MAJOR CHANGES IN IMMIGRATION LAW PROPOSED BY THE SENATE

If you’ve watched the news, browsed a media website, perused a newspaper, or scrolled through social media newsfeeds in the last few days, chances are that you’ve heard about a new immigration bill recently introduced to Congress. If so far you haven’t paid too much attention to the proposals and nuances of the bill, it is now the time to listen and take appropriate action as the potential legislation could seriously impact you and your noncitizen friends and family members.
On Wednesday, August 2, President Trump appeared at the White House along with two U.S. senators to reveal the “Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act,” or the “RAISE” Act. The Act, which is aimed at reducing legal immigration by 50% within the next ten years, proposes significant cuts to family-based immigration and the refugee program. In addition, the Act seeks to implement a skills/merit-based point system for employment-based immigration.
In regards to family-based immigration, the proposed legislation eliminates all family-based immigration categories except for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Currently, as the law stands, U.S. citizens may petition their noncitizen spouses, parents (if the U.S. citizen is over 21 years old), and children under the age of 21 as immediate relatives, providing the noncitizen with immediate visa availability. U.S. citizens may also petition their siblings as “non-immediate” relatives who are subject to limited visa availability. The law also currently allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to petition their adult children. However, under the proposed regulation, adult U.S. citizens would no longer be able to petition their noncitizen parents or siblings for a green card. Further, U.S. citizens would no longer be permitted to petition their adult children and lawful permanent residents would no longer be permitted to sponsor their unmarried adult children. It should be noted that while the bill restricts adult U.S. citizens from petitioning their parents, it does create a nonimmigrant classification for parents of U.S. citizens which is rather restrictive. Parents of U.S. citizens would not be eligible for work authorization or public benefits and their adult child would be responsible for arranging for health insurance coverage prior to visa issuance.
While it is uncertain whether this proposed legislation will actually become law, the clock on various avenues for immigrating family is ticking. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who want to bring their adult children, siblings, or parents to the U.S. should act now. Those who are eligible to naturalize should do so in order to be able to bring family
members here while they still can. Don’t delay - consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney as soon as possible to discuss family-based immigration options which may no longer be available in the near future.
The allocation of the 140,000 employment-based green cards issued annually was also addressed in the recent immigration bill. If the RAISE Act passes, the current employment-based immigration categories will be replaced with a skills/merit-based system whereby applications will be evaluated and ranked pursuant to a number of factors including English language proficiency, age, educational level, investment in a commercial U.S. enterprise, and achievements such as an Olympic medal or Nobel Prize. If you believe you may be qualified for an employment-based petition such as a petition for an individual of extraordinary ability, multinational manager/executive, or an outstanding professor/researcher, you or your employer should consult with competent immigration counsel to discuss your options before a highly competitive merit-based system is implemented.
Some additional changes outlined in the RAISE Act include the total elimination of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or the “green card lottery” which currently awards 50,000 green cards to noncitizens from countries with low rates of immigration, as well as the reduction of the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 50,000 per year.
If the RAISE Act is passed by Congress, the President has indicated he will sign it. It will become law. If it does not, the bill gives a clear indication of what Congress intends for the future of immigration in the United States. In the past, when immigration laws changed, the old law was “grandfathered” to allow those who had filed before the change to still take advantage of the old law. There is no reason to believe that will not still be the case. But to be grandfathered, you have to have an existing petition. Anyone who has any interest in reuniting their family in the U.S. or who is thinking of immigrating through employment should contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration lawyer now. The clock is ticking.

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Extreme Vetting? Changes to the Screening of Visa Applicants

