Article: WHERE DO WE STAND TODAY AFTER 3 COURTS PUT A TEMPORARY HALT ON THE PUBLIC CHARGE RULE?

As published in the Immigration Daily on October 15, 2019

The Administration’s public charge rule for immigrants due to be implemented on October 15, 2019, ran into roadblocks thrown up by US district courts in New York, California, and Washington State. The preliminary injunctions in both New York and Washington were nationwide in scope while the one in California was more localized.

Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson of the Eastern District Court of Washington stayed the implementation of the public charge rule “in its entirety” pending entry of a final judgment; that “the effective date of the final rule is postponed pending conclusion of these review proceedings”; and that DHS was preliminarily enjoined from implementing or enforcing the rule.¹  Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of the Northern District Court of California enjoined among others Donald J. Trump, as President of the United States, from applying the rule to any person in San Francisco, Santa Clara, California, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Maine, or Pennsylvania or to anyone part of a household including such a person.²  Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District Court of New York in a pair of rulings issued a nationwide injunction, as well as a stay postponing the effective date of the rule pending a final ruling on the merits or further order of the court in one,³ and more specifically in the second restraining and enjoining DHS and USCIS from “implementing, considering in connection with any application, or requiring the use of any new or updated forms whose submission would be required under the Rule, including the new form I-944, titled’ Declaration of Self-Sufficiency’, and the updated form I 485, titled ‘Application to Register Permanent Residence of Adjust Status’”; that the effective date of the public charge rule is stayed and postponed; that if the court’s order is later terminated and the rule goes into effect, the rule’s stated effective date of October 15, 2019 “shall be replaced with a date after this Order is terminated.”4

So insofar as adjustment of status in the US is concerned, it would appear that applicants can continue filing with the old forms until such date that the courts’ preliminary injunction rulings are overturned on appeal, or the government wins on the merits on the case as a whole before the same court or on appeal thereafter.

Yet none of these rulings enjoin the Secretary of State who published an interim final rule on October 11, 2019, implementing rules on public charge to go into effect on October 15, 2019, based entirely on the public charge rule. The question is whether consular officers will be permitted to implement the interim final rule even though the summary clearly states its purpose as being in sync with DHS:

This rulemaking is also intended to align the Department’s standards with those of the Department of Homeland Security, to avoid situations where a consular officer will evaluate an alien’s circumstances and conclude that the alien is not likely at any time to become a public charge, only for the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate the same alien when he seeks admission to the United States on the visa issued by the Department of State and finds the alien inadmissible on public charge grounds under the same facts. 5

Although not directly enjoined by any of the three courts, a turkey (as we are getting close to Thanksgiving and as the public charge rule is one) with its head chopped off cannot still operate its wings to fly, and so the State Department should not believe that it has authority to put its own rule into effect at this time. (Please see note below)

The rulings by the three courts also did nothing to suspend the October 4, 2019, “Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Following the writing of this article, a Department of State official confirmed that the public charge rule will not be implemented until a new form is approved, and it was subsequently learned that the State Department will use a new form DS-5540 (Public Charge Questionnaire), which is awaiting clearance by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The form will be demanded of approximately 450,000 green card applicants annually. This is a technical stoppage, but it remains to be seen whether the public charge rule can be implemented by State even if the form swiftly passes OMB in light of the outstanding preliminary injunctions collapsing the DHS public charge regulation for the time being.]Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the United States Healthcare System”, slated to go into effect on November 3, 2019. That Proclamation affects consular processing and not adjustment of status, but would require of immigrant visa applicants (with limited exceptions) that they show that they will be covered by approved health insurance (not one with coverage under the Medicaid program) within 30 days of entry into the US, or they have sufficient financial resources to pay for reasonably foreseeable medical costs. Based on a study by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, independent think tank dedicated to analysis of US and global migration, up to 65% of legal immigration could be barred from entering the US. It is believed that legal challenges will be filed to enjoin the Proclamation before the date of implementation.

It is unfortunately even more clear with the relentless attacks of Mr. Trump and his cohorts on immigrants focused on who has money that, with his wealth tests for entry which includes knowing the English language, he is looking mainly for white Europeans to come while rejecting most of the rest of the world.

  1. State of Washington at al v. United States Department of Homeland Security et al., No. 4:19-CV-5310-RMP (EDWA. 10/11/19)
  2. City and County of San Francisco, et al v. US Citizenship and Immigration Services, et al., Cases Nos. 19-CV-04717-PJH, 19-CV-04975-PJH, 19-CV-04980-PJH (NDCA 10/11/19)
  3. State of New York, at al v. United States Department of Homeland Security, et al., No. 19 Civ. 7777 (GBD) (SDNY 10/11/19).
  4. Make the Road New York, et al., v. Ken Cuccinelli, et al., No. 19 Civ. 7993 (GBD) (SDNY 10/11/19)
  5. “Visas: Ineligibility Based on Public Charge Grounds”, Federal Register, Volume 84, No. 198, October 11, 2019.

