Articles Posted in Nonimmigrant Visas

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A new policy memorandum will change the way the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for F, J, and M non-immigrant visa holders, and their dependents, beginning August 9, 2018, and onwards. The accrual of unlawful presence may lead to a bar preventing the foreign national from re-entering the United States.

In 1997 Congress began implementing a policy that governed the admissibility of individuals in F, J, and M non-immigrant visa status. Pursuant to that policy, nonimmigrants who overstayed their visa for more than 180 days could be subject to a 3-year bar, while individuals who overstayed for more than one year could be subject to the 10-year bar, for violating the terms of their visa status.

However, this class of individuals only began to accrue unlawful presence, where an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed from the United States, or where USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation, while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit, such as adjustment of status. This policy applied to all non-immigrants who were admitted or present in the United States in duration of status (D/S).

New Policy

On August 9, 2018, USCIS released a policy memorandum entitled “Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigrants,” superseding the previous 1997 policy, in order to reduce the number of overstays, and implement a new policy regarding how to calculate unlawful presence for F, J, and M non-immigrants and their dependents.

Pursuant to the new policy, from August 9th onwards, “F, J, and M nonimmigrants, and their dependents, admitted or otherwise authorized to be present in the United States in duration of status (D/S) or admitted until a specific date (date certain), start accruing unlawful presence,” as follows:

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released a new policy memorandum that will have wide ranging implications for immigrants. Beginning September 11, 2018, USCIS will use their discretion to deny an application, petition, or request filed with USCIS without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), if insufficient evidence is sent with the initial filing of the application or if the evidence provided does not establish the applicant’s eligibility for the benefit requested.

The new policy memorandum “Issuance of Certain RFEs and NOIDs; Revisions to Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 10.5(a), Chapter 10.5(b)” supersedes the 2013 policy memorandum titled “Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny” which previously governed an officer’s discretion to deny an application, petition, or request without first issuing a request for evidence. Previously, the 2013 memo required requests for evidence to be issued where the initial evidence was unsatisfactory or did not establish the applicant’s eligibility for the benefit requested.

As of September 11, 2018, USCIS now has the power to deny petitions lacking initial evidence without sending a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny to cure the defect. This is bad news for applicants of immigrant and non-immigrant visa types, because applicants who have not provided sufficient evidence to USCIS to establish that they are eligible for the benefit requested can be denied without having the opportunity to cure the defect.

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Earlier this week, the United States Supreme Court handed down a controversial decision upholding the President’s latest travel ban in the case Trump, President of the United States, Et Al. v. Hawaii Et Al. The 5-4 decision reflected a deeply divided court, but ultimately the conservative justices on the court banded together ruling in favor of the Trump administration.

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, ruled that the latest travel ban was “squarely within the scope of Presidential authority.” Justices Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg dissented. Despite concurring with the majority opinion Justice Kennedy added, “An anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.”

As you may recall in September of 2017 the President issued Executive Order No. 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats.” The purpose of this executive order was to identify any deficiencies from several foreign countries needed to adequately assess whether nationals from particular countries seeking to enter the United States presented security or safety threats to the United States. The order specifically called for global requirements for information sharing among these countries, and increased immigration screening and vetting of individuals from particular countries of concern. The President exercised his broad authority under the constitution to place entry restrictions on nationals of eight foreign countries whose information systems for managing and sharing information about their nationals was deemed inadequate by the current administration. These countries included—Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia.

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released a new policy memorandum that may soon change the way the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for individuals currently in the United States on an F, J, or M non-immigrant visa type, as well as their dependents accompanying them in the United States.

The new policy proposes that F, J, and M nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status before August 9, 2018, will begin accruing unlawful presence on that day.

Generally, F, J, and M nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status on or after August 9, 2018, will begin to accrue unlawful presence the day after they abandon their course of study or authorized activity, or engage in an unauthorized activity.

