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One of the most common questions we often receive during in person and telephonic consultations is whether an aggravated felony may decrease a person’s chances to legalize their status in the United States. The harsh reality is that the immigration options for noncitizen aliens convicted of an “aggravated felony” are severely limited, and in most situations, the immigration laws of the United States subject these individuals to the harshest deportation consequences. Even if you have been lawfully admitted to the United States or are currently a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) you may be subject to deportation if you commit an aggravated felony. In other words, so long as you are a noncitizen alien, you may be at risk of deportation if you are or have been convicted of what is considered an “aggravated felony” in the United States or any other country. What’s more, aggravated felons lose many of the privileges that are designed to provide relief to individuals from deportation, and in some cases these individuals may be prevented from re-entering the United States permanently, following removal from the United States. The immigration laws of the United States, passed by Congress, contain numerous provisions that are designed to keep criminals outside of the United States, and in turn prevent criminals from being allowed to remain in the United States. While Congress has recognized that there are few exceptions to the rule that should be made in cases where there is a compelling argument to be made in favor of allowing a person found guilty of an aggravated felony to remain in the United States, having taken into consideration the fact that an immigrant’s removal may result in extreme hardship for U.S. Citizens. Unfortunately, these exceptions are very few and far in between, and deportation is the most probable outcome. When it comes to crimes of moral turpitude and crimes that fall under the category of “aggravated felonies” the U.S. immigration system is very unforgiving.

What is an aggravated felony?

An aggravated felony is a term that describes a particular category of offenses that carry with them harsh immigration consequences as punishment for noncitizen aliens who have been convicted of these types of crimes. Noncitizens who have been convicted of an aggravated felony lose the opportunity to apply for most common forms of relief available to law abiding noncitizens, that would have shielded them from deportation. Noncitizens who have been convicted of an aggravated felony for example are ineligible to apply for asylum and may not be readmitted to the United States in the future. An “aggravated felony” is an offense that Congress has labeled as such, and does not actually require the crime to be considered “aggravated” or a “felony” to qualify to be an “aggravated felony.” In other words, the term must not be taken literally. Many crimes that are labeled “aggravated felonies” are nonviolent in nature and constitute minor offenses, nonetheless these crimes fall under the Congressional categorization of an “aggravated felony.”

The myth of what constitutes an “aggravated felony”

For purposes of immigration law, an offense does not need to be considered “aggravated” or a “felony” in the place where the crime was committed to be considered an “aggravated felony” under the Congressional definition of “aggravated felony.” There are numerous non-violent and trivial misdemeanors that are considered aggravated felonies per the immigration laws of the United States. At its inception, the term referred to crimes that were of a violent and non-trivial nature including such crimes as murder, federal drug trafficking, and illicit trafficking of firearms. Today, Congress has expanded the types of crimes that fall under the category of “aggravated felonies” to include non-violent crimes such as simple battery, theft, the filing of a false tax return, and failure to appear in court when summoned. To view the complete list of aggravated felonies under the Immigration and Nationality Act please click here. Other offenses that fall under this category include sexual abuse of a minor, although some states do not classify these crimes as misdemeanors or criminalize such behavior for example in cases of consensual intercourse between an adult and a minor. In most situations, a finding of any of these offenses will result in the loss of most immigration benefits, and in cases where the noncitizen is already a legal permanent resident or is in lawful status, the noncitizen will be subject to deportation.

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On November 20, 2016, the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the Department of State, Charles Oppenheim, provided his outlook on recent trends and future projections for employment-based immigrant preference categories of the Visa Bulletin.

December Visa Bulletin Predictions

  • A final action date has been imposed on the EB-4 preference category for the country of Mexico in the month of December
  • The non-minister EB-4 special immigrant category and the I5 and R5 classifications of the immigrant investor pilot program will expire on December 9, 2016.
  • EB-1 China and EB-1 India are expected to be subject to a final action date in the near future
  • A final action cut-off date will be imposed for EB-2 Worldwide, EB-2 Mexico, and EB-2 Philippines by the month of July.

January and February Projections

Regarding movement of EB-4 El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras during the next 12 months

Oppenheim has stated that the State Department does not have any knowledge of the volume of cases adjudicated by USCIS for this preference category. Due to this lack of information, the State Department does not know at what rate USCIS will pre-adjudicate these cases once the final action date is in place. The reason the December cut-off date for Mexico was imposed was because there was a large number of EB-4 Mexico petitions processed with 2015 and 2016 priority dates. A retrogression of the EB-4 final action date for these countries is not expected to occur during this fiscal year, despite high demand. There is currently a very high level of demand in this category that is expected to continue. Typically, when a final action cut-off date is imposed, demand increases, because applicants rush to apply quickly before a retrogression is imminent.

