US Immigration Policy

White House Attacks Legal Immigration

Earlier this week the White House released it’s Immigration Principles and Policies, making it very clear that it intended to reduce legal immigration, eliminate employer sponsorship of visas and green cards, and drastically change the current immigration system. The WH has previously announced support for the RAISE Act which is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The system proposed by the WH eliminates wage protections for US workers and eliminates the labor market test designed to only allow legal immigration where there is a proven labor shortage. The short-sightedness of the WH approach is mind-boggling but, of course, the assumption being made is that the WH understands the ramifications of its principles and policies and we all know the old saying about assumptions.

Skills Gap

As the White House prepares to unveil its immigration policy and its call for a significant reduction in legal immigration, it is nice to be reminded of the role which legal immigration aids in bridging the skills gap experienced by U.S. employers.

I-485 Interviews for Employment Based Cases

Yesterday, the USCIS announced that it would begin to require in-person interviews as part of the I-485 process for persons being sponsored by an employer. For over ten (10) years these interviews have generally been waived unless there were issues such as criminal, unauthorized employment, periods of out of status, etc. Under the new policy, interviews will be required in all cases. For an agency that is already short of manpower and money, this change will likely result in delays of many years. Not to be too cynical but, this appears to have no purpose but, to be another attack on legal immigration and create another chilling effect.

Advance Parole and Travel

Recently, the USCIS began to deny advance parole applications if the person traveled internationally while the AP application was pending. For many years, the USCIS had continued to adjudicate and approve AP’s if you traveled as long as you were on an H or L visa however, that policy has now changed (without any notice). The American Immigration Lawyers Assoc. (AILA) contacted USCIS HQ and they responded with “the denials were proper; the policy is that traveling internationally while an application for advance parole is pending will result in the denial of that application notwithstanding prior practice to the contrary” Please be aware of this change.

STEM workers in the U.S.

Recently, the American Immigration Council, provided some data on the profile of STEM workers in the U.S. I assume that Stephen Miller and his ilk chose to ignore this type of data when they proposed the RAISE Act or more likely they consider this data “fake news”.

Latest on Trump’s Immigration Reform

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, President Trump endorsed a new bill in the Senate aimed at slashing legal immigration levels, the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act. This bill is a modified version of a bill senators Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) first introduced in April to cut immigration by half from the current level of more than 1 million green cards per year. To achieve this reduction and create what they call a “merit-based system,” Cotton and Perdue are taking aim at green cards for extended family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, limiting such avenues for grown children and siblings. Minor children and spouses would still be eligible to apply for green cards.

The highlights of the Senators’ bill propose to end the visa diversity lottery that awards 50,000 green cards a year, to areas in the world that traditionally do not have as many immigrants to the United States. The bill also caps refugee levels at 50,000 per year. Under the bill, the proposed immigration system would award points to green card applicants based on such factors as English ability, education levels and job skills. The senators said the proposal is modeled after immigration programs in Canada and Australia.

However, the bill’s prospects are dim in the Senate where Republicans hold a narrow majority. The legislation is expected to face fierce resistance from congressional Democrats, immigrant rights groups and business leaders, as well as, some moderate Republicans in states with large immigrant populations. Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the CATO Institute, wrote in a blog that the bill “would do nothing to boost skilled immigration and it will only increase the proportion of employment-based green cards by cutting other green cards. Saying otherwise is grossly deceptive marketing.”

The impact to H-1b visas of “Buy American Hire American”

The USCIS is hosting a public feedback call today to explore how the President’s Executive Order of “Buy American Hire American” will impact the adjudication of visas without the enactment of new legislation. (there is something inherently un-American about that preceding statement but, alas, it is our current reality) Registration is free. We will be providing a summary after.

The Future? of the EB-5 Program

Numerous EB-5 legislation has been introduced with the intention of curbing some of the EB-5 program’s issues and problems. S.1501, the American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2015, introduced by Sen. Grassley and Sen. Leahy, included a laundry list of EB-5 “integrity” measures. Sen. Charles Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have proposed legislation to eliminate the EB-5 program.

In order to attempt to under the EB-5 landscape as it stands in the current political climate, we must understand the players:
Stephen Miller, Senior Advisor to the President for Policy, is a Former Senator Jeff Sessions alum who is well known for his opposition to legal immigration.

