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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we cover the latest immigration news of the week.

USCIS Launches Online Form to Report Fraud

On March 3rd USCIS announced the launch of a new online form available on the USCIS website that can be used to report suspected immigration fraud and abuse including asylum/refugee fraud, religious worker visa fraud, employment-based visa fraud, investor visa fraud (EB-5 program), student visa fraud, marriage or fiancé visa fraud, unauthorized practice of law (notarios), and other types of immigration fraud.

This “USCIS tip form” provides space for the form user to describe alleged fraud or abuse in detail. According to USCIS, the tip form was created to make the tip process more effective and efficient, so that the agency can better collect information and make an assessment regarding the credibility of tips sent to the agency.

Previously fraud reporting was done by email, making it difficult for USCIS to respond and investigate tips.

This new online system for reporting fraud represents the Trump administration’s commitment to crack down and prevent various forms of visa fraud.

Over the years, the Trump administration has signed various directives and executive orders such as “Buy American, Hire American” aimed at rooting out fraudulent H1B, asylum/refugee, and EB-5 investor visas. The Trump administration has also worked to limit or slow down the issuance of these visas by issuing aggressive requests for evidence in the case of H1B visas and increasing the minimum investment amount for EB-5 investors.

Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry of Certain Immigrants and Nonimmigrants who Pose a Risk of Transmitting the Coronavirus

On February 3rd the Department of State issued an important announcement reminding travelers of a Presidential proclamation signed on January 31st barring entry to the United States of immigrants or nonimmigrants who traveled to China within the 14 days immediately prior to arrival in the United States.

The proclamation went into effect on Sunday, February 2.

Travelers should note that the proclamation does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States.  Foreign diplomats traveling to the United States on A or G visas are excepted from this proclamation.  Other exceptions include certain family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, including spouses, children (under the age of 21), parents (provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21), and siblings (provided that both the sibling and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21).  There is also an exception for crew traveling to the United States on C, D or C1/D visas.

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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In this blog post we highlight the best features of E-2 Treaty Investor Visa program, for individuals seeking to live and work in the United States for a temporary period of time.

First let’s discuss what the E-2 visa is. The E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa type, which means that it is a temporary visa option for individuals who do not wish to immigrate to the United States, but rather are interested in remaining in the United States for a limited period of time.

Secondly, the E-2 visa is a treaty investor visa. This means that in order to qualify for this visa type you must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation. This visa type allows a national of a treaty country to apply for admission to the United States under the E-2 visa category for the purpose of investing a substantial amount of capital in a United States business.

Currently, 89 countries maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. Israel and New Zealand are the most recent countries to enter into a treaty commerce and navigation with the United States, allowing nationals of these countries to participate in the E-2 visa program. For a complete list of the countries with which the U.S. maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, please click here.

The most frequently asked question when it comes to the E-2 visa is, how much money must I invest in order to qualify for this visa type?

The amount of money that must be invested depends on the nature of the business’ operations. USCIS defines the amount of capital to be invested as “a substantial amount of capital” interpreted as:

  • Substantial in relationship to the total cost of either purchasing an established enterprise or establishing a new one
  • Sufficient to ensure the treaty investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise
  • Of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the treaty investor will successfully develop and direct the enterprise.  The lower the cost of the enterprise, the higher, proportionately, the investment must be to be considered substantial.

Thirdly, to qualify for the E-2 visa the investment must be in a bona fide business enterprise that is real, active, and operating and is producing either services or goods for profit. Passive investments are not allowed.

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House Passes CR Bill to Fund EB-5 through November 21st 

Great news! On September 19, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4378, a continuing resolution bill that will fund the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program through November 21, 2019.

H.R. 4378 has now passed on to the Senate where it will be considered and voted on. The bill is expected to clear the Senate and be signed into law by the President prior to September 30, 2019, the fiscal year deadline.

If the Senate is unable to pass the bill by that date, a government shutdown will likely occur until Congress is able to pass the continuing resolution bill to keep the government open and federal programs afloat.

