USCIS

Congress Calls on DHS To Explain Immigration Backlog

By Peek & Toland on October 24, 2019

In the past few months, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship convened a hearing to demand answers from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about the continual increase in immigration processing delays. Currently, there is a 2.4 million application and petition backlog, which is the largest it has been since processing delays that occurred following September 11, 2001. These delays have had a significantly detrimental impact on some applicants, including families suffering from prolonged separations due to the delays. Businesses also are losing key employees and abandoning new projects as a result of these extensive delays.

Many attribute the continuing delays to new policies and procedures that the Trump Administration has enacted. These policies are creating more red tape and administrative burdens on petitioners, as well as constant requests for more information and increases in denial rates.

Congress Calls on DHS To Explain Immigration Backlog

According to USCIS officials, demand typically increases before a presidential election and then dips back down to more normal levels. In this case, demand increased in 2016, but the anticipated decrease has yet to occur. As a result, USCIS is understaffed for the demand, which the agency characterizes as unprecedented.

USCIS officials also noted that a backlog existed before the election, but has increased. They also stated that new security policies and requirements have necessitated closer scrutiny of documentation and more personal interviews, which have contributed to the backlog.

USCIS claims that increased fees to support increased hiring, technological processing developments, and shifting existing staff and workloads all could help address the backlog. Still, USCIS officials admit that addressing this level of a backlog will take a significant amount of time.

Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration

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USCIS Requests for Evidence and Visa Denials Continue to Increase

By Peek & Toland on October 14, 2019

According to a recent article in the National Law Review, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released data for the first three quarters of FY 2019. This data shows that requests for evidence (RFEs) and denials have continued to increase for the most commonly used nonimmigrant visas. As compared to the data from FY 2015, these increases are reflective of the Trump Administration’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.

For example, the RFE rate for H-1B visa petitions in FY 2015 was 22.3 percent, and the overall denial rate was 4.3 percent. In contrast, FY 2019 figures show an RFE rate of 39.6 percent and a total denial rate 16.1 percent. The rate of H-1B approval following RFE has fallen from 83.2 percent in FY 2015 to 62.7 percent in FY 2019. Since FY 2015, then, the RFE rate has nearly doubled, the initial denial rate has almost quadrupled, and the approval rate following RFE has dropped by more than 20 percent.

USCIS Requests for Evidence and Visa Denials Continue to Increase

A similar pattern emerges concerning other common nonimmigrant visas, such as the L-1 visa. The initial denial rate for these visas increased by 32 percent between FY 2018 and 2019 alone. Furthermore, the RFE rate increased by 56 percent between FY 2015 and FY 2019.

The USCIS data also shows increases in RFE and initial denial rates for O-1 and TN visas. However, the increase in rates is not as drastic as those in rates for H-1B and L-1 visa petitions.

To minimize the risks of RFEs and denials, employers should take care to provide USCIS with comprehensive job descriptions for the positions that they intend to fill. They also should provide documentation that details the qualifications of the employees that they intend to sponsor. An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and present your options. Finally, we can help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you, based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

Posted in Immigration

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Court-Ordered Sanctions Against USCIS Could Affect H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on September 11, 2019

A pending lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Guam concerns USCIS processing of H-2B visa petitions but carries implications for H-1B visa petitions, as well. Guam suffers from a shortage of skilled laborers due to its remote location. Traditionally, the approval rate for H-2B visa petitions was close to 100%. This meant that thousands of foreign workers arrived in Guam to work in the hotel, health care, and construction industries. In 2012, however, USCIS began denying most H-2B visa petitions, dropping the approval rate for these visa petitions to almost 0%. USCIS started to take the position that the jobs were not “temporary,” since Guam has become so reliant on the foreign workers in these industries. The approval rate has remained at about 0% every year since 2012.

Court-Ordered Sanctions Against USCIS Could Affect H-1B Visas

As a result, the Guam Contractors Association and several businesses filed a lawsuit arguing that the USCIS had changed the eligibility rules without notice and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The plaintiffs sought and received an injunction preventing USCIS from continuing to deny H-2V visa petitions exclusively based on temporary need. However, USCIS has continued its recent practice of denying almost all H-2B visa petitions.

Due to alleged injunction violations, the plaintiffs now have filed a motion for contempt and sought sanctions against USCIS. A U.S. Magistrate handling the case has recommended that the court granted the motion and order sanctions. Federal courts rarely find the federal government agencies in contempt of court and imposing sanctions is even rarer.