Note:
Following the writing of this article, a Department of State official confirmed that the public charge rule will not be implemented until a new form is approved, and it was subsequently learned that the State Department will use a new form DS-5540 (Public Charge Questionnaire), which is awaiting clearance by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The form will be demanded of approximately 450,000 green card applicants annually. This is a technical stoppage, but it remains to be seen whether the public charge rule can be implemented by State even if the form swiftly passes OMB in light of the outstanding preliminary injunctions collapsing the DHS public charge regulation for the time being. 

Article: AMENDED HR 1044 IN S.386 HAPPENING NOW AMID A FLOOD OF CONCERNS

As published in the Immigration Daily on September 23, 2019

S.386 based on amended HR 1044, the “Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019”, appears on study to make visa number allocation changes in the EB-2 advanced degree and EB-3 skilled workers/ professionals/other worker categories benefiting only  the India-born. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) moved for a unanimous vote in the Senate on September 19th (it previously passed the House) and although rebuffed by Senator David Perdue (R-GA), said that he intended to work with Sen. Purdue over the weekend to resolve differences.

The difficulty with the visa number change provisions is that there are only a finite number of employment-based visas, 140,000 allotted each year, to be fought over by every country in the world. (After FY 2022, 5000 of the visas will be taken for a period of 5 years for a new shortage occupation category). The legislation will remove the limit of the total that each country can obtain (currently 7%) and allow one country to take as many numbers as it can subject to a three-year transition period in which 15% would be reserved for the rest of the world except for India and China in FY 2020, and 10% in both 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. Of the 140,000, EB-2 is allowed 40,040 visas per year, and EB-3 the same amount (minus the 5000 for the shortage occupation category after FY 2022). As there is an 85% rule for the three-year transition period in which a single state cannot take more than that amount of visas, that means India-born could conceivably swallow up close to 85% of the EB-2 and EB-3 quotas for FY 2020-2022 less the numbers that must still be given to China-born and those of the rest of the world who have I-140 petitions approved as of the date of enactment since there is a “hold harmless” clause that those individuals will receive immigrant visas as if this legislation was never passed. The reason for the dominance of India is because entitlement to visa numbers depends upon priority dates with the oldest ones being served first. The pending India cases have priority dates which are 6 years earlier than the earliest priority date of the next heaviest user of employment-based immigrant visas, China. According to U.S.C.I.S. statistics in April 2018, India-born in the U. S. with approved I-140 petitions have a backlog of over 430,000 cases including dependents in the EB-2 line and about 115,000 including dependents in EB-3. This does not take into account approved petitions for India-born outside the U. S. According to Department of State statistics in November 2017, there were an additional 10,961 and 21,962 Indian cases in the EB-2 and EB-3 lines, and using the same U.S.C.I.S. multiplier for dependents, those figures would increase to 21,922 and 46,120. Simple math shows that only 80,080 total EB-2/EB-3 visas will be available every fiscal year with a three-year total of 242,400 through FY 2022. India alone had an estimated demand for 616,683 EB-2 and EB-3 numbers (using the above statistics counting those India-born in the U. S. and overseas with approved petitions) and there is no indication that the number of Indian employment cases has slackened recently. Following the transition period of 3 years, the reserve will come off of the 15% and 10%, and the entire 135,000 will then be available to the countries with the earliest priority dates, most likely still India as there will still be an estimated India demand of 350,000+ in the 2 categories, and the lower EB-3 category will be filled up by the many conversions of India EB-2 cases to EB-3. India’s backlog will also be longer due to the 5% drop-off in the worldwide reserve from 15% to 10% in FY 2021 and FY 2022 as a single state is restricted to 85% of the available visas. It should be noted that EB-2 and EB-3 numbers can be augmented by drop downs of unused visas from other categories, but visa usage is extremely high across the board and significant drop downs are unlikely.

The difficulty with the bill is that it does not expand the number of employment-based visas except for 5000 additional numbers for 3 years for the shortage occupations and only reallocates the existing ones. The “do no harm” clause will primarily only apply to a number of individuals from China with approved petitions whose cases would be within striking distance under China’s current backlog, but for those China-born without approved petitions on the date of enactment, they would be severely disadvantaged by the much earlier priority dates of the mountain of Indian cases. Their only sliver of hope is to take advantage of the 5% drop of reserved visas from 15% to 10% in FY 2021-2022 which Indians will not be able to touch because of the 85% single state limit rule. Additionally the logistics of administering a separate chart to figure out what visa movement would have been for the approved petition cases will likely be a nightmare.

For family-based cases, the legislation would increase the number of visas available for each country from a limit of 7% of the 226,000 worldwide total to 15%. The legislation would primarily benefit the countries of Mexico and the Philippines, and can be expected to retrogress family-based priority dates in all categories with the possible exception of the F-2A preference (LPR applying for spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21) which is current across all countries today.

