USCIS Policy Change Makes Nonimmigrant Students and Exchange Visitors More Likely to Accrue Unlawful Presence Toward 3/10-Year Bar and Permanent Bar

Starting on August 9, 2018, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State (U.S. Consulates and Embassies) began applying a stricter policy to calculate unlawful presence for F students, M vocational students and J exchange visitors in the United States.  The policy makes nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors (as well as their dependents) who fall out of status more likely to face the 3/10 year-bar to re-entry under INA 212(a)(9)(B), following departure from the U.S. It also makes them more vulnerable to the permanent bar under INA 212(a)(9)(C), caused by illegal re-entry or attempted illegal re-entry following accrual of unlawful presence of more than one year.

The August 2018 USCIS policy and DOS Policy state that F, M and J nonimmigrant visa holders begin to accrue  “unlawful presence”  the day after they violate the terms of their status.

With this policy change, it is no longer required that students and exchange visitors — who are admitted to the U.S. for duration of status (D/S) — be given notice of the status violation by USCIS or an Immigration Judge in order for unlawful presence to begin.  The removal of this procedural safeguard creates harsher penalties to nonimmigrants who fall out of F, M or J status, even when the violation is accidental, inadvertent, or due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.

What is the 3/10-Year Bar Under INA 212(a)(9)(B)(i)? 

3-Year Bar

Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) states the 3 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days, but less than one year, and then depart the U.S. prior to commencement of removal proceedings.  The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S. in a single ongoing period or stay (i.e. continuous period of unlawful presence).

The 3-year bar does not apply if you depart the U.S. after the Notice to Appear in removal proceedings is filed with the immigration court, following service of the NTA on you. But leaving the U.S. while you are in removal proceedings or being issued a removal order carries other immigration consequences.

10-Year Bar

Section 212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II) of the INA states the 10 year bar to re-entry applies if you were unlawfully present in the U.S. for one year or more, and then depart the U.S. The U.S. government adds up all the days you were unlawfully present in the U.S., even if they were from different periods or stays (i.e. the aggregate period of unlawful presence).

There are certain exceptions to the unlawful presence rules. For example, any period of unlawful presence prior to April 1, 1997 – the date the law went into effect – does not count toward the 3 year/10 year bars. Furthermore,  a minor who is unlawfully present does not accrue any time toward the 3 or 10 year bar until he turns 18.

What is the Permanent Bar Under INA 212(a)(9)(C)(i)? 

Section 212(a)(9)(C)(i)(I) of the INA inflicts a permanent bar if you illegally enter or attempt to illegally enter the U.S. following accrual of more than 1 year of unlawful presence on or after April 1, 1997.

The accrual of unlawful presence is cumulative. For example, if you were unlawfully present for 6 months in 3 different periods (i.e. 18 months total), and you then re-enter the U.S. illegally, you face the permanent bar.

Unlike with the 3/10-year bar under INA 212(a)(9)(B), there are no exceptions for minors when it comes to the permanent bar. So if you were under 18 when you came to the U.S., you accrued unlawful presence of more than 1 year, you left, and then returned to the U.S. without inspection, you face the permanent bar.

What is Unlawful Presence? 

The term “unlawful presence” is defined in section 212(a)(9)(B)(ii) of the INA. It refers to a person who “is present in the United States after expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Attorney General or is present in the United States without being admitted or paroled.”

To accommodate unexpected changes in academic programs and plans, the U.S. government normally admits F, M, and J nonimmigrants for duration of status (D/S) instead of up to a specific date.  This means nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors may remain in the U.S. as long as they maintain their status, i.e. have a full course of study or remain in the exchange program, avoid unauthorized employment or other unauthorized activities, and timely complete their academic or exchange program or obtain an extension.

What are the Effects of the Unlawful Presence Policy Change? 

Until the policy change went into effect, USCIS and the DOS interpreted the law to require notice of a status violation to persons admitted for D/S in order for unlawful presence to begin.  A formal finding of a status violation is made by USCIS, an Immigration Judge, or the Board of Immigration Appeals in the context of an application for an immigration benefit (e.g. change of status or extension of status request) or in removal proceedings, whichever is earlier.

