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2023 U.S. Immigration Updates and Reforms: End-of-Year Overview

In 2023, major immigration reform for existing regulations and new trends transformed U.S visa policies. This impacted various categories such as H-1B, EB-5, and student visas (F, M, J).  In our roundup of 2023 immigration reform highlights, we delve into the key changes that have reshaped the immigration landscape.

Parole programs

🫂 Uniting for Ukraine 🗽started the pathway to getting more types of humanitarian parole in the American immigration system. The government later added parole programs for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.

DACA effectively ended in 2023 (for now)

A Texas federal judge put a stop to new applications to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started by President Obama in 2012 as an executive action (and not a real law or a regulation).

On September 13, 2023, District Court Judge Hanen in the Southern District of Texas ruled that DACA is unlawful. This comes as no surprise, as he ruled in a similar way in June of 2021. No new DACA applications will be approved for now. However, USCIS is continuing to accept and hold applications.

USCIS continues to accept and process DACA renewals and I-131 Advance Parole applications. This is not the case for initial DACA applications, unfortunately.

The case is expects appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, likely in 2024.

TPS holders got Advance Parole 🚀travel documents in 2023

It started in 2022, but we saw it in action in 2023. Under a new DHS policy, USCIS has started issuing a new travel authorization document for TPS holders on Form I-512T. This is unique to TPS holders. Applicants with pending initial applications for TPS can continue to apply for travel permission. They can do so through advance parole and are issued a Form I-512L.

In either situation, individuals seeking travel permission through TPS still apply on Form I-131. When a TPS recipient returns from authorized travel after July 1, 2022, they will be admitted (back) into TPS.

This admission will enable them to meet the threshold INA for getting a green card through an approved family petition with a current priority date or a current employment petition.

New Country-specific Humanitarian Parole programs

Uniting for Ukraine started the pathway to getting more types of humanitarian parole in the American immigration system. Later, new parole programs were added by the Biden administration for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans called “Processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.” 

This program allows certain people from Ukraine, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to come to the U.S. for two years to live and work lawfully. (with a legal U.S. status) They must pass a background check and have a sponsor in the U.S. This occurs via a legal mechanism known as humanitarian parole. 

Domestic renewal of H1B visa

The United States began its pilot program for domestic renewal of certain categories of H1B Work Visas in 2023. 

Earlier this year, U.S. State Department officials announced a limited rollout of the H-1B domestic visa renewal pilot. This allowed only 20,000 participants to renew their visas inside the U.S. without leaving and attending a consular interview. Under this program, applicants are required to mail their visas to the US Department of State.

While H1B employees can renew their visas without leaving the country, their spouses must do so.

Restrictions on H-1B registrations

In 2023, the U.S. government introduced stricter measures to address overrepresentation (multiple applications by one company) in H-1B visa registrations. It also increased anti-fraud measures in the H-1B application process. New rules require a one-time registration per employee, and accordingly, employers must now submit passport information for each registrant.

USCIS has taken action against those who committed fraud by submitting multiple registrations. Some did so to improve their odds in the H1B Lottery. The agency has issued Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID) and H1B revocation notices for such cases.  Additionally, USCIS opened up the H1B lottery for the second time in 2023. This added applicants to replace unused slots of those knocked out due to suspected fraud.

Digital Visa application process

In 2023, the U.S. government rolled out an innovative online DIGITAL visa system, streamlining the process and minimizing paperwork. This digital platform marks a significant advancement, enhancing efficiency for applicants.

The goal of modernizing the visa application process is to enhance accessibility and efficiency for applicants globally. This effort represents a significant advancement in simplifying visa procedures. It also enhances the travel experience for individuals seeking to visit the United States.  The U.S. has announced that it might start issuing digital visas soon. This would do away with the need to stamp or paste on the passport pages of applicants. However, officials further clarified that the U.S. Digital Visas should not be mistaken as e-visas, as the features are a lot different. 

The announcement comes after the US successfully completed a pilot project: issuing a “paperless visa” via diplomatic mission in Ireland.

Digital visas are likely to start issuance in 18 months from December 2023. People will be able to renew their visas while keeping their paper passports. There will be fewer problems with sending things through unreliable paper mail. It will have tremendous benefits for both the applicant and the U.S. government.

EB-5 Visa Applicants 

In October 2023, USCIS revised the EB-5 visa policy, aligning with the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022. The update clarifies that if an EB-5 investor creates 10 jobs, they can be repaid after two years. Meanwhile, they remain eligible for a U.S. green card. This addresses the biggest worry of EB-5 investors who always want to keep their funds in easily liquidable form. For some, getting money back is an important deciding factor before committing $1 million+ to the EB-5 project.

Apart from that, USCIS significantly improved the processing speed for EB-5 visa applications this year. There was a noticeable increase in the number of Form I-526 EB-5 Immigrant visa approvals. This indicates quicker reviews of new and existing applications. However, there was also a rise in denials, underscoring the need for thorough EB-5 application preparation. By mid-2023, USCIS had notably expedited the processing of rural I-526E applications. Some cases are approved in less than three months, a significant reduction from previous timelines.

Premium Processing Expanded for Student Visas

The U.S. has announced immigration reforms in 2023 to increase certain visa processing fees for F, M, and J visas. This creates a new Premium Processing pathway for these visas for much faster visa processing. New premium processing applies to individuals who have or will file a Form I-539. (To seek status change to F-1, F-2, M-1, M-2, J-1, or J-2.) Requests for premium processing (Form I-907) and I-539 applications may be filed in paper format, or online. A ‘myUSCIS account’ must be created to file online.  People NOT interested in premium processing can continue to pay the lower fees for regular processing.

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