International Law and Immigration

Immigration Update: January – February 2024 

A monthly publication of the International Law and Immigration Section of the California Lawyers Association.

Editor-in-Chief, Radhika Balaji 
Contributions by Namrata Jhawer

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Announces Strengthened Integrity Measures for H-1B Program

On January 30, 2024, USCIS announced a final rule for the FY 2025 H-1B registration process, aiming to enhance integrity and reduce fraud. For each beneficiary, registrants will have to provide legitimate passport information under the new beneficiary-centric selection process. The initial registration period remains open from noon Eastern time on March 6 through noon Eastern time on March 22, 2024. April 1st kicks off online filing of H-1B petitions and Form I-907. During this period, registrants must use USCIS online account which attracts a $10 registration fee. The Fee Schedule final rule takes effect post-registration, maintaining the $10 fee. The new Form I-129 edition will be accepted from April 1 onwards. The filing fee for Form I-907 is going up effective February 26, 2024. Further details are available at H-1B Cap Season webpage and USCIS online account.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Issues Final Rule to Adjust Certain Immigration and Naturalization Fees

On January 30, 2024, USCIS issued a final rule, effective April 1, 2024, adjusting immigration and naturalization benefit request fees for the first time since 2016. The rule follows a comprehensive fee review and addresses the inadequacy of the current fee schedule in recovering operational costs. The USCIS Director identified areas where revisions were made based on input from the public, leading to $727 million reduction in annual cost recovery, as well as more exemptions and discounts. New fees with an upper limit of 26%, will help USCIS manage increased delays. Stakeholders can access a list of amended forms and their respective fees through the Frequently Asked Questions page. Although revised fees are intended to make it easier for customers and cover part overheads costs, congressional funding is needed for sustainability purposes.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Changes Fee Payment Process for Filing In-Person

On January 26, 2024, USCIS introduced a new payment process for certain benefit request forms, allowing applicants, petitioners, and requestors to submit fees by mail or remotely, eliminating the need for in-person visits to field offices. Payments can be made by check or using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, accompanying the benefit request form. It is important that individuals and their representatives follow the filing instructions and verify eligibility for remote submission at the correct location since incorrect filings will be returned, requiring resubmission to the appropriate office. This change aims to streamline processes, saving time and money. Attorneys and accredited representatives can now process payments for EOIR-29 electronically, facilitating a more efficient workflow. However, emergency advance parole (AP) requests, specifically for Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, must still be submitted in person at a field office, and the application fee paid by credit card or check using Form G-1450.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

US Department of Labor (DOL) announces Employee Benefits Security Administration Recovered Over $1.4B for Workers, Families, Benefit Plans

On January 13, 2024, DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) published an overview of its enforcement activities in fiscal year 2023 (FY 2023). In FY 2023, EBSA recovered $1.4 billion in workers’ benefits, with over half stemming from the agency’s enforcement actions, as detailed in the newly published fact sheet. The report highlights EBSA’s efforts in various programs, including the voluntary fiduciary correction program and the abandoned plan program. FY 2023 also saw victories in eliminating illegal benefit plan provisions, enhancing fiduciary governance, and increasing access to mental health benefits. EBSA oversees millions of health and pension plans, covering 153 million participants with approximately $12.8 trillion in assets.

For more information, please visit DOL here.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Releases January 2024 Monthly Update

In January 2024, CBP reported a notable 50% decrease in southwest border migrant encounters compared to December 2023, totaling 176,205 encounters. This decrease is due to seasonal trends and intensified policing and resulted in a reduction of 35%, 37% and 51% of encounters with single adults, unaccompanied children and family units respectively. CBP also noted significant gains registered in narcotics interdiction where there was a 34% rise in fentanyl seizures while cocaine seizures went up by 68% between December and January. The report listed ongoing activities such as simplifying trade, fighting against fake commodities, eliminating slave labor, protecting the agricultural system from various threats etc. Moreover, CBP sent out emergency action notifications for restricted plant and animal products at a total figure of 6,248 plus conducted positive passenger inspections amounting to 102,987 which incurred civil penalties amounting to $898 for failing to declare prohibited agriculture items. This release contained information on the monthly update from CBP made on February 13, 2024.

