UPDATE:  In a landmark decision on February 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted the Executive Order travel ban imposed on persons from predominantly-Muslim countries.  The Court upheld the temporary restraining order from Judge James Robart’s February 3, 2017, ruling in the lawsuit Washington v. Trump.  As a result, the travel ban is not in force. 

However, some heightened scrutiny still exists in the interest of security.  Persons with concerns about departing from or returning to the U.S. still may want to contact an immigration lawyer prior to travel.  However, citizens and nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, or with Muslim backgrounds, no longer should be subjected to unduly excessive questioning during visa processing or upon entry to the United States.   

Following is the history of the Executive Order and continuing implications. 

On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Orders barring admission into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries, suspending all refugee admissions, and barring entry by Syrian refugees. Though no countries are listed on the Order, the intent was the ban on entry into the U.S. by nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen by any persons “from” those countries with nonimmigrant or immigrant visas or status or as refugees.

Multiple lawsuits challenged the Order.  On January 28, 2017 federal courts in several districts issued stays limiting the Order, but the Department of Homeland Security through Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is not fully complying with the stays at all airports and ports of entry.

However, on January 29, 2017, Homeland Security issued a statement, indicating that allowing lawful permanent residents to return to the U.S. is in the national interest, so long as there is no serious derogatory information, as determined on a case-by-case basis.

Overall, CBP and visa officers applied an extremely heightened level of discretion for foreign citizens from Muslim countries (beyond the seven listed), but persons who are allowed to board flights by an large have been allowed to enter the U.S.

Here is a summary of the impact:

Impact on U.S. Citizens

  • The Order does not specifically apply to U.S. born citizens or naturalized US citizens.
  • However, dual U.S. citizens from the 7 countries reported that CBP notified them that their Global Entry trusted traveler authorization is being revoked.

Departing the United States

  • To minimize the impact of the Order, it is advisable to avoid unnecessary travel outside the United States.
  • On January 31, 2017, the Department of State began the provisionally revoking valid visas previously issued to any affected nationals from the 7 countries.  A provisional revocation of a visa does not require the person to depart the U.S., and anyone who receives notification should contact an immigration attorney to discuss implications.  UPDATE: The State Department has started to reinstate the revoked visas.

Returning to the U.S. by Air

  • For persons currently outside the U.S., anticipate enhanced questioning on return, related to activities inside and outside the U.S. and related to family and friends.
  • In some countries, airlines were asking travelers from the 7 countries to sign agreements that if Homeland Security refused to allow them to enter the U.S., the person would agree to pay the return airfare (under existing agreements, the airlines – not the U.S. government or individuals – are liable to cover the cost).

Returning to the U.S. at a Land Border Crossing

  • Entry at land border crossings almost involves more questioning than flying into the U.S. The reason is that some screening occurs through the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) before boarding a flight, but the traveler must wait for the immigration officer at the land border crossing to conduct the screening.

Canadians

  • National Security Advisor Flynn advised that dual nationals of Canada are not prohibited from entering the United States and usually should be allowed to enter.

Green card holders returning to the U.S.

  • Green card holders from countries other than the 7 listed report little difference in the admission process from before the Order.
  • Green card holders from the 7 countries who are dual citizens of other countries (such as Canada and the UK) may be subjected to minimal additional screening.
  • Green card holders from the 7 countries are being subjected to additional screening, which may involve a few additional questions by the immigration officer in primary inspection at the entry booth, or the person may be sent to secondary inspection for more extensive questioning ranging from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Some immigration officers and airline representatives have asked green card holders to sign a form (I-407) to abandon permanent resident status and be allowed to enter the U.S. as a visitor.  Permanent residents should not sign a form or relinquish the green card without speaking to a lawyer.
  • UPDATE:  Persons from the 7 countries generally no longer are singled out.

Temporary, nonimmigrant visa travelers

  • Temporary visas holders (such as with H-1B, O-1, L-1, F-1 students, business visitors, tourists, and Canadians and Mexicans with TN status) from the 7 countries may be subjected to enhanced primary or secondary screening.  UPDATE:  Persons from the 7 countries generally no longer are singled out.
  • Those returning to work generally have less questioning that those entering for the first time.

