TPS to End for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in May

April 24th, 2017 by Romona Paden

TPS to End for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in MayThe U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reminds nationals of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone who hold Termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations that their TPS status ends effectively May 21, 2017. In addition, Employment Authorization Documents related to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone TPS designation ends May 20, 2017.

Current TPS documents related to the Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will not be renewed or extended.

Nationals of the three African countries who don’t hold any other lawful immigration status “will no longer be protected from removal or eligible for employment authorization based on TPS,” according to an April 19 USCIS release. Although TPS status will no longer apply, “TPS beneficiaries will continue to hold any other immigration status maintained or acquired while registered for TPS.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began issuing an advance notice of the TPS expiration eight months in advance of the May date. On Sept. 22, 2016, DHS issued a notice of publication in the Federal Register for each of the affected countries– three notices in total. The notices were intended to clarify to beneficiaries that the expiration of TPS status end legal status for affected nationals in cases where status in another immigrant category doesn’t apply. With the eight months of notification, DHS aimed to provide those nationals choosing to forgo other immigrant categories enough time to determine a plan of action after leaving the United States. For those TPS beneficiaries wishing continued residency in the United States, DHS aimed to provide enough time to apply for another immigration status.

These notices urged individuals who did not have another immigration status to use the time before the terminations became effective in May to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”

The decision to drop TPS status for the African nationals came during the Obama administration and was based on conditions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

“After reviewing country conditions and consulting with the appropriate U.S. government agencies, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson determined that conditions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone no longer support their designations for TPS.” What’s more, the release continues, “The widespread transmission of Ebola virus in the three countries that led to the designations has ended.”

DHS Sec. Kelly Offers Immigration, Wall Comments

April 19th, 2017 by Romona Paden

DHS Sec. Kelly Offers Immigration, Wall CommentsDepartment of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly meets with members of Congress to discuss immigration laws and enforcement issues as well as President Trump’s proposed border wall. His statements were intended to give the elected officials an overview of agency policies and practices within a President Trump administration.

DHS is the umbrella organization over U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS,) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP.) Secretary Kelly, a former Marine general, is responsible for implementing President Trump’s pledges on tightening immigration enforcement and border protection.

Senators on the Democratic side of the aisle sought reassurances, according to Politico, “that there would be boundaries” around immigration enforcement practices.

To this, Kelly offered compassionate responses in terms of promising agents won’t separate mothers and children at the border. The exception to this, he said would be in cases where mothers are sick or injured.

Kelly also pledged those enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program– an executive order under President Obama that gives deportation relief to young undocumented immigrants– won’t find themselves as targets in any enforcement program.

“Privately, Kelly sought to mollify senators who have for weeks been outraged by the Trump administration’s hard-edged immigration policies,” Politico reports. During the meeting, Kelly told Senators “the administration was still mainly targeting for deportation those who had committed crimes, and that they didn’t even have the manpower to deport all undocumented immigrants in the country.”

In other comments to Senators, according to a CBS report, President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S. / Mexico border will most likely not stretch “from sea to shining sea.”

“We’re not going to build a wall where it doesn’t make sense,” the secretary said, presumably alluding to natural barriers between the two countries. “But we’ll do something across the southwest border,” he said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, derided the idea of a border wall. “It’s embarrassing,” McCaskill said, alluding to a range of challenges associated with the proposed barrier. “It’s not going to happen,” she said. “Everybody in Congress knows it’s not going to happen…. It appears the only person who won’t say it out loud is the president.”

Cap Reached on FY 2018 H-1B Visas

April 17th, 2017 by Romona Paden

For the fifth consecutive year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reached the congressionally mandated H-1B visa cap of 65,000 just five days after the agency began accepting applications on April 7. The agency also reports it has received enough petitions to fill the additional cap of 20,000 designated for advanced-degree applicants to the H-1B program– known as the master’s cap.

The H-1B visa program is specifically designed to let U.S. businesses employ highly-skilled foreign workers in specialized positions.

