USCIS policy impacts and updates on planned office closures as well as new visa travel restrictions

Published on: Apr 28, 2019, Last Edited: Apr 28, 2019 | Tags: USA Visa Updates, USA Visa Restrictions, USA Immigration

Trump administration plans to close international immigration offices

USCIS has outlined projected target dates for the closure of all its international offices. Last month, USCIS Director Francis Cissna messaged all USCIS employees to say that plans were being drawn up for the duties of the international offices to be transferred to the State Department, with the aim of freeing up funds to clear the growing backlog of applications. 

The international offices currently deal with family visa application, international adoptions, citizenship applications and citizenship petitions for members of the military stationed abroad, as well as assisting with fraud investigations and processing of asylum claims.

Jessica Collins, a USCIS spokesperson, stated that the agency is coordinating with State and Homeland Security to avoid any interruptions to the service. The closures are planned to commence by the end of June 2019, starting with Ciudad Juárez in Mexico and Manila in the Philippines. Monterrey in Mexico and Seoul in Korea will close in September and the rest of the international offices will close by March 2020.

Ex-USCIS chief counsel Ur Jaddou says these closures are disturbing. He points to the closure of international offices as decreasing the options for US citizens trying to use the legal immigration system to be reunited with their family members. Further, the earliest closures are planned to be in Mexico, and he feels that this will weaken the country’s strong ties with the United States, a move he sees as badly timed and counterproductive.

International USCIS employees will be offered new positions in the United States when their offices close. USCIS claims that international closures will save millions of dollars every year and that these savings will help to clear backlogs in the US.

President Trump’s Buy American and Hire American Executive Order: USCIS marks the second anniversary of rules protecting US workers

In the two years since President Donald Trump signed the Buy American and Hire American executive order in April 2017, USCIS, together with the Department of Homeland Security, has strictly enforced immigration policy and advanced rules and policies aimed at protecting the economic interests of US workers and preventing fraud in employment-based visa programmes. Some of the key policy changes made include:

  • Fees paid by certain H1-B applicants are now being used to fund the training of US workers
  • The burden of proof for immigration benefit requests now lies with the petitioner
  • Changes to the H1-B cap selection now favour applicants who have achieved a Masters or higher degree at a US educational institution.
  • USCIS now collaborates with the Department of Justice in order to better detect cases of fraud
  • Tip lines for reporting H1-B and H2-B fraud have been created
  • The H-1B Employer Data Hub has been created to provide the public with transparency regarding employers petitioning for H1-B workers

Asylum seekers from Africa could be hit hard by planned travel curbs

The Trump administration is considering new travel restrictions on countries with high overstay numbers of visitors on B1 and B2 business and tourist visas. Washington is likely to warn countries with the highest rates of nationals overstaying rather than those with the highest numbers overall; this will affect countries such as Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Liberia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and Sudan. However, the only African nation in the top 10 countries for the overall number of overstays is Nigeria.

By far the highest number of overstays from both Visa Waiver Program and non-VWP countries are by visitors from Canada. Under the visa waiver program, visitors from certain countries are permitted to visit the United States for a period of up to 90 days without a visa.

Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, the UK, Nigeria, France, India and China all have greater total numbers overstaying than the 17 countries with the highest overstay rates taken together. 

Lawyers from the New York-based African Services Committee suspect that this policy proposal has been formulated using rates rather than total numbers in order to promote the ideology that immigrants are mostly poor and black. It is feared that should the proposed changes come into effect, the new restrictions would further target individuals seeking legal asylum. 

Immigrant visa denials for reasons of public charge are also on the increase. Taken in conjunction with cuts to family-based immigration and the elimination of the diversity-based visa lottery, black immigrant communities in the United States are experiencing a growing uncertainty under the present uncompromising rules. 

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