Articles Posted in Syrian Crisis

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On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, the United States Supreme Court responded to the Trump administration’s motion seeking clarification regarding the Supreme Court’s June 26th preliminary ruling, which held that the President could enforce the travel ban against foreign nationals from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, who lack a credible “bona fide” relationship to a person residing in the United States, or entity such as an employer, religious, or academic institution.

The government sought clarification from the United States Supreme Court after the state of Hawaii challenged the government’s interpretation of a “close familial relationship,” and convinced a federal court judge that the Supreme Court intended close family members to include extended family members such as “grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States.” Federal judge Watson was also convinced that refugees with a formal assurance from a resettlement agency were exempt from the travel ban.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court denied the government’s motion seeking clarification of the court’s June 26, 2017 preliminary order, and reversed judge Watson’s decision regarding the admission of refugees with a formal assurance from a resettlement agency. The Supreme Court has ruled that refugees with a formal assurance from a resettlement agency will not be granted admission to the United States pending the resolution of the government’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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As previously reported, the U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that the court will be hearing arguments in defense of and in opposition to the President’s controversial executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” also known as the “travel ban” in October of this year.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court has allowed some parts of the President’s executive order to take effect until it makes a final ruling later this year. This means that certain foreign nationals will be prevented from gaining admission to the United States. Today, the Department of State announced that per the Supreme Court’s instructions, the President’s 90-day temporary suspension will be implemented worldwide at 8:00 PM (EST) beginning today, June 29, 2017.

Who will be affected?

Foreign nationals from the six countries of concern mentioned in the President’s executive order, including Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and Yemen, who do not have a bona fide relationship with a person, entity (such as a religious or academic institution), or employer in the United States, will not be granted admission to the United States for a period of 90 days, beginning, June 29, 2017 8:00 PM EST, unless the foreign national can demonstrate that they have a credible qualifying bona fide relationship with a person, employer, or entity in the United States. Such individuals may qualify for a case-by-case waiver.

In addition, refugees will not be admitted to the United States for a period of 90 days, beginning June 29, 2017 8:00 PM EST, unless they can demonstrate a legitimate claim of “concrete hardship,” to be weighed against the country’s concern for its national security.

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On Monday morning, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments for and against the President’s controversial executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” otherwise known as the “travel ban,”when it reconvenes in October of this year. The President’s executive order seeks to block the admission of foreign nationals from 6 predominantly Muslim countries (Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and Yemen) for a period of 90 days, and suspend the admission of refugees for a period of 120 days.

This announcement sets in motion the end of a long legal battle challenging the scope of the President’s executive power on immigration. This Fall, the Court will be tasked with determining whether the ban violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as key provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, signed into law by Congress.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court has announced, in their per curiam opinion, that a limited version of the President’s executive order will remain in effect, until the Court makes its final ruling. In their opinion, the Court ruled that foreigners who have no ties or relationships in the United States may be prohibited from entering the country. This would include individuals applying for visas who have never been to the United States, or have no family, business, or other ties.

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As previously reported, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015, was a bill that was signed into law at the end of 2015, which imposed new restrictions on the use of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for certain travelers. In this post, we update our readers regarding new information provided by CBP in their newly updated FAQ page.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of designated countries to apply for admission to the United States as visitors (traveling for holiday, business, or in transit) without having to obtain a non-immigrant B1/B2 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, using a system known as ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

To be eligible to travel to the United States under the visa waiver program, you must be a citizen of one of thirty-eight countries eligible to participate in the program, you must have a valid machine-readable passport issued by the participating country that is valid for at least 6 months before your planned departure, you must apply for and have an approved ESTA before your proposed travel, and you must intend to remain in the United States for 90 days or less.

You may not be eligible to travel under the VWP if you have been denied a U.S. visa in the past, or have an immigration violation. In this case, you must apply for a visitor visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, even if your country participates in the VWP.

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has dealt yet another blow to President Donald Trump’s embattled executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” an order which temporarily prevented the admission of foreign nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries (Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Libya, and Yemen) and the admission of all refugees. As previously reported, the case reached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel heard arguments against the President’s travel ban, brought by the state of Hawaii as well as other individual Plaintiffs.