According to FWD.us, a Silicon Valley organization founded by Mark Zuckerberg and other heavy hitters in the high-tech industry, around 70 percent of applicants to the H-1B lottery are ultimately rejected from the program because of the cap, “keeping thousands of the best and brightest high-skilled immigrants from around the world out of the U.S. workforce.”

For those petitions subject to the cap and that USCIS rejects, the agency will return associated fees in cases where petitioners haven’t filed duplicate applications.

In its release on reaching the H-1B cap, USCIS reports it will continue accepting and processing petitions that are exempt. These petitions include those filings for current H-1B visa holders— petitioners whose applications have been previously counted against the cap, and who’ve retained their cap number– aren’t counted toward the congressionally mandated cap for the fiscal year 2018. However, the agency reminds petitioners of its current suspension of premium processing, which could last until early October.

  • USCIS continues to accept and process petitions for current H-1B visa holders with any of these purposes:
    Extending the amount of time a worker is allowed to remain in the United States
  • Changing the terms of employment
  • Allowing workers to change employers; and
  • Allowing workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position

USCIS offers guidance suggesting H-1B applicants subscribe to its H-1B Cap Season email updates, which can be found at the H-1B Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Cap Season page.

In a statement on the rapid pace of reaching the cap, FWD.us President Todd Schulte says it’s clear demand for talented high-skilled workers  continue to dramatically outpace supply.” The effect of this, he says a less robust economy where the “U.S. loses out on the creation of American jobs, rising wages.”

The solution, Schulte says, is to allow USCIS to allow and to process more H-1B visas. “FWD.us continues to call on Congress to reform the H-1B visa to crack down on bad actors and to lift the arbitrary visa cap that is stifling wage and job growth for U.S. citizens.”

Trump Taps Immigration Policy Wonk to Head USCIS

April 14th, 2017 by Romona Paden

As President Trump continues filling out his administration’s cabinet picks for top posts, Lee Frank Cissna, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration policy veteran, is nominated to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS.)  Cissna’s nomination, which is subject to U.S. Senate confirmation, would place him in the agency’s director capacity.

In his role at DHS, according to a White House statement, Cissna “develops and coordinates Departmental policy, with particular emphasis on temporary worker, immigrant, and other immigration benefits programs.”

Cissna’s nomination coordinates with recent USCIS news announcing a hardline approach to H-1B visa employer fraud as well as a planned assessment of the H-1B system as a whole. The moves, according to one publication, put “information technology firms in the crosshairs of targeted site visits by the government.”

High-tech companies lobby heavily for H-1B visas, arguing the organizational innovation their firms need can only be provided by the highly-skilled workers of the ilk that come to the United States under the program.

Prior to his role at DHS, Cissna served as Office of the Chief Counsel at USCIS. Cissna has also worked as a private-practice immigration and international trade attorney as well as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in both Haiti and in Sweden.

Up to now, USCIS hasn’t participated to any great extent in immigration policy discussions under President Trump, though the administration has moved swiftly on the issue. The Trump administration has already moved forward with two executive orders around foreign nations from certain Middle East and North Africa countries.

If confirmed, Cissna will replace James McCament. McCament currently serves as Acting Director of USCIS. Tracy Renaud is second-in-command at the agency in the role of acting deputy director.

Other immigration-related nominations named by President Trump include Kevin McAleenan as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB), from his current unconfirmed role as acting commissioner. Previously McAleenan served as CPB deputy commissioner and also functions as CBP chief operating officer.

Thomas Homan is another immigration official named by the Trump administration. Homan’s appointment is as acting director of U.S. Customs Enforcement (ICE.) Homan oversaw the deportation of more than 900,000 immigrants under President Obama.

USCIS Targets H-1B Employer Abuse

April 10th, 2017 by Romona Paden

USCIS Targets H-1B Employer AbuseU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refines its approach to ferreting out employer fraud and abuse around the H-1B visa program with multiple targeted measures. The agency’s aim with the new measures announced in April is to ensure good-faith efforts on the part of employers that participate in the visa program.  