The decision to impose sanctions, in this case, could have wider ramifications, as it deals with USCIS changing its standard of adjudication. Businesses and immigration lawyers have criticized USCIS for abruptly denying or delaying H-1B visa petitions to request more information at a suddenly high rate as compared to the rate of past denials. This trend has caused the approval rate of H-1B visa petitions to drop precipitously in the last two years. At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your immigration problems. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Visas

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USCIS Expands Digital FOIA System

By Peek & Toland on September 9, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced the release of its newly expanded Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Immigration Records System (FIRST). The USCIS system is the only one in the federal government that permits users to submit, track, and receive documents digitally. According to USCIS, utilizing this system will increase the efficiency of processing these requests and reduce potential errors in paperwork. USCIS receives more FOIA requests than any other agency.

FOIA is a federal law passed in 1967 to promote government transparency. The law authorizes individuals to request government records from all federal agencies. There are some documents, however, that are exempt from FOIA, including information that is classified due to foreign policy and national security interests. Other materials that are exempt from FOIA include those that are protected by attorney-client privilege and those that would compromise personal privacy.

Before implementing FIRST, USCIS only accepted FOIA requests via mail, fax, and email. USCIS then would respond to these requests by mailing the documents on a compact disc to the requesting party. The launch of FIRST comes following the expansion of the USCIS Electronic Reading Room, which is accessible from the USCIS website. The Electronic Reading Room contains policy documents and external correspondence, along with replies to the correspondence. USCIS now places all documents that individuals have requested at least three times under FOIA in the Electronic Reading Room. This move is to make these documents more easily accessible to the public.

USCIS Expands Digital FOIA System

The system is already available for use for individuals who want to request their records electronically. The next rollout of the system will allow individuals to request non-A-file material, such as policies and communications. Later this year, individuals will begin being able to make requests for records on behalf of other persons.

USCIS first rolled out FIRST in May 2018. At that time, the system allowed users to create online accounts, track requests, and download paperwork. Individuals have since created more than 77,000 online USCIS accounts for managing and receiving FOIA requests. Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration

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USCIS to Begin Premium Processing for Some H-1B Petitions on May 20, 2019

By Peek & Toland on May 8, 2019

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), it will be begin premium processing for FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions requesting a change in status and filed with a Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing Service. Therefore, even petitions submitted prior to that date will have their 15-day processing period delayed until May 20. 2019.

USCIS to Begin Premium Processing for Some H-1B Petitions on May 20, 2019

This move by USCIS reportedly is designed to keep premium processing in place by phasing it in, rather than suspending as it has in previous years. The agency also reported that it was striving to maintain efficiency despite its phased-in approach. As a result, premium processing for all other FY 2020 cap-subject petitions (those that do not request a change in status) will not begin until at least June 2019. These petitions include requests for consular processing. However, premium processing of H-1B petitions exempt from the cap remains available.

In this press release, USCIS also announced that it would be suspending its usage of pre-paid mailers to send out final notices for premium processing for FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions that are requesting a change in status. This suspension will take place from May 20, 2019, until June 3, 2019. This move allows USCIS to issue completely automated notices and thereby further increase efficiency. USCIS also announced its intention to follow a similar suspension of using pre-paid mailers when it begins to process all other FY 2020 cap-subject petitions. In fact, although the agency intends to resume use of the pre-paid mailers, it stated that it would only do so if feasible. Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration law matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today at and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

Posted in Immigration

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USCIS Implements New Biometric Requirements

By Peek & Toland on April 9, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced in February 2019 that it would be implementing a newly revised Form I-539 and new Form I-539A, Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status. Form I-539 is used by individuals who want to change or extend their nonimmigrant status. This includes individuals seeking B1 or B2 visitor status, some F-1 and M-1 students, and the spouses and dependents of H-1B, L-1, and E visa beneficiaries.

Each applicant and persons included on the application now must pay a $85 biometrics fee, regardless of the person’s age, and they all must appear in person to submit fingerprints and photographs. This new requirement applies to individuals who have applied for adjustment of status and change of status benefits for individuals in some non-immigrant categories, even though they already have been inspected and admitted into the U.S. USCIS estimates that the biometrics processing time is about 17 days.

USCIS Implements New Biometric Requirements

Originally, USCIS planned to implement the revised form and new procedures as of March 11, 2019. However, delays caused USCIS to push back the implementation date until March 25, 2019, although individuals may use the new form as of March 12, 2019. Reportedly, USCIS will reject any Form I-539 that is missing the required signatures or biometrics fees, including those required for Form I-539A.

This change in policy has imposed additional fees and steps on those who must file Form I-539. Although USCIS claims that the addition of these requirements will not slow down the processing of these forms, immigration advocates are doubtful, particularly when it comes to premium processing services.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration law matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today at and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

Posted in Immigration

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Proposed Changes to the H-1B Legal Landscape are Coming. Are You Ready?

By Peek & Toland on December 18, 2018

H-1B Cap season is quickly approaching; the visas are capped at 85,000 issued per year (65,000 initially allocated and 20,000 cap exempt advanced degree numbers). The Department of Homeland Security has proposed rule changes that may affect you.

