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DUI and Immigration Consequences

Friday, June 14th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

A colleague recently contacted me to ask about a plea bargain deal for a driving under the influence charge. It is always best to consider this sort of thing before making the deal.  Indeed, the Supreme Court says defense attorneys are required to do so.  In the landmark case of Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), the Supreme Court said:

“Petitioner Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras, has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for more than 40 years. Padilla served this Nation with honor as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. He now faces deportation after pleading guilty to the transportation of a large amount of marijuana in his tractor-trailer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

In this postconviction proceeding, Padilla claims that his counsel not only failed to advise him of this consequence prior to his entering the plea, but also told him that he “`did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long.'” 253 S.W.3d 482, 483 (Ky.2008). Padilla relied on his counsel’s erroneous advice when he pleaded guilty to the drug charges that made his deportation virtually mandatory. He alleges that he would have insisted on going to trial if he had not received incorrect advice from his attorney….. We agree with Padilla that constitutionally competent counsel would have advised him that his conviction for drug distribution made him subject to automatic deportation.”

Now, back to my colleague’s inquiry. I wanted to relay a quick response. Unfortunately, these aren’t always simple matters. Every case is different, on its facts, and the details can very much matter.

The first step in each case is to identify the immigration status and defense goals.  Here are some threshold questions to consider:

  • First, what is the jurisdiction? Laws and consequences differ state to state.
  • Are there any aggravating factors in the case, such as harms to person or property?
  • Is marijuana, legal or not, involved in the case in any way? While it may not be an issue at the State level, it could become a big issue in future immigration applications or proceedings.
  • Is there any other type of controlled substance that is involved in the case?
  • Was the driver licensed? Were they cited for anything beside DUI?
  • What is the driver’s status in the United States? Visa holders with DUI arrests are having their visas revoked automatically.
  • Were there passengers int he car?  Under 16?
  • Is there an alcohol or drug problem? Government guidance usually requires a panel physician examination.
  • Is there any evidence of a physical or mental disorder? This is potentially a separate basis for inadmissibility.
  • Does the individual have trusted traveler benefits, such as NEXUS and Global Entry?
  • Is there a desire to apply for naturalization in the near future, or even a pending application?

U.S. immigration has gotten harder. These are challenging times for even the best qualified applicants. All potential immigration consequences need to be carefully considered before a plea bargain is struck.

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Posted in General, Marijuana and Immigration, Scott Railton |

E Visas Now Available for New Zealand

Monday, June 10th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

Good news for New Zealanders! As of today, the E-1 and E-2 visas are available options for travel and stays in the United States. These are visas based on substantial trade (E-1) and substantial investment (E-2). We routinely help business clients with these types of visas.

In 2018, Congress passed the “Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors Act,” otherwise known as the “Kiwi Act.”  Passage of this law allows Kiwis to apply for E-1 and E-2 visas, like over 80 other countries around the world. The gist of the E-1 (Trader) and E-2 (Investor) program is to facilitate trade and investment bilaterally between countries. The law is conditioned on New Zealand having a reciprocal program in place.

Here is USCIS’s announcement:

New Zealand Nationals Eligible for E-1 and E-2 Nonimmigrant Classifications

Certain New Zealand nationals can now request a change of status to the E-1 nonimmigrant trader classification and the E-2 nonimmigrant investor classification under Public Law 115-226. Beginning June 10, eligible New Zealand nationals already in the United States in a lawful nonimmigrant status can file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to request a change of status to E-1 or E-2 classification, or a qualifying employer can file Form I-129 on their behalf. Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age of E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrants, and employees who are already in the United States, may also seek to change status to E-1 or E-2 classification as dependents by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

Any Form I-129 and Form I-539 for a New Zealand national requesting a change of status to E-1 or E-2 classification filed prior to June 10, 2019, will be rejected, but may be refiled, together with the required fee, on or after June 10.

