their case. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.No comments
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) has announced that effective February 1, 2013, USCIS will begin collecting an additional USCIS Immigrant Fee of $165.00 from foreign nationals seeking admission as permanent residents to the U.S. The fee will apply to immigrant visa applicants who have received their visa approval from a U.S. Consulate abroad and must be paid directly to the U.S. before the immigrants (and their families) travel to the U.S. for the first time as immigrants.
What is the USCIS Immigrant Fee?
In its press release, USCIS explains that the fee was established by the September 24, 2010 fee change rule (last time the fees were revised in a substantial manner) and will is being introduced now after collaboration between USCIS and the Department of State (“DOS”) on how to best collect the fee without disrupting the existing procedures. The fee is imposed to recover the costs of processing immigrant visas in the United States after immigrant visa holders receive their visa packages from DOS. This includes staff time to handle, file and maintain the immigrant visa package, and the cost of producing and delivering the permanent resident card. See Federal Register notice.
It is important to understand that this fee is in addition to the fees already collected by USCIS and DOS (via the National Visa Center).
How Should the New Fee be Paid?
The new fee will have to be paid online through USCIS website after immigrant visa applicants receive their visa package from DOS (usually the U.S. Consulate) and before they depart to the U.S. DOS will be providing such applicants with specific information on how to submit payment when they attend their consular interview. Acceptable methods of payment would be checking account information or debit/credit card, drawn on U.S. funds.
Who is Affected by the New Fee?
All immigrant visa applicants who process their immigrant visas through a U.S. Consulate abroad (including Canada and Mexico) will be required to pay the new fee, starting February 1, 2013. USCIS processes approximately 36,000 immigrant visa packages (green card “activations”) each month. Please note that permanent residency applicants who process their green cards from within the U.S. will not have to pay the new fee — for example, I-485 applicants to adjust status from within the U.S. will not have to pay the fee. Also, prospective adoptive parents whose child will enter the United States under the Orphan or Hague processes are exempt from the new fee.
What Happens If the Fee is Not Paid?
The applicant will not receive a green card until the required USCIS Immigrant fee is paid. However, failure to pay does not affect the lawful status of the applicant. While the applicant can use their Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Record, for one year to document they are a lawful permanent resident, once that I-94 stamp expires, the applicant will need to possess a green card as evidence of their lawful permanent resident status.
We are hopeful that USCIS and DOS will establish a clear process to inform applicants, especially those who are currently undergoing their immigrant process, of the new requirement to pay the fee before the green card is produced. Our office will continue to monitor this new fee and related procedures and provide updates. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.No comments
Some of our clients and readers are aware that in March 2012, the U.S. Embassy in India introduced the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) which allows eligible individuals to apply for certain types of visa without being interviewed in person by a U.S. consular officer. Under this program, holders of B, J-2, H-4, L-2, C, D visa holders, in addition to children under 7 years of age and elderly applicants over 80 years of age could have their in-person interview waived.
Last week, in a press release from November 19, 2012, the U.S. Embassy in India announced that the IWP would be expanded to include (1) H-1B and individual (non-blanket) L-1 workers, (2) F-1 students returning to the same school/program; and (3) children applying before their 14th birthday traveling on any visa.
About the Interview Waiver Program
The Interview Waiver Program was introduced in March 2012 and allows individuals who seek to obtain U.S. visa stamp and who meet the eligibility requirements to skip the interview by a consular officer step. According to the U.S. Mission in India, this program has been successful so far and will be expanded to allow additional applicants to take advantage of the streamlined procedure.
Another reason behind this move is also the increasing demand in U.S. visas in India. In 2011, consular officers in India processed nearly 700,000 nonimmigrant visa applications, an increase of over 11 percent over the previous year. At the current time, applicants have to wait fewer than ten days for a visa interview to be scheduled and, according to the Department of State, spend less than one hour at U.S. consular facilities in India. In addition to the Interview Waiver Program, in September 2012, the U.S. Mission in India introduced additional changes to the application process, including the payment, biometrics and interview steps.
