Articles Posted in Immigration Law (General)

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As of December 1, 2020, becoming a United States Citizen just became much harder for immigrants. Specifically, immigrants who file their N-400 Application for Naturalization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on or after December 1, 2020, will have to pass a longer and much more challenging civics test than in the past.

Previously, the applicant only needed to study 100 questions about American government, history and geography provided by USCIS on their website. During the naturalization interview, the USCIS officer would ask the applicant 10 out of the 100 civics questions and the applicant only needed to answer 6 out of the 10 questions correct. Once the applicant answered 6 questions correctly, the civics test would end even if not all 10 questions had been asked.

The new 2020 version of the civics test requires each applicant to study 128 questions about American government and American history, focusing more on the U.S. Constitution and the rights of U.S. Citizens, and less on geography.  During the interview, the immigration officer will ask the applicant 20 questions from the list. The applicant must answer 12 out of the 20 questions correct. Even if the applicant answers the first 12 questions correctly, the USCIS officer must continue to ask the applicant all 20 questions.

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Starting January 20, 2021, a Joe Biden Administration (if confirmed) will likely propose several changes to immigration law and other federal laws. As of this writing, it appears the President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris will select a new Cabinet and work with a Democratic-led House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate’s make-up won’t be clear until after the two runoff elections for Senator in Georgia in January.

In addition to legislative proposals, many changes to federal rules and regulations are likely to be created through Executive Orders and administrative oversight.

Some immigration law changes will come quickly. Some changes will require the consent of enough Republicans. Many changes may need to go through a procedural rules process. The changes in the immigration rules will be affected by America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other nations’ responses.

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According to a report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department have increased their denial of family, student, and work visa applications since fiscal year (FY) 2017, coinciding with President Donald Trump’s crackdown on lawful and unlawful immigrant entry through the U.S.-Mexico border.

The NFAP, a non-partisan organization dedicated to research on immigration and other matters of national concern, found that the number of immigrants being deemed “ineligible” for acquiring lawful permanent residence in the U.S. has increased by 39% between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018. In addition, temporary permits for nonimmigrants like the H-1B special working visa have seen a 5% increase in refusals.

But that’s not all the NFAP report has to say.

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A recent federal court ruling may be key to preventing the government from deporting immigrants seeking asylum at the border should they fail the mandatory initial screening.

In 1996, Congress passed a law essentially barring asylum-seekers from accessing U.S. courts to appeal the decisions of asylum officers and immigration judges on their case. However, as was established in this unanimous ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit court of Appeals, these limitations are unconstitutional.

Writing for the unanimous court, Judge A. Wallace Tashima argued in the 48-page ruling that that law offered “meager procedural protections” to asylum seekers and that it prevents further review of whether the rejection of an asylum claim was based on proper legal standards.

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Tens of thousands of foreign nationals from countries under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a temporary immigration status, can continue seeking employment authorization until January 2, 2020. This status extension specifically applies to nationals from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. It does not, however, not include countries not covered in the Ramos v. Nielsen suit, namely Honduras and Nepal.

Temporary Protected Status is provided by the Department of Homeland Security to nationals from foreign countries (or parts thereof) that have extraordinary conditions threatening the safety and lives of its people. These conditions include civil unrest, a natural calamity, an epidemic, or other temporary conditions. Nationals from these countries may be allowed to stay, work in, and travel from and to the United States for humanitarian reasons, until the conditions in their home countries have passed, at which point they should ideally return.

This was the rationale behind the Trump administration’s move to terminate the TPS designation for the five aforementioned countries announced in 2017, an order that took effect last year.

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The Trump Administration announced that it will no longer be hiring additional immigration judges and will implement a number of cost-saving measures to the U.S. immigration system, despite the tremendous backlog the court system is currently struggling to resolve.

According to a Justice Department email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the federal government is pausing all hires of immigration judges, slowing down hiring of support staff, and canceling a training conference. These moves are supposedly designed to cut costs until there is enough funding to resume hiring of judges to handle the backlog of immigration cases.

Steven Stafford, an official with the Justice Department, says the decision is not a full hiring freeze but is instead a slowdown in the pace of hiring judges.

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With the H-1B cap season in full swing, the Trump administration continues make a number of policy updates and changes that will substantially affect this year’s H-1B processing flow and, in particular, the family members of migrant workers applying for H-1B visas.

H-1B Processing Will Begin with “General” Pool Before “Master’s”

U.S. employers can fill positions by sponsoring H-1B visa applications with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of foreign workers who meet the requirements of these roles.  Only 65,000 H-1B visas are issued every fiscal year with an additional 20,000 slots specifically allotted to migrant workers with graduate degrees (or their equivalent) acquired from institutions in the United States. These limitations, known as the “cap,” are set by Congress.

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In an effort to catch students enrolling in graduate programs after not being selected in the H-1B lottery, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been discreetly operating a number of fake universities targeting these migrant students abusing the system.

Immigration officials have been monitoring universities for students whose only intentions for enrolling in graduate programs is to obtain additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Enrolling qualifies them for work authorization and allows them to extend their lawful presence in the U.S despite not being picked in the H-1B lottery.

The standard U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) protocol would be to issue Requests for Evidence (RFE) regarding H petitions of suspect students. USCIS, however, appears to have turned to more drastic enforcement measures, putting up nonexistent universities to entrap students.

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is cracking down on unconsenting child brides, announcing on Friday that it will be following a new set of rules in assessing petitions from individuals seeking to bring their migrant spouses into the U.S.. The announcement comes after thousands of such requests involving minors were found to have been approved last year.

This effort, however, will not be an indiscriminate crackdown. USCIS elaborated that it had updated its guiding policies to adjudicators, emphasizing that marriages involving underage spouses required further scrutiny. To ensure this, the marriage in question must be found to have been lawful where it was celebrated and will remain so in the state where the incoming child spouse plans to reside, freely consented to by the minor involved, and duly certified by adjudicators as bona fide.

The Associated Press reported last month that among the numerous petitions from individuals in adult-minor relationships, at least 5,000 were of adults petitioning on behalf of minors and 3,000 were of minors attempting to petition their older spouses into the States.

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has updated the forms used for the extension or change of status for H-4 and L-2 dependents, which will apply to applications filed on March 11, 2019 and afterwards. The agency has so far provided no grace period for the continued use of the now-obsolete versions of the immigration forms, with no preview of the new versions available to the public.

Beginning next month, USCIS will require the use of a new version of the Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) for applications requiring the form. The agency said it has also updated Form I-539A, Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

The updated forms come with a number of significant changes to the application process. Specifically, applicants and co-applicants now have to attend a biometric services appointment for fingerprint taking at a scheduled date at the Application Support Center (ASC) located nearest to the applicant’s address.

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