Four attorneys from the Firm’s Immigration Group recently attended the American Immigration Lawyers Associa-tion’s (AILA) Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. During this Conference, officials from the various govern-mental agencies, including USCIS, DOS, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Immigration and Customs Enforce-ment (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), provided insight and guidance on current immigration pro-cedures and potential changes to the procedures in the near future.

The following are some highlights from the Conference:

  1. The DOL stated that it only has 13% of the 365,000 cases which were initially inputted by its Backlog Elimination Centers (“BECE to complete reviewing. The DOL still anticipates that its BECs will complete the processing of these applications by the end of September.
  2. The DOL stated that employers have filed more than 200,000 PERM applications since the inception of the program in March 2005. The DOL stated that it is currently denying approximately 20% of the applica-tions and does not anticipate that this denial rate will decrease.
  3. The DOL stated that the processing times at its Atlanta PERM Center have increased in the past six months due to the fact that the DOL had to shift many of its Analysts to processing temporary Labor Cer-tification Applications. The DOL stated that the temporary labor certification workload has now decreased and that it is working to reduce the backlog in its PERM program. The DOL stated that approximately 6% of its pending applications are more than six months old.
  4. The DOL stated that it will be upgrading its PERM system in the next month to notify employers when a PERM application is approved.
  5. The DOL stated that it will be proposing a new modified PERM form later this year with an anticipated implementation date of early next year.
  6. The DOL believes that the new form will be much more user friendly because it will provide more space in many fields for the employer to explain/justify a particular answer. The new form will also allow for an employer to change the signatory if the company representa-tive indicated on the approved form leaves the company.
  7. The DOS stated that TN processing times at its Embassy in Mexico City have been significantly reduced. It stated that a TN application should be processed in less than 30 days after receiving the necessary docu-ments. Previously, the TN process through Mexico City could take up to three to four months to complete.
  8. The DOS confirmed that any of the Consulates in Mexico will accept a nonimmigrant visa application from Mexican citizens, regardless of where they live. The Consulates in Mexico do not restrict nonimmigrant visa applications by the location where the applicant lives.
  9. The DOS stated that the J-1 skills list is currently being updated and that the updated list is expected to be released later this year. The DOS is currently considering making the new skills list retroactive.
  10. The DOS confirmed that if a J-1 nonimmigrant serves his/her 2-year foreign residency requirement, but his/her spouse in J-2 classification does not serve the 2-year foreign residency requirement, the J-2 nonim-migrant will still be subject to the foreign residency requirement.
  11. The DOS is considering implementing a pre-clearance procedure through its website for nonimmigrant visa applications within the next year.
  12. However, the DOS stated that the details of this possible new proce-dure are still being explored.
  13. The DOS indicated that it has just sent a cable to its field offices expanding the medical/health ineligibility for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas due to a DUI arrest and/or conviction. The DOS stated that its posts have so far been reacting negatively to this new restrictive guidance because it eliminates a lot of their discretion in this area. However, the DOS stated that it believes that this expansion is necessary due to pub-lic safety issues.
  14. The USCIS stated that it believes that it will complete the processing of all of its H-1B cap cases within the next few weeks. Additionally, the USCIS stated that employers who had their H-1B quota cases rejected, but did not receive their original filing fee check back, should be receiving the refund check from the gov-ernment by the week of July 20th.
  15. The USCIS stated that it held back 1,000 H-1B cap cases in case it did not reach the statutory numerical limitation of 65,000 after adjudicating all of the cases which were initially selected through the random se-lection process. The USCIS stated that it has now determined that it will not need these extra 1,000 cases in order to reach the H-1B quota for this year. Therefore, it will be rejecting these cases and returning them to the employers. The USCIS stated that it will have to issue refund checks for these cases.
  16. The USCIS Nebraska and Texas Service Centers are now transferring adjustment of status applications which have been selected for an in-person interview to the National Benefit Center (“NBCE for the scheduling of the appointments with the appropriate local district office. When an adjustment application is transferred to the NBC for the scheduling of an interview, the transfer will be indicated on the USCIS web-site.
  17. The NBC will then schedule the appointment and forward the physical file to the local district office for the interview. After the local district office completes its adjudication of the application, the office will return the file to the NBC in order to update the USCIS computer system and to coordinate the issuing of the Permanent Resident Card, where appropriate.
  18. ICE indicated that it has received a 30% funding increase for this fiscal year. ICE stated that it completed many of its previous worksite enforcement actions based upon the limited funding that it received in the previous fiscal years. Because ICE received this significant funding increase, ICE indicated that it will be better able to fully coordinate and execute in the future many more worksite enforcement actions against employers who are not complying with the immigration laws.
  19. The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division indicated that it has significantly increased its enforcement actions in the Labor Condition Application (LCA) program. The Division indicated that it is now receiving cases di-rectly from Consular Posts (especially the Consular Posts in Asia and the Middle East) when the Consular official has reason to suspect that an employer has not complied with its obligations in the H-1B LCA pro-gram. The Division expects its H-1B LCA enforcement actions to increase in the future based both on these consular returns and individual complaints filed by both foreign nationals and U.S. workers.