Articles Posted in Consular Processing

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USCIS has announced that it will be closing all of its International Immigration Offices by March 10, 2020.

As of June 30, 2019, USCIS has already permanently closed its field office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and on July 5th, the office in Manila, Philippines permanently closed.

By the end of January 2020, the majority of international USCIS field offices are expected to be closed, including offices in Mexico City, London, Athens, and Guatemala City.

The first offices to close will be those in Monterrey, Mexico, Seoul, South Korea, and Manila, Philippines, with a projected closing date of September 2019.

The following is a complete list of USCIS International Immigration Offices expected to close:

Latin America, Canada and the Caribbean (LACC) District

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Foreign nationals applying for a non-immigrant or immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad are now required to disclose information relating to their social media presence on their online nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applications known as the DS-160 and DS-260 respectively.

These changes were introduced early last week by the Department of State. Applicants must now provide information about each social media platform they have used within the last five years, including the name of the platform, and the username or handle used on that platform.

Applicants must also provide their current email and phone number, as well as email addresses and phone numbers they have had during the last five years.

Consular officials can use information found on social media during the visa adjudication process to determine whether the individual is eligible for the visa they are requesting. If officials find any information on social media that would lead them to believe the applicant is misrepresenting their true intentions or attempting to gain entry through means of fraud or deceit, the applicant’s visa application may be denied.

In the past, the Department of State only required social media information of individuals that were flagged for further inspection and individuals posing security risks to the United States. This information was provided in a supplemental questionnaire known as the DS-5535. Now, these questions are asked directly on the DS-160/DS-260 applications.

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Photo: CafeCredit

The Trump administration is mobilizing to strictly enforce laws that require the reimbursement of funds from an alien’s financial sponsor, where the alien has requested certain types of public benefits from a government agency.

The White House has issued a memorandum stating that, “Financial sponsors who pledge to financially support a sponsored alien in the event the alien applies for or receives public benefits will be expected to fulfill their commitment under the law.”

Financial sponsors are required to sign Form I-864 Affidavit of Support for most family-based immigrant petitions, as well as some employment-based petitions to show that the intending immigrant has adequate means of financial support and will not become a public charge on the United States government.

The White House has directed various government agencies including the Department of labor, housing, health and human services, etc. to hold sponsors accountable for making a financial commitment to sponsor an alien in the United States, who receives forms of government assistance they are not entitled to receive.

Such benefits that will require reimbursement from a financial sponsor are benefits received from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides food stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

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On Saturday, September 22, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new proposed rule that may prevent non-citizens reliant, or likely to become reliant on public benefits, from gaining admission to the United States.  The new proposal entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” has been signed by the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the proposed rule is expected to be published in the federal register in the coming weeks, according to a DHS press release.

APA Procedure

Once the proposed rule has been published in the federal register, the government must allow the public to comment on the proposed rule for a 60-day period. Once that period is over, the government will have the opportunity to review comments and make changes if necessary to the proposed rule. Thereafter, the government will publish a final rule which will become law 60 days after the date of publication.

Who is a Public Charge?

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a public charge is defined as an “alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.” Such aliens are not admissible to the United States on public charge grounds.

Applicants seeking admission to the United States should be aware that, “an alien who is incapable of earning a livelihood, who does not have sufficient funds in the United States for support, and who has no person in the United States willing and able to assure the alien will not need public support, generally is inadmissible as likely to become a public charge.”

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On Friday, March 30, 2018, the Department of State published a 60 day notice in the Federal Register entitled “Notice of Proposed Information Collection: Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration,” proposing to require immigrant visa applicants to submit five years of social media history as part of the information requested on the DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application used by applicants to schedule Immigrant Visa interviews at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. The DS-260 is an Electronic Form that is completed by immigrant visa applicants and used by consular officials to determine whether the applicant is eligible for an immigrant visa.

Specifically, the Department wishes to, “add several additional questions for immigrant visa applicants. One question lists multiple social media platforms and requires the applicant to provide any identifies used by applicants for those platforms during the five years preceding the date of the application.”

Information provided by immigrant visa applications relating to their social media will be used to enhance “vetting” of applicants to verify their identity, ensure that they meet all visa eligibility requirements, and to prevent individuals from entering the country who pose a threat to the county’s national security, or have been associated with a terrorist organization.

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Just one day before Presidential Proclamation No. 9645, “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats,” was set to go into effect, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a ruling blocking portions of the Presidential Proclamation from being enforced on a majority, but not ALL, of the countries, listed in the Proclamation.

The Presidential Proclamation, commonly referred to in the media as ‘travel ban 3.0’ set out to suspend the entry of foreign nationals from eight “countries of identified concern,” and the admission of foreign nationals from those countries was to remain limited until further notice.

The countries to be affected by travel ban 3.0 included: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia. A federal judge from the state of Hawaii by the name of Derrick Watson has granted a temporary restraining order preventing the government from suspending the admission of foreign nationals from the following countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, but DOES NOT prevent the government from suspending the admission of foreign nationals from North Korea and Venezuela, and from imposing stricter screening standards on Iraqi nationals. The restrictions on foreign nationals from North Korea, Venezuela, and Iraq will continue to be enforced according to the Proclamation, beginning today, Thursday, October 19, 2017. Restrictions on North Koreans and Venezuelans will likely remain indefinitely, given that the U.S. government has no formal diplomatic avenues for communication with those countries.

Judge Derrick Watson wrote in his opinion that the latest revision of the ban, “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor,” and “lacks the sufficient finds that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from [the] specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States,” and “plainly discriminates based on nationality.”

