USCIS Announces Sweeping Changes to Policies Involving In-Person Interviews, H-1B Premium Processing, Employment Authorization and Refugee Admissions Targets

October 4, 2017

On September 28, 2017, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman hosted a stakeholder call that offered more details about the new personal interview requirements for employment-based adjustment of status applicants. USCIS confirmed that only cases filed before March 6, 2017 will be adjudicated by the USCIS Service Centers under prior procedures without requiring an interview. The new interview requirement is being rolled out nationwide, with interviews starting on October 2, 2017 due to President Trump's recent Executive Order issued in March 2017. Currently, USCIS states that the top ten district offices affected are San Jose, San Francisco, Newark, New York, Houston, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Each family member, including children, will be asked to appear at a USCIS district office (although USCIS indicated it might consider waiving appearances for children under age 14). Each applicant must appear for screening and questioning concerning the underlying immigrant petition (I140) filed on their behalf, which USCIS indicates it would have adjudicated prior to forwarding to the district offices for adjustment of status interviews. USCIS indicated that adjudicating officers may still question the bona fides of the underlying petition, maintenance of status and job portability issues, in addition to newly implemented security features.

Resumption of H-1B Premium Processing

On October 3, 2017, U.S. Citizenship Services (USCIS) announced the resumption of premium processing for all H-1B visa petition requests. Earlier this year, to clear a processing backlog, USCIS had suspended premium processing in all H-1B visa petition categories, including H-1B annual cap filings, filings for extensions and changes of status, and filings for doctors, not-for-profits and research institutions.

Streamlined Employment Authorization Process

USCIS announced on October 2 that it was streamlining the process to obtain a work authorization document and social security number simultaneously for certain employment authorization requests. This administrative link will mean that applicants for employment authorization cards will no longer have to apply separately for social security cards. The Employment authorization document provides U.S. employers with evidence that a person is authorized to work in the U.S. for specific time periods and is used to report wages to the government and to determine eligibility for certain U.S. government benefits.

Lower Refugee Resettlement Targets

On September 27, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it will dramatically reduce the number of refugees who will be allowed to resettle in the United States. The current plan is to admit no more than 45,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year, fewer than half of what the previous administration had projected (110,000), and the lowest with regional caps of 19,000 for Africa, 17,500 for the Near East and South Asia (including most Middle Eastern countries), 5,000 for East Asia, 2000 for Europe and Central Asia and 1,500 for Latin America and the Caribbean. Compared to previous years, this year's refugee admission doesn't allow for an unallocated reserve quota for the administration to respond to unforeseen upticks in refugees within one of the regions, according to the U.S. Department of State.

The new refugee numbers announced by the administration are the lowest in decades for the United States refugee admission program. As of the last week of September 2017, the State Department data evidenced that just more than 53,000 refugees had been resettled in the United States. The United States remains, along with the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and Japan, one of the top donors in providing humanitarian assistance globally.

Our Immigration practice group will continue to monitor and report on developments in this area.

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