Besides the visa number situation, a poison pill was slipped into the legislation by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), an opponent of the H-1B program, in the form of provisions reformulating new H-1B’s as a test of the American job market with the requirement of a searchable Internet website for posting positions administered by the Department of Labor which must not only describe the job in full, but include the process for applying for the position. Currently the H-1B program is not a test of the American job market except for certain employers who have a large number of H-1B workers or past violators of the program. The employer would not be allowed to restrict the position to individuals who are or would be H-1B non-immigrants; give those individuals priority or preference in the hiring process; nor primarily recruit those types of individuals. The poison pill would also include the promulgation of a regulation to charge for the Labor Condition Application (LCA), and place challenges pertaining to the prevailing wage directly under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (currently wage questions are the province of the Department of Labor).

Relating to H-1B’s, the new rule would also eliminate the use of B-1 business visas which companies use in lieu of H-1B’s where the alien will come temporarily to the U. S. for certain purposes for a short period(s) of time while being paid by an overseas company.

The one good part of the legislation is the reinstatement of Schedule A shortage occupations such as nurses and physical therapists for 8 years from FY 2020-2028 under which 5000 additional visas would be allocated for a three-year period from FY 2020-2022 before slicing into the 140,000 employment-based numbers. The inclusion of this provision prompted Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to drop his opposition to the bill.

The legislation has an effective date of September 30, 2019, even if passed after that date. If the bill passes the Senate, it will go back to the House for reconciliation and final passage before moving to the White House.

On balance, we cannot support this bill, and urge a better one under which all employment dependents will no longer be counted or backlogs cleared for all countries inasmuch as the visa applicants are individuals who would benefit this nation, and have been or will be cleared by the Department of Labor and/or U.S.C.I.S. in labor certification/petition approvals in terms of skills to help the country – many in critical industries.

Article: New Public Charge Rule Coming Out on August 14, 2019, Not Retroactive for Cases Submitted Before 10/15/19 and ACA Subsidized Health Insurance Outside of Medicaid not Considered a Public Benefit

As published in the Immigration Daily on August 14, 2019

I have not read the advance copy of the final rule as it is over 800 pages, so this is not a comprehensive summary and is only based on reading the regulation itself and not the comments save for those dealing with health insurance. This can best be used as a quick guide to most of the changes to the public charge section.

The rule goes into effect on 10/15/19, and all cases will be judged by it which are submitted on that day or after. All cases submitted prior to that date will be judged by the old rules. Under the old rules, food stamps (SNAP), section 8 housing vouchers and any other benefits excluded from consideration now are not to be considered. Those that would be considered public benefits now and are received before 10/15/19 will be considered in the totality of the applicant’s circumstances, but will not be weighed heavily. Those include any amount of cash assistance for income maintenance, including SSI, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), state and local cash assistance programs that provide benefits for income maintenance (often called general assistance programs), and programs including Medicaid supporting aliens who are institutionalized for long-term care, received, or certified for receipt.

The standard of proof in determining the public charge ground is whether someone is “more likely than not” at any time to become a public charge.

U.S.C.I.S. will make a determination of public charge on the totality of circumstances of whether the alien is more likely than not at any time in the future to receive one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36 month period. Minimum factors to consider are the alien’s age, health, family status, education and skills, and assets, resources, and financial status. In looking at the family status, DHS will consider the household size and whether the household size makes the alien more likely than not to become a public charge at any time in the future. In looking at assets, resources, and financial status, the rule looks at whether the household’s annual gross income is at least 125% of the most recent federal poverty guideline (FPG), and on counting assets three times the difference between the household income and 125% of the FPG if the alien is the spouse or child of a USC (and the child has reached the age of 18), and in all other cases five times the difference.

Evidence-wise, U.S.C.I.S. will be looking for tax transcripts from the IRS, and if they cannot be obtained, other credible and probative evidence of household members’ income, including an explanation of why a transcript is not available. Non-cash assets and resources to be considered are those which can be converted into cash within 12 months –specifically mentioned are annuities, securities, retirement and educational accounts, and any other assets easily converted to cash. The rule also considers as evidence the alien’s credit history and credit score in the United States and other evidence of liabilities not reflected in the credit history and credit score, e.g. mortgages, car loans, unpaid child or spousal support, unpaid taxes, and credit card debt.

In considering education and skills, an alien must provide the last three years of tax transcripts from IRS and if not available, other credible and probative evidence of the alien’s history of employment for the past three years including an explanation as to why transcripts are not available; whether he or she has a high school diploma or a higher education degree; whether the alien has any occupational skills, certifications, or licenses; whether the alien is proficient in English or proficient in other languages in addition to English; and whether the alien is a primary caregiver such that the alien lacks an employment history.

 Applicants seeking adjustment of status will be required to submit a declaration of self-sufficiency on a form to be designated by DHS.

Where an affidavit of support is required in family-based cases, U.S.C.I.S. will be looking at the sponsor’s relationship to the applicant, including but not limited to whether the sponsor lives with the alien, and whether the sponsor has submitted an affidavit of support for other individuals.

