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Canada’s Cannabis Act and U.S. Inadmissibility

Friday, September 21st, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Canada’s Cannabis Act, otherwise called Bill C-45, legalizes cannabis nationally on October 17th. The starting point for all U.S. border issues is the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list below of the key provisions of the INA concerning marijuana and inadmissibility.

I. Criminality Related Grounds

A. Personal:

a.) A past conviction related to cannabis [INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(II)];
b.) Admitting to committing a violation of any law or regulation of a foreign country related to controlled substances [INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(II)];
c.) Admitting to committing acts which constitute the essential elements of any law or regulation of a foreign country related to controlled substances [INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(II)];

Note: Cannabis on person/in car: this is a Customs violation, likely warranting a fine and further questions. Not typically referred for prosecution, though a violation of the Controlled Substance Act. Waiver usually required thereafter. Also, note, cannabis may also be involved in crimes involving moral turpitude, a separate basis of inadmissibility.

B. Illicit Trafficking (“Reason to Believe”: no conviction required)

d.) Where the U.S. Government knows or has “reason to believe” (no conviction required) is an illicit trafficker, or who is or has been a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator or colluder with others who are in illicit trafficking [INA § 212(a)(2)(C)(i)];

e.) A spouse, son or daughter or an illicit trafficker, who has received financial benefit from the trafficking in the past five years, and knew or reasonably should have known. [INA § 212(a)(2)(C)(ii)];

II. Health related grounds (“Drug abuser/Drug Addict”; “Physical/Mental Disorder”)

f.) A determination that a noncitizen is a drug abuser or drug addict, in accordance with regulations prescribed by Health and Human Services [INA § 212(a)(1)(A)(iv)];

g.) A determination that a noncitizen has a physical or mental disorder and behavior/ history of behavior posing threat to property, safety or welfare of others [INA § 212(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I and II)]

• Panel physician – have to pay government certified physician for exam
• CDC Technical Instructions requires 1 year of remission

III. National Security- (Unlawful purpose)

h.) Seeking entry principally or incidentally for an unlawful activity [INA § 212(a)(3)(ii)];

IV. Misrepresentation/Fraud

i.) Fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact in pursuit of an immigration benefit [INA § 212(a)(6)(C)].

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Premium Processing Price Hike, Suspension

Thursday, September 6th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS will raise the price for Premium Processing on October 1st, from $1225 to the odd number of $1410. Premium processing allows petitioners for certain types of applications to be guaranteed initial adjudication within 15 days, by paying the additional fee. Employers often choose to pay this fee, since the agency often takes months upon months to adjudicate applications through regular processing. The process works a lot of the time, though sometimes attorneys feel that the Premium Processing Unit may adjudicate the petition differently than regular processing. Long-time immigration attorneys probably have seen a few Day 15 Requests for Additional Evidence, which seem issued just to comply with the 15 day adjudication window.

Many Petitioners won’t be able to pay this new, higher fee, because a few days earlier USCIS announced that it is extending and expanding the suspension of premium processing for most types of petitions, in order to get a better handle on the non-premium processing workload. This is an agency which is struggling to manage increasing vetting obligations while delivering adjudications in reasonable timeframes. Employers are best advised to be aware of these bureaucratic challenges, as they can have a real impact on noncitizen worker availability.

Here are the two press releases from USCIS announcing these changes to the Premium Processing service:

USCIS Adjusting Premium Processing Fee (8/31/18)

Fee Increase Consistent with the Consumer Price Index

WASHINGTON – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today it is adjusting the premium processing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers beginning on Oct. 1, 2018 to more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain effective service to petitioners.

The premium processing fee will increase to $1,410, a 14.92 percent increase (after rounding) from the current fee of $1,225. This increase, which is done in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, represents the percentage change in inflation since the fee was last increased in 2010 based on the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.

“Because premium processing fees have not been adjusted since 2010, our ability to improve the adjudications and service processes for all petitioners has been hindered as we’ve experienced significantly higher demand for immigration benefits. Ultimately, adjusting the premium processing fee will allow us to continue making necessary investments in staff and technology to administer various immigration benefit requests more effectively and efficiently,” said Chief Financial Officer Joseph Moore. “USCIS will continue adjudicating all petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations.”

