Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Would-Be Wi-Fi Paradise (BW)

Sri Lanka hopes to fill its skies with Google’s Loon balloons.

Google’s Loon balloon.
Google’s Loon balloon

Sri Lanka has enjoyed an era of strong economic growth since its bloody, 26-year civil war ended in 2009. To keep it going, the government is trying to make the island nation a technology hub. It’s investing in new undersea Internet cables, putting money behind startups, and working with Microsoft to embrace cloud computing. It’s also been wooing Google and Facebook to host tests for some of their most ambitious experiments, from self-driving cars to drones. First up: the balloons.

Google’s Project Loon is an effort to develop high-altitude balloons that can bring Internet connectivity to remote areas. The technology has been tested over the past couple of years, but not at scale. Rama, a quasi--public company controlled by venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya and the Sri Lankan government, aims to do just that. Google sent the first Loon balloon above Sri Lanka in February, and the government says it’s working with the company to blanket the country with coverage from another dozen.

Within a year, Palihapitiya says, Loon balloons will turn the Indian Ocean country, which is about the size of West Virginia, into one big Wi-Fi zone, giving Google the first real sense of whether Loon can be commercially viable. “This is really a profound thing the government has sponsored and is really pushing,” says Palihapitiya, an early Facebook employee who runs Silicon Valley venture firm Social Capital. “If we can do this in Sri Lanka, that sets the tone for the rest of the world.”

Under a deal Palihapitiya negotiated, Google is leading the Loon launches, development, and maintenance, and Rama will run the software to control access to the balloons’ Internet connections and handle billing. People will still pay local operators for data, and carriers will pay Rama an as-yet-undisclosed fee to help ferry traffic.

The Loon fleet could offer a cheaper alternative to undersea Internet cables, which pass through the regional choke points of Singapore and Hong Kong. Carriers in developing Asian and South American nations pay more than 10 times the bandwidth prices their European and U.S. counterparts do, researcher TeleGeography estimates. (The median wholesale price for a monthly 10-gigabit-per-second connection in Los Angeles or Frankfurt is $1; in Mumbai, it’s $15.) Sri Lanka’s data use is growing 45 percent a year and will likely do so for the next decade, the United Nations estimates.

Increasing the country’s bandwidth is crucial to achieving President Maithripala Sirisena’s goal of propelling the nation into the ranks of developed economies through technology. The average Internet speed available to the country’s broadband customers is about 5.1 megabits per second, Akamai Technologies estimates—better than in India (2.5 Mbps) or China (3.7 Mbps), but a fraction of the average speed in the U.S. (11.7 Mbps), Singapore (12.5 Mbps), or Hong Kong (15.8 Mbps). Rama “is bringing universal connectivity to the whole country,” says Muhunthan Canagey, the head of Sri Lanka’s Information and Communication Technology Agency.

The Rama project began a little more than a year ago, when the president met with Palihapitiya. “I said to them that if they created a mandate for Internet access and making it a right, they would be the first country to do it,” recalls the 39-year-old venture capitalist, who emigrated with his family from Sri Lanka to Canada in 1983, at the height of the civil war. “I had very close relationships with the team at Google, and so we were able to get that team interested in providing Loon technology to the country.”

If the Wi-Fi-beaming model works, Rama could also partner with Facebook’s Wi-Fi drone program or with satellite providers, Palihapitiya says. “If we can solve this in Sri Lanka, then we can solve it in the Philippines, Vietnam.”

Following the first Loon launch, local news outlets flashed photos of what looked like the wreckage of a balloon near the capital, Colombo. A spokeswoman for Google parent company Alphabet said that was a planned landing following a successful test. Google has disclosed few details about Loon, except to say it’s working with carriers around the world. (It’s also testing the balloons in Indonesia and working to bring them to India.)

No matter how many balloons are in the air, Sri Lanka will still likely need fiber-optic connections to handle growing Internet demand, says Rohan Samarajiva, chair of technology infrastructure think tank Lirne Asia and a former director of Sri Lanka’s telecom regulator. Loon is “a rather unusual solution and has got potential,” he says, but it’s “an unproven technology we should look at with reasonable and realistic expectations.”

Canagey, the government official, is less equivocal. “This is the way the world is going,” he says. “We have to evolve in the way the technology is evolving.”