Together, Judge Hawkins, Gould, and Paez, grilled the U.S. Solicitor General, Jeffrey Wall, representing the U.S. government, and attorney Neal Katyal, representing the state of Hawaii, concerning the constitutionality of the President’s executive order. Like the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Ninth Circuit Court once against decided against the President’s executive order, albeit for different reasons. The Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling against the travel ban is the latest in a string of court rulings rejecting the President’s executive order on statutory grounds.

In their 86-page opinion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the executive order on statutory grounds, stating that the President had exceeded his executive power and made an inadequate judgment call with the issuance of his executive order. “The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) gives the President broad powers to control the entry of aliens, and to take actions to protect the American public. But immigration, even for the President, is not a one-person show,” stated the Court, referring to the nation’s system of checks and balances. The Court added “we conclude that the President, in issuing the Executive Order, exceeded the scope of the authority delegated to him by Congress.” The Court further stated that the President’s executive order is at odds with various provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act established by Congress, including a provision that prohibits nationality-based discrimination and a provision that requires the President to follow specific protocol when setting the annual cap on admission for refugees. The lower’s courts injunction on the travel ban will remain in place until a decision is issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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In response to a memorandum issued to United States consulates and embassies around the world by President Trump and his administration on March 6, consular officials at U.S. embassies around the world are now taking tougher measures to enhance security screening of U.S. visa applicants to prevent potential security threats from entering the United States. Enhancing vetting procedures are intended to target individuals from certain “countries of concern” including the six countries of concern listed in the President’s travel ban: Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Iran, as well as others.

Applicants for U.S. visas from “countries of concern” can expect to undergo additional vetting procedures immediately. The U.S. Department of State has been using a supplemental questionnaire called the DS-5535 since May 25, 2017 which asks both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants a series of detailed questions to help consular officials determine whether a visa applicant must go through enhanced vetting to determine whether the individual poses a national security threat, or other potential threat to the United States. The questionnaire has been used as a temporary emergency measure in response to the President’s March memo, which called for enhanced screening of visa applicants, and what he has called “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals admitted to the United States.

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Today in a Seattle courtroom the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Trump’s revised travel ban. As you may recall President Trump issued a revised executive order in March to salvage his embattled travel ban, barring the entry of foreign nationals from Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for a 90-day period and refugees for 120 days. For over an hour, a three-judge panel listened to arguments from the U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall arguing on behalf of the Trump administration and Neal Katyal, an attorney representing the state of Hawaii and individuals challenging the President’s revised travel ban. The three-judge panel included Judge Ronald Gould, a moderate judge from Seattle, Washington, Judge Michael Hawkins, a moderate to liberal judge from Phoenix, Arizona, and Judge Richard Paez a liberal judge from Pasadena, California. The central question before the court was whether the President’s revised travel ban amounts to a violation of the U.S. Constitution based on religious discrimination.

The mood in the courtroom was contentious. Judges probed the Solicitor General to determine whether the President’s revised travel ban was specifically aimed at Muslims. The Solicitor General argued that the executive order was neutrally worded and that there were no indications in the language of the President’s executive order to indicate that there was any intent to discriminate the Muslim population. In a heated exchange, liberal Judge Richard Paez countered that even if the President’s executive order was “neutrally worded,” taking a seemingly “neutral” stance does not mean an executive order is devoid of discriminatory intent. Judge Paez noted that the executive order that interned Japanese Americans during World War II was also neutrally worded given that there was no reference to Japanese people specifically, but that the President at the time did intend to discriminate that particular demographic. During oral argument, Judge Paez commented on remarks made by the President during his campaign which have indicated his intent to target Muslims specifically with his executive order. Paez stated that Trump made references to a Muslim ban “in the midst of a highly contentious campaign” raising questions about whether the court should consider taking that into account.

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Today, March 30, 2017, a federal judge from the state of Hawaii extended a court order blocking the President’s new travel ban from being enforced. In a 24-page decision, Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii issued a preliminary injunction bringing the President’s executive order to a screeching halt indefinitely. Judge Watson first gained national attention two weeks ago, following his issuance of a temporary restraining order or TRO, which prevented the federal government from enforcing all provisions of the travel ban for a 14-day period. Watson’s TRO was meant to provide temporary relief pending further litigation. The state of Hawaii asked the judge to convert the TRO into a longer-lasting form of relief known as a preliminary injunction, at least until a higher court could issue a permanent ruling. The President’s embattled executive order sought to prevent the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim majority countries including Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Libya and Yemen, for a 90-day period as well as the admission of Syrian refugees for a 120-day period.

