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Visa bulletin revision stuns immigrants

By Humera Subhani Email By Humera Subhani
November 2015
Visa bulletin revision stuns immigrants

Visa bulletin revision stuns immigrants

In September, the government took a positive step forward in implementing the executive action promise to reform the visa system when they issued the October Visa Bulletin, which allowed thousands of immigrants to file for their adjustment of status applications earlier than their priority dates.  But unfortunately, the “revised” bulletin took away some of that progress, shattering the dreams of thousands who had expected to submit their application in October.

On September 9, the Department of State (DOS) issued the October Visa Bulletin, which contained a new “Dates for Filing” chart. For the first time, people could get started on the permanent resident process while they continued to advance in the visa queue. Starting the application process also carried other benefits; employment authorization and travel documents, as well as accruing time toward eligibility for job changes. Then on September 25, 2015 DOS published a revised bulletin, which changed the “Dates for Filing” for several categories. This change drastically reduced the number of applicants who would be eligible to file in October. 

The only explanation DOS offered was that after “consultations with the Department of Homeland Security” these dates were adjusted “to better reflect a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process.” It seems that USCIS had second thoughts about its estimates as to how many applications would be filed and how those cases would be processed further.  

Prospective applicants were stunned and frustrated. Many had spent significant time and money to prepare their applications and made plans in expectation of becoming pending adjustment applicants in October. Several would-be applicants filed a class action lawsuit challenging the agencies’ actions, which is still pending.  The November Visa Bulletin did not offer many changes so the affected immigrants are still waiting to see if the lawsuit results will bring some relief to their long waiting periods.

STEM OPT extensions back on track

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent its proposed regulation on the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which just cleared its review on October 15, 2015, for publication in the Federal Register. Once the rule is published, individuals and organizations will have an opportunity to provide feedback during a comment period of at least 30 days. This timeframe should allow DHS to meet the federal court’s February 12, 2016 deadline. 

Recent challenges to STEM OPT program

The STEM OPT program allows recent university graduates who majored in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) to receive an additional 17 months of work authorization beyond the initial 12 months of OPT that they receive upon completion of their academic program. Due to the recent demand for H-1B visas in the past few years, the STEM OPT program is a benefit to employers who wish to hire and retain talented interns and employees, but are unable to receive an H-1B for their employees through the H-1B cap lottery.  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. In addition, it is believed the new regulation could increase the STEM OPT extension period, expand the list of degree programs eligible for the benefit, and expand and clarify cap-gap protection for F-1 visa holders awaiting a change of status to H-1B. The rule is also expected to require degree-granting schools to ensure that there is a direct relationship between an F-1 student’s degree and his or her proposed STEM OPT employment.




FAMILY India  Pak/Bangladesh

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