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EIG Dispatch | December 11, 2015

December 18, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Spain Extends Residence Rights to Dependents of EU Nationals
  • USCIS Launces New Automated Virtual Assistant
  • New Regulation for Shanghai Foreign Residents and Expatriates
  • Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Reduce the Number of H-1B Visas Available Every Year
  • USCIS Director Testifies as to Agency’s Top Priorities

Spain Extends Residence Rights to Dependents of EU Nationals

On October 30, 2015, Spain issued Royal Decree 987/2015 which extends the definition of dependents of European Union (EU) nationals eligible for an EU residency card in Spain. The regulation, effective as of December 9, 2015, expands the definition of dependents to include non-EU common-law partners in a steady relationship, as well as any non-EU financially or physically dependent family members. Spanish residence cards for non-EU national family members of EU nationals will now be valid for five years instead of one year. Under this regulation, a common-law partner may qualify for a five-year EU family residence card if the applicant can show evidence of a “steady relationship,” which includes:

  • Continuous cohabitation for at least one year,
  • Children they have had together,
  • Joint bank accounts, and/or
  • Jointly owned property

Other non-EU family members impacted by this regulation will need to provide evidence that they are financially dependent on the principal applicant or that they are physically dependent on the principal on health or disability grounds.


USCIS Launches New Automated Virtual Assistant

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is currently taking steps to improve its customer service.  On December 2, 2015, USCIS officially launched a new automated virtual assistant to help foreign individuals immigrate to the United States. The computer-generated virtual assistant, named “Emma,” interacts with individuals looking at the USCIS website and provides answers to 85% of questions.  Prior to the launch of Emma, the only means for individuals seeking help was through a 1-800 telephone number. While Emma is already underway, the development process is far from over; USCIS employees, Verizon contractors, and the subcontractor, Next IT, will soon teach Emma to speak different languages, and plan to make Emma accessible via mobile devices. Additionally, USCIS will continue to develop the currently delayed Electronic Immigration System, or ELIS, a $2.6 billion project intended to automate green card processing. ELIS will likely be operational in 2018 or 2019.


New Regulation for Shanghai Foreign Residents and Expatriates

China implemented an amended regulation requiring all foreign residents in Shanghai to report any changes in relation to their residence permits to the Shanghai Exit-Entry Bureau.  The new regulation takes effect immediately. Although foreign residents were previously allowed to report changes when renewing their residence permits, changes must now be filed more immediately.

The official reporting deadline is ten days from the date of change. However, the Bureau is willing to allow residence permit holders to report changes within 30 calendar days of change in address, passport information, or other information affecting the permit. However, despite the Bureau leniance, employers and employees with foreign residence permits should take precautions as they could incur fines or be issued warnings for late reporting or for failure to notify the Exit-Entry Bureau of any changes. It is advised that all employees immediately report any changes to their address or passports since issuance of their current residence permits.


Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Reduce the Number of H-1B Visas Available Every Year

United States Senators, Bill Nelson and Jeff Session, recently introduced an immigration bill seeking to reform the H-1B visa process. The bill is similar to a previous effort by Senators Durbin and Grassley, who attempted to change the H-1B visa process, but it is being sold as the more straightforward of the two options. The Senators believe the bill, if enacted, will ensure the H-1B visa program is used as originally intended—that is, to allow U.S. employers to seek temporary, highly skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations when there are no similarly qualified U.S. workers.

The bill would:

  • Reduce the H-1B cap from 85,000 new visas per year to 70,000 by limiting the cap for Bachelor degree holders to 50,000 new H-1B visas. The 20,000 supplement for foreign students with a graduate degree would remain intact.
  • In the event that there are more applications than available visas, the applications would be processed with the highest salary taking precedent. This applies to both the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree categories.

Currently there is no indication of how the bill would fare in a deeply divided Congress, though the easily understood language and provisions of the bill give it a higher chance.


USCIS Director Testifies as to Agency’s Top Priorities

On December 9, 2016, Leon Rodriguez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), testified at a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Director Rodriguez discussed the agency’s top priorities, which included improvements to employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant programs. Director Rodriguez provided that the Department of Homeland Security would make the following proposals through the rule-making process:

  • To permit general work authorization to certain beneficiaries of approved Immigrant Petitions for Alien Worker (Form I-140).
  • To enact various provisions of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC21) in order to clarify long-standing policy. In doing so, DHS will seek to clarify which nonimmigrants are exempt from the numerical H-1B cap, increase job flexibility for certain workers, and provide increased guidance on the maximum period of admission for H-1B nonimmigrants. Additionally, DHS will seek to clearly delineate protections for certain H-1B whistleblowers.

Click here for the full hearing transcript.