Insight into Immigration

Trump’s Executive Actions – Travel Advisory

imm_2To say that this past weekend’s events were extraordinary would be an understatement. Here’s a recap and the very latest on President Trump’s Executive Order (“EO”) entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” In sum, the EO does six (6) primary things:

1. Suspension of U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The EO suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days.

2. Ban on Syrian Refugees. The EO halts the processing and admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely until President Trump determines that sufficient changes have been made to ensure that the admission of Syrian refugees is in the national interest.

3. Ban on Entry of Nationals of Muslim-Majority Countries. The EO bans immigrant and nonimmigrant entries, for at least 90 days, for nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Other countries may be added as well.

4. Requires In-Person Interviews for Most Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants. The EO suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program, essentially requiring all nonimmigrant visa applicants to attend an interview unless an interview is statutorily exempt.

5. Screening of all Immigration Benefits. The EO directs federal agencies to develop screening standards and procedures for all immigration benefits to better identify fraud and detect whether a person intends to do harm in the United States.

6. Biometric-Entry Exit. The EO directs agencies to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric (e.g., fingerprinting) entry-exit system that includes reporting requirements.

The EO was effective immediately. Chaos ensued as foreign nationals were detained at airports around the world, pulled off planes set to depart to the United States, or otherwise had their visas cancelled. Advocacy groups sued, and people all over the United States rallied in opposition to this EO. (As you will recall, there were two other EO’s issued by President Trump earlier last week.)

On Saturday, a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York issued an order, granting a nationwide stay of removal preventing deportation for individuals with valid visas and approved refugee applications affected by the EO. Later, a federal court in Massachusetts issued a decision which barred federal officials from detaining or removing individuals subject to the EO.

There are so many questions and concerns that my colleagues and I have about this EO (and the others too), and of course there’s little to no clarity coming out of the White House. (Indeed, there’s contradicting information coming out of the White House and the Department of Homeland Security on some issues, including whether the EO applies to lawful permanent residents, i.e., Green Card holders).

So, where does that leave us? It’s way too early to tell as the situation is very fluid. However, I am advising my clients who might be affected by the EO (and frankly many others as well as there is not a lot of clarity on important issues, e.g., how this effects dual nationals where one nationality is of a Muslim-majority country) to refrain from traveling outside of the United States. Plain and simple, if you don’t have an urgent or compelling reason to travel outside the United States, then don’t.

Day 6 : Trump Signs Executive Orders Targeting Illegal Immigration

BorderSecurityImageHot off the press. Today, President Trump issued two (2) executive orders relating to immigration, one on border security (e.g., calling for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, etc.) and one on interior enforcement (e.g., including various provisions relating to enforcement of United States immigration laws, including withholding federal grant money from sanctuary cities).

Like President Obama before him (who he all so often criticized for using executive actions to enforce our immigration law), President Trump is using executive actions to enact these new immigration policies. (Thus far, there have been no changes announced as to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program.)

Here’s a high-level overview of what we know.

1. Southern Border Wall. The President announced that the United States will construct a wall along our U.S. – Mexico border, based apparently on authority under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed into law by President George W. Bush (which called for 700 miles of “reinforced fencing” along the U.S. – Mexico border, along with enhanced surveillance systems). At this point, there are just rumors as to how this will be paid for.

2. Detention for Illegal Entry. The President is seeking new policy guidance for all Department of Homeland Security personnel regarding the appropriate and consistent use of lawful detention authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, including the termination of the practice commonly known as “catch and release” (whereby aliens are routinely released in the United States shortly after their apprehension for violations of immigration law).

3. Curbing Funding to Sanctuary Cities. The President’s executive orders also seek to end Sanctuary Cities by stripping grant funding for those cities.

4. Temporarily Halting Refugee Admissions. The President is seeking a 120-day pause in refugee admissions to the United States, with the exception of those fleeing religious persecution if their religion is a minority in their country of nationality.

5. Banning Foreign Nationals from Certain Muslim-Majority Countries. The President is banning entry into the United States for at least thirty (30) days all immigrant and nonimmigrant nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. He also may require that all applicants from those countries (and perhaps others) demonstrate that he or she is not a security or public-safety threat to the United States.