The bottom line: Rama’s partnership with Google could give Sri Lanka another way to boost its ever more precious Internet bandwidth.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Public Meetings: date for district

Young, Broke, and Scared of the IRS: The Millennial Tax Trap (BW)

Those 18 to 34 are more afraid of filing their taxes than any other generation. The key to dealing with the agency: Don't ignore it.


It wasn't a very nice way to begin a letter, but then, it was from the Internal Revenue Service, and it got Greg's attention. 

The Athens, Georgia, veteran said the notice, which arrived earlier this year, cited three months of taxes he had failed to pay two years ago—and was the first he'd heard of it.

After leaving the military, Greg1, then 27, had taken a job in information technology. “I guess when I filled out my taxes for 2013 I messed something up, so I didn’t get my private-sector job included into the taxes owed,” he said. Now he was into the Treasury Department for more than $1,700. 

The IRS doesn’t keep track of how many millennials incur tax debt, but a survey by personal finance adviser NerdWallet found they are more afraid of filing their taxes than any other generation. Eighty percent of millennials, defined by the survey as 18 to 34 years old, fear they will make a mistake, underpaying or overpaying. 

Putting aside outright tax cheats, young workers are financially inexperienced and, increasingly, part of a gig economy—driving for Uber, funding their creative work through Patreon—that requires more care with taxes than some are able, or willing, to take. For example, people who work in contract jobs typically don't have their taxes withheld automatically and need to set up a program of quarterly estimated tax payments on their own.

Digging their tax trap deeper, fewer than 10 percent of millennials go to the IRS when they have a tax question, and only about a quarter seek help from a tax professional, the survey found, compared with 38 percent of all taxpayers who seek help from a tax pro. Instead, most young people turn to friends and family, a largely unreliable if well-meaning group. Millennial taxpayers in particular bemoan the long wait times on the phone with the IRS and the agency's weird penchant for mail (like, mail).

“It took at least five hours of your life just getting somebody on the phone,” said Greg, who said he placed four or five calls to the agency seeking to confirm the letter’s validity before signing up for a payment plan on its website. “There needs to be more notification and communication on their part.” 

This month, Greg made his first contribution to an IRS tax debt repayment plan, which he said was easy enough to set up. He'll be making a $150 payment every month until he has repaid the debt. Starting this tax season, he's working with a certified public accountant.

"Someone facing a tax bill they can't pay can usually set up a payment agreement," IRS spokesman Eric Smith said. Indeed, even if the agency isn't so hot on the phone, it will send multiple letters urging debtors to set up plans before threatening them, if necessary, with levies and liens. Resources are available on the IRS website, agents regularly describe payment plans to those who get through on the phone, and accountants work with the agency to devise plans for their clients. 

"If you don't contact us, we can take action to collect the taxes," Smith said.

That said, millennials are less likely to own homes than generations before them, so the threat of a property lien doesn't carry the weight it might, and a change of rental address can cut the letters off altogether. Anthony, a 24-year-old based in Washington, D.C., incurred just over $1,000 of tax debt after he tried to claim an education credit on his 2013 taxes that his parents had already claimed. He sent in a correction of the error but then lost his job and couldn't pay the balance. When he moved in September of 2014, the letters stopped coming.

“It was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing,” he said.

In fact, the IRS was nothing compared to the creditors who were after Anthony for his student debt, he said. The following year, what would have been his tax refund was taken to pay off a portion of the outstanding debt. Employed by that time, he was able to pay the balance. 

“I still don’t rank them anywhere near as scary as Sallie Mae,” Anthony said of the IRS. “They were very slow to catch on to it. …With Sallie Mae, they immediately start calling you on the phone—and start calling your parents. Sallie Mae is everything the IRS does, but on 'roids.”

While credit card companies collecting student debt can affect a debtor's credit scores immediately, tax debt doesn't begin to influence them unless levies and liens are issued, and enrolling in a repayment plan won't affect the scores either. Yet of the seven millennials facing tax debts interviewed for this article, only two were familiar with these plans, and neither of them knew that signing on to one wouldn't affect their scores. 

“I don’t think anyone should be afraid of the IRS, because as long as you’re talking to them, bad things don’t happen,” said Cari Weston, director of taxation for the American Institute of CPAs.

Erik Duemig and his brother Joe, who own a production sound company in Austin, Texas, fell into tax debt when they made what Erik described as a series of clerical errors on a 2014 filing. At 26, the twins had filed taxes only a few times before, and were previously filing as contract employees, not business owners. Eventually, they hired a certified public accountant for $1,200, but only after Joe had been audited.