Premium processing is an optional service that is currently authorized for certain petitioners filing Forms I-129 or I-140. The system allows petitioners to request 15-day processing of certain employment-based immigration benefit requests if they pay an extra fee. The premium processing fee is paid in addition to the base filing fee and any other applicable fees, which cannot be waived.

USCIS intends to hire additional staff and make investments in information technology systems with the premium funds that are generated by the fee increase. This will allow the agency to provide premium processing service with less disruption while improving adjudications and operational processes.

For more information on USCIS and its programs, please visit uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter (@uscis), Instagram (/uscis), YouTube (/uscis), and Facebook (/uscis).

USCIS Extends and Expands Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions to Reduce Delays (8/28/18)

USCIS is extending the previously announced temporary suspension of premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions and, beginning Sept. 11, 2018, will be expanding this temporary suspension to include certain additional H-1B petitions. We expect these suspensions will last until Feb. 19, 2019, and will notify the public via uscis.gov before resuming premium processing for these petitions.

While H-1B premium processing is suspended, we will reject any Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service filed with an affected Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the Form I-907 and Form I‑129 H-1B fees, both forms will be rejected.
Who Is Affected

The expanded temporary suspension applies to all H-1B petitions filed at the Vermont and California Service Centers (excluding cap-exempt filings as noted below).

The previously announced suspension of premium processing for fiscal year 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions was originally slated to last until Sept. 10, 2018, but that suspension is being extended through an estimated date of Feb. 19, 2019.

We will continue premium processing of Form I-129 H-1B petitions that are not currently suspended if the petitioner properly filed an associated Form I-907 before Sept. 11, 2018. Therefore, we will refund the premium processing fee if:

The petitioner filed the Form I-907 for an H-1B petition before Sept. 11, 2018; and
We did not take adjudicative action on the case within the 15-calendar-day processing period.

Premium Processing Remains Available for Certain H-1B Petitions

The suspension does not apply to:

Cap-exempt petitions that are filed exclusively at the California Service Center because the employer is cap exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap exempt institution, entity, or organization; or
Those petitions filed exclusively at the Nebraska Service Center by an employer requesting a “Continuation of previously approved employment without change with the same employer” (Box b. on Part 2, Question 2, Page 2 of the current Form I-129) with a concurrent request to:
Notify the office in Part 4 so each beneficiary can obtain a visa or be admitted. (Box on Part 2, Question 4, Page 2 of the current Form I-129); or
Extend the stay of each beneficiary because the beneficiary now holds this status. (Box c. on Part 2, Question 4, Page 2 of the current Form I-129).

This temporary suspension of premium processing does not apply to any other nonimmigrant classifications filed on Form I-129.
Requesting Expedited Processing

While premium processing is suspended, petitioners may submit a request to expedite an H-1B petition if they meet the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage. The petitioner must demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, and petitioners should be prepared to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request.

We review all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and requests are granted at the discretion of the office leadership.
Why We Are Temporarily Suspending Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions

This temporary suspension will help us to reduce overall H-1B processing times by allowing us to:

Process long-pending petitions, which we have been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and premium processing requests over the past few months;
Be responsive to petitions with time-sensitive start dates; and
Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240-day mark.

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Canadian Senate Committee Issues Report on Border and Legalization

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

I had the honor of testifying before Canada’s Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in April, concerning the border and Canada’s bill to legalize cannabis nationally.

The Committee issued an interesting report, in which they recognize that legalization may lead to border issues. The Committee makes recommendations for diplomatic and legislative action. The Report mentions potential issues with Pre-Clearance, NEXUS, and with interrogations.  Below I’ve pasted the Committee’s report and related press release.

Report of the committee

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has the honour to table its

SIXTEENTH REPORT

Your committee, which was authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, insofar as it relates to Canada’s borders, has, in obedience to the order of reference of Thursday, February 15, 2018, examined the said subject-matter and now reports as follows:

At the Committee’s meetings of March 19, March 26 and April 16, 2018, thirteen witnesses appeared to present their views on the subject matter of Bill C-45. Your committee presents the following comments on the bill as it relates to Canada’s borders:

1) Your committee wishes to minimize any negative effects of Bill C-45 on the movement of travellers and goods across the Canada-U.S. border. First, your committee wishes to prevent, as much as possible, Canadian travellers from being further interrogated or searched by U.S. customs officers as a result of the legalization of cannabis in Canada. Your committee also wants to prevent, as much as possible, an increase in the number of Canadian and U.S. travellers being stopped at the border for possession of cannabis. Your committee heard from witnesses who believe that, after Bill C-45 comes into force, Canadians could face delays and more Canadian travellers could face legal proceedings and/or inadmissibility for life for a cannabis offence or for simply admitting previous cannabis use to U.S. customs and border protection officers.

