Category Archives: Travel Issues / CBP

CBP Changing its I-94 Arrival/Departure Process.

Foreign visitors arriving in the U.S. who need to prove their legal-visitor status—to employers, schools/universities or government agencies—will be able to access their U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrival/departure record information online when the agency starts its records automation on April 30, 2013.

When the electronic roll-out begins April 30, CBP will no longer require international non-immigrant visitors to fill out a paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record upon arrival to the U.S.  The agency will gather travelers’ arrival/departure information automatically from their electronic travel records. This automation will streamline the entry process for travelers, facilitate security and reduce federal costs. CBP anticipates that the automated process will save the agency an estimated $15.5 million a year.

Because advance information is only transmitted for air and sea travelers, CBP will still issue a paper form I-94 at land border ports of entry.
CBP will phase-in the Form I-94 automation at air and sea ports of entry through April and May. Foreign visitors will continue to receive the paper Form I-94 until the automated process arrives at their port of entry. Following automation, if travelers need the information from their Form I-94
admission record to verify immigration status or employment authorization, the record number and other admission information will be available at CBP.gov

With the new CBP process, a CBP officer will stamp the travel document of each arriving non-immigrant traveler. The admission stamp will show the date of admission, class of admission, and the date that the traveler is admitted until. Travelers will also receive, on arrival, a flier alerting
them to go to CBP.gov/I94 for their admission record information.  Travelers will not need to do anything differently upon exiting the U.S. Travelers previously issued a paper Form I-94 would surrender it to the commercial carrier or to CBP upon departure. If travelers did not receive a paper Form I-94, CBP will record the departure electronically via manifest information provided by the carrier or by CBP.

USCIS to begin collecting new Immigrant Visa Fee on Feb. 1.

Starting February 1, 2013, USCIS will begin collecting a new fee of $165 from foreign nationals arriving in the United States as new immigrants.

The agency said it has worked closely with the Department of State (DOS) to implement the new fee, which will allow USCIS to recover the costs of processing immigrant visas in the United States after immigrant visa-holders receive their visa packages from DOS. This includes staff handling and the cost of producing and delivering the permanent resident card.  Applicants will pay online through the USCIS website after they receive their visa packages from DOS and before they leave for the United States. DOS will provide applicants with information on how to submit the payment when they attend their consular interviews. The new fee is in addition to fees charged by DOS associated with an individual’s immigrant visa application.

USCIS processes approximately 36,000 immigrant visa packages each month. Adoption cases are generally exempt from the new fee.

Historic Visa Agreement between U.S. and Russia

The Department of State announced that a “historic” U.S.-Russia visa agreement entered into force on September 9, 2012. The agreement facilitates travel between the two countries and “enables us to strengthen ties between our people by benefiting the largest segments of travelers in both our countries – business travelers and tourists,” the Department said in a statement. Among other benefits, the agreement provides for longer visa validity.

Nearly 159,000 business and tourism visas were issued in fiscal year 2011 to Russian citizens. Over 75,000 U.S. citizens travel to Russia annually, the majority of whom require Russian visas.  The agreement includes these key provisions:

  • Three-year, multiple-entry visas will be issued as the standard “default” visa for U.S. citizens visiting Russia and Russian citizens visiting the United States;
  • Diplomatic and official visa holders on temporary assignments will receive one-year, multiple-entry visas;
  • The documentation required will be reduced. For example, the Russian government will no longer require U.S. citizens to provide formal, “registered” invitation letters when applying for Russian business visas or visas for private visits, although applicants seeking Russian tourist visas must continue to hold advance lodging reservations and arrangements with a tour operator;
  • Both sides have committed to keeping standard visa processing times under 15 days, although the circumstances of individual cases may require additional processing; and
  • The $100 issuance (reciprocity) fee for Russians issued U.S. visas for business or tourism (B-1/B-2) will decrease to $20.

CBP to stop stamping I-20 forms.

NAFSA, the association of international educators, has released information that it received guidance from CBP that CBP will no longer stamp the I-20 Form upon the foreign student/visitor’s arrival in the U.S.

This change in current procedure will likely cause I-20 holders problems with certain State agencies, since most State agencies’ procedures still require that I-20 Forms be endorsed with an original stamp from CBP, issued at the Port-of-Entry.

CBP is aware of this issue and is taking active steps to coordinate with various affected State agencies.

