By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Elsie Hui Arias

In a stunning and welcoming turn from its recent position, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that it will now accept employment-based applications to adjust status for immigrants whose priority dates are current under the July 2007 visa bulletin up until August 17, 2007. The USCIS also advised that the current fee schedule will apply to employment-based adjustment of status requests filed by this date. The new fee schedule that becomes effective on July 30, 2007, will apply to all other applications filed on or after July 30, 2007.

As reported previously in this column, the U.S. State Department issued the July 2007 visa bulletin in mid-June which indicated that visa numbers for most employment-based categories would be available to all foreign nationals. As a result, thousands of immigrants rushed to prepare the necessary documentation for their adjustment of status applications, including submitting to medical exams with USCIS-authorized civil surgeons, obtaining birth and marriage certificates, and requesting supporting information from their employers. However, on July 2, the first business day in July the State Department issued a revised bulletin stating no visas would be available until the start of the next fiscal year October 1, 2007. The USCIS subsequently issued a notice saying that it would reject all adjustment applications for employment-based cases based on the State Department’s revised visa bulletin.

The government’s sudden refusal to issue immigrant visas and accept adjustment of status applications in contradiction to the State Department’s visa bulletin was unprecedented and sparked outrage among immigrant workers, employers, immigrant rights advocates, and Congress. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) described the situation as “Administration Slams Door on Thousands of Legal Immigrants: AILA Condemns Agencies’ Bait and Switch.” Congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren, (D-CA) issued a press release expressing her consternation and launched a formal inquiry as to what caused the change. At least one class-action lawsuit was filed by a law firm in Chicago, IL, challenging the legality of the State Department and USCIS’s actions.

The swift condemnation by Congresswoman Lofgren and other immigrant advocates led to negotiation discussions with the State Department and the USCIS. After consulting with the USCIS, the State Department has advised that the initial July 2007 visa bulletin can be relied upon as the current bulletin for purposes of determining employment visa number availability, and that it would withdraw the revised visa bulletin issued on July 2. The current July 2007 visa bulletin provides that immigrant visas are immediately available to all foreign nationals in most employment categories. Unfortunately, visas remain backlogged to foreign nationals in the EB-3 “other worker” category. Individuals are classified as “other worker” if their job offer requires less than two years’ experience or education, such as caregiver, housekeeper, or nanny.

In the USCIS’s press release issued yesterday, USCIS Director Emilio Gonzalez stated: “The public reaction to the July 2 announcement made it clear that the federal government’s management of this process needs further review. I am committed to working with Congress and the State Department to implement a more efficient system in line with public expectations.”

Employment-based immigration entails complex issues for a foreign national seeking resident status, especially where there is a change in employment or a child is close to “aging-out,” or the applicant has previously violated U.S. immigration laws. Individuals seeking legal representation in these matters should consult an experienced immigration attorney.