-- April 2012 ~ Travel and Immigration 101

Monday, April 30, 2012

French Government to Suspend Visa-free Travel to France

French government officials are lobbying the European Union to allow the country to suspend visa-free travel to France amid concerns over mass immigration and stubbornly high rates of unemployment, reports the Irish Times.
Currently, tourists planning to travel to France and other E.U. nations do not require visas to move throughout the continent. However, French interior minister Claude Gueant said the Schengen treaty was encouraging illegal immigration and threatening further economic instability in the Euro Zone. "Schengen Visa is not functioning in a satisfactory manner," said Gueant, as quoted by the news source. "There are, according to experts, some 400,000 people who have entered in an irregular manner. Between two and four million foreigners live clandestinely in Schengen countries."

According to the BBC, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, echoed Gueant's sentiments during a visit to Romania, which is currently lobbying neighboring nation Bulgaria to join the Schengen treaty. Other European heads of state, including Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, have also warned of the growing threats to economic stability created by abuse of the Schengen treaty.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said that a Europe that does not control immigration through border controls is finished.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Alabama House Votes to Strip Language from HB 56

Last Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 64-34 to make major revisions to the State's immigration enforcement law, HB 56.  (Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 19, 2012) The changes were adopted through the passage of HB 658, introduced by Rep. Micky Hammon, also the House author of HB 56. House passage of HB 658 comes only two weeks after the bill's introduction, during which time the bill was heard and amended by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. (See Alabama House Bill Status for HB 658)

HB 658 weakens HB 56 in several ways. It limits the circumstances under which law enforcement officers check immigration status, weakens the penalties for knowingly hiring illegal aliens, eliminates the prohibition on renting apartments to an individual a landlord knows is an illegal alien, and eliminates the requirement that schools collect immigration data on their students for inclusion in state reports.  (See HB 658 as engrossed; FAIR Legislative Update, Apr. 9, 2012) With regard to the last provision, however, HB 658 still requires that the state prepare a report on the cost of educating the children of illegal aliens and expressly allows the state to contract with scholars, economists, or public research institutions to complete it.

Debate on the Alabama House floor was long and contentious.  Opponents said the bill did not go far enough, calling for an outright repeal.  (See, e.g. Letter to House Speaker Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Marsh)  Early on, the House Legislative Black Caucus led a filibuster, saying the law had led to discrimination and other unintended consequences. (Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 19, 2012) Rep. Hammon, however, promoted the changes as merely clarifying HB 56, particularly for law enforcement. "We've had a year to examine our law and talk to people who work with the law every day," said Hammon. "We have put together some clarifications and simplifications and few language changes in the law." (Montgomery Advertiser, Apr. 19, 2012)

The Alabama Senate will soon be considering companion legislation to HB 658.  The companion bill, SB 541, was introduced by Senator Scott Beason on April 19, the same day the House passed HB 658. However, in contrast to HB 658, SB 541 is much smaller in scope regarding the revisions it makes to HB 56.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tech City on visas: Stop complaining, Start claiming

Critics of the U.K.’s recent changes to immigration rules — which introduced new startup visas for entrepreneurs, but eradicated an entire class of visa used by engineers — are not taking full advantage of the system, according to Tech City chief Eric van der Kleij.
Speaking to GigaOM, the CEO of Tech City Investment Organization — the government arm charged with boosting London’s credentials as “the digital capital of Europe” — said that while the caps imposed on the number of skilled workers who can migrate to Britain have caused controversy, the reality is that applications for residency have been massively under-subscribed. “They [startups] tell me they’re worried about the skills shortage and the type of visa that you hire talented, skilled people on,” he told me. “They’re worried because they see caps of just 20,000 people a year.”

“So I asked the question: how many have been used? Last year half of the 20,000 have been used — half of them not used.” His comments are an attempt to head off complaints about migration that many feel is having a negative impact on Britain’s burgeoning startup scene. Those criticisms began when the government rushed through its British “startup visa”, allowing entrepreneurs and investors with substantial financial backing to apply for the right to live and work in Britain. But in bringing in the new rules, the government eradicated the startup visa’s predecessor, the general Tier 1 visa — a category which applied to highly skilled migrant workers without a corporate sponsor.

Instead, previous Tier 1 applicants were directed towards the broader Tier 2 visa — a more restrictive version, similar to America’s H-1B, and which has an annual cap of just 20,700 immigrants. At the time, this caused a variety of concerns. At Techcrunch, a prominent startup lawyer claimed the new rules “were only halfway there”, and there was consternation from those who would have previously been able to migrate to the U.K. after studying there.