The E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrant classifications are open to citizens of countries with which the United States has a treaty of commerce and navigation or similar agreement, and in certain other cases, such as here, where Congress has enacted legislation. E-1 status allows citizens of certain countries to be admitted to the United States solely to engage in international trade on their own behalf. E-1 status is also available to certain employees of such traders or qualifying organizations. E-2 status allows citizens of certain countries to be admitted to the United States when they are investing substantial capital in a U.S. business. E-2 status is also available to certain employees of such investors or qualifying organizations.

For more on the E-1 and E-2 classifications, see our E-1 Treaty Traders page and E-2 Treaty Investors page.

The Department of State’s Consulate in New Zealand has also posted information on this big change, including information videos.

If you’re interested in this visa, and doing more business in or with the United States, we’re happy to help as we can. In my experience, E visa applications can vary a great deal on their merits, depending on the nature of the business, investment, or trade. The visas are terrific, once acquired, but the government can be very demanding in regards to the necessary proofs.  Also, USCIS and the Department of State adjudicate cases differently. The administrative and procedural hurdles involved are another consideration. Consulates around the world vary quite a bit in their demands of applicants, as well as their timelines and procedures for processing applications.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Department of State Now Requires Social Media Identifiers on Visa Applications

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

The U.S. Department of State from now on requires that both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants list their social media identifiers on visa applications. In its announcement, the agency says, “Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”

Here is a Frequently Asked Questions report, prepared by the Department of State:

Frequently Asked Questions on Social Media Identifiers in the DS-160 and DS-260

What forms have been updated?

We have updated our nonimmigrant visa online application form (DS-160), the paper back-up version of the nonimmigrant visa application (DS-156), and the online immigrant visa application form (DS-260).

What specific changes have been made to the visa application forms? When did these changes go into effect?

The updated forms collect social media identifiers. These changes went into effect on May 31,2019. National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S.citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.

What is a social media handle/identifier?

A social media “handle” or “identifier” is any name used by the individual on social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The updated visa application forms list the specific social media platforms for which identifiers are being requested.

Who will be affected?

All nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants will be required to answer these questions,except for diplomats and government officials. The exceptions are applicants applying for a diplomatic (A-1 or A-2) or diplomatic-type visa (of any classification), NATO 1-6 visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, or G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-4 visas.

Why were these changes implemented ?

We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S.citizens. This update implements the President’s March 6, 2017, Memorandum for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security and Section 5 of Executive Order 13780. Section 2 of the Memorandum directed certain Cabinet officials to,as permitted by law, “implement protocols and procedures as soon as practicable that in their judgment will enhance the screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits, so as to increase the safety and security of the American people.” Section 5 of E.O. 13780 directs the Department of State and other agencies to implement a program, as part of the process for adjudicating applications for visas and other immigration benefits, to improve screening and vetting. Section 5 of E.O. 13780 refers to the implementation of uniform screening and vetting standards for all immigration programs. Section 5 includes a recommendation that agencies amend application forms to“include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent.”In coordination with the Attorney General, DHS,and the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of State has undertaken these efforts to update our application forms to protect national security.

What are you looking for, and what do you plan to do with my information?

We are looking solely for social media identifiers. Consular officers will not request user passwords. The information will be used, as all information provided during a visa interview and on the visa application, to determine if the applicant is eligible for a visa under existing U.S. law. Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting applicants and confirming their identity.

What if applicants participate in multiple online platforms?Are they being asked to list all of their handles, or only one?

Applicants must provide all identifiers used for all listed platforms.

What if the visa applicant doesn’t have a social media account?

A response to the questions related to social media will be required. Visa applicants who have never used social media will not be refused on the basis of failing to provide a social media identifier, and the form does allow the applicant to respond with “None.” Applicants should complete the application as fully and honestly as possible to avoid any delays in processing. Failure to provide accurate and truthful responses on a visa application or during a visa interview may result in denial of the visa by a consular officer. In the case of an applicant who has used any of th esocial media platforms listed on the visa application in the preceding five years, the associated social media identifier would be required on the visa application form.