A prior USCIS May 6, 2009 memorandum stressed “the accrual of unlawful presence neither begins on the date that a status violation occurs, nor on the day on which removal proceedings are initiated.” The memo noted,”…it is important to comprehend the difference between being in an unlawful immigration status and the accrual of unlawful presence (‘period of stay not authorized’). Although these concepts are related (one must be present in an  unlawful status in order to accrue unlawful presence), they are not the same.” 

With the policy change, USCIS no longer distinguishes between falling out of status (including minor and technical violations) and accruing unlawful presence. Rather than considering unlawful presence to begin accruing the day it denies an application or petition for immigration benefits, USCIS will now find that unlawful presence began retroactive to the date it determines a status violation occurred.  The DOS updated its Foreign Affairs Manual to incorporate this policy change and guide consular officers in determining whether the unlawful presence bar applies. 

Under the new policy, “unlawful presence” will begin the day after a status violation occurs, even if the person has no idea that s/he has fallen out of status. Examples include accidentally engaging in unauthorized employment; relying on erroneous advice by a Designated School Official (DSO) regarding reduced course load; and missing work for 90 days or more due to a serious injury while on Optional Practical Training (OPT).

USCIS will apply the policy retroactively; nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors who are found to have violated their status before the new policy took effect will also begin to accrue unlawful presence as of August 9, 2018.

F, M or J nonimmigrants who failed to maintain status before August 9, 2018, start accruing unlawful presence based on that failure on August 9, unless they already started accruing unlawful presence on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after USCIS denied the request for an immigration benefit, if USCIS made a formal finding that they violated their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit;
  • The day after the Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, expired, if the F, M or J nonimmigrant was admitted for a date certain; or
  • The day after an immigration judge ordered them excluded, deported or removed (whether or not the decision is on appeal).

F, M or J nonimmigrants who failed to maintain status on or after August 9, 2018, start accruing unlawful presence on the earliest of the following: 

  • The day after the F, M or J nonimmigrant no longer pursues the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after he engages in an unauthorized activity;
  • The day after completing the course of study or program (including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period)
  • The day after the Form I-94 expires, if the F, M or J nonimmigrant was admitted for a date certain; or
  • The day after an immigration judge orders them excluded, deported or removed (whether or not the decision is on appeal)

When determining whether an F, M or J nonimmigrant accrued unlawful presence and was no longer in authorized stay, USCIS will consider information related to the person’s immigration history, such as:

  • information in the systems available to USCIS
  • information in the person’s record, including the person’s admissions concerning his immigration history or other information discovered during adjudication of an application or petition
  • information obtained through a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny, if any

Conclusion

USCIS’ unlawful presence policy change, in combination with its updated guidance on Notices to Appear and Requests for  Evidence, will have dire consequences for nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors, as well as their dependents.

While there is a 212(d)(3) nonimmigrant waiver and a Form I-601/INA 212(a)(9)(B)(v) immigrant waiver for the 3/10 year unlawful presence bar, they come with certain eligibility standards and they are not granted in every case. There are also limitations to obtaining a Consent to Reapply (I-212 waiver) to be excused from the permanent bar under INA 212(a)(9)(C).

New policies are not as binding as changes in the law passed by Congress, or regulations issued through notice-and-comment rulemaking. Still, unless the policy change is rescinded or is struck down by federal courts, it reflects how USCIS and the DOS will calculate unlawful presence for F-1, M-1 and J-1 nonimmigrants and their dependents (F-2, M-2 and J-2) as of August 9.

For more information, read our related articles:

Updated Policy Makes It Easier for USCIS to Deny Petitions and Applications Without First Issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)

Updated Notice to Appear (NTA) Guidance Requires USCIS to Initiate Removal Proceedings In More Cases

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Updated Policy Makes It Easier for USCIS to Deny Petitions and Applications Without First Issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)

As of September 11, 2018, an updated policy will make it easier for USCIS to deny a petition, application or request without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) if initial evidence is not submitted or if the evidence in the record does not establish eligibility for the benefit sought. The new guidance applies to all petitions, applications and requests (except for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals/DACA cases) received by USCIS after the effective date.

The policy memorandum (PM), dated July 13, 2018, rescinds the prior June 3, 2013 guidance implementing the “no possibility” policy and restores to the USCIS officer full discretion to deny petitions, applications and requests without first issuing an RFE or a NOID, when appropriate.  According to USCIS, this policy aims to discourage frivolous or substantially incomplete filings used as “placeholder” filings and encourage petitioners, applicants and requestors to collect and submit required evidence in the initial filing.

