Posts Tagged ‘DOS’

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Administrative Actions Making Immigration Harder

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

I am often asked whether the Trump Administration is impacting immigration law. The headline news concerns travel bans from certain countries and refugees, and this indeed is impacting noncitizens. I routinely hear from professionals who are concerned about their eligibility for benefits under the new administration. Their anxiety is real. Human Resource Departments feel the stress too, as key employees send emails and phone busy staff, with palpable concern. The undocumented communities are very anxious about police coordinating with ICE, as the Administration makes overtures towards “sanctuary” cities and enforcement policies.

Here are a few things that have occurred recently that may not be getting as much press coverage:
1. USCIS recently issued a memo revoking old guidance on computer programmers, and encouraging adjudicators to take a longer look at whether computer programmer positions are actually specialty occupations. Information technology professionals cover about half of the annual quota for H-1Bs professionals.

2. Recently, some ports of entry began to say that Advanced Nurse Practitioners do not qualify for TN status as registered nurses, despite historic practice. This means there is increased risk in traveling abroad for RNs who are ARNPs, as well as with renewals. It does not appear this is a universal interpretation.

3. Premium processing for H-1Bs–which guarantees 15 day adjudication for the price of $1225- is suspended as of April 3rd. USCIS has a considerable backlog on H-1Bs that they need to manage, but there is no confidence that they’ll be able to do this without this program, which, by the way, generates substantial revenues. In particular, physicians who complete their residencies and take on new fellowships on July 1st are particularly concerned.

4. Searches of electronic media at the border have gone up considerably. The Guardian referred to this as a digital strip search. CBP asks for a password, and then takes a person’s phone or computer to another room, and comes back a while later, having scanned photos, emails, and other confidential information. Often, they offer no reason for the search—they just claim the authority and proceed.

5. The border is also asking more frequently whether a person has ever smoked or used marijuana. If the person responds yes, during a sworn statement, the agency is then finding the person inadmissible and requiring them to get a waiver. Waivers cost $585 for Canadians, and take months to process.

6. The Department of State has issued cables to its consular officers requiring them to “improve visa applicant vetting” and to implement “the concepts undergirding the Presidential memorandum.” Also, a hiring freeze was ordered, which will eventually further backlog appointments.

7. Contractors are lining up to build the wall.

8. ICE is deporting persons who have had deferred action and persons who are showing up for USCIS appointments. These have included family members, DREAMers, and other non-criminals.

Make no mistake—the Administration is not just focused on illegal immigration. The Administration is focused on limiting all immigration, and is implementing immigration procedures which effectively do this, even before pursuing a legislative agenda. These measures add complexity and require added time for all immigration processes.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in General, Scott Railton |

The Department of State’s 2018 Diversity Visa Program (DV-2018) registration is now open!

Thursday, September 29th, 2016 by Heather Fathali

Online registration for the DV-2018 Program begins on Tuesday, October 4, 2016 at 12:00 noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4), and concludes on Monday, November 7, 2016 at 12:00 noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-4).

The entry form must be submitted during this period, and entries may only be submitted online at https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/.

Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants,” born in countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. A limited number of diversity visas (DVs) are available each fiscal year, which traditionally begins on Oct. 1. The DVs are distributed among six geographic regions (Africa; Asia; Europe; North America; Oceania; and South America, Central America, and the Caribbean) and no single country may receive more than seven percent of the available DVs in any one year. Entrants are “chargeable” according their country of birth, not their current country of residence or citizenship. For example, if a person was born in Iran but is a citizen of Canada and resides in Canada, they remain chargeable to Iran for DV purposes; and may apply for the program despite the fact that Canada is not a DV country.

The U.S. Department of State provides a helpful step-by-step guidance on the program and how to submit an entry at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOQlh2d2EbQ&feature=youtu.be. Instructions are also available at https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Diversity-Visa/DV-Instructions-Translations/DV-2018-Instructions-Translations/DV-2018%20Instructions%20English.pdf.

DV-2018 Entrants will begin to be able to check their entry status starting May 2, 2017. Entrants may only check their status by entering their confirmation information at https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/; the U.S. government will not mail out a notice regarding an Entrant’s status, and embassies and consulates will not provide a list of selectees. DV-2018 Entrants should keep their confirmation number until at least September 30, 2018.

The list of DV-2018 countries is available in the official DV-2018 Program Instructions, and is also copied below:

 

LIST OF COUNTRIES/AREAS BY REGION WHOSE NATIVES ARE ELIGIBLE FOR DV-2018

The list below shows the countries whose natives are eligible for DV-2018, grouped by geographic region. Dependent areas overseas are included within the region of the governing country. USCIS identified the countries whose natives are not eligible for the DV-2018 program according to the formula in Section 203(c) of the INA. The countries whose natives are not eligible for the DV program (because they are the principal source countries of Family-Sponsored and Employment-Based immigration or “high-admission” countries) are noted after the respective regional lists.

