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Washington, D.C. Immigration Law Blog

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What to do if immigration officers take someone into custody

People in Maryland whose loved ones are facing deportation may want to contact the applicable foreign consulate. Immigration arrests are on the rise under the Trump administration, and foreign nationals have a right to contact their consulate for assistance. The consulate may be able to refer themto attorneys.

Acting quickly may be important because a person could be deported without due process. One man in California was taken into custody and deported in a matter of hours. Quick action may also prevent a situation in which loved ones waive their rights.

Visa applicants to face social media background checks

Maryland residents will likely know that immigration has been a hot-button topic. President Trump's controversial travel ban has been struck down by federal courts and may ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court, but other efforts designed to tighten border security have been implemented. Trump has called for more thorough background checks on individuals seeking entry into the United States, and the Office of Management and Budget announced on May 23 that visa applicants will now be expected to provide embassy and consular staff with far more information.

The revised visa application asks for social media account information for the last five years and 15 years of biographical data. Government sources claim that the changes are required to protect national security and will only be applied to individuals selected for more rigorous screening. Civil rights advocacy groups and several academics have raised strong objections to the revisions, and they point out that the visa application process is already extremely strict.

Extreme vetting questionnaire approved

President Trump has approved as part of his extreme vetting program involving prospective immigrants a questionnaire that asks for biographical information going back 15 years. Those looking to immigrate to Maryland or elsewhere in the United States will also have to provide social media information for the last five years. Specifically, applicants will need to document any travel that they have done in the last 15 years and disclose how it was paid for.

They will also need to disclose the names and dates of birth for siblings and any children that applicants may have. The names and dates of birth of their spouses or domestic partners both past and present will need to be revealed. Furthermore, applicants will need to provide any passport numbers used, email addresses used or phone numbers used in the past. While the information provided on the DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants is disclosed voluntarily, it may play a role in determining whether a person is granted a visa.

Fewer citizens of travel ban countries visiting U.S.

Maryland residents will likely recall the furor that surrounded President Trump's January 2017 executive order that banned citizens from seven primarily Muslim countries from entering the U.S. A federal court judge soon lifted the travel ban, and the Supreme Court may ultimately settle legal arguments regarding the president's authority in this area. Data from the State Department indicates that the number of visitors from these countries has plummeted in recent months.

Trump had issued a directive requesting that the agency publish details concerning how many visas are issued each month, and the figures for April 2017 showed that travel to the U.S. was down by about 15 percent overall. However, the number of visas issued in most of the seven countries included in the travel ban were down by half when compared to an average month in 2016.

Options to change visa status

People from abroad who are visiting Maryland and decide that they want to further their education may be able to switch their visas from visitor to student status. However, it is important to know that foreign nationals are generally not allowed to attend school before this switch is made. There are two ways in which they may change their status.

First, they may file form I-539 with the USICS while they are in the United States. This process is not recommended because many applications are denied. If they decide to change their visa status too quickly, they may be suspected of fraud. The potentially better option is to leave the country after obtaining a Form I-20 within the past 30 days and use the DS-160 to apply for a change in status at a consulate in their home country.

USCIS receives 199,000 applications for 86,000 H-1B visas

The H-1B non-immigrant visa program allows employers in Maryland and around the country to hire highly-skilled foreign workers. The program aims to nurture innovation by ensuring that American companies are able to attract workers with credentials and experience in specialty occupations, but only 86,000 H-1B visas are awarded each year. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service began accepting applications for 2018 H-1B visas on April 3, and the agency announced on April 17 that 199,000 H-1B applications were submitted during the ensuing five-day filing period.

Foreign workers who have completed an advanced degree in the United States will be awarded the first 20,000 H-1B visas, and a lottery system will be used to award the remaining 65,000 to individuals who possess a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. Applications that are not selected for the lottery will be rejected and their application fees returned.

University creates visa workaround for entrepreneurs

When immigrants in Maryland want to apply for an H-1B visa, their employers may act as a sponsor. However, for those who are self-employed, there is no employer to play that role. This is why many foreign entrepreneurs who wish to stay in the United States are taking part in the Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program first offered by the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Those who participate in the program are technically employed by a participating college or university. They are generally asked to mentor students or perform other tasks on campus in exchange for the ability to run their companies in the United States. While businesses are limited in how many H-1B visas they can apply to at any time, colleges and universities face no such restriction. The program began in 2014 with two people enrolled, but since then, the program has expanded to include more than three dozen participants.

Supreme Court weighs in on Trump immigration policy

Maryland residents have no doubt heard that some aspects of President Donald Trump's immigration policies have been criticized by both the public and the courts. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts joined this chorus of discontent on April 26 when he took issue with the treatment of a woman of Serbian descent who was deported over untrue statements she made almost two decades ago.

The woman's U.S. citizenship was stripped when officials learned that she had lied about her husband's activities following the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Chief Justice Roberts accused the Justice Department lawyers involved of inviting prosecutorial abuse and said that allowing citizenship to be revoked over trivial lies told years earlier would set a worrying precedent. According to Roberts, the virtually unlimited power of the federal government makes the case particularly concerning.

Immigration advocates fear for the future of the H-4 EAD rule

Maryland residents may be aware that the H-1B non-immigrant visa program was put into place so that businesses in the United States are able to hire foreign workers when suitably qualified American candidates cannot be found. The qualifying spouses of these foreign workers are issued H-4 visas, and they were also granted the right to work legally in the United States when the Department of Homeland Security introduced the employment authorization document H-4 EAD in 2015.

A group of technology sector workers filed a lawsuit challenging the rule in 2016. The case was subsequently dismissed, but the group has since filed an appeal. The Department of Justice could have filed a brief supporting the rule, but the agency chose instead to announce a 60-day pause to allow the Trump administration to review the matter. That period has now ended, and the DOJ has asked for an additional six months to consider its options.

H-4 visa holders' spouses face legal employment challenges

Maryland immigrants who hope that their H-1B visas will make their spouses eligible to apply for work permits may have to wait to see if the government places obstacles in their way. In April 2017, the Department of Homeland Security asked for 180 days to continue its review of an Obama-era rule that let these spouses apply to work under certain circumstances. Although the original rule dates back to 2015, the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump hasn't determined whether it should remain in place.

News sources suggest that if the rule gets repealed, the changes could have a disproportionate impact on immigrant populations from South Asian countries. With most H-4 work permits going to these individuals, the transition might also affect those who have already applied for and received permission to hold jobs. Since 2012, when just over 80,000 permits were granted, successful visa applications have risen steadily, reaching some 131,051 H-4s issued in 2016.

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