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September 2003

National Passport Information Center (NPIC) Expanded Service

As of August 19, 2003, the National Passport Information Center (NPIC), the centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information, will move from 1-900 fee-for-service to toll-free service.

The new, general telephone number will be 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). For TDD/TTY users, the number will be 1-888-874-7793. Live operators will be available on weekdays from 8:00am to 8:00pm, EST. Twenty-four hour, 7-day access to automated information will continue to be available. Callers to the previous, fee-for-service 1-900 number will, at no charge, be directed to the new number. Another significant improvement will be the addition of e-mail access to the National Passport Information Center at npic@state.gov. A response will be sent to e-mail inquiries within 24-hours during normal business days.

Religious Workers Provisions "Sunset"

The area of current immigration law which allows religious workers to obtain green cards as "special immigrants" will expire, or "sunset," on October 1, 2003. In an attempt to adjudicate these cases prior to the termination of the provisions creating this category, processing of these cases will be expedited by the BCIS Service Centers. On July 18, a BCIS Director issued a memo (Yates Memo) to BCIS Service Center Directors, and other officers to expedite the handling of all pending special immigrant religious worker petitions before the law that permits these religious workers to immigrate sunsets on October 1, 2003. The Yates Memo reminds the recipients that the applications of both the primary applicant and the applicant's dependents need to be adjudicated prior to the sunset date (on or before September 30, 2003).

The provisions that are expiring are those that allow individuals who have engaged in a professional religious vocation or other work for a religious organization for at least two years to obtain permanent residency based upon an employment offer to perform the religious work for a bona fide religious organization in the U.S. A professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation is an activity requiring a bachelor's degree. A religious occupation is defined as an occupation relating to traditional religious functions, such as liturgical workers, religious instructors or counselors. Religious vocations include those individuals "called" to religious life, who have taken vows, for example nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters. The category of special religious worker for "ministers" is not ending. Ministers are defined as individuals who are ordained to conduct religious worship and other traditional religious functions. Religious organizations can continue to sponsor these individuals.

All aspects of the religious worker cases are included in the expedite instructions. In addition to the adjudication of the I-485s for affected special immigrant category religious workers, the Service Centers have also been directed to expedite the processing of I-360 petitions. This is the underlying petition for the I-485 for religious workers.

DOS Issues Final Rule Creating F-3 and M-3 Visas

Effective August 11, 2003, there are two new visa categories: the F-3 and M-3. These visa categories were created under the Border Commuter Student Act of 2002, enacted on November 11, 2002. There were no regulations implementing the provisions as needed for the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to begin issuing these visas. The F-3 and the M-3 serve a limited but useful purpose. They are only available to commuter students from Mexico and Canada who attend DHS/BCIS-approved schools.

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