LitwinLaw Newsletter - 10/1/07

October 1, 2007

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Also in this issue:

Government Agency Links


1. USCIS Announces New Naturalization Test

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released the 100 questions and answers that comprise the civics component of the new naturalization test. USCIS will administer the new test to citizenship applicants beginning in October 2008. The revised naturalization test emphasizes fundamental concepts of American democracy, basic U.S. history, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and "promotes patriotism among prospective citizens," USCIS said.

Earlier this year, more than 6,000 citizenship applicants volunteered to take a pilot version of the test at 10 USCIS sites across the country, including Boston, during a four-month period. Volunteers achieved a 92.4 percent over-all pass rate on the first try, USCIS noted. The pass rate on the current test is 84 percent, which includes the wider universe of test-takers who did not volunteer for the pilot test. The 100 new civics items on the new naturalization test were selected after USCIS, a panel of history and government scholars, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers conducted a review of their responses to the 142 items on the pilot test. Following the pilot, USCIS refined the questions and answers, dropped several and adjusted others to increase clarity, and conducted a second review, eventually narrowing the list to the new 100 questions. The range of acceptable answers to questions will increase so that applicants may learn more about a topic and select from a wider range of responses.

ABIL member Steve Clark reports that in Boston few clients had difficulty with the new test format, but only those with total comfort in English elected to take the test using the new format. He comments that "it will be interesting to see the percentage passing when the new format becomes mandatory."

The following guidelines will determine whether naturalization applicants will take the current test or the redesigned version:

If an applicant:

  • Applies for citizenship before October 1, 2008, and is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview before October 1, 2008, he or she will take the current test.
  • Applies before October 1, 2008, and is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview after October 1, 2008, he or she can choose to take either the current test or the redesigned version.
  • Applies after October 1, 2008, he or she will take the redesigned version.
  • Is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview after October 1, 2009, regardless of when he or she applied, he or she will take the redesigned version.

USCIS has posted the 100 new question and answers, the reading and writing vocabulary lists, a side-by-side comparison of the current and new test, answers to frequently asked questions and other information about the new test online.

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2. DV-2009 Lottery Application Period Begins

Entries for the DV-2009 diversity visa lottery must be submitted electronically between noon EDT, Wednesday, October 3, 2007, and noon EST, Sunday, December 2, 2007. Applicants must use the electronic entry form at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov/ during the registration period. Paper entries will not be accepted. Applicants are strongly encouraged not to wait until the last week of the registration period to enter. Heavy demand may result in Web site delays. There is no fee to enter the DV lottery.

For DV-2009, natives of the following countries are not eligible to apply because they sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the period of the previous five years: Brazil, Canada, China (mainland born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.

A computer will select individuals randomly from among all qualified entries. They will be notified by mail between May and July 2008 and will be provided further instructions, including information on fees connected with immigration to the U.S. Those selected in the random drawing are not notified by e-mail. Individuals not selected will not receive any notification. U.S. embassies and consulates will not be able to provide a list of successful entrants. Spouses and unmarried children under age 21 of successful entrants may also apply for visas to accompany or follow to join the principal applicant. DV-2009 visas will be issued between October 1, 2008, and September 30, 2009.

To receive a diversity visa to immigrate to the U.S., those chosen in the random drawing must meet all eligibility requirements. Processing of entries and issuance of diversity visas to individuals and their eligible family members must occur by midnight on September 30, 2009.

Several questions and options for answers have been added to the DV-2009 program to gather additional information, including the country where the applicant lives today, the highest level of education the applicant has achieved, and the term "legally separated" instead of "separated" as an option under the marital status question. Legal separation means that a court has formally declared that the applicant and his or her spouse are legally separated, and means that the spouse would not be eligible to immigrate as the applicant's derivative.

Those electing to file a DV lottery application should be aware that the State Department considers the DV application to be a petition to be reported in the standard visa application Form DS-156 (item 36). While this may be safe enough if seeking an H or L nonimmigrant visa, any others choosing to participate should seek legal advice first to see if the application will adversely impact a future visa application.

Detailed information on how to apply, eligibility requirements, and frequently asked questions is available at http://travel.state.gov/pdf/2009DVInstructions.pdf.

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3. Passports Now Required for Travel Within Western Hemisphere

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reminded air carriers and the traveling public that the temporary Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) accommodation allowing U.S. citizens to travel by air within the Western Hemisphere using a Department of State (DOS) official proof of passport application receipt has ended as scheduled at midnight on September 30, 2007. U.S. citizens who departed the country under this travel accommodation before October 1 with an official proof of passport application receipt and government-issued identification will be readmitted with these same documents if returning to the U.S. after September 30. Effective October 1, U.S. citizens traveling by air to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda must present a passport or other WHTI-compliant documentation to enter or depart from the U.S.

DHS and DOS announced the temporary WHTI accommodation for air travel in June because of lengthy processing times for passport applications amid record-breaking demand.

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4. U.S. Passport Services Back to Standard Processing Time, State Dept. Says

The Department of State announced that it has restored passport service to the standard six- to eight-week processing time for routine passport applications, and to no more than three weeks for expedited service.

To date, over 16 million passports have been issued in fiscal year (FY) 2007, compared with 12.1 million issued in FY 2006. The Department said it plans to expand passport facilities and to hire more passport specialists to increase production capacity and meet rising demand expected in the coming years, as passport requirements are extended to land and sea borders. By January 2008, production capacity at the National Passport Center in New Hampshire, the largest passport facility, is expected to have doubled. Longer-term expansion plans include new passport facilities around the country.

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Government Agency Links

Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:

USCIS Service Center processing times online: https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplayInit.do

Department of Labor processing times and information on backlogs: http://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/

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Disclaimer/Reminder

This does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.