Gene Hamilton, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for Policy and Senior Counselor, is also a Sessions alum.

Lee Francis Cissna, nominee for Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), most recently assisted Sen. Grassley to write the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015, a bill that would have dramatically enlarged the enforcement authority of the U.S. Department of Labor and restricted H-1B and L-1 visa requirements and benefits as well as S.1501.

Kathy Nueble Kovarik, Chief of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy, is also a Grassley alum.

Julie Kirchner is the USCIS Ombudsman. Ms. Kirchner served as Executive Director of FAIR, an organization actively opposed to the EB-5 program.

The USCIS Ombudsman is responsible for assisting “individuals and employers in resolving problems with” USCIS and due to limits recently placed by way of EB-5 protocols, is the only way for EB-5 stakeholders to escalate issues for EB-5 cases.
Ms. Kirchner, in her Ombudsman’s 2017 Report to Congress, acknowledged that lack of anti-fraud and national security protections, and failure to agree on a permanent or multi-year reauthorization of the Regional Center program, have resulted in adverse consequences. In addition, legislative efforts have stalled over the methodology for determining TEAs, the two-tiered investment framework and effective dates for new provisions. We are also seeing increased USCIS adjudications times and longer waits for Chinese nationals due to visa backlogs.

Most recently, on November 30, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the expansion of the USCIS Policy Manual which introduced a new section, Volume 6: Part G, Investors. Part G consolidates and replaces policy guidance found in the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) Chapters 22.4, Employment Creation Entrepreneur Cases, and 25.2, Entrepreneurs (Form I-829), as well as related AFM appendices and policy memoranda.

While comprehensive guidance is good, the new section of the USCIS Policy Manual is often unclear; provides little in the way of examples and definitions; ignores common and acceptable practices, definitions, and methodologies; and misstates or misinterprets the regulations.

Some of chapters with problems of note for the direct investor include the following:

Chapter 2.A.5 – Targeted Employment Area
• Confirms that a TEA will cease to qualify as a TEA over time if unemployment decreases or population increases. This text is problematic because of the uncertainty it introduces into the planning of EB-5 projects as the USCIS will continue to evaluate and re-evaluate TEA designation.
• Does not mention current USCIS practice granting state TEA designations a validity period of 12 months.
• Not clear as to when an area must qualify as a TEA.
Chapter 2.D.3 – Full-Time Positions for Qualifying Employees
• Refers to the job creation requirement to be “full-time and permanent” when both the INA and the CFR refer to the term “full-time.”
Chapter 4.C – Form I-526/Material Change
• Provides that a “change is material if the changed circumstances would have a natural tendency to influence or are predictably capable of affecting the decision” without providing examples to clarify what would be considered a “material change.”
Chapter 5.C – Removal of Conditions/Material Change/At Risk
• Misstates the plain language of the regulation by requiring evidence that the “at risk investment was sustained throughout the period of the petitioner’s conditional permanent residence in the United States.” The regulations only require investment be sustained “over the two years of conditional residence.”
• Excludes language confirming that an investor maintains his or her conditional permanent residence status even after the denial of the I-829 until a final administrative appeal is complete.

It is unknown if Ms. Kirchner and Mr. Cissna will be able to together resolve the issues and problem plaguing the EB-5 program. For the time being, we must utilize any and all means available to seek results for worthy cases. We should and must continue to submit well-document cases, participate in stakeholder meetings, advocate strenuously, and litigate if appropriate.

Should you have any questions about the future of the EB-5 program, please contact your HLG attorney.

Immigration Reform ? Possible in 2017 ?

It is being widely reported that the Trump Administration may be interested in trying to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) this year. Several of President Trump’s key advisers are unabashedly anti legal immigration but, to get CIR passed, it is likely that the legislation will need to contain some positive improvements in the legal immigration programs in order to get the needed votes to succeed. As legislation moves forward, we will keep you updated.

H-1b Reform What’s next ? Anything ?

As the H-1b industry has absorbed the impact of the Executive Orders issued over the past month, questions arise as to what is next ? As most experts agree, EO’s have limited impact on the H-1b outside of a chilling effect on employers and workers alike, and though this should not be diminished as insignificant, big changes that may last for decades can only come through legislative change. A nice summary of where we stand at present and what might be coming was published in Computerworld last week. Check it out here.