Iraqi SIV Program Extended, But End in Sight

January 16, 2014

In the wake of much anxiety late last year over the future of the Iraqi SIV program, Congress has officially extended it, giving hope to those whose cases have been pending for months or years awaiting final visa approval. The end of the program, however, is now in sight.

When Congress extended the program at the end of 2013, it set key parameters, signaling the impending end. In particular, it limited the number of visas that will be issued to 2,500. Once that number is reached, no more will be issued. Congress did not set a deadline for issuing the visas.

In addition, it limited the qualifying work period to September 30, 2013, meaning to qualify for the SIV, the applicant must have worked for or on behalf of the US government for more than one year between March 20, 2003 and September 30, 2013.

The deadline for applying for a Chief of Mission approval for the SIV (the first approval phase), is September 30, 2014.

The U.S. refugee program through IOM remains available to Iraqis.

Below is the announcement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad regarding the extension. For more information about the extension and the eligibility criteria for the program, click here: http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html

The Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program benefiting individuals who have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government has been extended through passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014.

The NDAA authorizes the issuance of 2,500 immigrant visas after January 1, 2014 to qualified principal applicants.

The NDAA does not include a date by which these visas must be issued, so consular officers have the authority to issue visas under this program until all 2,500 numbers have been used worldwide.  The Iraqi SIV program will end after all visas have been issued.

Under this legislation, the one-year period during which principal applicants must have been employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq begins on or after March 20, 2003, and ends on or before September 30, 2013.The legislation includes a requirement that the principal applicant must apply for Chief of Mission approval no later than September 30, 2014.

Those applicants with cases pending do not need to re-file.  If your petition has been approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), we encourage you to provide all requested documents to the National Visa Center (NVC) immediately so that your visa interview can be scheduled promptly.

Derivative family members (i.e., spouses, children) of principal applicants who were issued SIVs prior to December 31, 2013 can still be issued after December 31, 2013.

Applicants are advised to check their email accounts and consult our website (http://iraq.usembassy.gov/) regularly for the most recent information regarding the SIV program.

The separate U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis remains an option, as the eligibility criteria are very similar to those of the SIV program.  For more information on USRAP, please visit http://iraq.usembassy.gov/refugeesidpaffairs.html.

If you want to know whether you qualify for the SIV program or have other options to immigrate to the United States, please contact our office at atty@vkvlaw.com or call 202-340-1215.

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Iraqi SIV Applicants Face Longer Path To Green Card Due to More Security and Background Checks

July 22, 2011

Iraqi SIV applicants can expect even longer delays in processing due to a more extensive background check process out of concerns for U.S. national security.

The end of the long road to a green card used to be the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy, the background checks having been done before this stage.

Now, under a new policy, background checks are done again at the time of the interview to ensure no new negative information about the applicant has surfaced.

These delays are also occurring with Iraqi SIV applicants who are already in the United States and applying to adjust their status there. [The SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) is available to eligible Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for more than a year since March 20, 2003 and have experienced an ongoing serious threat because of that work.]

Our clients began experiencing these delays late last year. These delays can last weeks or months, or worse, years. There is no way of knowing when the person will be cleared and there is almost no way to rush the process.

For the Iraqis already in the United States, the delays are an inconvenience since most are in another valid status. For the Iraqis oversees, and in particular those still in Iraq, however, the delay puts their lives more at risk, thereby undermining the purpose of the SIV. Knowing a long wait exists may also be a deterrant for those seeking legal immigration, provoking  into attempting illegal migration to the United States or elsewhere.

We wish something could be done to speed up this clearance process, but there is little to do but wait at this point. Eventually, after an excessive wait –  normally excessive in the immigration context is years, not months – litigation may be an option.

The trigger for the revised and enhanced background check process was the arrest in the United States of an Iraqi who was admitted as an asylee despite being accused of planting roadside bombs in Iraq, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, more than 58,000 Iraqi asylees and refugees already in the United States will be re-screened, according to the Los Angeles Times article. In addition, those applying for asylee, refugee or SIV status will be subjected to a multi-step background check that due to the work overload on the agencies involved in this process inevitably will delay their application process

The following is an excerpt from an USCIS report on Iraqi refugee statistics that explains the revised background check posture.

