USCIS announced July 29 that it would no longer accept applications for H-2B (temporary seasonal non-agricultural) workers that request start dates before April 1, 2009. The federal fiscal year starts October 1, and in the past, the quota has lasted at least until the start of the year. This shows the increasing demand for H-2B workers and the increasingly inadequate supply of these visas, which are capped at 66,000/year but divided into two application periods so that applicants in warm-weather States do not get them all.
National Visa Center to Accept Online Fee Payment
The National Visa Center has, beginning with fee letters dated on or after August 11, 2008, begun to accept online payments in connection with NVC processing. We do not expect online payment to be acceptable for fees paid directly to a consular post. The NVC is a processing center that prepares immigrant cases for visa issuance abroad if the applicant is not yet in the United States or otherwise is not eligible for adjustment of status. We will work with you to determine if online payment is the best option for your case.
PIMS (Petition Information Management Service) Now Functioning - Changes to Non-immigrant Visa Issuance System
PIMS is an electronic information system that allows the Dept. of State consular post to check whether a visa applicant has in fact been issued an H, L, O, P, or Q classification from USCIS in the States. Consular posts are now to rely solely on PIMS rather than require or act on the original USCIS approval notice (I-797). PIMS is maintained by the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) based on information sent by USCIS Service Centers.
Of course, there are some problems with the transition. First, USCIS has not routinely sent all approvals to the KCC. Until recently, only those with the "consular processing" box checked on the application were sent. Now, all are supposed to be sent, but it is not happening in all cases. We are taking steps to increase the chances of the approvals being sent to KCC on cases we file.
If the approval is not in PIMS, then the visa applicant must wait until the consular officer can confirm that the approval is valid. This is done via email to KCC. It typically takes only a few days, but the delay can be longer. It is important to plan for such delays (or for security check delays, which can also occur without warning) when making travel plans to obtain a visa.
Second, some consular posts still list I-797 as a required document or require it to make an appointment. We recommend that all visa applicants still carry the original I-797, as it also may be needed at the port of entry for CBP (Customs and Border Protection) inspection.
The good news is that if the original I-797 is lost or forgotten, this should not prevent visa issuance. Posts are to rely solely on PIMS, and not deny an applicant who does not have an I-797.
TPS Extension for Sudan
Temporary Protected Status for nationals of Sudan has been extended from Nov. 2, 2008, through May 2, 2010. Work permission is automatically extended through May 2, 2009. All TPS beneficiaries from Sudan must re-register for TPS (and apply for work authorization if desired) between August 14 and October 14, 2008.
ESTA website live - but NOT required until January 1, 2009
ESTA, the "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" is expected to become mandatory on January 1, 2009. This system will require travelers who use the "visa waiver" program (those from countries where a visa is not required for business or tourist travel) to register online for pre-approval for travel. If denied pre-approval, the applicant will be required to obtain a visa. We will update you more as ESTA becomes operational.
Passport Card is a "List A" Document for I-9s
The Dept. of State is now issuing "passport cards" as an alternative to traditional passports for use in travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Carribean at sea or land ports of entry only (you cannot use them for air travel). USCIS announced that passport cards may be used by employment verification as a "List A" document - meaning the presentation of a passport card will authorize a person to work in the United States, as that person is a U.S. citizen.