Articles Posted in Policy Manual

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Last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its policy manual to clarify acts that may prevent a naturalization applicant from meeting the good moral character requirement.

A successful naturalization applicant must show that they have been, and continue to be a person of good moral character during the statutory period prior to filing the application for naturalization and up until taking the Oath of Allegiance. The statutory period is generally give years for permanent residents of the United States, three years for applicants married to U.S. citizens, and one year for certain applicants applying on the basis of qualifying U.S. military service.

Two or more DUI Convictions

Firstly, the policy manual clarifies that two or more DUI convictions during the statutory period could affect an applicant’s good moral character determination (Matter of Castillo-Perez). However, applicants with two or more DUI convictions may be able to overcome this presumption by presenting evidence that they had good moral character even during the period within which they committed the DUI offenses.

DUI refers to all state and federal impaired-driving offenses, including driving while intoxicated, operating under the influence, and other offenses that make it unlawful for an individual to operate a motor vehicle while impaired.

Post-Sentencing Orders

Secondly, the policy manual clarifies the definition of “term of imprisonment or a sentence” to mean, an alien’s original criminal sentence, without regard to post-sentencing changes. Post-sentencing orders that change a criminal alien’s original sentence are only relevant for immigration purposes if they are based on a procedural or substantive defect in the underlying criminal proceeding.

Furthermore, the policy guidance provides the following as examples of unlawful acts recognized by case law as barring good mood character (this list is not exhaustive):

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The Trump administration’s controversial rule making certain foreign nationals inadmissible to receive permanent residence on public charge grounds, will become effective beginning October 15, 2019.

First, and foremost let’s recap what this rule is about and who it will apply to:

Under immigration law, an individual who, in the opinion of DHS is likely at any time to become a public charge is (1) ineligible for a visa (2) ineligible for admission to the United States and (3) ineligible for adjustment of status (permanent residence).

This means that the rule applies to foreign nationals applying for a U.S. visa, foreign nationals seeking admission through a port of entry, and individuals applying for adjustment of status.

When an individual applies for any immigration benefit with the government, (whether a U.S. visa or green card application), the official adjudicating the petition must determine whether that individual is or will likely become a public charge. This determination is referred to as a “public charge determination.”

What makes someone a public charge in the eyes of immigration?

A person is a “public charge” if they are primarily dependent on the Government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at Government expense.

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On August 28, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new policy guidance defining “residence” as it relates to U.S. Citizenship.

The new policy guidance clarifies what it means to “reside in the United States” for the purpose of acquiring citizenship and sets out new policy guidelines as it relates to the acquisition of citizenship of children of U.S. government employees and U.S. armed forces members employed or stationed outside the United States.

Effective October 29, 2019, children residing abroad with their U.S. citizen parents (who are U.S. government employees or members of the U.S. armed forces stationed abroad) will not be considered to be residing in the United States for acquisition of citizenship. Similarly, leave taken in the United States while stationed abroad is not considered residing in the United States even if the person is staying in property he or she owns.

Therefore, U.S. citizen parents who are residing outside the United States with children who are not U.S. citizens should apply for U.S. citizenship on behalf of their children, by filing Form N-600K Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322 and must complete the process before the child’s 18th birthday.

The child of a member of the U.S. armed forces accompanying his or her parent abroad on official orders may be eligible to complete all aspects of the naturalization proceedings abroad. This includes interviews, filings, oaths, ceremonies, or other proceedings relating to naturalization.

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On May 10, 2019, USCIS made important updates to its policy manual regarding public services which appear in PA-2019-03.

USCIS has clarified its policy regarding responses to service requests. It is the goal of USCIS to respond to a service request within 15 calendar days from the date the service request was filed with USCIS.

Requests Receiving Priority

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On August 8, 2018, DHS issued a policy memorandum directing USCIS to change the way in which the agency counted the days of unlawful presence for F, M, and J status violators.

Under that policy memorandum, F, M, and J nonimmigrants who accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then departed the United States, would trigger either a 3- or 10-year bar to admission depending on the period of unlawful presence accrued in the United States prior to departure. The new policy would begin counting the days of unlawful presence the day after an F, M, or J status violation, unless an exception applied.

These bars would prevent the foreign national from applying for an immigration benefit in the future, without the approval of a waiver of inadmissibility.

