New rule makes the citizenship process easier for illegal immigrants

The Obama administration has said that it will make it easier for illegal immigrants who are related to a U.S. citizen to seek legal U.S. residency, a rule change praised by immigrant advocates and lambasted by those who favor strict policing of the borders.

According to the current rules, an illegal immigrant must apply for, and receive a legal visa from his or her country of origin to rejoin a spouse or child in the U.S., a process that can sometimes take years. The Obama administration will modify that rule to enable the immigrant to remain in the U.S. for much of the process.

The change is likely to go into effect later this year, administration officials have said.

The administration said it is streamlining the process to make it more humane by minimizing family breakups. But the decision also could affect thousands of illegal immigrants who might qualify for a green card—which confers permanent U.S. residency—but haven't applied because they feared not being allowed back into the U.S. or, at the least, a lengthy separation from family.

"What we have heard from the community is that people eligible don't come forward…because of the uncertainty and unpredictability" of the current process, said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The change would "significantly reduce" the time U.S. citizens are separated from immigrant relatives who have been in the U.S. unlawfully", Mr. Mayorkas said.

Illegal immigrants who leave the U.S. are automatically barred from re-entering for at least three years, and usually for a decade. Congress established the waiting period in 1996 to penalize people who had been illegally living in the U.S.

The change would allow illegal immigrants with a spouse or child who are citizens to remain in the country while the government decides whether or not to grant a request for a waiver from this provision, based on "extreme hardship" to a U.S. citizen.

The Obama administration favors creating a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants believed to be in the country but, given deep divisions in Congress— and the electorate— over how to change the law, it has been taking steps that don't require congressional approval.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, an outspoken foe of illegal immigration, said the announcement was further proof that "President Obama and his administration are bending long established rules…without a vote of Congress."

Immigrant advocates praised the switch. "The announcement marks another step in DHS's effort to restore rationality to an otherwise broken immigration system," said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Significant decline in approvals for L-1 visa applications from India

There has been a significant decline in the approval rate for US L-1 visas for Indian professionals. New data shows that the US L-1 visa denial rate for India is higher than in any other country.
The National Foundation for American Policy has released new data showing that the number of L-1 visas issued to Indian nationals fell by 28 percent in the period from 2010 to 2011. The data reveals that L-1 visa approvals went from 35,896 in 2010 to 25,898 in 2011, a drop of approximately 10,000 visas. A significant point to note is that during the same, time L-1 visas issued to employees from other countries rose by an astonishing 15 percent.

"This shows an enormous gap in visas issued as well as approval/denial rates between posts in India and the rest of the world, raising policy questions as to whether this great disparity is the result of a conscious policy at US posts in India," the National Foundation for American Policy wrote in its report.
The US L-1 Visa is a non-immigrant work visa available to employees of an international company with offices in both the US and abroad. The visa allows foreign workers to relocate to the corporation's US office after having worked abroad for the company for at least one year in the last three years prior to being granted L-1 visa status.

Indian software companies send about 25,000-35,000 Indians to US on work assignments every year. Nearly 40 percent of these workers gain entry on work visas under the L-1 visa category. The high L-1 visa refusal rate would appear to indicate that visa applications made by Indian companies are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Added to this is the fact that the fees for H-1B and L-1 visas have been increased recently. The $70 billion Indian IT sector is of great importance not just to the Indian economy but also to the US economy and the World economy in general. Making it more difficult for Indian companies to obtain US visas is likely to have a significant impact on the US economy in the long term.

Increase in US visa applications from Brazil and China

A record numbers of applicants from Brazil and China have applied for visas to travel to the United States in 2011, the US State Department has reported.
The State Department said it had deployed extra staff to its embassy and consulates in Brazil in order to process some of the 820,000 visa applications received in 2011, a 42 percent increase over 2010.
More than 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States in 2010, contributing some $6 billion to the economy, according to the US government, which said the number of visitors could reach 2.8 million by 2016.
The State Department has also seen surging demand from China, where more than one million visa applications were submitted in 2011, a 34 percent increase over the previous year.
The deployment of extra staff has reduced the average wait time for a US visa appointment in Brazil to less than 50 days and in China to less than 10 days, the State Department said.