Visa processing overseas

  • Some U.S. embassies and consulates abroad had allowed returning visa applicants to forego an interview under visa interview-waiver programs, i.e., the drop-box for visa renewals. This option no longer exists. Now, all visa applicants must attend an interview.  UPDATE:  Drop-box visa processing has resumed.
  • Persons from other countries attending visa appointments may end up stuck outside the U.S. for some time and be unable to return while waiting for the visa stamp, though this now is less likely to occur.
  • All U.S. embassies and consular posts were instructed to immediately suspend the issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Visa interviews for affected individuals are being canceled. The Department of State issued an urgent notice to citizens these countries, “please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees at this time. If you already have an appointment scheduled, please do not attend. You will not be permitted entry to the Embassy/Consulate.”  UPDATE:  Visa processing has resumed.

Questions on entry

  • CBP immigration officers at the Ports of Entry may ask travelers to provide social media access, such as contact for Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, etc. Such requests should be declined, as the information is not required.
  • For some travelers, a delay will result from a request to Headquarters in Washington, DC, to clear the person.
  • The Order was not directed to nationals of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, & UAE, nor to nationals of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey or other Muslim-majority countries. But some citizens of those countries report being subjected to enhanced secondary screening.
  • The highest scrutiny is being applied to citizens of one of the 7 countries, using a passport issued by one of the 7 countries, and travelling to the U.S. from one of the 7 countries.

Impact on USCIS petition and application processing

  • USCIS reportedly has ceased processing of all immigration petitions and applications for beneficiaries of the 7 countries, for forms that begin with an “I,” (I-130, I-765, etc.), but are processing forms that begin with “N” (such as N-400 naturalization applications).  UPDATE:  Processing has resumed.

Removal or questioning of persons in the U.S.

  • Persons with valid status in the United States are not subject to removal under the Executive Order.
  • Immigration officers who ask to enter the workplace or a home to ask for information about immigration in most cases may be refused if they lack a warrant.

Access to Counsel

  • A person who would like legal representation should ask for a “G-28” while in secondary at a Port of Entry, and even without a G-28, should state that they would like legal representation and to be able to speak to a lawyer and should not be dissuaded by an immigration officer saying the person is not entitled to counsel.

With no advance warning, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised more than 40 forms on the Friday of the 2016 December long holiday weekend. The forms all have an effective date the same day the notice was posted on its website, December 23, 2016. For most of the forms, no previous editions are acceptable, except for the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker.  However, USCIS has indicated that it may apply discretion when receipting forms sent around that date, rather than rejecting them outright. Affected forms include the following:

I-90, I-102, I-129, I-129CW, I-129F, I-130, I-131, I-131A, I-140, I-191, I-192, I-212, I-290B, I-360, I-485, I-485 Supplement A, I-525, I-539, I-600, I-600A, I-601, I-601A, I-612, I-690, I-694, I-698, I-751, I-765, I-800, I-800A, I-817, I-824, I-910, I-924, I-924A, I-929, I-942, I-942P, N-300, N-336, N-400, N-470, N-600, and N-600K.

This change will affect green card renewals, business immigration cases, family immigration cases, work authorization applications, citizenship applications, and other types of cases. USCIS did not disclose the reason for the unanticipated change. Persons with concerns about impact on immigration status should contact an immigration attorney.

Filing fee increases for a number of the forms became effective December 23, 2016, as well, but USCIS had given prior notice of the fee increase.

UPDATE:  On December 29, 2016, USCIS announced a grace period for accepting older versions of the forms until Tuesday, February 21, 2017.  However, Monday, February 20, 2017, the day before the new forms are required, is a federal holiday – President’s Day. We recommend treating Thursday, February 16, 2017, as the last effective day for the grace period.  Older versions of the forms sent February 17 or thereafter without the date 12/23/16 at the bottom likely will be rejected (the exception is the Form I-129).

In a bold move, on November 20, 2014, President Obama announced his Immigration Accountability Executive Actions to address flaws in the current immigration system.  The plan contains three parts:

  1. Enhanced border enforcement and employer crackdowns for ongoing immigration violations;
  2. Administrative relief from deportation to allow certain undocumented immigrants to apply to remain in the United States; and
  3. Business-friendly policies to enhance U.S. competitiveness and attract foreign investment and talent.