Few of the Duemigs' millennial friends hold down a traditional job with its W2 tax form, they said, citing a culture that relies heavily on the gig economy. 

“For millennials who are making money on the Internet, like YouTube ad sales and things like Patreon, I imagine that kind of income stream gets really weird to deal with the IRS,” Erik said.

Millennials who find themselves in debt to the agency have more constructive options than neglecting debt letters and less expensive ones than hiring a CPA. Tax tutorials are available online, and the Society of Grownups, a Brookline, Massachusetts, financial literacy group, offers two classes, “Quarterly Schmarterly” and “Get Off Your Tax.” Each costs $30. In one class, a third of those in attendance owed money to the IRS, said Jena Palisoul, director of financial planning.

"Some people get so frightened, they take no action whatsoever," she said, "and that’s the worst thing to do.”  

Smith of the IRS acknowledged "it can be a while" on the phone but said "it's better than it was last year, as Congress provided us with some increase in funding for the phone operations. We really encourage people to [seek help] online first." 

"I think they are trying to speak to everyone in a more technology-friendly way," said Weston. "They're tweeting, they're trying to get representatives out there ... but with all this identity theft they are being very cautious about communicating with taxpayers digitally."
Even so, "it was all very poorly communicated to us by the IRS,” Duemig said. 

He added: "Tax law, it almost feels, like, intentionally complicated. It just tires you out so you just pay more than you need to.”

Friday, March 25, 2016

The German Chain That's Beating Wal-Mart at Its Own Game (BW)

Aldi Versus Wal-Mart: The Grocery Low-Price Challenge

  • German rival's spaghetti sauce 50% cheaper, beans 18% less
  • Fees for shopping carts and bags help Aldi keep lid on prices

In the Southern California town of Beaumont, Wal-Mart shoppers must first drive past the new Aldi, a recent addition to the family-owned German grocery-store chain that is beating the U.S. retail giant at its own game: selling food at rock-bottom prices.

Aldi is betting that many in Beaumont will never make it to the Wal-Mart. Like hundreds of others Aldi has opened in recent years, the Beaumont store is strategically located to siphon off the retail giant’s discount-seeking shoppers with prices that can average almost 20 percent less than those at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Aldi stores lack the massive size and selection of a Wal-Mart -- they tend to be around one-tenth the size of an average Wal-Mart and carry few national brands. Yet their rapid proliferation and the chain’s ability to offer even lower prices than Wal-Mart are putting pressure on the Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter. And as Aldi expands aggressively in the U.S., it’s becoming just the latest in a long list of problems for Wal-Mart.

“It’s like a thousand cuts,” said Leon Nicholas, a senior vice president at consulting firm Kantar Retail. “They are impacted by Aldi, by Amazon, by the dollar stores -- and all these things add up for Wal-Mart.”

Under Pressure

Wal-Mart, whose shares have declined 19 percent over the past year, isn’t the only grocer under pressure by competition from Aldi and regional chains like Kroger. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which operates under brands including A&P and Food Emporium, filed for bankruptcy last year, just three years after emerging from court protection. And Fairway Group Holdings Corp. may be on the brink of default this year as it struggles to expand in the New York market. Both are battling competition on the low end from discounters like Aldi and, on the high end, from retailers like Whole Foods.

Wal-Mart, with $298 billion in annual U.S. revenue from its 3,500 superstores, is on far more solid financial footing. But with more than half of that revenue coming from grocery sales, it can scarcely afford to lose customers to Aldi, which is going after the same discount-minded lower-to-middle-income shoppers. Sales at U.S. stores open more than a year rose just 0.6 percent last quarter. The discounter is spending $1.5 billion on higher wages this year, raising minimum pay to $10 an hour. That, together with investments to improve its e-commerce offerings, could sharply crimp profits this year, the company has said.

Major Expansion

At the same time, Essen, Germany-based Aldi has quietly grown its U.S. business to nearly $13 billion, according to Kantar data. A closely held company focused mainly on the East Coast and Midwest, Aldi doesn’t disclose its sales or profit. But Kantar forecasts that within five years the company’s annual sales will reach nearly $20 billion as total stores increase by about 33 percent to 2,000, including a major expansion on the West Coast.