The household size for an alien 21 or older or under 21 and married includes the alien, alien’s spouse physically residing with the alien, children physically residing with the alien, other children not physically residing for whom the alien provides or is required to provide at least 50% of the children’s financial support, any other individuals including a spouse not physically residing with the alien to whom the alien provides or is required to provide at least 50% of the individual’s financial support or are listed as dependents on the alien’s federal income tax return, and any individual who provides to the alien at least 50% of the alien’s financial support, or who lists the alien as a dependent on his or her federal income tax return. Similar rules apply where the alien is a child including the child’s children, parents, legal guardians, or other individuals providing or required to provide at least 50% of financial support, and the other children or other individuals to whom the alien’s parents are legal guardians who provide or are required to provide at least 50% financial support, or any other individual who is listed as a dependent on the parents’ or legal guardians’ federal tax return.

Heavily weighted negative factors are that the alien is not a full-time student and is authorized to work, but is unable to demonstrate current employment, recent employment history, or reasonable prospect of future employment; has received or has been certified or approved to receive one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36 month period beginning no earlier than 36 months prior to the alien’s application for permission or adjustment status on or after 10/15/19; the alien has been diagnosed with a medical condition likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with the alien’s ability to provide for himself or herself, attend school, or work, and is uninsured and does not have the prospect of obtaining private health insurance nor the financial resources to pay for reasonably foreseeable medical costs related to such medical condition; or the alien was previously found inadmissible or deported on public charge grounds by an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Heavily weighted positive factors are that the alien’s household has income, assets, or resources, and support of at least 250% of the FPG for the alien’s household size; the alien is authorized to work and is currently employed in a legal (as opposed to illegal) industry with an annual income of at least 250% of the FPG; or the alien has private health insurance and does not include health insurance for which the alien receives subsidies in the form of premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Refugees and asylees along with certain other classes are exempt from the rule.

Public benefit means all of the ones currently prohibited, but the new ones are food stamps (SNAP), section 8 housing assistance under the housing choice voucher program, section 8 project-based rental assistance, public housing under section 9 of the US Housing Act of 1937, and Medicaid (except for emergencies, benefits under the Disabilities Education Act, school-based services or benefits for persons below the oldest age eligible for secondary education, benefits received by an alien under 21 or a woman during pregnancy and during the 60 day period beginning on the last day of the pregnancy). Of note is that it does not include health insurance bought with subsidies outside Medicaid. In answer to a comment on whether to add subsidies provided using means tested criteria under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, DHS answered in the following:

DHS has decided not to consider ACA subsidies or health insurance received through the health insurance marketplace outside of Medicaid as public benefits in the public charge inadmissibility determination, due to the complexity of assessing the value of the benefit and the higher income eligibility thresholds associated with the benefit, as compared to the eligibility thresholds for other benefits. As discussed in section III.R of this preamble, DHS has added a heavily weighted positive factor for private health insurance appropriate to the expected period of admission. This heavily weighted positive factor would not apply in the case of a plan for which the alien receives subsidies in the form of premium tax credits.

In the future, a strong suggestion would be for those organizations offering subsidized health insurance to openly identify the source of the subsidies.

Public charge bonds to overcome the public charge ground can be given in the discretion of DHS with the warning that if an alien has one or more heavily weighted negative factors in his or her case, DHS generally will not favorably exercise discretion to allow submission of the bond. The minimum amount of bond has been decided as not less than $8100, and bond amounts will be annually adjusted for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Areas (CPI-U) and rounded up to the nearest dollar. The bond remains in effect until U.S.C.I.S. grants the request to cancel the bond in situations wherein the alien has naturalized or otherwise obtained US citizenship, permanently departs the US, dies, has reached his or her five year anniversary since becoming an LPR, or the alien changes immigration status to one not subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility. Where a bond has been granted, the alien may not receive any public benefits for more than 12 months in an aggregate within any 36 month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months) after the alien’s adjustment of status.

We imagine that in the next two months before the regulation goes into effect, there will be court challenges which may delay or alter the final rule, and we hope that such will meet with success. The rule while not being the worst imaginable in this author’s opinion clearly favors those who are young, educated, middle-class to affluent, and speak English. The Trump administration has already said that parents, less educated, and non-English-speaking people (mostly those of color) are no longer welcome, and this regulation is that planted sign on the front lawn of America.

Article: Naturalize Now!

As published in the Immigration Daily on July 29, 2019

Anything that U.S.C.I.S. changes at this time generally is tougher to pass or to obtain, and so our advice to people who are or will soon become eligible to naturalize is to do it ASAP. The agency announced on July 19, 2019, that it will be changing the naturalization civics test with an implementation date in December 2020 or early 2021. That gives applicants approximately 16+ months to get to the point of the naturalization interview and testing if they file now. The rules on naturalization filing are that most everyone can file 90 days before either the three-year eligibility mark (if qualifying through marriage to a U. S. citizen) or the five-year eligibility mark for others.