 

AFRICA

Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Djibouti, Egypt*, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, The Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

* Persons born in the areas administered prior to June 1967 by Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt are chargeable, respectively, to Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Persons born in the Gaza Strip are chargeable to Egypt; persons born in the West Bank are chargeable to Jordan; persons born in the Golan Heights are chargeable to Syria.

In Africa, natives of Nigeria are not eligible for this year’s Diversity Visa program.

 

ASIA

Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region**, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel*, Japan, Jordan*, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria*, Taiwan**, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Arab Emirates, Yemen,

*Persons born in the areas administered prior to June 1967 by Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt are chargeable, respectively, to Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Persons born in the Gaza Strip are chargeable to Egypt; persons born in the West Bank are chargeable to Jordan; persons born in the Golan Heights are chargeable to Syria.

**Hong Kong S.A.R. (Asia region), Macau S.A.R. (Europe region, chargeable to Portugal), and Taiwan (Asia region) do qualify and are listed here. For the purposes of the diversity program only, persons born in Macau S.A.R. derive eligibility from Portugal, and must select Portugal as their country of eligibility.

Natives of the following Asia Region countries are not eligible for this year’s Diversity Visa program: Bangladesh, China (mainland-born), India, Pakistan, South Korea, Philippines, and Vietnam.

 

EUROPE

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark (including components and dependent areas overseas), Estonia, Finland, France (including components and dependent areas overseas), Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau Special Administrative Region**, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands (including components and dependent areas overseas), Northern Ireland***, Norway (including components and dependent areas overseas), Poland, Portugal (including components and dependent areas overseas), Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vatican City

**Macau S.A.R. does qualify and is listed above and for the purposes of the diversity program only; persons born in Macau S.A.R. derive eligibility from Portugal, and must select Portugal as their country of eligibility.

***For purposes of the diversity program only, Northern Ireland is treated separately. Northern Ireland does qualify and is listed among the qualifying areas.

Natives of the following European countries are not eligible for this year’s DV program: Great Britain (United Kingdom). Great Britain (United Kingdom) includes the following dependent areas: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, St. Helena, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

 

NORTH AMERICA

The Bahamas

In North America, natives of Canada and Mexico are not eligible for this year’s DV program.

 

OCEANIA

Australia (including components and dependent areas overseas), Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Federated States of Nauru, New Zealand (including components and dependent areas overseas), Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu

 

SOUTH AMERICA, CENTRAL AMERICA, AND THE CARIBBEAN

Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela

Countries in this region whose natives are not eligible for this year’s DV program: Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, and Peru.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in General |

Don’t be Caught in the Backlog – Renew Your U.S. Passport Early!

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 by Heather Fathali

Have a U.S. passport expiring in 2016 or 2017? The State Department advises you start the renewal process ASAP to avoid backlogs in processing times. 2016-2017 marks the 10-year anniversary of WHTI, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which among other things required (for the first time) that U.S. citizens present a U.S. passport when departing or entering the U.S. for air travel within the Western Hemisphere. It also imposed restrictions on the acceptable documents for presentation at U.S. land and sea borders. WHTI resulted in a mad rush of U.S. passport applications, and, because U.S. passports are valid for 10 years, the Department of State now foresees a surge in upcoming renewals.

Depending on your circumstances, U.S. passports may be renewed by mail, in person, and from abroad. The Department of State offers a user-friendly website to assist in the process: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/renew.html.

The New York Times offers a great report on the matter here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/travel/passport-renewal.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in General |

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Cards Act of 2011

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 by W. Scott Railton

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Cards Act of 2011 was signed into law by the President this past weekend. Sponsored by Representative Larsen and Senator Cantwell, the law allows business persons and certain government personnel to expedite their visa processing and travel processing and access to designated airport travel lanes, to facilitate their travels.

“The president’s signature on this bill means American business men and women will be able to travel more freely to the Asia-Pacific region, expanding opportunities to export American goods to these important markets,” Rep. Larsen is quoted as saying on his website. “This travel card will level the playing field for American business people traveling overseas, giving them the same expedited travel benefits that foreign travel card holders enjoy when they come to the United States.”

The Travel Cards Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to work in coordination with the Department of State to develop cards for qualified travelers to use, to expedite their travel. Qualified persons will be able to have their visa applications reviewed faster, take multiple trips to the 21 APEC countries for three years without obtaining new visas, and use the same customs and immigration lanes at airports that air crews use. The Department of Homeland Security already has multiple trusted traveler programs, such as NEXUS, and so presumably these programs will be the model for processing APEC card applicants.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in General |