Interview Waiver Program Eligibility Requirements
Under the expanded program, the following types of visas are eligible for the interview waiver program:
- Business/Tourism (B1 and/or B2);
- Students (F-1) returning to attend the same school and same program;
- Temporary workers on H-1B visas or on individual L-1A or L-1B visas who are returning to work for the same petitioner in the same classification and the previous visa has not expired for more than 12 months;
- Dependent (J2, H4, L2);
- Transit (C) and/or Crew Member (D) – including C1/D;
- Children applying before their 14th birthday traveling on any visa class;
- Applicants applying on or after their 80th birthday traveling on any visa class.
There are additional requirements, all spelled out at the www.ustraveldocs.com website. Among the most notable are (1) the previous visa must have been issued in India, must be issued after November 1, 2008 (for dropbox use) or after August 1, 2004 (biometrics required); (2) there must not be a “Clearance Received” annotation on the previous visa; and (3) the previous visa must not have expired for more than 48 months (for most classifications, 12 months for H-1B or L-1 visas).
We encourage the U.S. Mission in India’s efforts to streamline the application process and allow applicants, especially H-1B or L-1 workers who are often under time pressure to return to their employment, to process their visas faster. It should be noted, however, that even though some visa applicants may be able to take advantage of the interview waiver program, the U.S. Consular Section officers are likely to call for an interview any applicant whose application paperwork is missing or if there are questions about one’s continued eligibility.
As always, prior to submitting a visa application, please remember to check with the U.S. consulate regarding documentation requirements for the specific visa type. As the U.S. consulates in India are implementing the new application processes, we recommend that you stay flexible, and build in extra lead time to accommodate travel itineraries. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.No comments
The United States Embassy in India announced modifications to the U.S. visa application procedures effective September 26, 2012. The U.S. Embassy is introducing a new process to be followed by all U.S. visa applicants; these include H-1B and L-1 visa applicants as well as individuals applying for other type of visa for entry to the United States.
The New Visa Processing System
The new visa processing system will utilize a new website at www.ustraveldocs.com/in to further standardize procedures and to simplify fee payment and appointment scheduling. Through the new website, all visa applicants will be able to fill out the necessary application forms, find out what documents are required, pay visa application fees, schedule an appointment for biometrics collection, and schedule an interview at the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
For the first time, the new system will also allow the applicants to schedule their appointments online or by phone. Visa applicants will be able to have their questions answered via telephone, email, or online chat. See the phone numbers and hours of operations. In addition, visa applicants will be able to pay application fees via Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) or via mobile phone. Applicants will also be able to pay in cash at more than 1,800 Axis bank branches.
Two Appointments Necessary
One important change is that under the new system, applicants will have to make two appointments. Prior to their visa interviews, applicants will have to visit an Offsite Facilitation Center (OFC) to submit their fingerprints and a photo. Located at different locations from the Embassy and Consulates in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai, the OFCs will reduce overcrowding at U.S. consular facilities and speed applicant processing. Most applicants will need to visit an OFC only once.
Visa applicants who plan to apply for a U.S. visa before September 26, 2012, should follow the established process.
We welcome the changes the U.S. Embassy in India is implementing in hope that it would provide clearer process, faster turnaround time and fair adjudication. Our office supports a number of clients in their visa stamp applications and we are hopeful that the changes are positive.
As always, prior to submitting a visa application, please remember to check with the U.S. consulate regarding documentation requirements for the specific visa type. As the U.S. consulates in India are implementing the new application processes, we recommends that you stay flexible, and build in extra lead time to accommodate travel itineraries. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.No comments
Effective April 13, 2012, the Department of State is changing the visa processing fees. Some of the fees will increase, while some will decrease. For example, the fees for most nonimmigrant visa applications and Border Crossing Cards will increase. On the other hand, all immigrant visa processing fees will decrease (some by a substantial amount).
Nonimmigrant Visas — Fees Increase
The Department of State is required to recover, as must as possible, the cost of processing a visa application and a stamp through the collection of application fees. According to the Department of State, for a number of reasons, the current fees no longer cover the actual cost of processing nonimmigrant visas. As a result, the nonimmigrant visa fee increase will support the addition and expansion of overseas facilities, as well as additional staffing required to meet increased visa demand.