Do these new social media requirements affect individuals who already hold a U.S. visa?

This update only applies to new visa applications. However, visa applicants are continuously screened – both at the time of their application and afterwards– to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States.

Does this social media screening also apply to participants in the Visa Waiver Program?
This Department update only applies to visa applicants, not to individuals traveling under the Visa Waiver Program. For questions about requirements under the Visa Waiver Program, please contact the Department of Homeland Security.
Is this just a way to profile individuals by their religion, political views, or race?
Consular officers cannot deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation. The collection of social media identifiers is consistent with this. This information will be used for identity resolution and to determine whether the applicant is eligible for a U.S. visa under U.S. law. Visa ineligibilities are set forth in U.S. law. Consular officers will not request user passwords and will not attempt to subvert any privacy controls applicants may have implemented on these platforms.
Could the collection of this information be considered an invasion of privacy?
No. The same safeguards and confidentiality provisions that already protect a visa applicant’s personal information also apply to social media identifiers and all other newly collected information related to a visa application or adjudication. Consular officers will not request user passwords nor will they have any ability to modify privacy controls applicants may have implemented on these platforms. Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats.We already request limited contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants. Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting applicants and confirming their identity. Consular officers would only use this information to determine the applicant’s eligibility for a visa under existing U.S. law.
What safeguards are in place to protect applicants’ private information? What about U.S.citizens’ information that might appear on social media?
The Department limits its collection to information relevant to a visa adjudication. In accordance with U.S. law, information collected in the nonimmigrant or immigrant visa application or adjudication process is considered confidential and may be used only for certain purposes expressly authorized by law, including the formulation, amendment, administration, or enforcement of U.S. laws. The Department is also taking measures to ensure that information from U.S. persons that is inadvertently included in this collection is adequately protected in accordance with applicable privacy laws.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

CBP Pilot Program for Electronic Filing for Waivers for Canadians

Thursday, May 30th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will institute a pilot program for electronic filing of I-192 Nonimmigrant Waiver and I-212 Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission applications. Currently, these applications are filed in person at the Port of Entries and Pre-Flight Inspections. This announcement impacts visa exempt countries, which means principally Canadian citizens.

My initial concern is whether the on-line filing system will adequately accept evidence in support of the application. I suppose that is the benefit of a pilot program; they can decide what works and doesn’t. There are many potential benefits, as outlined in the announcement. The agency is clearly trying to further limit how much it handles immigration benefits issues at ports of entries, which is concerning as an agency goal. The agency similarly extended its L-1 Pilot Program recently, despite heavy criticism from stakeholders.

Here is the agency announcement:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is pleased to announce the pilot of the Electronic Secured Adjudication Forms Environment (e-SAFE) mid-year 2019.  The new online system will allow for electronic filing of Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant, and Form I-212, Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal.  Citizens of specified visa exempt countries—Canada, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands—who are nonimmigrants and have been found inadmissible will be able to apply for a waiver online.  Applicants will be able to view their application status, submit additional information if requested, and ultimately learn the outcome of their online waiver application through this system.

e-SAFE will streamline and reduce the processing time, and provide instruction on how to fill out the applications.  Applicants who submit and pay for electronic filing via e-SAFE must go to the following ports of entry to complete the biometrics portion (fingerprints and photograph) of the application:

 • Peace Bridge, New York • Lewiston Bridge, New York • Rainbow Bridge, New York • Peace Arch, Washington • Pacific Highway, Washington • Point Roberts, Washington • Toronto Pearson International Airport
 
These are the only ports of entry able to process electronic filing of Forms I-192 and I-212. Other locations will be added gradually and will be published on the e-SAFE public web page and on www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/e-safe and e-SAFE.cbp.gov.  CBP will continue to accept paper filing at ports of entry, but as e-SAFE is added to more ports of entry, paper filing locations will become limited.