While the focus has been on the administrative relief, the rest of the plan offers potential improvements for some employment-focused immigration categories:

  •  L-1B specialized knowledge workers:
    • Clarifying the rules to bring greater coherence and integrity, to “enhance companies’ confidence in the program”
  • H-4 spouses of H-1B workers:
    • Providing work authorization to spouses once the H-1B worker’s green card process is well underway
  • Foreign nationals caught in a backlog while seeking permanent resident status:
    • For foreign workers in line for a green card, removing unnecessary restrictions on natural career progression without being tied to one job
    • For their spouse and children, providing work authorization at an earlier stage through a registration process
    • Allowing spouses and children of lawful permanent residents to apply for waivers of unlawful presence without leaving the U.S.
  • For F-1 foreign students eligible to work after graduation from a U.S. college or university:
    • Expanding the degree programs eligible for extended periods of work beyond 12 months
  • For foreign inventors, researchers, and founders of start-up enterprises:
    • Making the “national interest waiver” category available for permanent resident status
    • Offering temporary parole in the U.S. under the “significant public benefit” standard
  • Employers using the PERM process prior to sponsoring foreign workers for green cards:
    • Modernizing the process, including the possibility of expedited, premium processing
    • Identifying demonstrated shortages and surplusages

Building on the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, through which young adults brought to the U.S. as children and lack status, the administrative relief plan has the following provisions.

  • Deferred Action for Parents (DAP).
    • Requirements for the parent
      • Have a U.S. citizen child (of any age); or
      • Have a lawful permanent resident child (of any age);
      • Arrived in the U.S. by January 1, 2010;
      • Have been continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2010;
      • Pass background checks;
      • Pay taxes (though evidence of payment of back taxes is not required).
    • Relief
      • Eligible to apply for deferred action, which will be granted for a 3-year period and can be extended.
      • Work authorization comes with the DAP approval.
    • Timing
      • The process should be available by Spring 2015.

 

  • Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
    • Requirements for the applicant
      • Arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old;
      • Arrived in the U.S. by January 1, 2010;
      • Have been continuously present in the U.S. since January 1, 2010;
      • Pass background checks.
    • Relief
      • Eligible to apply for deferred action, which will be granted for a 3-year period, and can be extended.
      • Work authorization comes with the DAP approval.
    • Timing
      • The plan is to have applications available by January 2015.

The administrative relief plan, a step in the right direction toward fixing our country’s broken immigration system, has the following limitations:

  • Neither DACA or DAP gives any immigration status.
  • Only temporary reprieve from deportation is available.
  • The programs do not grant green cards or citizenship.
  • They do not provide for any path to green cards or citizenship.
  • They are not available immediately.
  • Many undocumented persons will not be eligible.
  • The plan relies on the President’s prosecutorial discretion authority, recognizing that immigration enforcement is necessarily selective and that Congress funds capacity for about 400,000 deportations each year.

Nevertheless, the plan could expand the legal workforce by about four million.

Employers and businesses should be alert for opportunities to take advantage of the components of the plan.

Chinese citizens who would like to travel to the United States now can have a visa valid for up to 10 years.  Previously, the limit was one year.  During President Obama’s November 2014 visit to China, the two countries agreed to reciprocal expansion of the timeframe.

This does not mean a Chinese citizen can remain in the United States for 10 years.  A visa allows a person who comes to a U.S. port of entry at an airport or border crossing to “knock on the door.”  Immigration officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the Department of Homeland Security determine the length of stay for each visit.  Immigration regulations allow for business visitors with B-1 visas and tourists with B-2 visas to remain for up to one year, but the more typical period of stay allowed is 90 days or six months, or a period needed to accomplish the purpose of the visit.  However, a 10-year visa eliminates the need for annual visits to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for visa renewals for subsequent travel to the United States.

Student F-1 visa and exchange visitor J-1 visa validity is increased from one to five years.  Even with a five-year visa, an exchange visitor generally only can remain up to 18 months, plus a grace period of 30 days after the status ends.  Students may remain in the U.S. for the period of time needed to complete the study, plus one year optional practical training after completing a degree, plus a 60-day grace period.

Visitors with B-1 or B-2 status are not permitted to work for a U.S. employer.  Students and exchange visitors have work options that must be closely tied to the study or exchange purpose of the visa.

