I am including retired General Taguba, a Filipino native who served in the US Army until recently, because he was honored today by USCIS at a naturalization ceremony. I've been dumping a lot on USCIS lately (and for good reason), but here is an example of where the agency actually surprised me in a good way.
General Taguba is only the second Filipino to rise to the level of general in the Army. But he's a lot better known for writing the classified report on detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad. Taguba was attacked by many for standing up for what was right, something not surprising when you look at his stellar background. This is the latest honor for Taguba. He previously received the Distinguished Service Medal from the Army.
It's one thing to take on those nice Yalies in New Haven. But does Julie Myers know who she's messing with when she takes on New Yorkers?
A city councilman in New York is proposing a city identification card that would be a valid photo identification document and which would be available to all New Yorkers regardless of immigration status. Pretty much the same thing New Haven rolled out a few weeks back. Two days after New Haven introduced those cards, ICE staged mass arrests in the little city. Retaliation? ICE denies it, but come on...
Expect to see this low level war of wills to increase and further divide the country while Congress twiddles its collective thumbs.
Not an article on foreign physicians, but still helpful in providing context on just how serious the situation is. Forget about foreign doctors for a moment. Even if we did more to encourage American-trained foreign doctors to stay, we've got a HUGE problem that we'll be facing for at least a generation. Congress needs to stop fiddling on this one and start to address the physician shortage in a serious way. Foreign physicians are a small, important part of the solution. But we can only view them as helping to make things less awful and we need to seriously ramp up physician training in the US. More medical school slots and more graduate medical education slots are needed and soon. And that's going to take serious dollars.
USCIS announced today that I-140 premium processing will not resume on August 1st as originally scheduled and is suspended indefinitely. Funny, when the July Visa Bulletin came out, USCIS announced it was suspending premium processing for I-140s until the end of July when the July Visa Bulletin cases would all have been filed. The only thing new is now the deadline is August 17th. So why not be consistent with the earlier announcement and suspend until August 17th? Where is the accountability?
July 23, 2007
If you regularly listen to NPR, you'll know Ms. de. Barco's name and her familiar voice. She's one of the journalists at NPR whose stories I always wait to hear until the end before getting out of my car. Based in Los Angeles, she's a general assignment reporter covering everything from street gangs to immigration to race relations. Mandalit was born in Lima, Peru and raised in Kansas and California. Now the real immigration law sticklers will look at her bio and wonder whether she technically is an immigrant at all even though she was born in Peru. That's because it says was born to a Peruvian father and a Mexican-American mother. If her mother was a citizen at the time of her birth, she may have been able to pass US citizenship on to Ms. del Barco. Pure speculation, of course. And hey, it's my blog and I'm including her. So there!:-)
Every year at the annual meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association the head of USCIS (and before that INS) gets up and tells about the state of the agency. And every year we hear about how USCIS really understands the "service" in its name and is working to improve how it treats customers. Most of the immigration lawyers in the audience who have been around a few years smile and think to themselves - "yeah right." But we try and hope for the bliss of an agency that at least cares about its customers even if it is not perfect.
Will Emilio Gonzalez even bother to go through the motions at the next AILA annual meeting? Just look at some of the recent developments at the agency:
1. Massive fee increases multiple times larger than inflation and with no promise of faster processing times or better training of adjudicators
2. The end of premium processing of I-140 petitions with no promise to bring the service back after August 17th when the July Visa Bulletin cases return
3. Ending e-filing for some types of applications with virtually no expansion of the process since it was rolled out several years ago
4. The removal of a somewhat useful web site and replacing it with a disaster of a home page with no clearance from the head of the agency and with no input from the public.
5. The complete disregard for virtually all suggestions from the USCIS Ombudsman year in, year out.
6. The total lack of any sense of decency in the handling of the Visa Bulletin mess and only fixing the problem with the threat of congressional hearings, multiple lawsuits and a media responding to public outrage.