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On June 23, 2016 the United States Supreme Court made headlines when it affirmed a federal court’s decision in United States v. Texas, preventing the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program. An eight-person bench delivered a single one-line decision on the ruling stating, “the judgment of the lower court is affirmed by an equally divided court.” This controversial decision ultimately resulted in the halt of the expansion of the DACA and DAPA programs, leaving these programs in legal limbo. The DACA and DAPA programs were first introduced by President Barack Obama two years ago, as part of a series of executive actions on immigration. With the passage of these programs, the Obama administration hoped that the Republican controlled House of Representatives would be persuaded to discuss the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. This effort proved fruitless. Republican Congressmen and women not only refused to pass comprehensive immigration reform, they politicized the issue of immigration altogether, blocking the President’s Supreme Court nomination following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, in order to prevent the Supreme Court from becoming liberal. Together, these programs would have shielded nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation by giving them “deferred status,” and would have provided applicants with a temporary three-year employment authorization card. Although these measures proved short of an amnesty, they were made in response to Congress’s refusal to pass meaningful immigration reform for the undocumented population living in the United States.

The expansion of the DACA program would have increased the population eligible to apply for employment authorization to people of any current age, who had entered the United States before the age of 16, and who could demonstrate continuous residence in the United States since January 1, 2010. Similarly, the DAPA program would have shielded millions of parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents from deportation if they could demonstrate continuous residence in the United States since January 1, 2010, and pass the required background checks.

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It is our pleasure to bring you the latest immigration news.

Adjudication of DACA-based Advance Parole

In response to the uncertain political climate, USCIS has responded to rumors that USCIS has suspended the processing of DACA-based advance parole documents. USCIS has confirmed that they have NOT suspended processing of DACA-based advance parole applications, and will continue to adjudicate these applications as normal. In addition, USCIS released a statement notifying the public that they will continue to process all applications, petitions, and requests consistent with current immigration laws, regulations and policies. We have also learned that USCIS has distributed guidelines to USCIS Field Offices across the United States providing officers with a clear framework regarding the issuance of emergency advance parole documents for DACA applicants. Please be aware that if you are in the process of applying for a DACA-based advance parole document, the advance parole document contains an important disclaimer which states that an advance parole document does not guarantee any person admission to the United States. Customs and Border Patrol may use their discretion in deciding whether or not to admit a person with an advance parole document into the United States. DHS may also revoke or terminate an advance parole document at any time.

Donald Trump on Visa Program Abuses

On November 21, 2016 the President-elect, Donald Trump, released an update on the Presidential Transition, outlining some of his policy plans for his first 100 days in office, including his day one executive actions. Donald Trump announced that he during his first day in office he plans to direct the Department of labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker. So far, it is unclear what position he will take on nonimmigrant worker programs.

Increase in Filing Fees

On December 23, 2016 USCIS will increase filing fees for certain immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions processed by the service. In order to avoid these fee increases, USCIS must receive your application before this date. The petitions that will be most heavily impacted by the fee increases include Form I-924 for Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, Form I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, the N-400 application for citizenship, I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant workers, the I-485 Adjustment of Status Application, the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, the I-129F petition for alien fiancé, and the I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence. Fee waivers are available for select family based petitions. For a complete list of the fee schedule please click here.

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The Department of Homeland Security is expected to publish a final rule tomorrow November 18, 2016 benefitting EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 employment-based immigrant workers and highly-skilled nonimmigrant foreign workers. The final rule is effective January 17, 2017. The final rule will streamline the process for employment based sponsorship of nonimmigrant workers for lawsuit permanent resident status (LPRs), increasing job portability, and promoting stability, flexibility, and transparency in the way DHS applies its policies and regulatory practices to these programs. These changes were proposed in order to better equip U.S. employers to employ and retain highly skilled foreign workers who are the beneficiaries of employment-based immigrant visa petitions known as Form I-140 petitions. The new rule will allow foreign workers to have more flexibility, and affords workers the opportunity to further their careers by accepting promotions, giving them the freedom of being able to change positions with current employers, change employers, or pursue other employment.

The final rule conforms with longstanding policies and practices in accordance with the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) and the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (AC21). The final rule seeks to further enforce the principles embodied in these pieces of legislation by providing nonimmigrant workers who have been sponsored for permanent residency based on the filing of an I-140 petition, greater flexibility and job portability, while expanding the competitiveness of American employers, boosting the U.S. economy, and protecting American workers. The final rule also clarifies and improves DHS policies and practices outlined in policy memoranda and precedent decisions of the Administrative Appeals Office. The final rule seeks to clarify regulatory policies in order to provide greater transparency to stakeholders. The final rule also clarifies interpretative questions related to ACWIA and AC21.