In its more targeted approach, USCIS site visits to employer locations with H-1B visa workers focus on:

  • Cases where commercially-available data fails to validate an employer’s basic business information
  • Cases where employers have a high ratio of H-1B workers as compared to U.S. workers
  • Cases where H-1B workers work off site or at another company or organization location

The increased scrutiny on employers is also intended to protect current H-1B visa holders. As employer fraud and abuse of the program includes taking advantage of foreign-born workers.

Fraud and abuse indicators include:

  • Lower wages paid to H-1B workers than the wage certified on the Labor Condition Application (LCA)
  • Lower wages paid to H-1B workers compared to other works performing the same or similar duties
  • Higher level or otherwise different duties are assigned to an H-1B worker than the duties specified in the H-1B petition
  • Less experienced H-1B workers hold a similar position compared to a more experienced U.S. worker
  • H-1B worker location is different than that indicated in the LCA

While USCIS increases its enforcement actions around the H-1B system, it’s also asking for public assistance in the effort. In particular, the agency is reaching out to current H-1B workers who suspect employer abuse. To this end, “immigration law may provide certain protections to these workers,” according to a USCIS statement.

Citing potential “extraordinary circumstances,” USCIS might exercise its discretion in cases where an H-1B worker:

  • Applies to extend H-1B status or change from nonimmigrant status
  • Face retaliatory action from an employer
  • Lost or failed to maintain H-1B status

H-1B workers and American workers can report claims of possible fraud or abuse by sending tips to ReportH1BAbuse@uscis.dhs.gov.

With the new measures, the agency intends to bring more transparency to the visa program as a whole. At the conclusion of the H-1B visa cap filing season for the fiscal year, 2018 concludes, for instance, USCIS plan to publish a report detailing data around the petitions. Additionally, the agency also plans the creation of a web-based, searchable platform designed to give the public greater understanding of how H-1B visas are used.

Trump’s Matrimonial Effect on Immigration

April 7th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Trump’s Matrimonial Effect on ImmigrationAs immigration policy under President Trump evolves, some of those most directly affected by the issue are bypassing potential obstacles by accelerating wedding plans. By tying the knot sooner rather than later, mixed citizenship couples seek to take advantage of an accelerated path in establishing permanent residency status for the foreign-born side of the match.

The most recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)— from 2013 to 2015– shows a 7 percent increase in the number of foreign-born nationals obtaining green cards through marriage. Although more current evidence is largely anecdotal, The Boston Globe reports city clerks around the country say a spike in marriage certificate applications occurred after President Trump’s election win in November. What’s more, “observers note that the number of weddings at City Hall involving immigrants has increased since Trump was elected, with a marked increase after he took office.”

A foreign national is automatically bestowed with permanent residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen– as long as the union is deemed legitimate. Complicating the matter is that much of the demographic affected– millennials– are more likely to seek a prenuptial agreement. As clients accelerate wedding dates and request revised prenuptial agreements to accommodate the change, one attorney refers to the phenomenon as “Trump-up prenups.”

But the acceleration of the prenuptial process presents its own set of problems in terms of proving marriage legitimacy. In cases where a prenuptial agreement is challenged, a rushed agreement is arguably an agreement made under duress. In these cases, the agreement doesn’t hold up in court. What’s more, prenuptial agreements, which are essentially divorce settlements enforced in cases where a marriage dissolves, can plays as a negative factor in the eyes of immigration officials.

In addition, federal law requires Americans who marry foreign nationals to sign a spousal financial support affidavit should this support become necessary. The financial commitment extends until the spouse becomes a U.S. citizen or the spouse has worked for the equivalent of 10 years, even in cases where the couple divorces in the meantime.

“The intent is to keep people of public assistance,” according to the Boston Globe, “but it could interfere with alimony agreements.”