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Yesterday, October 8, 2017, the United States and Turkey announced the mutual suspension of all non-immigrant visa services, putting a damper on travel between the two nations, following the arrest of a Turkish citizen, employed at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, on suspicion of espionage.

A statement released by John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, explained the reasons for the United States government’s decision to suspend non-immigrant visa processing for Turkish citizens. According to the ambassador the suspension will allow the United States, “to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while we assess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of our diplomatic facilities and personnel.” He continued, “last week, for the second time this year, a Turkish staff member of our diplomatic mission was arrested by Turkish authorities. Despite our best efforts to learn the reason for this arrest, we have been unable to determine why it occurred or what, if any, evidence exists against the employee. . . our colleague has not been allowed sufficient access to his attorney.”

The actions taken by the government are thus in response to Turkish hostility toward U.S. consular employees and an ongoing rift between the two countries regarding U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, accusations of U.S. involvement in a coup against President Erdogan, and the U.S. government’s refusal to extradite former Turkish minister Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the Turkish coup.

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In response to a memorandum issued to United States consulates and embassies around the world by President Trump and his administration on March 6, consular officials at U.S. embassies around the world are now taking tougher measures to enhance security screening of U.S. visa applicants to prevent potential security threats from entering the United States. Enhancing vetting procedures are intended to target individuals from certain “countries of concern” including the six countries of concern listed in the President’s travel ban: Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Iran, as well as others.

Applicants for U.S. visas from “countries of concern” can expect to undergo additional vetting procedures immediately. The U.S. Department of State has been using a supplemental questionnaire called the DS-5535 since May 25, 2017 which asks both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants a series of detailed questions to help consular officials determine whether a visa applicant must go through enhanced vetting to determine whether the individual poses a national security threat, or other potential threat to the United States. The questionnaire has been used as a temporary emergency measure in response to the President’s March memo, which called for enhanced screening of visa applicants, and what he has called “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals admitted to the United States.

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The newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is quickly mobilizing government resources to increase scrutiny and implement tougher screening procedures for applicants who are applying for a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies abroad. Reuters has reported that Secretary Tillerson has sent a series of internal cables (four in total) to consulates and embassies abroad instructing them of new measures to increase vetting of visa applicants (both immigrant and non-immigrant). These cables are as follows: (1) Cable 23338 entitled “Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts” issued on March 10, 2017; (2) Cable 24324 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 15, 2017; (3) Cable 24800 entitled “Halt Implementation” of President Trump’s new travel ban due to a temporary restraining order by a federal court, issued on March 16, 2017; and finally (4) Cable 25814 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 17, 2017.

In these cables, Tillerson has directed U.S. consulates and embassies to specifically identify population risks that warrant “increased scrutiny” and to implement tougher screening procedures for this particular group of people. Applicants who fall into one of the identifiable population groups will be subjected to a higher-level security screening. The cable does not identify whether embassies will be coordinating to provide a uniform standard for identifying populations who pose a security risk. This is a serious cause for concern, since U.S. embassies will likely vary in how they assess which groups pose a security risk. In addition, as part of these measures, the Secretary has ordered a mandatory social media check for all applicants who have ever visited or been present in any territory that is controlled by the Islamic State. Previously, social media screening was not a part of the regular screening process for U.S. visa applicants, however this screening process has always been a discretionary measure.

In addition, the cables provided instructions for the implementation of President Trump’s newly revised executive order on immigration which sought to temporarily bar the admission of foreign nationals from Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Yemen, as well as Syrian refugees, including mandatory enhanced visa screening procedures. Several of these cables were quickly retracted by the Secretary of State after a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order blocking Trump’s embattled executive order from proceeding as planned. The Trump administration had envisioned strict new guidelines for vetting U.S. visa applicants, and this vision was reflected in Tillerson’s cables.

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In this series, our office brings you up to speed on all things immigration.

Reminders for H-1B applicants for Fiscal Year 2018

Beginning April 3, 2017 USCIS will begin to accept cap-subject H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018. USCIS has recently announced that premium processing has been temporarily suspended beginning April 3, for a 6-month period, that means that petitioners CANNOT file Form I-907 request for premium processing while premium processing has been suspended. As a reminder, for the general cap (U.S. bachelor’s degree holders or the foreign equivalent) only 65,000 H-1B visas are available per fiscal year, while 20,000 H-1B visas have been allocated for the advanced degree exemption (U.S. Master’s degree holders or higher level of education). Our office has estimated that this H-1B season, advanced degree holders will have a 65 to 70% chance of being selected in the lottery, while individuals qualifying for the general U.S. bachelor’s cap will have a 35 to 40% chance of selection.

For more information about the H-1B visa please click here.

I-130 Consular Processing

If you have applied for an immigrant visa with the National Visa Center, a process that is also known as consular processing, and you are preparing your civil documents for shipment to the National Visa Center or for your immigrant visa interview, please be aware that the Department of State has recently made changes to the Country Reciprocity tables, requiring new or additional documents for certain foreign nationals depending on their country of nationality. All original civil documents must be presented at the immigrant visa interview by the intended beneficiary.

To view the updates please click here.

To review the complete Visa Reciprocity Table, please click here.

What is happening with Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban and what is a Temporary Restraining Order?

Trump’s revised executive order banning the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Iran, and Yemen) and the admission of refugees is currently on hold. A federal judge from the state of Hawaii has issued what is known as a TRO or Temporary Restraining Order.

What is a TRO?

A TRO is a provisional form of relief granted by the federal courts that prevents a party from doing a certain thing so that the moving party does not suffer harm. The relief provided by a TRO is immediate, because the order is only granted under emergency circumstances. A TRO goes into effect for 14 days and can be extended for another 14 days (maximum 28 days). A TRO is not permanent.

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