Wal-Mart executives say they have a plan to punch back. Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon has been cutting costs over the past year, including eliminating jobs, closing underperforming stores and negotiating new contracts with suppliers. He’s also said he plans to lower prices further this year even as Wal-Mart improves the quality of its fresh foods and speeds checkout times. And it’s experimenting with shopper innovations such as expanding an online grocery service where customers can buy their food online and pick it up without leaving their cars.

Pasta Sauce

Wal-Mart’s ongoing challenge, though, is that its longtime marketing mantra of “everyday low price” is no longer resonating for shoppers going to Aldi in search of bargains. In a suburb of Detroit, Aldi’s in-house brand of pasta sauce was 50 percent less than Wal-Mart’s store brand, its pancake syrup was 20 percent less, and its black beans sold for 18 percent of Wal-Mart’s. Some fresh foods also sold for less, with avocados and ground sirloin about half the price of Wal-Mart’s -- though Wal-Mart had better prices on onions and chicken breasts. A pricing survey in July by Bloomberg Intelligence found Aldi items averaged about 19 percent less than the comparable Wal-Mart items sold in the New Jersey area.

“The company has really given up its price leadership,” said Scott Mushkin, a senior retail analyst with Wolfe Research. “We are a far cry from when Wal-Mart would have had a 15 percent discount to the rest of the market.”

Spartan Presentation

Aldi’s level of frugality can make Wal-Mart look downright extravagant. Its stores run on as few as three to five employees at one time, made possible because of its limited selection of items and spartan presentation. No opportunity for cost savings goes unnoticed. The chain eliminated the need to pay employees to fetch carts in the parking lot by making customers pay a 25-cent deposit per cart, refundable upon returning the cart inside the store. It also charges for bags and only recently started taking credit cards. And Aldi doesn’t focus on national brands, such as Oreos or Frosted Flakes. More than 90 percent of its products are lower-cost versions of the household names.

“It has really chipped away at Wal-Mart’s everyday low price image,” said Nicholas. “Wal-Mart is definitely concerned about Aldi.”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Soon Your Employer May Pay Back Your Student Debt (BW)

A small tweak to the tax code could make student loan repayment the new 401(k).

Imagine a world in which the standard benefit package at work includes health insurance, 401(k) contributions, and a few thousand dollars to pay off your student debt.

More companies than ever are offering that last perk, but it's still a fringe benefit. Two bills making their way through Congress could change that, by giving companies a tax incentive to help employees repay their student loans. 

At the moment, when employees get money to pay off their student debt, it counts as taxable income, like a salary bump, just for debt payments. Unlike money that goes toward a 401(k), both employees and employers have to pay taxes on the benefit. For many businesses, it costs more than it's worth. "I think the tax treatment now is a detriment to more companies adopting this," said Rob Lavet, general counsel for SoFi, a nonbank lender, which works with around 400 employers that give employees loan refinancing reductions. 

The bills proposed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives aim to take away that hurdle by expanding a section of the tax code. The new policy would treat up to $5,250 per year in employer contributions toward student debt as nontaxable income, a change could make the student debt benefit go from a niche offering to one that's more common than parental leave.

"Student loan repayment would be a very attractive benefit that employers could offer," said Kathleen Coulombe, a government affairs adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry group that worked with representatives on the bill. As of 2015, only 3 percent of companies surveyed by SHRM put money toward their employees' student debt, but this year, there's a boomlet of companies offering the benefit. Just this week, Fidelity announced it would put up $2,000 a year and up to $10,000 in total toward student debt. While hundreds of companies are reportedly lining up to chip away at their employees' student debt, it's mostly organizations that hire a lot of young people right out of college, such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, that use it as a recruitment tool. "We anticipate that that number would definitely go up, should it be covered in section 127," said Coulombe, referring to the section of the tax code the proposed bills are looking to adjust. 

The 401(k) didn't exist before 1980, when Ted Benna, the "father" of the 401(k), took advantage of the tax code. Benna started the first 401(k) program at his own company, the Johnson Cos. It caught on even more than he expected. "I was certainly not anticipating that it would be the primary way people would be accumulating money for retirement 30-plus years later," he told Workforce magazine in 2012. Now 90 percent of companies offer their employees a 401(k) plan, and about 75 percent of companies match employee contributions. It's possible that the same thing could happen with student debt. 