Immigration Labor Force Critical to U.S. Economy

April 5th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Accounting for almost half the population growth in the United States, immigration plays a central role in the growth of the nation’s labor force, especially with an aging native population. In their forecasts around the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), economists look at assumptions about population growth and immigrants that are provided with statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to a CNBC report, the economists have forecasted a 2 percent growth rate for the nation based on the labor force and productivity assumptions, says Joel Prakken, senior managing director and co-founder of Macroeconomic Advisers. In his assumptions, Prakken speculates immigrants make up a significant portion of the growth in the labor force.

The declining labor force in the United States is something rooted in the country’s aging population. Added to this is that falling fertility rates in the country means organic means of growing the national labor force are insufficient.

The elements involved in labor force growth, and the unsustainability of internal factors in the United States, demonstrates the importance of immigration. Immigrants to the United States, who tend to be younger, also tend to come to the country specifically to work.

“Most people are totally shocked when they actually process the fact that immigrants are already almost half the population growth, assumed in our 2 percent GDP projection and by the time you get to 2045, 80 percent of it is,” Prakken said.

Under a proposed bill that limits immigration, Prakken says the reduction could reduce immigrant arrivals in the country could drop to around half of that in 2015. In that year, 1.1 million immigrants came to the United States. What’s more, Prakken says, the proposal could dent the “secular growth rate of 2 percent by about a quarter point,” CNBC reports.

Prakken explains that the “effect gets bigger over time because the Census assumptions for immigration keep growing and growing and growing, and the bill would not allow any growth.”

As immigration continues as a top political issue in Washington D.C., lawmakers must take into account associated economic and workforce issues, says Prakken.

“Implicit in the Census projections is either more illegal immigration or somehow immigration reform allows an increase in the legal immigrants. This issue is not going to go away,” he says. “It’s a big deal.”

Education Rates Advance Among New Immigrants

April 3rd, 2017 by Romona Paden

Education Rates Advance Among New ImmigrantsImmigrants who’ve arrived in the United States in the last five years tend to be more educated than their predecessors. The uptrend in education levels among immigrants corresponds with a decrease in Latin American numbers and a rise in the Asian immigrant demographic.

The data, which was compiled as part of a study commissioned by job search company Indeed, relies on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Reports on the study describe general consensus among economists regarding an overall positive effect immigration impacts on the money, finance, and commerce  At the same time, the debate on the topic continues in terms of immigrant workforce and native-born workforce competition. In particular, according a company statement, the study’s emphasis is in exploring “jobs that immigrants do today, with a particular focus on recent immigrants, as a guide to which occupations, workers, employers, and consumers might be most affected — for better or for worse — by future changes to immigration policy.”

Only one-third of immigrants in the past five years were born in Latin America, compared to 45 percent born in Asia. These numbers trend with “much more likely” cases in which immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree than immigrants who arrived to the United States more than five years ago.

In terms of occupations, “the broad sectors and narrow occupations with the highest shares of recent immigrants look quite different than those with the highest shares of immigrants overall,” according to the report.

As far as broad occupation sectors– farming, forestry, and fishing– immigrants make up a particularly significant part of the workforce. At the same time, the next two sectors accounting for the highest share of immigrant workers are computer and mathematical occupations and life, physical and social sciences.

Specific occupations with a prevalence of immigrants are professional or technical in nature. These include medical scientists, software developers, physical scientists, and economists.

Study researchers found a positive and “statistically significant” correlation between the share of immigrants and the share of native-born working-class white men. Perhaps more interesting is that researchers also found the “correlation effectively disappears when including only recent immigrants.”

A look at settlement areas between contemporary immigrants and those who arrived in the first decade of the twenty-first century. For example, traditional metropolitan areas with a strong immigrant population–  Los Angeles, Riverside – San Bernardino, and Las Vegas– are not among the top cities of choice for recent immigrants. Instead, new immigrants are choosing to live in Boston, Seattle, and Dallas. And while the overall share of immigrants in Miami is larger than that of any other large metropolitan area, San Jose, which includes the tech titan neighborhood of Silicon Valley, gets the title among new immigrants.