The prior 2013 PM provided that RFEs should be issued unless there was “no possibility” that additional evidence might cure the deficiency and lead to an approval. Thus, in practice, it limited denials without RFEs or NOIDs to requests where an adverse decision was mandatory under law (e.g. statutory denials such as when an applicant requests a benefit that no longer exists).

The updated policy provides guidance as follows:

Statutory Denials

USCIS will continue issuing statutory denials, when appropriate, without first issuing an RFE or NOID. This includes filings when the applicant, petitioner, or requestor has no legal basis for the benefit sought, or submits a request for a benefit under a program that has been terminated.

If all required initial evidence is not submitted with the application or petition, USCIS may exercise its discretion to deny the benefit request for failure to establish eligibility. Examples include:

  • Waiver applications that require a showing of extreme hardship to a qualifying relative (U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent), but there is no evidence of a qualifying relative and the applicant is claiming extreme hardship to another relative (e.g. U.S. citizen child).
  • Family-based immigrant petitions filed for relatives that do not fall under any of the family-based categories.

Denials Based on Lack of Sufficient Initial Evidence

USCIS, in its discretion, may deny the application or petition when the required initial evidence is not submitted with the original filing and the applicant or petitioner fails to establish eligibility for the benefit sought. Examples include:

  • Waiver applications submitted with little or no supporting evidence.
  • Cases when the regulations, the statute, or form instructions require the submission of an official document or other form of evidence establishing eligibility at the time of filing and there is no such submission. For example, a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, if required, was not submitted with a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

This PM updates Chapters 10.5(a) and 10.5(b) of the USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual and contains an “Additional Considerations” section, which is not new, and is nearly identical to the policy in the superseded 2013 PM. For instance, USCIS must still offer the applicant or petitioner an opportunity for rebuttal before making a decision if it has derogatory information and the applicant or petitioner is unaware that the information is being considered.

Conclusion

By restoring full discretion to USCIS officers to deny petitions or applications, when appropriate, without issuing a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny first, the new guidance reflects USCIS’ expanded enforcement priorities, which are also revealed in its updated policy on unlawful presence and Notices to Appear in removal proceedings.

For more information, read our related articles:

USCIS Policy Change Makes Nonimmigrant Students and Exchange Visitors More Likely to Accrue Unlawful Presence Toward 3/10-Year Bar and Permanent Bar

Updated Notice to Appear (NTA) Guidance Requires USCIS to Initiate Removal Proceedings In More Cases

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Updated Notice to Appear (NTA) Guidance Requires USCIS to Initiate Removal Proceedings In More Cases

On June 28, 2018, USCIS issued updated guidance requiring its officers to initiate removal proceedings in more cases to align with President Trump’s executive order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.  USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said the new policy equips USCIS officers to better support the immigration enforcement priorities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The 2018 memorandum instructs USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge to inadmissible or deportable persons in an expanded range of situations, instead of referring NTAs to the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in limited cases.  One major change is that an NTA must be issued whenever a person’s immigration benefit request is denied and he or she is “not lawfully present” in the United States.

What is a Notice to Appear?

A Notice to Appear is a Form I-862 the DHS issues to initiate removal proceedings against a person. The NTA includes the charges against the person and alleges the immigration laws he or she violated.  Some NTAs include the date and time of the initial hearing, when you first appear before an immigration judge who decides whether you should be removed or whether you qualify for relief, including voluntary departure in lieu of a removal order.

What Was the Previous USCIS Policy on Issuing a Notice to Appear? 

The November 7, 2011 Policy Memorandum (PM), which is now superseded by the June 28, 2018 PM, provided “USCIS guidelines for referring cases and issuing Notices to Appear (NTAs) in a manner that promotes the sound use of resources of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to enhance national security, public safety, and the integrity of the immigration system. ”

The 2011 policy instructed USCIS to issue an NTA in the following situations:

  • Cases where it is required by statute or regulation, such as termination of Conditional Permanent Resident Status and denials of Form I-751, and asylum referrals.
  • Fraud or willful misrepresentation/section INA 212(a)(6)(C) cases when a Statement of Findings substantiating fraud is part of the record.
  • In naturalization (Form N-400 application) cases where the applicant is removable, including those who were inadmissible at the time of obtaining permanent residence.