Meanwhile industry leaders worried that the cap could have far-reaching implications across a range of jobs and industries. But van der Kleij said emphatically that concerns about the cap were misdirected, since there was no evidence that applicants were being turned away because of the limitation on numbers. “People that I hugely regard were tweeting “this is madness!” — but I am able to ask the question of why is there a cap, and how many were approved,” he said. “I asked more questions, like how many were turned down. Every single one that was qualified was approved. “

However, he did admit that an early version of the rules — which placed monthly quotas on companies who were sponsoring new applicants, were “horrible” and had to be rapidly reworked. “At the changeover there was a horrible cap per company, and that was badly handled. That was at the beginning of last year, and companies were absolutely right to shout about.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

US Non-Immigrant Visa Fees Increased by US Embassy Starting Friday

The US Embassy announced it is raising fees for some non-immigrant visas, including tourist, business and student visas, starting tomorrow (April 13). Those applying for tourist, business, crew member, student and journalist visas will have to pay $160, from the current $140.
Nonimmigrant Visa Processing Fees
Type of VisaPrevious FeeNew Fee
Tourist, Business, Transit, Crew Member, Student, Exchange Visitor, and Journalist visas$140$160
Petition-Based visas (H, L, O, P, Q, and R)$150$190
Treaty Investor and Trader visas (E)$390$270
Fiancé(e) visas (K)$350$240
Border Crossing Card (age 15 and older)$140$160
Border Crossing Card (under age 15)$14$15
However, there will be lower fees for all immigrant visas, as well as those for fiance/fiancee visas and trader/investor visas.
Immigrant Visa Processing Fees
Type of VisaPrevious FeeNew Fee
Immediate Relative and Family Preference Applications$330$230
Employment-Based Applications$720$405
Other Immigrant Visa Applications$305$220
Diversity Visa Program Fee$440$330
Determining Returning Resident Status$380$275
The U.S. embassy said the reduction in the immigrant visa fees is due to a new law that allows the U.S. Department of State to seek reimbursement from other federal agencies such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

"U.S. embassies must collect higher fees for tourist and other types of non-immigrant visas because U.S. law requires the Department of State to recover the costs of processing those types of visas. The new fees more accurately reflect the costs of visa processing services as determined in a U.S. government study completed last December," it said.

Visa application fees paid before April 13 at the old rate will be honored through July 12, 2012. However, starting July 13, applicants who had paid application fees at the old rate will have to pay the difference between the prior rate and the new rate.

For visa categories that have lower fees starting April 13, there will be no refunds for those who paid the fees before the effective date. For further information, visit the U.S. Embassy Manila website at http://manila.usembassy.gov/visas.html

Friday, April 6, 2012

UKBA Launches Priority Visa Services for Thai Visitors

The UK Embassy in Bangkok made an announcement on April 03, 2012 about the introduction of two new premium visa services offered by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and its commercial partner for visitors wishing to enter the UK in 2012 – the year of the London Olympics.
As indicated in the announcement, UKBA launched a priority visa service that allows visitor visa applicants to have their UK visa application placed at the front of the processing queue if they meet certain criteria and pay an additional fee. Applicants have to pay 3,000 baht for the new priority service at the time the application is submitted. The UKBA aims to turn around priority applications within three working days.

In addition, to bring more convenience to applicants, the UKBA also introduced a Prime Time appointment service that allows applicants to make an appointment to lodge their visa application and provide biometrics at the visa application centre on Saturdays. Prime Time appointments must be made online, as stated in the announcement. Customers can also collect their documents between 9am and midday on Saturdays at no charge.

The introduction of the two premium visa services with greater choice and flexibility for Thai applicants is in response to the highly growing demand for UK visitor visas. According to the announcement, the UK is welcoming unprecedented numbers of Thai visitors. Last year, more than 50,000 visitor visas were issued to tourists, family visitors and business travellers from Thailand, a 16 percent increase in comparison with the same period in 2010. 94 percent of all UK visitor visa applications filed in Thailand in 2011 were successful.

"It is great to see that even more Thai people are choosing the UK as the ideal destination to travel and do business. The UK offers a wonderfully diverse range of attractions, from historical sites to modern architectural designs, and some of the best business event and conference facilities in the world," said British Ambassador to Thailand, Asif Ahmad. "We hope to welcome even more visitors in 2012, the year of the London Olympics, where the world can see the best of what Britain has to offer," he added.

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