After several months of improving processing times, the State Department announced yesterday that it is now processing routine U.S. passport applications in 6 to 8 weeks and expedited applications in only 2 to 3 weeks. This is a substantial, multi-week improvement from early November when the State Department last announced faster processing times. Notably, this represents a return to the same projected processing times in place in March 2020, immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the suspension of routine passport services for several months.

Despite the announcement, passport applicants are advised to apply as early as possible and to pay the extra fees for expedited service and return delivery.  As passport application volume historically dips in autumn, these continuously improving processing times may be temporary and could worsen in the first quarter of 2024.  

    

As of November 25, 2023, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs is moving forward with key updates to the country’s permanent residency pathway for temporary skilled workers. Under the changes, announced earlier this year, all subclass 482 visa holders are eligible to apply for permanent residency. Previously, subclass 482 visa holders in short-term occupations were unable to seek permanent residency. The changes also allow short-term subclass 482 visa holders to renew their visas indefinitely, and reduce the required employment period before seeking permanent residency from three years to two. The new policies are designed to provide more equitable access to permanent residency in Australia.

Continue Reading Australia Implements Changes to Permanent Residency Program

The State Department has recently extended the validity of certain visas for citizens of France, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cuba.  This trend may signal an effort is underway to adjust visa validity periods for other nationalities and visa types.  Travelers are advised to monitor the State Department’s website for announced changes

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires the State Department, insofar as practicable, to “accord to such nationals the same treatment upon a reciprocal basis as such foreign country accords to nationals of the United States who are within a similar class.” INA 221(c), 8 USC section 1201(c). Accordingly, when determining the maximum validity periods for the different visa types for citizens of each country in the world, the State Department is required by law to match, whenever practicable, the validity periods provided to U.S. citizens by each country. For example, the Government of India permits the issuance of 10-year multiple-entry visas to U.S. citizens; therefore, the U.S. Government permits the issuance of 10-year multiple-entry visas to Indian citizens.

Based on this visa reciprocity law, the U.S. Embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced that, effective September 29, 2023, DRC citizens can receive two-year, multiple-entry tourist and student visas.  And most recently, the State Department increased the visa validity period for French E-1 and E-2 visa holders from 25-months to 48-months, partially reversing a 2019 downward adjustment from an original 60-month duration. 

However, in a rare exception to reciprocity, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba announced that, as of August 25, 2023, B2 (visitor) visas issued to Cuban nationals may be valid for up to five years and permit multiple entries into the United States, although U.S. citizens are only eligible for single-entry, three-month visas to Cuba. The practical effect of this change is yet to be seen, as the U.S. Embassy in Havana does not currently process B2 visas for tourist travel. 

In light of the State Department’s active review of visa reciprocity under INA 221(c), stakeholders in the U.S. visa system should anticipate more positive adjustments to visa reciprocity schedules.

On November 6, 2023, the U.S. Department of State announced, for the second consecutive month, that processing times for passport applications have improved.  The Department is now processing routine applications in 7 to 10 weeks and expedited applications in only 3 to 5 weeks.  This is an improvement of 1 week for regular applications and 2 weeks for expedited applications, and it represents the second positive adjustment in processing times in 2023.  Applicants should be aware that processing times begin when the Department receives the passport applications and do not include mailing times. 

Between October 2022 and September 2023, the Department or State issued more than 24 million passport books and cards, which is the most passport applications ever processed in history in a single federal fiscal year.

Despite the announcement, passport applicants are advised to apply as early as possible and to pay the extra fees for expedited service and return delivery.  As passport application volume historically dips in autumn, these continuously improving processing times may be temporary. 

The Department of State is taking steps to make improvements to passport processing in 2024.  Department leadership previously announced a sustained investment in IT infrastructure and staff, such as the hiring of 177 new passport adjudicators and rolling out the online passport renewal program.   Without continued systemic improvements to passport processing, long processing times could remain a seasonal irritation for travelers requiring advance planning and flexibility.    

The online registration period for the Diversity Visa Program concludes on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, at 12:00 PM EST.

The U.S. Diversity Visa program (DV program, also known as the “green card lottery” or “the visa lottery”) is a unique immigration initiative that has been in place since the 1990’s. This program is designed to diversify the immigrant population of the United States by providing an opportunity for individuals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. to obtain a visa and pursue the American Dream.

To participate in the Diversity Visa Lottery, individuals must meet specific eligibility criteria. They must be from a qualifying country, which typically excludes countries with high rates of immigration to the U.S. For the first time, individuals born in the United Kingdom and its dependent territories are eligible. Applicants must also have at least a high school education or two years of work experience in a qualifying occupation and undergo a security background check by the U.S. government. 

Continue Reading The American Dream Through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program

The European Commission has again delayed the implementation of the European Travel Information Authorization System (ETIAS). ETIAS is an automated electronic visa waiver program intended to facilitate travel across borders in Europe while better identifying security risks for the Schengen bloc. ETIAS was previously set to be launched in May 2023 but delayed until November 2023. The launch of ETIAS was then further delayed until 2024. Media reports had earlier indicated that another delay was likely, and the European Commission has now confirmed that the system’s implementation has been postponed until mid-2025.

Continue Reading EU Officially Pushes Launch of Electronic Visa Waiver Program to 2025

On October 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Israel’s immediate eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program.  This follows DHS’ September 27th designation, announcing a November 30, 2023 start date, which has apparently been accelerated.  Israelis may now apply for the Visa Waiver Program online through Customs and Border Protection.  An approval will allow citizens and nationals of Israel to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without first obtaining a U.S. visa.  Authorizations are generally valid for two years.  Israelis with valid B-1/B-2 visas may continue to use them for business and tourist travel to the United States.

The US Supreme Court has declined to consider a lawsuit that sought to eliminate a work authorization program widely utilized by foreign graduates of US universities. The Supreme Court’s denial of a writ of certiorari ensures that foreign graduates may continue working through the Department of Homeland Security’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, eliminating a source of uncertainty for students, universities, and employers alike.

Importantly, according to several Senators and some observers, the broader implication of the Supreme Court’s decision is to empower the executive branch with the authority to grant employment eligibility to a wide range of additional non-immigrants—in 22 visa categories—including the dependent spouses of principal non-immigrant applicants.

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On October 16, 2023, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem announced that both the Embassy and the Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv have ceased offering nonimmigrant and immigrant visa services due to the security situation.  The Embassy did not speculate as to when service will resume.  Travelers having an emergency need to travel to the United States were invited by the U.S. Embassy to apply outside of Israel for a U.S. visa, noting that U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide can assist with expedited appointments for emergency travel.  Despite the U.S. Embassy’s invitation, we suggest that Israeli applicants exercise caution and carefully consider whether applying outside Israel is prudent in their specific situations.  The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual indicates that “it may be more difficult for an out-of-district applicant to overcome the burden of proof” when seeking a visa in categories requiring applicants to overcome the legal presumption of intending immigration to the United States.