Starting January 23, 2007, citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, with limited exceptions, in order to enter the U.S. by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere (for example, from Canada or Mexico). Currently, U.S. citizens have been able to re-enter the U.S. from within the Western Hemisphere without having to present a valid U.S. passport. It is now time to obtain your passport and maintain its validity.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Update:

The USCIS’s policy memorandum signified a major change in the government’s approach to H-1B and L-1 proceedings. Pursuant to the USCIS’s most recent guidance, H-1B and L-1 individuals’ prior periods of stay in the U.S. in H-4 and/or L-2 status no longer count towards the H-1B and L-1 maximum period of stay calculations. Additionally, as a new way to overcome the hardships created by the H-1B annual 65,000 cap, those who previously worked in the U.S. pursuant to valid H-1B status and left the country with an unused period of H-1B time, are eligible to return to H-1B status, without being subject to the cap limitations. This is an excellent development for U.S. employers in need of H-1B workers’ services as they may now be able to bring back individuals who have used up some, but not all of their H-1B time during their prior period of U.S. employment, without waiting for the October 1 start of the new fiscal year H-1B eligibility under the cap. Careful planning of the affected individuals’ permanent immigration proceedings may be in order as the maximum period of H-1B employment in the U.S. (i.e., 6 years) still applies.

The USCIS continues to accept H-2B petitions for temporary workers requesting an employment commencement date of April 1, 2007 or later. H-2B petition filing requires U.S. employers to undergo an advertisement and recruitment period. Consequently, preparation for H-2B petition filing takes several months and cannot be accomplished “on the spot.” Contact your immigration counsel to commence H-2B proceedings as soon as you determine your business needs.

If you are taking a naturalization examination in 2007, be ready for the possibility of a new, experimental test. While the USCIS has not disclosed the specifics of the new test format, they should initially allow those failing the new format to re-take the test using the “old” test format.

Department of Labor (DOL) Update:

The DOL is preparing for a Reduction-in-Recruitment (RIR) conversion push for pending Traditional labor certification applications and is assuring employers of a “hold harmless” period. The DOL has provided guidance with regard to e-mail notification to their offices of the employer’s intent to commence pre-conversion RIR recruitment. This notification, which must be received by the DOL no later than January 22, 2007 (midnight EST), should help avoid situations where pre-conversion recruitment has to be stopped due to the DOL’s start of the Traditional labor certification application processing. IT IS NOW TIME to consider RIR conversion for pending Traditional applications in order to help expedite your foreign national employees’ permanent immigration proceedings.

Department of State (DOS) Update:

The DOS has finalized the new rule pertaining to the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program for foreign professors and research scholars. While eligibility guidelines for the program have not changed, professors and research scholars should now be eligible for a significantly longer period of J-1 stay in the U.S., up to a maximum of five (5) years.

Immigration Enforcement Update:

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported arrests of more than 30 individuals in D.C. and eight states as part of a visa fraud investigation. Per ICE’s preliminary reports, the scheme involved religious worker (R-1) visa abuse and set the stage for significant numbers of illegal immigrants to enter the U.S. on fraudulently-procured visas.