Happy New Year! 2014 was a busy year for the immigration community. Here are some of the highlights of what happened in 2014, and what we can expect in 2015.
J1 Site Visit: The Department of State notified sponsors that they will start conducting field site visits for J1 interns and trainees. This alerted many companies hosting J1 interns and trainees to review the J1 program and comply with the terms set forth in the program. The sad reality is that a lot of companies abuse the J1 program as a way to get cheap labor. The site visit was a hope to decrease, if not demolish, such abuse.
Cap Subject H1B Application: For 85,000 slots (including the 20,000 advanced degree slots), the application number reached 172,000. A big reason for this is the recovering U.S. economy, which is a good thing, but not so good for visa applicants, especially who are not eligible for any other visas. In 2015, the number of applicants is expected to increase even more. So, here are a few tips:
- Look for alternatives: if you can get a working visa through other categories (often E or O), go for those. It often saves you more money and trouble. But if H1B is your only choice…
- Start the process early: consult with a lawyer early to start preparing for all the necessary documents and application forms.
- FedEx your application package on March 31 for April 1 delivery: a good lawyer should take care of this for you, but just in case, make sure your package is sent out via a secure delivery method (such as FedEx or UPS) and is scheduled to be delivered on the very first day of April. Even though USCIS will accept applications for about a week, don’t take a chance of an delivery track accident or some other disaster that will shut you out from even been considered for the lottery.
Travel History: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) launched a new webpage on May 1, allowing non-immigrants to retrieve their travel history online. This is a very useful tool for visa holders applying for visas or other immigration related applications where they need to state their travel history. But be careful! The record on the system is often wrong or partially missing. Until the system is improved, it’s better to double check with the travel stamps on your passport.
Priority Date Retrogression: The June Visa bulletin announced a drastic retrogression for Chinese EB3 category for 6 years (from October 2012 to October 2006). The retrogression for Chinese Other Workers category was even worse – almost 10 years (from October 2012 to January 2003). The current cut-off date for EB3 is back to March 2011, which means the estimated wait time for those applicants is about 4 years or so, unless there is another drastic change.
State Department System Down: In late July, there was a system down causing delays in issuing visas all over the world. This lasted for a few weeks.
Chinese EB5 Quota Reached: For the first time since the EB5 (investor green card) program was created in 1993, the maximum number of EB5 visas for mainland-born Chinese was reached. Since the FY2015 visas became available in October 2014, the EB5 visas are still available at this moment. However, it is expected to reach the limit again in 2015. This means there will be longer wait for Chinese investors before they can immigrate to the U.S.
Changes in Visa Fees: The Department of State changed some of the visa application fees. The most current fees are listed at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/fees/fees-visa-services.html#.
A lot happened in November…
Priority Date Retrogression: The November Visa bulletin announced a drastic retrogression for Indian EB2 category for 4 years (from May 2009 to February 2005). The cut-off date has not moved forward since November, so there will be a very long waiting time for India-born applicants in the EB2 category.
Extended Visa Validity for Chinese: The U.S. and China have mutually agreed to increase the validity period of B1/B2 (business trip/tourism) and F, M, J (Student) visas to 10 years and 5 years respectively (formerly only 1 year for all these categories). This will encourage more tourists, business trips, and international students from China.
President Obama’s New Policies: The last big news of the year was President Obama’s announcement of various executive actions that will benefit both the undocumented immigrant community and the visa holder community. The details of these policies are expected to be announced in early (hopefully) 2015.
With the growing U.S. economy and President Obama’s new policies, the year 2015 will be an exciting year for the immigration communities!