In 2017 the Trump Administration issued the “Buy American Hire American” executive order, which greatly changed the immigration landscape. As a result, employment-based immigration processes have encountered increased scrutiny. For example, one section of the order instructed The Department of Homeland Security to, “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest paid petition beneficiaries.” The recently proposed order strives to do that.

The proposed change comes in two parts:

  • An online registration system would be put into place. H-1B Petitioners would create an online account prior to filing the petitions and only those selected accounts would submit petitions to USCIS.
  • The “cap” process would be reversed. In an attempt to increase the number of advanced applicants, all applicants (including those marked as “Masters Cap Exempt”) would compete for the initial 65,000 H-1B’s. Once all initial numbers are used, then the remaining advanced degree holders would compete for the remaining 20,000 slots.

The first change would require petitioning companies and applicants to provide basic information (i.e. employer name, address, EIN, etc. as well as beneficiary name, country of citizenship, degree held, etc.). It would also require employers to confirm their intent to file an H-1B application for that specific beneficiary. A separate registration would need to be filed for each beneficiary. Government spokespersons have said this would save companies money by ensuring they did not have to pay filing fees until the petition was selected. The secondary change, per USCIS Spokesman Michael Bars, “would help ensure more of the best and brightest workers from around the world come to America under the H-1B program”.

The proposed order is similar to a hotly contested proposed order under the Obama Administration. In 2011 when this similar order was considered the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) responded to The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services raising their concerns. The general concerns of the association, consisting of over 11,000 immigration attorneys, were:

  • The registration system would create a rush of registrations, creating a false H-1B Demand;
  • The Cost to Benefit assessment was flawed; and
  • This would add an unnecessary layer to an already complicated process.

The government has posted the currently proposed changes on the Federal Register, and is taking comments until January 2, 2019. USCIS has informed the public that they would like to enact this change prior to the FY2020 H-1B Cap season, beginning April 1, 2019.

What does this mean for you as an employer?

While it is unlikely that these changes will be enacted in 2019 due to regulatory requirements, H-1B visas will still be limited to 85,000 and employers will need to be prepared to file as early as possible.

Peek & Toland has a strong team of immigration attorneys, including Partner Jeff Peek and Senior Corporate Immigration Attorney, Maria Pilar Llusá. With over seventeen (17) years of Employment Immigration experience, they are prepared to tackle any issues your company may have with regards to their immigration needs.

Looking for legal help for your H-1B applications?

To help employers get a jump start and be prepared for a successful cap season, our firm will be offering free 30 minute consults to companies with new H-1B cap season needs starting January 3, 2019.

It is important you be prepared and informed of the requirements for the H-1B Cap season. Please contact our offices to schedule your consult today. We look forward to working with you and serving all your immigration needs.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration, Immigration Reform, Visas

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More than 800 People Slated for Removal Benefit from Citizenship Mistake

By Peek & Toland on November 21, 2016

A high profile citizenship mistake recently saw more than 850 people from countries with a long record of immigration fraud being granted naturalization.

A report on NPR stated all 858 of the individuals had previously been ordered out of the United States. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security blamed the citizenship mistake on flawed fingerprint records.

The error came to light during an investigation into whether U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was using databases that contain personal information properly for naturalization applications.

This citizenship mistake is highly alarming. Not only does it have national security implications, but it questions how USCIS is using information for other citizenship applications. USCIS can and does make mistakes. A Texas citizenship attorney can help identify these errors and make sure there are no flaws in your application.

Immigrants slated for removal benefit from citizenship mistake

NPR reported the inspector general’s report said neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security had the fingerprint records of those due to be deported. They were on paper and had not yet been digitized.

At least three of the people in question carried out work at airports or maritime facilities. This work was described as “security sensitive.”

Incomplete Fingerprint Records Lead to Citizenship Mistake

The detailed report said almost 150,000 fingerprint records that are yet to be digitized belong to people who are slated for deportation, fugitives or criminals. Homeland Security set up a digital database in 2007.

The naturalization process only uses digitized fingerprint records. Some people who applied under a different name were wrongly approved for citizenship.

The report also alludes to a gap in information-sharing between the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Not all of the records taken during the immigration process were sent on to the FBI.

The report called for a review of every single one of the 858 cases of mistaken citizenship to determine whether the applicant was eligible for citizenship. For those who are ineligible, denaturalization will require legal proceedings.

If you are applying for citizenship or facing deportation, you should hire an experienced Austin immigration lawyer. A number of factors determine eligibility for citizenship and there are different routes.

Call us at Peek & Toland at <a href=\"5124744445\">(512) 474-4445</a> for a consultation on naturalization or any other immigration issue.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Citizenship

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