Ensuring Security

We are committed to conducting the most rigorous screening in order to ensure that those being admitted through the refugee program are not seeking to harm the United States. In May 2007, DHS announced and implemented an Administration-coordinated, enhanced background and security check process for Iraqi refugees applying for resettlement in the United States. The security check regime, including both biographic and biometric checks, has been enhanced periodically over the last several years as new opportunities and interagency partnerships with the law enforcement and intelligence communities have been identified.

These enhancements are a reflection of the commitment of DHS and other agencies to conduct the most thorough checks possible to prevent dangerous individuals from gaining access to the United States through the refugee program. The latest enhancement to the refugee security check regime involves a new “pre-departure” check shortly before refugees are scheduled to travel to the U.S. It is intended to identify whether any new derogatory information exists since the initial checks were conducted. These pre-departure checks went into effect in late 2010. No case is finally approved until results from all security checks have been received and analyzed.


New biometrics ACS office opening in Saipan in March 2009

February 28, 2009

A new Application Support Center (ASC) is scheduled to start operations March 2, 2009 in Garapan, Saipan in the Common Wealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), according to a USCIS press release.

The new center will allow the people to provide their fingerprints and other biometrics without having to travel to Guam or the United States.

In addition to the traditional function of fingerprinting services, people will be able to make appointments through the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov) to see an Information Officer at the ASC for general immigration questions.

The customer service line (800) 375- 5283 is also now accessible toll-free from the Commonwealth.

In CNMI, U.S. immigration law currently only applies to immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens. Come June 1, 2009, when the transition period is scheduled to being, U.S. immigration law in general will be applied to the CNMI, according to USCIS.

On May 8, 2008, President Bush signed into law Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA) of 2008.  Title VII of this law amended P.L. 94-241, the Act approving the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States.  Title VII extends certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to the CNMI for the first time in history, according to USCIS.


I-140 Premium Processing Program Expanded Starting March 2, 2009

February 25, 2009

Effective March 2, 2009, USCIS has announced it will begin accepting premium processing for I-140 petitions for foreign nationals who meet certain conditions.

USCIS has announced it will expand its premium processing service to include I-140 beneficiaries who:

  • Have reached the sixth-year statutory limitation of their H-1B stay, or will reach the end of their sixth year of H-1B stay within 60 days of filing;
  •  Are only eligible for a further H-1B extension under section 104(c) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21); and 
  • Are ineligible to extend their H-1B status under section 106(a) of AC21.

H-1B Holders: Employer Not Paying the Prevailing Wage? Take Action!

August 11, 2008

Employers are required by law to pay H-1B holders at minimum the prevailing wage for their job. Unfortunately, unscrupulous employers can be quite creative in avoiding this obligation.  

H-1B holders, though, do not have to endure such exploitation. They have rights. H-1B holders can force their employers to pay up without risking their nonimmigrant status in the United States.

How can you enforce your rights against exploitative employers?

Employee rights attorney Michael Brown at the law firm of Peterson, Berk & Cross in Wisconsin has written a few tips for H-1B holders who are being underpaid and want to do something about it.

In his blog article, Employee Tip: If You’re an H-1B Worker Being Underpaid Wages, Consider These Things, he describes your rights, actions to take now to preserve your rights, and your options for pursuing a claim against the employer.

For more information about H-1B rights, please visit the blog H-1B Legal Rights at www.h1blegalrights.com.


Iraqi Worker Immigrant Visa Open For Application Now

July 19, 2008

At long last, the new immigrant visa for certain Iraqis who have worked with the U.S. government is now available, USCIS has announced.

USCIS is accepting applications for the promised special immigrant visa for certain Iraqi nationals who worked for, or were contractors of, the United States government in Iraq for at least one year after March 20, 2003 and who have received serious threats because of that work.

The applicant’s spouse and children are eligible to immigrant as well.

The U.S. government announced the creation of the new Iraqi worker visa in January 2008, but delayed implementation until now while it formulated the regulations and procedures for applications.