Why the concern? The presumption is that in the age of Republican politics and President Trump where the Party and the President are fighting over every vote, and in which the Administration’s immigration policy is seen as anti-immigrant, the vast majority of those who naturalize will vote Democrat and the president and his party would like to lessen the number of recently naturalized eligible voters.

A look at the May 3, 2019 U.S.C.I.S. memorandum, “Revision of the Naturalization Civics Test,” ringingly promotes the concern. It is replete with phrases and sentences that would make one shudder if one was not completely fluent in the English language. A prime example is “In addition, the working group will also assess potential changes to the speaking test.” What that means is that regardless of how many classes a naturalization applicant goes to, that will not help where the naturalization examiner starts to converse with the applicant at the interview on subjects related only tangentially to history and government to test the ability of the person to have a good understanding of English. The foreboding tone can be seen in at least two other sentences in the memorandum that “The civics test was instituted to ensure that applicants for naturalization understand American civics and can exercise their rights and responsibilities as new citizens” and “Standardized tests are revised regularly to ensure accuracy and timeliness of content, as well as to counter ways that test takers may engage in fraud or nefarious actions that attack the integrity of the exam .” One wonders how test takers would engage in fraud or nefarious actions attacking the integrity of the exam unless there is complicity on the part of U.S.C.I.S. examiners, and if that was the case, such would not be solved by a test revision. Finally the memorandum’s summary sentence contains buzzwords that the test will be more difficult in stating, “The purpose of this test redesign is to create a meaningful, comprehensive, uniform, and efficient test that will assess applicant’s knowledge and understanding of U. S. history, government, principles, and values.” Both “meaningful” and “comprehensive” cry out that U.S.C.I.S. will want a level of understanding of the country’s history and government structure that beggars what is required today. What that sentence and the others means is – expect a harder test!

The memorandum was written by the former director of U.S.C.I.S., L. Francis Cissna, who was recently forced out by Mr. Trump for not coming out with restrictive regulations faster. Under his successor, Ken Cuchinelli, one can only expect that the future change to the test will either continue as planned or that he will make the contemplated degree of difficulty harder or the implementation faster. Upon his installation as the acting director of U.S.C.I.S. last month, he stated that he sees it as his job to treat access as a privilege and not a right, and that, “We are not a benefit agency, we are a vetting agency.”

For readers who are eligible for and are thinking to naturalize, the watchword is “Don’t wait!” The future does not look as bright for those who choose to wait and are not very good at English, but hope to get better through naturalization classes.

Article: Nothing About Trump Policies On Immigration; The Effect Of Visa Retrogressions; The Iron-Doming Of DHS; And Watch Out For Closed Loop Voyages

As published in the Immigration Daily on June 24, 2019

I said in my last article that this one would be about recent Trump administration moves against immigration, DHS including U.S.C.I.S. iron-doming itself, and another interesting topic. I have to take the first topic off the list because there have been so many of them, and they have all been well publicized. What more is there to say about his threat to start deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, playing musical chairs with DHS Secretary and U.S.C.I.S. Chief and topping it off with a new position, “Border Czar,” which would impinge upon the authorities of the heads of CBP and ICE? The flawed EB-5 program remains untouched as it benefits his class, real estate developers, and especially his son-in-law and his family, the Kushners, and he has been exposed in both the North Korean and Iran crises as a bully who pushes and pushes but is indecisive when his bluff is called. His reason for calling off airstrikes in Iran over concern of 150 projected deaths would be more convincing if he showed more care for the 3000 deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the many migrant deaths including children and lack of justice in prosecuting those who leave food and water in the desert or pick them up to deliver them to safety, and the 5000 deaths caused in great part by American weapons and intelligence in the Saudi coalition airstrikes in Yemen fueled by his desire to continue selling billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia.

So I am amending the list of topics to the following:

1. The Effect Of Visa Retrogressions

The visa chart is king. It is the one most important item in an immigration lawyer’s toolbox. With no inkling of chart progression and retrogression, a lawyer can place a client in a dead-end situation. Current chart progression means that the EB-5 program for China-born is dead. For the month of July 2019, immigrant visa availability is only open to those from China who filed their I-526 immigrant petitions based on entrepreneurship before November 1, 2014. Although this may appear to be only a 4 ½ year wait, visa chart time is not real-time. Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division of the Department of State, reported at the Invest in the USA (IIUSA) conference on May 6, 2019, that a native of China starting an EB-5 case today could wait up to 16.5 years for the visa to become available. In the meantime, the July visa chart shows that the worldwide availability dates for EB-2 (those with advanced degrees) and EB-3 (those with baccalaureate degrees or 2 years working experience) are open at present, but expected to have corrective action as early as August. It is known that visa retrogression around the end of the fiscal year (FY 2019 runs from 10/1/18 – 9/30/19) is usually temporary, and the open worldwide dates with the exception of those born in China and India make cases in those categories especially attractive because of the short wait times involved in a successful case.

