Articles Posted in Temporary Visas

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In this post, we bring you the top three mistakes to avoid when applying for a B-1/B-2 non-immigrant visa at a United States consulate or embassy abroad. All too often clients contact our office feeling distraught after receiving a B-1/B-2 visa denial from a consular official. The good news is that a B visa denial can be easily avoided by understanding the common mistakes that people make when pursuing the B nonimmigrant visa.

First, it is important to understand who is eligible to apply for a B non-immigrant visa.

B-1 versus B-2

The B-1 temporary business visitor visa is reserved for individuals who seek to travel to the United States for a temporary period to participate in a business activity of a commercial or professional nature. Examples of individuals who qualify for this type of visa include: individuals consulting with business associates, individuals negotiating contracts, settling an estate, participating in short term training, entrepreneurs who wish to travel to the United States to research the market for a potential business venture, individuals traveling for a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention, or conference, etc.

Individuals who typically apply for this type of visa are entrepreneurs and investors who wish to apply for an E-2 visa in the future and who need to visit the United States to research the market or other business activities relating to researching the viability of the business venture.

B-1 temporary business visitors may be eligible to remain in the United States anywhere from 1-6 months—with 6 months being the maximum. Ultimately, it will be up to the consular/embassy official to determine the length of your period of stay. Typically, applicants are granted an initial period of stay of 6 months. B-1 visa holders may extend their stay for an additional 6 months if it is necessary for them to remain in the United States for an extended period to complete their temporary business activity.

Similarly, the B-2 temporary visitor visa is reserved for individuals who wish to enter the United States temporarily for tourism, pleasure, or visitation. Examples of individuals who qualify for this type of visa include tourists, individuals who wish to visit friends, or relatives, individuals seeking medical treatment, amateur artists, musicians, or athletes who wish to participate in events or contests that do not provide compensation, and individuals who wish to enroll in a short recreational course of study that does not count for credit toward a degree. The length of stay granted to a B-2 temporary visitor is the same as that of a B-1 temporary business visitor.

Who may not apply for a B visa?

Individuals who wish to immigrate to the United States and remain in the United States permanently, or individuals who wish to study, seek employment, etc. may not apply for a B non-immigrant visa.

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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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The newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is quickly mobilizing government resources to increase scrutiny and implement tougher screening procedures for applicants who are applying for a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies abroad. Reuters has reported that Secretary Tillerson has sent a series of internal cables (four in total) to consulates and embassies abroad instructing them of new measures to increase vetting of visa applicants (both immigrant and non-immigrant). These cables are as follows: (1) Cable 23338 entitled “Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts” issued on March 10, 2017; (2) Cable 24324 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 15, 2017; (3) Cable 24800 entitled “Halt Implementation” of President Trump’s new travel ban due to a temporary restraining order by a federal court, issued on March 16, 2017; and finally (4) Cable 25814 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 17, 2017.

In these cables, Tillerson has directed U.S. consulates and embassies to specifically identify population risks that warrant “increased scrutiny” and to implement tougher screening procedures for this particular group of people. Applicants who fall into one of the identifiable population groups will be subjected to a higher-level security screening. The cable does not identify whether embassies will be coordinating to provide a uniform standard for identifying populations who pose a security risk. This is a serious cause for concern, since U.S. embassies will likely vary in how they assess which groups pose a security risk. In addition, as part of these measures, the Secretary has ordered a mandatory social media check for all applicants who have ever visited or been present in any territory that is controlled by the Islamic State. Previously, social media screening was not a part of the regular screening process for U.S. visa applicants, however this screening process has always been a discretionary measure.

In addition, the cables provided instructions for the implementation of President Trump’s newly revised executive order on immigration which sought to temporarily bar the admission of foreign nationals from Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Yemen, as well as Syrian refugees, including mandatory enhanced visa screening procedures. Several of these cables were quickly retracted by the Secretary of State after a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order blocking Trump’s embattled executive order from proceeding as planned. The Trump administration had envisioned strict new guidelines for vetting U.S. visa applicants, and this vision was reflected in Tillerson’s cables.

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On September 28, 2016 the Obama Administration published the presidential determination for refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017. For the upcoming fiscal year, the Department of State will authorize admission of up to 110,000 refugees in accordance with section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act 8 U.S.C. 1157. The numbers of available refugee admissions will be allocated on a regional basis to the following countries: Africa, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East, and South Asia. The president stated in his memorandum that the number of refugee admissions has increased from previous years, due to national interest concerns and the need of humanitarian relief in these regions. Numbers are specifically allocated to refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Fourteen-thousand of the one-hundred ten thousand refugee admissions will go toward an ‘unallocated reserve’ authorizing Congress to distribute unallocated admission numbers to regions where the need is necessary based upon humanitarian concerns. Any unused refugee admission numbers may be transferred between regions, if there is increased need for admission in that region or region(s).

