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USCIS Announces Final Rule Enforcing Long-Standing Public Charge Inadmissibility Law

Monday, August 12th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS announced today the upcoming publication of a final rule on public charge requirements for immigration purposes. “Rule” really misstates things, as the proposed rule change will weigh in at over 800 pages. What does this mean?

In a few words, immigration and naturalization are getting harder. For some, it will be because they can’t reach the new heightened standards for proving that their immigration will not become a burden on U.S. taxpayers. For all, it will mean the application process will become that much more burdensome, as applicants have to overcome red tape requirements to prove their eligibility to immigrate or naturalize.

When a new rule with this level of complexity rolls out, there is a learning curve for the government decision-makers as well as for the applicants and their advisors.  Rarely do things become more clear; usually, the rules beget further questions and administrative burdens.

Restricting immigration has proudly been the cornerstone of this Administration’s agenda. This new rule will give officers at USCIS, and perhaps CBP and the State Department, greater ability to refuse immigration benefits. Immigrant advocates are also saying this rule will deter noncitizens from seeking all manner of benefits, in fear of hurting their chances to immigrate. I anticipate the rule or some part of it will soon be challenged in federal court. There will be other unintended consequences, surely, due to the breadth of its potential impact.

This is headline news, and much more will be written and said on this. For now, here’s the announcement from USCIS:

USCIS Announces Final Rule Enforcing Long-Standing Public Charge Inadmissibility Law

Regulation promotes self-sufficiency and immigrant success

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule that clearly defines long-standing law to better ensure that aliens seeking to enter and remain in the United States — either temporarily or permanently — are self-sufficient and rely on their own capabilities and the resources of family members, sponsors, and private organizations rather than on public resources.

This final rule amends DHS regulations by prescribing how DHS will determine whether an alien is inadmissible to the United States based on his or her likelihood of becoming a public charge at any time in the future, as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The final rule addresses U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authority to permit an alien to submit a public charge bond in the context of adjustment of status applications. The rule also makes nonimmigrant aliens who have received certain public benefits above a specific threshold generally ineligible for extension of stay and change of status.

“For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation’s immigration laws. President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “Throughout our history, self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream. Self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of hardworking immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States ever since. Through the enforcement of the public charge inadmissibility law, we will promote these long-standing ideals and immigrant success.”

DHS has revised the definition of “public charge” to incorporate consideration of more kinds of public benefits received, which the Department believes will better ensure that applicants subject to the public charge inadmissibility ground are self-sufficient. The rule defines the term “public charge” to mean an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months). The rule further defines the term “public benefit” to include any cash benefits for income maintenance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), most forms of Medicaid, and certain housing programs.

The regulation also excludes from the public benefits definition: public benefits received by individuals who are serving in active duty or in the Ready Reserve component of the U.S. armed forces, and their spouses and children; public benefits received by certain international adoptees and children acquiring U.S. citizenship; Medicaid for aliens under 21 and pregnant women; Medicaid for school-based services (including services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act); and Medicaid benefits for emergency medical services.

This rule also makes certain nonimmigrant aliens in the United States who have received designated public benefits above the designated threshold ineligible for change of status and extension of stay if they received the benefits after obtaining the nonimmigrant status they seek to extend or from which they seek to change.

Importantly, this regulation does not apply to humanitarian-based immigration programs for refugees, asylees, Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs), certain trafficking victims (T nonimmigrants), victims of qualifying criminal activity (U nonimmigrants), or victims of domestic violence (VAWA self-petitioners), among others.

This rule also explains how USCIS will exercise its discretionary authority, in limited circumstances, to offer an alien inadmissible only on the public charge ground the opportunity to post a public charge bond. The final rule sets the minimum bond amount at $8,100; the actual bond amount will be dependent on the individual’s circumstances.

This final rule supersedes the 1999 Interim Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds and goes into effect at 12:00 a.m. Eastern on Oct. 15, 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. USCIS will apply the public charge inadmissibility final rule only to applications and petitions postmarked (or, if applicable, submitted electronically) on or after the effective date. Applications and petitions already pending with USCIS on the effective date of the rule (postmarked and accepted by USCIS) will be adjudicated based on the 1999 Interim Guidance.

USCIS will provide information and additional details to the public as part of public outreach related to the implementation of this rule. In the coming weeks, USCIS will conduct engagement sessions for the public and other interested groups to ensure the public understands which benefits are included in the public charge inadmissibility rule and which are not.