Current Policy

Since 1997, it has been USCIS policy to begin calculating the accrual of unlawful presence, for a F or J nonimmigrant admitted to the United States in duration of status (D/S), one day after finding the nonimmigrant in violation of their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit (such as a change of status petition) or on the day after an immigration judge has ordered the exclusion, removal, or deportation of the nonimmigrant, whichever comes first.

F, J, and M nonimmigrants admitted for a specified date (not D/S) began to accrue unlawful presence on the day their Form I-94 expired, on the day after finding the nonimmigrant in violation of their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit (such as a change of status petition) or on the day after an immigration judge has ordered the exclusion, removal, or deportation of the nonimmigrant, whichever comes first.

DHS recently conducted a study to determine the number of nonimmigrants in F, J, or M status who have overstayed. For FY 2016, DHS calculated that out of a total of 1,456,556 aliens in F, J, and M nonimmigrant status expected to change status or depart the United States, 6.19% of F nonimmigrants, 3.80% of J nonimmigrants, and 11.60% of M nonimmigrants actually overstayed their status.

This minuscule percentage has caused USCIS to revise its policy and change how the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for this demographic.

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TPS Blunders: DHS Announces Termination of TPS Designation for Nepal, with a Delayed Effective Date of 12 months

The Department of Homeland Security has formally decided to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for the country of Nepal. According to a statement released by the Department of Homeland Security, the TPS designation for Nepal will officially terminate on June 24, 2019, giving nationals of the country of Nepal a period of 12 months to make an orderly departure from the United States or seek alternative legal means to remain in the United States, for those who are eligible.

The TPS designation for the country of Nepal had been in place since 2015, following a deadly earthquake that forced many to leave the country while the government focused on reconstruction efforts. According to CNN, roughly 9,000 Nepalese immigrants had been living in the United States under TPS protection.

According to Secretary Nielsen the decision was made after it was determined that the conditions in Nepal no longer required the designation to continue. According to DHS, “the disruption of living conditions in Nepal” caused by the 2015 earthquake “have decreased to a degree that they should no longer be regarded as substantial, and Nepal can now adequately manage the return of its nationals.”

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Beginning April 30, 2018 until October 31, 2018, the California Service Center (CSC) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Blaine, Washington, Port of Entry (POE) will implement a joint 6-month pilot program for the benefit of Canadian citizens seeking entry to the United States in L non-immigrant visa status pursuant to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The L-1 Visa:

The L-1 visa designation allows a foreign company to transfer an executive or manager to an existing U.S. subsidiary or parent company of the foreign entity, or allows the foreign entity to send the executive or manager to the U.S. for the purpose of establishing an affiliated subsidiary or parent company of the foreign entity (L-1A). In addition, the foreign company can transfer an employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. on an L-1B visa. To qualify, applicants must have worked abroad for the foreign employer for at least one year within the proceeding three years.

Under the NAFTA program, Canadians can apply to receive an L visa at the border and are not required to file an L visa application with USCIS or at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Up until this point, the application procedure involved same-day processing of an L application where the worker would file Form I-129 with supporting evidence at a Class A Port of Entry to the United States, or airport pre-clearance location, where the petition would be granted or denied at the port of entry.

Pilot Program

Under the new pilot program, petitioners may file an L petition on behalf of a Canadian citizen by first submitting Form, I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and supporting evidence to the California Service Center, before the Canadian citizen seeks nonimmigrant L-1 admission to the United States through the Blaine Port of Entry. Petitioners should include a cover sheet annotated with “Canadian L” to ensure quick identification of the Form I-129 and for any correspondence thereafter, such as a response to a request for evidence (RFE).

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In what seems like déjà vu, today, March 20, 2018 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced that the agency will be temporarily suspending premium processing service for all fiscal year 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions that seek an exemption for individuals who possess a U.S. master’s degree or higher. The suspension is expected to last until September 10, 2018. Based on similar announcements made by USCIS in the past, we expect premium processing service to remain suspended until at least September 10.

As some of you may remember, USCIS suspended premium processing in a similar fashion during April of last year for fiscal year 2018 cap-subject petitions, and lifted the suspension until September 18 of 2017.

