Articles Posted in Congress

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Yesterday, November 6, 2017, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke, announced her decision to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Nicaragua, with a delayed effective date of 12 months until the termination of that designation, giving Nicaraguans enough time to make preparations to either depart the United States or seek alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, before the designation officially terminates on January 5, 2019.

Furthermore, Duke announced that the TPS designation for Honduras will be automatically extended for six months “from the current January 5, 2018 expiration date to the new expiration date of July 5, 2018.” This automatic extension has been granted because additional information is necessary to determine whether conditions have changed in Honduras that would justify termination of  the country’s TPS designation.

According to Duke’s announcement, the decision to terminate the TPS designation for Nicaragua was made after it was determined that the conditions in Nicaragua have changed since the country’s original 1999 designation that no longer justify granting protected status to this class of individuals. Furthermore, because the Secretary received no formal request from the Nicaraguan government to extend TPS status, and there was no evidence to indicate that the Nicaraguan government could not adequately handle the return of Nicaraguan nationals, the TPS designation for Nicaragua was no longer justified.

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On August 02, 2017, Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced a new Act called “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy” before the U.S. Senate, otherwise known as the RAISE Act, which is a new piece of legislation that has recently been backed by President Trump.

The RAISE Act aims to overhaul the employment-based immigration system and replace it with a skills-based system that awards points to immigrants based on the immigrant’s level of education, age, ability to speak the English language, future job salary, level of investment, and professional achievements. In addition, the RAISE Act would terminate the Diversity Visa Program, which awards 50,000 visas to foreign nationals from qualifying countries, and would ultimately reduce the number of family-sponsored immigrants allowed admission to the United States. The Act intends to focus on the family-based immigration of spouses and minor children and would reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States.

Among other things the RAISE Act would:

  • Terminate the Diversity Visa Program which awards 50,000 green cards to immigrants from qualifying countries;
  • Slash the annual distribution of green cards to just over 500,000 (a change from the current issuance of over 1 million green cards annually);
  • Employment-based green cards would be awarded according to a skill-based points system that ranks applicants according to their level of education, age, ability to speak the English language, salary, level of investment, and achievements (see below);
  • The issuance of employment-based green cards would be capped at 140,000 annually;
  • Limit the maximum number of refugees admitted to the United States to 50,000;
  • Limit admission of asylees. The number of asylees admitted to the United States on any given year would be set by the President on an annual basis;
  • Amend the definition of “Immediate Relative” to an individual who is younger than 18 years of age instead of an individual who is younger than 21 years of age;
  • Adult children and extended family members of individuals living in the United States would no longer be prioritized to receive permanent residence. Instead the focus would remain on the immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens and legal permanent residents such as spouses and children under the age of 18;
  • The Act would allow sick parents of U.S. Citizens to be allowed to enter the United States on a renewable five-year visa, provided the U.S. Citizen would be financially responsible for the sick parent.

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In this segment, we bring you the latest immigration news. This month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a status report on border security in the Southwestern border region. In other news we provide you with an update on the Proposed International Entrepreneur Rule, and finally we would like to remind our readers to tune into the final Presidential Debate on October 18th.

Department of Homeland Security Releases Report on Border Security for the Southwestern Border Region

On October 17, 2016 the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, released a report on the state of border security in the Southwestern region of the United States for fiscal year 2016. The Secretary reported that the total apprehensions by border patrol on the southwestern border have increased, relative to the previous fiscal year. During fiscal year 2016 there were a total of 408,870 unlawful attempts to enter the United States border without inspection by a border patrol officer. Although the number of apprehensions during this fiscal year were higher than the previous year, the number of apprehensions in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 were much higher than fiscal year 2016.  Johnson also reported that illegal migration in this region has changed demographically. Today, there are fewer Mexican foreign nationals and adults attempting to cross the Southwestern border illegally. The problem now is that more families and unaccompanied children from Central America are making the dangerous trek from Central America to the United States, fleeing gang related violence, organized crime, and poverty. In 2014 for the first time in history, the number of Central Americans apprehended on the Southern border outnumbered Mexican nationals. The same phenomenon occurred during fiscal year 2016.

How is DHS dealing with the influx of undocumented immigrants from Central America?

