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Washington, D.C. Immigration Law Blog

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H-1B visa reform could impact American companies

Many Maryland residents are aware that immigration reform was part of Donald Trump's platform. One way to achieve his goals may be to reform the H-1B visas, which some claim are harmful to American workers. The visa allows American employers to hire skilled workers such as scientists or engineers for a short period of time. There are 85,000 such visas available per year, and those granted one are allowed into the country on a non-immigrant basis.

Critics of the H-1B visa say that the system has been abused and is now a method of replacing American workers with less expensive foreign labor. A statement from a member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform claims that lobbying efforts have led to relaxed visa standards that hurt American workers. It further claims that American workers are forced to train their replacements before they are eventually let go.

Military service and naturalization

Maryland military service members who are not U.S. citizens may have paths to becoming naturalized. There are thousands of people who are immigrants who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, and the Department of Defense is working together with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service to help make certain that those who serve are provided with information about immigration services.

The USCIS has partnered with the Department of Defense in order to help military service members understand how they might become naturalized U.S. citizens. It trains military lawyers about immigration laws. It also conducts sessions at which it answers soldiers' questions about the naturalization process for military members.

For-profit prison facilities to be used for detainees

Some Maryland residents may have heard that the federal government announced a plan earlier in 2016 to end the use of for-profit prisons for federal inmates who had been convicted of crimes. However, while the Justice Department will no longer be using those facilities, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to use them to house people who have entered the country without permission. One of the first prisons that detainees will be sent to is in New Mexico, and it has a history of suspicious deaths and providing substandard medical care. The ICE is also looking at facilities in other states owned by the same company.

Immigration advocates have expressed concern about the plan. Overall, privately-owned prisons had a higher rate of assaults and other problems.

Where migrants come from

According to data from the Homeland Security Department, a growing number of people who attempt to come into the United States were from countries much farther away than expected. Maryland residents may be interested to know the country of origin of many who are coming here illegally.

From October 2015 to August 2016, more than 8,000 people from China, Romania, Nepal, India and Bangladesh were arrested. This figure indicates the growing trend of individuals who are choosing to take a winding route across the seas to travel northward through South America in order to enter the United States through Mexico.

Fees for performing artists' visas to rise

Maryland companies that work with performing artists from other countries may be interested to learn that the cost of visa applications for those artists is set to rise in December 2016. The amount will go up to $460 from $325 per person. This represents a 42 percent increase and applies to DJs as well as musicians and other artists. Some people argue that in an already complex system, this will create an additional burden on artists.

According to one person who works in the industry, the increase in fees could create a burden for some lesser-known artists and emerging talent. Furthermore, performing artists already struggle with visa laws. According to him, the process is unpredictable and subject to delays. This results in some events being canceled or postponed at the last minute. The artists may have already paid for plane tickets and other expenses. Clubs where the artists are set to perform lose money as well.

USCIS sets date to raise filing fees

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced Dec. 23, 2016 as the effective date for a hike in filing fees. The fee increase will impact some Maryland residents and companies when they file forms for certain visas. Nearly all of the funding for USCIS comes from benefit request fees paid by petitioners and applicants. The greatest scheduled increases will apply to foreign investors immigrating to the U.S. and U.S. employers bringing in foreign employees who have college educations.

More specifically, the largest increase applies to the filing fee for Form I-526, a required part of the EB-5 visa process. Form I-526 filing fees are scheduled to increase from $1,500 to $3,675. The EB-5 visa program makes green cards available to foreign residents based on significant business investment and U.S. job creation.

Most asylum seekers crossing border have valid cases

When many Maryland residents think about illegal immigration, they picture Mexican nationals crossing the border and looking for work after evading immigration authorities. In reality, that kind of illegal immigration doesn't take place as often as it used to. Today, most of the undocumented immigrants that cross the border are families from Central America that are seeking asylum.

Asylum seekers who enter the U.S. don't try to sneak around Border Patrol stations. In fact, most asylum seekers turn themselves in to Border Patrol and ask for their asylum cases to be heard as soon as they arrive in the U.S. Immigration authorities have a legal obligation to protect migrants with asylum claims from deportation until a decision has been made in each individual case.

Managing the process for workplace immigration

No matter what happens with immigration practices and strategies following the general election in November 2016, Maryland employers will still be required to use Form I-9 to verify the identity and authorization of an immigrant employee to work in the United States. This is a requirement for all workers despite their citizenship, immigration status or national origin.

The first step employers should take is to avoid pre-screening tactics before an employee accepts an offer for work. It is unlawful to use E-Verify, Form I-9 or the Social Security Number Verification Service to determine if an immigrant is authorized for employment. An employer should only complete Form I-9 after the individual receives and accepts an employment offer. Additionally, companies should never assume that immigrants are unauthorized based on a non-confirmation.

Extension approved on EB-5 visa program

When foreign investors back businesses in Maryland and other states, there could be an interest in spending time in the U.S. to oversee operations or manage other details. The EB-5 program allows those who invest substantially to obtain green cards to facilitate that need. In the past, the minimum investment in a venture that would produce jobs in the U.S. was $500,000. The program was slated to expire at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, but a bill was passed to continue the program through December.

Reports indicate that the minimum amount invested by foreign entrepreneurs has not chanced since the early 1990s. Some expect a new bill to provide for a substantial increase. For those investing in areas that suffer from high unemployment rates, the minimum amount would be increased from the current $500,000 to $800,000. The required investment would be raised from $1 million to $1.2 million in areas with lower unemployment rates. There are concerns because participation in the program has dropped in recent years. The lack of certainty related to the possible program changes is believed to be contributing to a decline in applications in recent years.

Undocumented immigrants are mainly long-term residents

Many of the undocumented immigrants living in Maryland entered the United States more than 10 years ago. After the Great Recession began in 2008, fewer people entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. As a result, the population of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is now made up of mostly long-term residents.

Information about the undocumented immigrant population in the U.S. was gathered by the Census Bureau and analyzed by Pew Research Center in a report that found that the undocumented immigrant population grew for two decades before peaking at 12.2 million in 2007. In 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. dropped, and the population has stabilized at approximately 11.1 million for six years straight.

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