2. The Iron- Doming of DHS

Here we go back to the 1970s-early ‘80s when legacy INS looked like a monolith without humanity. Back then, people sat hours upon hours in windowless hot rooms cooled by only 1 or 2 fans and many of the officers were not trained in customer courtesy. The Trump administration now wishes to present an unfriendly DHS in which information flow is highly restricted. The National Customer Service Center from which the public obtains most of its information on pending cases by dialing 1-800-375-5283 has had its friendly name deleted and replaced with U.S.C.I.S. Contact Center. Representatives are harder to reach, and give less information. U.S.C.I.S. processing times are ridiculously long, and even ridiculously longer for the agency even to accept a telephone call about a pending case. For example, the F-2B (LPR parent filing for unmarried son or daughter over the age of 21) final action visa availability date for the month of July is up to 5/15/13, but if the applicant is overseas and has an open and current priority date of April 2013, the petitioner or legal representative could not even call to discuss the case if it is being held for adjudication at the U.S.C.I.S. Vermont service center since its current processing time (as per U.S.C.I.S.’s current declared processing times) is between 75-97.5 months, and the agency will only entertain inquiries if the petition was submitted prior to 6/27/11. Infopasses (individual appointments at the local field offices to ask about cases) are almost impossible to obtain. Liaison meetings between interested groups like the American Immigration Lawyers Association and U.S.C.I.S. have been discouraged from the top. Methods by which the public can pay U.S.C.I.S. at its field offices have been limited. Window service at ICE for delivery of papers has been closed in many locations. The use of discretion by ICE has been largely abolished. Many immigration hearings are conducted by video in which lawyer and client are separated, not allowing for proper preparation. Dissemination of ICE’s Office of Immigration Litigation publication, OIL Litigation Bulletin, to the public has been stopped. Cooperation between ICE attorneys and private attorneys has largely ceased. And of course, CBP is greatly in the news in iron-doming itself against migrants not only at the border, but for 100 miles inland. There is a sense of agency bravado and zeal in which the tone is enforcement as opposed to customer service and prosecutorial discretion to the deserving.

3. Closed Loop Voyages Involve Entries to CBP

This topic has been a source of confusion to many – does someone make a new “entry” to the USA entitling Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to make an inspection of a traveler where that person has taken a Caribbean island cruise or other short cruise and come back to the same port from which he or she departed? It would seem to make sense that a new entry is not made in the immigration sense, especially where the traveler does not disembark except on U. S. territories such as the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. John’s or St. Croix. Yet the question was answered to the contrary in the 4/8/19 agenda questions for the American immigration Lawyers Association New York Chapter liaison meeting with New York/New Jersey CBP. On the question of whether a round-trip cruise back to the same port could be done by an applicant for change of status without a grant of advance parole, the CBP reply was that closed loop cruises are cruises departing from and arriving at the same port, and for all individuals who are not U. S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, that counts as a departure and upon return, even to the same port, the individual must present a valid passport and visa (if applicable) or valid I-512 (advance parole document if applicable). If the answer is the last word on the subject by CBP, that is important to know as there are occasions for which families or other groups may plan gala birthday or reunion island cruises including grandparents, uncles and aunts, and it would be disastrous to have one of the party flagged and placed in removal proceedings after sailing back to port.

Article: Protecting The Green Card When Taking Extended Trips From The U. S.; Entitlement To 10 Day Or 60 Day Grace Periods For Nonimmigrant Workers; Public Charge Danger Signals

As published in the Immigration Daily on May 23, 2019

1. Protecting the green card.

After obtaining the green card, permanent residents many times leave the U. S. for extended periods of time, placing their green cards in jeopardy during the inspection process when reentering the country. What is there to do except to hang back or try to somehow get into the line of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer that one thinks will afford the most favorable inspection? The general rules are that a permanent resident should be maintaining a main domicile in the U. S., which generally means over 6 months of each year; that trips of over 180 days may subject the individual to harder inspection as an alien “seeking admission”; and that frequent trips of extended duration even if not over 180 days may still cause challenge to the right to keep the green card.

What can one generally expect from CBP where extended absences are concerned? Usually the first step will be a warning and a notation in the passport of the person’s extended absence. The applicant may be instructed to apply for a reentry permit. The reentry permit allows a permanent resident to be outside the U. S. for up to but not including 2 years and is a favorable factor for entry as the individual has in effect informed DHS of his or her plan to take extended trip(s) outside the U. S. However, it is not a guarantee for reentry. So in what other ways can a green card holder protect his or her permanent resident status? If the absence or absences was to take care of someone in ill health, perhaps a statement from the treating physician, hospital records or test reports along with proof of relationship would be helpful. Although some CBP officers have said tax returns are not particularly persuasive, it would not hurt to have proof of the payment of U. S. taxes so long as the person is not taking an income exemption for income earned overseas because of having declared himself or herself a nonresident for the year.