To be eligible, the applicant must establish he or she:

1. is a national of Iraq;

2. has been employed by, or on behalf of, the U. S. Government in Iraq, on or after March 20, 2003, for a period of not less than one year;

3. provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. Government, which is documented in a recommendation from the U.S. citizen or national who is the applicant’s senior supervisor, or the U.S. citizen or national currently occupying that position, or a more senior U.S. citizen or national, if the applicant’s senior supervisor has left the employer or left Iraq.

If it is not possible to obtain a recommendation from a supervisor who is a U.S. citizen or national, then the applicant may request a recommendation from the applicant’s senior supervisor, provided the U.S. citizen or national responsible for the contract co-signs the letter.

The recommendation must be accompanied by the approval of the Chief of Mission (COM) or designee of the COM based upon an independent review of records maintained by the USG or hiring organization or entity to confirm employment and faithful and valuable service;

4. has experienced or is experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of the applicant’s employment by the U.S. Government, as documented by a risk assessment conducted by the COM or the designee of the COM;

5. has cleared a background check and appropriate screening; 

6. is otherwise eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is otherwise admissible to the United States for permanent residence. In the determination of such admissibility, the grounds for inadmissibility specified in INA 212(a)(4) (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)) relating to “public charge” shall not apply.

Essentially, applying for this visa is a two-step process. First, the applicant must obtain the approval of the COM of the U.S. embassy. Then, the applicant must seek approval from USCIS. Applications for USCIS approval are made using Form I-360. There is no application or biometric fee for this application.

More information on the eligibility criteria is available here on the USCIS website.  

The State Department has posted additional eligibility and processing information about the visa here.

The regulations authorize 5,000 of these visas per year starting in fiscal year 2008 through 2012. If the numerical limitation is not reached during a given fiscal year, the unused numbers will roll-over into the 5,000 authorized for the following fiscal year. If the numerical limitation for FY 2012 is not reached, any unused numbers from that year may be used in FY 2013. Numbers will not carry forward into FY 2014, said USCIS.

This new program for Iraqi workers is different from the special immigrant visa program for Afghan and Iraqi translators. The new Iraqi worker program though, is available to the group of translators as well. In fact, eligible translators who file or who have filed under the translator program before Oct. 1, 2008 but who are unable to adjust status or receive an immigrant visa because  USCIS has reached the current year’s cap of 500, will have their applications automatically converted to the new program for Iraqi workers, USCIS said. 

The translators whose applications are converted to the new Iraqi worker program do not need to provide any additional documents or meet any other eligibility requirements under the new program as long as they meet the requirements under the translator program. However, individuals who file under the translator program after Sept. 30, 2008 will be subject to an annual cap of 50 for FY 2009, according to USCIS.


Didn’t Mark “Change of Status” On H-1B Application? Cap-Gap Relief Problem Remedied

April 19, 2008

USCIS has remedied the ironic situation in which the H-1B applicants most in need of cap-gap relief were being excluded due to a requirement of the new regulation that the petition be marked for “change of status.”

To rectify the problem, USCIS is allowing the petitioners to request a change of status to make these employees eligible for the cap gap relief under the new regulation.

The request for change of status must be made within 30 days after receiving a receipt notice. Petitioners should not apply until a receipt notice is received.

USCIS explains the process as follows:

To request a change of status in lieu of consular notification, petitioners (or authorized representatives) should send an e-mail with the request to the USCIS service center where their petition is pending within 30 days of the issuance of the receipt notice.

 The requests should include the receipt number and both the petitioner’s and beneficiary’s name, date of birth, I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) number, and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number.

 Special email addresses for each service center have been established specifically for this purpose. These addresses are listed below and are posted on USCIS’ website.

 E-mail addresses for requesting change of status are:

Vermont Service Center

–  Premium Processing cases: Vscppcapgap@dhs.gov

–  Non-Premium cases: Vscnonppcapgap@dhs.gov

 California Service Center

– Premium Processing cases: ppcapgap@dhs.gov

– Non-Premium cases: nonppcapgap@dhs.gov

If an F-1 student, who is the beneficiary of a selected 2009 H-1B petition, has a pending request to change to a status other than H-1B but now wants to file under the process outlined above, he or she should withdraw the previously filed change in accordance with established procedures.

For more information, please see the USCIS announcement.