The State Department has announced the registration period for the Congressionally mandated 2016 Diversity Visa (DV) lottery. The DV lottery allows nationals from certain countries to apply for immigrant visas (“green cards”) outside of the normal immigrant visa process. Individuals already being sponsored for immigrant visas by family members or employers may participate as well. Requirements include being a national of an eligible country (although an applicant may qualify based on his or her spouse’s nationality) and high school education or work experience. The online registration period begins on Wednesday, October 1, 2014, at noon EST, and ends on Monday, November 3, 2014, at noon EST. Complete eligibility requirements and filing instructions will be posted on October 1, 2014, at http://travel.state.gov/.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has announced that, as of July 1, 2012, individuals seeking to renew their visas at the embassy and consulates in Mexico no longer must attend a visa interview appointment, as long as their current visas are still valid or expired within the past 48 months. Previously, only those whose visas had expired within the past 12 months were exempt from interview.

Note that even those applicants who are exempt from interview under the new policy must still attend an appointment at the Applicant Service Center (“ASC”) for biometrics and fingerprinting. Additional details and qualification requirements may be be found at the websites of the embassy and each consulate, including this link for the consulate general in Cd. Juarez.

USCIS has announced a range of benefits that may be available to Japanese nationals following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Those who are here on Visa Waiver, which requires departure within 90 days, may visit a local USCIS office (see USCIS Office Locator) for help in remaining longer. Those who are at US airports may visit the office of US Customs and Border Protection there. USCIS will approve changes of status and extensions that might not otherwise be approvable due to untimely filing or failure to maintain status. USCIS will also renew grants of parole, expedite applications for travel documents, expedite and approve applications for student employment authorization based on hardship and other employment authorization applications, and expedite processing of immediate relative petitions. USCIS will also coordinate with the State Department to help Japanese nationals who are permanent residents of the US and are stranded overseas without immigration documents.

Since 2009, the Department of State has been phasing in a new, online visa application form at embassies worldwide.  The new DS-160 combines all previously used forms (DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158) for all nonimmigrant visa applications except Ks and Es.  DOS’s goal is to use the DS-160 exclusively worldwide by April 30, 2010.

Continue Reading Errors on New Electronic Visa Application (DS-160) Can Have Serious Consequences

On September 10, 2009, the U.S. Department of State released the October 2009 Visa Bulletin.  As anticipated, the news is not good.  Waiting lists for Indian and Chinese nationals whose U.S. employers have sponsored them for positions that require advanced degrees are backed up to early 2005.  For positions that require at least a bachelor’s degree, wait lists stand at early 2002 for all nationalities except Indians (mid-2001).  Family-based categories are also painfully oversubscribed.  Depending on their nationalities, spouses and children of U.S. permanent residents must wait 4 to 6 years, and unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens must wait 6 to 16 years. 

Under the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, U.S. immigration law will extend to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a chain of 14 Pacific islands located near Guam, beginning on November 28, 2009.  Inspection and admission of travelers to the CNMI will change, and authorized stays under the Visa Waiver Program in Guam and CNMI will increase from 15 to 45 days.  The Department of Homeland Security announcement may be read here.

Qualifying foreign nationals planning to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must now register under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling to the United States without a visa.  ESTA is designed to identify those individuals who may be a security or law enforcement risk.  The application takes only a few minutes to complete and can be completed online. Once approved, the ESTA authorization is valid for two years and can be renewed as often as required.  Individuals who qualify for the VWP but who will be traveling to another country and stopping in the United States en route must also register under ESTA since the termination of the “Transit without a Visa” program.  The USCIS Questions and Answers on ESTA fact sheet, which contains a list of participating VWP countries, can be read here.