The 2011 policy further directed USCIS to refer matters to ICE in the following situations:

  • Egregious Public Safety (EPS) cases “where information indicates the alien is under investigation for, has been arrested for (without disposition), or has been convicted of” certain specified aggravated felonies as defined under section 101(a)(43) of the INA; is a Human Rights Violator, is a known or suspected street gang member or is subject to Interpol  hits; or has re-entered the U.S. after removal subsequent to a felony conviction where no Form I-212, Application for Consent to Reapply for Admission, has been approved.
  • Cases where the person is inadmissible or removable due to a criminal offense falling outside of the EPS definition, after USCIS completes adjudication.

What is the Current USCIS Policy on Issuing a Notice to Appear?

The June 28, 2018 Policy Memorandum (PM) requires USCIS to issue a Notice to Appear in a broader range of cases without first consulting ICE.

Many more persons will be placed in removal proceedings as USCIS is now required to issue an NTA in the following situations:

  • If an application or petition for immigration benefits is denied and the person is not in lawful status (not lawfully present).
  • If an application or petition for immigration benefits is denied and the person is removable (i.e. subject to any removability grounds under INA 237), especially when there is evidence of fraud or misrepresentation and/or abuse of public  benefit programs.
  • Criminal cases in which the applicant is removable and has been convicted of or charged with any criminal offense, or has committed acts that are chargeable as a criminal offense, even if the criminal conduct was not the basis for the denial or is the ground of removability.
  • Naturalization cases in which the applicant is removable and USCIS denies a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, on good moral character grounds due to a criminal offense.

USCIS will continue to apply the 2011 NTA guidance to the following:

  • Cases involving national security concerns.
  • Cases where issuing an NTA is required by statute or regulation.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) cases, except where, after applying TPS regulatory provisions, a TPS denial or withdrawal results in an individual having no other lawful immigration status.
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and applicants when USCIS is: (1) processing an initial or renewal DACA request or DACA-related benefit request; or (2) processing a DACA recipient for possible termination of DACA.

Potential Negative Effects of the NTA Policy Change

The new NTA guidance might discourage eligible applicants from seeking immigration benefits out of fear of getting their requests denied and being placed in removal proceedings if they are not lawfully present.  This includes persons applying for a green card (lawful permanent resident status), a change or extension of status, a waiver of inadmissibility and other immigration relief.

Departing the United States on one’s own, after being denied an immigration benefit, will bring harsh penalties when an NTA is issued and the person fails to appear for the scheduled Immigration Court hearing. An in absentia removal order is issued if there is clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence that written notice was provided and that the person is removable, but did not attend the proceeding.

At the same time, those who wait in the United States for an initial court date to appear before an immigration judge will continue to accrue unlawful presence toward the 3/10-year bar to re-entry under INA 212(a)(9)(B).  A person who accrues unlawful presence of more than 180 days but less than one year is barred from re-entering the U.S. for three years. The bar to re-entry is 10 years if the person accrues unlawful presence of more than one year prior to departure. The initiation of removal proceedings does not stop the accrual of unlawful presence.

Furthermore, the updated policy turns USCIS into another immigration enforcement component of DHS, along with ICE and the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP).  An increase in the issuance of NTAs will create additional backlog in the immigration court system and lengthen USCIS processing times.

[NOTE: On July 30, 2018, USCIS posted a notice stating operational guidance on how to implement the new policy is still pending. The issuance of the June 28 PM is postponed until the operational guidance is issued.]

Conclusion

Besides the new NTA policy, USCIS issued updated guidance to make it easier to deny a petition or application without first issuing a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny. Another  USCIS policy change also subjects more nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors to accruing unlawful presence toward the 3/10-year bar, as well as the permanent bar under INA 212(a)(9)(C).

All these new policies are in line with the February 2018 change in USCIS’ mission statement, deleting sentences that refer to the United States as “a nation of immigrants” and to noncitizens who apply and pay for immigration benefits as “customers.” USCIS Director Cissna explained that this is “a reminder that we are always working for the American people.”