6. Uniform Screening for Immigration Benefits. The President announced that there will be added requirements to screenings and procedures for all immigration benefits to identify fraud and to apparently detect an applicants’ intent to do harm. (Perhaps this is the “extreme vetting” we heard so much of on the campaign trail.) The President is also suspending the Visa Interview Waiver Program, essentially requiring all visa applicants to attend a visa interview, unless they are otherwise exempt from doing so under the law.

This is obviously a fluid situation, so I will endeavor to update this as appropriate.

The Inauguration of Donald J.Trump, Day 1

dreamstime_xs_62076674-copy“We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.” These were essentially the very first words uttered by now President Trump in his inaugural address.

When I first went back to re-read the President’s speech, I didn’t think much of this particular statement. Upon reflection, though, given the President’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, and even since he was elected, I find it a bit ironic that he in the same sentence speaks how “the citizens of America” would restore our country’s promise “for all of our people.”

“All of our people.” Presumably this means everyone that’s here, right? Citizens and non-citizens alike? Or does “our people” have a more limited meaning? Just citizens? What about permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders)? What about people lawfully here on temporary visas? Am I reading too much into the President’s statement?

I just received an email from a colleague who, in a very different context, said “Language is important. Actions are important.” He was right in the context he used it. On Day 1 of a Trump presidency, language is very important. For every other day, actions will be very important.

“Every decision on … on immigration … will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” Really? What about everyone else who are lawfully living in the United States?

I have clients and colleagues calling me daily about what a Trump presidency means on the immigration front. And not just what I describe as at risk, or undocumented folks. Professionals too. I’ve tried to answer that question so many times, but the truth is, I really don’t know. Frankly, no one knows beyond those that are closest to the President. I suspect we’re about to find out.

Anecdotally, the news has not been good, and by all accounts, the Executive actions that former President Obama took (e.g., DACA, etc.) are no doubt in jeopardy.

President Trump quoted the Bible in his inaugural speech; specifically, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” I agree. “All of our people” should be able to remain here and live here in unity. Now let’s get to work on a compassionate way to make that happen. (And for God’s sake, let’s tackle some meaningful immigration reform in the process.)

Election Post Mortum – At Risk Population of Immigrants

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I think I went to bed around 10:30 PM on election night.  Pretty early for sure.  But once the analysis was coming in on voting trends in Florida and Michigan, I knew the writing was on the wall.

So what does a Trump presidency mean in the world of immigration?  Potentially a lot.  I am very fortunate to have a diverse law practice, and within our immigration practice, we serve both corporate clients (e.g., from start-ups to mature businesses) and individuals and families.  A fair amount of the individuals that we serve are what I consider to be at-risk; some are here in the United States lawfully, and others not.  Many do not want to go home.  These are amazing people, with amazing and often horrifying stories to tell of why they came to the United States, and how.  Unfortunately, because of what we’re seeing in the aftermath of the election, many of them are now scared, really scared (including some of our corporate clients)!

On the one hand, we have business clients who are concerned about their foreign national employees, whether they’re going to be able to remain here, whether their working status will be able to be extended, whether they can safely take business trips outside the United States and return unimpeded.  All sorts of questions.  I try to assure these folks that nothing, yet anyway, has changed, as far as their employees are concerned.

And then we have what I refer to as our at risk clients, some here lawfully and some not, many who came to the United States leaving terrible and dangerous situations back in their home countries, and who are legitimately fearful to return.  Many of these individuals are unaccompanied minors, kids who have been abandoned by their families back home and who made perilous journeys across our Southern border, seeking a better life.  I am very concerned about this population.

This is the time when scammers, and so-called notarios, are likely to come out of the woodwork.  We’re advising clients not to fall for scammers or notarios who will prey on this at risk population, people who are often confused and are no doubt fearful about the election results.

We’re receiving daily calls from clients and potential clients who are afraid of what the next four years may mean to them and their families, their businesses, and their communities.  Our job now, more than ever, is to work with them, help them realize the American dream, and help them overcome any obstacles that may be created by our new President and our immigration laws and regulations.