In a deferred inspection or before an immigration court, other items that might be helpful could be proof of real and personal property owned in the U. S., job letters, proof of pay, proof of family members in the U. S. and their maintenance of domicile here, bank books and banking statements, use of U. S. credit cards, ownership of U. S. stocks, insurance policies, membership in associations, clubs, and organizations, evidence of payment of long-term debt over a period of time, e.g. mortgage and automobile payments, library cards, state driver’s licenses or state identity cards, etc.

This is a new age in which immigration officials have become emboldened by the Administration to take adverse actions against immigrants, legal or otherwise. It behooves all permanent residents who travel outside the United States for extended periods of time to be more cautious and be prepared to meet a challenge upon arrival.

2. Is the nonimmigrant worker entitled to a grace period of 10 days or 60 days?

In the final rule of November 18, 2016, “Retention of the EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers,” U.S.C.I.S. expanded application of the 10 day grace period given at the end of the expiration of nonimmigrant working status to nonimmigrant working classes E-1 (Treaty trader), E-2 (Treaty investor), E-3 (Australian specialty occupation), L-1 (intracompany transferee), and TN (NAFTA or soon to be CUSMA). H-1B (specialty occupation), O-1 (extraordinary aliens) and P (performers, athletes and entertainers) categories were already covered. Significantly U.S.C.I.S. clarified that the 10 day period could be used to apply for purposes of extension of status or change of status.

The same rule also allowed a 60 day grace period for each authorized validity period to allow individuals who had left or been dismissed from their authorized work to find new work if in categories E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, O-1, or TN. The 60 day grace period can only be used once within each petition’s validity.

It is clear that the purposes of the two grace periods are different – one to allow 10 days at the end of the authorized period of stay and the other to protect nonimmigrant workers caught in unsuitable situations of employment. Yet can the two meet and be combined to give more than 60 days? The final rule allowed for that possibility in a situation wherein the applicant leaves or is dismissed during the last 60 days of the validity period of the authorized stay, at which point U.S.C.I.S. might consider the applicant to have maintained status for up to 60 days immediately preceding the expiration of the validity period (since the applicant is within the 60 day grace period), and the applicant might also use the 10 day grace period after the validity period ends.

So how would that work out in practice? Would the rule allow an individual in H-1B status whose period of validity had just ended and is in the 10 day grace period another 60 days on the basis that the employer had not decided to let him or her go and was contemplating an extension and only gave the decision to not extend the visa status during the 10 day grace period? I think not. However, it might certainly apply to an individual who is dismissed with 40 days left to go on the petition validity, and because the 60 day grace period would cover the ending date of the H-1B petition and be considered the new ending date (albeit without work authorization), the 10 day grace period would then be appended to the end of the 60 day grace period to afford more time for the individual to depart the U. S., change or extend status.

3. Public charge danger signals.

Current prohibited public benefits for persons applying for permanent residence are SSI, cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, food stamps, State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and public assistance including Medicaid used for long-term care such as in a nursing home or mental health institution. The proposed rule of October 10, 2018, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” would also include Medicare part D low income subsidies, Section 8 housing choice voucher program, Section 8 project-based rental assistance, and public housing. The Trump administration is also moving to draft a regulation to deport green card holders who use government assistance within 5 years of admission, as per a Reuters report on May 3, 2019. According to Reuters, the public benefits would include SSI, the food stamp program, Section 8 housing vouchers, many Medicaid benefits, and TANF.

The October 10, 2018, proposal garnered over 210,000 comments in the 60 day comment period. Yet the number of comments does not mean that it will not become law although the Administration can expect much litigation in the courts. What should people do at this point? The best advice is probably to stay on the public benefit(s) if you need it, and get off of it if you only consider it a “freebie” of the U. S. government. The proposed rule has a 60 day exit ramp after the rule’s finalization within which participants can disenroll from the program(s). In addition, persons who are adjusting status to permanent residence or going overseas to apply for immigrant visas would not be penalized for using benefits which were not previously targeted by the new rule before the effective date. It can be assumed that any proposed rule for green card holders would contain the same or similar 60 day exit ramp.

In our next article, we will discuss the recent Trump Administration moves against immigration, DHS (including U.S.C.I.S.) iron-doming itself, and another interesting topic(s).

Article: Payment Of Fees Becomes More Restrictive At U.S.C.I.S.; Aliens Being Defrauded By DHS Look-Alikes; H-1B Denial Rates Show Need For Lawyers And Sharper Lawyering

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.”

  3. 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. 

 

Article: Will EB-5 Regulation Ever Come Out? Why More H-2B’s When America is “Full”? New Form Changes – Make Sure to Use the Right Forms to Avoid Rejection.

As published in the Immigration Daily on April 15, 2019

The above 3 topics question why certain events are happening or not happening, and remind or inform of new immigration forms and deadline dates for their use.