Although most categories of nonimmigrant visa processing fees will increase, the fee for E visas (treaty-traders and treaty-investors) and K visas (for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens) will decrease.
|Type of Visa||Previous Fee||New Fee|
|Tourist, Business, Transit, Crew Member, Student, Exchange Visitor, and Journalist visas||$140||$160 (↑)|
|Petition-Based visas (H, L, O, P, Q, and R)||$150||$190 (↑)|
|Treaty Investor and Trader visas (E)||$390||$270 (↓)|
|Fiancé(e) visas (K)||$350||$240 (↓)|
|Border Crossing Cards (age 15 and older)||$140||$160 (↑)|
|Border Crossing Cards (under age 15)||$14||$15 (↑)|
Immigrant Visas – Fees Decrease
Because of a reallocation of costs associated with immigrant visas, all categories of immigrant visa processing fees will decrease as shown below. Some of the fee decreases are fairly significant.
|Type of Visa||Previous Fee||New Fee|
|Immediate Relative and Family Preference Applications||$330||$230 (↓)|
|Employment-Based Applications||$720||$405 (↓)|
|Other Immigrant Visa Applications||$305||$220 (↓)|
|Diversity Visa Program Fee||$440||$330 (↓)|
|Determining Returning Resident Status||$380||$275 (↓)|
We welcome the Department of State’s efforts to make its services more affordable and for its fees to reflect the actual cost of services provided. It should be noted that it has been thought that some of the weaker demand in certain immigration visa categories, during the past few years, has been thought to be due to the high fees. By lowering the immigrant visa fees, the Department of State may be addressing concerns that some of its services are pricing some applicants out.No comments
Among increased scrutiny and often long waiting period to obtain an H-1B (and sometimes even H-4 for their dependents) visa stamp, a number of US-based IT consulting employees are understandably nervous about traveling abroad and attending the H-1B visa stamp interview.
Our office handles a substantial number of such H-1B petitions and H-1B visa stamp applications and while we can confirm that a well-prepared H-1B stamping application has a very good chance of success, nonetheless, the scrutiny and level of review/delay has increased.
US Consulate in Hyderabad, India Introduces Attestation Document for H-1B Workers
We have learned that the US Consulate in Hyderabad has started requiring certain H-1B applicants (most likely who would be working for IT consulting companies) to sign a notarized statement attesting to a number of facts in relation to their third-party client placement and employment. See a real (but redacted) attestation document.
H-1B Applicants in Hyderabad Must Attest to the Terms of Their H-1B Employment
The attestation seems to require the H-1B worker to provide or confirm (under oath and under penalty of permanent bar on admission to the United States) a number of facts relating to the H-1B employment. First, the H-1B worker must confirm that he or she has read the Wilberforce pamphlet which has been provided to them by the Consulate. The Wilberforce pamphlet is a document which is usually given out by U.S. Consulates to certain visa applicants informing them of their rights under the human trafficking and labor laws in the United States.
In addition, the H-1B workers must attest to key facts describing the employment – including name of end client, identities and contact information of supervisors, terms of employment and other facts describing the employer-employee relationship between the sponsor employer and the H-1B worker.
Importantly, the H-1B worker submits the statement under oath and subject to a permanent ban on entering the U.S. for providing false information. Since the information required in the attestation often comes from the H-1B sponsor employer, the fact that the H-1B worker has to attest to facts to which he/she may not have direct knowledge should cause an H-1B worker to pause and ensure that all information is correct before signing his or her name.
It seems that the H-1B worker attestation introduced by the US Consulate in Hyderabad is a new approach in the H-1B visa stamping procedure — at least for Hyderabad. We do not have direct reports of this kind of attestation being used by other Consulates; however, it is possible the use may spread. We hope that this kind of attestation is limited only to cases in which the employment terms and the employer-employee relationship is not amply documented. When the H-1B sponsor is willing and able to document amply the facts and the terms of the H-1B employment at a third-party client site, this attestation should not be needed.
Have you received or have been asked to sign similar attestation? Please let us know.
We will continue to monitor developments on this topic and provide updates. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance or answer any questions. We also invite you to subscribe to our free weekly immigration newsletter to receive timely updates on this and related topics.No comments
The Department of State has confirmed that as of January 1, 2012, the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, India will no longer accept and process immigrant visa (IV, or green card) applications. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and U.S. Consulate in Mumbai will become the only acceptance centers in India for immigrant visas.
The change does not affect the substantive rules for qualifying for an immigrant visa or the underlying immigrant petitions, such as I-140 or I-130. Applicants currently in the process of petitioning for an immigrant visa at Chennai may contact ChennaiIVU@state.gov for clarification on their status.No comments