H-1B visa cap for fiscal 2012 reached

The demand for H1B US work visas, once a much-sought after in the IT industry, continues to be weak for the third straight year.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), they have received enough petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 for the 2012 fiscal. The cap reached two months ahead of the previous year, when H-1B visas remained available until late January. The Regular H1B Cap is available to people living abroad and that want to obtain a H1B visa, and to those living in the U.S that want to change their current visa to a H1B visa status.
Despite the applications reaching the cap, the software industry body, Nasscom, expects this weak demand to continue.
“This is indicative of the overall trend in the US economy. Its slow, business and trade is not picking up and going forward, next year we do not see it to be any different," said Ameet Nivsarkar, VP-global trade at Nasscom.
“We are working extensively with both the Indian and the US government to address the situation but rejection rates continues to be a concern for the Industry even today,” Nivsarkar adds.
According to a recent report, Microsoft led the list of number of H1B work petitions, followed by IBM and Infosys. Cognizant was in the 6 position, while Patni, L&T Infotech, Wipro and TCS to made it within the top 20.

1 Microsoft               2505
2 IBM                      1263
3 Infosys                  1058
6 Cognizant                645
7 Patni Americas        540
10 L&T Infotech        418
12 Wipro                   403
20 TCS                     311

But despite the high scrutiny and rejection rates, Indian IT companies are expected to the highest recipients of H1B visas for this fiscal. With election year in the US round the corner, Indian IT firms have ramped up local hiring to address any protectionist concerns.

Increased fees for H-1B applications comes into effect

The steep hike in US work visa fees imposed under a new law signed by President Barack Obama, ignoring the Indian and American corporate concerns has come into effect.
The new law, which is aimed at raising $600 million for securing the US-Mexico border, is estimated to cost Indian IT firms that have been sending thousands of professionals on H-1B and L1 visas, an additional $250 million annually.
Now, an additional fee of $2,000 for certain H-1B petitions and $2,250 for certain L-1A and L-1B petitions will be charged and the rates will remain in effect till Sep 30, 2014, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced.
These additional fees apply to petitioners who employ 50 or more employees in the United States with more than 50 percent of its employees in the United States in H-1B or L (including L-1A, L-1B and L-2) non-immigrant status, it said.
The Indian government has protested to Washington against what it calls a highly discriminatory law that would largely affect Indian IT firms like Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Technologies, Wipro and Mahindra Satyam.
Indian officials and the US-India Business Council, representing 300 top US firms doing business with India, have warned the new 'discriminatory' law could also hurt burgeoning India-US economic ties.
The USCIS said it is in the process of revising the Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker (Form I-129), and instructions to comply with the new law.
It has also advised all H-1B, L-1A and L-1B petitioners to include in their applications the new fee or a statement of other evidence outlining why this new fee does not apply.
The USCIS will work with its stakeholders to effect a smooth transition given this legislation's new requirements, it said.