Effective October 1, 2013, U.S. federal government operations are experiencing a lapse in appropriations due to the inability of Congress to pass a funding bill.  The shutdown is preventing employers from filing H-1B petitions for new employees, as well as from seeking extensions for existing H-1B workers.  Other immigration categories are affected, as well.  As a consequence, some foreign workers will be forced into a lapse of status that could impact not only current status, but also future efforts to obtain a green card. 

Shutdown Implications on H-1B Status

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security is the agency that adjudicates H-1B petitions.  Because it is funded by fees, USCIS is not shutdown and could process H-1B cases. 

However, the Department of Labor (DOL) is shutdown, with employees furloughed and operations suspended.  The DOL is the agency that determines prevailing wages for H-1B cases.  Before filing an H-1B case, employers submit a prevailing wage request to the DOL online with a Labor Condition Application (LCA).  The DOL has ceased accepting LCAs as of October 1, and also ceased processing LCAs pending as of that date.  Without an LCA certified by the DOL, USCIS cannot process an H-1B. 

Though it is open, USCIS is refusing to accept any H-1Bs, returning entire packages with a notice directing to “resubmit your petition with a properly signed Labor Condition Application,” because the “form you submitted is missing the Department of Labor official’s signature.” 

The DOL takes seven days to process LCAs.  To have avoided stalled H-1B petitions, an employer must have submitted an LCA to the DOL online by September 24, so that the LCA could have been certified and contain the requisite “Department of Labor official’s signature” by September 30, while the DOL still was functioning. 

As an alternative to the online LCA processing, the DOL could accept paper-filed LCAs.  However, mail and courier packages sent to the DOL after October 1 have been undelivered because all the workers are furloughed, and there is no one to receive any deliveries.  FedEx notices for attempted delivery say “Business closed.”

This aspect of the shutdown will prevent employers from hiring H-1B workers who otherwise would be able to transfer from existing employers.  It also will force current employees with valid status to appear to fall out of status if their H-1B expires after October 1 and an extension is not currently pending with USCIS.

USCIS could agree to accept H-1B petitions without signed LCAs, as it has done in the past, and also could accept pro forma, unfiled LCAs.  By simply accepting the petition and issuing a receipt notice, USCIS would give sufficient evidence that the H-1B worker could lawfully remain in the U.S. and continue working pending LCA certification and pending final H-1B adjudication.  Without such discretion, USCIS will force a worker to lose status and ultimately will make more work for itself when adjudicating subsequent petitions.  

Shutdown Implications on E-3 Status

E-3 status is similar to H-1B status, but is based on a treaty between the U.S. and Australia and only is available to Australian citizens.  E-3 status also requires an LCA.  As with H-1Bs, USCIS will not accept E-3 petitions with LCAs the DOL did not certify before the shutdown. 

E-3 visas alternatively may be processed through the Department of State at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. However, they, too, insist on a certified LCA for E-3s.  In general, the State Department is open for visa processing.  It is possible to make an E-3 visa appointment at an embassy or consulate, but the E-3 will not be processed until the shutdown has lifted and the visa applicant presents an LCA certified with the “Department of Labor official’s signature.”

Options for Alleviating Implications on Temporary Workers

USCIS regulations provide for excusing a status lapse that occurred through no fault of the foreign worker. USCIS tends to insist on evidence of what caused the status lapse as well as efforts to avoid it.  Employers with workers facing H-1B or E-3 expiration must do the following:

  • File the extension application, even though it is certain the petition will be rejected;
  • Keep the evidence of rejection to submit when refiling after the government shutdown ends; and
  • When a petition is filed for the worker who fell out of status, request that USCIS exercise its discretion to forgive the lapse.

One other option for H-1Bs is that is the worker can request an additional 10 days added to the expiration date before status expires.  The request is made to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), another agency under the Department of Homeland Security.  CBP is located at land border crossings and international airports, and has inland “Deferred Action” sites what may provide evidence of the 10-day period.  CBP typically gives the additional 10-day period on request at entry to the U.S., for an H-1B worker who anticipates needing the time period to wrap up matters after the H-1B job ends, prior to returning home.  Under these circumstances, ten days could be enough time for the government to re-open, an LCA to be submitted and certified, and for USCIS to accept the H-1B petition.  Having the additional 10-day authorization could alleviate complications for some. 

