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1. USCIS Issues Controversial Memo on Determining Employer-Employee Relationships for Adjudication of H-1B Petitions

The memo states that a lack of guidance clearly defining what constitutes a valid employer-employee relationship has raised problems.

2. SSA Fails To Verify 19 Percent of New Hires

In a recent 18-month period, the Social Security Administration (SSA) failed to verify the Social Security Numbers of 19 percent, or 1,767 of 9,311 new SSA employees, as required. In other cases examined by the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General, the SSA improperly screened E-Verified volunteers who should not have been screened under federal guidelines, and inappropriately screened some candidates in advance of hire.

SSA agreed with the Inspector General’s recommendations, including verifying the 1,767 workers and issuing guidance to remind staff to: (1) verify all new hires, (2) conduct verification queries within three business days after a new employee has reported for duty and both sections of the I-9 employment eligibility verification form have been completed, and (3) prohibit the verification of existing SSA employees, job candidates, and volunteers.

3. DHS Grants TPS to Haitians Following Catastrophic Earthquake

Following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti last week, the Obama administration announced that it is granting temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians who were in the U.S. as of January 12, 2010. The designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the U.S. to continue living and working in the country for the next 18 months. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano noted that “[t]hose who attempt to travel to the United States after January 12, 2010, will not be eligible for TPS and will be repatriated.”

In a related field guidance memo issued on January 15, Secretary Napolitano said that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “will implement procedures to adjudicate favorably, where possible, applications for change or extension of nonimmigrant status following the expiration of an applicant’s period of admission; grant an additional period of parole or advance parole in appropriate cases; and authorize ‘F’ nonimmigrant students’ requests for off-campus employment work authorization.” She said USCIS will also “expedite the processing of advance parole applications and relative petitions for minor children from affected areas,” and will “grant employment authorization where appropriate.”

The field guidance memo, which outlines actions a USCIS officer may take when an applicant is a Haitian national or a habitual resident of Haiti, is available HERE.

The announcement, along with information about USCIS’s Haiti relief effort, is available HERE.

Details on TPS application and eligibility requirements for Haitians are available HERE.

Department of State information about queries related to U.S. citizens in Haiti and related issues is available HERE.

4. USCIS Announces Restructuring of Fraud Detection, Customer Service, Domestic Operations

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on January 11, 2010, that it has realigned its organizational structure “to achieve greater efficiency and to more ably accomplish our mission.” The realignment reflects the prioritization of certain critical agency responsibilities, USCIS said. The three most significant changes are:

•    The creation of a Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate.
•    The creation of a new Customer Service Directorate.
•    The division of the existing Domestic Operations Directorate into two separate directorates: Service Center Operations and Field Operations.

The announcement is available HERE.
A USCIS organizational chart is available HERE.

5. USCIS Grants One-Time Accommodation for H-2A Sheepherders

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will allow H-2A sheepherders more time to fully transition to the three-year limitation of stay requirements under the agency’s final rule that became effective on January 17, 2009. USCIS said it is making the one-time accommodation in deference to the industry’s previous exemption from the three-year limitation. This exemption does not impact other H-2A categories. The time spent as an H-2A worker performing labor or services as a sheepherder before the effective date of the final rule will not be counted toward the three-year maximum period of stay, USCIS said. Instead, the agency is “starting the clock” on January 17, 2009, for sheepherders who were lawfully present in the U.S. in H-2A classification on that date.

The announcement is available HERE.

New Publications and Items of Interest

Responding to a new era of global mobility. NAFSA: Association of International Educators has published A Visa and Immigration Policy for the Brain-Circulation Era: Adjusting to What Happened in the World While We Were Making Other Plans. The report says that it’s time for the United States to adopt an approach that embraces the opportunities of a new era in global mobility and supports its economic competitiveness and foreign policy goals. NAFSA urges a comprehensive set of policy actions that will enhance the U.S.’s ability to benefit from the contributions of foreign students and foreign talent, and makes recommendations in the areas of visa reform, including revising the policy on interviews for visa applicants, expediting reviews for low-risk travelers, and reforming the security clearance process for visiting scientists; comprehensive immigration reform, including reforming employment-based immigration, attracting international students, and improving management of the Department of Homeland Security; and identity documents and document security, including revisiting REAL ID.

The report is available HERE.

Government Agency Links

Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State’s latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:

USCIS Service Center processing times online.

Department of Labor processing times and information on backlogs.

Department of State Visa Bulletin.