In his decision Judge Watson wrote that he based his grant of the preliminary injunction on the strong likelihood that the state of Hawaii would succeed in proving that the travel ban violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution which protects freedom of religion. In addition, the state of Hawaii successfully argued that absent the provisional relief, citizens of the state would be irreparably harmed. Attorneys for the state added that the state’s national economy would suffer in the absence of relief, and that its state universities would also be harmed by the President’s executive order in both the state’s ability to retain and recruit foreign born students and faculty.

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In this series, our office brings you up to speed on all things immigration.

Reminders for H-1B applicants for Fiscal Year 2018

Beginning April 3, 2017 USCIS will begin to accept cap-subject H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2018. USCIS has recently announced that premium processing has been temporarily suspended beginning April 3, for a 6-month period, that means that petitioners CANNOT file Form I-907 request for premium processing while premium processing has been suspended. As a reminder, for the general cap (U.S. bachelor’s degree holders or the foreign equivalent) only 65,000 H-1B visas are available per fiscal year, while 20,000 H-1B visas have been allocated for the advanced degree exemption (U.S. Master’s degree holders or higher level of education). Our office has estimated that this H-1B season, advanced degree holders will have a 65 to 70% chance of being selected in the lottery, while individuals qualifying for the general U.S. bachelor’s cap will have a 35 to 40% chance of selection.

For more information about the H-1B visa please click here.

I-130 Consular Processing

If you have applied for an immigrant visa with the National Visa Center, a process that is also known as consular processing, and you are preparing your civil documents for shipment to the National Visa Center or for your immigrant visa interview, please be aware that the Department of State has recently made changes to the Country Reciprocity tables, requiring new or additional documents for certain foreign nationals depending on their country of nationality. All original civil documents must be presented at the immigrant visa interview by the intended beneficiary.

To view the updates please click here.

To review the complete Visa Reciprocity Table, please click here.

What is happening with Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban and what is a Temporary Restraining Order?

Trump’s revised executive order banning the admission of foreign nationals from 6 Muslim-majority countries (Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Iran, and Yemen) and the admission of refugees is currently on hold. A federal judge from the state of Hawaii has issued what is known as a TRO or Temporary Restraining Order.

What is a TRO?

A TRO is a provisional form of relief granted by the federal courts that prevents a party from doing a certain thing so that the moving party does not suffer harm. The relief provided by a TRO is immediate, because the order is only granted under emergency circumstances. A TRO goes into effect for 14 days and can be extended for another 14 days (maximum 28 days). A TRO is not permanent.

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On Wednesday March 15, 2017, a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order in opposition of President Donald Trump’s new executive order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” which was set to go into effect today Thursday, March 16, 2017. This will be the second time the President’s executive order has been blocked by a federal court. Among its major provisions the new executive order which was set to go into effect today, called for a 90-day travel ban on non-immigrants of six Muslim countries including Syria, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, and a 120-day travel ban on the admission of refugees into the United States. The executive order had been re-drafted by the Trump administration following the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling invalidating all provisions of the executive order nationwide. To salvage the provisions of the executive order and make good on his campaign promise to eradicate terrorism, the President and his administration attempted to improve the order by removing controversial provisions within the order, affecting legal permanent residents, as well as non-immigrants with valid U.S. visas, otherwise authorized to gain admission to the United States. The order also removed Iraq as one of the countries affected by the order and removed a provision terminating the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States.

In what seems like déjà vu, the new executive order has once again been opposed first by a federal judge in Hawaii, and in a separate action by a federal judge from the state of Maryland who has blocked the 90-day travel ban from being implemented on citizens of the six Muslim majority countries nationwide. In their decisions, both judges mentioned President Trump’s statements during his presidential campaign which called into question the constitutionality of the executive order and its violation of the Establishment Clause. Specifically, President Trump has previously said that terrorism is linked to the Muslim religion, and his administration has identified the six Muslim countries outlined in the order as countries whose citizens have committed terrorist crimes in the United States. The Court has been concerned with the discriminatory effect of the executive order in targeting Muslims. The federal judge from the state of Hawaii noted that the state has “met their burden of establishing a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their Establishment clause claim, that irreparable injury is likely if the requested relief is not issued, and that the balance of the equities and public interest counsel in favor of granting the requested relief.” For those reasons, the Court found that a Temporary Restraining Order blocking all provisions of the order was appropriate.

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