7. Atrocious adjudications where service centers completely reverse years of accepted policy with no warning to the public and which are often completely unsupported by the law. Okay, that one is not really so recent.
Today a change was announced again that may not sound like much (and it really is not as serious perhaps as some of the items above), but which is completely symptomatic of how terrible USCIS' customer service mission has faltered.
Until now, one could submit a pre-paid overnight mail receipt for a service like Fedex or the US Post Office so that when a case is approved, the approval notice is sent to the recipient via overnight mail at the applicant's expense. A simple system really.
Sometimes one gets the impression changes like this are just meant to be spiteful. How can USCIS seriously justify increasing filing fees an average of 66% and then say it can't cope with the extra minute or so needed to handle a pre-paid mailer? USCIS says it should not have to cope with dealing with account numbers on the pre-paid mailers that turn out to be invalid. Would that even be a problem if the agency moved in to the 21st century and allowed people to pay for services via credit card thus allowing USCIS to charge the cost back plus a penalty if the number was invalid? And is this really a serious enough problem that it justifies cutting a service across the board? Is this a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good where a few odd cases of bad account numbers justify a complete dumping of a customer service function?
USCIS should be offering this kind of service on its own anyway without customers having to provide their own pre-paid mailers. Customers should simply have the option of including an expedited mail request and pay an extra fee and have this service available.
When the INS was split up in 2003, a primary justification was to separate the enforcement and the service functions of the agency so that each new agency could do a better job. Enforcement certainly seems to be on the upswing. But the same cannot be said for USCIS when it comes to providing good customer service. Very little has improved in the last four years despite massive increases in funding and staffing and despite the supposed removal of the enforcement personnel from the hierarchy. We should be hearing regular announcements of new customer service initiatives rather than announcements like the one we've seen today. How about spending some of those new fee dollars on your customers?
You can find the document at http://www.uscis.gov/files/pressrelease/EBFAQ1.pdf.
Here is my quick take on it.
1. Those with priority dates after August 1st are not going to be able to file under the July Visa Bulletin if they try and file between August 1st and August 16th. Those with labor certifications certified AFTER August 1st will be able to file, however, since the priority date was established earlier.
2. I-140s filed after the new fees kick in later this month must be accompanied by the NEW filing fee of $475. But I-765 and I-131 application fees for work cards and travel documents will remain the same until August 17th (and, of course, so will the I-485 fee per the original press release). Applications with incorrect filing fees will be rejected. USCIS also now makes it clear that for I-485s, the pre-July 30th fee MUST be used until August 17th.
3. Failure to include an approved labor certification will be a ground for denying a petition.
4. Applications should be filed at either the Nebraska Service Center or the Texas Service Center in accordance with the June memo on this subject. Applications incorrectly filed at the California and Vermont Service Centers will be accepted until August 17th and forwarded to the correct service center, though USCIS warns that this could result in delays.
5. USCIS has REVERSED policy and will now accept an adjustment petition without a medical exam. Instead, it will issue a request for evidence and the exam can be submitted later.
6. Applications will be accepted up until the end of business on August 17th. Those arriving on the 18th or later will not be accepted.
7. USCIS will not resume premium processing for I-140s on August 1st and will issue a notice when it is ready to begin again.
8. To be eligible for three year H-1B extensions, it is not enough that one be unable to complete green card processing because of retrogression of green card numbers. Instead, the applicant for the three year extension must show that they are not eligible to complete process because of the per country limit (such as if they are Indian and applying in the EB-2 category).
9. USCIS admits that there could be delays in generating I-485 receipt notices depending on the volume of applications they receive.
10. USCIS will permit filing I-485s without the I-140 receipt, but people requesting such applications be accepted should put a "brightly colored" paper on top with the following text:
TO THE MAILROOM: The enclosed I-485 Adjustment Application(s) should be matched with a pending I-140 Immigrant Petition for which no Receipt Notice has been received. The Immigrant Petition [type, e.g., I-140] was delivered to [Service Center] on [provide date of filing and tracking number]; Petitioner's name; Beneficiary's name; Beneficiary's date of birth; Beneficiary's country of birth.
