Articles Posted in Immigration Law (General)

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a final rule that will change the process for choosing H-1B visa petitions that are subject to the annual “cap” on applications. The immigration rule is set to take effect in April 1, 2019 and will see the DHS changing the order by which it allocates available cap-subject slots

Specifically, the DHS will soon allocate H-1B visa petitions in reverse, first running the random selection process for the 65,000 slots against all cap-subject cases, then allocating the 20,000 slots against the pool of foreign nationals with advanced degrees from American educational institutions. The agency predicts that this will lead to an increased selection of up to 5,340 petitions filed by foreign nationals who possess U.S. postgraduate degrees.

H-1B visas allow U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals qualified in highly specialized fields like biotechnology, computer science, and the like. Being subject to an annual cap, only a limited number of visas are approved every year. This cap is set at 65,000 with an additional 20,000 H-1B slots available to foreign nationals with advanced degrees acquired from U.S. universities and colleges. Before the rule change, the advanced degree slots were allocated first, followed by the rest of the applicants.

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The idea of court hearings done through a TV screen or monitor may have an Orwellian ring to it, but it’s how many undocumented immigrants are currently being processed for deportation, replacing conventional in-person court hearings. Understandably, this practice has drawn flak from immigration rights advocates and is now being challenged in court by the Legal Aid Society, the Brooklyn Defender Services, and Bronx Defenders.

The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of seven undocumented immigrants, argues that in-person hearings had long helped ensure that detained immigrants were granted the opportunity to have fair and full access to the courts in order to participate in their deportation proceedings. The plaintiffs add that the ICE NY Field Office had never before broadly refused to produce individuals for in-person hearings.

Moreover, the switch to CCTV-only hearings at the Varick Street Immigration Court in New York City in June last year happened without warning.

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Although first seen as an amendment to the spending package before the government shutdown, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act has been reintroduced in the 116th Congress by both members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

The bill, introduced in 2017 with 300 co-sponsors, would eliminate the caps on lawful permanent residency (i.e. green cards) for each country and ease the green card processing backlog. In particular, this would speed up processing times for Chinese and Indian foreign nationals who face tremendously long waiting lines.

On top of expedited processing, foreign nationals covered by the bill would also gain a number of benefits with their immigration applications. For one, they and their employers would no longer need to worry about renewing their H-1B visas. Consequently, the spouses of these qualified foreign nationals would also be allowed to get employment authorization documentation based on their green cards rather than the H-4 visa. Additionally, their children would be much less likely to face “ageing-out,” which is a challenge foreign parents face as they get green cards for their children as well.

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A federal judge recently declined to dismiss a class action accusing the Trump administration of exploiting a sham waiver process to deny entry to all waiver-eligible immigrants from the five Muslim-majority countries under the administration’s travel ban.

Members of the class action suit claimed that they had faced troubles with their waiver requests, what with officials at the State Department refusing to recognize the documents they present to support their requests. Other plaintiffs claimed that they were completely prohibited from applying for a waiver, a discretion reserved only for visa interviews. Members of the class consist of a total of 36 immigrants or relatives of immigrants from countries covered by the Trump travel ban namely Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

The class brought their case against the Trump administration in March 2018, claiming that the government has intentionally deviated from established guidelines and procedures mandated by law when reviewing travel ban waiver requests.

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it has resumed premium processing of all H-1B petitions subject to the Fiscal Year 2019 cap, H-1B extensions for those only continuing in already-approved employment, and petitions filed by universities and nonprofit or government research organizations exempt from the cap.

Premium processing for most other types of H-1B petitions, however, currently remains unavailable.

Fortunately, processing of USCIS petitions were not paused during the government shutdown. The agency, however, said they are experiencing a significant slowdown in processing times.

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Ever since Donald Trump took the presidency, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries in Texas have grown accustomed to the stress of not knowing what will happen to them. The problem has gotten so bad that the number of DREAMers (named after the DREAM Act, an immigration bill with similar provisions that failed to become law) in the state have been on a steady decline.

DACA is the product of an is an Obama-era executive order that grants immigrants who entered the country as children relief from deportation, allowing them to apply for temporary work permits and driver’s licenses every two years. It is estimated that before the Trump administration, there were at least 124,000 DACA recipients reside in Texas alone.

But amid talks of DACA being rescinded by the president, the Migration Policy Institute claims that the number of Texan DACA beneficiaries has since dropped to 115,000.

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As the government shutdown drags into its third week, immigration courts around the country have had no choice but to cancel tens of thousands of scheduled hearings over the holidays and the start of the new year.

At least 43,000 immigration court hearings were canceled between late December last year and January 11, this according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). The researchers also add that this backlog is expected to balloon even further by another 20,000 cases with each week that the shutdown continues.

As the Trump administration and Congress remain at loggerheads over the president’s demands for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, many of the federal government’s non-essential functions have screeched to a halt, and that includes immigration courts. This, in turn, has disabled the country’s immigration system from dealing with the already colossal caseload consisting largely of asylum applications and other immigration claims.

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Earlier this month, White House insiders floated the idea of an immigration deal: a lasting solution for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—an Obama-era program that provides temporary work permits to young undocumented immigrants program—in exchange for the Trump administration’s controversial wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly rebuffed talks of such a deal, arguing that funding for the border wall and legal protections for “DREAMers” (named after the failed DREAM Act, a bill that would’ve granted relief against deportation to immigrants who entered the country as minors) are two separate issues that cannot be lumped together.

Publicly, President Trump said he was not in the mood to negotiate over DACA. Sources from within the White House say the administration is instead waiting for the Supreme Court to finally rule on its challenge to DACA. But things could be much different behind the scenes, with advisors like Jared Kushner reportedly reaching out to House Democrats to offer some kind of DACA deal.

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In an effort to reduce the volume of immigration applications rejected simply because of incorrect payments, the U.S. government has rolled out an online tool designed to help foreign nationals apply for immigration in keeping track the filing fees they still owe.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the implementation of a new feature on the agency’s website—an online fee calculator that accurately outlines the amounts an applicant still needs to pay for each form.

The agency admits that several immigration applications fell through the cracks in recent years largely due to the incorrect fees attached to these applications. In 2017 alone, USCIS processed over 11 million applications.

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While a crackdown on undocumented immigrants was one of the core promises of President Trump throughout the campaign trail, his administration has also made key moves that are all but guaranteed to make it harder for people to go through the legal immigration process. More recently, the Trump administration introduced policy changes allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to be more stringent in enforcing immigration laws.

These changes include updates to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations and procedures in handling immigrants attempting to legally enter the country—particularly those that involve deportation processes.

The issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) also follows a new procedure that expands the list of reasons for which immigrants would be required to appear before an immigration judge and go through the deportation proceedings. Among the items in the expanded list include violations of welfare programs (particularly the reception of public benefits), criminal activity, and denials of immigration benefits (e.g. refusing visas that change their legal migrant status).

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