CBP plans to eliminate I-94

CBP cites two reasons for eliminating Form I-94. Firstly, CBP already has access to the data gathered on Form I-94. Aliens provide the information when submitting an application for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate. In addition, information is provided to CBP through the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS). APIS is a web-based system used by commercial carriers and the private aviation community to electronically provide required information to CBP such as, inter alia, notices of arrival and/or departure and traveler manifests (crew and passenger).

Secondly, CBP expects to save time and money through the elimination of Form I-94. CBP has calculated the cost and manpower required to print, store, distribute, gather, and enter data specified on the form. CBP reports that about 30 seconds of officer time per entry relates to the paper form, which results in annualized costs to CBP amounting to approximately $19 million for associated staffing resources. In addition, CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) pays to mail Forms I-94 collected by the airlines to a contractor, which is paid $17 million per year to enter the departure data.

CBP’s plans call for issuing an admission stamp in the passports of nonimmigrant aliens. The stamp will include a handwritten notation indicating the status and authorized period of stay, similar to procedures now utilized for travelers under the Visa Waiver Program.  CBP verbally agreed to consider creating a web portal to allow nonimmigrant aliens to verify their status as stored in its electronic format. The web portal would allow nonimmigrant aliens the option to print an admission record receipt.

Many of the petition and application forms promulgated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request immigration benefits, such as Forms I-129, I-130, I-539, etc., ask for a Form I-94 number. CBP has indicated that it is in communication with USCIS about its plans to eliminate Form I-94. There are no known plans, however, for USCIS to begin replacing existing forms to reflect this change. It also is unclear whether USCIS will continue to issue Form I-797, Notice of Action, approving an application for change or extension of status with a Form I-94, and if so, whether the form number will be connected to the actual record of admission.

Talking Points on “DREAM Act”

THE DREAM ACT: A CENTRAL ELEMENT OF REFORM
The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (S. 729/H.R. 1751) is a bipartisan bill that would provide a conditional six-year pathway to legal permanent residence for certain unauthorized youth who, as children, were brought to the U.S. if they: complete high school; demonstrate good moral character; and complete at least two years of higher education or serve for at least two years in the U.S. military. The bill also would also repeal section 505 of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Reconciliation Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) that prohibits states from providing any higher education benefit based on residency to unauthorized immigrants unless they provide the same benefit to U.S. citizens in the same circumstances, regardless of their residence.


THE DREAM ACT CAN STRENGTHEN THE U.S. ECONOMY

The students who would benefit under the DREAM Act have been raised and educated in the U.S. and by allowing them to pursue a higher education, we are investing in the future of our country and our economy.
•  Communities, states, and nation would reap significant benefits from the DREAM Act. A RAND study showed that a 30-year-old Mexican immigrant woman who graduated from college will pay $5,300 more in taxes and cost $3,900 less in government expenses each year than if she had dropped out of high school. This amounts to an annual fiscal benefit of over $9,000 every year, money that can be used to pay for the education of others.
•  DREAM Act beneficiaries will make up part of the educated workforce needed to help the U.S. compete in the global economy. In our globalized world, their multilingual and bicultural skills, and contributions are more important than ever to the success and global competitiveness of the United States.

CURRENT LAW PROVIDES NO WAY FOR THESE CHILDREN TO ACHIEVE LEGAL STATUS

•  Due to the undocumented status of their parents and other family members, they have no available avenues for family-based visa sponsorship.
•  Few employers would or could sponsor them for a work visa due to their age and lack of work experience. Even if an employer was willing to sponsor them, the process takes precious years that these children cannot afford to waste.

STATES SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE WHO QUALIFIES FOR IN-STATE TUITION

•  States are required to invest in elementary and secondary education for undocumented children, but can’t collect on the return. However, when states are ready to earn a return on their investment through a highly educated workforce, they are barred from offering in-state tuition to these children. The states (and their taxpayers) have the right to earn this return.
•  States should have the authority to determine how they allocate their resources. Such an educational investment pays dividends for the states by reducing the dropout rate, leading to substantial savings in criminal justice costs and the use of public benefits, and sharply increasing the taxes paid by those benefiting from this initiative. AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 09043072. (Posted 3/19/10).

THIS BILL REFLECTS A BALANCED APPROACH TO REFORM AND MUST BE PART OF ANY COMPREHENSIVE EFFORT TO OVERHAUL OUR IMMIGRATION LAWS

•  This measure would require children to have lived in the U.S. for a number of years and to have no criminal record.
•  This measure would require eligible children to dedicate themselves to learning English and succeeding in our educational system.
•  This measure proposes a one-time only fix that would not encourage illegal immigration.