Petitions not subject to FY 2019 Cap

Premium processing requests will continue to be accepted for H-1B petitions NOT subject to the FY 2019 cap. USCIS will make an announcement as we get closer to September notifying the public regarding any decision to resume premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions. In previous years, USCIS lifted the suspension in July for beneficiaries who were exempt from the cap, because of their employment at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, organization, or entity. We expect USCIS to follow a similar pattern in July of this year, with the temporary suspension for cap-subject petitions being lifted sometime in early September.

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Tis the season to file for one of the most popular visa types: The H-1B visa. Filings for cap-subject petitions will begin to be accepted by USCIS beginning April 2nd and the filing period will end on April 6, 2018. As many of you know, the odds of being selected in the H-1B visa lottery are slim, but even those who are selected in the visa lottery have to overcome yet another hurdle, the Request for Evidence. Since President Trump issued the executive order “Buy American, Hire American,” the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began scrutinizing the adjudication of H-1B visa applications more closely.

Our attorneys witnessed this phenomenon first hand. The volume of requests for evidence increased significantly and USCIS began to be more demanding in the types of documentation requested to qualify for the program.

For this reason, we advise our clients and readers to be very careful this H-1B season and be mindful of the challenges they may face as they proceed with the H-1B visa process.

Common Types of RFE’s and how to avoid them:

  • Level One Wage: Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American” directs the Department of State to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries. USCIS has increasingly issued RFEs in which the employer is paying the H-1B worker a level 1 wage. This has prompted USCIS to question why someone with a specialty occupation would be paid the level 1 wage, a wage that is typically reserved for entry-level positions and individuals who only have a basic understanding of the occupation. Thus, it would not be appropriate for someone who has an intermediate to advanced understanding of the occupation to be paid a level 1 wage. Situations in which a level 1 wage is inappropriate also include cases where the worker will take on a complex set of job duties.

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During December of last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced that the agency was beginning to take preliminary steps to terminate H-4 Employment Authorization for certain H-4 spouses, a privilege that has been available to eligible spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers since 2015. As it stands, the 2015 H-4 EAD rule allows certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrant workers the ability to obtain an employment authorization card (work permit), provided the H-1B nonimmigrant worker is in the process of obtaining an employment based green card.

Proposal to Amend the 2015 H-4 EAD Rule

On December 14, 2017, a rulemaking notice was first published in the Federal Register notifying the public that the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with USCIS, would be reviewing and possibly amending the 2015 H-4 EAD rule, following the issuance of Executive Order 13788, “Buy American, Hire American.”

According to the notice published in the Federal Register, DHS reserves the authority to amend the 2015 H-4 EAD rule under section 102 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and section 103(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These sections of the law give the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the discretionary power to amend the law so that it aligns with the policies set out in the President’s executive order.

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As previously reported, on October 8, 2017, the United States announced the suspension of all non-immigrant visa services across U.S. Embassies and Consulates in Turkey “until further notice,” following news that a U.S. embassy official was placed under arrest without explanation and without access to counsel. This included the suspension of the issuance of: B-2 visas for temporary tourism or medical reasons, B-1 visas for temporary business visitors, F-1 student visas, E-1 treaty trader visas, E-2 treaty trader visas, and other non-immigrant visa types.

Since October 8, 2017 until just recently, no new non-immigrant visa applications were being processed in Turkey until the U.S. government could receive assurances form the Turkish government that embassy staff officials would not be detained or placed under arrest without cause, or access to counsel.

On November 6, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, announced that the United States has received sufficient assurances from the Government of Turkey that employees under the diplomatic mission are not under investigation, that local staff of U.S. embassies and consulates will not be detained or arrested in connection with their official duties, and finally that the U.S. government will be notified in advance if the Turkish government plans to arrest or detain any local staff at U.S. embassies in Turkey. The announcement however provides that the United States “continues to have serious concerns about the existing cases against arrested local employees” of the Mission in Turkey and of “. . . the cases against U.S. citizens who have been arrested under [a] state of emergency.”

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