This policy was to become effective on August 9, 2018; however, it quickly grew controversial and inspired a slew of lawsuits. Prior to this attempted policy change, USCIS did not begin counting a period of unlawful presence until a USCIS immigration official or immigration judge made a formal finding of a status violation.

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We would like to remind our readers that beginning September 11, 2018, USCIS immigration officers will have the discretion to issue denials without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOIDs).

The new policy was announced in a policy memorandum released during the month of July.

On September 6, 2018, the CIS Ombudsman’s Office provided further details on the new policy:

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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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Unsurprisingly, this week we learned that the Trump administration is taking further steps to toughen the process of applying for an H-1B visa extension/renewal request, and that of other highly sought-after non-immigrant work visa types filed using Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker such as the H, O, P, L, and R work visas. The news comes as part of the President’s ongoing plan to prioritize the employment of American workers over foreign workers, outlined in the President’s Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American.”

On October 23, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the agency will be updating its adjudication policy “to ensure petitioners meet the burden of proof for a non-immigrant worker extension petition.” The change in policy specifically provides that USCIS officers will “apply the same level of scrutiny to both initial petitions and extension requests” for the H-1B visa as well as other nonimmigrant visa types.

Per USCIS, this policy will now apply to “nearly all non-immigrant classifications filed using Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.” This means that all nonimmigrant worker visa renewal requests, made using Form I-129, will be subject to the same level of scrutiny that was applied during the foreign worker’s initial non-immigrant work visa request.

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On March 31, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new policy memorandum providing new guidance relating to the adjudication of H-1B petitions for computer programmers. The new memorandum will supersede and replace the policy memorandum that had been in place since the year 2000, which previously governed adjudication procedures for H-1B computer related occupations.

The new memorandum seeks to update the outdated provisions of the 2000 memorandum because the policies set out in that memorandum no longer reflect the current policies of the agency. The main purpose for rescinding the 2000 memorandum is not to change the H-1B application process for employers who seek to employ foreign workers in computer related occupations, rather the new memorandum clarifies the proper adjudication procedures for computer related occupations at all service centers.

Why the Change?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a handbook published by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics which includes information relating to the training and education required for various employment positions. The OOH is of particular importance for H-1B petitioners and practicing attorneys, because USCIS consults the OOH as a guide to inform their decision regarding the general qualifications necessary for a particular occupation, and whether the occupation is to be considered a “specialty occupation.” The OOH however does not on its own establish whether a position is a “specialty occupation,” rather adjudicating officers focus on the position itself and the job duties and qualifications of the beneficiary, to determine whether the position is to be considered a specialty occupation.

The main problem with the 2000 policy memorandum was that it relied on an outdated OOH description of the position of “computer programmer,” creating inconsistencies that are no longer followed by adjudicating officers today.

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released an updated policy manual addressing the policies and procedures associated with adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence under section 245a of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The policies set forth in the newly updated policy manual are effective beginning February 25, 2016.

Adjustment of status is the process by which an eligible foreign national may adjust their status to lawful permanent resident, based on a qualifying family relationship or employer-employee relationship. Additionally, special categories of green card applicants exist covering self-petitioning Amerasian, Widow(ers) seeking lawful permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), refugees, asylees, certain U visa holders, humanitarian visa holders, and eligible diversity visa program immigrants. In order to file an adjustment of status application from within the United States the Beneficiary must 1) be living in the United States lawfully and 2) have been inspected, lawfully admitted, or paroled into the United States, (except in cases of 245i).

Foreign nationals living in the United States, who qualify for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence, may file their adjustment of status application with USCIS, without having to travel abroad to obtain an immigrant visa through a procedure known as consular processing. Foreign nationals residing abroad, who qualify for adjustment of status, must apply for an immigrant visa at a United States Embassy or Consulate abroad. Consular processing is different from adjustment of status from within the United States in various ways. Adjustment of status within the United States is a much faster process, however the main drawback is that applicants cannot travel internationally once their application has been filed with USCIS, until they are issued an advance parole document by USCIS authorizing such travel. In order to obtain an advance parole document, the green card applicant must file Form I-131 with USCIS. The advance parole document is typically issued within 90 days of filing of Form I-131. One of the main benefits of applying for an immigrant visa abroad through consular processing, is that the individual does not have any travel restrictions. It is for this reason that businesspersons and other individuals opt for consular processing instead of adjustment of status despite living in the United States.

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