Thursday, January 24, 2013

USCIS introduces online policy manual

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has begun the introduction of an online manual that will inform and guide all its staff worldwide. It is hoped that this will lead to greater consistency in decision making on visa applications.

Staff have been given training on how to use the manual. The first sections of the manual went live on 7th January 2013. The manual, known simply as the USCIS Policy Manual, will replace both the Adjudicators Field Manual which has been used in the past and the USCIS Immigration Policy Memoranda website.

Alejandro Mayorkas the Director of USCIS said 'With the introduction of the Policy Manual, we take a further step to provide our customers, stakeholders and workforce with an efficient and effective adjudication process that provides a high level of quality and consistency.'

There have been criticisms in the past about the consistency of USCIS decision making. In October 2012, the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a Washington think tank, said that USCIS had in practice changed its criteria for granting H-1B and L-1 visas since 2008. The NFAP report said that the USCIS rules were being applied inconsistently, making it especially hard for Indian applicants to know if their visas are likely to be granted.

H-1B visas are granted to graduates who are skilled in a 'specialty occupation'. These visas are usually issued initially for a three year period and can be extended.

L-1 visas are intra company transfer visas which allow companies that have offices in the US and elsewhere to transfer highly skilled and management level employees to the US. Executives and managers may travel to the US on an L-1A visa. L-1A visas are valid for up to seven years. Skilled employees with 'specialized knowledge' can apply for L-1B visas. L-1B visas last for up to five years.

In July 2012, Ameet Nivsarkar of the Indian software industry body Nasscom said that Indian companies applying for L-1B visas had found that 'interpretation by consular officials [is a] very important' factor in visa determinations.

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