For more information, read our related articles:

Updated Policy Makes It Easier for USCIS to Deny Petitions and Applications Without First Issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID)

USCIS Policy Change Makes Nonimmigrant Students and Exchange Visitors More Likely to Accrue Unlawful Presence Toward 3/10-Year Bar and Permanent Bar

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Trump’s Four Pillars for Immigration Reform

In his State of the Union address on January 30, 2018, after completing his first year in office, President Trump officially introduced his Administration’s four pillars for immigration reform.

The first pillar “offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought [to the United States] by their parents at a young age…”  Commonly known as Dreamers, individuals within this group who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be eligible for naturalization (U.S. citizenship), according to Trump.

The second pillar aims to enhance border security. It involves building a big wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and hiring more border patrol officers. “Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of ‘catch and release’,” Trump said.

The third pillar ends the Diversity Visa Lottery, which Trump criticized as “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people.” He further called for a “merit-based immigration system.”

The fourth pillar “protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration” and restricting family-based immigration to only spouses and minor children. Trump claimed that under the current system, “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

Trump deems the Diversity Visa Lottery program and “chain migration” as sources of terrorist attacks and threats to the national security of the United States.

While Trump has said Congress should pass a “bill of love” for young, undocumented immigrants who qualified for the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which he rescinded on September 5, 2017, his support does not come without conditions.

Conditioning protections for Dreamers and DACA holders on federal funding for a Southern border wall and  reductions in legal immigration, in particular, makes it harder for a gridlocked Congress to reach a mutually agreeable, workable solution. Congress’ failure on February 15 to secure enough votes to advance any of the four immigration bills up for a vote is a prime example. To learn more, read White House-Backed Bill Proposing Protections for Dreamers/DACA Holders, Restrictions on Family-Based Immigration, and End to Diversity Visa Lottery Fails to Pass in the Senate; Worries Prevail.

In the meantime, the Trump Administration has relied on presidential proclamations and executive policies to bypass Congress and impose travel restrictions and broaden immigration enforcement priorities. While the termination of prior, executive orders and the introduction of new ones are subject to checks and balances, including review by U.S. federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, they still have ripple effects.

Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) gives the President broad authority to suspend entry of a class of foreign nationals temporarily if he or determines the entry of such aliens would be detrimental to the U.S. interest.

Trump’s Presidential Proclamation Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats (Proclamation 9645) – dubbed “Travel Ban 3.0” – indefinitely suspends entry to the United States for nationals of eight countries (Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia).

There are a few exceptions, such as lawful permanent residents, asylees, and diplomatic visa holders from these countries. Consular officers and immigration officials may also grant case-by-case waivers to those who would otherwise be subject to the entry ban, if denial of their admission would cause them undue hardship and their admission would not pose a threat to the national security of public safety of the United States and would be in the national interest.

Federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland issued preliminary injunctions partially blocking Travel Ban 3.0, but they were lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 4, 2017, allowing Trump’s proclamation to go into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral argument on April 25 regarding whether the ban violates U.S. immigration law or the U.S. Constitution.

Trump’s termination of the DACA program has spurred federal lawsuits, which resulted in February 13th New York and January 9th San Francisco court orders, issuing temporary injunctions to block the Administration’s rescission. As a result, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) — which recently changed its mission statement to remove the term “nation of immigrants” and emphasize “protecting Americans” — continues to accept DACA renewal requests for now.

The Administration’s expansion of immigration enforcement priorities has also made certain, undocumented immigrants increasingly vulnerable at their USCIS interviews. Spouses of U.S. citizens are now more likely to be apprehended by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) at in-person interviews with USCIS, when they seek an approval of a marriage-based petition to legalize their status, but have already been issued a removal order, been previously caught unlawfully entering the United States, have criminal convictions, etc.

In light of the Administration’s immigration policies, it has become more critical to have experienced, attentive immigration counsel evaluate your eligibility for immigration benefits (preferably before you file for them) and accompany you to in-person interviews with USCIS. For more information, read 5 Benefits of Having Immigration Counsel at Your In-Person Interview with USCIS.

Contact Dyan Williams Law to help you evaluate your qualifications for permanent residence or naturalization, overcome visa refusals, apply for waivers of inadmissibility, and represent you at green card or citizenship-related interviews with USCIS.