Increase in visa fee aimed to curb misuse of H1B program

Defending the American decision to approve a very steep hike in the fees for certain categories of H-1B and L-1 visas, senior New York Senator Charles Schumer said the move was aimed at companies who hire foreign workers in a manner contrary to the original intent of the visa programme.
"Instead of raising the deficit -- which we do not do in this bill -- or diverting vital stimulus funds, the Senate ultimately agreed to pay for the border package by increasing visa fees on companies who hire foreign workers in a manner contrary to the original intent of the H-1B visa programme," Schumer said in the US Senate on Thursday.
Under the Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010 - popularly called the Border Security Bill - the fee for certain categories of H-1B and L1 visas would increase by at least USD 2,000 for the next five years, which would help foot nearly $550 million out of the proposed expenditure of $650 million on increasing security along the US-Mexico border.
These fee increases would apply only to companies with more than 50 employees and for whom the majority of their workforce are visa-holding foreign workers.
Indian and US companies have termed it discriminatory. However, Senator Schumer defended the decision of the Senate.
In 1990, the US Congress realised the world was changing rapidly and that technological innovations, such as the Internet, were creating a high demand in the United States for hi-tech workers to create new technologies and products.
Consequently, Congress created the H-1B visa programme to allow US employers to hire foreign tech workers in special circumstances when they could not find an American citizen who was qualified, he said.
"Many of the companies that use this programme today are using the programme in exactly the way Congress intended; that is, these companies, such as Microsoft, IBM and Intel, are hiring bright foreign students educated in our American universities to work in the United States for 6 or 7 years to invent new product lines and technologies so that Microsoft, IBM and Intel can sell more products to the American public and hire more American workers," he said.
"Then at the expiration of the H-1B visa period, these companies apply for these talented workers to earn green cards and stay with the company.
"When the H-1B visa programme is used in this manner, it is a good programme for everyone involved. It is good for the company, it is good for the worker and it is good for the American people who benefit from the products and jobs created by the innovation of the H-1B visa holder," Schumer said.

Non-immigrant visa applicants may apply anywhere in China

With immediate effect, non-immigrant visa applicants may schedule their visa interview appointments within any US Consular Section in China, regardless of the province, city or region in which they reside in.
Consular Sections are located within the Beijing US Embassy and the US Consulates within Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.
These changes have been implemented as a result of the amount of non-immigrantvisa applications last year. In 2009 alone, there were more than half a million non-immigrant visas granted within China.
As per the high demand of applications within China, the US Government is looking forward to increase the mutual relations between the two nations through peopleexchange and tourism by making the visa application process more convenient for Chinese Nationals.

Department of Labor launches website to help H-1B employers

The U.S. Department of Labor has unveiled a new tool to help employers understand how to comply with a controversial visa program for foreign workers in specialty occupations.
The website-, describes the H-1B visa program's standards and provides detailed information about employers' and workers' rights and responsibilities. The new site outlines notification requirements, monetary issues, worksite issues, recordkeeping, worker protections and enforcement.
"The new online adviser harnesses technology to help take the mystery out of the new rules, and it offers an important resource to workers and employers alike," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in a statement.

Foreign IT professionals coming to California on the decline

The number of skilled, temporary foreign worker visas issued for jobs in California has declined since the start of the recession, according to new data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
H1B visas have always been a hot topic in California. A large number of high-tech companies use them to fill positions, claiming that there's not enough available American help to fill the jobs. They've long infuriated local IT professionals who have been having trouble finding work.
But since 2007, the number of H-1B visas issued for work in California has fallen by 30 percent. In 2009, there were about 54,000 such visas issued, compared to 76,000 during 2007.
Nevertheless, California drew more temporary specialty foreign workers during 2009 than most other states, as the map below demonstrates. The District of Columbia has the highest per capita rate of these visas while Montana has the lowest.

Map showing H-1B visa distribution (click image to enlarge)

Current US H-1B visa count for 2010

US H-1B visas are one of the most popular temporary US visa categories for entry of professional level specialty workers to the US. In the past, many Indian IT specialists have gained entry to the US on the H-1B visa. When the US economy is doing well there is usually a shortage of US H-1B Visas.

Currently, there is still good availability of US H-1Bs. The last H-1B Count as on 9 July 2010:

If you have a bachelors degree or higher, and have a specialty level job offer in the US, your employer should consider applying for the US H-1B visa. The H-1B visa can be used for entry to the US for a start date of 1 October 2010 or later. Nobody can predict when the supply of US H-1B visas will run out. If you wish to work in the US it may be advisable to apply sooner rather than later for the H-1B visa.