November 2017 Newsletter
In This Issue
Ban on Refugees Expires; Trump Administration Calls for Additional Vetting for 11 Nationalities During 90-Day Review Period
The Trump administration's 120-day ban on refugee admissions expired on October 24, 2017. On the same day, the Department of State announced that "additional in-depth review is needed with respect to refugees of 11 nationalities previously identified as potentially posing a higher risk to the United States. Admissions for applicants of those 11 potentially higher-risk nationalities will resume on a case-by-case basis during a new 90-day review period."
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State; Elaine Duke, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security; and Daniel Coats, Director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, sent a related memorandum on October 23, 2017, to President Trump. The State Department announcement and memo do not list the 11 countries, but according to reports, the countries appear to be Egypt, Iran, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen; and Palestinians living in those countries. The memo notes that the 11 countries were those designated on the Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) list, which was established following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States and has evolved over the years through interagency consultations.
The memo states that during the 90-day review period, while a "detailed threat analysis" is being conducted of those 11 countries, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security "will temporarily prioritize refugee applications from other non-SAO countries," and that resources that may have been dedicated to processing nationals or stateless persons of SAO countries will be reallocated during that period "to process applicants from non-SAO countries for whom the processing may not be as resource intensive."
The Department also announced on October 24 that "[f]or family members who are 'following-to-join' refugees that have already been resettled in the United States, additional security measures must also be implemented for all nationalities. Admissions of following-to-join refugees will resume once those enhancements have been implemented." The October 23 memo states that Mr. Tillerson, Ms. Duke, and Mr. Coats "have jointly determined that additional security measures must be implemented before admission of following-to-join refugees can resume." Those measures are to include "adequate screening mechanisms" that are "similar to the processes employed for principal refugees."
An Executive Order issued by President Trump on October 24, 2017, states, among other things, that within 180 days, the Attorney General will "provide a report to the President on the effect of refugee resettlement in the United States on the national security, public safety, and general welfare of the United States. The report shall include any recommendations the Attorney General deems necessary to advance those interests."
The Executive Order also states that within 90 days of October 24, 2017, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of Homeland Security will determine "whether any actions taken to address the risks to the security and welfare of the United States presented by permitting any category of refugees to enter this country should be modified or terminated, and, if so, what those modifications or terminations should be."
Meanwhile, President Trump announced that the maximum number of refugee admissions to the United States in fiscal year 2018 will be lowered to 45,000, which is the lowest number since the Refugee Act was passed in 1980.
The U.S. Supreme Court said on October 24, 2017, that it would not consider the merits or legality of the Trump administration's travel ban, issued in March, due to its expiration. Other challenges to new Presidential orders are working their way through lower courts.
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USCIS Increases Scrutiny of Certain Nonimmigrant Extension Requests
Under updated policy guidance, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is instructing its officers to apply the same level of scrutiny to both initial petitions and extension requests for certain nonimmigrant visa categories. The guidance applies to nearly all nonimmigrant classifications filed using Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.
The agency noted that previous policy instructed officers to give deference to the findings of a previously approved petition, as long as the key elements were unchanged and there was no evidence of a material error or fraud related to the prior determination. The updated policy guidance rescinds the previous policy, USCIS said.
USCIS explained that as before, adjudicators must thoroughly review the petition and supporting evidence to determine eligibility for the benefit sought. The updated guidance instructs officers to apply the same level of scrutiny when reviewing nonimmigrant visa extension requests, even where the petitioner, beneficiary, and underlying facts are unchanged from a previously approved petition. "While adjudicators may ultimately reach the same conclusion as in a prior decision, they are not compelled to do so as a default starting point as the burden of proof to establish eligibility for an immigration benefit always lies with the petitioner," USCIS said, adding that the adjudicator's determination "is based on the merits of each case, and officers may request additional evidence if the petitioner has not submitted sufficient evidence to establish eligibility."
The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL) advises employers and employees to treat nonimmigrant extension applications as no longer routine, and to include the same documentation as required in an initial petition. ABIL also advises allowing more time to file such applications; 180 days before the current petition expires is recommended. Nonimmigrants may want to consider accelerating permanent residence processing. Litigation of extension petitions may be possible in some cases. Contact your ABIL attorney for advice and help in specific situations.