Performance Data Form I-829 and Form I-526

Just days before the House passed H.R. 4378, USCIS published its third quarterly report for FY 2019 providing insight on performance data for petitions filed by entrepreneurs to remove conditions (Form I-829) and performance data for Immigrant Petitions filed by Alien Entrepreneurs (Form I-526).

What does the Quarterly Report reveal?

  • First off, USCIS is approving dramatically fewer I-526 than ever before:
    • Completion rates for I-526 have fallen 63%, comparing FY2019 with FY2018 year-to-date.
    • In FY2019 Q3, USCIS processed fewer I-526 than ever before in its history – only 579 completions for the whole quarter, as compared with 3,000-4,400 completions per quarter last year.
    • In FY2019 Q3, a record number of I-526 decisions were denials — 42%. The average I-526 denial rate is 20% in FY2019 YTD, as compared with 9% in FY2018 YTD.
  • Secondly, USCIS is processing dramatically fewer forms in total than ever before:
    • Completion rates across EB-5 forms (I-526, I-829, I-924) have collectively fallen 59%, comparing FY2019 with FY2018 year-to-date.
    • In FY2019 Q3, IPO processed more I-829 than in the previous quarter, but still a low volume – lower than average 2017/2018 performance for I-829.
  • Overall this data reflects reduced performance combined with backlogs causing extremely long processing times (The Current Processing Times report indicates that an I-924 is only considered “outside normal” processing after 90 months)

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The Trump administration is bringing about more changes to the world of immigration, this time targeting the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

USCIS has just announced that it is planning to revise regulations governing the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

Tomorrow, the agency will be publishing a final rule in the federal register outlining these changes. The final rule becomes effective on November 21, 2019.

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New Zealand Now Eligible to Apply for E-1 and E-2 Investor Visas

Beginning June 10, 2019, New Zealand nationals can apply for the E visa categories thanks to the President’s enactment of the Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors (KIWI) Act. Applicants who are already in the United States on a valid non-immigrant visa may now apply for a change of status to an E visa.

The E visa does not provide a direct path to permanent residency, but it is a great option for individuals who wish to live and work in the United States with their families for a temporary period of time. There is no set limit on the maximum amount of time an individual may remain on the E visa, but applicants must intend to depart at the end of their period of authorized stay in the United States.

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We are pleased to announce very exciting news for our Israeli clients. The U.S. Embassy in Israel has announced the implementation of the U.S. E-2 Investor Visa Program for Israeli nationals, beginning May 1st.

Our Israeli clients have been waiting for this opportunity for years and we are very happy to tell you that you will now have the opportunity to apply for the E-2 visa as an Israeli national, beginning May 1st.

The E-2 investor visa is a non-immigrant temporary visa that allows foreign nationals from participating countries to invest in the creation of a new business, or in an existing business. The E-2 visa applicant can apply for the E-2 visa to develop, direct, or provide their specialized skills to the company they are investing in.

To qualify for a Treaty Investor (E-2) visa:  

  • The investment must be substantial and sufficient to ensure the successful operation of the enterprise;
  • The business must be a real operating enterprise;
  • The investor must be traveling to the U.S. to develop and direct the enterprise;
  • If the applicant is not the investor, he or she must be employed in a supervisory, executive, or highly specialized skill capacity.

Requirements

  • The investor, either a person, partnership or corporate entity, must be a citizen of a treaty trade/investment country, and be involved in international trade.
  • If the investor is a company, at least 50% of the owners in the qualifying company must maintain the nationality of a treaty trader country if they are not lawful permanent residents of the U.S. If these owners are in the U.S., they must be in E-1 or E-2 status.
  • The investment funds and the applicant must come from the same Treaty Country.
  • The business in which investment is being made must provide job opportunities or make a significant economic impact tin the United States. The business should not be established solely for the purpose of earning a living for the applicant and his or her family.

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The E-2 treaty investor visa allows foreign nationals to make an investment in an existing or new business venture in the United States.

