On Oct. 5, 2015, USCIS began applying secure laminates to certain secure forms that authorize travel to the United States. The affected forms are:
Form I-797F, Transportation Letter, and
Form I-512L, Parole Authorization Letter.
The secure, transparent laminates provide an extra layer of fraud protection and authenticity. They contain state-of-the-art technology to deter counterfeiting, prevent tampering and allow for quick and accurate authentication by frontline inspectors in the field.
These advancements are part of our ongoing efforts to further enhance and maintain the integrity of secure documents. Previously issued forms will remain valid.
Public Law 111-230 H-1B, L-1 Additional Fees Expire
H-1B and L-1 petitions filed on or after Oct. 1, 2015, should not include the additional fee that was previously required by Section 402 of Public Law 111-230, as amended by Public Law 111-347, for certain H-1B and L-1 petitions. The additional fee required by Public Law 111-230, as amended, expired on Sept. 30, 2015.
All other H-1B and L-1 fees, including the Base fee, Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee, and American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) Fee when applicable, are still required. Petitions with incorrect fees may be rejected. Petitioners are reminded that USCIS prefers separate checks for each filing fee.
Public Law 111-230, enacted on Aug. 13, 2010, required an additional fee of $2,000 for certain H-1B petitions and $2,250 for certain L-1A and L-1B petitions postmarked on or after Aug. 14, 2010. Public Law 111-347, enacted on Jan. 2, 2011, extended the fees through Sept. 30, 2015. For more information, visit the H-1B Visa or L-1 Visa pages or call the National Customer Service Center at (800) 375-5283.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invites you to participate in a stakeholder teleconference on Tuesday, October 6, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. (Eastern) to discuss the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Yemen.
Due to the ongoing armed conflict within the country, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson designated Yemen for TPS for 18 months, effective September 3, 2015 through March 3, 2017. Eligible nationals of Yemen (and people without nationality who last habitually resided in Yemen) may apply for TPS during the 180-day registration period. The period began September 3, 2015, and ends on March 1, 2016. Applicants must have continuously resided in the United States since September 3, 2015, and meet other eligibility requirements. Those who are approved for TPS may obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and will not be removed from the United States during the time period that TPS is granted.
DHS to Create Filipino WWII Veterans Parole Program
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is creating a parole program to allow certain family members of Filipino and Filipino-American World War II veterans to receive parole to come to the United States. This parole program was announced in November 2014 by President Obama and Secretary Johnson as part of the executive actions on immigration and is detailed in the White House report, Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st century, issued in July 2015. The program may enable these eligible family members to provide support and care to their aging veteran family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Parole, as provided for under the Immigration and Nationality Act, gives DHS discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to permit individuals to come to the United States for a temporary period of time based upon urgent humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit. Parole does not give the individual any permanent right to remain in the United States.
USCIS reminds customers that they cannot apply at this time. Any applications received before the program is implemented may be denied. We will inform the public when the application process is in place. Register to receive email updates.
Please remember to be mindful of immigration scams. Visit www.uscis.gov/avoidscams, for tips on filing forms, reporting scams, and finding a licensed attorney or an accredited representative.
We’re excited to introduce the test version of Emma, our latest customer-friendly innovation. Emma is a computer-generated assistant. When complete, she’ll be able to help you navigate through the USCIS website and find answers to your questions. We’ve been inviting various groups to ask her questions so she learns more, and now we’re inviting everyone in the world. We can’t guarantee yet that she’ll know all the answers, but the more you ask her, the smarter she’ll get.
Emma is named for Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem “The New Colossus” that appears on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty. Just as Emma Lazarus was a strong advocate for helping immigrants, our newly designed virtual assistant can help you find the immigration resources you need.
What Can Emma Do?
Emma can answer questions based on natural, spoken English and common search terms, so you can ask Emma questions in your own words. She can:
Provide immediate responses to your questions about all of our services
Guide you through our website
Find information based on the questions and search terms you use
If you have the sound on, you can hear Emma say her answers and see her written response. Below her answer, she may offer links leading to related areas of interest. For now, Emma works best on your desktop computer or laptop, but soon she will work just as well on mobile devices.
Help Emma Help You
While Emma knows about the services we offer at USCIS, she may not be able to answer all questions at this time. However, every question you enter will make Emma smarter in the future.
To start chatting with Emma, click the “Ask a Question” link in the page header.
Please share Emma with your family and friends so that they can help make Emma smarter. To send your feedback or ask for technical support, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not send questions about your personal situation or case to this mailbox.