When we receive these calls, our first response is “don’t panic”!  With perhaps one or two exceptions, we do not know for sure exactly what will happen when President-elect Trump takes office in January.  We’re advising our clients not to make any hasty or rash decisions, and instead take the time necessary to review their particular situation, get the facts, review the law, and know their rights.

One of the things that the President-elect said he would do on “Day 1” is rescind many of the executive actions put into place under the Obama Administration.  The biggest one, in the immigration arena, is no doubt President Obama’s 2012 initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”).  That program allows some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States, and who had been brought to the United States as children and met other criteria, to also receive deferred action and, in many cases, employment authorization.

As of June 30, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) had approved close to 750,000 DACA applications (since 2012).  We do not know if, how or when DACA might end.  President-elect Trump could take action on DACA immediately or soon after his inauguration, weeks or months later, or perhaps not at all if he softens or changes his position (as he has so often done of late).

Finally, one of the biggest things that we are highly recommending to our clients is, if they are eligible, to apply for citizenship in the United States.  Of course, everyone’s situation is not the same, but if someone meets the basic eligibility requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen, and they have no adverse factors in their background that would make them ineligible for citizenship (or worse, potentially removable from the United States), we’re advising them to take a hard look at applying for U.S. citizenship.  Citizens of the United States have so many more protected under the law than someone who is not.

These are interesting times we live in.  And its only just begun.

Creative Lawyering for Colleges, Universities and Entrepreneurs

droopy flagI saw an interesting article the other day in the Connecticut Law Tribune.  The premise of the article related to institutions of higher education using “creative solutions” to deal with the lack of available H-1B nonimmigrant worker visas for their graduates who wish to remain in the United States as entrepreneurs.  A little background (or refresher for some of you) is probably in order.

The H-1B nonimmigrant visa (or status) may be granted to foreign nationals who will perform services in a “specialty occupation.”  A specialty occupation requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum requirement for entry into the occupation in the United States.  Examples of speciality occupations include architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts.

The U.S. government operates on a fiscal year basis that begins each year on October 1 and runs through the following September 30.  For those employers who wish to hire foreign nationals as H-1B workers, unless the position is “exempt”, a key concept here, there is an annual cap of 65,000 nonimmigrant visas that are available in each fiscal year (and an additional 20,000 H-1B nonimmigrant visas for foreign nationals who have earned a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education).  In recent years, the H-1B cap has been reached within days of April 1 (which is the first day that cap-subject employers can file a petition with USCIS for the non-exempt H-1B visa numbers).  Because of the incredible popularity of the H-1B worker program, which has resulted in the H-1B cap being reached within days of April 1 each and every year in recent memory, not every cap-subject employer is able participate in the H-1B program in a given fiscal year.

Consequently, employers, and yes, now even institutions of higher education, are trying to think outside the box so they can retain some of the best and brightest minds from having to leave the United States after they’re educated in the United States.  In doing so, these institutions of higher education are partnering with states and cities across the country to create programs that take advantage of an exemption to the H-1B cap for foreign nationals that are employed (or have received an offer of employment) by or from an institution of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, or a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization.

Being employed by an institution of higher education is a wonderful exemption, and I am able to use it in my practice for clients every day.  But in addition to that, entities affiliated or related to institutions of higher education and nonprofit and governmental research organizations (that is, not the actual institutions of higher education themselves) are also eligible to petition for eligible foreign nationals.  According to the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (which is what USCIS examiners use as a reference when they are adjudicating H-1B petitions):

Congress deemed certain institutions worthy of an H-1B cap exemption because of the direct benefits they provide to the United States. Congressional intent was to exempt from the H-1B cap certain alien workers who could provide direct contributions to the United States through their work on behalf of institutions of higher education and related nonprofit entities, or nonprofit research organizations, or governmental research organizations. In effect, this statutory measure ensures that qualifying institutions have access to a continuous supply of H-1B workers without numerical limitation. … Congress chose to exempt from the numerical limitations… aliens who are employed ‘at’ a qualifying institution, which is a broader category than aliens employed ‘by’ a qualifying institution. This broader category may allow certain aliens who are not employed directly by a qualifying institution to be treated as cap exempt when needed to further the essential purposes of the qualifying institution.”