An alert reader pointed me to the Hindi version of a Voice of America television report on the recent Flower Campaign staged by Immigration Voice. Bill Wright, a USCIS spokesperson indicates that the flowers indicated the "intense public reaction" to the USCIS policy reversal on the July Visa Bulletin.
The power of the Internet certainly can be seen as Immigration Voice and its champions around the web were able to get the word out quickly.
Contrast this to an article in today's Washington Post showing how anti-immigrant forces are using the same tactics.
The lesson - the Internet MUST be an important part of the pro-immigration community's grassroots efforts. The Flower Campaign shows that pro-immigration forces can be just as successful as the anti-immigrants. Hopefully, the established pro-immigration community in Washington will quickly adapt and work with groups like Immigration Voice and the blogosphere as campaigns for progressive immigration legislation are waged.
In my hometown of Memphis, a lot of people don't know we have a Nobel Prize winner on the faculty of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and who also conducts research at the world famous St. Jude Children's Hospital. Peter Doherty won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on T Cells and how they recognize their target antigens. Doherty is an Australian and recently became a naturalized US citizen.
July 22, 2007
Umm...ain't gonna happen. Mitt, if you want to make immigration your wedge issue and bash your opponents (such as Rudy Giuliani or John McCain) for not being cruel enough on the treatment of illegal immigration, you're delusional if you think America's Hispanic community is going to embrace you. They're no fools and they know if you peel a layer or two away from the typical immigration hardliner, you'll find someone who thinks we have too many Hispanics in America. There's a reason why only one in ten Hispanic Americans identify as a Republican (and most of them are South Florida Cubans who have traditionally supported Republicans because of their anti-communism history).
July 21, 2007
As many of you know, I chair the FMG Taskforce, the coalition of physician immigration law firms that handle the bulk of the nation's physician immigration matters. If you are a doctor and your immigration lawyer handles physician cases regularly, the odds are pretty good that he or she is a member of our group.
We've been working on legislation to address what the AP is describing in their story from this morning. The article is on the mark in describing the problems associated with fewer foreign doctors going to rural areas. Rather than rolling out the welcome mat to foreign doctors to make them interested in staying in the US and working in areas really needing them, Congress and the White House have been doing a lot more to discourage them.
Case in point - the Department of Health and Human Services. In the story, HHS says that the reason it's program approves less than ten doctors a year is because of a lack of interest because of too few doctors seeking positions in rural areas.
That is a absolutely untrue! HHS killed its waiver program for all intents and purposes in 2002 when it changed its rules to only allow communities with "super-shortages" to apply. HHS promised after 9/11 to take over the Department of Agriculture's waiver program in 2002 after a meeting was held at the White House regarding the future of the waiver program. It opened a relatively good program in the summer of 2002 and had a number of applicants. Then it abruptly shut the program down in September 2002 and reopened in December with a number of rule changes that all but shut the program down completely.
I did an analysis that was cited in a Congressional Research Service report that showed that this rule change alone eliminated more than 80% of qualifying rural facilities. They also barred hospitals and private medical practices from applying and that effectively eliminated almost all of the rest. Senator Conrad recently introduced legislation to force HHS to open up its waiver program - to specialists, to private employers, to ALL shortage areas. Pass that legislation and then let HHS tell us there is no interest in the physician population.
I can't tell you exactly why HHS did what it did, but I can only assume the worst - that it wanted to kill the waiver program all together, but knew politically it could not. So they did the next best thing - make it so unattractive that no one would apply. And they have accomplished that. Hopefully, Senator Conrad will succeed in forcing them to do their jobs.
July 20, 2007
It seems like an obscure issue, but given the number of people who have been emailing, it's worth a separate post. Gary Endelman, one of the more creative thinkers in immigration law and a frequent ILW.com columnist sent me a note after reading a question in the comments on the blog. I'm just flattered Gary finds my blog worth the bother.