Hearing on “Refugee Admissions, Fiscal Year 2016” before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on October 1, 2015 by Chief of Refugee Affairs Division Barbara L Strack and Acting Associate Director Matthew D. Emrich
BARBARA L. STRACK
Chief, Refugee Affairs Division
REFUGEE, ASYLUM, AND INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS DIRECTORATE
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
MATTHEW D. EMRICH
Acting Associate Director
FRAUD DETECTION AND NATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTORATE
U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
FOR A HEARING ON
FISCAL YEAR 2016”
THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION & THE NATIONAL INTEREST
OCTOBER 1, 2015
226 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING
Statement of Barbara L. Strack, Chief, Refugee Affairs Division, Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Matthew D. Emrich, Acting Associate Director, Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate
Chairman Sessions, Ranking Member Schumer, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing on the refugee admissions program, with particular emphasis on Fiscal Year 2016. As the Chief of the Refugee Affairs Division within the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), my staff and I work in close partnership with colleagues at the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), with other components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and with colleagues in the law enforcement and intelligence communities to meet the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program’s (USRAP) mission to offer resettlement opportunities to eligible refugees while safeguarding the integrity of the program and our national security.
As you know, the United States has a proud and long-standing tradition of offering protection, freedom, and opportunity to refugees from around the world who live in fear of persecution and are often left to languish in difficult conditions of temporary asylum. USCIS remains dedicated to fulfilling this mission, in partnership with PRM, and continuing the United States’ leadership role in humanitarian protection. An integral part of this mission is to ensure that refugee resettlement opportunities go to those who are eligible for such protection and who do not present a risk to the safety and security of our country. Accordingly, we are committed to deterring and detecting fraud among those seeking to resettle in the United States, and we continue to employ the highest security measures to protect against risks to our national security.
As a representative of USCIS, I can assure you that this commitment to our humanitarian and national security mandates is shared inside and outside of DHS. The refugee resettlement program has forged strong and deep relationships with colleagues in the law enforcement, national security, and intelligence communities and we continue to benefit enormously from their expertise, analysis, and collaboration. It simply would not be possible for us to support a resettlement program of the size and scope that the United States maintains without this critical interagency infrastructure.
My testimony today will describe USCIS’s role in refugee resettlement generally, and I will discuss the screening measures and safeguards that have been developed by the USRAP and enhanced over time. While many of these enhancements were first deployed in connection with the Iraqi refugee resettlement program, they are now being applied more broadly to applicants of all nationalities, including Syrians who now represent a growing portion of our caseload.
DHS and other interagency partners have conducted a number of classified briefings for committee staff on these topics, and I would be happy to follow up with a classified briefing after today’s hearing, if that would be useful to the Subcommittee.
Refugee Resettlement Case Processing
As I mentioned above, the USRAP is a shared operational responsibility of the State Department and USCIS, among other agencies. The State Department is responsible for the overarching coordination and management of the USRAP, including the decision on which refugees around the world are granted access to the USRAP for resettlement consideration. As contemplated by section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, this work is guided each year by a Presidential determination, which sets the refugee admissions ceiling following consultations with Congress. USCIS is responsible for conducting individual, in-person interviews with applicants to determine their eligibility for refugee status, including whether they meet the refugee definition and are otherwise admissible to the United States under U.S. law.
To maximize flexibility and program integrity, in 2005 USCIS created the Refugee Corps, a cadre of specially-trained USCIS officers who are dedicated to adjudicating applications for refugee status overseas. These officers are based in Washington, D.C., but they travel to multiple locations around the world. In addition, USCIS has a small number of officers posted at embassies overseas who conduct refugee adjudications, and we assign specially-trained officers from other programs – such as the Asylum Corps, Office of the Chief Counsel, and Administrative Appeals Office – to supplement the Refugee Corps. Using this model, USCIS has been able to respond to an increasingly diverse refugee admissions program, working in 64 countries in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.
Recognizing that a well-trained cadre of officers is critical to protecting the integrity of the refugee process, we have focused our efforts on providing the highest quality training to our adjudicators. In addition to the basic training required of all USCIS officers, refugee officers receive five weeks of specialized training that includes comprehensive instruction on all aspects of the job, including refugee law, grounds of inadmissibility, fraud detection and prevention, security protocols, interviewing techniques, credibility analysis, and country conditions research. Before deploying overseas, officers also receive pre-departure training which focuses on the specific population that they will be interviewing. This includes information on the types of refugee claims that they are likely to encounter, detailed country of origin information, and updates on any fraud trends or security issues that have been identified. With the advent of large-scale processing of Iraqi applicants in 2007, USCIS officers who adjudicate Iraqi refugee applications began receiving additional two-day training on country-specific issues, including briefings from outside experts from the intelligence, policy, and academic communities. This training has since expanded to a one-week training in order to include Syria-specific topics as well.