AFM ch. 31.3(g) (13), H-1B Classification and Documentary Requirements.

So, one scenario that employers can consider to use this exemption is by having a “third-party petitioner” file the H-1B petition to employ a foreign national who will perform all or a portion of his or her job duties “at” a qualifying institution of higher education (e.g., basically, a private company sponsors a foreign national, and some of the job duties are performed “at” the institution of higher education).  There are other possibilities as well.  The third-party petitioner must establish that there is a logical nexus between the work predominately performed by the foreign national and the normal mission of the qualifying sponsoring entity.  Specifically, the third-party petitioner must demonstrate how the foreign national’s duties are directly and predominately related to, and in furtherance of, the normal, primary or essential purpose, mission, objectives or function of the qualifying institution, namely, higher education or nonprofit or governmental research.  There are plenty of ways to accomplish this.

Also important for this creative lawyering example, and highlighted by the article in the Connecticut Law Tribune, is that once the foreign national is employed by the cap-exempt employer, a cap-subject employer can then concurrently file their own H-1B petition on behalf of the same foreign national to allow them to also work for the cap-subject employer part-time. Because these foreign nationals are already working at least part-time for a qualified institution, this concurrent petition is also exempt from the H-1B cap (despite being filed by an employer that is otherwise subject to the cap).

Until there is an expansion of the H-1B program specifically, and reform to our immigration system in general, immigration lawyers are being forced to be more creative to accomplish the goals of their clients.  This is just one example of what’s possible.

 

U.S.C.I.S. Proposes the International Entrepreneur Rule

imm_3I think my colleagues in the immigration bar will agree that in order to achieve your client’s immigration goal, whatever it may be (e.g., a “Green Card,” citizenship, or whatever), sometimes you need to take baby-steps (e.g., enter the U.S. on a temporary visa before you try to obtain a Green Card). I’ve over-simplified the example, but the point remains the same. And sometimes, unfortunately, there are a lot of baby-steps that need to be taken during the process.

Here’s another issue. I recently had a conversation with a client about how to get a prospective hire into the United States to he could work for the client (in the absence of any immediately available H-1B nonimmigrant worker visa numbers). I told my client he had two (2) options. First, he could wait until Spring, 2017, file a petition with to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) to qualify his prospective hire as an H-1B nonimmigrant worker, hope that petition would be one of the lucky 65,000 petitions selected by USCIS, and then wait for an October 1, 2017 start date. His second option would be to engage in what I described as some “creative lawyering” and hope for the best. His immediate response to the latter was, “that sounds expensive.” And it would be, with no assurances that it would work.

Alas this is often what my colleagues and I would have to explain to foreign national entrepreneurs when they want to be part of a “start-up” company, either as an investor-owner and/or as an employee. The path to permanent residence (i.e., a Green Card) is not easy, usually time-consuming (i.e., years and years and years), often expensive, and unfortunately, never a sure thing.

Well that may soon be changing, at least in terms of getting away from “creative lawyering.” On August 26, 2016, USCIS announced the proposal of a new rule, which would
allow certain international entrepreneurs to be considered for “parole” (that is, temporary permission to be in the United States) so that they may start-up or scale their businesses in the United States.

The new rule would allow DHS to use its existing discretionary statutory parole authority for entrepreneurs of startup entities whose stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Under the rule, DHS may parole, on a case-by-case basis, eligible entrepreneurs of startup enterprises: (a) who have a significant ownership interest in the startup (at least 15 percent) and have an active and central role to its operations; (b) whose startup was formed in the United States within the past three (3) years; and (c) whose startup has substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation, as evidenced by: (1) receiving significant investment of capital (i.e., at least $345,000.00) from certain qualified U.S. investors with established records of successful investments; (2) receiving significant awards or grants (i.e., at least $100,000.00) from certain federal, state or local government entities; or (3) partially satisfying one or both of the prior two criteria in addition to other reliable and compelling evidence of the startup entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

Under the rule, foreign national entrepreneurs may be granted an initial stay of up to two (2) years to oversee and grow their startup entity in the United States. In addition, USCIS would entertain a later request for re-parole (for up to three [3] additional years) if the foreign national entrepreneur and the startup entity continue to provide a significant public benefit as evidenced by substantial increases in capital investment, revenue or job creation.