For more information, please visit CBP here.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to Launch Organizational Accounts, Enabling Online Collaboration and Submission of H-1B Registrations

On January 12, 2024, USCIS announced upcoming customer experience enhancements for the H-1B cap season with a view to advancing efficiency and cooperation. With FY 2025 H-1B cap season and non-cap filings in mind, there will be organizational accounts which will allow several people and their attorney representatives to work together on Forms I-129, I-907 as well as H-1B registration. This initiative launched in February 2024 and the process of the H–1B lifecycle would become electronic including registrations as well as decisions made regarding them and transmission to US Department of State. After national engagements concerning organization accounts USCIS plans for online filing Forms I-129 and I-907. The goal of these changes is to reduce errors as well as streamline the petition process. To improve efficiency, paper filing location for Forms I-129 and I-907 will shift to USCIS lockbox.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

Completing an Unprecedented 10 Million Immigration Cases in Fiscal Year 2023, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Reduced Its Backlog for the First Time in Over a Decade

On February 9, 2024, USCIS reported progress on key areas in their latest data release for fiscal year 2023. They handled backlogs by processing over 10 million cases, exceeding the number received, and even eliminated the naturalization backlog. Customer experience has improved with the introduction of online tools for appointments and address changes along with text messages and appointment requests. Employment-based immigration received a boost with more visas issued than pre-pandemic levels, and extended validity periods for work permits. Their humanitarian mission saw doubled refugee interviews and admissions, alongside increased asylum case completions and record-breaking credible fear screenings. USCIS aims to maintain processing times, utilize all employment visas, and expand capacity for border protection and refugee admissions. They also announced a new fee schedule and requested additional funding from Congress. The release shows the efforts of the USCIS’s to address various challenges and their commitment to improving efficiency customer service and access to immigration benefits.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Updates Guidance on Untimely Filed Extension of Stay and Change of Status Requests

On January 24, 2024, USCIS updated its Policy Manual to provide discretion in excusing a nonimmigrant’s failure to timely file Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control. This change addresses recommendations from the H-2B Worker Protection Task Force report to clarify that nonimmigrants delayed due to labor disputes will not be negatively impacted when applying for extensions or changes of status. While nonimmigrants generally must file Form I-539 before their authorized stay expires (as granted on Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record), USCIS now has discretion under Policy Manual Volume 7, Part B, Chapter 6 to excuse late filings if: the nonimmigrant continued to maintain status; the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control; and they file Form I-539 within a reasonable period given the circumstances. The update brings USCIS policy in line with worker protections and reflects a commitment to fairness in adjudicating extension and change of status requests under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

Cap Reached for Additional Returning Worker H-2B Visas for the First Half of FY 2024

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reached the cap for the additional H-2B visas allocated to returning workers for the first half of fiscal year 2024 (start dates on or before March 31, 2024) on January 9, 2024. This cap was established through the H-2B Supplemental Cap Temporary Final Rule (FY 2024 TFR). USCIS is still accepting petitions for H-2B visas with start dates on or before March 31, 2024, for the additional 20,000 visas reserved for nationals of specific countries (namely, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica). In addition, applications are still open for exemptions from the parliamentary limit. The FY 2024 TFR became effective on November 17, 2023, allowing immediate petition acceptance for H-2B visas under the returning worker and country-specific allocations. If your returning worker application is not accepted and is not approved under the quota, consider applying under a specific country classification when the visa is available there. As of January 12, 2024, only 4,500 applications have been received for this 20,000-visa pool. For more information on the FY 2024 supplemental visas and their availability, visit the “Temporary Increase in H-2B Nonimmigrant Visas for FY 2024” page.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Issues Policy Guidance on “Ability to Pay” Requirement When Adjustment of Status Applicants Change Employers

In a move to streamline certain employment-based visa petitions, USCIS issued updated policy guidance. This update focuses on first, second, and third preference categories requiring job offers, particularly those involving “porting” situations where the sponsored worker changes employers after filing the initial petition. Previously, USCIS assessed the employer’s financial health throughout the entire period between the petition filing date (priority date) and the potential grant of permanent residence to the beneficiary. Now, for “porting” cases, USCIS will only consider financial data from the priority date until the filing of the Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. Additionally, the update includes minor clarifications and streamlining of existing guidance for improved clarity and readability. This is based on guidance issued prior to March 2023 on employer ability-to-pay assessments and aligns with USCIS’s ongoing efforts to support adjustment of status applicants.

For more information, please visit USCIS here.

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