Cheers,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900
dw@dyanwilliamslaw.com

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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White House-Backed Bill Proposing Protections for Dreamers/DACA Holders, Restrictions on Family-Based Immigration, and End to Diversity Visa Lottery Fails to Pass in the Senate; Worries Prevail

Of the four immigration bills that were recently considered by the Senate, three offered a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. when they were children. But the White House’s calls to end “chain migration” by limiting family-based immigration to only spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens (and possibly permanent residents), as well as scrap the Diversity Visa Lottery program, have made it harder for a divided Congress to address the nation’s immigration problems with a legislative fix.

Comprehensive immigration reform remains a divisive issue in Congress, as reflected in the Senate’s failure to advance any of the four immigration bills up for a vote on Thursday, February 15. On immigration, a supermajority of 60 out of 100 senators must agree to end debate and force an up or down vote on a bill. The Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) immigration bill, which was backed by President Trump and mirrored the White House “four pillars” immigration framework, received the least number of votes to move forward.

Dreamers and DACA Holders in Limbo

There seems to be bipartisan support for protecting “Dreamers” or young undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was introduced by the Obama Administration on June 15, 2007, and rescinded by the Trump Administration on September 5, 2017.

DACA is a temporary immigration relief for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors before age 16, lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, are currently in school or have graduated from high school, have no serious criminal history, and meet other eligibility requirements.

Although DACA provides authorized stay and work authorization on a temporary basis, it does not provide a path to permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S.

When the Trump Administration announced the ending of DACA, and left it up to gridlocked Congress to address the ramifications, it set an expiration date of March 5, 2018. But with federal courts in New York and San Francisco issuing temporary injunctions on February 13 and January 9, respectively, which block the Administration’s September order rescinding the DACA program, USCIS issued a statement noting it will, for now, continue accepting requests for DACA renewals under pre-existing terms.

The end of DACA does not mean there will be mass deportations of young, undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has to issue a Notice to Appear and file it with the Immigration Court to initiate removal proceedings against an applicant, who may seek available relief  (e.g. asylum, cancellation of removal) from the Immigration Judge. The DHS may also set enforcement priorities so that Dreamers or DACA holders are low priorities for removal.

White House Calls for Limits on Family-Based Immigration and an End to Diversity Visa Lottery Program

In his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, Trump expressed concerns with family-based immigration, which he referred to as “chain migration.”  He claimed, “under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

He stated his immigration plan “protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration” and would “focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children.”

Trump also called for an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery, which he said is “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.” He previously noted in a December 15, 2017 speech, “they give us their worst people, they put them in a bin,” and “the worst of the worst” are selected in the Diversity Lottery.

Using anecdotal cases, the President has linked family-based immigration and the Diversity Visa Lottery program to terrorist attacks and threats to the national security of the United States.

In a December 11, 2017 statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote, “The President is exactly correct about the changes we need to our immigration system. We have now seen two terrorist attacks in New York City in less than two months that were carried out by people who came here as the result of our failed immigration policies that do not serve the national interest —the diversity lottery and chain migration.”

Of the two examples, the first is Sayfullo Saipov, from Uzbekistan, who entered the United States in 2010 on a diversity immigrant visa. Saipov is accused of killing eight people and injuring a dozen others when he drove a rented truck through a Manhattan, New York City bike lane in October 2017.

The second example is Akayed Ullah, a permanent resident from Bangladesh, who is suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack in New York City in December 2017. Ullah is accused of attempting to bomb a subway station with a low-tech explosive device, but only he was injured when the device failed. He came to the United States in 2011 as the minor child of a parent who was petitioned by an adult U.S. citizen sibling (in fourth preference, family sponsored category).

Family-Based Immigration, As It Stands

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents/green card holders may sponsor only certain relatives for immigrant visas. Except for the immediate relative category (spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, and parents of adult U.S. citizens), there is a limited number of visas available and lengthy waiting lists (some lasting more than a decade) in family-based, preference categories.

The preference categories include unmarried sons and daughter of U.S. citizens and their minor children (if any);  spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters 21 or older of permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children (if any); and siblings of adult U.S. citizens and their spouses and minor children (if any).

The beneficiary (immigrant visa/green card applicant) also must not be inadmissible to the United States based on likelihood of becoming a public charge, certain criminal offenses, immigration violations, or other grounds defined by statutory law.