In general, most commentators agree that the proposed parole period is very reasonable, and the investment thresholds appear not to be overly burdensome. Indeed, the proposed rule seems to recognize that new businesses are not all funded the same way, and provides flexibility for entrepreneurs using new or novel funding models.

While the rule is not yet final, my primary concern is next steps once an entrepreneur’s parole period comes to an end. That is, unless a foreign national has a vehicle in place to become a permanent resident, under the proposed rule, they will not be allowed to change their status from their parole status to some other type of lawful nonimmigrant status while they’re in the United States. That means the entrepreneur would have to leave the United States, try to apply for a temporary visa abroad, and then re-enter the United States (assuming this is even a viable option).

While this is not the panacea perhaps foreign national entrepreneurs would hope for, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Stay tuned for the final rule.

Provisional Waivers Promote Family Unity

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Back to the law. Although the Supreme Court ruled against the Obama Administration in the case Texas v. United States, 15-674, one of the immigration “reforms” that the Obama Administration proposed back in November, 2014, which happily was not part of the lawsuit, was recently implemented. Specifically, expanding the use of “provisional unlawful presence waivers” beyond spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens to also include the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents (commonly known as LPR’s or Green Card holders) as well as the adult children of U.S. citizens, and clarifying the “extreme hardship” standard that must be met to obtain this waiver.

In general, aliens who are lawfully present in the United States who have spouses or parents that are U.S. citizens or Green Card holders may be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa with a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States, or apply for “adjustment of status” with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) in the United States. In order to obtain an immigrant visa, the alien is required to depart the United States so that he or she can apply for his or her visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States.

However, those aliens who have been unlawfully present in the United States prior to their departure generally trigger a three (3) or ten (10) year bar from returning to the United States if the alien has been unlawfully present in the United States for more than 180 days (the three year bar) or one (1) year or more (the ten year bar).

Under current law, these bars from returning to the United States can be “waived” if the denial of the alien’s admission to the United States would result in “extreme hardship” to the alien’s U.S. citizen spouse or parents. However, the time involved in an alien obtaining a waiver, and the attendant risk associated with the alien having to leave the United States not knowing whether he or she will actually receive the waiver and be able to return to the United States, has kept many unlawfully present aliens who could legalize their status in the United States from doing so.

To deal with this issue, in 2013, the Obama Administration began allowing spouses or children of U.S. citizens who are unlawfully present in the United States to request and obtain “provisional waivers” of the three and ten year bars to their admission while they are in the United States. (Once approved, they still need to leave the United States to apply for an obtain their immigrant visa.) This relief, however, was not available to the spouses and children of LPR’s. Until now.

On July 29, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) published a final rule expanding eligibility for provisional unlawful presence waivers to all individuals who are statutorily eligible for an unlawful presence waiver and who can establish extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or parent.

The provisional waiver process is meant to promote family unity by reducing the time that eligible individuals are separated from their family members while they complete immigration processing abroad. The provisional waiver process is a welcome contrast to the normal waiver application process, which requires aliens to first depart the United States and then apply for a waiver. Under the normal process, the alien may be outside the United States for many months, waiting for a decision on their waiver application. This separation, and the uncertainty of whether the waiver will actually be approved, has caused many individuals to simply forgo the opportunity legalize their status. The provisional waiver process eliminates most (but sometimes not all) of the uncertainty by allowing for pre-approval of the waiver prior to the alien’s departure from the United States.

I always counsel my clients that it’s much easier to fight their battles with DHS when they’re physically in the United States. These new regulations now allow them to do so. This is a very welcome change.

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