For more information on USCIS and its programs, visit our website at uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Washington State Department of Licesning On Use of Facial Recognition Technology

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019 by W. Scott Railton

The Washington Post and New York Times recently ran stories concerning the use of facial technology to identify persons via the state driver’s license databases.  Washington State’s Department of Licensing has issued a press release, basically suggesting this is, dare I say, fake news. Here is what the Department of Licensing says:

DOL statement regarding facial recognition technology
July 8, 2019

July 8, 2019 For Immediate Release.

News Reports – ICE and the FBI using facial recognition technology to scan state driver’s license databases.

Statement from Department of Licensing Director Teresa Berntsen:

“National news reports about federal law enforcement and immigration officials’ use of state facial recognition databases has led to a high level of misunderstanding and confusion about how our state Department of Licensing protects this data. Our DOL has implemented strict standards to ensure data is not released to any law enforcement entity for immigration purposes or without a judicial court order or subpoena. There is no external access to the Facial Recognition System. System access is limited to very few specially trained DOL staff. We take very seriously our responsibility to protect the data and information of all Washingtonians.”

Background

The Washington Post reported ICE and the FBI using facial recognition technology to scan state driver’s license databases, including photos of legal residents and citizens. The Department of Licensing does not provide access to our Facial Recognition System to local, state, or federal law enforcement entities. They must provide the agency with a court order signed by a judge.

The New York Times states “agents authorized administrative subpoenas of the Department of Licensing to conduct a facial recognition scan of all photos of license applicants, though it was unclear whether the state carried out the searches.” The agency received 53 requests through court order or subpoena since 2013. Thirteen of those were federal requests. None have been received from 2017 to present. The remaining 40 were from local and state law enforcement entities.

Federal requests include:

One – U.S. Department of Justice
Two – Federal Bureau of Investigation
Four – Department of Homeland Security/Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
Six – U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

If a match was found through any request during this time, DOL would provide limited identity information.

DOL’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology

KUOW ran the headline “ICE uses Washington driver’s licenses to hunt immigrants for deportation, researchers say.” This is incorrect. No entity has access to DOL’s facial recognition system. They would provide a photo and DOL would conduct the research.
Law enforcement entities have no access to “mine” DOL’s state driver’s license databases using facial recognition technology.
As of January 2018, all requests must be court ordered.

DOL’s Facial Recognition Process

After receiving a court-ordered subpoena, DOL performs a search by comparing the photo provided by a law enforcement entity with DOL’s database. If a match occurs between the photo provided by the entity with a photo in DOL’s database, DOL provides the individual’s first, middle, and last name, date of birth, and ID or driver license number.
The Department of Licensing does the research. There is no direct external access to the facial recognition system. System access is limited to very few specially trained DOL staff.

Immigration and Citizenship Status

The Department of Licensing does not collect information regarding a person’s immigration or citizenship status.
The Department of Licensing does not collect place of birth.
The Department of Licensing does not provide Social Security numbers.

Governor’s Executive Orders

The Department of Licensing is committed to following the Governor’s Executive Order 17-01 Reaffirming Washington’s commitment to Tolerance, Diversity and inclusiveness.
We fully comply with Executive Order 16-01, Privacy Protection and Transparency in State Government. We only collect information that is necessary to perform our agency duties to establish identification and driving privileges.

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Posted in 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 |

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 Encourages ESTA Applicants to Apply 72 Hours In Advance

Thursday, December 13th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued the following reminder to apply early for Visa Waiver authorization, via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.  Presumably the reminder is prompted by the surge of travel during the holidays.  In our experience, most electronic systems for immigration at some point or another slow down for processing. It makes sense to plan ahead.

Here is the full advisory from CBP:

Visa Waiver Program users are encouraged to apply early

WASHINGTON D.C. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), consistent with existing requirements, reminds international travelers using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for travel to the United States to apply as soon as possible but not less than 72 hours before their international flight is scheduled to depart.

Visa Waiver Program users are encouraged to apply early.

Due to changes in ESTA application processing, real-time approvals will no longer be available. Citizens of participating Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries traveling to the United States are strongly encouraged to apply for an ESTA at the time of booking their trip and no later than 72 hours prior to departure. Applicants who apply on the same day of their flight’s departure risk not having an approved ESTA prior to their scheduled departure.  International travelers without an approved ESTA will not be authorized to board their flight.

ESTA is an automated system that assists in determining eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risks.  Upon completion of an ESTA application, travelers are notified of their eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP.

