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Phoenix Immigration & Naturalization Law Blog

Visa applicants now required to provide social media info

Virtually all foreign nationals who wish to visit Arizona or any other U.S. state will now have to provide immigration authorities with their social media user names or handles. Updated visa application forms now ask for this information and list dozens of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit. Visa applicants who use platforms not listed on the new forms are expected to provide their usernames along with the names of the platforms. Immigration authorities do not require visa applicants to provide their social media passwords, but they do ask them for any email addresses and telephone numbers they have used during the last five years.

The enhanced scrutiny was proposed in March 2018 and similar measures have been in place for some time for individuals who have visited, or travel to the United States from, countries that have been identified by the Department of State as terrorist hot spots. Prior to the recent rollout, the measures affected about 65,000 visa applicants each year.

Protections for immigrant children to be curtailed

Residents in border states like Arizona will likely be aware that President Donald Trump has taken aggressive steps in recent weeks to address an immigration situation that he has described as a national emergency. In late May, Trump said that he would impose tariffs on goods imported from Mexico if the Mexican government does not take action to stop immigrant caravans at the Guatemalan border. Just a day later, immigration officials announced that measures designed to protect children seeking asylum in the United States are being curtailed.

The protections, which were implemented during the Obama administration, allow unaccompanied minors to make their cases for asylum before officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services instead of in court. If their petitions are denied, they are given a second chance at asylum in front of an immigration judge. The rules were put into place to spare emotionally damaged children the trauma of court proceedings. Immigration officials say that these considerations will no longer be offered to unaccompanied minors who turn 18 before their asylum cases are heard or to children who are reunited with family members while in federal custody.

Divorce and green card eligibility

Some people in Arizona who are waiting for a green card might wonder how divorce will affect their eligibility for one. For example, one woman, a U.S. citizen from the Philippines, had a 25-year-old unmarried son for whom she filed an immigrant petition in 2005. The son married in 2010.

A U.S. citizen's unmarried adult child is classified as "First Preference". If the adult child marries, the status is changed to "Third Preference", which is for an adult child married to a U.S. citizen. There is a much longer wait time for someone classified as "Third Preference" compared to "First Preference". As of May 2019, "First Preference" petitions from on or before May 15, 2007, were being processed. For "Third Preference" petitions, it was from October 8, 1996.

Trump memorandum orders stricter asylum rules

Residents of border states like Arizona are likely paying particular attention to the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to stem the flow of immigrants from Central America. The courts have already thwarted the White House's efforts to limit asylum claims and deny petitions filed by individuals who crossed the border illegally. Most experts believe that a memorandum signed by the president on April 29 will lead to a new round of legal proceedings.

In the memorandum, Trump ordered the departments of Homeland Security and Justice to streamline the asylum process and require those seeking asylum in the U.S. to pay for an application fee. The president wants asylum petitions to be completed within 180 days. Furthermore, he has told the departments to deny asylum seekers work permits. The memorandum gives the DOJ and DHS just 90 days to comply with the memorandum's requirements.

Courts to decide fate on Trump's asylum policy

The fate of a new Trump administration policy that forces asylum seekers at the southern border to stay in Mexico until their hearings will be put to the test. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which covers Arizona and other states, will decide whether or not to halt the policy while a case impacted by the issue continues to go through the court system. A district court judge already decided that the policy was unlawful but gave the government time to appeal.

The Trump administration first implemented its 'Migrant Protection Protocols" in San Diego at the end of January 2018, and later spread enforcement to Arizona and Texas. Normally, families seeking asylum would be released into the United States while awaiting their hearing, but this new policy makes them wait in Mexico. Several immigrants affected by the policy decided to sue the government claiming that waiting in Mexico jeopardized their safety.

Data shows sharp upswing in H-1B visa denials

Many businesses, highly skilled international graduate students and technical workers in Arizona are concerned about reports that an increasing number of H-1B visa petitions are being denied. The H-1B Employer Data Hub was criticized by many when it was introduced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These critics saw it as a way for the administration to target negative attention toward businesses that make use of the program that allows companies to hire highly skilled international workers, typically in technical or scientific fields.

Further analysis of the data posted publicly indicates that USCIS is sharply restricting the number of H-1B petitions it approves. While only 6 percent of petitions were denied in 2015, 32 percent were denied in the first quarter of 2019 alone. Between 2015 and 2018, the denial rate grew by three times, from 6 percent to 24 percent. This means that the overall denial rate for new H-1B visa applications is now triple or quadruple what it was only a few years in the past. Immigration lawyers and employers say that USCIS has secretly raised the standards required for the approval of a petition.

Supreme Court ruling on immigrants with criminal records

Immigrants in Arizona who have committed a crime in the past may be detained years later, according to a new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. This reversed the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The 5-4 decision found that immigrants could be held for deportation without a hearing even years after a crime. The 9th Circuit's decision had been that immigrants must be detained just after serving the sentence. The dissent argued that the decision violates the constitutional right to have due process of law.

Court says asylum-seekers can appeal rejection

Asylum-seekers in Arizona whose bid for asylum has been rejected on the grounds that they did not establish that they had a "credible fear" of returning to their home country may be able to appeal their rejection before an immigration judge. On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that denying asylum-seekers this right violates non-citizens' constitutional rights.

The asylum-seeker in this case was a man from Sri Lanka who was part of the Tamil minority. Despite his assertion that his support of a Tamil politician resulted in his kidnapping and torture, an agent with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said that he failed the "credible fear" standard. When the man sought to appeal it, he found that the only grounds for doing so were on technical errors that had to do with whether the person actually qualified for "expedited removal".

Changes may be ahead for spouses of H-1B visa holders

The spouses of workers who are in Arizona under H-1B visas may lose the right to work in the United States under a proposed regulation sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Many couples in this position are already waiting a long time for their green cards. The combination of the H-1B visa for one and employment authorization documents for the other allows them to both work during this wait.

The proposed regulation change has employers and visa holders alike looking for solutions. One possible answer might be for a U.S. company to transfer an H-1B visa worker to Canada for a year. With the same language and a similar culture, this would not represent a significant change for the worker, who might be allowed to work remotely and cross into the U.S. as needed. The spouse would be permitted to work in Canada.

Obtaining an H-1B visa

Arizona employers who wish to obtain an H-1B visa for foreign workers must prepare well before the filing season opens on April 1. Although the fiscal year in which those workers would be eligible for employment does not begin until Oct. 1, the volume of applications means the window of eligibility is usually only open for one week. The cap may be reached even sooner. In 2018, it took only five days.

Only 65,000 new H-1B visas are granted each year, and another 20,000 new ones are granted for people who have obtained graduate degrees from universities in the United States. Employees can only work for the employer who obtains the visa, and the visas are good for three years. They can be renewed for a maximum of six years. Which petitions are accepted is determined by a lottery process.

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