Continued Use of Form I-9 After Form Expiration Date
Through the time that the new version of the form becomes available, USCIS has announced that employers should continue to use the current version of the Form I-9 even after the OMB control number expiration date of August 31, 2012. Regular updates regarding the new form will be provided through the USCIS I-9 Central website here.
In recent agency liaison meetings, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced plans to eliminate the issuance of I-94 cards in the near future. The I-94 card is a document that confirms the legal status of nonimmigrant visa holders who are physically present in the U.S. For decades, the Form I-94 has been the definitive document for confirming lawful nonimmigrant status for most foreign nationals temporarily in the U.S. for business or work purposes. CBP explained that it already has access to the data listed on the form in its computers, and that eliminating the I-94 card would save the agency $36 million each year. In place of the I-94, the agency proposes issuing an admission stamp to confirm the status of admission and authorized period of stay. CBP has also recently announced that it will no longer stamp foreign student I-20 documents upon arrival in the U.S.
These announcements have the potential to create confusion with regard to other processes that also rely on I-94 documents and related information, including Form I-9 procedures, state agency driver’s license issuing procedures, and the issuance of Social Security numbers by the Social Security Administration.
USCIS also attaches new I-94 cards to petition approval notices to confirm the approval of status extension and change of status requests. USCIS has not yet announced if it will continue to use Form I-94 or if it will adopt an alternative procedure. We will provide additional updates as new information becomes available.
Online registration for the State Department’s Diversity Lottery Program (the green card lottery) will begin on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 12:00 noon Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The registration window will close at noon on Saturday, November 3, 2012. For qualifying individuals, this is a free chance to obtain lawful permanent residence. Applicants are not required to be in the U.S. to apply. Additional details can be found at: www.travel.state.gov
Although most foreign workers who travel abroad to obtain a passport visa stamp do not encounter any irresolvable problems, an increasing number have been encountering unexpected delays. The consulates are constantly changing their procedures and the way visa stamps were processed last year, or even last month, may be completely different from the procedures in place today. It is important to keep in mind that an employee planning to obtain a visa stamp on a short visit to the home country may not be able to do so within the 4-5 business days that he or she may be anticipating.
An increasing number of U.S. consulates are relying on contractors to manage their case intake process for them. Examples include the VFS system in India and the ASC system for the consulates in Mexico. The document intake sites are remote from the consulates, provide an additional layer of review, and are an additional barrier between the public and the consulate. Adding another layer in the process naturally ads an additional choke point for delay.
When a visa stamp application finally clears these hurdles and arrives at the consulate for review, there is a significant possibility that the reviewing consular officer will apply additional “administrative processing” to the application. Administrative processing is a by-word for additional security and fraud checks. Administrative processing normally delays visa issuance by an additional 30-60 days, with some cases taking as long as 6-8 months to resolve.
What to do? Although abstinence is the safest option, it is frequently not practical or realistic. Instead, the employee will need to weigh the importance of the planned travel against the possibility of being stuck outside of the U.S. for an extended period of time. Now may not be the best time for an H-1B worker to go on safari in Africa or to visit the Taj Mahal in India. An important business meeting with a key client, or a sister’s wedding, may be worth the risk. The point is that the employee and his or her manager need to consider the risks of traveling abroad BEFORE the employee leaves the U.S.
Many visa stamping applications are completed within 3-5 business days. An employee whose application takes longer than that will certainly be disappointed, but he or she should not be surprised. The State Department does not consider delays of 30 to 60 days to be significant or unusual. Many employees will soon begin making plans to travel abroad during the upcoming holidays at the end of the year. A significant proportion of them will need to obtain new visa stamps abroad. While that process should be uneventful for most, it is important that alternative plans have been put in place for those few who are delayed in country for more than a few weeks.