It's certainly a benefit young people want. One survey found 80 percent of those surveyed want to work for a company that helps pay off student debt. Many young people prioritize paying off debt over saving for retirement, because the average debt burden for U.S. college graduates who take out loans is a $30,000 monster. "I've been in the workforce for 15 years, and I still have student loans," said Coulombe. Companies offering the student debt benefit say it will help employees start putting away for retirement earlier. One survey found that just a couple of hundred dollars a month can save debt holders thousands of dollars in interest. The legislation could inspire employers to pony up even more than that to hit the $5,250-per-year ceiling. 

The bill's backers are "cautiously optimistic," said SHRM's Coulombe. They don't expect the bill to pass during an election year, but it has bipartisan support. The benefit will, in theory, reduce defaults, which will offset some of the loss of tax revenue, the bill's supporters argue. "We're looking at this as a longer-term solution," said Ashley Phelps, the communications director for Representative Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), who introduced the legislation. "If you don't have this debt, then you don't have as many at-risk borrowers that could default on their student loans." 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Google is in the 'early stages' of expanding internet access in Cuba

Company is bringing Chromebooks and Cardboard VR sets to a Havana museum

Google this week announced that it is working to bring high-speed internet to Cuba, one of the world's least-connected countries. In a blog post published Monday, the company said it is bringing Chromebooks, Cardboard virtual reality kits, and other Google products to the Museo Orgánico Romerillo in Havana, where they will be connected to an internet network operated by the government-owned carrier ETECSA. Google says it is also looking into other ways to expand and improve internet access across the island, though its efforts are "at early stages."

This week's announcement coincides with President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba, the first by a sitting US president in nearly 90 years. Internet access in Cuba has long been extremely limited and prohibitively expensive, with only five percent of Cuban households having regular access to the web.

The Cuban government has signaled a willingness to expand internet access in recent months, after Havana and Washington moved to normalize diplomatic relations in 2014. The country's first free, public WiFi hotspot opened at a Havana cafe last year, and ETECSA last month announced plans to launch a broadband pilot program for homes, bars, and restaurants in some Havana neighborhoods.

US tech companies like Netflix and Airbnb have also expanded to the island within the last year, taking advantage of eased restrictions on travel and business. This week, Airbnb announced that its Cuban listings will be available for all travelers as of April 2nd (they were previously limited to American users), while US hotel company Starwood Resorts announced a deal to refurbish and manage two Havana hotels. In June, Politico reported that Google had made a proposal to improve internet access in Cuba.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Graying of the American Economy

2015 Annual Report

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

The Atlanta Fed is pleased to announce the release of its Annual Report, the Graying of the American Economy.

Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will nearly double, from 40 million to 74 million. As they live longer, Americans are retiring later—but the sheer number of older Americans and the slow growth in the number of 20- to 64-year-olds are combining to slow labor force growth. Moreover, the number of individuals dependent on Medicare, Medicaid, and other publicly funded programs is rising, and the number of individuals contributing revenue to these programs is declining.

This year, we take a close look at the changing demographic profile and how this will affect the nation's potential for economic growth. We're also serializing the release of the annual report so we can have an ongoing conversation about this important topic. In upcoming releases scheduled over the next two months, we'll cover the impact demographic change will have on the labor market and we'll examine if having an older economy equates to a weaker economy.

View the elements of the online annual report including interactive graphics, videos, photography, and text.

Also, don't forget to check our website for upcoming annual report essays and subscribe to receive notifications of new annual report content.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #ATLFedReport.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Refund Checks for Consumers...

FTC@100 Banner

2,172 Checks Being Mailed Starting This Week

Starting today, the Federal Trade Commission is mailing 2,172 partial refund checks totaling nearly $210,000 to consumers who bought Nano-UV “disinfectant” devices from a company called Zadro Health Solutions, Inc. These are legitimate refund checks that must be cashed within 60 days of the date they are issued, or they will become void.

The refunds stem from an FTC settlement with Zadro announced in August 2015. According to the FTC’s complaint, Zadro’s ads falsely claimed that their devices “safely kill 99.99% of targeted bacteria – E. Coli, Salmonella and the H1N1 (swine flu) virus in 10 seconds.”

Rust Consulting, Inc., the redress administrator for this matter, will mail refund checks to eligible consumers. The average amount each consumer will receive is $96.50. The checks must be cashed within 60 days of the date they are issued. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide information before redress checks can be cashed.

Refund checks will be issued to Nano-UV device purchasers who were identified in company records. Consumers who bought Nano-UV devices may still file a complaint with the FTC, but it is unclear whether additional refunds will be available. The FTC has established a hotline for consumers who have questions, which is 1-866-683-8516.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).  Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.