Shutdown Implications on Future Green Card

The green card process can last for years, depending on backlogs and other factors.  Those affected by the shutdown could feel the impact on future applications for permanent residence.  

A general condition of seeking to adjust from a temporary status, such as H-1B or E-3 status, to permanent resident status with a green card, is that the person must have maintained status throughout the duration of stay in the United States.  There are some exceptions.  For most employment-based green card cases, under Section 245(k) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, certain types of status violation that lasted for under 180 days, including work without evidence of authorization, could be excused, enabling the person to become a permanent resident despite the lapse.  Again, excusing the status violation is up to the discretion of USCIS, but the circumstances of U.S. government intransigence merit the exercise of discretion.

Employers should note, however, that Section 245(k) does not excuse compliance with rules requiring employment verification.

USCIS could lighten the burden of the government shutdown on employers and their foreign workers.  Even if it does not, some exceptions and work-arounds exist.  But the unintended consequences of this October 2013 shutdown could haunt foreign workers for years into the future.

Effective October 1, 2013, U.S. federal government operations are experiencing a lapse in appropriations due to the inability of Congress to pass a funding bill.  Following are implications on immigration-related government services that may impact employers:

Department of State:  Visa processing.  As of October 1, 2013, visa issuance and full operations are to continue as usual.  However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, that facility may become unsupported. 

Department of Labor:  Employees furloughed; operations suspended.

No processing of Labor Condition Applications (LCA) for H-1B or other cases, prevailing wage requests of PERM applications. 

If a PERM application is ready to be filed, has a deadline, and cannot be efiled, mailing the application may be an option, but at the risk of potential processing delays. 

Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS):  As of October 1, 2013, USCIS reports that “all offices are open worldwide,” including the following:

  • Regional Service Centers and processing centers for applications and petitions
  • Local USCIS offices

USCIS has not reported whether it will accept cases for processing, in particular, H-1B petitions with an LCA not yet certified by the DOL.

Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS) Ombudsman office:  Employees furloughed; operations suspended. 

Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Port of Entry Operations, including CBP Cargo Security and Revenue Collections, as well as Border Security programs, including Border Patrol and CBP Air and Marine Operations:  Continued operations, because they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property.

E-Verify:  Unavailable; operations suspended.  E-Verify, the free, internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States, will be inaccessible during the shutdown. 

Employers must continue to complete I-9 forms in compliance with the law and when E-Verify becomes available, create cases in the E-Verify system.

While E-Verify is unavailable, according to the E-Verify website, employers will not be able to access the E-Verify account, and as a result, will be unable to do the following:

  • Enroll any company in E-Verify
  • Verify employment eligibility
  • View or take action on any case
  • Add, delete or edit any User ID
  • Reset passwords
  • Edit your company information
  • Terminate an account
  • Run reports
  • View ‘Essential Resources.’ Please note that all essential resources may be found by visiting www.dhs.gov/e-verify.

In addition, E-Verify Customer Support and related services are closed.  As a result: 

  • Employees will be unable to resolve Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs).
  • Telephone and e-mail support will be unavailable.  E-Verify will respond to e-mails sent, when the suspension is lifted.
  • E-Verify webinars and training sessions are cancelled
  • E-Verify Self Check will not be available

The following temporary policies have been implemented:

  • The ‘three-day rule’ for E-Verify cases is suspended for cases affected by the shutdown. This does NOT affect the Form I-9 requirement—employers still must complete the Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee starts work for pay.
  • The time period during which employees may resolve TNCs will be extended.  Days the federal government is closed will not count towards the eight federal government workdays the employee has to go to SSA or contact Homeland Security.
  • For federal contractors complying with the federal contractor rule, please contact your contracting officer to inquire about extending deadlines.
  • Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because of an E-Verify interim case status, including while the employee’s case is in an extended interim case status due to a federal government shutdown (consult the E-Verify User Manual for more information on interim case statuses).

Department of Justice (DOJ)

The DOJ has indicated that its trial attorneys and immigration judges will conduct removal (deportation proceedings) only for individuals in federal custody. All other cases are suspended during the shutdown.

Following are some highlights for the comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate on April 17, 2013.