This measure recognizes that the status quo needs to be reformed by granting children the means to continue their education and legalize their status. Such reform works for children and works for America.

DHS issues guidance on NSEERS violations

NSEERS was a program implemented following “9/11″ to more closely scrutinize and monitor the travel habits of individuals from certain countries.  Recently, the program was terminated, but the question remained on how DHS should process applications for certain immigration benefits on behalf of Aliens who, until recently, were required to abide by NSEERS.

DHS just issued a department-wide guidance regarding the handling of Aliens who were previously subject to NSEERS registration, but have failed to fully comply with all provisions of NSEERS. Failure to fully comply with NSEERS often carried with it penalties, including but not limited to, inadmissibility to the United States.

The recently released guidance advises DHS adjudicators/officers to distinguish whether any previous NSEERS violations were willful and deliberate, or unintended or otherwise excusable.   If DHS finds, based on the evaluation of the facts and circumstances, that the violation was NOT intentional, then no further action should be taken adverse to the Alien, with regard to approving or issuing any immigration benefit sought, so long as otherwise qualified. In other words, DHS can no longer deny an application for a benefit SOLELY on the grounds of an NSEERS violation.

The determination of whether or not the noncompliance was willful will be based on the totality of the circumstances, involving a careful consideration of all factors, including but not limited to evidence in the record, statements by the individual, or other relevant information. As always, DHS personnel possess the authority to elicit and consider evidence to aid in determining whether an alien was subject to and complied with NSEERS requirements and whether any non-compliance was willful.

The burden of establishing (by preponderance of the evidence) whether or not an NSEERS violation was willful and deliberate or unintentional rests with the Alien, not DHS.

Evidence that would support a finding that the noncompliance was not willful includes, but is not limited to:

  • Credible claims that the alien received inaccurate or incomplete advice by INS or DHS personnel about where to report or register;
  • Credible claims that the alien was in contact with INS or DHS, but INS or DHS failed to accurately advise the alien as required under the regulations;
  • Incapacitation of the alien (e.g., serious illness and/or hospitalization, admission into a nursing home or extended care facility where mobility is severely limited) that prevented him or her from complying;
  • Exceptional circumstances beyond the control ofthe alien (e.g., natural disaster, death of the spouse, child, or parent of the alien) that prevented him or her from complying; or
  • Any other evidence showing that the failure to appear was through no fault of the alien.

Failure to comply with an NSEERS requirement based on personal inconvenience or fear of immigration consequences is not sufficient to support a finding that the violation was anything other than willful and deliberate.

DHS and TSA testing relaxed airport travel procedures for DOD personnel

1/4/2012 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — President Barack Obama signed a bill into law Jan. 3 to streamline airport screening procedures for service members and their families traveling on official orders.

The Risk-based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act gives the Transportation Security Administration six months to develop and implement a plan to expedite screening services for service members on orders and in uniform and, “to the extent possible, any accompanying family member.”

The act, in part, calls for the agency to establish standard guidelines for the screening of military uniform items, such as combat boots.

In a statement released Jan. 4, agency officials said they’re in the process of reviewing options for these new procedures in consultation with the Defense Department.

Even before this law, the agency had several measures in place to aid troops through the screening process. For example, troops in uniform with a military identification card aren’t required to remove their boots or shoes unless they set off an alarm, according to the agency’s website.

The agency also seeks to accommodate family members. Families who would like to accompany a deploying service member to the boarding gate or greet them upon their return may receive passes to enter the secure area of the airport, the site said. Family members, agency officials advise, should contact their air carrier representative at the airport for local procedures.

The agency also expedites the screening process for Honor Flight veterans, and partners with the Defense Department to expedite screening for wounded warriors and their families. The Honor Flight Network organization transports veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their war memorials.

Also aimed at expediting screening procedures, the agency is testing a new program at the airport in Monterey, Calif. In mid-November, troops traveling out of Monterey Peninsula Airport began presenting their DOD identification to a document checker for card-reader scanning.

The pilot program is designed to test the technology to verify service members’ status. If successful, it could pave the way for service members to be included in the agency’s expedited screening program, agency officials said, enabling them to use special lanes at participating airports to pass more quickly through airport security. These expedited procedures could involve not having to remove their shoes, belt and jackets or their laptops from bags.

Programs such as this one strengthen security, officials said, explaining that separating out low-risk people, such as members of the armed forces, allows the agency to focus its resources on travelers who present a higher risk.

(Tonya Townsell of the Presidio of Monterey public affairs office contributed to this article.)

