Category: Department of State

Congress Reaches Deal on 2016 Omnibus Bill; Bill Contains Reforms to Visa Waiver Program, Extension of Four Popular Immigration Programs

December 18th, 2015 — 10:56am

On December 15, Congress reached a deal on the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which funds the federal government through September 30, 2016. Congress is expected to vote on the bill later this week. The bill contains significant changes to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that are contained in HR 158, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, passed by the House of Representatives earlier in the month in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. The Omnibus Spending Bill also extends the EB-5, Conrad 30, Special Immigrant Religious Workers, and E-Verify programs through the end of FY2016, however, without any reforms. It does not, however, include proposals to end the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act, now part of the 2016 Omnibus Bill, revokes VWP travel privileges for all citizens of VWP countries who are dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. This revocation of VWP privileges would apply to all nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan even if they have never resided in or traveled to any of these four countries. Because these countries confer citizenship through naturalization, marriage, or descent, many individuals will be barred from using the program, even if they have never been to Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan. Some examples include:

  • Dual-national French citizen (born to Syrian father) traveling to U.S. for business conferences and meetings;
  • Dual-national German citizen (born to Iranian father) traveling to U.S. on vacation;
  • Dual-national British citizen (born to Syrian father) traveling to the U.S. to take care of grandchild.

VWP travel privileges are also terminated for all who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan at any time on or after March 1, 2011. There is a very narrow exception for certain military personnel and government officials. All other travelers would automatically lose their VWP privileges. Affected travelers would include scholars, refugee caseworkers, humanitarian aid workers, human rights investigators, and others.

New passport requirements are also incorporated into the bill. Starting April 1, 2016, VWP travelers will be required to use electronic passports that are machine-readable and fraud resistant. The program country will also be required to validate these passports.

Comment » | Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Visa waiver program

Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Waiver Program Expands in Mexico

August 28th, 2012 — 3:54pm

In July, US embassies in Mexico expanded the Department of States program to waive the nonimmigrant visa interview requirement to allow persons to obtain a new visa without scheduling a consular interview if they are applying for same visa within 48 months of their prior visa’s expiration date.  Previously, the visa interview waiver was only available to persons whose valid visas had expired within 12 months of the date of reapplication. The visa interview waiver program was initiated in January on an embassy-by-embassy basis to facilitate international travel to the U.S. by frequent business travelers and tourists. Currently, the program is in effect in only a limited number of countries.

Comment » | Department of State

Why Do Visa Numbers Surge Forward and Then Retrogress? Predicting Visa Availability for Backlogged Categories?

August 28th, 2012 — 3:52pm

Predicting when a priority date will become current and when the wait on the long immigrant visa queue will finally be over can often be pure guess work. With visas suddenly unavailable or unexpectedly within reach, preference-visa applicants and their attorneys have learned to accept this phenomenon as just another part of the immigration system. In a recent interview with the head of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the State Department’s Visa Office – the office charged with establishing the monthly priority dates for the Visa Bulletin – Charles Oppenheim sheds some light on the process and provides his predictions for the months to come.

In October 2012, when new visas are allocated for fiscal year 2013, the employment-based second category (EB-2) worldwide will become current but, Mr. Oppenheim warns, the EB-2 category may retrogress or become unavailable for the rest of the year if USCIS adjudicates a significant number of cases in the summer. EB-2 cut-off dates for China (Mainland born) and India, currently “unavailable,” will only move to August or September 2007 and are not likely to move forward for at least six months due to pent-up demand.  Many of these individuals were just two years away from obtaining their green cards in April 2012 when the priority date was May 1, 2010. Now, these foreign nationals can expect at least a five-year wait. Why did this happen?  Why do priority dates move so far ahead and then retrogress so drastically?

Apparently, USCIS had approved many I-140 employment-based immigrant visa petitions but had not received a corresponding number of I-485 adjustment of status applications to adjudicate and thus urged DOS to move these priority dates forward.  Moreover, USCIS expected that adjudication of EB-1 cases would be at the same rate as last fiscal year, and not more. All of these factors led to the forward movement of the EB-2 priority date. The dates then severely retrogressed when demand caught up with visa availability. Another factor for seesawing EB-2 priority dates was the increase in EB-5 investor immigrant visa cases. Unused EB-5 visas trickle down into the EB-1 category, and unused EB-1 visas fall into EB-2. This year, there was less of the normal trickle-down between categories.

Another issue that clouds prediction of visa demand and visa availability, as explained by Mr. Oppenheim, is that neither USCIS nor DOS maintains statistics on upgrades from the EB-3 category to the EB-2 preference category. This can occur, for example, when an applicant applies for an EB-3 visa petition but then advances in his or her career or changes jobs and becomes eligible for an EB-2 visa or marries an EB-2 applicant. In these instances, the individual then has two visa numbers allocated to him. The unused or duplicate visa number (EB-3) is only cancelled when the visa applicant uses the EB-2 visa number during green card issuance. According to Mr. Oppenheim, there are between 10,000 and 15,000 duplicate visas numbers as a result of “upgrades” each fiscal year – a wide variance.  For 2013, that number is already at 17,000, which underscores the difficulty in predicting upgrades and thus visa availability.

Retrogressions are not good for anyone and neither agency likes them.  For USCIS, it means it has to adjudicate more work authorization and travel documents without a fee, and for DOS, it means lack of predictability. For individuals, it means further uncertainty and futures delayed.

Comment » | Department of State, I-485, Lawful permanent resident

Updated List of Countries with Limited or No Visa Services

April 28th, 2012 — 12:43pm

U.S. embassies and consulates are sometimes forced to limit or, at times, suspend visa services because of natural disasters, civil unrest, war, and/or security concerns, among other reasons. The Department of State recently released an updated list of those countries with limited or no visa services. The list also provides information on where affected applicants can go to obtain visa services. See

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Comment » | Department of State

Expansion of Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Waiver Program

April 28th, 2012 — 12:41pm

Early this year, DOS announced a pilot program, being implemented on an embassy-by-embassy basis, to waive the nonimmigrant visa interview requirement for certain visa renewals. Recently, the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, announced the expansion of the visa interview waiver program to certain applicants seeking to renew a B1/B2, C1/D, or F/J/M visa that expired within the last 48 months. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India announced the expansion of the program to certain applicants seeking to renew a B1/B2 visa (also expired within the last 48 months). And, the U.S. Embassy in Russia also announced the expansion of the program to applicants seeking to renew a B1/B2 or C1/D visa that expired within the last 47 months. Earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, launched its visa interview waiver pilot program for certain B, C, D, F, J, M and O visa holders, and special rules went into effect for certain Brazilian citizens waiving their consular interviews.  See and

Comment » | Department of State, Visa waiver program

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