2) To prevent the above-mentioned problems, your committee encourages the Canadian government to have formal discussions with the U.S. government to clarify the U.S. government’s position with respect to Canadian travellers who admit to previous cannabis use. Specifically, your committee encourages the Canadian government to have formal discussions at the political level in order to clarify whether Canadians who admit to having previously used cannabis will face inadmissibility to the United States if Bill C-45 is passed. If so, your committee encourages the Canadian government to make it clear to U.S. authorities that, in its view, following the coming into force of Bill C-45, Canadian travellers should not be prohibited entry into the United States for activities that are legal in Canada, such as using cannabis or working for a company that legally produces cannabis. Your committee encourages the government to continue its dialogue with the U.S. government and to clearly and firmly communicate Canada’s position in order to minimize the impact of Bill C-45 on Canadian travellers. This dialogue could also help find solutions to issues and problems that will arise at the border following the entry into force of Bill C-45.

3) In the context of this dialogue with the United States, your committee encourages the government to negotiate an agreement with the United States on the treatment of travellers at the border on issues related to cannabis, notably on the types of questions that border officers of both countries ask travellers in light of the fact that consuming cannabis will be legal in Canada following the entry into force of Bill C-45 and that it is already legal in several American states. This bilateral agreement could also protect workers of Canadian companies in the emerging cannabis sector in order to ensure that the workers of these companies are not banned from entry into the U.S. because they are “associated with drug trafficking,” as current U.S. law states.

4) In conjunction with diplomatic activities, your committee encourages the government to increase the scope of its awareness campaign to make it clear to Canadians that crossing the Canada-U.S. border while in possession of cannabis will remain illegal even if Bill C-45 comes into force. This awareness campaign should also make it clear to Canadians that they may be denied entry into the United States if they admit to previous cannabis use. Although Canadian officials who appeared before your committee stated that an awareness campaign would be launched soon, your committee believes that additional efforts should be made in the coming months to ensure that Canadians understand the seriousness of the consequences they will face if cannabis is found in their possession at the border or if they admit to previous cannabis use. Additional awareness campaigns, one specifically targeting youth and the other focused on those who hold or apply for trusted traveller programs (such as NEXUS and FAST), should be put in place due to the unique vulnerabilities of these groups.

5) Your committee encourages the Canadian government to install signs and posters at border crossings and pre-clearance sites clearly explaining to travellers that it is illegal to cross the Canada-U.S. border with cannabis. Witnesses from Public Safety told the committee that such signs would be installed at the border. Your committee encourages the Canadian government to accelerate the implementation of its awareness campaign and the installation of signs and posters before Bill C-45 comes into force so that travellers are aware of the consequences they face if they try to cross the Canada-U.S. border with cannabis.

6) Your committee encourages the government to modernise preclearance measures in light of Bill C-45. In accordance with An Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States, which received Royal Assent on December 12, 2017, travellers are obliged to truthfully answer any question posed to them by U.S. border officers, which means that Canadians who submit to preclearance must truthfully answer any questions about their cannabis use. At regular border crossings, travellers who refuse to answer these types of questions can be denied entrance into the U.S., but do not face lifetime bans or prison terms. However, travellers who refuse to answer questions in preclearance areas could face sentences of up to two years in prison for “resisting or wilfully obstructing a preclearance officer.” Your committee therefore encourages the government to modernise the Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States in light of Bill C-45.

7) Lastly, your committee requests that the government table before Parliament a plan to protect Canadian travellers at the border. This plan should outline the measures that the government intends to take to minimise the impact of Bill C-45 on the movement of travellers and goods across the Canada-U.S. border. This plan should also explain the approach that the government intends to take in its negotiations with the United States in order to ensure that Canadian travellers are not denied entry into the United States for previous cannabis use or for engaging in any other type of activity that would become legal following the entry into force of Bill C-45.