B-2 Issues for Household Members and other Non-Derivatives.

USCIS recently published changes in its Adjudicator’s Field Manual, regarding B-2 Status and Extensions of B-2 Status for Cohabitating Partners and Other Nonimmigrant Household Members, to enhance the processing and consistency of adjudications, and to better mirror current U.S. State Dept. visa policy regarding certain non-derivative beneficiaries.

The background for the new changes in adjudication policy is as follows: in some circumstances, elderly parents, co-habitating non-immigrant partners, and other household members of principal non-immigrants may be ineligible for derivative status. For purposes of this memorandum, a “household member” of a principal non-immigrant is an alien who regularly resides in the same dwelling as the principal non-immigrant and with whom the principal non-immigrant maintains the type of relationship and care as one normally would expect between nuclear family members.

There are also circumstances when it may be inconvenient or impossible for spouses or children of principal non-immigrant aliens to apply for the proper derivative status. These aliens may seek B-2 visas, or change their status to B-2, to allow them to reside with the principal non-immigrant visa holder who is in the United States in another status (H-1B, F-1, etc.).

The U.S. State Department, which oversees U.S. Visa policy, already has guidance on these issues, in their Foreign Affairs Manual. Consular officers are directed to annotate the B-visa with the principal non-immigrant’s visa type and duration, and to advise the B-2 visa holder to seek admission for one year at the point of entry, if the B-2 visa holder plans to stay in the United States more than 6 months.

(generally, applicants may also seek subsequent extensions in six-month increments from USCIS for the duration of the principal alien’s non-immigrant status, by filing Form I-539.)

When evaluating an application for B-2 status (or extension) based on co-habitation, the co-habitating partner’s relationship to the non-immigrant principal alien in another status will be considered a favorable factor in allowing the household member to obtain or remain eligible for B-2 classification.

When considering a change of status and/or multiple extensions for the co-habitating partner or other household member, the finite nature of the stay, rather than the duration of the stay or number of extensions sought, is controlling with respect to non-immigrant intent. For example, the visit should be considered temporary even if the status may be extended several times over several years in order to match an extended course of study undertaken by the principal alien.

DHS about to give NSEERS the axe…

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is eliminating redundant programs by removing the following countries from, and relieving non-immigrant nationals or citizens of the following countries from compliance with, the special registration procedures under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS):

  • Afghanistan,
  • Algeria,
  • Bahrain,
  • Bangladesh,
  • Egypt,
  • Eritrea,
  • Indonesia,
  • Iran,
  • Iraq,
  • Jordan,
  • Kuwait,
  • Lebanon,
  • Libya,
  • Morocco,
  • North Korea,
  • Oman,
  • Pakistan,
  • Qatar,
  • Saudi Arabia,
  • Somalia,
  • Sudan,
  • Syria,
  • Tunisia,
  • United Arab Emirates, and
  • Yemen.

Over the past six years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented several new automated systems that capture arrival and exit information on non-immigrant travelers to the United States, and DHS has determined that recapturing this data manually when a non-immigrant is seeking admission to the United States is redundant and no longer provides any increase in security. DHS, therefore, has determined that it is no longer necessary to subject nationals from these countries to special registration procedures, and this notice deletes all currently designated countries from NSEERS compliance.

Until now, the NSEERS regulations required non-immigrant aliens who are nationals or citizens of countries designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security, upon consultation with the Secretary of State, to comply with special registration requirements, including providing fingerprints, a photograph, and any additional information required by DHS to DHS officials at the time the non-immigrant applies for admission at a U.S. port of entry. Non-immigrants subject to NSEERS requirements could also may be required to appear at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) office in person to verify information by providing additional information or to provide documentation confirming compliance with the conditions of their status and admission.  Non-immigrants subject to NSEERS previously were required to depart through specified ports to record their departures from the United States.

Since NSEERS was implemented, DHS established the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (“US-VISIT”), in January 2004, to record the arrival and departure of aliens; verify aliens’ identities; and authenticate and biometrically compare travel documents issued to non-US citizens by DHS and the Department of State. Under US-VISIT requirements, most aliens seeking admission to the United States must provide finger scans and a digital photograph upon entry to the United States at U.S. ports of entry.

DHS also currently requires the collection and electronic transmission to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of manifest information for passengers and crew members entering and departing the United States by air or sea. Commercial air carriers departing foreign destinations for the United States or departing the United States for a foreign destination are required to transmit passenger manifests electronically to CBP’s Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) within strict time limits as prescribed by regulation.