For more information on the existing family-based immigration system, read Immigrant Visa Process: Delays and Setbacks; Changes to the Visa Bulletin: Understanding the Two Filing Charts; and Priority Date Recapture and Retention in Family-Based Immigration.

Current Diversity Visa Lottery Program

Contrary to Trump’s claims, countries do not choose which of their citizens to put in the Diversity Visa Lottery.  Rather, the program issues up to 50,000 diversity visas each year to qualified applicants from U.S.-designated countries with low rates of immigration to enter the U.S. as permanent residents – if they win the DV lottery and successfully complete the immigrant visa or green card process.

To be eligible, applicants must be born in an eligible country. Natives of countries with relatively high rates of immigration – such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam – do not qualify.

Applicants must also have at least a high school education or its equivalent (successful completion of a 12-year course of formal elementary and secondary education); or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform the job.

After being selected in the lottery, applicants must clear a background check and demonstrate they have no health problems, criminal records, national security concerns, or other inadmissibility grounds barring them from the United States.

For more information on the current Diversity Lottery program, read Diversity Immigrant Visa – November Entry Deadline (Plus Other Things to Consider.

White House “Four Pillars” Immigration Framework and Its Influence on Congress

In some respects, the White House’s immigration framework takes a harder line on legal immigration than on young, undocumented immigrants – many of whom came to the United States as children without proper travel authorization or lawful admission.

Immigration Bills in the Senate

On Wednesday, February 14,  before the Senate voted on the four immigration bills, Trump issued a statement calling on Congress to support the Grassley proposal. He wrote, “The Grassley bill accomplishes the four pillars of the White House Framework: a lasting solution on DACA, ending chain migration, cancelling the visa lottery, and securing the border through building the wall and closing legal loopholes.”  He also asked all senators to oppose any legislation that fails to fulfill these four pillars.

Each bill needed at least 60 votes to advance in the Senate. The four proposals included:

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ) Bill: provided path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; included no funding for Trump’s border wall, but did include measures to improve border security.

Failed 52 to 47. Democrats were almost united in favor and Republicans mostly voted against it.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) Bill: withheld federal funding for municipalities (dubbed “sanctuary cities”) that refuse to enforce federal immigration policy through their local police officers and other state law enforcement agencies.

Failed 54 to 45. Republicans and a few Democrats backed it, but most Democrats voted against it.

Sen. Susan Collins  (R-ME), endorsed by Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY), Bill: provided path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; included $25 billion in funding for border security; prevented DACA recipients from sponsoring parents for legal status.

Failed 54 to 45. Democrats almost unanimously supported it, along with eight Republicans.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), based on proposal backed by White House, Bill: provided path for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children; included $25 billion in funding for border wall; severely restricted legal immigration by limiting family-based immigration to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and ending diversity visa lottery program.

Failed 39 to 60. Democrats opposed the bill en masse, joined by a notable number of Republicans, while most of the GOP conference and a couple Democrats supported it.

Immigration Bill in the House

Immigration reform will be even harder for the more conservative House to tackle. Republican leaders are scrambling for sufficient votes on an immigration proposal in the House that is more restrictive than the Trump-backed Grassley bill in the Senate.

The immigration bill by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) offers a temporary, renewable legal status — rather than a path citizenship — to DACA holders in exchange for funding Trump’s border wall, cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, requiring U.S. employers to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of job applicants, restricting family-based immigration, and scrapping the diversity visa lottery program.

Although Trump has expressed support for this bill, it is expected to meet its demise in the divided Senate, even if it passes through the House.

Worries Prevail With No Clear Path to Immigration Reform

If limiting family-based immigration and ending the Diversity Visa Lottery program are non-negotiable components of a White House-backed immigration plan, Congress faces steep obstacles in creating a legislative solution for Dreamers or DACA holders.

Worries prevail as the immigration fate of Dreamers and DACA holders hang in the balance, and some family-based immigration and the diversity visa lottery program are potentially on the chopping block.

In the meantime, eligible DACA holders may file renewal applications according to the latest USCIS policy, while federal court litigation ensues. U.S. citizens and permanent residents may also continue to file family-based petitions for certain relatives, and applicants from eligible countries may seek diversity immigrant visas under existing programs. Any change to U.S. immigration law is expected to apply prospectively and have no retroactive effect.

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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