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State Dept. Restarts DV Lottery Due to Technical Glitch, Excludes Oct. 3-10 Entries
The U.S. Department of State had a recent technical problem on its Diversity Visa (DV) green card lottery site and has reopened a new full entry period, which started October 18, 2017, at 12 noon ET and will end November 22, 2017, at 12 noon ET. The Department also is excluding October 3-10 entries and said that those who applied during that period can apply again:
Due to a technical issue, the DV-2019 entry period that began on October 3 has been closed. Entries submitted during October 3-10 are not valid and have been excluded from the system; they will not count as a duplicate entry. The technical issue has been resolved and a new full entry period will begin at noon, U.S. Eastern Daylight Time on Wednesday October 18, 2017 and will run until noon Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday November 22, 2017. Only entries submitted during this period will be accepted and considered for selection in the lottery. Please throw away any confirmation number or other documentation that you have if you submitted an entry during Oct. 3-10 Entries will NOT be accepted through the U.S. Postal Service.
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USCIS Changes Direct Filing Addresses for Certain Nonimmigrant Worker Petitions
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently changed the direct filing addresses for certain petitioners using Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. The changes include:
Read the related announcement.
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Sen. Grassley Urges Reconsideration of Trade NAFTA Nonimmigrant Classification
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, sent a letter on October 23, 2017, to Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, to express "ongoing concerns regarding the uncapped TN [Trade NAFTA] nonimmigrant classification," which is a component of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Sen. Grassley asked Mr. Lighthizer to "consider renegotiating the guest worker provisions of NAFTA as part of any broader examination of the treaty."
Sen. Grassley's letter notes, among other things, that given the Trump administration's "focus on protections for the American worker, including efforts to rein in the H-1B program, businesses will be looking for alternative sources of cheap foreign labor to exploit." He suggests that employers are likely to turn to the TN visa category. The letter notes that the TN visa, "if left unchanged in its current form, could well undermine the administration's broader efforts." He notes that the number of TN visa workers employed in the United States has been growing in recent years and that available statistics suggest that "the number could be approaching 100,000."
Sen. Grassley's letter noted, "Given President Trump's willingness to reevaluate—or reject—any and all of the NAFTA agreement, in the interest of protecting American workers, I recommend that you specifically include temporary workers in the ongoing NAFTA review."
Read a statement from Sen. Grassley and the full text of the letter.
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Revised Form Allows Work Authorization and SSN Application Simultaneously for Certain Categories
Based on a new information-sharing partnership between U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA), foreign nationals in certain categories or classifications can now apply for work authorization and a social security number using a single form, the updated Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
USCIS explained that to lawfully work in the United States, foreign workers in some categories and classifications need both an employment authorization document (EAD) from USCIS and a Social Security number (SSN) from the SSA. Previously, applicants needed to submit a Form I-765 to USCIS for an EAD and then submit additional paperwork in person at their local Social Security office to obtain an SSN.
The revised USCIS form includes additional questions that allow applicants to apply for an SSN or replacement card without visiting a Social Security office. As of October 2, 2017, USCIS began transmitting the additional data collected on the form to the SSA for processing. Applicants who receive their approved EADs from USCIS should receive their Social Security card from SSA within the following two weeks.
Read the USCIS notice.
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Premium Processing Now Available for All Petitioners Seeking H-1B Visas
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) resumed premium processing on October 3, 2017, for all H-1B visa extension-of-stay petitions. Premium processing is now available for all types of H-1B petitions.
USCIS explained that when a petitioner requests the agency's premium processing service, USCIS guarantees a 15-calendar day processing time. If that time is not met, the agency will refund the petitioner's premium processing service fee and continue with expedited processing of the application.
In addition to the October 3 resumption of premium processing for H-1B visa extension of stay petitions, USCIS had previously resumed premium processing for H-1B petitions subject to the annual cap, petitions filed on behalf of physicians under the Conrad 30 waiver program, and interested government agency waivers and certain H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap.