  1. Will EB-5 regulation ever come out? When Mr. Trump’s White House wants to move on regulations, he can make it happen fast. Witness one of his pet peeves, the H-1B program, and his attempts to fashion it more to his liking. The proposed regulation for the preregistration of organizations to file H-1B petitions and to flip-flop the selection process cap to favor Masters degree holders (“Registration Requirements for Petitioners Seeking to File Cap Subject H-1B Petitions”) came out on December 3, 2018, and was finalized on January 31, 2019, not even 2 months later. In the meantime, the proposed EB-5 rule (“EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization ”) which would raise required investment amounts dramatically and cut out the tricks of gerrymandering/cobble-stoning areas together in illogical ways to justify development in affluent districts including Midtown Manhattan when EB-5 law only allows targeted employment areas (TEAs) to exist in high unemployment and rural areas, has been slow walked almost to death by the Trump administration. The proposed rule came out over 2 years ago on January 31, 2017, and was only passed to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for study on February 22, 2019. The inordinate delay has been so concerning that it occasioned a March 11, 2019, formal communication to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary and the Acting Director of the OMB by Senators Charles Grassley (R), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Patrick Leahy (D), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, urging the Trump administration and in particular OMB to finalize and publish the rule in the national interest. Why the slow walk since Mr. Trump became President? Could it be that he is a real estate man and the real estate industry has seen great benefit through EB-5 investments in affluent areas providing cheap financing that it could not otherwise obtain? Could it be that his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family has benefited greatly from the EB-5 program in its present state? If none of these reasons apply for why this proposed regulation has taken so long to be finalized, then it should be at this stage without further delay.
  1. Why more H-2B’s when America is “Full”? During a Southwest border visit last week, Mr. Trump said, “Can’t take you anymore… Our country is full… Can’t take you anymore… So turn around. That’s the way it is.” At the same time, both DHS and the Department of Labor stated that they intended to issue another 30,000 H-2B temporary work visas through September 30 on top of the present annual quota of 66,000. H-2B visas are generally given to those individuals with less skills, and most of the jobs could be fulfilled by many of the migrants attempting to enter the U. S. and plead for asylum due to the inhumane conditions in their home countries. Typical H-2B jobs are seasonal like waiters, maids and cooks and groundskeepers, meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers, animal caretakers, and counter attendants for cafeterias and food concessions. Could it be that America is really not “full”? As you drive through this great land, anyone can see that there are large stretches of open territory and spaces between towns and cities with hardly anyone. For a real look at “full”, we can look at Japan with a population of 127 million, more than 3 times the 40 million population of California which has similar land size; or even China with a population of 1.34 billion, over 4 times the 311 million population of the United States which has only 2% less land. So why give the extra numbers if Mr. Trump says that the country is really “full”? Could it be that he knows the country is not “full”, but that he wants a large guest worker program in which the workers are bused in and bused out or flown in and flown out without a chance of obtaining permanent status? It must be noted that he is deeply familiar with the intricacies of the H-2B program, having employed a large number in all of his hotel and other hospitality properties. He knows that the prominent feature of the program is that the job itself must be temporary and so cannot serve as a basis for PERM labor certification, the most important step in most employment-based green card applications. A large guest worker program in lieu of other forms of work that might serve as the basis for permanent residence would ensure that the workers would never truly become part of the fabric of this country as permanent residents or citizens with voting power.
  1. Make sure to use the right forms – For long stretches of time, legacy INS/U.S.C.I.S. forms never changed. The agency, its employees, and the public were very comfortable dealing with the same forms year after year. The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 also discouraged government bureaucracy from expanding forms and using more paper. That has changed, and U.S.C.I.S. is in the throes of taking every opportunity these days to use as much paper as possible in expanding forms and form instructions ad infinitum. Some forms change on almost a yearly basis. Use of old forms when U.S.C.I.S. has declared them obsolete results in the rejection of petitions and applications. In time sensitive petitions and applications, rejection can be deadly. Current form changes that readers should be aware of are the following:
  • I-290B – As of 1/20/19, only the 5/17/18 version is accepted.
  • I-539 – As of 3/22/19, only the 2/4/19 version is accepted.
  • I-129F – As of 4/29/19, only the 11/7/18 version will be acceptable.
  • I-131A – As of 4/29/19, only the 2/13/19 version will be acceptable.
  • I 191 – As of 4/29/19, only the 2/13/19 version will be acceptable.
  • I-130 – As of 5/6/19, only the 2/13/19 version will be acceptable.
  • I-134 – As of 5/6/19, only the 2/13/19 version will be acceptable.
  • I-129 – As of 5/20/19, only the 1/31/19 version will be acceptable.

Readers should also be aware that U.S.C.I.S. has lately even incorporated significant changes amounting to differing interpretations of law in some form instructions, and so current instructions should certainly be read to ensure complete understanding of any hidden dangers in completing and filing the forms.

Our next article will cover which filing fee modes of payment are allowed or disallowed and at which offices, how people are being defrauded by U.S.C.I.S. look-alike scams, and why organizations that do not use lawyers for H-1B petitions should do so now.