“Since its implementation in 2007, ESTA has counterbalanced vulnerabilities inherent in visa-free travel by adding a layer of advance scrutiny that enables our officers to focus on the small population of potentially dangerous travelers,” said Todd Owen, CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Field Operations.

Recent enhancements to the ESTA process make querying application status much smoother.  Upon successful submission, the applicant is provide an email containing their application number and a link taking them directly to the ESTA web page.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less for business or pleasure when they meet all requirements.  Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the VWP and is required for all VWP applicants in the air and sea environment.

ESTA was one of the measures under the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The electronic travel authorization system was designed to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program by evaluating a traveler’s eligibility prior to their boarding a U.S. bound flight.

For detailed information on VWP/ESTA, please visit the CBP site at: cbp.gov/esta, or, the U.S. State Department travel site. To avoid third-party fees, CBP encourages travelers to apply use the official ESTA website.

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CBP Addresses Canada’s Legalization Of Marijuana And Crossing The U.S. Border

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Customs and Border Protection published a statement regarding Canada’s legalization of marijuana and crossing the border, which is available at its website.

Most notable:  CBP affirmatively says that persons working in the legalized industry in Canada, without attachment to the U.S. industry, will still be admissible.  See the paragraph I’ve highlighted in bold italics below. Prior public statements by CBP leadership strongly suggested this would not be the case, which seemed counter to the plain language of the Immigration and Nationality Act. I personally questioned such a policy in a story published last month by the Dow Jones’ publication, Market Watch.

I think CBP has it right now, as far as the Immigration and Nationality Act goes. There are many finer legal points though that come into play, when making actual inadmissibility decisions.

Perhaps most importantly, there still is a real need for Congress to take a longer look at the cannabis issue overall, since over half the states have a form of legalization. Until they do, the border will continue to be a hard line on cannabis, drawn between states and provinces which have legalized the substance.

Here is the CBP’s Statement in full, updated on 10/9/18:

CBP Statement on Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana and Crossing the Border
Release Date:
September 21, 2018

UPDATED: 10/09/2018

U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforces the laws of the United States and U.S. laws will not change following Canada’s legalization of marijuana. Requirements for international travelers wishing to enter the United States are governed by and conducted in accordance with U.S. Federal Law, which supersedes state laws. Although medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in some U.S. States and Canada, the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana or the facilitation of the aforementioned remain illegal under U.S. Federal Law. Consequently, crossing the border or arriving at a U.S. port of entry in violation of this law may result in denied admission, seizure, fines, and apprehension.

CBP officers are thoroughly trained on admissibility factors and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which broadly governs the admissibility of travelers into the United States. Determinations about admissibility and whether any regulatory or criminal enforcement is appropriate are made by a CBP officer based on the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.

Generally, any arriving alien who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict, or who is convicted of, admits having committed, or admits committing, acts which constitute the essential elements of a violation of (or an attempt or conspiracy to violate) any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance, is inadmissible to the United States.

A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S. however, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible.

CBP officers are the nation’s first line of defense in preventing the illegal importation of narcotics, including marijuana. U.S. federal law prohibits the importation of marijuana and CBP officers will continue to enforce that law.

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 modified:
October 9, 2018

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

USCIS to Begin Implementing New Policy Memorandum on Notices to Appear on October 1st

Friday, September 28th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS will begin to implement a new policy memorandum for issuing Notices to Appear on October 1st.  The memorandum outlines criteria for issuing Notices to Appear, which is the document for initiating immigration court proceedings. The agency will issue Notices to Appear after certain denials of many of the application types presented. These will include Adjustments of Status, Naturalization, and Temporary Protected Status applications, to name a few.  The importance of seeking counsel before filing applications is all the more heightened by this memo, particularly if there is any issue at all to consider.

The memo says that USCIS will issue Notices to Appear in many cases. The focus will be on a number of different serious criminal matters where persons are “under investigation for, has been arrested for (without disposition), or has been convicted.  The offenses include serious offenses like murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, and firearms offenses. The list also includes “human rights violators, known or suspected street gang members, or Interpol hits.”

Additionally, persons who make misrepresentations or “abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits” may be noted to appear.

Naturalization applicants who are denied on good moral character grounds, based on an underlying offense, “provided they are removable,” will be noted to appear.