In order to fully explore refugee claims and to identify any possible grounds of ineligibility, specially-trained USCIS officers conduct an in-person, in-depth interview of every principal refugee applicant. The officer assesses the credibility of the applicant and evaluates whether the applicant’s testimony is consistent with known country conditions. These adjudicators also interview each accompanying family member age 14 and older to determine their admissibility to the United States. In addition, refugee applicants are subject to robust security screening protocols to identify potential fraud, criminal or national security issues. All refugee status determinations made by interviewing officers undergo supervisory review before a final decision is made. Refugee Affairs Division policy requires officers to submit certain categories of sensitive cases – including certain national security-related cases – to Refugee Affairs Division Headquarters to obtain concurrence prior to the issuance of a decision. This allows for Headquarters staff to conduct additional research, liaise with law enforcement or intelligence agencies, or consult with an outside expert before finalizing the decision.
Security checks are an integral part of the USRAP process for applicants of all nationalities, and coordinating these checks is a shared responsibility between the State Department and DHS. Refugee applicants are subject to the highest level of security checks, and a refugee applicant is not approved for travel until the results of all required security checks have been obtained and cleared.
All available biographic and biometric information is vetted against a broad array of law enforcement, intelligence community, and other relevant databases to help confirm a refugee applicant’s identity, check for any criminal or other derogatory information, and identify information that could inform lines of questioning during the interview. Biographic checksagainst the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) – which includes watchlist information – are initiated at the time of prescreening by the State Department’s Resettlement Support Center (RSC) staff. In addition, an RSC request Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) from the law enforcement and intelligence communities for those cases meeting certain criteria.
In the fall of 2008, USCIS launched a third biographic check with the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which we now refer to as Interagency Checks or “IAC’s.” Initially the IAC was required only for Iraqi applicants, but the IAC is now required for all refugee applicants within a designated age range, regardless of nationality. In addition, expanded intelligence community support was added to the IAC process in July 2010. In 2015, all partners coordinated to launch IAC recurrent vetting. With recurrent vetting, any intervening derogatory information that is identified after the initial check has cleared but before the applicant has traveled to the United States will be shared with USCIS without the need for a subsequent query.
In addition to these biographic checks, biometric checks against three sets of data are coordinated by USCIS, using mobile fingerprint equipment and photographs which are typically collected at the time of the USCIS interview. These fingerprints are screened against the vast biometric holdings of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Next Generation Identification system, and they are screened and enrolled in DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT). Through IDENT, applicant fingerprints are screened not only against watchlist information, but also for previous immigration encounters in the United States and overseas – including, for example, cases in which the applicant previously applied for a visa at a U.S. embassy. Starting in 2007, USCIS began to work with the Department of Defense (DoD) to augment biometric screening by checking against the DoD Automated Biometric Identification
System (ABIS). ABIS contains a variety of records, including fingerprint records captured in theatre in Iraq, and it is a valuable resource to identify a wide array of relevant information. Today, ABIS screening has been expanded to refugee applicants of all nationalities who fall within the prescribed age ranges.
In addition to the existing suite of biometric and biographic checks that are applied to refugees regardless of nationality, USCIS has instituted an additional layer of review for Syrian refugee applications, taking into account the myriad actors and dynamic nature of the conflict in Syria. Before being scheduled for interview by a USCIS officer in the field, Syrian cases are reviewed at USCIS headquarters by a Refugee Affairs Division officer. All cases that meet certain criteria are referred to the USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) for additional review and research. FDNS conducts open-source and classified research on referred cases and synthesizes an assessment for use by the interviewing officer. This information provides case-specific context relating to country conditions and regional activity, and it is used by the interviewing officer to inform lines of inquiry related to the applicant’s eligibility and credibility.
Throughout the review process of Syrian refugee applicants, FDNS engages with law enforcement and intelligence community members for assistance with identity verification, acquisition of additional information, or deconfliction to ensure USCIS activities will not adversely affect an ongoing law enforcement investigation. When FDNS identifies terrorism-related information, it makes the appropriate nominations or enhancements to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), using standard interagency watchlisting protocols. Additionally, USCIS drafts and disseminates reports to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies alerting the interagency to information that meets standing intelligence information requirements.
USCIS continues to work with DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) and intelligence community members to identify options for new potential screening opportunities to enhance this already robust suite of checks. Finally, in addition to the checks that I have described, refugee applicants are subject to screening conducted by DHS colleagues at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center-Passenger and the Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight program prior to their admission to the United States, as is the case with all individuals traveling to the United States regardless of immigration program.
The Refugee Admissions Pipeline
Given the wide geographic scope of the USRAP, including remote and sometimes dangerous locations, and the complexities of refugee resettlement processing, USCIS coordinates closely with PRM to develop a schedule for refugee interviews each quarter of the Fiscal Year. This yields a “pipeline” of refugee applicants who can be admitted to the United States, once all required security checks, medical examinations, and other pre-travel steps are completed.
