- Government shutdown averted, for now…
- Start of the Federal Government’s Fiscal Year means visa numbers are reset.
- Pilot program for in-country H-1B Visa Renewals slated for early 2024.
- Biometric fee/requirement for I-539 Applications removed.
- Changes in filing locations for benefit requests could speed-up processing times but at what cost?
- Enterprise change of address feature introduced.
As we make our way through the Spooky Season, we at Green and Spiegel are happy to hand out brief summaries of several changes that have taken place this fall, or that are on the horizon. Please read-on for numerous treats, and a few potential tricks, coming our way.
1. Government Shutdown Averted!
In spite of all signs pointing to a shutdown come October 1, former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy struck a deal with House Democrats to continue funding the government until the end of November. As a result, a vocal minority of his party and House Democrats made Kevin McCarthy the first Speaker of the House to be removed from that leadership position, and the House of Representatives continues to be incapable of electing a new Speaker. With approximately weeks to name a new Speaker and hammer-out the details of a federal spending plan, we may be right back where we started come Thanksgiving, at which time we will revisit the immigration consequences of a government shutdown.
2. Fiscal Year 2024 Begins
As is the case every October 1 with the start of the U.S. Government’s fiscal year, visa numbers were reset. While there are some encouraging signs contained in October and November’s Visa Bulletins, Final Action Dates for all EB-2 Immigrant Visa Applicants remain considerably retrogressed. Note, as always, that USCIS’ Adjustment of Status Filing Chart dictates when internal Lawful Permanent Resident Applicants may submit their Forms I-485 and accompanying requests. Further, the Visa Bulletin will also advise winners of the Diversity Lottery if/when their numbers will come available, as well.
3. Coming in Early 2024: In-Country H-1B Visa Renewal Pilot Plan
On October 18, 2023, the U.S. Department of State sent the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs a Federal Register notice that will set the stage for a long-desired and previously-previewed mechanism for renewing H-1B Visas from within the United States. The notice, titled “Pilot Program to Resume Renewal of H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas in the United States for Certain Qualified Noncitizens,” has not been published but, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”), the Pilot Program will:
- Begin in early 2024;
- Be limited to H-1B principals only;
- Be limited to nationals of countries that are not subject to reciprocity fees;
- India will be one of the eligible countries to participate in the pilot program;
- Have eligibility requirements like those for participation in the interview waiver program;
- Be available for 20,000 applicants; and
- Be voluntary participation.
We will continue to provide updates on this topic as more details emerge, but suffice it to say that we are eagerly awaiting this measure that will hopefully pave the way for greater expansions for in-country visa applications.
4. No More Biometrics Fees and Appointments for Form I-539 Applications
In other welcome news, USCIS recently announced that Form I-539 Applications moving forward will not require Applicants to pay for and provide biometric services to change or extend their nonimmigration status within the United States. Hopefully, this move will hasten USCIS’ processing of Forms I-539 and further accelerate requests for Premium Processing for eligible Applications. Please note that USCIS will return a Biometrics Fee and accept the Form I-539 Application if said fee is paid separately; however, if the Filing and Biometrics Fees are combined in one form of payment, USCIS will consider that grounds to return the Application due to an incorrect Filing Fee.
5. All L and O Petitions to Texas Service Center
In a move presumably intended to better utilize Service resources, USCIS recently changed the Service Center to which all L and O Petitions must be sent. Whereas these submissions for Intracompany Transfers and Extraordinary Ability Individuals, respectively, were filed at distinct USCIS Service Centers based on the Petitioner’s address, USCIS will now accept all such Petitions at its Service Center in Irving, TX. We at Green and Spiegel remain optimistic that this change will make more expeditious all L and O adjudications filed via Regular Processing, but note that fellow practitioners simultaneously worry that said adjudications may become more difficult due to the Texas Service Center’s record of review.
6. New Method for Filing Form AR-11 Online Change of Address
Finally, USCIS last week announced the launch of a new Form AR-11 that individuals and entities can file online. Though it is called “Enterprise Change of Address” or “E-COA,” this new tool will be available to companies petitioning for foreign national employees, the foreign national employees themselves, and any other stakeholder with a pending application, petition, or other benefit request from USCIS. With a few exceptions (primarily aimed at abuse victims who, as a matter of personal safety, may not need to update USCIS if they move homes), the E-COA will replace other piecemeal solutions that were previously in-place. The E-COA does require possession of a USCIS Online Account, but unlike the prior online form, it does not include a case’s Receipt Number as a required input. Therefore, nonimmigrant employees with approved benefit requests and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents alike who are required to advise USCIS of their change of address within 10 days of making the move may do so through the E-COA.
As noted above and as always, please keep an eye on this space and look-out for our email blasts as we learn more details regarding these recent updates. And of course, if you have any questions regarding the implementation of these updates and whether they impact your case, please contact our Firm.