Proposed DHS administrative reforms designed to attract and retain highly skilled foreign nationals; DOS changes aim to improve visa and foreign visitor processing.
DHS Announces Proposed Administrative Reforms
In a press release dated January 31, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a number of proposed administrative reforms designed to enable the United States to attract and retain highly skilled foreign nationals. These reforms, which will not be effective until regulatory or administrative action is taken to implement them, include the following:
Although these changes are very welcome, it should be emphasized, as indicated above, that these are only proposed reforms and are not effective yet. We will continue to monitor the situation and update you if the DHS or an agency within it takes steps to implement these reforms.
Executive Order Signed to Improve Visa Processing
On January 19, President Obama signed an executive order to "improve visa and foreign visitor processing and travel promotion." The executive order requires the Department of State (DOS) and DHS to develop a plan to ensure that 80% of applicants for nonimmigrant visas are interviewed within three weeks of their application. The order also mandates a pilot program in China and Brazil to increase nonimmigrant visa processing capacity by 40% in the coming year. In addition, the order requires an increase in efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program (although it is not mentioned in the order, Taiwan is expected soon to be allowed to participate in this program) and to expand the Global Entry Program—a streamlined inspection and admission program at certain airports that is currently available only to citizens of Mexico and the Netherlands, as well as to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
DOS Announces "Visa Pilot Program"
In a January 19, 2012, announcement, DOS unveiled a new initiative under which, "in select circumstances," certain visa applicants who were previously interviewed and screened by a consulate may be allowed to renew their visas without undergoing another interview. It is not clear from the text of the announcement if this pilot program will be limited to Chinese and Brazilian visa applicants. A number of U.S. consulates already allow such visa renewals without personal interviews, provided the applicant's 10 fingerprints were previously taken and he or she is present in the country in which the consulate is located at the time of application. More specific information regarding the pilot program will be released at a later date.
DOS Issues Final Rule to Allow Issuance of L Visas for Full Reciprocity Periods
On January 31, DOS issued a Final Rule that amends its regulations to require that L intracompany transferee visas be issued for the full validity period allowed by the relevant visa reciprocity schedule. At present, L visas may be issued for a maximum validity period of three years, with the validity period of such a visa generally being determined by the validity period of the underlying nonimmigrant petition approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Under this new rule, an L-1 beneficiary may receive an L visa that is valid beyond the validity period of the underlying nonimmigrant petition and would not be required to obtain a new visa upon receiving an extension of stay from the USCIS. Thus, an Indian citizen may obtain approval of an L-1 petition for a period of three years. When he or she applies for an L visa to enter the United States, he or she may be issued a visa that is valid for five years. If this person subsequently receives an extension of his or her L period of stay for two years, he or she would not need to obtain a new L visa to reenter the United States. It should be noted that having an unexpired L visa does not authorize admission to, or employment in, the United States in the absence of a valid nonimmigrant petition. The new rule will obviously not benefit nationals of countries (such as Mexico) with a visa reciprocity agreement with the United States that allows for a shorter visa validity period than the petition validity period. It remains to be seen how this new rule will affect holders of L visas issued under a blanket petition.
For more information, or if you have any questions regarding the issues discussed in this Immigration Alert, please contact any of the following attorneys:
Lisa Stephanian Burton