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State Dept. debuts new online visa process is reporting that the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs is rolling out a new online application process for nonimmigrant visas aimed at reducing processing time.


Nonimmigrant visas generally are required for temporary visitors entering the country with a specific purpose, for instance, international students or tourists seeking medical treatment. The government issued more than 6.6 million nonimmigrant visas at Foreign Service posts in 2008, up 1.2 million from 2005. The number of temporary visitors in the United States dropped from 6.6 million in 2008 to 5.8 million in 2009.


This is the bureau's first step to building the Consular Electronic Application Center, a Web-based system that eventually will host online applications for immigration visas and passports. The new system cuts down on paperwork: Applicants only need to print out a confirmation sheet with a bar code that allows consular officers to locate the candidate's case in the department's database.


The new nonimmigrant visa application, DS-160, combines three forms into one online platform. Once an applicant submits the document online, consular officers can screen it before the visa interview and ask the candidate to fill in any missing information. Applicants must complete the form in English, but they can view as pop-ups foreign translations of the questions.


The bureau expects that DS-160 will be used at every overseas visa-issuing post by the end of April. So far, DS-160 is available in 11 foreign languages, and five more translations are ready to be added and six translations are in the works.

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34,500 Haitians in U.S. seek protected status


The New York Times reports that more than 34,500 Haitians living in the United States have applied for protection from deportation since January, immigration officials say. Immigration officials estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 Haitians in the United States could be eligible to apply for TPS. They have until late July to apply.


The Obama administration suspended deportations of Haitians who had been in the U.S. by Jan. 12, when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake Haitians would be eligible to apply for an immigration benefit known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which allows those who receive it to live and work here for up to 18 months.


TPS generally is granted to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. whose native country is stricken by such things as natural disasters and armed conflicts. Although TPS usually is granted for 18 months, it is often extended when a certain region is determined not to have recovered to the point where it can absorb numerous deportees. Experts had expected more Haitians to apply by now.  
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Key Homeland Security posts go unfilled


CNN is reporting that the Obama administration and Congress have not yet filled some key positions in the Department of Homeland Security -- notably the top jobs at the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection. Together, the two posts manage about half of all DHS employees. But for differing reasons, the posts are unfilled or occupied by placeholders.


In the case of the TSA, the person nominated in September withdrew from consideration in January after a contentious confirmation battle. The White House has yet to name a new nominee.


In the case of Customs and Border Protection, Obama nominated insider Alan Bersin in September. But the Senate Finance Committee has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing.


Officials inside and outside DHS said the top vacancy has hamstrung certain decisions. For instance, the department can't permanently assign border sector chiefs because that requires the commissioner's approval.

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AZ bill that would criminalize presence of undocumented immigrants tabled


Lawmakers in the Arizona State House have postponed a vote on a bill that would criminalize the presence of illegal immigrants. The bill had previously passed in the Senate.


The bill expands the rights of the state to prosecute people on the grounds of trespassing, and requires that police do their best to ascertain whether anyone they are responding to a call for is in the United States legally.


Opponents cited the risk of immigrants fearing the authorities as a result of this bill, and being hesitant to report crimes as a result. Arizona would become the only state in the country to take this interpretation of their trespassing laws, if the bill is eventually voted and signed into law.

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Minority Births on Track to Outnumber White Births


The Associated Press reports that minorities make up nearly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in which minorities are expected to become the U.S. majority over the next 40 years. Minorities made up 48 percent of U.S. children born in 2008, the latest census estimates available, compared to 37 percent in 1990.


The numbers are growing because immigration to the U.S. has boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. More white women are waiting until they are older to have children, but it is not yet known whether that will have a noticeable effect on the current trend of increasing minority newborns.


The numbers highlight the nation's growing racial and age divide, seen in pockets of communities across the U.S., which could heighten tensions in current policy debates from immigration reform and education to health care and Social Security. Currently, roughly 1 in 10 of the nation's 3,142 counties already have minority populations greater than 50 percent. But 1 in 4 communities have more minority children than white children or are nearing that point, according to the study.

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Calif. test-taking case shows gap in visa security


The Associated Press reports that a ring allegedly fraudulently obtained and kept U.S. student visas in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars by taking tests for immigrants. The ring is accused of helping people from the Middle East obtain student visas by taking their proficiency exams and classes. The incident has exposed vulnerability in the nation's security tracking system for foreigners who attend U.S. schools.


Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have not suggested the California ring was linked to any terrorism. Authorities said professional test-takers allegedly used doctored driver's licenses to gain entry to exams, including a language proficiency test that foreign students from non-English speaking countries must pass to qualify for an F-1 student visa. Prosecutors allege that some of the clients traveled to the Middle East multiple times and gained re-entry to the U.S. by applying for a student visa and registering to study at a different college.


Six of the students have been charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud. Ten more have been placed in deportation proceedings, and immigration officials are searching for more than 30 more still believed to be in the U.S.

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