State Department Computer Problems Slow Visa Issuance Worldwide

Computer performance problems have slowed the issuance of non-immigrant visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. The U.S. State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) began slowing on July 20th due to systematic failures after software updates were installed, ironically to fix performance issues over the previous few months. The CCD software is used by the State Department to approve, record, and print visas and other travel documents. This system failure has caused a widespread backlog of applications which in turn has affected the system’s ability to gain back functionality.

On July 23rd, operations were partially restored allowing U.S. Embassies and Consulates to resume issuing visas with priority given to immigrant visas, adoption cases, and emergency non-immigrant visa cases. The State Department announced “Our visa and passport processing systems are now operational, however they are working at limited capacity. We are still working to correct the problem and expect to be fully operational soon.” State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, has said that the problem is worldwide and not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category. “We apologize to applicants and recognize this may cause hardship to applicants waiting on visas and passports. We are working to correct the issue as quickly as possible,” she said.

It is unknown how many people are affected by the systematic failure, but it is estimated by some officials who have knowledge of the situation that around 50,000 people have been affected in one country alone. From July 20th through July 28th about 220,000 non-immigrant visas were issued worldwide, which is approximately one half of the normal number of 425,000 non-immigrant visas issued during a normal week.

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H-4 Work Authorization Possible in the Fall

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed extending employment authorization eligibility to spouses of H-1B employees if the H-1B employee is the beneficiary of an approved Immigrant Petition (form I-140) or the H-1B employee is eligible to extend his stay beyond the 6-year limit under sections 106(a) and (b) of AC21. Essentially, AC21 permits H-1B extensions beyond the 6-year limit for employees who are the beneficiary of a Labor Certification or Immigrant Petition filed at least 365 days previously.

The amendment proposes to permit H-4 spouses to apply for an Employment Authorization Document, valid for 2 years, once the employee’s Immigrant Petition is approved or the employee is eligible for a 7th year H-1B extension under AC21.

DHS hopes this amendment will help U.S. companies retain employees vital to their business.

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Interim Work Authorization for Extensions for More Visas

Most Human Resources managers know the “240-Day Rule” which provides that employees on H-1B, L-1 and O visas (among others) may continue to work for up to 240 days after their status expires as long as the employer has timely filed a petition extending their stay (“timely filed” means filed before their status expires) and that petition is still pending with USCIS.However, that rule did not include Australian employees on E-3 visas, or Singaporean and Chilean workers on H-1B1 visas because those visa classifications were created after the 240-Day Rule.

The Department of Homeland Seucrity is proposing to amend the regulations to extend the 240-Day Rule to E-3 and H-1B1 workers.However, until the regulations are amended, employers must continue to file petitions extending E-3 and H-1B1 employees’ status early enough to avoid a gap in work authorization and avoid a bar immigration, among other penalties.

What is the Immigration Quota Backlog?

This article explains the Employment-Based Immigration Quota System, including definitions and significance of the quota backlog and cut-off date.

A. The Immigration Quota System

The U.S. accepts Immigrant Visa Petitions filed by U.S. employers for people from countries worldwide based upon an annual quota system. Each month, the U.S. State Department calculates how many Immigrant Visa Petitions were filed for nationals from every country worldwide.

B. The Quota Backlog System

Sometimes the number of Immigrant Visa Petitions which were filed the previous month for people from a particular country exceeds the number of immigrant visas available under the annual quota. The quota backlog system permits people to continue filing Immigrant Visa Petitions beyond the annual quota limitation and preserves their place in line while they wait for additional immigrant visas to become available under the quota system, but does not permit people to complete their immigration case (by filing Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing) until a quota number is actually available. Each person’s place in line is determined by the date the Labor Certification or Immigrant Visa Petition was filed, whichever is earlier. This date is called the priority date.  A person’s priority date fixes their place in line while waiting for additional immigrant visa numbers to become available under the quota system.

C. The Quota Cut-off Date

The cut-off date controls how many people waiting in line may apply for Adjustment of Status. Specifically, every 30 days, the U.S. State Department calculates how many immigrant visas are available under the quota and adjusts the cut-off date depending upon how many quota numbers remain available (if any) based upon the previous month’s demand (or lack of demand). The cut-off date is published monthly in the State Department’s Visa Bulletin. If immigrant visa numbers are still available, the U.S. State Department will advance the cut-off date to permit more people waiting in line to file for Adjustment of Status. Sometimes the U.S. State Department miscalculates by moving the cut-off date too far forward. When that happens the U.S. State Department must move the cut-off date backwards to stop the filing and processing of Adjustment of Status applications until more quota numbers become available.

Because no one knows how many Immigrant Visa Petitions will be filed next month, the quota cut-off date has historically progressed and regressed (gone backwards) unpredictably.

The U.S. State Department currently predicts that the quota backlog will continue to progress slowly due to heavy demand.  Immigration reform may change that dramatically.  However, this illustrates the importance of securing an employee’s place in line with respect to the quota by sponsoring them for immigration at the earliest.

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