By Attorney Brittany M. Milliasseau

Earlier this year, President Trump issued a memorandum which directed the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security to implement heightened screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits. The memorandum explained the need for immediate implementation of additional heightened screening and vetting protocols and procedures in order to ensure the safety and security of the country. Particularly, the changes are aimed at keeping citizens safe from terrorist attacks and preventing entry into the United States of foreign nationals “who may aid, support, or commit violent, criminal, or terrorist acts.”
In response to this directive, the Department of State proposed the creation of a new immigration form titled DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants. This form will require visa applicants to provide their travel history, including source of funding, for the last 15 years, employment and address history for the last 15 years, phone numbers and email addresses for the last five years, names and dates of birth for all siblings, children, and current and former spouses, among other specific information. Applicants will also be asked to recount the details of their travel history and provide supporting documentation. In addition, the form will also request applicants to provide their social media identifiers and handles for the last five years. While the Department of State has stated that this form will not be required for all visa applicants and will be focused on “populations warranting increased scrutiny” it is expected to impact approximately 65,000 visa applicants worldwide each year.
Critics of this new form argue that these requests for additional information will place an overwhelming burden on applicants and lead to unwarranted visa denials and potential misrepresentation findings. The Department of State has explained that failure to provide the requested information will not necessarily result in a visa denial “if the consular officer determines the applicant has provided a credible explanation why he or she cannot answer a question or provide requested supporting documentation, such that the consular officer is able to conclude that the applicant has provided adequate information to determine the applicant’s eligibility to receive the visa.” However, most applicants may have difficulty recalling specific information solicited in the application and may inadvertently answer questions on the forms incorrectly. Such mistakes could in turn lead to denial of the application and allegations of misrepresentation, which could ultimately lead to inadmissibility for future immigration benefits.
Further, critics of the new form are concerned about how the information obtained about social media platforms will be utilized. What specific information will officers use to determine visa eligibility after viewing an applicant’s social media profile? Will officers review the social media profiles of applicant’s friends and relatives? Will seemingly innocent and harmless communication between friends be misconstrued? Many of these questions remain unanswered.
The Office of Management and Budget recently approved the proposed rule and the Department of State has begun utilizing the supplemental questionnaire. While there remains uncertainty regarding the impact this new form will have on visa adjudication, it serves as a valuable reminder that individuals should be cautious when applying for both immigrant and non-immigrant visas. All visa applicants should consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine their visa eligibility. In addition, applicants should utilize the services of a knowledgeable immigration attorney to assist in preparation and review of their visa application prior to submission to the Embassy or Consulate. As mentioned above, even a seemingly innocent mistake on a visa application could have dire consequences for visa applicants and even potentially lead to inadmissibility issues in the future. Any information provided to consular officers, or any immigration agency should be carefully prepared and reviewed by experienced counsel.
As these new vetting procedures become implemented, longer visa wait times, consular delays, and increased denials are projected. Individuals that are looking to apply for visas are encouraged to do so as early as possible in order to avoid delays. In addition, applicants should seek counsel to make sure their visa applications are prepared completely and accurately in order to curb preventable processing delays. While it is extremely important to be represented by competent immigration counsel for applications submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, it is equally as important to consult with immigration counsel regarding immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applications submitted to the Department of State and to speak with an immigration attorney for preparation prior to attending a consular interview.

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Trump, the Executive Orders & You!

Exactly one week after his inauguration, President Trump signed an executive orderwhich banned entry of noncitizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, halted U.S.refugee admissions, and suspended the nonimmigrant visa interview waiver program.Signed on January 27, 2017, the executive order seeks to protect the nation from entry offoreign terrorists, but consequently led to a series of nationwide protests, Constitutionalchallenges, and agency confusion at ports of entry and with the U.S. Citizenship andImmigration Services (USCIS). One week later, a District Court judge issued a nationwide temporary restraining orderwhich halted enforcement of certain provisions of the executive order, namely partsrelated to the travel ban on refugees and noncitizens from Muslim-majority countries.Subsequently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the DistrictCourt judge’s ruling and allowed the temporary restraining order to remain in place.While no immediate next steps have been confirmed, President Trump has expressedplans to challenge the ruling, potentially at the Supreme Court level, and has also notruled out the possibility of issuing an entirely new executive order.

Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began enforcement raidsin several states across the nation aimed at apprehending undocumented immigrants,particularly those with criminal records. ICE has reported that 680 people were takeninto custody nationwide. 161 people were taken into custody in Southern California. Aslegal challenges ensue, expanded enforcement begins, and uncertainty continues to loom,it is now more important than ever to consult with an immigration attorney if you havequestions about how to obtain legal immigration status. Frequently Asked QuestionsI am from one of the seven restricted countries. Is it safe for me to travel outside of theU.S.? If you are a citizen or national of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen andare not a U.S. citizen, you will not be permitted to enter the U.S. if the temporaryrestraining order is lifted. If the travel ban resumes, lawful permanent residents, as well as

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