Mitchell J. Katz
Office of Public Affairs


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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hall of Shame of Debt Collection new inductees...

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information

by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Exceptionally talented sports legends, musicians, and actors all have something in common – halls of fame. At the other end of the spectrum are banned debt collectors. They, too, get special recognition… in the FTC’s hall of shame.

A year ago, the FTC first issued its list of banned debt collectors – individuals and companies whose behavior was so egregious that courts have banned them permanently from participating in the debt collection business. In February 2015, the FTC’s Hall of Shame contained 63 inductees; there are now more than 100.

Several recent inductees were recognized for their dishonorable deeds during Operation Collection Protection — the first coordinated federal-state enforcement initiative targeting deceptive and abusive debt collection practices. Those dis-honorees are: Broadway Global Master Inc., K.I.P., LLC (Payday Loan Recovery Group), National Check Registry, LLC  and Premier Debt Acquisitions, LLC.

Are you being contacted by a debt collector? It’s important to understand your rights. And if you think a collector has violated those rights, the FTC wants to hear about it. Your complaints give us leads to follow, and may stop a collector from mistreating someone else. Got a minute? Watch our short video about dealing with debt collectors.

Inmigración aceptará Solicitudes de Visas H-1B en Abril 1, 2016

 USCIS les recuerda a peticionarios que deben seguir requisitos reglamentarios

WASHINGTON – El 1 de abril de 2016, el Servicio de Ciudadanía e Inmigración de Estados Unidos (USCIS, por sus siglas en inglés) comenzará a aceptar peticiones H-1B sujetas a la cantidad máxima reglamentaria para el año fiscal 2017. Las empresas estadounidenses utilizan el programa H-1B para emplear trabadores extranjeros en ocupaciones que requieren conocimientos altamente especializados en campos profesionales tales como las ciencias, ingeniería y programación de computadoras.

La cantidad máxima reglamentaria establecida por el Congreso para las visas H-1B para el año fiscal 2016 es de 65 mil visas. Las primeras 20 mil peticiones H-1B presentadas por parte de personas que posean un grado de maestría o un grado superior en los Estados Unidos están exentas de la cantidad máxima reglamentaria de 65,000 visas.

USCIS espera recibir más de 65 mil peticiones durante los primeros cinco días laborables del programa de este año. La agencia monitoreará la cantidad de peticiones recibidas y notificará al público cuando se haya alcanzado la cantidad máxima reglamentaria de visas H-1B. Si USCIS recibe un exceso de peticiones durante los primeros cinco días laborables, la agencia utilizará un sistema de lotería para seleccionar al azar las peticiones que se incluirán en la cantidad máxima reglamentaria. USCIS rechazará todas las peticiones que no fueron seleccionadas y que están sujetas a la cantidad máxima, así como cualquier petición recibida luego de que la cantidad máxima haya sido alcanzada.

Trámite prioritario para peticiones sujetas a la cantidad máxima reglamentaria
Los peticionarios de visas H-1B aun podrán solicitar trámite prioritario junto con su petición H-1B. Sin embargo, tenga en cuenta que USCIS ha ajustado temporalmente su actual práctica de trámite prioritario a base de los niveles históricos de recibo de estas solicitudes y de la posibilidad de que la cantidad máxima reglamentaria de H-1B sea alcanzada durante los primeros cinco días laborables de la temporada de presentación de solicitudes. Para poder priorizar la entrada de datos de las peticiones para las que se solicita trámite prioritario, USCIS comenzará a tramitar prioritariamente las peticiones sujetas a la cantidad máxima reglamentaria H-1B, no más tardar del 16 de mayo de 2016.

Cómo presentar peticiones
Les recordamos a los peticionarios H-1B que cuando el empleo o adiestramiento temporal será llevado a cabo en distintas localidades, el estado donde está ubicada la oficina principal de su compañía u organización determinará el Centro de Servicio correspondiente al que usted debe enviar el paquete del Formulario I-129, sin tomar en cuenta en qué lugares de los Estados Unidos están localizados los diferentes sitios de trabajo. Por favor, asegúrese que cuando el empleo o adiestramiento temporal vaya a llevarse a cabo en diferentes lugares, la dirección que aparecerá en la página 1, parte 1 del Formulario I-129 deberá ser la de la oficina principal de su organización. También tenga en cuenta que al listar una “sede principal” como lugar de trabajo en la Parte 5, pregunta 3, USCIS considerará ésta como un lugar por separado y distinto a su lugar de trabajo.

