Monday, February 2, 2015

National Visa Center Upgrades Telephone System

In the past year, the National Visa Center (NVC) had plans to upgrade their telephone system to accommodate an increase in call volume.  As of January 12, 2015, the NVC began responding to e-mail and telephonic inquiries regarding nonimmigrant visa cases, which inevitably increases the call volume. Prior to January 12, 2015, the NVC did not accept inquiries regarding nonimmigrant visas.  At the end of January 2015, the upgraded phone system went into effect.  

Attorneys and applicants who previously called the NVC are familiar with the frequent busy signals and lengthy hold times of minimally thirty minutes or more before speaking with a representative.  With the upgraded phone system, there are no longer any busy signals.  However, if a representative isn't available, an automated recording instructs callers to call back and then the call is automatically terminated.  When a call isn't terminated and permitted to be on hold, the wait times have been relatively short, about 10 - 15 minutes based on our calls.  The automated recording also states that applicants should proceed with their calls if it's been more than 35 days since USCIS approved their immigrant applications.  Although the phone system can use some additional improvements, calls to the NVC are now far less frustrating. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Filing Location Changes for Form I-751

As of January 14, 2015, USCIS changed the Service Center filing location for Form I-751 (Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence) applicants living in Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Applicants living in these states are now instructed to file their I-751 applications at the California Service Center (CSC).

Until February 16, 2015, the Vermont Service Center (VSC) will continue to accept and process applications received at their facility for the six states. Between February 17 to March 16, 2015, the VSC will forward application to the CSC for processing.   As of March 17, 2015, the Vermont Service Center will reject I-751 petitions for incorrect jurisdiction and return the petitions to the applicants. Applicants must then re-file with the CSC.

I-751 applicants should file their applications at the correct Service Center based on the state or territory they reside in. Applications filed before the filing location changes went into effect are not affected.

USCIS California Service Center

P.O. Box 10751
Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-1075

USCIS Vermont Service Center

75 Lower Welden Street
P.O. Box 200
St. Albans, VT 05479-0001

Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and West Virginia

Thursday, January 15, 2015

February 2015 Visa Bulletin

The Department of State has posted the February 2015 Visa Bulletin at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin/2015/visa-bulletin-for-february-2015.html. All the family-based preference categories progressed and most categories advanced between 1 to 8 weeks. The most significant advancement is 8 weeks for category F2A (Mexico only). 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

CBP Launches "Border Wait Times" App

On December 16, 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) launched its Border Wait Times app which can be downloaded for free from Apple's App Store and Google Play. The app does not require any registration. The app provides the estimated wait times and open lane status to all the Canadian and Mexican ports of entry. The app also shows the three closest ports of entry to the user's location and map routes to the three closest ports.  The information available on the app is also available at http://bwt.cbp.gov/

CBP's first app, the Mobile Passport Control (MPC), debuted in August 2014 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is expected to expand to more airports in the coming months.  The MPC is only available for free download at Apple's App Store and is expected to be available at Google Play in the near future.  The app requires users to create a profile with their passport information (name, gender, date of birth, and country of citizenship). Upon landing in the U.S., users will use their smartphones/tablets to complete the “New Trip” section, take a self-photo (selfie) and answer the customs declaration questions.  Users will receive an electronic bar-coded receipt and the receipt is only valid for four hours.  App users will pass through customs using a designated fast lane and must show their passports and digital receipts. Only U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. passport and Canadian citizens with a valid Canadian passport and B1/B2 visitor visa status may use the app.  Further information regarding the MPC app is available at http://mobilepassport.us/.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

U.S. and Cuba Will Restore Diplomatic Relations

Yesterday President Obama announced that after almost 54 years of severed relations, the U.S. will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and re-establish an embassy in Havana, Cuba.  President Obama made the announcement following the historic prisoner swap of American contractor Alan Gross and three members of the Cuban Five. 

Currently the U.S. has an Interests Section in Havana.  Countries that do not have any direct bilateral ties will be represented by an interest section that is housed at the embassy of a third country that has bilateral ties with the two countries.   When U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in January 1961, the U.S.’s interests were represented by the Swiss Embassy in Havana. Then in 1977, the U.S. Interests Section re-occupied the former U.S. Embassy building and was official known as the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana, Cuba. The Interests Section functions similarly as other U.S. Embassies and Consulates and staffed by U.S. Foreign Service officers and local personnel employed by the U.S. Department of State.  However, the Interests Section has been under-staffed and applicants face longer processing times than other consular posts. Appointments for visitors visas can take 2 - 3 months compared to a few days or a couple of weeks at other consular posts. When the Interests Section transitions into an Embassy, additional staff should be added, thus decreasing the visa processing times. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

January 2015 Visa Bulletin

The Department of State has posted the January 2015 Visa Bulletin at  http://www.travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin/2015/visa-bulletin-for-january-2015.html.  All the family-based preference categories progressed and most categories advanced between 1 to 4 weeks.  The most significant advancements are 6 weeks and 7 weeks for categories F2B (All Countries except Mexico and Philippines) and F2A (Mexico only), respectively. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA)

During last night's 15-minute speech, President Obama announced a deferred action initiative (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability - DAPA) for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents born on or before November 20, 2014. These parents must have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least the last five years (since January 1, 2010), must pass criminal background checks and must pay back taxes to be eligible to receive deferred action and apply for employment authorization.

Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. Deferred action does not provide lawful status and President Obama made it clear that his initiative is not a path to legal status.

President Obama stated that this initiative provides the opportunity for these undocumented parents to "come out of the shadows." However, DAPA is only valid for a period of three years and is revocable. President Obama urges Congress to pass an immigration reform bill if they are not pleased with his initiative.

DAPA is among other immigration initiatives announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014. Additional information regarding the other initiatives can be found at http://www.dhs.gov/immigration-action and http://www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction.

DAPA and the other immigration initiatives have not been implemented and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is not accepting applications at this time. In the coming months, USCIS and other agencies will work towards implementing these initiatives and provide detailed instructions and explanations. Eligible applicants may subscribe for USCIS updates at http://www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction.

Friday, November 14, 2014

NVC No Longer Collects Original Civil Documents

Prior to consular interviews, all immigrant visa applicants (principal and derivative beneficiaries) are required to submit civil documents (e.g., birth, divorce, marriage and police certificates) to the National Visa Center (NVC) for initial review. Once the NVC determines that the visa applicants are documentarily qualified, the consular interview will be scheduled.

As of November 12, 2014, the NVC no longer requires immigrant visa applicants at non-electronic processing posts to mail their original civil documents. Instead, immigrant applicants are instructed to mail photocopies of their civil documents to the NVC and bring the originals to their interviews. Petitioners must continue to submit their original signed Form I-864s (Affidavit of Support) and supporting financial evidence. Petitioners and beneficiaries should submit all civil and financial documents in one package and include the NVC Document Cover Sheet. Failure to submit all the required documents in one package usually results in delays. The NVC anticipates that this procedural change will reduce the processing time for visa applicants.

Immigrant visa applicants at electronic processing posts should continue to email their civil documents and their petitioners’ financial documents to the NVC. The mandatory electronic processing posts include Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (AKD); Amman, Jordan (AMM); Damascus, Syria (DMS); Ciudad Juárez, Mexico (MEP) and Sana'a, Yemen (SAA). The optional electronic processing posts include Montreal, Canada (MTL) and Guangzhou, China (GUZ). However, only cases with visa categories CR1, CR2, F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4, IR1, IR2 and IR5 are eligible for electronic processing in Guangzhou, China. MTL and GUZ visa applicants who choose electronic processing must first enroll by emailing the NVC at nvcelectronic@state.gov. GUZ visa applicants will be assigned new GZO case numbers whereas MTL applicants will retain their original case numbers. Please note that once MTL and GUZ visa applicants commit to a processing method, they cannot later switch to another processing method.

For electronic processing cases, documents should be scanned as PDF files and a separate file should be created for each document. Applicants should try to include all civil and financial documents in a single email, but the attachments should not exceed five megabytes (MB). If multiples emails must be sent, then the beneficiary’s civil documents should be grouped in one email and the petitioner’s financial documents should be grouped in another email.

For the NVC’s most current updates and procedures, please visit the U.S. Department of State’s website at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/immigrate/immigrant-process/petition.html.

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