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Articles Posted in Policy Manuals

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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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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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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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Return of Unselected H-1B Petitions

H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in the fiscal year 2019 visa lottery have been returned to unlucky applicants. If you filed a petition between April 2 and April 6 and you did not receive a receipt notice for your application, you will be receiving your returned petitions in the mail by August 13. If you do not receive a returned petition by this date, you should contact USCIS.

Updated NTA Policy

On June 28th USCIS issued a policy memorandum providing updated guidance for the referral of cases and issuances of notices to appear (NTAs) in cases involving inadmissible and deportable aliens. The policy memorandum outlines the Department of Homeland Security’s priorities for removal as well as guidelines for referring cases and issuing NTAs.

Under the updated policy the following classes of aliens are prioritized for removal, aliens who are removable based on criminal or security grounds, fraud or misrepresentation, and aliens subject to expedited removal,” as well as alienswho, regardless of the basis for removal:

(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;

(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;

(e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but have not departed; or

(g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security”

Today, USCIS announced that it is postponing implementation of this policy guidance because operational guidance has not yet been provided to immigration officers. The policy memorandum gave USCIS 30 days to implement proper protocols for NTA issuance consistent with the updated policy memorandum. We will notify our readers once we receive information about when the NTA policy will be implemented.

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A new report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) released this month indicates that the number of H-1B denials and Requests for Evidence (RFEs) increased significantly during the fourth quarter of 2017 which began on July 1, 2017, following the implementation of Presidential Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American” in April 2017. Among other things, the Executive Order targeted the H-1B visa program calling on the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to suggest reforms to the H-1B program and “ensure that H-1B visas are awarded the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.” Data obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicates that “the proportion of H-1B petitions denied for foreign-born professionals” applying for H-1B visas, “increased by 41% from the 3rd to the 4th quarter of FY 2017, rising from a denial rate of 15.9% in the 3rd quarter to 22.4% in the 4th quarter.”

The NFAP also discovered that the number of requests for evidence issued during the 4th quarter of fiscal year 2017 “almost equaled the total number issued by USCIS adjudicators for the first three quarters of FY 2017 combined (63,184 vs. 63,599).”

The number of requests for evidence “more than doubled between the 3rd and 4th quarter of FY 2017, rising from 28,711 to 63,184.”

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Indian Nationals

According to the report, “USCIS adjudicators were much more likely to issue a Request for Evidence for applications for Indians than for people from other countries.” For example, “In the 4th quarter of FY 2017, 72% of H-1B cases for Indians received a Request for Evidence, compared to 61% for all other countries.” Data over the years confirms that applications filed by Indian nationals result in higher rates of denials and requests for evidence, not just for H-1B applications but also for L-1 visa applications.

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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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The Trump administration has ended an Obama-era policy that required immigration officials to release pregnant women in detention from federal custody. As of at least December, the Trump administration has directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to treat pregnant detainees as they would any other, except for women who have reached their third trimester. The new policy change aligns with the President’s hard line stance on immigration, and executive orders signed into law by the President during the past few months.

Under the new policy, immigration officials must now make a case-by-case determination “taking any special factors into account,” when deciding whether to release pregnant women in federal custody, including whether the alien has an asylum claim based on a credible fear of persecution. Other factors that are taken into account include the woman’s medical condition, potential danger to the public, and potential for flight. Pregnant women who remain in detention will continue to receive necessary medical care and a record of pregnant women in custody must be kept by immigration officials.

Philip Miller, ICE Deputy Executive Associate Director, divulged that 35 pregnant women are currently in federal custody subject to mandatory detention, and that 506 pregnant women have been detained by ICE since December. Miller however would not comment on how many of these women were deported, or released from detention. “In terms of risks to the community, we look at criminal history. Just as there are men who commit violent acts, heinous acts, so too have we had women in custody who have been convicted of committing heinous, violent acts,” Miller commented when discussing the factors that mitigate against release.

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ICE Memo Discusses Immigration Enforcement of EOs 13767 and 13768  

In a new memorandum entitled “Implementing the President’s Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Policies,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), outlines the President’s policies going forward in implementing Executive Order 13767, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” and Executive Order 13768 “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” signed by the President on January 25, 2017.

The memorandum makes clear that enforcement and removal operations will be taken immediately against all removable aliens, prioritizing expedited removal of aliens with criminal history or prior immigration violations such as fraud or material misrepresentation. Accordingly, the Department of Homeland security “will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement” under EO 13767 and 13768.

Under these directives, officers will prioritize efforts to remove individuals who:

  • Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • Have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • Have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;
  • Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • Are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
  • In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

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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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extreme hardship

Yesterday, USCIS released a draft version of what will eventually be used as the policy manual guide of extreme hardship. The policy manual has been created for the purpose of assisting adjudicating officers in making final determinations on the merits of waivers of inadmissibility. Certain aliens, who are found to be inadmissible under specific grounds of the law, can apply for a discretionary waiver in order to adjust their status to permanent residence. In order to do so, the alien must demonstrate their relationship to a qualifying relative (US Citizen or LPR family member) and establish that the qualifying relative would experience an “extreme hardship” in their absence. The policy manual includes guidance relating to general considerations, interpretations of existing law, and adjudication steps that will help consular officers establish whether a waiver of inadmissibility merits a favorable decision and whether the burden of proof has been satisfied by the applicant. The draft highlights important requirements that must be taken into consideration by adjudicating officers when considering the merits of a waiver application. Such requirements include 1) whether the alien has demonstrated that they possess a qualifying relative 2) the presence of an extreme hardship to the qualifying relative and 3) discretionary measures based on the totality of the facts presented. USCIS has invited the public to comment on the draft from now until November 23, 2015.

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