Respectfully submitted,

GWEN BONIFACE

Chair

 

News Release
The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence
Legalized cannabis could lead to border-crossing woes
May 2, 2018
________________________________________
Ottawa – If recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada, the federal government should continue official discussions with the United States about the treatment of Canadian travellers so that they remain able to cross the border with minimal inconvenience, the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence said Tuesday.

Committee members made a number of comments with regard to the legalization of cannabis after studying the issue as it relates to Canada’s borders.
Senators wish to minimize the effect of legalization on the movement of travellers and goods so that Canadians do not, for instance, face lengthy interrogation or increased searches by U.S. customs officials.

Witnesses have testified that Canadians travelling to the U.S. could be inadmissible for entry simply for admitting to previous cannabis use.

The committee requests that the government table before Parliament a plan to protect Canadian travellers at the border.

Quick Facts

• Pursuant to a motion adopted in the Senate on February 15, 2018, the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence was authorized to study Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, as it relates to Canada’s borders.

• The motion also authorized the Senate committees on Aboriginal Peoples, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and Legal and Constitutional Affairs to study aspects of Bill C-45.

• These committees’ reports will be reviewed by the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during its study of the bill.

Quotes

“With legalization looming, Canada must be prepared for the consequences. Canadians must be confident that they will still be able to cross into the United States without fear that activities legal in Canada will be held against them. We urge the government to make the necessary diplomatic overtures.”
– Senator Gwen Boniface, Chair of the committee.

“If the legalization of cannabis is to take place with a minimum of harm, the government will need to address the issues our committee has raised. The mobility of people and goods across the U.S. border is crucial to Canada’s economy; we cannot afford to be unprepared.”
– Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais, Deputy Chair of the committee.

“Our actions, as legislators, have consequences. Sometimes they are difficult to foresee, but in this instance it is all too clear that Bill C-45 could adversely affect cross-border mobility. There is still time for the government to take steps to protect Canadian travellers.”
– Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer, Deputy Chair of the committee.

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USCIS Receives 190k H-1B Applications for 85k Spots

Thursday, April 12th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Demand continues to outpace supply for H-1B petitions. For this year’s cap lottery, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 190,098 applications for 85,000 spots. This is actually less applications than in some recent years. Of course, this is the full allocation of H-1B slots for the 2019 Fiscal Year, received in the first five days.

For those reading who do not know, H-1Bs are the United States’ professional temporary visa for high skilled workers. These include certain information technology workers, high skilled health care professionals, engineers, accountants, and the like. While there are other temporary and permanent work authorization categories, the H-1B is the typical work authorization category that foreign students might pursue upon completion of studies in the United States. Over half of the students in STEM graduate programs in the U.S. are foreign students.

We speak to many employers who want to hire these students, but run into issues with the H-1B cap. Increasingly, it seems that students who don’t get picked either look for other employers or go to other countries. In some cases, they can wait another year, and apply again, but eventually time runs out. There are other options, like continuing education, or finding employment with certain cap-exempt employers. Fundamentally, though, the current system has many flaws, based on our observations from working with employers and prospective employees.

Good luck to all who applied! Here is the excerpted announcement from USCIS:

On April 11, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process to select enough H-1B petitions to meet the congressionally-mandated cap and the U.S. advanced degree exemption, known as the master’s cap, for fiscal year (FY) 2019.

USCIS received 190,098 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began April 2, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. USCIS announced on April 6, that it had received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 and the master’s cap of 20,000. USCIS will reject and return all unselected petitions with their filing fees unless the petition is a prohibited multiple filing.

USCIS conducted the selection process for the master’s cap first. All unselected master’s cap petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 cap.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap. Petitions filed for current H-1B workers who have been counted previously against the cap, and who still retain their cap number, will also not be counted towards the FY 2019 H-1B cap.

USCIS will continue to accept and process petitions filed to:
• Extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker may remain in the United States;
• Change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers;
• Allow current H-1B workers to change employers; and
• Allow current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position.