Advantages

There are no numerical limitations on the number of E-2 visas that can be issued, and there is no set minimum level of investment required, however the level of investment that should be made in the business venture should be sufficient to justify the presence of the foreign national in the United States. Although the E-2 visa is granted for an initial two-year period, the investor may qualify to extend their stay in two-year increments, with no outer limit on the total period of the foreign national’s stay.

Disadvantages

Not all foreign nationals are eligible to apply for the E-2 treaty investor visa. To qualify, you must be a foreign national from a treaty country that participates in a treaty of friendship, commerce, navigation or similar agreement with the United States. See below for qualifying countries:

Albania Czech Republic Kosovo Romania
Argentina Denmark Kyrgyzstan Serbia
Armenia Ecuador Latvia Senegal
Australia Egypt Liberia Singapore
Austria Estonia Lithuania Slovak Republic
Azerbaijan Ethiopia Luxembourg Slovenia
Bahrain Finland Macedonia Spain
Bangladesh France Mexico Sri Lanka
Belgium Georgia Moldova Suriname
Bolivia Germany Mongolia Sweden
Bosnia and Herzegovina Grenada Montenegro Switzerland
Bulgaria Honduras Morocco Thailand
Cameroon Iran The Netherlands Togo
Canada Ireland Norway Trinidad and Tobago
Chile Italy Oman Tunisia
China (Taiwan) Jamaica Pakistan Turkey
Colombia Japan Panama Ukraine
Congo (Brazzaville and Kinshasa) Jordan Paraguay United Kingdom
Costa Rica Kazakhstan Philippines Yugoslavia
Croatia South Korea Poland

Another disadvantage is that the E-2 visa is a temporary non-immigrant visa type. This means that the E-2 visa does not create a pathway to permanent residency. In addition, making an investment in a small business venture is risky. Most small businesses fail. Investors seeking to establish a new business in the United States must be prepared to face challenges, obstacles, and potential losses. If the investment will be made by a company, at least 50% of owners in the qualifying country must maintain the nationality of a treaty trader country if they are not lawful permanent residents.

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Citizens of New Zealand now qualify for the E-2 Treaty Trader Investor Visa thanks to a United States–New Zealand partnership recently signed into law. The KIWI Act, or Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors Act, signed into law on August 1st, adds New Zealand to the list of eligible countries participating in the E-2 Visa program. This is great news for entrepreneurs from New Zealand seeking to do business in the United States.

Overview of the E-2 Treaty Trader Investor Visa

The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa is a non-immigrant visa type that is only available to foreign nationals of a foreign country with a qualifying treaty of friendship, commerce, navigation, or a similar agreement with the United States. A treaty trader visa is issued for an initial period of 2 years that can be renewed in 2-year increments, with no outer limit on the total period of stay. Dependents of the principal E-2 applicant can apply for derivative E visas to accompany the entrepreneur in the United States.

The E-2 visa allows entrepreneurs from treaty nations to enter the United States and carry out investment and trade activities. Investment activities include the creation of a new business in the United States, or an investment in an existing business in the United States. The investment must be significantly proportional to the total investment, that is, usually more than half the total value of the enterprise or, if a new business, an amount normally considered necessary to establish the business.

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Today, May 25, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will be publishing a proposed rule in the Federal Register on May 29th to end the International Entrepreneur Rule, a program that gives foreign entrepreneurs the opportunity to apply for parole to come to the United States for the purpose of developing or starting a business venture in the United States.

As you may be aware, during July of last year, DHS took its first steps to dismantle the program by delaying the implementation of the rule until March 14, 2018. During that time, DHS began to draft a proposal to rescind the rule. In December of 2017 however, a federal court ordered USCIS to begin accepting international entrepreneur parole applications, vacating the delay.

In an act of defiance, DHS is now seeking to eliminate the international entrepreneur rule altogether because the department believes that the rule sweeps to broadly and doesn’t provide sufficient protections for U.S. workers and investors. According to the agency, the international entrepreneur rule “is not an appropriate vehicle for attracting and retaining international entrepreneurs.” This is once again an effort by the Trump administration to undermine Obama era policies such as Deferred Action, to better align with the President’s America-first policies on immigration.

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