Authorized attorneys or accredited representatives will be able to create special managed accounts to assist their clients in completing the application, upload the required documents and pay the client’s application fee once a validated Form G-28 is on file.  However, applicants are responsible for the accuracy of all information submitted on their behalf.

Please review the attached frequently asked questions or visit www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/e-safe for the most current information. 
A separate email notice will be sent when e-SAFE is available for electronic filing.

Sincerely,

Keri Brady, Director U.S. Customs and Border Protection Admissibility Review Office

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Posted in General, Marijuana and Immigration, Scott Railton |

Health Care Worker Certificate Requirement Presents Timing Issues

Wednesday, May 29th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

Certain health care workers are required to have health care worker certificates in order to be admitted.  (Authority:  INA §212(a)(5)(c))  The certificate, often referred to by the trademarked name VisaScreen®, serves as an evaluation in regards to education, training, license, experience, and English proficiency.  The application process can take months unless expedited, and involves expense.  The certificate therefore presents a key timing issue for immigration purposes.

The occupations requiring certificates include:

  • Nurses (Licensed Practical Nurses, Licensed Vocational Nurses, and Registered Nurses )
  • Physical Therapists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Speech-language Pathologists and Audiologists
  • Medical Technologists (also known as Clinical Laboratory Scientists)
  • Medical Technicians (also known as Clinical Laboratory Technicians)
  • Physician Assistants

Even if the health care worker trained in the U.S., they still must acquire the certificate. Also, NAFTA TN workers are required to obtain the certificate, as well as other nonimmigrant and immigrant applicants who are arriving for health care purposes. The certificate is not required, though, if a person is applying for permanent residence based on another purpose, such as an immediate relative spouse.

The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (www.cgfns.org) is authorized to issue certifications to all 7 health care occupations.   Additionally, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) is authorized to issue certifications for occupational therapists, and the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT) is authorized to issue certifications for physical therapists.

The health care certificate serves as verification of education equivalency, licensing eligibility, and requisite English language skills. The Screen includes an English language proficiency examination. For registered nurses, the health care certificate also includes verification that the RN has passed either CGFNS’s qualifying exam, NCLEX-RN, or for select years and provinces its predecessor, the State Board Test Pool Examination.

For immigrant petitions, credentials will be reviewed by USCIS at the I-140 stage, but the actual certification is not required until the adjustment or consular processing stage. For nonimmigrants, the certificate must be available at time of visa issuance and admission.

There is an expedited procedure.  There are also certain exceptions, relating to English language proficiency (e.g. graduate of certain schools in Canada, Australia, Ireland, U.K., or U.S., as well as educational comparability in certain professions).

Certifications are issued for only five years, and must be used for admission, extension or change of status, or adjustment, within that period. See 8 CFR 212.15(n)(4). If not used, a new certification is required subsequent to expiration. If used, but now expired, a limited renewal must be obtained, to verify no adverse actions have occurred, and to confirm anew English competency. See 8 CFR 212.15(k)(4)(viii).

It is not uncommon for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deny admission to a health care worker for lack of a certificate, or because a certificate is now expired. This can be a difficult situation, for employer and employee, which may be avoided through attention to the requirement and timing. Another issue that comes up from time to time is a denial of entry for certain radiation related professionals, who do not require the certificate, but are asked for one just the same. Training issues like this have to be handled on a case by case basis.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

State Statutes Modifying Marijuana Convictions Not Working for Immigrants

Monday, May 20th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

Increasingly, states and municipalities are adding post-conviction relief for marijuana offenders, as part of marijuana law reform efforts. The basic idea is that someone with a past marijuana conviction can obtain some sort of post-conviction relief, such as a pardon, expungement, or reclassification of the conviction. One immigration issue for the Courts to decide is whether the purpose of a post-conviction relief measure is rehabilitative benefit for the offender, or due to a substantive fault in the prior law. Should it matter? I don’t know, but it does.

Washington State passed such a law this year, SB 5605, which takes effect July 27, 2019.  The new law requires Washington State judges to grant requests to vacate misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions that happened before legalization, if the individual was 21 or older.

