Articles Posted in Religious Workers

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Today, October 24, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security published the final rule increasing fees for certain immigration and naturalization petitions processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Overall the Department of Homeland Security increased filing fees for certain petitions by an average of 21 percent. The new fees will be enforced by USCIS beginning December 23, 2016. The fee schedule has been adjusted following the agency’s decision to conduct a comprehensive review of filing fees for fiscal year 2016/2017. USCIS determined that an adjustment in the filing fees would be necessary in order for USCIS to recover costs for services expended and maintain adequate service. The proposed fee schedule was first published on May 4, 2016. The final rule clarifies that all persons applying for immigration benefits may be required to appear for biometrics services or an interview, and thus must pay the biometrics services fee accordingly.

EB-5 Investor Visa Program

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program will be most heavily impacted by the new fee schedule. The new filing fee for Form I-924, Application for Regional Center under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, will increase by a rate of 186% requiring Regional Centers seeking designation under the program, to pay a filing fee of $17,795 instead of the current rate of $6,230. Regional Centers will be required to pay a $3,035 annual fee to certify their continued eligibility for the designation.

The filing fee for the I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, an application associated with the EB-5 visa program, will increase to $3,675, a 145% increase up from the current rate of $1,500. The filing fee for an investor’s petition to remove conditions on residence remains unchanged.

Naturalization

USCIS has established a three-tiered fee schedule for naturalization applicants filing Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. First, the fee schedule includes a standard filing fee for most applicants, from a rate of $595 to $640. Second, DHS has established a reduced fee of $320 for naturalization applicants whose household income is greater than 150% but less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Third, there will be no filing fee for naturalization applicants who are members of the military, applicants with approved fee waivers, and others who may qualify for a fee waiver according to sections 328 or 329 of the Immigration and nationality Act (INA).

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In this post, we discuss the latest immigration news beginning with the recent Congressional Approval of the Continuing Resolution Act that will allow funding to continue for the EB-5, Conrad 30, and special non-ministerial religious worker programs for fiscal year 2017. With the passage of this Continuing Resolution, these programs will remain afloat at least for the time being. On September 28, 2016 Congress averted a government shutdown by continuing funding for key programs with the passage of the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017. This Act will extend the EB-5 Regional Center Program and EB-4 non-minister special immigrant visa program for religious workers until December 9, 2016. In terms of adjustment of status filing dates for employment-based preference categories, USCIS has announced that for the month of October, foreign nationals seeking to apply for employment-based adjustment of status (EB-1 to EB-4 preference categories) may do so by using the Dates for Filing Applications Chart of the October Visa Bulletin for 2016. EB-5 adjustment of status applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart of the October Visa Bulletin.

What does this mean?

The signing of the Continuing Resolution Act means that this year we will not be facing a government shutdown as in previous years. This is very good news given that the upcoming elections (both for the U.S. president and Congressmen and women) may have been a factor in Congress not being able to meet the deadline to continue government funding for these key programs. EB-5, Conrad, and non-ministerial religious worker programs will continue without interruptions since these programs are part of the CR.

What will happen after December 9, 2016?

On December 9th the government will be facing another deadline that will require Congress to continue funding these very important programs. If Congress does not meet the funding deadline for these programs through the passage of another Continuing Resolution or Omnibus package, the government could face another shutdown. This would take place after the elections, but before the new Congress is in session. If an Omnibus is passed, the possibility of reforms and/or changes to the EB-5, Conrad, or non-ministerial religious worker programs is worth noting. Recent controversies may lead to reforms in the EB-5 program although it is unlikely that major reforms and/or changes to the EB-5 program will pan out before the December 9th deadline.

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Great news for regional center investors, medical doctors applying for a J-1 visa waiver under the Conrad 30 Waiver Program, and religious workers; a federal government shutdown has been avoided—at least until December 11, 2015. As reported in our previous blog earlier this week, Congress was faced with the challenge of voting on a short-term spending bill, a continuing appropriations resolution, that would temporarily fund the government through December 11th of this year.  Yesterday, September 30th the House and Senate successfully passed the continuing appropriations resolution. President Obama signed it into law that same day.

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