The agency policy memo includes many other bases, many of which sound reasonable, but the language of the memo leaves much open for interpretation and negative discretionary actions by the agency.  Notably, the current immigration court case backlog is over 700,000 cases, and this will just add to that backlog.  Unless these measures are adequately funded, they threaten all normal immigration processing timelines, which are even now considerably delayed.

Here’s the agency’s press release:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin implementing the June 28 Updated Guidance for the Referral of Cases and Issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Deportable Aliens Policy Memorandum (PM) (PDF, 140 KB) on Oct. 1, 2018. USCIS will take an incremental approach to implement this memo.

An NTA is a document that instructs an individual to appear before an immigration judge. This is the first step in starting removal proceedings. Starting Oct. 1, 2018, USCIS may issue NTAs on denied status-impacting applications, including but not limited to, Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

USCIS will send denial letters for status-impacting applications that ensures benefit seekers are provided adequate notice when an application for a benefit is denied. If applicants are no longer in a period of authorized stay, and do not depart the United States, USCIS may issue an NTA. USCIS will provide details on how applicants can review information regarding their period of authorized stay, check travel compliance, or validate departure from the United States.

The June 2018 NTA Policy Memo will not be implemented with respect to employment-based petitions and humanitarian applications and petitions at this time. Existing guidance for these case types will remain in effect.

USCIS will continue to prioritize cases of individuals with criminal records, fraud, or national security concerns. There has been no change to the current processes for issuing NTAs on these case types, and USCIS will continue to use its discretion in issuing NTAs for these cases.

USCIS is holding a public teleconference on Thursday, Sept. 27 from 2 – 3 p.m. Eastern to provide an overview of the PM and respond to pre-submitted questions. The teleconference will conclude with a question and answer session, as time permits. Additional information is available on the Upcoming National Engagements page.

USCIS will provide updates and information on the implementation of this PM on the new Notice to Appear Policy Memorandum page.

 

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USCIS Processing Times Are Getting Longer

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Longer waits, longer applications, and higher fees are the unfortunate reality for persons and businesses seeking immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Here in Washington State, the USCIS Field Office in Seattle says it is taking 15 to 16.5 months to adjudicte a naturalization application.  The application itself costs $725, has 18 pages of instructions, and 20 pages of application to complete.  USCIS Field Offices appear to be swamped with additional vetting responsibilities, with no additional funding, despite the high application costs.

Similarly, the Service Centers have long waits for many important benefits.  Work authorization documents are taking 4.5 to 6.5 months to issue out of the National Benefits Center.  It used to be that the agency was required to issue a work authorization document within 90 days by regulation, but since that regulation was stricken, wait times have increased. This can be really hard on adjustment application couples, who need their significant other to be earning income to pay the bills.

H-1B applications have really slowed down too, now taking 5.5 to 7.5 months, according to the California Service Center.  We’ve heard of longer adjudications. The agency has noted the issue as well, and has suspended much of its premium processing program in order to try to get a handle on things.  It seems likely that the increase in Requests for Evidence and Denials has added to the agency’s workload.  H-1B applications include thousands of dollars in filing fees, but that doesn’t seem to be relevant.

Last week I participated in a teleconference with Congressional staffers and discussed the issue of delays.  It is a universal concern in immigration law right now, and hopefully something can be done. As part of that call, I put together the following list of published adjudication timeframes:

Timeframes for initial adjudications:

Local Field Offices:

I-485s

(Seattle):             10 to 19.5 months

(Yakima)              9.5 to 21.5 months

(Spokane)           9.5 to 21.5 months

Application fee:                $1225

Form length:                      18 pages; 42 pages of instructions, not including parole and work authorization applications

N-400s

(Seattle):                              15 to 16.5 months

(Yakima)                              3.5 to 5.5 months

(Spokane)                           11.5 to 18 months

Application Fee:               $725

Form length:                      20 pages; 18 pages of instructions.