Here is the key language:

5)Every person convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense, who was twenty-one years of age or older at the time of the offense, may apply to the sentencing court for a vacation of the applicant’s record of conviction for the offense. A misdemeanor marijuana offense includes, but is not limited to: Any offense under RCW 69.50.4014,from July 1, 2004, onward, and its predecessor statutes, including RCW 69.50.401(e), from March 21, 1979, to July 1, 2004, and RCW 69.50.401(d), from May 21, 1971, to March 21, 1979, and any offense under an equivalent municipal ordinance. If an applicant qualifies under this subsection, the court shall vacate the record of conviction.

Other jurisdictions have taken similar approaches.  For example, California’s Proposition 64, known as the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allows certain felony convictions to be “redesignated” as misdemeanors. Seattle, Washington, and Boulder, Colorado have taken affirmative steps to vacate old offenses. Canada is looking at instituting at a nation-wide pardon process.

Will these post-conviction relief measures help immigrants, facing deportation or in dealing with admissibility issues?

The law on post-conviction relief for non-citizens is complicated—really, really complicated sometimes—but a recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is not promising.

The case, Prado v Barr, No 17-72914 (9th Circ. 5/10/19), considered whether a felony conviction of possession of marijuana for sale still counts for immigration purposes, after being reclassified to a misdemeanor based on Proposition 64.

The Ninth said that “federal immigration law does not recognize a state’s policy decision to expunge (or recall or reclassify) a valid state conviction.” The Ninth said it will recognize the vacate of a conviction for a substantive or procedural defect, based on established law. However, rehabilitation, immigration hardship, and/or equitable relief are not suitable bases for vacating the immigration impacts of an original conviction.

The Court then determined that Proposition 64’s provisions were more rehabilitative than substantive in nature, and so not effective. The Court also held that reclassification—which happened in this case—was a limited expungement, rather than a full expungement, and therefore not a complete elimination of immigration impacts in any case.

The Ninth’s decision may still be appealed for en banc hearing, or to the Supreme Court.  The ruling is specific to Proposition 64, but I think it is indicative of how the question may be handled for other state statutes, such as with Washington State’s recently passed law.

Attorneys and their clients facing this circumstance should recognize first that they cannot rely on the state statute for later relief for non-citizens. Also, if seeking post-conviction relief before a state court, the request for relief needs to be carefully considered for it to meet the stringent standards required for relief under immigration law.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in General, Marijuana and Immigration, Scott Railton |

Social Security Administration Is Sending Employers Send “No-Match” Letters Once Again

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

The Social Security Administration announced recently that is will recommence issuing “no-match” letters to employers and payroll companies.  No-match letters are issued when the agency receives payments or other information which is not associated with the correct social security number.

As the correspondence will indicate, the no-match could be indicative of a records issue:  perhaps the social security number was inputted incorrectly, or perhaps there is incorrect information on the individual for which there is not a match.  No-matches however also may be indication that an employee is not able to work lawfully in the country.

What is an employer to do?  It is usually not a good idea to ignore such information, as avoiding the issue may create issues if the government comes to audit I-9s or otherwise investigate unlawful employment issues.  In all likelihood, it may also be prudent to draft a letter to the employee, giving them opportunity to contact the Social Security Administration and correct the issue, followed up with periodic, documented inquiries on the status of such efforts.

It may be prudent to seek counsel on the matter, and we are happy to assist.  The Administration has ramped up efforts to enforce worksite compliance with immigration laws. The fines can be significant, and if an employer or even HR Representative has constructive knowledge that they are employing someone illegally, there is the possibility of criminal sanctions. Enforcement actions have hit a broad range of industries and regions.  An employer who is holding no-match letters may be deemed to have constructive knowledge of an issue, and so taking steps to address the issue is prudent.

