As published in the Immigration Daily on April 24, 2019
The purpose in writing about the above 3 topics is to inform on new restrictions on U.S.C.I.S. fee payments, warn readers who are not already aware of a doppelgänger DHS scam, and to encourage use of lawyers and sharper lawyering in the face of record H-1B denials.
- How to pay at U.S.C.I.S. – Your wife’s mother is dying in the home country and she has already applied for I-485 adjustment of status through you her U. S. citizen husband, but not for travel permission through advance parole. You look up all the rules on required documents, and go to your local U.S.C.I.S. field office with your wife to request advance parole. You bring the Form I-131 Application for Travel Document to the cashier where your payment of $575 in cash is summarily rejected. In the same scenario, your payment with a $575 money order is rejected. Do you remember when legacy INS/U.S.C.I.S. wanted payment in cash, money orders, or cashier’s checks? That was because these forms of payment would not bounce. Not anymore. Cash is no longer accepted, and there are significant limitations on the use of money orders and cashier’s checks. According to U.S.C.I.S. instructions on fee payment, 33 offices including Chicago, Detroit, Hartford, Jacksonville, Louisville, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Newark, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Tampa will only accept personal checks, attorney checks, business checks, debit cards, credit cards, or reloadable prepaid credit or debit cards. Money orders and cashier’s checks are no longer accepted at these offices. Filing at the service centers is less restrictive as payment by checks can be by bank drafts, cashier’s checks, certified checks, personal checks, and money orders drawn on U. S. financial institutions. It can also be made with cards such as credit cards, debit cards, or prepaid cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. If by card, petitioners or applicants must complete and sign Form G-1450 Authorization for Credit Card Transactions, place the form on top of the application or petition, and mail the entire package to the appropriate U.S.C.I.S. service center lockbox. U.S.C.I.S. justifies its changing payment policy at field offices under its new use of electronic payment processing to increase transaction security and reduce processing errors. However, this change is another blow to many U.S.C.I.S. customers who are poor, traditionally process most of their transactions by cash, money orders, and cashier’s checks, and need to deal with U.S.C.I.S.’s field offices.
- Aliens defrauded by DHS look-alikes – To show the prevalence of scams that are affecting persons dealing with U.S.C.I.S., the agency says in its payment instructions that when paying fees with a credit, debit, or prepaid card, its system will automatically direct you to the secure Department of Treasury site, gov, to pay the fees online. It then repeats that “We only use pay.gov to process fees. Always check the website address before you pay. Beware of scam websites and scammers who may pretend to be a U.S.C.I.S. website.” That is just one part of a growing endemic problem of scammers using Department of Homeland Security numbers and look-alike email addresses to gain access to private information and money. The DHS’s office of the Inspector General issued a fraud alert on March 1, 2019, that DHS telephone numbers have been used recently as part of a telephone spoofing scam targeting individuals throughout the country. They alter caller ID systems to make it appear that the call is coming from the DHS Headquarters operator number or the DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties number. They obtain or verify identifiable information from victims through various tactics including telling persons that they are victims of identity theft. They also pose as law enforcement or immigration officials and threaten victims with arrest unless they make payments to the scammers using a variety of methods. The scammers also email victims from email addresses ending in “uscis.org” when the correct email address for U.S.C.I.S. is “uscis.gov.”
- Skyrocketing H-1B denial rates show the need for H-1B familiar lawyers and for sharper lawyering among them. Stuart Anderson’s article “New Data Show H-1B Denial Rates Reaching Highest Levels,” 4/10/19, com, examined information from U.S.C.I.S.’s new H-1B employer data hub showing that denial rates for initial H-1B petitions increased from 6% in FY-2015 to 32% in FY- 2019 (through the first quarter of FY-2019 which was 10/1/18 – 12/31/18). This dovetails with earlier statistics from another source that 60% of all completed H-1B cases received an RFE (Request for Further Evidence) in that same first quarter. The article further showed that for those who already held H-1B status and filed for continuation, the denial rate grew from 3% in FY-2015 to 18% through the first quarter of FY-2019. A wry observation among attorneys doing H-1B work used to be that a client would wonder what the lawyer was doing wrong if he or she received an RFE, much less a denial. These days, the RFE is commonplace among all attorneys handling such cases. The above points out that the area has become so complex that organizations that have been using human resources department staff without attorneys to process H-1B petitions should seriously consider legal assistance from attorneys versed in H-1B law. They are the best equipped to effectively answer RFE’s and take the government further to task if required. For most effectiveness, they should be engaged from the beginning of the process. H-1B attorneys have had to sharpen their skills constantly in the recent past in considering how to approach H-1B petitions and consider pitfalls/possible problems and how to answer them even prior to filing labor condition applications (LCA’s) to begin the process.
In our next article, we will discuss ways to protect the green card if one takes extended trips out of the country, when a nonimmigrant worker is entitled to the 10 day and/or 60 day grace periods, and dangers signals for findings of public charge under current rules.