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Immigration News Briefs

By Humera Subhani Email By Humera Subhani
January 2016
Immigration News Briefs

Proposed Changes to the Visa Waiver Program
In response to the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, in which nationals from France and Belgium traveled to Syria and returned to Europe to conduct the attacks, Congress and the White House have both proposed changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is an existing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program that allows citizens of 38 countries (including many of the European Union countries) to visit the United States for up to 90 days without applying for a visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The VWP does require certain pretravel screening requirements, including completing an electronic application form (Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA) that is vetted against U.S. security databases, as well as the collection of passenger data provided by airlines and other transportation providers before arrival.

The proposals include efforts to enforce the requirement of the VWP that countries in the program secure their own passports and encourage them to improve their border technology to track terrorist travel. They also would bar persons who have traveled to Syria, Iraq, and other countries of concern from using the program; those persons would be required to apply for visas before coming to the United States. Also, the changes would also require more information from VWP travelers prior to travel, to allow for better vetting and screening.

The House of Representatives has already passed, on December 8, 2015, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (H.R.158), which implements some of these changes, as well as authorizes the DHS to suspend a country from the VWP without prior notice if the country fails to comply with an agreement to share information regarding whether its citizens and nationals traveling to the United States pose a U.S. security threat.

Some concerns regarding these proposals are how this could affect business and tourism in the US. If these changes are enacted, however, a traveler barred from the ESTA would still have the option to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate. This could result in delays in travel, which could also result in a decrease in U.S. tourism, as well as affect time sensitive business transactions.

STEM OPT Guidance Updated before February Deadline
As previously reported in Khabar, a recent federal district court ruling in Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. DHS vacated the STEM OPT program due to procedural issues regarding its creation. However, the Judge stayed her ruling keeping the STEM OPT program in place until February 12, 2016. The new regulation is expected to re-authorize the STEM OPT program.

Due to confusion regarding existing STEM OPT cards, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) inquired with the USCIS Nebraska Service Center (NSC) regarding the validity of previously approved STEM OPT EADs with expiration dates beyond February 12, 2016. Specifically, the USCIS was asked whether STEM OPT cards with validity dates beyond February 12th will remain valid. The NSC confirmed that such EAD cards will remain valid, even after the STEM OPT regulation is revoked and/or changed.

Although this guideline applies to those who already have approved STEM extensions, it also is encouraging to those who need to apply before February 2016, but were not certain if the applications would be accepted until the regulation was approved.


APPLICATION FINAL ACTION DATES FOR January 2016

 

FAMILY

India

Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st

15May08

15May08

2A

01Aug14

01Aug14

2B

01Apr09

01Apr09

3rd

01Aug04

01Aug04

4th

22Apr03

22Apr03

 

 

EMPLOYMENT

India

Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st

Current

Current

2nd

01Feb08

Current

3rd

15May04

01Oct15

Other

15May04

01Oct15

4th

Current

Current

5th

Current

Current1B

 


DATES FOR FILING VISA APPLICATIONS - January 2016

 

FAMILY

India

Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st

01Oct09

01Oct09

2A

15Jun15

15Jun15

2B

15Dec10

15Dec10

3rd

01Aug05

01Aug05

4th

01May04

01May04

 

 

EMPLOYMENT

India

Pakistan/Bangladesh

1st

Current

Current

2nd

01Jul09

Current

3rd

01Jul05

01Jan16

Other

01Jul05

01Jan16

4th

Current

Current

5th

Current

Current1B

 

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