 

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USCIS: Legalized Marijuana Use Will Disqualify Naturalization Applicants, for Lack of Good Moral Character

Friday, April 19th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today that it updated its Policy Manual to explicitly state that possession of marijuana, even in legalized states, will disqualify naturalization applicants. The Policy Manual is relied upon by adjudicator’s to make decisions on applications. The agency’s position is legal marijuana use violates the federal Controlled Substances Act, even though the U.S. government allows states to legalize. If an applicant admits to use, they will be found to not have “good moral character,” and their application will be denied.

The agency’s position seems to be that its hands are tied on this issue, in light of federal law. This strikes me as disingenuous, for several reasons.  First, marijuana use should not be tied to “good moral character” in any event.  Many people use marijuana for many different uses, and they don’t have bad moral character, whatever Washington D.C. is doing.  Second, federal agencies aren’t enforcing the Controlled Substance Act like this, and particularly the U.S. Department of Justice. Third, noncitizens, who are tested for basic English as part of the naturalization applications, are here expected to be experts on federal/state law distinctions. That is absurd. Marijuana stores are not hidden from sight.  They are common in states that have legalized, and by all appearances,  legitimate. Fourth, increasingly, there are CBD products on the market–even in grocery stores–that may have attributes of marijuana, and serve other purposes than getting high. Does the purchase of a CBD product, for medicinal purposes, have good moral implications?  Fifth, what if a doctor prescribes a marijuana product? Does a person have a good moral character issue for following a doctor’s orders?

We are also hearing periodically of naturalization applications which are denied because a person is working for a legalized marijuana related business. Such work can be working in the production of marijuana (farms, trimming, testing), working in a marijuana store, or holding an ownership interest in a marijuana-related business.

Naturalization applications cost $725 typically, and are taking the agency more than a year to adjudicate in most locations. A person typically applies for naturalization after residing in the United States for at least three years, if married to a U.S. citizen; or after five years of residence in most other cases. A denied application can be heart-breaking. Also, depending on the agency’s findings and the violations involved, the matter may be considered for a removal hearing.

The time is long past for federal legislators to step in, as policies like this will hurt U.S. families and businesses.

Here is what the announcement says:

USCIS Issues Policy Guidance Clarifying How Federal Controlled Substances Law Applies to Naturalization Determinations

USCIS is issuing policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify that violations of federal controlled substance law, including violations involving marijuana, are generally a bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization, even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law.  The policy guidance also clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws.

Since 1996, some states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to decriminalize the manufacture, possession, distribution, and use of both medical and non-medical (recreational) marijuana in their respective jurisdictions. However, federal law classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose manufacture (which includes production, such as planting, cultivation, growing, or harvesting), distribution, dispensing, or possession may lead to immigration consequences.

Please see the Policy Manual Update (PDF, 211 KB) for more information.

 Last Reviewed/Updated:

And here is what the updated Policy Manual says:

2. Conditional GMC Bar Applies Regardless of State Law Decriminalizing Marijuana

A number of states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have enacted laws permitting “medical” [19] or “recreational” [20] use of marijuana. [21] Marijuana, however, remains classified as a “Schedule I” controlled substance under the federal CSA. [22] Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use pursuant to the CSA. [23] Classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law means that certain conduct involving marijuana, which is in violation of the CSA, continues to constitute a conditional bar to GMC for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law. [24]

Such an offense under federal law may include, but is not limited to, possession, manufacture or production, or distribution or dispensing of marijuana. [25] For example, possession of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or employment in the marijuana industry may constitute conduct that violates federal controlled substance laws. Depending on the specific facts of the case, these activities, whether established by a conviction or an admission by the applicant, may preclude a finding of GMC for the applicant during the statutory period. An admission must meet the long held requirements for a valid “admission” of an offense. [26] Note that even if an applicant does not have a conviction or make a valid admission to a marijuana-related offense, he or she may be unable to meet the burden of proof to show that he or she has not committed such an offense.