In FY 2015, USCIS officers conducted refugee status interviews for applicants from 67 countries. The leading nationalities admitted to the United States were Burmese, Iraqis, and Somalis, as the multi-year program for Bhutanese nationals in Nepal continued its downward trend. Admissions from Africa continued their multiyear increase, notably including larger numbers of Congolese from the Great Lakes region of Africa and resumed processing of Darfuri Sudanese in Eastern Chad.
Refugee processing operations in the Middle East, which have been primarily focused on Iraqi nationals since 2007, expanded to include a larger number of Syrian referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As of late September 2015, the USRAP has received approximately 19,000 referrals of Syrian applicants from UNHCR,primarily in Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt. The USRAP continues to interview large numbers of Iraqi applicants in these same three locations, and has also resumed processing Iraqi nationals in Baghdad in spring 2015, after a break in operations since June 2014. USCIS was not able to work in Lebanon in FY 2015 – but for one exceptional, one-officer visit – due to space constraints at the embassy, where officers both live and work due to the security conditions.
In Fiscal Years 2013, 2014, and 2015, USCIS and the State Department have succeeded in meeting the annual refugee admissions ceiling of 70,000. This accomplishment reflects a worldwide commitment to refugee protection, as well as intense and committed efforts by all the interagency partners to improve, refine, and enhance the security vetting regime for refugee applicants, while maintaining its integrity and rigor. We will continue these interagency efforts to improve the quality and efficacy of the USRAP security screening regime, including progress toward more automated processes.
USCIS is prepared to work closely with the State Department and other interagency partners to support a larger refugee admissions program of 85,000 arrivals in FY 2016, including at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, while assiduously maintaining the integrity of the program and our national security.
USCIS published revised versions of its 25 international offices pages on USCIS.gov. The International Operations Division of USCIS made changes to the pages to improve functionality, navigation and customer focus.
The new Web pages feature:
Increased use of links back to main USCIS pages (e.g., the main Forms page), which helps standardize information across the pages. Updates will then be centralized, which will lead to more accurate information.
Ability to expand menu items for easy access to information on what services are available. This navigation allows customers to more clearly see who may receive what services abroad.
Improved graphics, including incorporation of icons and pictures, for a more user-friendly experience.
Hyperlinks embedded throughout the Web page (previously we referenced links in the right rail) to streamline page navigation.
The change was in response to a 2013 customer satisfaction survey. While our international offices received excellent scores, we received feedback indicating that our websites could be more customer friendly, consistent and up-to-date.
DOS Publishes Updated Visa Bulletin for October 2015
On Sept. 25, the Department of State (DOS) published an updated Visa Bulletin for October 2015. This bulletin supersedes the bulletin for October 2015 that was originally published on Sept. 9, 2015. Following consultations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Dates for Filing Applications for some categories in the Family-Sponsored and Employment-Based preferences have been adjusted to better reflect a timeframe justifying immediate action in the application process. The Dates for Filing Applications sections on pages 4 and 6, which have been adjusted, have been identified in bold type and highlighted.
Applicants should use the chart published by DOS on Sept. 25 when filing for adjustment of status. This chart has also been updated on uscis.gov. Please be advised that DHS will rely on this revised bulletin rather than the bulletin published on Sept. 9, 2015, when considering whether an individual is eligible to file his or her application for adjustment of status.
The Dates for Filing Applications chart is a part of the revised procedures for determining visa availability for applicants waiting to file for adjustment of status that USCIS announced on Sept. 9, 2015. Continue reading below for more information.
USCIS, in coordination with Department of State (DOS), is revising the procedures for determining visa availability for applicants waiting to file for employment-based or family-sponsored preference adjustment of status. The revised process will better align with procedures DOS uses for foreign nationals who seek to become U.S. permanent residents by applying for immigrant visas at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad.
This revised process will enhance DOS’s ability to more accurately predict overall immigrant visa demand and determine the cut-off dates for visa issuance published in the Visa Bulletin. This will help ensure that the maximum number of immigrant visas is issued annually as intended by Congress, and minimize month-to-month fluctuations in Visa Bulletin final action dates.
To determine whether additional visas are available, USCIS will compare the number of visas available for the remainder of the fiscal year with:
Documentarily qualified visa applicants reported by DOS;
Pending adjustment of status applications reported by USCIS; and
Historical drop off rate (for example, denials, withdrawals, abandonments).
About the Visa Bulletin
DOS publishes current immigrant visa availability information in a monthly Visa Bulletin. The Visa Bulletin indicates when statutorily limited visas are available to prospective immigrants based on their individual priority date.
The priority date is generally the date when the applicant’s relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on the applicant’s behalf with USCIS. If a labor certification is required to be filed with the applicant’s immigrant visa petition, then the priority date is when the labor certification application was accepted for processing by Department of Labor.
Availability of an immigrant visa means eligible applicants are able to take one of the final steps in the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents.