US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that as of May 11, 2010, all new Permanent Resident Cards — commonly known as the “Green Card” — will incorporate several major new security features. Apart from being more secure, the new Green Card is once again green! The card will be issued to newly approved permanent residents, as well as to those who apply for a renewal or replacement card.

The permanent resident card is proof of a person’s authorization to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. Newly issued Green Cards are valid for ten years for lawful permanent residents (unconditional) and two years for conditional residents. While the permanent resident must renew the card each time it expires, the underlying unconditional permanent resident status does not expire.

According to the USCIS, the card was redesigned to deter immigration fraud. State-of-the-art technology in the new card prevents counterfeiting, obstructs tampering, and facilitates quick and accurate authentication of the card. Secure optical media store biometrics for rapid and reliable identification of the card holder, holographic images, laser engraved fingerprints, and high resolution micro-images are supposed to make the card impossible to reproduce. Radio Frequency Identification capability allows Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry to read the card from a distance and compare it immediately to file data. Finally, a preprinted return address enables the quick and easy return of a lost card to USCIS.

What if you have an old card? Some existing Green Cards bear an expiration date, and those cards will remain valid until they expire. Holders of those cards will receive the redesigned version when seeking a renewal or replacement. Certain older “I-551” Green Cards have no expiration date, and those cards remain valid, although USCIS recommends that holders of cards without an expiration date apply to replace their cards with the redesigned version.

We can help with the process of applying for renewal or replacement Green Cards, including scheduling the required biometrics appointment and arranging for our representative to appear at USCIS with any of your employees or their family members who would like this assistance. In addition, instead of replacing an expiring Green Card, an eligible permanent resident may choose to explore becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. An expiring Green Card need not be renewed if an application for naturalization is made at least six months before the card expires. Please contact us if any of your employees are interested in taking this step.

The New Green Card and Its Security Features

Nationals of Greece May Travel to the U.S. Without a Visa

In March 2010, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Greece had been designated as a Visa Waiver country, meaning that nationals of that country can now come to the United States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without a visa.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) was implemented in 1988 with only the United Kingdom and Japan as designated participants, but with the addition of Greece, there are now 36 participating countries. Nationals of those 36 countries are eligible to apply for admission to the United States under the program if otherwise eligible, and if they intend to come here for no more than 90 days (for each visit) for purposes of business or pleasure, including tourism.

The Countries Participating in the VWP

If arriving by air or sea, the visitor coming in under the VWP must have a round-trip, non-transferable ticket. If by land, the individual must have evidence of financial solvency and a residence abroad. A visitor entering under the VWP may be readmitted after a visit to Canada, Mexico, or the “adjacent islands” (i.e., the Caribbean) provided that: 1) the 90 days given upon initial admission has not expired; 2) the individual intends to depart the United States by the 90th day; and 3) the individual presents a valid passport reflecting admission to the United States under the program. Readmission to the United States will be only for the balance of the time that was left on the individual’s I-94W before he departed, and will not restart the clock. No extensions or requests for changes of status may be made following entries under the program, and the program is not available to those arriving on private jets.

Reminder: All VWP travelers who intend to enter the United States will first have to receive an electronic travel authorization through ESTA. The authorization is valid for two years, or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. For more information about ESTA, please refer to our Client Alert of December 2008 and to the government’s website at: http://cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/

Elimination of the Form I-94W

In a press release dated May 20, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security announced the elimination of the paper arrival/departure form (Form I-94W) for authorized travelers from nations participating in the VWP. The Form I-94W is the green form that is stapled into the passports of VWP visitors, and surrendered when the visitor departs the United States. Though not spelled out in the press release, presumably in lieu of the I-94W, the Customs and Border Protection officer will now simply stamp the visitor’s passport with his nonimmigrant status (“WB” for business visitors and “WT” for tourists), and the date to which he is allowed to remain. The form elimination will be phased in at airports over the next few months, and by the end of the summer, the I-94W should be a thing of the past.

USCIS Issues Revised Employment Authorization Document

On May 26, 2010, the USCIS announced that it revised the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), or Form I-766, to incorporate the addition of a machine-readable zone on the back of the card. The update to the EAD is part of USCIS’s ongoing efforts to deter immigration fraud. On May 11, USCIS began issuing the revised EAD cards. The machine-readable zone is compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization standards. USCIS also removed the two-dimensional bar code on the backside of the card and moved the informational box of text to just beneath the magnetic stripe on the card. The revised card retains all of its existing security features.

Click here for pictures of cards.

H-1B Numbers and the H-1B Cap

As you know, there are only 65,000 H-1B visa numbers available each fiscal year (which begins on October 1) for employees of “cap-subject” employers. A cap-subject employer is any entity other than an institution of higher education, a nonprofit organization affiliated with or related to an institution of higher education, a nonprofit research organization, or a governmental research organization. In addition to the 65,000 H-1B visas available to cap-subject employers, there are an additional 20,000 H-1B visas that are available for those who have received advanced degrees from U.S. colleges or universities. (If an entity is an institution of higher education, a nonprofit organization affiliated with or related to an institution of higher education, a nonprofit research organization, or a governmental research organization, it is “cap-exempt,” and there is no limit to the number of H-1B visas that are available to it.)

In years past, the supply of H-1B visas was exhausted on April 1, the first day that companies were permitted to file petitions for the next fiscal year. Last year, that didn’t happen, and the supply of numbers lasted until just before Christmas. This year, the numbers seem to be moving even slower:

As of May 21, 2010, the USCIS had accepted for processing 19,600 H-1B petitions under the “normal” cap, and 8,200 petitions for those eligible for the advanced degree exemption.

As of May 18, 2009, the USCIS had received approximately 45,500 H-1B capsubject petitions and approximately 20,000 petitions qualifying for the advanced degree cap exemption.

This is great news for employers, especially those wishing to hire new graduates. A foreign national is eligible for H-1B status if he is coming to fill a professional position, that is, one that requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a field closely related to the job, and he holds that degree. If a person graduates in May or June, but visa numbers are exhausted in April, as they were two years ago, an employer is simply barred from filing an H-1B petition for him. But this year, it looks like the H-1B numbers will last long past the time when diplomas are awarded.

Department of State Increases Visa Application Fees

With the exception of Canadians, who are visa-exempt, and foreign nationals visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, nonimmigrants must apply for visas in order to visit this country. They apply for those visas at U.S. consulates abroad and have to pay a visa application processing fee, which currently stands at $131. On June 4, 2010, the fee will increase according to the following schedule