DHS is struggling to deal with this humanitarian crisis. Thus far the United States has implemented an in-country referral program for foreign nationals of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The program gives certain immigrants the opportunity to apply for refugee protection in the United States. DHS has also expanded the categories of individuals that may be eligible for the Central American Minors program, although adults may only qualify for this program if they are accompanied by a qualified child. The Government of Costa Rica and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration have developed a protection transfer agreement to relocate unaccompanied children and their families to safer regions. DHS was given $750 million in Congressional funds this fiscal year to provide support and assistance to this vulnerable population of migrants. Johnson recognized that there is much work to be done to secure and border, while at the same time addressing the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

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On September 28, 2016 the Obama Administration published the presidential determination for refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017. For the upcoming fiscal year, the Department of State will authorize admission of up to 110,000 refugees in accordance with section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act 8 U.S.C. 1157. The numbers of available refugee admissions will be allocated on a regional basis to the following countries: Africa, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East, and South Asia. The president stated in his memorandum that the number of refugee admissions has increased from previous years, due to national interest concerns and the need of humanitarian relief in these regions. Numbers are specifically allocated to refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Fourteen-thousand of the one-hundred ten thousand refugee admissions will go toward an ‘unallocated reserve’ authorizing Congress to distribute unallocated admission numbers to regions where the need is necessary based upon humanitarian concerns. Any unused refugee admission numbers may be transferred between regions, if there is increased need for admission in that region or region(s).

The numbers for refugee admission by region are as follows:

Africa ……………………………………………………. 35,000

East Asia…………………………………………………. 12,000

Europe and Central………………………………………. 4,000

Latin America and the Caribbean …………………………5,000

Near East and South Asia…………………………………40,000

Unallocated reserve………………………………………. 14,000

In accordance with 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42) Congress is authorized to grant refugee admissions to the following persons, based on their country of nationality or habitual residence. Such persons are not subject to a numerical limit in order to qualify for refugee admission to the United States: persons in Cuba, Eurasia, the Baltics, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and persons identified by a United States Embassy in exceptional circumstances.

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In this post, we discuss the latest immigration news beginning with the recent Congressional Approval of the Continuing Resolution Act that will allow funding to continue for the EB-5, Conrad 30, and special non-ministerial religious worker programs for fiscal year 2017. With the passage of this Continuing Resolution, these programs will remain afloat at least for the time being. On September 28, 2016 Congress averted a government shutdown by continuing funding for key programs with the passage of the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017. This Act will extend the EB-5 Regional Center Program and EB-4 non-minister special immigrant visa program for religious workers until December 9, 2016. In terms of adjustment of status filing dates for employment-based preference categories, USCIS has announced that for the month of October, foreign nationals seeking to apply for employment-based adjustment of status (EB-1 to EB-4 preference categories) may do so by using the Dates for Filing Applications Chart of the October Visa Bulletin for 2016. EB-5 adjustment of status applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart of the October Visa Bulletin.

What does this mean?

The signing of the Continuing Resolution Act means that this year we will not be facing a government shutdown as in previous years. This is very good news given that the upcoming elections (both for the U.S. president and Congressmen and women) may have been a factor in Congress not being able to meet the deadline to continue government funding for these key programs. EB-5, Conrad, and non-ministerial religious worker programs will continue without interruptions since these programs are part of the CR.

What will happen after December 9, 2016?

On December 9th the government will be facing another deadline that will require Congress to continue funding these very important programs. If Congress does not meet the funding deadline for these programs through the passage of another Continuing Resolution or Omnibus package, the government could face another shutdown. This would take place after the elections, but before the new Congress is in session. If an Omnibus is passed, the possibility of reforms and/or changes to the EB-5, Conrad, or non-ministerial religious worker programs is worth noting. Recent controversies may lead to reforms in the EB-5 program although it is unlikely that major reforms and/or changes to the EB-5 program will pan out before the December 9th deadline.

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By the end of this month the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program will be up for renewal before Congress. The EB-5 program was first established by Congress in 1990 in an effort to increase the amount of foreign capital investment in the United States, and to create new jobs for Americans. In 1992 Congress expanded the program and created the Immigrant Investor Visa Program as we know it today, which allows foreign investors to invest in an EB-5 Regional Center project. A regional center is an authorized organization, entity, or agency that is designated by USCIS to sponsor capital investment projects within a specific geographic area including areas of high-unemployment or rural areas.  Section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. Section 1153(b)(5) limits the number of immigrant visas that may be issued to EB-5 investors to 10,000 immigrant visas per fiscal year, provided the qualified investor is seeking permanent resident status on the basis of the creation of a new commercial enterprise. Half of these visas are allocated to EB-5 investors participating in a regional center pilot program. The required investment amount in a new commercial enterprise is $1,000,000 or $500,000 if the investment is being made in a targeted employment area experiencing a high unemployment rate of 150% relative to the national average, or a designated rural area as established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Despite its promise to increase economic growth, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has been the subject of much criticism due to an increase in fraud on behalf of investors and regional centers, as well as the continued use of unlawful funds. This month, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that will be reviewed by Congress and USCIS, in consideration of new measures that may be implemented by Congress as part of the program’s renewal process. The report outlines the inherent weaknesses of the EB-5 program and areas of concern.

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