Read the USCIS announcement.
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State Dept. Releases Cable on Revised Guidance re 90-Day Rule
The Department of State recently released the following cable to the field:
UNCLASSIFIED 17 STATE 95090
Sep 16, 2017
Subject: Change to INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i) and Introduction of 90 Day Rule
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U.S. Suspends Certain Visa Services in Turkey
The United States has suspended certain visa services in Turkey. On October 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced that it was suspending nonimmigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey. Nonimmigrant visas include business, tourist, student, and temporary work authorization visas. The suspension applies to diplomatic and official visas. Ambassador John Bass said, "[T]his suspension of services is not a visa ban on Turkish citizens. It's a suspension of our consideration of new visa applications. If you have a valid visa, you can still travel to the United States. If you want to apply for a visa at another U.S. embassy or consulate outside of Turkey, you are free to do so."
Ambassador Bass said the suspension was due to the arrest of a Turkish staff member of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Turkey. That staff member was allegedly linked to the U.S.-based cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gülen Hocaefendi. Turkey has blamed Mr. Gülen for a failed coup, according to reports. Turkey has similarly suspended nonimmigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in the United States.
A statement posted by the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Turkey said, "Turkish citizens with valid visas may continue to travel to the United States. Turkish citizens are also welcome to apply for a nonimmigrant visa outside of Turkey whether or not they maintain a residence in that country. Please note that an applicant applying outside of Turkey will need to pay the application fee for services in that country, even if a fee has previously been paid for services in Turkey."
Immigrant visas have not been suspended.
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New Publications and Items of Interest
USCIS has posted additional data related to employment-based visa programs, including L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and EADs, in support of President Trump's "Buy American and Hire American" Executive Order.
The National Immigration Project has published a legal memorandum, "Understanding the Federal Offenses of Harboring, Transporting, Smuggling, and Encouraging Under 8 USC § 1324(a)." The memo, which could be useful in defending worksite enforcement actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, notes growing concern that federal law enforcement could expansively interpret the criminal statutes penalizing "harboring, transporting, smuggling, and encouraging codified at 8 USC § 1324(a) and use the federal investigation and prosecution process to chill and retaliate against immigrant organizing, know-your-rights initiatives, and political dissent." The memo analyzes related legal authority, with particular attention to the harboring provision. The memo's goal is "to provide lawyers, legal workers, organizers, and community-based organizations with general legal knowledge about these federal criminal offenses, their consequences, and the federal investigation and prosecution process."
Policy briefs on the value of STEM OPT. The National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) has just released two policy briefs on the value of STEM OPT (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Optional Practical Training). Today, 81 percent of the full-time graduate students at U.S. universities in electrical engineering and 79 percent in computer science are international students, but the Trump administration may soon eliminate the primary way such students work in the United States after graduation. NFAP concludes that eliminating STEM OPT via regulation would encourage U.S. companies to hire and place many more international student graduates of U.S. universities outside the United States, which would threaten America's role as a center of innovation, harm U.S. universities, and limit available jobs for U.S. workers by pushing more investment abroad.
The NFAP report noted that an analysis by Glassdoor shows that 9 of the 10 highest paying majors 5 years out of college are in STEM. Moreover, there is no correlation between an inability to find work in a STEM field and the presence of foreign nationals in that field in the United States. Nearly three times as many individuals with degrees in the social sciences, a field in which relatively few H-1B visa holders receive a degree, report working involuntarily outside of their field as those with degrees in computer and mathematical sciences and engineering, according to the National Science Foundation. The Conference Board reported in August 2017 almost 5 times as many online ads for positions in computer and mathematical science occupations as individuals listed as unemployed in those occupations.
Below are links to the policy briefs and related materials:
Advisories and tips:
The latest E-Verify webinar schedule from USCIS is available.
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Government Agency Links
Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:
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Hodkinson Law Group News
October has been a busy month at HLG. In addition to handling a surge of new client matters Kehrela has addressed London Business School MBA students to explain their U.S. visa options. We have all successfully completed our running/walking challenges and are currently deliberating about our winter sporting goals.