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EIG Dispatch | July 10-14

July 11, 2017

DC Insights: DOS Verification Emails / Effects of Limited DOS Staffing/ Congress Recess Delayed / ICE Audit Targets / Increase in O-1 Visas / Visa Processing Executive Order 

Headlines: Electronic Device Ban Lift

Feature Story: USCIS Ombudsman Office Processing Times Report 


DC Insights: What We Learned in the Past 7 Days

DOS Confirms Emails to Employers from clientverification@state.gov are Legitimate. The Department of State (DOS) confirmed that it has begun using the email address, clientverification@state.gov, to verify the employment of visa applicants. If you receive an email from this address and you are not sure how to respond, please contact EIG for assistance.

Limits on DOS Staffing May Affect Visa Processing. Following a general hiring freeze and a plan to cut more than 8% of the Department of State workforce, reports from an internal DOS memorandum indicate that all lateral reassignments below officer level have been temporarily suspended. Limits on staffing across the Department may result in slower processing of visa applications, particularly in light of previously reported increases in screening standards.

Congress August Recess Delayed to Work on Health-Care Bill. It was announced today that the Senate’s August recess would be delayed in order to work on health-care legislation and other issues. The Senate will now work through the week of August 7, starting the recess in the third week of August. During the coming weeks, we do not expect immigration to be a high priority on Capitol Hill. We expect more activity to resume after Labor Day.

ICE Confirms Audit Target for FY2017 Has Not Increased, Despite Apparent Increase in Workplace Audits. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was directed to hire an additional 10,000 officers and agents, pursuant to the executive order “Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest” issued on February 20, 2017. Following this announcement, anecdotal reports of work-site inspections have increased.  Despite the focus on hiring, ICE recently confirmed that its work-site audit target remains at a similar level to last year, and has not increased.

Issuance of O-1 Visas on the Rise. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security statistics show that the number of O-1 nonimmigrant visas issued has tripled over the past decade. Qualifying for an O-1 visa requires that candidates meet the high “extraordinary ability” legal standard, but has no cap on the number of visas that can be issued in a year. The O-1 classification is growing in popularity among qualified foreign nationals who wish to avoid the numerical restrictions on H-1B work visas.  For specific questions on whether you qualify for an O-1, please contact EIG.

Trump Amends Obama’s Visa Processing Executive Order. In his Executive Order, “Establishing Visa and Foreign Processing Goals”, President Trump reversed the previous administration’s pledge to interview 80% of all visa applicants within three weeks of application. Instead, President Trump announced that he will make available a revised visa processing plan in the near future.


Headlines: Immigration News from Around the World

U.S. Gradually Lifting Electronic Device Ban on Inbound Flights, Instead Imposing Robust Screening Measures. The Department of Homeland Security has begun lifting the ban on electronic devices for some airlines. Instead, airlines flying through the regions must agree to carry out new security measures. Emirates and Turkish Airlines are the latest carriers to modify their security procedures and to re-allow electronics on flights into the U.S.


Headlines: Immigration News from Around the World

Malaysian eVisa Now Available for Citizens of Certain Countries. Nationals of China, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Serbia, and Montenegro are now eligible for an eVisa to visit Malaysia for business or tourism. The eVisa authorizes a single entry of up to 30 days within a 3 month period. For more information or to apply for an eVisa, please see the Immigration Department of Malaysia.

Nigerian Temporary Work Permit Applications May Now be Emailed. The Nigerian Comptroller General of Immigration Service has authorized the submission of Temporary Work Permit applications via email. For more information on specific visa requirements, visit the visas website of the Nigerian Immigration Service. We expect the email option will streamline the process and reduce processing times.

July 4th Closures in U.S. Consulates and Embassies Around the World. In observance of U.S. Independence Day, U.S. Consulates and Embassies around the world will be closed, as will many foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S.


Feature Story: USCIS Ombudsman Office Processing Times Report

On June 29, 2017, The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman submitted its Annual Report to Congress. The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial resource within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) whose mission is to (a) assist individuals and employers with resolving problems with USCIS and (b) propose improvements to the delivery of immigration services. The report, which covered the full scope of US immigration processes, provided insight into what we can expect in coming months and years.

Requests for Assistance

  • 69% of requests for assistance were due to a case pending outside of “normal” processing times, an ongoing difficulty given processing delays and inaccurate reporting of processing times (see below).
  • 26% of requests for were for employment-based matters.

Highlights

  • Processing Delays Likely to Continue. USCIS has a 1.5 million case backlog and is unable to meet its processing times goals. These delays are expected to continue in the near future due to enhanced security checks, social media vetting, and additional fraud detection activities.
  • Posted Processing Times are Not Accurate. USCIS processing times available to the public “often does not accurately convey the actual time it is likely to take to adjudicate cases.”
  • Lingering Naturalization Delays Caused by 2016 Events.  The Report noted that ongoing delays in processing naturalization applications were caused by volume (nearly 1 million applications were filed in advance of the 2016 presidential election and December 2016 fee increase) and technical difficulties with internal USCIS systems.
  • Evaluation of AC21 Regulation’s Impact Ongoing.  The Ombudsman is tracking the impact of the November 2016 AC21 regulation. This regulation was designed to improve the flexibility, transparency and certainty for foreign workers and U.S. employers.

The full report is available on the DHS website.