Los peticionarios H-1B deben seguir todos los requisitos estatutarios y regulatorios cuando preparen las peticiones para así evitar retrasos en el procesamiento y posibles solicitudes de evidencia. USCIS ha preparado información adicional, incluyendo una lista de cotejo adicional, Formulario M-735, Lista de Cotejo Opcional para Presentación del Formulario I-129 para Peticiones H-1B, sobre cómo completar y presentar una petición H-1B para el año fiscal 2017. La lista de cotejo opcional para el Año Fiscal 2017 estará disponible durante la semana próxima.
Se considera que un caso ha sido aceptado en la fecha en que USCIS acepta una petición propiamente presentada junto con la tarifa apropiada.

Para más información acerca del programa de visas de No Inmigrantes H-1B y los tiempos actuales de procesamiento del Formulario I-129, visite la página Temporada para el Trámite de Cantidad Máxima Reglamentaria de Visas H-1B para el Año Fiscal 2017 o llame al Centro Nacional de Servicio al Cliente al 800-375-5283 o 800-767-1833 (TDD, para personas con discapacidades auditivas). Exhortamos a los solicitantes de visas H-1B a que se suscriban a las actualizaciones por medio de correo electrónico que encontrará en la página web de la Temporada para el Trámite de Cantidad Máxima Reglamentaria de Visas H-1B para el Año Fiscal 2017.

Para más información acerca de USCIS y sus programas, visite o síganos en Facebook (/, Twitter (@uscis_es), YouTube (/uscis) y el blog de USCIS Compás.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Did you attend DeVry? Don t pay for loan forgiveness

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information

by Amy Hebert
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Are you a former student of DeVry University — or of any other college — who’s heard from a company that’s promising to get your loans forgiven after you pay them a fee?

We have an important piece of advice: don’t do it. It’s never a good idea to pay an up-front fee for the promise of debt relief. Once you pay, you might not get anything in return. And you might be paying for something you can do yourself for free.

The FTC has been hearing about pitches like these after recently filing a complaint in federal court against DeVry, one of the largest educational services companies in the nation, for misrepresenting the prospects of their graduates to get well-paid jobs in their fields.

So what can you do if you think you might be a candidate for loan forgiveness or are looking for other help with your student loans?

If you’ve got federal loans, go to the Department of Education’s to find out more about applying for forgiveness and cancellation, or other programs like income-driven repayment plans. Information about one kind of loan forgiveness, known as a borrower defense discharge, is available here.  Applying for any of these programs is free.

If you’ve got private loans, try contacting your loan servicer directly to see what options you might have.


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Denny Lake, the final individual defendant in a mortgage modification scam aimed at financially strapped homeowners, will be banned from selling debt relief and mortgage-related products and services, and from telemarketing under a court order obtained by the Federal Trade Commission.

The court’s order granting the FTC’s request for summary judgment against Lake on all counts resolves an FTC action brought in April 2015, when the court halted the HOPE Services and HAMP Services scheme that promised consumers help getting their mortgages modified, but instead stole their mortgage payments, leading some to foreclosure and bankruptcy. The court found that Lake, doing business as JD United, Advocacy Department, Advocacy Division, and Advocacy Agency, substantially assisted HOPE Services and HAMP Services, while knowing or consciously avoiding knowing the other defendants were violating the FTC’s Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule and its Telemarketing Sales Rule.

The court wrote, “Fraud was the HOPE Defendants’ business model, and Lake knew it. Nonetheless he continued contracting with them, continued to assist them in procuring payments from clients, and continued to refuse to inform customers about the location of their trial payments.” The court found that “no reasonable jury could conclude that Lake did not substantially assist the HOPE Defendants in carrying out their scheme.”

In addition to the banned activities, the order announced today prohibits Lake from making misrepresentations about any products or services, including financial products in particular, and from making unsubstantiated claims about any financial product unless they are non-misleading and based on reliable evidence. He also is barred from profiting from consumers’ personal information and failing to dispose of it properly. The order imposes a judgment of more than $2 million, which represents the amount of bogus mortgage payments consumers paid.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Contact Information

Frank Dorman
Office of Public Affairs

Miriam Lederer
Bureau of Consumer Protection

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