New rule makes the citizenship process easier for illegal immigrants

The Obama administration has said that it will make it easier for illegal immigrants who are related to a U.S. citizen to seek legal U.S. residency, a rule change praised by immigrant advocates and lambasted by those who favor strict policing of the borders.

According to the current rules, an illegal immigrant must apply for, and receive a legal visa from his or her country of origin to rejoin a spouse or child in the U.S., a process that can sometimes take years. The Obama administration will modify that rule to enable the immigrant to remain in the U.S. for much of the process.

The change is likely to go into effect later this year, administration officials have said.

The administration said it is streamlining the process to make it more humane by minimizing family breakups. But the decision also could affect thousands of illegal immigrants who might qualify for a green card—which confers permanent U.S. residency—but haven't applied because they feared not being allowed back into the U.S. or, at the least, a lengthy separation from family.

"What we have heard from the community is that people eligible don't come forward…because of the uncertainty and unpredictability" of the current process, said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The change would "significantly reduce" the time U.S. citizens are separated from immigrant relatives who have been in the U.S. unlawfully", Mr. Mayorkas said.

Illegal immigrants who leave the U.S. are automatically barred from re-entering for at least three years, and usually for a decade. Congress established the waiting period in 1996 to penalize people who had been illegally living in the U.S.

The change would allow illegal immigrants with a spouse or child who are citizens to remain in the country while the government decides whether or not to grant a request for a waiver from this provision, based on "extreme hardship" to a U.S. citizen.

The Obama administration favors creating a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants believed to be in the country but, given deep divisions in Congress— and the electorate— over how to change the law, it has been taking steps that don't require congressional approval.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, an outspoken foe of illegal immigration, said the announcement was further proof that "President Obama and his administration are bending long established rules…without a vote of Congress."

Immigrant advocates praised the switch. "The announcement marks another step in DHS's effort to restore rationality to an otherwise broken immigration system," said Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Significant decline in approvals for L-1 visa applications from India

There has been a significant decline in the approval rate for US L-1 visas for Indian professionals. New data shows that the US L-1 visa denial rate for India is higher than in any other country.
The National Foundation for American Policy has released new data showing that the number of L-1 visas issued to Indian nationals fell by 28 percent in the period from 2010 to 2011. The data reveals that L-1 visa approvals went from 35,896 in 2010 to 25,898 in 2011, a drop of approximately 10,000 visas. A significant point to note is that during the same, time L-1 visas issued to employees from other countries rose by an astonishing 15 percent.

"This shows an enormous gap in visas issued as well as approval/denial rates between posts in India and the rest of the world, raising policy questions as to whether this great disparity is the result of a conscious policy at US posts in India," the National Foundation for American Policy wrote in its report.
The US L-1 Visa is a non-immigrant work visa available to employees of an international company with offices in both the US and abroad. The visa allows foreign workers to relocate to the corporation's US office after having worked abroad for the company for at least one year in the last three years prior to being granted L-1 visa status.

Indian software companies send about 25,000-35,000 Indians to US on work assignments every year. Nearly 40 percent of these workers gain entry on work visas under the L-1 visa category. The high L-1 visa refusal rate would appear to indicate that visa applications made by Indian companies are under greater scrutiny than ever before. Added to this is the fact that the fees for H-1B and L-1 visas have been increased recently. The $70 billion Indian IT sector is of great importance not just to the Indian economy but also to the US economy and the World economy in general. Making it more difficult for Indian companies to obtain US visas is likely to have a significant impact on the US economy in the long term.

Increase in US visa applications from Brazil and China

A record numbers of applicants from Brazil and China have applied for visas to travel to the United States in 2011, the US State Department has reported.
The State Department said it had deployed extra staff to its embassy and consulates in Brazil in order to process some of the 820,000 visa applications received in 2011, a 42 percent increase over 2010.
More than 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States in 2010, contributing some $6 billion to the economy, according to the US government, which said the number of visitors could reach 2.8 million by 2016.
The State Department has also seen surging demand from China, where more than one million visa applications were submitted in 2011, a 34 percent increase over the previous year.
The deployment of extra staff has reduced the average wait time for a US visa appointment in Brazil to less than 50 days and in China to less than 10 days, the State Department said.

H-1B visa cap for fiscal 2012 reached

The demand for H1B US work visas, once a much-sought after in the IT industry, continues to be weak for the third straight year.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), they have received enough petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 for the 2012 fiscal. The cap reached two months ahead of the previous year, when H-1B visas remained available until late January. The Regular H1B Cap is available to people living abroad and that want to obtain a H1B visa, and to those living in the U.S that want to change their current visa to a H1B visa status.
Despite the applications reaching the cap, the software industry body, Nasscom, expects this weak demand to continue.
“This is indicative of the overall trend in the US economy. Its slow, business and trade is not picking up and going forward, next year we do not see it to be any different," said Ameet Nivsarkar, VP-global trade at Nasscom.
“We are working extensively with both the Indian and the US government to address the situation but rejection rates continues to be a concern for the Industry even today,” Nivsarkar adds.
According to a recent report, Microsoft led the list of number of H1B work petitions, followed by IBM and Infosys. Cognizant was in the 6 position, while Patni, L&T Infotech, Wipro and TCS to made it within the top 20.

1 Microsoft               2505
2 IBM                      1263
3 Infosys                  1058
6 Cognizant                645
7 Patni Americas        540
10 L&T Infotech        418
12 Wipro                   403
20 TCS                     311

But despite the high scrutiny and rejection rates, Indian IT companies are expected to the highest recipients of H1B visas for this fiscal. With election year in the US round the corner, Indian IT firms have ramped up local hiring to address any protectionist concerns.