Displaying items by tag: Visa

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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Help! I Overstayed My Visa!

By Attorney Anda C. Kwong & Nancy E. Miller

When the term “illegal immigrant” is used, some assume that the discussion is about someone who entered the United States without presenting themselves for inspection at the air, sea or land border.  However, “illegal immigrant” can also apply to one who entered legally but whose status has expired. In fact, more people become “illegal immigrants” by overstaying visas than by entering without documentation.  

Overstay means that a noncitizen violated the terms of the visa issued by remaining in the United States beyond the time permitted.  One who overstays her visa is out of status, meaning, she is now here illegally.  While overstaying a single day past the expiration of the visa is unlawful, overstaying becomes even more problematic when the noncitizen stays past 180 days but under one year because she then triggers a bar from returning to the United States for three years when she exits the country. This unlawful presence penalty increases to a ten-year bar when she leaves after overstaying by more than one year. 

Some immigration benefits require the alien to leave the United States to complete processing through the U.S. Consulate in their home country but because they have been here illegally, they invoke the bar as soon as they depart in order to pursue the benefit they seek.   A waiver of the bar is possible if one can prove that their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent or spouse - NOT child -  would suffer extreme hardship if they are not able to return.  

With the administration’s expressed intent to step up enforcement to cut down on the violation, there will be a greater focus on those who have overstayed their visas.  While fear of being arrested and deported is a reasonable and understandable response, noncitizens should remember that they do have due process rights. And even once one has been taken into custody, he may apply for immigration benefits if he is eligible for them.  

A noncitizen who is taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can expect to be placed in removal proceedings by means of a Notice to Appear (NTA). The notice will set out the reasons why DHS believes the immigrant is ineligible to remain in the United States.  Either it or a second document called a Notice of Hearing will set forth when and where the immigrant’s hearing is to be held.  Failure to appear at a hearing in removal court can result in an in-absentia removal order.  That means that the alien is ordered removed without ever having appeared in court.  Exceptional circumstances beyond the alien’s control are the only acceptable reason for failure to appear.  And, unless the immigration court judge knows of those circumstances in advance, she will issue the in-absentia removal order.  In order to then have her day in court, the immigrant will have to timely file a motion to reopen the proceedings.  There is no guarantee that the motion will be granted.  It is up to the immigrant to prove that her reason for not appearing meets the legal requirements.  

In court, the United States government (DHS) is represented by an attorney from the Office of the Chief Counsel (OCC). The noncitizen has the right to be represented by an attorney at no cost to the government.  If he decides to represent himself, he is expected to comply with the appropriate legal and procedural requirements.  In court, the immigrant will be required to plead to the facts and charges contained in the NTA that assert why the alien should be removed.  Pleading means either admitting that they are true and legally appropriate or denying because they are factually inaccurate or legally wrong.  

If the judge sustains the charges (finds they are factually true and legally accurate), the alien will have the opportunity to apply for any relief for which he may be eligible.  He must file the appropriate applications and supporting evidence and present oral testimony to support the applications.  It is the alien’s burden to prove eligibility.  As is clear, this is a complicated and complex process.  

One should exercise his or her due process rights.  One should also apply for all benefits for which they are eligible.  But in order to do so, one must know what they are.  Therefore, anyone who is not in status should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer to discuss their options.

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Filipinos may enter Taiwan visa-free starting June

Come June, Filipinos can go to Taiwan visa-free as the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has granted an exemption for Philippine travelers, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Manila has confirmed to ABS-CBN News.
The visa-free grant will be implemented on a trial basis for a year, starting June 1, 2017.
The TECO has yet to release details, but a Taiwanese news website reported on Wednesday that Filipinos may stay in Taiwan visa-free for up to 30 days.
The new policy is part of efforts of Taiwan to draw in more travelers from Southeast Asia.
Last October, Taiwan relaxed visa requirements for Filipinos, offering visa-free entry to Filipinos who have been issued visas to enter Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, any of the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, or the United States.
TECO in Manila is expected to make the formal announcement on the visa exemption after the Holy Week.
Taiwan is an emerging destination for Filipino travelers, as the flight takes less than two hours.

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News
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