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Posted in General, Marijuana and Immigration, Scott Railton |

CBP Halts L-1 Extensions and Renewals at Ports of Entry

Friday, April 12th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

I doubt you’ll find this written on any government website, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has decided to stop adjudicating extensions and renewals of L-1 status for Canadians at Ports of Entry and Pre-Flight Inspection.  The agency’s position is these applications must be filed at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “L-1 status” refers to intracompany work and stay authorization for executives, managers, and employees with specialized knowledge.

We first heard this news via attorney meetings with the agency. Specifically:

QUESTION:  How are Canadian L-1 extensions treated at the border? Must intermittent L-1 applicants also apply for an L-1 extension with USCIS?

 ANSWER: CBP officers shall not approve any requests for extension of stay or renew petitions for L-1 nonimmigrants; those requests will be reviewed and approved by USCIS exclusively for all nationalities.

This important policy change is nowhere to be found on the agency’s website, unsurprisingly. We hear though that the policy is being implemented. One officer is said to have told an individual, “Spread the word.” By all appearances, CBP wants to stop adjudicating immigration benefits, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wants to take this responsibility over.

This is bad news, even if it hasn’t actually made the news. For decades, Canadian businesses have been able to present applications at the border, and receive on-the-spot adjudications. A lot of Canadian executives and managers travel back and forth, and live in Canada.  USCIS is painfully slow in adjudicating applications, although it is possible to pay for “premium processing” and receive initial adjudication in 15 days, for $1410 USD.  Of course, that’s not as good as on-the-spot adjudication, for the base application fee, which Canadian businesses now can receive. L-1 extensions for Canadians will only be adjudicated so fast now, and USCIS has become justifiably notorious for issuing lengthy requests for evidence, which bury employers in paperwork.

The United States government seems committed to making immigration harder, when it should be going for smarter.  L-1 holders are typically job creators, adding value to the U.S. economy. By definition, an executive or manager is presiding over many more workers. The U.S. should be making it easier for Canadian businesses and their executive management teams to do business stateside.

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USCIS Changes Rules and Procedures for Certain Family Nonimmigrant Petitions

Friday, March 1st, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced significant processing changes for the I-539 nonimmigrant extension/change of status form. This is the form used to change or extend status for family members, in association with a primary nonimmigrant application.  For example, if one family member has H-1B status and an extension request is filed, this application is typically filed at the same time for family members.

USCIS is now going to charge more for this application, where biometrics are required of multiple family members.  They will also require each family member to fill out another form. Query:  when was the last time the agency lowered costs or made the paperwork burden less on applicants?

The change takes effec, as of now, on March 11th, 2019.  Less than a month of notice was provided.  Here’s the announcement:

We have revised Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status and will publish the revised form on our website on March 11, 2019. Starting on March 11, 2019, we will only accept the revised Form I-539 with an edition date of 02/04/19. We will reject any Form I-539 with an edition date of 12/23/16 or earlier. We will also be publishing a new Form I-539A, Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on the Form I-539 webpage on March 11. Form I-539A replaces the Supplement A provided in previous versions of Form I-539. Form I-539A can only be submitted with Form I-539; it cannot be filed as a standalone form.

The revised Form I-539 includes the following significant changes:

  • Every co-applicant included on the primary applicant’s Form I-539 must submit and sign a separate Form I-539A, which will be available on the Form I-539 webpage on March 11. Parents or guardians may sign on behalf of children under 14 or any co-applicant who is not mentally competent to sign.
  • Every applicant and co-applicant must pay an $85 biometric services fee, except certain A, G, and NATO nonimmigrants as noted in the new Form I-539 Instructions to be published on March 11.
  • Every applicant and co-applicant will receive a biometric services appointment notice, regardless of age, containing their individual receipt number. The biometric services appointments will be scheduled at the Application Support Center (ASC) closest to the primary applicant’s address. Co-applicants who wish to be scheduled at a different ASC location should file a separate Form I-539.

USCIS will reject any Form I-539 that is missing any of the required signatures or biometrics fees, including those required for Form I-539A.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

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