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L-1 Pilot Program Coming to Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Crossings

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

The Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Crossing in Blaine, Washington are implementing a “Pilot Program” for L-1 Intracompany Transfer petitions, beginning on or about April 30th. L-1 Intracompany transfers are employees who are Executives, Managers, or employees with specialized knowledge who are transferred from a commonly owned foreign company to a U.S. company. For decades, Canadian beneficiaries of L-1 petitions have been permitted to submit their applications at Class A Port of Entries, and receive immediate adjudication. The Pilot Program, while introduced with promises of efficiencies, threatens a long-standing benefit for Canadian businesses.

On Monday, I attended a briefing session on a Form I-129 Pilot Program for Canadian L Nonimmigrants Pilot Program, held at the Peace Arch. The briefing was hosted jointly by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and was led principally by USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. The meeting was attended by more than a dozen officials of CBP, USCIS, and about ten attorneys representing stakeholders. The meeting was open to phone participants as well.

Director Cissna said that the stated intention of the L Pilot Program is to try to move Port of Entry adjudications out of CBP’s hands and into USCIS’s hands. Director Cissna views this work as USCIS work, since it involves immigration benefits. CBP doesn’t seem happy with the function (my observation), as they consider themselves an enforcement agency first and foremost. There were indications that if the Pilot Program works, perhaps TN adjudications can be handled on the same process.

Under the Pilot Program, the petitioning company will send the petition to USCIS with a special cover sheet. USCIS will then try to adjudicate the applications with the cover sheet “super fast…faster than premium processing,” in an effort to provide adjudication service similar to what is now available at the Port of Entry for Canadians. Approvals and Requests for Evidence will be sent to employers directly. While USCIS says it would be best to wait for the approval, Applicants can go down to the Port of Entry with just a receipt notice, and granted admission if the matter is adjudicated favorably. This was all described as “good organizational management.”

The goal is to launch the program at the Peace Arch and the Pacific Highway by April 30th, and then test run the program for 6 months. If it works, they’ll look at expansion to other northern ports of entry, and may need to commence the public notice and comment processes required under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Pilot Program is exclusive to Blaine, and so Canadian applicants who want immediate Port of Entry adjudication may still go to other Port of Entries. The process will be mandatory for Canadians at the Peace Arch and Pacific Highway. The process includes L blankets. The California Service Center is the designated USCIS service center for adjudication.

Some interesting statistics were mentioned during the meeting. We were told there are about 6200 Canadian L petitions submitted each year, which is about one-sixth of the overall total. The Blaine POEs are not handling too many per week now. One person said about half a dozen; another said about 50 per month. Issues raised by attorneys included the Request for Evidence rate at the USCIS Service Centers, which is very high; as well as the benefit from instant adjudication at the Port of Entry v. the issues in presenting a petition there sometimes.

This could end up being a step back for Canadian businesses who may clearly qualify and benefit from on-the-spot adjudication. There was a time when port of entry adjudication was a pretty quick process, and this method of application really helped Canadian businesses quickly get the people they need into the U.S. temporarily. USCIS has created a whole lot of red tape for legitimate businesses in recent years, and this presents another opportunity for government delays. A more favorable view of the program is that this allows pre-adjudication by USCIS of petitions, at a rate faster than Premium Processing’s fee based 15 day guarantee.

If its not obvious, I am skeptical about the Pilot Program. In the big picture, this Administration is taking every step it can to cut legal immigration, in addition to its focus on illegal immigration. There are some in the Administration who only want to “put a pause” on immigration, and seem to have decided that most if not all immigration is bad. The L visa is a poor target, as the visa is dedicated to executives and managers—people who typically create jobs, which leads to a healthier U.S. economy.

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Cascadia Attorneys Speak on NAFTA, the Border and Consular Processing

Saturday, March 17th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Greg Boos and I had the pleasure and honor of speaking again at the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Annual Northwest Conference last week.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the professional association for immigration lawyers. Reportedly, this conference was exceptionally well-attended, as interest in immigration law seems to only be increasing.

Greg’s panel was entitled “NAFTA and Border Issues.” Issues affecting cross-border travel include NAFTA TN applications, intracompany transfers, admissibility and waivers, customs seizures, and NEXUS, to name a few. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is currently in renegotiation, which has the potential of impacting U.S. immigration. Inadmissibility at the border due to concerns related to work authorization, marijuana, and immigrant intent continue to be noteworthy. Greg has long been one of the leading experts on northern border issues in the United States and Canada.