 

National Benefits Center:

I-765                      4.5 to 6.5 months for adjustments;   5 to 7 months at NBC for all others

I-131                      4.5 to 6.5 months at NBC

 

California Service Center (I-129s)

H-1B:                     5.5 to 7.5 months

Ls:                           4 to 6 months

Rs:                          4 to 7 months

 

Nebraska Service Center (I-140s)

Extraordinary ability (E11)                                         5 Months to 7 Months

Outstanding professor or researcher (E12)                 5 Months to 7 Months

Multinational executive or manager (E13)                  9.5 Months to 12 Months

Advanced degree or exceptional ability (E21)           5 Months to 7 Months

Skilled worker or professional (E31; E32)                  5 Months to 7 Months

Unskilled worker (EW3)                                             7 Months to 9.5 Months

Advanced degree/ (NIW)                                           5 Months to 7 Months

Schedule A Nurses                                                     8 Months to 10 Months

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

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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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

USCIS Narrows Meaning of a Specialty Occupation

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

USCIS is challenging employers on whether their positions fit the definition of a “specialty occupation.” It has become for the agency to issue “Requests for Additional Evidence” (RFEs) of employers, providing up to three months to respond. The Requests are overly broad, and a disguised tax on the company for filing the petition in the first place. It has been said that the agency anticipates denying as many as 25% of the applications submitted.  Applications were down this year, probably due to these bureaucratic challenges.  Many fear where this is going, with the best and the brightest opting for jobs elsewhere.

The requests can be several pages long.  In doing so, the agency is piling up the costs for businesses. This fits in with the Administration’s overall goal of making immigration harder. Or, as the Executive Order goes, “Buy American, Hire American.”

We are seeing businesses disrupted by this red tape, as new petitions and renewals for key personnel are challenged. The occupations most commonly challenged are managers and information technology professionals. Often, these professionals have many years of experience, and have seen past approvals from the agency.

In my experience, employers don’t typically want to sponsor H-1B professionals unless they have great cause to, due to the underlying costs. Employers don’t typically seek an attorney’s assistance to hire a professional, but that is standard for an H-1B.  There are just too many regulations and procedures to navigate. However, the U.S. has record unemployment and a shortage of qualified STEM professionals right now. So, the H-1B program has the potential to help businesses.

Here is the Request for Evidence template that many petitioners are receiving:

Specialty Occupation

A specialty occupation is one that requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and which requires the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum, for entry into the occupation in the United States.
USCIS does not use the job title, by itself, when determining whether a particular position qualifies as a specialty occupation. The specific duties of the proffered position, combined with the nature of the petitioning entity’s business operations, are factors that USCIS considers.

To qualify as a specialty occupation, the position must meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position;
2. The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;
3. The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
4. The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

USCIS interprets the term degree in the above criteria to mean not just any degree, but a degree in a specific field of study that is directly related to the proffered position.

To show that the position offered to the beneficiary qualifies as a specialty occupation, you submitted:

• A certified Labor Condition Application (LCA)
• Other evidence described, relating to occupation title

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (“OOH”) (a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor) indicates that a [occupation title] is an occupation that does not require a bachelor’s level of education or higher or its equivalent in a specific specialty as a normal, minimum for entry into the occupation.

You have not shown that the position offered to the beneficiary is a specialty occupation. You may submit additional evidence to satisfy this requirement.

Evidence may include, but is not limited to:
• A detailed statement to:
o explain the beneficiary’s proposed duties and responsibilities;
o indicate the percentage of time devoted to each duty; and
o state the educational requirements for these duties.
• A copy of a line-and-block organizational chart showing your hierarchy and staffing levels. The organizational chart should:
o list all divisions in the organization;
o identify the proffered position in the chart;
o show the names and job titles for those persons, if any, whose work will come under the control of the proposed position; and
o indicate who will direct the beneficiary, by name and job title.
• Job postings or advertisements showing a degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations.
• Letters from an industry-related professional association indicating that they have made a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty a requirement for entry into the field.
• Copies of letter or affidavits from firms or individuals in the industry that attest that similar organizations routinely employ and recruit only degreed individuals in a specific specialty. Any letter or affidavit should be supported by the following:
o The writer’s qualifications as an expert;
o How the conclusions were reached; and
o The basis for the conclusions supported by copies or citations of any materials used.
• Copies of your present and past job postings or announcements for the proffered position showing that you require applicants to have a minimum of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty or its equivalent.
• Documentary evidence of your past employment practices for the position, including:
o Copies of employment or pay records; and
o Copies of degrees or transcripts to verify the level of education of each individual and the field of study for which the degree was earned.
• An explanation of what differentiates your product and services from other employers in the same industry and why a bachelor’s level of education in a specific field of study is a prerequisite for entry into the proffered position. Be specific and provide documentation to support any explanation of complexity.
• Copies of documentary examples of work product created by current or prior employees in a similar position, such as:
o Reports;
o Presentations;
o Evaluation;
o Designs; or
o Blueprints.
• Additional information about your organization, such as:
o Press releases;
o Business plans;

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

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