Articles Posted in Nonimmigrant Visas

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A new policy brief published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) analyzing USCIS processing times reveals that the agency has reached “crisis” level delays in processing immigrant and non-immigrant petitions. These delays have worsened during the Trump administration.

According to the report the most vulnerable populations include immigrant families, domestic abuse survivors and their children, traumatized and threatened persons seeking humanitarian aid, and U.S. businesses.

Specifically, the report finds that USCIS data released for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 reveals that USCIS is failing to adjudicate cases in a reasonable and timely manner:

  • The overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014.
  • USCIS processed 94 percent of its form types—from green cards for family members to visas for human trafficking victims to petitions for immigrant workers—more slowly in FY 2018 than in FY 2014.
  • Case processing times increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease
  • Data revealed a “net backlog” exceeding 2.3 million delayed cases at the end of FY 2017
  • DHS identified a net backlog of 2,330,143 USCIS cases as of the end of FY 2017.7
  • DHS observed that USCIS’s “net backlog has been as high as 1.7 million in FY 2004 and 1.5 million in FY 2008”—suggesting that USCIS’s net backlog at the conclusion of FY 2017 was its highest on record
  • the FY 2017 net backlog more than doubled from 1,047,751 cases at the conclusion of FY 2016—despite only a four percent increase in case receipts during that one-year period

What is to blame?

According to the report the following decisions made under the Trump administration have exacerbated delays and slowed the level of immigration to the United States:

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The Department of Homeland Security has published an advanced copy of the final rule that will amend the way the H-1B visa program will be run in the future. The official version of the final rule is set to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow January 31, 2019, and become effective April 1, 2019, the beginning of the H-1B cap visa season for fiscal year 2020.

Beginning with the upcoming FY 2020 H-1B cap season, which kicks off on April 1, 2019, USCIS will reverse the order by which it selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption.

USCIS will first select H-1B petitions (or registrations, once the registration requirement is implemented) submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS will then select from the remaining eligible petitions, a number projected to reach the advanced degree exemption.

According to USCIS, “Changing the order in which USCIS counts these allocations will likely increase the number of petitions for beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected under the H-1B numerical allocations.”

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As part of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) new plan to modernize services offered by the agency, the agency has announced that it will gradually end self-scheduling of Infopass appointments, to encourage applicants to use online information resources and other online tools that allow applicants to check the status of their case, and other information.

According to USCIS, the Detroit Field Office and five offices in the Los Angeles area will begin the gradual phaseout of Infopass services. Newark, Great Lakes, and San Francisco will be next to gradually phaseout these services during the beginning of fiscal year 2019. USCIS expects to modernize its system completely by the end of fiscal year 2019.

According to USCIS Director Francis Cissna, “Expanding this program is a significant step in our efforts to move more USCIS services and information online. It also frees up agency staff to spend more time adjudicating benefit requests which should help reduce case processing times. USCIS remains committed to pursuing the most effective and efficient ways to administer our nation’s lawful immigration system.”

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The R-1 visa is arguably one of the most underrated work visas available in the U.S. immigration system. The R-1 visa program enables foreign nationals to travel to the United States for the purpose of engaging in temporary employment, as a minister, or in another religious vocation or occupation on at least a part time basis (20 hrs/week).

To qualify for the R-1 visa, the foreign national must be employed by (1) a non-profit religious organization in the United States or (2) a religious organization that is authorized by a group tax exemption holder to use its group tax exemption or (3) a non-profit religious organization affiliated with a religious denomination in the United States.

In addition, the foreign national must be a member of the religious denomination for at least two years immediately prior to filing for an R-1 visa.

What is considered a religious occupation under the program?

Religious occupations are those whose duties:

  • Primarily relate to a traditional religious function
  • Are recognized as a religious occupation within the denomination
  • Are primarily related to, and clearly involve, inculcate, or carry out the religious creed and beliefs of the denomination

Who may not be eligible for the R-1 visa?

Administrative or support personnel including janitors, maintenance workers, clerical employees, or fund-raisers, or similar occupations that involve soliciting donations. Limited administrative duties that are incidental to religious functions are permissible.

Benefits of the R-1 Visa Program

Dual Intent

The R-1 visa is a dual intent visa. A dual intent visa allows a foreign national to enter the United States as a non-immigrant for a temporary specified period of time, but allows the foreign national to retain the option of applying for a green card in the future.

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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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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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If you are a citizen of Canada or Mexico and you are interested in working in the United States temporarily, the TN visa may be right for you.

Under 8 CFR 214.16, Citizens of Canada or Mexico may seek temporary entry under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to engage in business activities at a professional level.

This section of the law defines business activities at a professional level as “undertakings which require….at least a baccalaureate degree or appropriate credentials demonstrating status as a professional in a profession set forth in Appendix 1603.D.1 of NAFTA.”

What are business activities at a professional level?

A citizen of Canada or Mexico may perform prearranged business activities for a United States entity, meaning that the Canadian or Mexican citizen must have a pre-arranged employment agreement to perform professional services in the United States. TN applicants may not enter with the intent to establish permanent residence in the United States. TN visa applicants may only remain in the United States to fulfill their pre-arranged employment agreement and depart after that period has ended. The TN visa is issued for an initial period of 3 years, with one-year extensions granted thereafter if necessary.

The following table outlines professions authorized for TN Visa purposes:

Appendix 1603.D.1 (Annotated)

– Accountant – Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or C.P.A., C.A., C.G.A., or C.M.A.

– Architect – Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license. 2

2 The terms “state/provincial license” and “state/provincial/federal license” mean any document issued by a state, provincial, or federal government, as the case may be, or under its authority, but not by a local government, that permits a person to engage in a regulated activity or profession.

– Computer Systems Analyst – Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma 3 or Post Secondary Certificate 4 and three years’ experience.

3 “Post Secondary Diploma” means a credential issued, on completion of two or more years of post secondary education, by an accredited academic institution in Canada or the United States.

4 “Post Secondary Certificate” means a certificate issued, on completion of two or more years of post secondary education at an academic institution, by the federal government of Mexico or a state government in Mexico, an academic institution recognized by the federal government or a state government, or an academic institution created by federal or state law.

– Disaster relief insurance claims adjuster (claims adjuster employed by an insurance company located in the territory of a Party, or an independent claims adjuster) – Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims; or three years experience in claims adjustment and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims.

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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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