Happy Holidays from the Davis Brown Immigration Department! Surviving 2009 is an accomplishment in itself. We wish all of you a safe, happy and prosperous New Year!
H-1B Cap Almost Reached
The soft economy this year resulted in H-1B (professional work visas) being available for much longer than they have been in the recent past. Usually these visas run out on April 1, the first day of the application period. But last week the Immigration Service reported that only 1,000 remain and will likely be used up in the next few days.
This means that the only H-1B filings we can make until April 1 are for transfers (where the person has been counted toward the cap already) and cap-exempt positions (jobs at colleges or universities, doctors receiving a Conrad 30 waiver, and jobs at entities affiliated with higher education institutions, for the most part). Those cases filed April 1 for new H-1Bs must be for jobs starting October 1, 2010.
Immigration Reform Bill Introduced in the House
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009 was introduced by Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) on December 15. It is a huge bill and is the first in an expected series as Congress considers changing the immigration system. More to come as we analyze this bill and its chances of success (why do they always introduce immigration legislation during the holidays?)
I-9 Enforcement - This Time They Mean It
After many fits and starts over its 20+ year history, the I-9 form is finally getting the attention that has been threatened for so long. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not only announced, but is actually doing, wide-spread I-9 audits, resulting in fines. The stated goal of these audits is as a criminal prosecution tool as well as an administrative enforcement tool.
The audits are focused on particular industries on a rolling basis, adding new industries as others are completed. While the numbers are not huge (85,000 I-9s reviewed, 16% resulting in Notice of Intent to Fine and more than $2 million in fines from 654 audits), they are continuing and consistent for the first time in memory.
Now is a good time to self-audit I-9s and consider an outside "spot-audit" to assess potential liability and any other workforce concerns. If your company receives an audit request, consider it with no less seriousness than an IRS audit or wage/hour or OSHA visit, and let us know if we can help.
ESTA Travel Registration - When "Delay" Means "Denial"
Travelers using the visa waiver program (people from certain countries are not required to obtain a visitor's visa, but may instead enter for up to 90 days on a passport) must now register on-line under the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).
Recently, the government announced that persons who had applied for visas and been refused for lack of information under INA §222(g) should disclose this "delay" as a denial on ESTA. Failure to do so could result in refusal at entry as a person making a misrepresentation.
The problem is that visa applicants do not always realize that the request for more information is actually a "denial". Therefore, this pronouncement is controversial and we hope it will be changed. In the meantime, please be careful in filling out ESTA registration and let us know if you have questions.
ESTA Travel Registration - Watch Out for Scams!
In finding the website for the above item we found that many non-governmental sites are operating purporting to register people for ESTA. Please make sure to enter through the Customs and Border Protection portal rather than these other sites, which may be scams to obtain your ID information or sell you something that is offered for free by the federal government.
Inquiries for the Citizenship & Immigration Service
As many of you know, the Immigration Service as established a National Customer Service Center with an 800 # (800-375-5283) for various inquiries. This number provided a lot of unreliable information - and long waits to talk to a person - when first established but has improved. While we still caution that the 800# is not legal advice, it is an initial portal to making most case inquiries, even for attorneys.
An email inquiry box is also now available at the four service centers, but only if you have called the 800# first and waited 30 days in most instances.
Because Canadians cannot access the National Customer Service Center through the 800# number to ask about general immigration questions, Canadian customers may now inquire about general immigration information at USCIS.Canada@dhs.gov in addition to obtaining immigration information at www.uscis.gov.
Improved customer service is a fantastic goal - but it is not legal advice.
In Other News
Congress has extended the religious worker (non-minister) immigrant category, the EB5 "regional center" immigrant program to allow for indirect job creation for immigrant investors. These programs expire every few years, causing consternation for all. But at least we have another breather. The e-Verify employment verification program was also extended.
The HPV vaccination is no longer required for women green card applicants. This vaccine was controversial and expensive.
HIV has been removed from the list of communicable diseases resulting in a bar to immigration absent a waiver.
Lou Dobbs (a vocal opponent of immigration reform) resigned from CNN and is now running for Congress. His platform includes supporting legalization for unauthorized immigrants.
For Employers - COBRA Extension
Our Health Law Department reports the following:
The House has passed a bill extending the federal COBRA subsidy. The bill's provisions extend the time frame to qualify for the subsidy by two months, through February 28, 2010. The bill also extends the length of the subsidy from 9 months to 15 months. The bill also contains notification requirements for employers.
We expect the bill will quickly be passed by the Senate prior to its recess for the holidays. Once the bill has passed the Senate, we will provide you with a detailed summary of the bill's provisions and its impact on employers.
Please contact Susan Freed at SusanFreed@davisbrownlaw.com if you would like additional information.