Anyway, we have discussed in the FAQ and the comments the need to establish a priority date before July 31st in order to file an adjustment in August (assuming we don't hear otherwise from USCIS). Some people are going to be in a bind to get the I-485 ready to go that fast and the only way to get a priority date for some is to file the I-140. But you need an I-140 receipt to file the adjustment petition and the I-140 receipt can take forever to get. So what to do?
File the I-140 electronically, of course. You get a receipt right off your own printer. Then submit the I-485 with that receipt. Brilliant and so simple. Thanks Gary for the great tip!
Wanted to blog on this earlier today, but I've been driving through the great states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida today. But here goes -
An attempt by Senator Cornyn (R-TX) to attach a relatively small employment immigration amendment to to a student loan bill fell just short of the needed 60 votes to have waive the Budget Act and proceed with a vote on the measure. The Cornyn amendment would have allocated 61,000 green cards that went unused in prior years to Schedule A nurses (who lack a non-immigrant visa category and can only enter the US with green cards) and the remainder to other EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 workers. The bill would also have provided for a one year hike of the H-1B quota to 115,000.
While the news that the measure failed is disappointing, there is some good news here. The measure did secure 55 votes and it stands to reason that the bill might have a shot if it is introduced as a standalone measure where only a majority of the 100 Senators is required.
It's also interesting who voted for and against the measure. Senator Durbin has been emerging in recent months as one of the Senate's chief foes of legal immigration. He's certainly emerged as the most fierce opponent of legal immigrants on the Democratic side of the aisle with his support of extreme measures designed to kill the H-1B visa program (such as his support for the Sanders Amendment $20,000 tax on H-1Bs passed as an amendment to the CIR bill) and his relentless opposition to nursing immigration (despite overwhelming evidence of a nurse shortage expected to last at least 20 years and rise to a need for an additional million nurses by the end of the next decade). Durbin managed to get 38 Democrats to join him in opposing the measure. The sole Republican - no surprise - was Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who emerged in the CIR debate as Senator Nativist and may have done more to tar the Republican Party with an anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic image than anyone else in Congress.
The number of Democrats who supported Durbin was a bit of a surprise and it may be because Durbin is so powerful in the Democratic leadership and also simply to be partisan and not hand a victory to a Republican. Both are sorry reasons to vote for a measure that would deliver vital health care personnel to Americans who need those folks right now and also to provide for a modest increase in the H-1B cap for a single year when the H-1B lottery from last April shows that the demand for H-1Bs is far in excess of what is currently provided. I have yet to hear anyone on the anti-immigration side make the case that a quota set up 17 years ago for an economy much smaller than today's is an appropriate number of visas. The opponents of raising the numbers hate the H-1B visa as a rule and would kill the whole program. They do not argue that the program is just the right size.
What is really interesting to me, however, is not the Senate vote from yesterday. It is what will happen when Congresswoman Lofgren makes her move on business immigration issues. The Senate seems clearly incapably of dealing with immigration issues of any sort. Ms. Lofgren has emerged in recent weeks as the clear leader in the entire Congress on this issue and one has the feeling that when she rolls out her legislative agenda, she'll make some major waves. Hopefully, the momentum will carry over to the "upper" chamber on the other side of the Hill.
The House passed the appropriations bill today for the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services. Included in the bill was the following section:
SEC. 521. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to
enter into a contract with an entity that does not participate in the
basic pilot program described in section 403(a) of the Illegal
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (8 U.S.C.
This will affect many, many employers across the US if it is in the final bill. Hospitals that take Medicare patients and universities that participate in the federal student loan program are two examples that come to mind.
I'll have more to comment soon on how to use Basic Pilot and what it's all about, but just know that if you're in this group of employers, change is likely coming soon.
[UPDATE: Some of you have asked for information on the Basic Pilot program. Here's a White House fact sheet you might find helpful.
Greg Siskind, Esq. is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.