Recent immigrants, according to the report, “are likely to live in more expensive metros that offer more professional jobs than earlier immigrants did.”

Convicted Attorney Tarnishes Immigrants, System

March 31st, 2017 by Romona Paden

An immigration attorney found guilty of falsifying claims to the federal government in paperwork filed on behalf of asylum-seeking clients tarnished the lives of those he represented as well as the system itself. The dishonest actions of the attorney, who actively cultivated a “Robin Hood” persona, has negatively affected both the lives of his clients and the entirety of the system itself.

Robert Dekelaita and Illinois immigration lawyer built his reputation as an advocate of Syrian and Iraqi Christians seeking refugee status in the United States. In the course of doing so, prosecutors claimed Dekelaita forged client names on asylum application papers and fabricated their life events to build a convincing case to immigration officials charged with overseeing the cases.

Convicted a year ago, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly sentenced the well-intentioned Dekelaita this month to 15 months in prison for conspiracy to commit asylum fraud. Prosecutors in the case also charged Adam Benjamin and Yousif Yousif, translators who worked for Dekelaita, with the intentional mistranslation of answers given by clients. The men were also charged with supplementing client testimony with information for the purpose of ensuring asylum.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Judge Kennelly found a “mixed bag” in the attorney’s motives. Dekelaita didn’t get wealthy from the scam, nor did he overcharge clients for his services. Ultimately, the judge said, the attorney’s justifications presented arguments as both “aggravating” and “mitigating.”

“Maybe it’s some of both,” said Judge Kennelly.

Regardless of motive, the case has created a “ripple effect” that violates the public trust in the nation’s immigration system. This is particularly thorny, the judge added, considering the current political climate in the country casts a skeptical light on the immigration process.

After his conviction, Dekelaita sent letters to his clients stating the government forced or coerced witness testimony and that he has “cheated no one.” On the other hand, court records show Dekelaita also instructed clients to “stick to the same story” as confessions “never works in your favor.”

Breitbart reports his former clients now face deportation because of the fraud. Cornered into living out the fiction created by Dekelaita, these immigrants’ lives were ruined, prosecutors on the case said.

For its part, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), warns of common scams targeting immigrants.

USCIS Accepts H-1B Petitions Beginning April 3

March 27th, 2017 by Romona Paden

USCIS Accepts H-1B Petitions Beginning April 3U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins accepting H-1B petitions, which gives temporary employment to highly specialized foreign workers, beginning April 3. Along with the suspension of premium processing, the petitions filed in compliance with the early April date are subject to the Fiscal Year 2018 cap.

With the H-1B program, U.S. business taps foreign nationals for work in occupations requiring “the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent,”  according to a March USCIS press release. “H-1B specialty occupations may include fields such as science, engineering, and information technology,” the release continues, referencing the fields shorthanded as STEMs.

The fiscal year cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per year is Congressionally mandated. The legislature has also allotted for another 20,000 H-1B beneficiaries in the same time frame for those candidates who’ve earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher.

The April start date for filing H-1B petitions corresponds with the previously reported temporary suspension of premium processing, which might last for up to six months. During this period, USCIS won’t accept Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, for a Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, a form that requests nonimmigrant classification.

“While premium processing is suspended any Form I-907 filed with an H-1B petition will be rejected,” says the USCIS. “If the petitioner submits one combined check for both the Form I-907 and Form I-129 H-1B fees, both forms will be rejected.”

The agency also reminds petitioners to follow all the requirements around statutes and regulatory requirements to “avoid delays in processing and possible requests for evidence.”

In terms of filing fees, USCIS has adopted a policy canceling the 14-day correction period for any dishonored payment.

“If any fee payments are not honored by the bank or financial institution, USCIS will reject the entire H-1B petition without the option for the petitioner to correct it.”

USCIS guidance in filing an H-1B petition suggests using a checklist that provides detailed information on the completion and submission of FY 2018 H-1B petitions.

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