My panel was the Consular Processing Update. Consular processing involves the issuance of visas at consulates around the world. Consular officers from Montreal and Vancouver discussed recent changes that impact visa applicants. The latest challenges in consular processing include the widely reported travel bans for persons from certain countries; extended delays and administrative processing due to vetting; E visa investor and trader changes; the expansion of definitions of misrepresentation; prudential revocations of visas for DUIs,; and major processing changes for certain visas. The Department of State is working hard to update its immigrant visa processing to an all-electronic system, and is taking many steps to more closely evaluate all candidates for visas.

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The Heightened Vetting of Legal Immigration Applicants

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

The Administration is moving forward with its goal to increase vetting of all applicants for immigration benefits. We’re seeing this play out in a number of immigration settings. The most immediate effects we are seeing are longer delays for applications. Higher request for evidence and denial rates are also being reported. Immigration processing is not business as usual.

This month, the National Vetting Center was created by the White House. The National Vetting Center will be run out of the Department of Homeland Security, and will coordinate with other agencies like the Department of State and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The announcement states, in part:

The NVC, which will be led by the Department of Homeland Security, will help fulfill the President’s requirement that departments and agencies improve their coordination and use of intelligence and other information in the vetting process.

The Federal Government’s current vetting efforts are ad hoc, which impedes our ability to keep up with today’s threats. The NVC will better coordinate these activities in a central location, enabling officials to further leverage critical intelligence and law enforcement information to identify terrorists, criminals, and other nefarious actors trying to enter and remain within our country. The NVC’s operations will adhere to America’s strong protections for individuals’ privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. The Administration’s top priority is the safety and security of the public, and the NVC will empower our frontline defenders to better fulfill that obligation.

Other immigration-related agencies have also instituting increased vetting measures.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will interview all or most applicants who apply to remove the conditions on their permanent residence. This will be after one or more interviews previously to get the immigration benefit initially. In the past, a couple could mail in their application, with proof of marriage (e.g. shared home ownership or lease; kids had together; shared bills), and usually the agency would mail the green card after several months. Now, in addition to sending in these materials, the agency is calling people in for a second interview, and also in some cases conducting family home visits, even at odd hours if fraud is suspected. While combating green card is a necessary and vital part of USCIS’s mission, there has been no additional funding for all these interviews, which probably means lots of delays moving forward for all sorts of applications, as the agency reassigns resources.

USCIS has also said that it will move forward with interviewing beneficiaries of employment based immigration cases. While the agency has always had this authority, the practice has been to only interview where fraud concerns were triggered. Now, the agency is calling people in, and in some cases revisiting earlier I-140 approval adjudications. These are complicated applications, and the concern among some practitioners is that the field office adjudicators are not typically trained in the legalities, as are Service Center employees. Also, the added interview creates the potential for additional bias to be introduced in to the process, and again more delays.

USCIS also indicated this past year that it will no longer apply deference to renewals of approved petitions. This longstanding practice led to somewhat predictable results for employers with employees on occupational visas. We haven’t seen a rash of readjudications, but the guidance is now in place for adjudicators.

At the Consulates, there is reportedly an increase in the use of “administrative processing,” which the Department of State will not typically provide reason for. While cases usually are resolved in due time, it’s not unheard of for nonimmigrant visa renewals to suddenly take much longer (e.g. weeks), as they go through this process. This can be a real headache for visa renewal applicants, as well as for their families and employers who want them back.

At the border, it seems like there has been an increase in the use of expedited removals in the past year.  On the northern border, we most commonly see this with cases of misrepresentation, which occur after a lengthy interview. It was recently reported that searches of digital media are up by about 60% from 2016.

A safer America is a better America. However, finding the right balance between safety and practicality is also at issue. Applicants need to be aware that processes are slowing down. Changes are on-going, and we will continue to publish updates as circumstances and practices change.

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CBP Electronic Searches Up 50%, New Standards Announced

Monday, January 8th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that manages the border, published new officer standards for searching electronic devices. We have noticed in recent months an increase in these types of searches (phones, computers, cameras, etc.), and related Question and Answer sessions.