The numbers for refugee admission by region are as follows:

Africa ……………………………………………………. 35,000

East Asia…………………………………………………. 12,000

Europe and Central………………………………………. 4,000

Latin America and the Caribbean …………………………5,000

Near East and South Asia…………………………………40,000

Unallocated reserve………………………………………. 14,000

In accordance with 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42) Congress is authorized to grant refugee admissions to the following persons, based on their country of nationality or habitual residence. Such persons are not subject to a numerical limit in order to qualify for refugee admission to the United States: persons in Cuba, Eurasia, the Baltics, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and persons identified by a United States Embassy in exceptional circumstances.

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In this post, we discuss the latest immigration news beginning with the recent Congressional Approval of the Continuing Resolution Act that will allow funding to continue for the EB-5, Conrad 30, and special non-ministerial religious worker programs for fiscal year 2017. With the passage of this Continuing Resolution, these programs will remain afloat at least for the time being. On September 28, 2016 Congress averted a government shutdown by continuing funding for key programs with the passage of the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017. This Act will extend the EB-5 Regional Center Program and EB-4 non-minister special immigrant visa program for religious workers until December 9, 2016. In terms of adjustment of status filing dates for employment-based preference categories, USCIS has announced that for the month of October, foreign nationals seeking to apply for employment-based adjustment of status (EB-1 to EB-4 preference categories) may do so by using the Dates for Filing Applications Chart of the October Visa Bulletin for 2016. EB-5 adjustment of status applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart of the October Visa Bulletin.

What does this mean?

The signing of the Continuing Resolution Act means that this year we will not be facing a government shutdown as in previous years. This is very good news given that the upcoming elections (both for the U.S. president and Congressmen and women) may have been a factor in Congress not being able to meet the deadline to continue government funding for these key programs. EB-5, Conrad, and non-ministerial religious worker programs will continue without interruptions since these programs are part of the CR.

What will happen after December 9, 2016?

On December 9th the government will be facing another deadline that will require Congress to continue funding these very important programs. If Congress does not meet the funding deadline for these programs through the passage of another Continuing Resolution or Omnibus package, the government could face another shutdown. This would take place after the elections, but before the new Congress is in session. If an Omnibus is passed, the possibility of reforms and/or changes to the EB-5, Conrad, or non-ministerial religious worker programs is worth noting. Recent controversies may lead to reforms in the EB-5 program although it is unlikely that major reforms and/or changes to the EB-5 program will pan out before the December 9th deadline.

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We are pleased to announce that USCIS will adopt a new parole policy, at the recommendation of the Ombudsman’s office, for U visa principal petitioners and their derivative qualifying family members residing abroad, who are currently on waiting lists for the availability of U Visas. As a result of this new policy, eligible applicants will be able to seek parole into the United States and await availability of their U visas from the United States, instead of waiting from abroad.

The U visa was first implemented with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act signed into law by Congress. This piece of legislation gave USCIS the authority to implement a special nonimmigrant visa classification known as the U visa. Presently, the U nonimmigrant visa is available to foreign nationals who have either been a witness to a crime in the United States, or who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a victim of a crime that occurred in the United States. The U visa in effect creates a special class of nonimmigrants who may legally reside in the United States for the purpose of assisting law enforcement, or government officials, in ongoing investigations for the prosecution of certain crimes. Unfortunately, there is a congressional limitation on the number of U visa’s that may be issued to principal U visa applicants. That limit is currently capped at 10,000 visas on an annual basis.

Once the 10,000 visa cap has been exceeded, U visa nonimmigrants are forced to remain abroad, and are placed on a waiting list. In order to expedite their entry to the United States, applicants must go through the extra step of applying for humanitarian parole from abroad in order to enter the United States. Such victims are often in danger or in vulnerable situations in their home countries. Most importantly their key testimony and cooperation is of no use to the United States if they are residing abroad.

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A recent working paper published by Harvard economist, William R. Kerr, and Wellesley economist, Sari Pekkala Kerr, is making waves on the subject of immigrant entrepreneurship. The study asks: just how important are foreign-born entrepreneurs to our economy? Are their contributions truly significant?

The study’s abstract reads as follows:

We examine immigrant entrepreneurship and the survival and growth of immigrant-founded businesses over time relative to native-founded companies. Our work quantifies immigrant contributions to new firm creation in a wide variety of fields and using multiple definitions. While significant research effort has gone into understanding the economic impact of immigration into the United States, comprehensive data for quantifying immigrant entrepreneurship are difficult to assemble. We combine several restricted-access U.S. Census Bureau data sets to create a unique longitudinal data platform that covers 1992-2008 and many states. We describe differences in the types of businesses initially formed by immigrants and their medium-term growth patterns. We also consider the relationship of these outcomes to the immigrants’ age at arrival to the United States.