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There is no denying that the election of Donald Trump as next President of the United States has dealt a huge blow to the immigration reform effort and diminished any hope for the passage of broader legal immigration reform. We had hoped that with the election of Hillary Clinton we would see an increase in immigration levels for highly skilled workers, as well as increased visa opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. While the news of Donald Trump’s election was a big setback for immigration in general, polling continues to suggest that people across the United States are willing to support fairness in dealing with the undocumented immigrant population in a sensible and human way. By contrast, most Americans disapprove of passing broad legal immigration reform that would benefit foreign workers.

Donald Trump was able to win the favor of a great number of Americans because of his critical view of programs like NAFTA that he believes has allowed American jobs to go overseas. Trump has blamed the U.S. government for allowing programs like the H-1B worker program to exist, saying that foreign workers are taking American jobs. We can expect to see Donald Trump take a restrictive view on legal immigration, keeping immigration levels within historic norms. Donald Trump has until recently softened his tone on illegal immigration, claiming that his priority is to deport only dangerous criminals residing in the United States unlawfully, although his 10-point plan contradicts his recent stance.

It is likely that the Republican House and the Senate will introduce legislation designed to benefit American workers and the economy, and focus less on creating immigration opportunities for foreign workers. Similarly, the Trump administration will likely focus on job creation, and less on passing any meaningful legal immigration reform.

The program that may come under fire by the Trump administration is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative which began on June 15, 2012 as part of an executive order introduced by President Barack Obama. Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program incorrectly calling it an “amnesty.” In actuality, DACA is not amnesty and does not provide a pathway to permanent residency or even citizenship. DACA merely shields the individual from deportation and allows them to legally obtain employment in the United States for a temporary period of time.

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Days after defeating Hillary Clinton in the biggest political upset in American history, President elect Donald J. Trump met with outgoing President Barack Obama this morning to ensure a peaceful transition of power. A triumphant Donald Trump also met with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan to discuss his policy priorities, and the unification of the Republican party. Although Donald Trump will not be inaugurated until January 20, 2017 he has made it clear that he plans to work with Republicans in the House and the Senate, to pass legislation on wide ranging issues during his first 100 days in office. Working with a Republican House of Representatives and Republican Senate, Donald Trump announced his administration’s top three priorities: immigration, health care, and job creation. After meeting with Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill, Trump told reporters “we’re looking very strongly at immigration, we’re going to look at the borders, very importantly, we’re looking very strongly at healthcare and we’re looking at jobs.”

While Trump has not provided details on what his immigration policy might look like, he has outlined his 10-point immigration plan on his campaign website and his all new website Greatagain.gov.

Here’s what we know so far about what immigration policy might look like under the Trump administration:

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We would like to inform our readers that a new development has been occurring in recent months involving Form I-539 change of status applications filed by prospective students. Students applications wishing to change their status from a B-2 visa classification to F-1 must proceed with caution. USCIS has recently been issuing denials for such change of status applications that request a change of status from a B-2 nonimmigrant visa classification to F-1 student status. These denials have been issued, despite the fact that applicants have seemingly filed their application in a timely and proper manner with USCIS. To submit an application in a timely manner, it is required that the applicant file an I-539 change of status application with USCIS, prior to the expiration of their underlying B-2 status, as indicated on the applicant’s I-94 arrival/departure record. An additional problem that has been occurring involves the delayed adjudication of these applications with the California Service Center. In delaying the processing of these applications, designated school officials (DSO) have been forced to defer student program start dates that appear on the SEVIS form, before adjudication of the applicant’s change of status application has been completed. The unfortunate cause of these delays has resulted in a discrepancy between the deferred program start date and the ending B-2 visa status or the date USCIS adjudicated the I-539 application to change status.

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In this post we bring you your daily dose of immigration updates. For more information on the immigration services we provide please visit our website. For a free first legal consultation please contact our office. It is our pleasure to accompany you on your immigration journey.

USCIS extends TPS Designation for Nepal for 18 months

The Secretary of Homeland Security recently announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Nepal will be extended for an additional 18 months, beginning December 25, 2016 through June 24, 2018. Eligible TPS applicants must either be foreign nationals of Nepal or habitually resided in Nepal. DHS will be extending current TPS Nepal Employment Authorization Cards (EADs) with a December 24, 2016 expiration date for an additional 6 months, valid through June 24, 2017.

For more information regarding TPS for Nepal please click here. For information about the TPS program please click here. Employers interested in verifying or reverifying the employment eligibility of employees who are TPS beneficiaries, may click here for more information.

EADs Extended 6 Months for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone TPS Beneficiaries

Current Beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for the designations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have had their TPS status extended for a period of 6 months, to expire on May 21, 2017. The Department of Homeland Security authorized this temporary extension to allow beneficiaries to make an orderly transition out of the United States, before termination of their TPS status on May 21, 2017. Current beneficiaries of the TPS program from these designations will automatically retain their TPS status until this date, and the validity of their current Employment Authorization Cards (EADs) will be extended through May 20, 2017.

Click here for more information about the 6-month extension of orderly transition before termination of TPS designations for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. For general information about the TPS program please click here.

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