H-1B Cap Raised, but New Restrictions on Temporary H-1B Workers.  In an effort promote market-based limits, the annual H-1B cap would be raised from 65,000 to 110,000, and would be adjustable upwards to as high as 180,000 per year if employer requests for H-1B workers rises.  The 20,000 additional H-1B slots currently available for U.S. Master’s degree graduates would be increased to 25,000, but would be limited to U.S. Master’s graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields only. 

However, the bill would also impose onerous new obligations and restrictions on U.S. employers hiring H-1B workers, reportedly including the following:

  • Higher wage obligations
  • Mandatory recruitment of U.S. workers and online posting for H-1B positions
  • Increased filing fees and limits on H-1B hiring for “ H-1B dependent employers” (more than 30 % of a company’s workforce are H-1B or L-1 employees)

Entrepreneur Start-up Visa.  The proposal offers up to 10,000 new temporary visas to entrepreneurs who create at least three jobs, raise at least $100,000 from angel investors, venture capitalists or other investment groups, and generate at least $200,000 in revenue.

Retirees and Snowbirds.  There is a “retiree visa” for purchasers for residences with $500,000 cash or more and also a provision for Canadian snowbird homeowners and renters. 

New Employment Eligibility Verification Obligations for U.S. Employers.  Within five years after the bill’s passage, all U.S. employers would be required to enroll in the E-Verify system.  Large employers would be required to enroll sooner, and mandatory enrollment would be phased in later for small businesses and certain industries (e.g. agriculture).  The bill would also incorporate “photo matching” into E-Verify screening for new hires, requiring employers to certify that the photograph on the identity document presented by the new hire exactly matches an identical photograph in the E-Verify system.

Merit-Based Point System.  A new merit-based option would make green cards available based on education, employment, length of residence, and other considerations.

Re-Allocation of Immigrant Visa Quotas to Clear Backlog.  The bill proposes various reforms to the current employment- and family-based immigrant visa quota system designed to reduce and eliminate visa processing backlogs.  Significant changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Derivative spouses and children of principal immigrants in both employment- and family-based categories would be classified as “immediate relatives,” and no longer be counted toward numerical limits.
  • Many employment-based immigrants would no longer be counted toward annual numerical limits, including all EB-1 categories (extraordinary ability, outstanding professors/researchers, and multinational executives/managers), doctoral degree holders in any field, and some physicians.
  • EB-2 classification would be expanded to include a new sub-category for foreign nationals who earned U.S. Master’s or higher degrees in STEM fields during the past five years, and have an offer of employment in a STEM field.
  • Per-year numerical limits on EB-2 and EB-3 visas would be increased.

W Visa for Lower-Skilled Workers.  The bill proposes a new nonimmigrant, temporary worker category, a W visa for workers to perform services or labor.  It will require registration and certification:

  • The employer must register.
  • The position must be registered.
  • The worker must request and receive certification for W status. 

Employers will need to recruit for U.S. workers for 30 days.  20,000 W visas would be available starting in 2015, with the number increasing to 75,000 in 2019.

 “Blue Card” for Agricultural Workers.  Agricultural workers would be eligible for a new type of legal status work authorization card: a blue card.  Ag workers would not be tied to a single employer.  Wages would be set by the Department of Agriculture, instead of the Department of Labor.  The ag workers must have done the following:

  • Worked in the U.S. ag industry for at least 100 days in the two years prior to December 31, 2012
  • Pay a $400 fee
  • Paid their taxes
  • Have no criminal record

The bill caps the blue cards at about 112,000 for the first five years.  Blue card holders could be eligible for permanent legal residency in five years.

Registered Prospective Immigrant (RPI).  Current undocumented noncitizens could apply for “registered prospective immigrant” (RPI) status with valid work authorization under the following circumstances:

  • Presence in the U.S. since December 31, 2011
  • Passing a background check
  • Paying a $500 penalty fee
  • Paying taxes

RPI status would be available for six years and could be renewed for another $500.  Permanent resident status would be available after payment of an additional $1,000 fee and the following:

  • The border is sufficiently secure.
  • All individuals who are waiting for green cards when the bill is enacted have been processed, that is, those in the country without authorization to the “back of the line.”
  • The RPI possessed the status for 10 years.
  • Tax payments are up-to-date.
  • The RPI demonstrates knowledge of US civics and English.