The study is important because it forces members of Congress to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, in order to determine whether or not it is beneficial for the United States to create more opportunities for highly-skilled entrepreneurs and professionals. Regrettably, the immigration debate has largely centered around illegal immigration to the United States, ignoring calls to create more flexibility for highly-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs. As it stands today, immigrant entrepreneurs can only obtain a green card via sponsorship from a United States employer. The majority of entrepreneurs are forced to remain in the United States on a temporary ‘dual intent’ nonimmigrant visa, until a U.S. employer agrees to sponsor their green card. Visa options are very limited for highly-skilled immigrants. Even for the most brilliant of entrepreneurs, this process requires time and patience. Our current immigration laws are doing us a disservice since they are keeping out some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly important because the number of businesses and American jobs they create is on the rise.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

  • As of 2008, at least one in four entrepreneurs among start-up companies are foreign-born. Similarly, at least one in four employees among new firms are foreign-born
  • 37% of new firms had at least one immigrant entrepreneur working for the company
  • At least 1 in 3 start-up firms were founded by an immigrant entrepreneur, with an increasing rate from 1995-2008
  • The share of immigrants among all employees working for start-up companies is on the rise
  • Immigrant employees in low-tech positions comprise about 22.2% of start-up companies, while 21.2% of immigrants work in high-tech positions in start-up companies
  • Among new start-ups backed by venture capitalists, 60% had at least one immigrant entrepreneur
  • Immigrant employees working for a start-up company backed by venture capitalists have higher mean average quarterly earnings

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On May 04, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule in the Federal Register, announcing that filing fees for many USCIS petitions and applications are expected to increase for U.S. employers and foreign nationals. The proposed regulation stipulates that filing fees may be adjusted for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests by USCIS. The increase in filing fees was considered after USCIS conducted a comprehensive review of its fees and found that the current fees do not cover the cost of services provided by USCIS. According to USCIS, in an effort to fully recover costs and maintain adequate services, “an adjustment to the fee schedule will be necessary”. According to the regulation, fees for most employment-based petitions and applications would be raised by an average of 21%, though other types of petitions may experience a higher increase in filing fees.

According to DHS, the higher fees will more accurately reflect the current cost of processing immigration applications and petition. A portion of the increased fees would provide additional funding for refugee and citizenship programs as well as system support for interagency immigration status verification databases.  The increase in filing fees will not take effect until the federal government approves the regulation, which is expected to take several months following the close of the 60-day comment period on July 5, 2016.

According to the new fee schedule under consideration, employment-based petitions would be the most impacted by the increase in filing fees. The filing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, would increase by 42% to a fee of $460, from the current rate of $325.  Similarly, the filing fee for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, would increase by 21% to a fee of $700, from the current rate of $580. The complete fee schedule under consideration has been provided below for your reference.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program is expected to be the most heavily affected by the new fee schedule. The filing fee for Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, would increase by a rate of 186% requiring Regional Centers seeking designation under the program to pay a filing fee of $17,795 instead of the current rate of $6,230. In addition, Regional Centers would be required to pay a $3,035 annual fee to certify their continued eligibility for the designation. Currently, there is no fee in place for annual certification. The filing fee for the I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, an application associated with the EB-5 visa program, would also increase to a rate of $3,675, a 145% increase up from the current rate of $1,500. The filing fee for an investor’s petition to remove conditions on residence would remain unchanged under these new regulations.

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For this blog we are answering 5 questions we have recently received through our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office for a free legal consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust and interest in our law office.

Change of Status B-2 to F-1

Q: I need advice regarding my change of status. I am currently in the United States on a B-2 tourist visa. I have filed a change of status application to change my status to F-1 student. My B-2 duration of stay will expire today and my change of status application to F-1 student is still pending with USCIS. I informed my school that I will be postponing my classes and was notified that I need to file a new I-20 and provide some missing information. I have time to make adjustments to my application but I would like to know the steps to correct any missing information. I also wanted to know if I need to leave the United States immediately since my F-1 application is still pending. Please assist.

The Waitress
This morning, USCIS made the announcement that it has met the H-2B Cap for temporary nonagricultural workers, beginning employment during the first half of fiscal year 2016. A congressionally mandated cap, limits the number of H-2B visas that can be issued per fiscal year to 66,000. The first half of these visas are issued to workers who will begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (from October 1 to March 31) and the other half are issued to workers who will begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (from April 1 to September 30). The deadline to file an H-2B worker petition, with an employment start date beginning prior to April 1, 2016, was March 15, 2016. New H-2B petitions received by USCIS after the deadline, requesting an employment start date before April 1, 2016 will be rejected by USCIS. USCIS will continue to accept and process applications for temporary nonagricultural workers who are considered cap-exempt.

The following H-2B petitions are considered cap-exempt:

  • Petitions filed for “returning workers” that have already been counted towards a previous H-2B cap in fiscal years 2013, 2014, or 2015;