Now, with its recent announcement, it appears that reported searches by the agency are up by about 50% for the fiscal year. The agency’s announcement focuses on the limited number of searches that are conducted. We hear of cases all the time where officers hold on to the phone for 15 minutes in another room. Given the confidential nature of information on phones, whether personal or business, it can be a significant invasion of privacy.

The new guidance limits searches from reaching into the cloud on devices. It also provides some lipservice to the protection of confidential information. However, the agency stands firm in its belief that it can conduct such searches. In the past, Senator Cantwell and others have proposed legislation to limit this authority to a more reasonable level, but the courts have largely upheld the authority under current law.

Here’s the announcement, which includes a link to the guidance to officers:

CBP Releases Updated Border Search of Electronic Device Directive and FY17 Statistics

Release Date:
January 5, 2018

CBP searches the electronic devices of fewer than one-hundredth of 1 percent of all arriving international travelers

WASHINGTON—U.S. Customs and Border Protection released today an update to the agency’s Directive governing Border Searches of Electronic Devices. This Directive, which supersedes the previous directive released in August 2009, enhances the transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic device border searches performed by CBP.

“In this digital age, border searches of electronic devices are essential to enforcing the law at the U.S. border and to protecting the American people,” said Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, John Wagner. “CBP is committed to preserving the civil rights and civil liberties of those we encounter, including the small number of travelers whose devices are searched, which is why the updated Directive includes provisions above and beyond prevailing constitutional and legal requirements. CBP’s authority for the border search of electronic devices is and will continue to be exercised judiciously, responsibly, and consistent with the public trust.”

Noting the evolution of the operating environment since the 2009 directive was issued, advances in technology and continuing developments, along with the requirements of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, codified at 6 U.S.C. § 211(k), Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan directed the review and update of the Directive.

In FY17, CBP conducted 30,200 border searches, both inbound and outbound, of electronic devices. Approximately 0.007 percent of arriving international travelers processed by CBP officers (more than 397 million) had their electronic devices searched (more than 29,200). In FY16, 0.005 percent of arriving international travelers (more than 390 million) had their electronic devices searched (more than 18,400).

The need for border searches of electronic devices is driven by CBP’s mission to protect the American people and enforce the nation’s laws in this digital age. As the world of information technology evolves, techniques used by CBP and other law enforcement agencies must also evolve to identify, investigate, and prosecute individuals who use new technologies to commit crimes. CBP border searches of electronic devices have resulted in evidence helpful in combating terrorist activity, child pornography, violations of export controls, intellectual property rights violations, and visa fraud.

Below is a month-to-month comparison for FY16 and FY17.

International Travelers (Inbound and Outbound) Processed with Electronic Device Search
FY 2016 FY 2017
October 857 2,561
November 1,208 2,379
December 1,486 2,404
January 1,656 2,760
February 1,484 2,303
March 1,709 2,605
April 1,578 2,275
May 1,626 2,537
June 1,487 2,304
July 1,656 2,359
August 2,385 3,133
September 1,919 2,580
Total 19,051 30,200

CBP is responsible for securing our nation’s borders, to include, among other things, ensuring the interdiction of persons and goods illegally entering or exiting the United States; enforcing the customs and trade laws of the United States; detecting, responding to, and interdicting terrorists, drug smugglers and traffickers, human smugglers and traffickers, and other persons who may undermine the security of the United States; and safeguarding the border of the United States to protect against the entry of dangerous goods. In furtherance of these critical responsibilities, CBP exercises its border search authority judiciously and in a manner that preserves the public trust.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation’s borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.

Last published:
January 5, 2018
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Border Security

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Social Media and Immigration

Thursday, June 1st, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

It is a common refrain: “Be careful what you put on social media!” The idea, of course, is something might come back to bite you later, such as in a job interview.

The immigration authorities–including the consulates abroad, the border officers, and the USCIS interview officers–are interested as well. Through a series of Federal Register notices, the federal agencies have requested authority to collect social media information on persons seeking entry into the United States.

The Department of State today requested emergency approval of a supplemental questionnaire to be used in select visa interviews. Of course, the facial reason for the request is to identify true terrorist threats, which everyone wants. The questionnaire seeks information going back 15 years, instead of the standard 5 years, and collects information on family relatives, employment history, and travel history (including source of funding). The questionnaire also asks for “all social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the past five years.”

Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security’s border security agency, Customs and Border Protection, published notice of its intent to collect social media information platforms and handles in February. The announcement garnered the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as many media outlets. In 2016, the agency added an optional field to its visa waiver form so that applicants could volunteer their social media handles.

Immigration authorities have a great deal of discretion in seeking information to make determinations of admissibility. It seems that the agencies are quickly moving in the direction of requiring that social media handles be provided as part of the application process.

As with all expansions of government authority, there will be intended and unintended consequences. Terrorists and zealots use social media to find new recruits. Theoretically, social media might help identify someone who should not be issued a visa or admitted. Of course, this presumes that the bad-actor volunteers their information in the first place. While unlikely, developing a repository of such information could theoretically provide security dividends.

There are other considerations. The ACLU and EFF point to privacy interests. The digital age feels different, when it comes to search and seizure, with so much information retained on devices, in the cloud, and on social media platforms. Some of the privacy issues will inevitably be litigated. In general, I expect the courts to favor the national security interests inherent in border searches, though not without some measure of reason.

We increasingly observ officers walking over to a computer to conduct “Google” searches of applicants for admission. In fact, this does seem to be more common with the new Administration. I expect there will be even more digital searches, as agents peruse social media histories, to form an opinion on the person before them. Intrusive, yes, but also at times inefficient. These searches take time, and lead to more questions, which also takes time, and leads to frustrations. Most people are on several social media platforms. It’s not hard to picture someone being penalized for failing to volunteer their Instagram account, while yet disclosing Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. It’s also easy to imagine that nonsensical lines of questioning will be more common. Fishing expeditions.

The agencies are really only formalizing something they already do in select cases. Every week I hear of persons who were asked for passwords to their computers and phones, as well as social media handles. The question with these Federal Register notices is whether this is going to be routine for all travelers. How often and how deep will they choose to dig? Hopefully, these requests for social media information handles catch terrorists and other bad guys, and don’t become just another burden on travelers to the U.S.

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NAFTA Renegotiations and the TN Professional

Thursday, May 25th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

On May 18, 2017, the U.S. Trade Representative informed Congress that President Trump intends to commence negotiations with Canada and Mexico with respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement. On May 23rd, the Office of the United States Trade Representative published notice in the Federal Register, requesting comments on negotiating objectives regarding modernization of NAFTA.

The summary of the notice states that “NAFTA was negotiated more than 25 years ago, and while our economy and U.S. businesses have changed considerably over that period, NAFTA has not. The United States seeks to support higher-paying jobs in the United States and to grow the U.S. economy by improving U.S. opportunities under NAFTA.”

The Notice seeks written comments by June 12, 2017. A hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 in Washington D.C. Any intent to testify must be submitted by June 12th, 2017.

What do we know?

Trump originally said that he would pull the United States out of NAFTA, wholesale, but it appears advisors have prevailed upon him to renegotiate. America is quite ingrained in trade of all sorts with Canada and Mexico, and an abrupt cessation would be harmful.

Trump is serious about curtailing immigration, legal and illegal, by all indications. He’s also serious about trying to protect the U.S. worker. These facts do not bode well for the TN category as a whole.
The occupation schedule for TNs is roughly 25 years old, and way out of date. There is need for modernizing the schedule, provided such efforts are made in good faith.

Many sectors are impacted by the TN visa. Hospitals rely on the TN to employ nurses, physicians (research/teaching), recreational therapists, physical therapists, pharmacists, medical laboratory technologists, and others. Institutions of higher education use the TN to employ professors. Municipalities use the category to employ urban planners. Several professions in agriculture are represented, including soil scientists, sylviculturists, animal breeders, animal scientists, and horticulturists.

This Administration takes pride in disruption.

Ultimately, I expect many employers will push back on limitations, but there could be much debate. Unions and workers may have much to say. NAFTA involves all sorts of trade issues, and immigration may be pushed to the side, or not given sufficient discussion. There has been a tendency in recent years to limit immigration in trade agreements.

This is an important time for businesses and business organizations to be vocal on this point. Employees in TN status need to pay attention, as the prospective unavailability of a TN needs to at least be considered. Persons with paths to immigrate will need to consider the TNs nonimmigrant requirement, before making any application or traveling abroad.

We’ll keep monitoring developments with NAFTA and the TN professions, and are available to discuss.

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