Path to Residency or Citizenship

The bill does not provide a direct route to U.S. citizenship for those adjusting from unlawful status, but it does not prohibit applying for citizenship.

This week, both President Obama and the Senate announced frameworks for comprehensive immigration reform.  The following is a comparison of key elements in each of the plans.

Path to Citizenship

Similarities:  Neither plan permits a direct route to citizenship.  A foreign national must first become a permanent resident with a “green card,” and then wait, usually for three to five years more, before being eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. 

Differences:  The Senate would create a commission of lawmakers and border-state leaders to assess when border-security measures have become effective.  Until then, the path would be closed.  However, before then, undocumented immigrants could remain in the United States lawfully by registering, passing background checks, being able to speak English, and paying back taxes and fines for their probationary legal status.

The Obama plan does not establish any border-assessment commission.  It offers provisional legal status and a green card under similar terms as the Senate:  registration, background checks, speaking English, and payment of fees and penalties.  Immigrants on provisional legal status would not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits.  They would need to get in line for permanent residency and earned citizenship behind others already in the system.

Investors and Highly Skilled Immigrants

Similarities:  Both plans would award green cards to immigrants who obtain advance degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) from U.S. universities.

Differences:  The Obama plan would create a new category for highly skilled foreign workers in federal science and technology labs.  The Obama plan would create a start-up visa category for job-creating entrepreneurs, and it would expand visa opportunities for those who invest in the United States.

Agricultural Workers

Similarities:  Both plans would permit farm workers in the country without proper documentation to have a path to citizenship. 

Differences:  The Senate plan also would create an agricultural worker program and allow employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate that American workers aren’t available.

Same-Sex Couples

Differences:  The Obama plan would allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor a same-sex partner for permanent resident status and temporary visas. 

Employment Verification

Similarities:  Both plans would mandate tha employers use electronic employment verification, such as E-Verify, for prospective workers – U.S. and foreign citizens alike – to demonstrate legal status and identity.

Differences:  The Obama plan would have exemptions for some small businesses.  It also would create a fraud-resistant social security card and non-forgeable documents for those without social security cards.

On September 1, former Secretary of State Colin Powell commented that U.S. visa policies are too restrictive, highlighting the “difficulties still associated with getting a visa, particularly for people who are going to make a heck of a contribution when they get here.” Secretary Powell was interviewed by NPR in anticipation of the ten-year remembrance of 9/11. He pointed out that since 9/11, the State Department has “made it harder to come here to the United States, to go to our schools, to go to our hospitals for care, to go to our recreational facilities, to visit Disneyland and Disney World.”

At this time when our economy is sagging, the U.S. tourist industry and business in general could use a shot in the arm from foreign tourists, family members, conference attendees, company representatives, and other visitors. The U.S. Department of Commerce agrees. In a June 2011 report, the Chief Economist of the Commerce Department pointed out that, “Every visitor spends money in the United States. When foreign visitors come to the United States, they spend money on hotels, restaurants, donuts, and other U.S. goods and services.”

U.S. immigration law requires consular officers to view every visa applicant as an intending immigrant who does not intend to return to his or her home country. At a visa interview, the applicant must prove otherwise, and show strong ties outside the United States. The State Department admits that a subjective standard is applied to deciding who can come to the U.S.: “Strong ties differ from country to country, city to city, individual to individual. Some examples of ties can be a job, a house, a family, a bank account. ‘Ties’ are the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.”

State Department statistics show that family-based immigrant visa issuance has decreased since 2006. Nonimmigrant, temporary visa approvals in 2010 were down from 2007 and 2008 levels, though up from 2009 levels. Given current lengthy administrative processing delays, 2011 approvals could be down yet again. Applicants denied visas have little recourse, as there is often no effective way to appeal a visa denial.

On eve of the September 11 remembrance, Secretary Powell cautioned Americans not to worry so much about terrorism that “we start to lose the essence of who we are as an open, freedom-loving people, welcoming to the rest of the world.” U.S. embassy and consulate officials need to heed the advice and loosen up visa policy and let foreign visitors into the United States. As the Chief Economist urged, “the United States has a lot to gain from opening its doors — and sharing donut lines — with international visitors.”