The Associated Press is reporting that US embassies and consulates around the globe have been instructed to limit the validity period of F-1 visas issued to Chinese graduate students studying in fields such as robotics, aviation and high-tech manufacturing. The new policy requires that visas issued to such students are only valid for one year, where Chinese students are normally issued visas valid for up to five years. The policy is reportedly taking effect on June 11, 2018. There are more than 300,000 Chinese citizens studying in the United States – nearly one-third of all international students.

According to the report, the policy also requires that some Chinese employees of certain US companies will also be subject to special clearances resulting in visa processing delays of up to several months. The US Department of Commerce maintains the list of targeted companies, which is not available to the public.

Who is affected and what should they do?

This policy affects Chinese citizens who are applying for visas at US embassies and consulates – specifically, graduate students in certain fields, and some employees of companies that have been targeted for scrutiny by the US Department of Commerce. In addition, any Chinese citizen applying for a visa, who studies or works in a field that the US government might consider sensitive to national security or the economy, should be attentive to this policy and its possible expansion in the coming months. These individuals may want to stay in close contact with their school or employer to discuss their concerns and plan accordingly.

Hunton Andrews Kurth typically does not post about topics that are not officially announced, and it is important to note that this information is based on a single news report by the Associated Press. We will continue to monitor this issue and share relevant and credible information as it becomes available.

On May 18, 2018, after receiving a notice from the Government of Ecuador terminating that country’s bilateral investment treaty with the United States, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Trade Representative announced the termination in the Federal Register.  The treaty has been in force since 1997.

Continue Reading Termination of U.S.-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty Affects E-2 Visa Eligibility for Ecuadorean Nationals

In a policy memorandum dated May 10, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration and Services (“USCIS”) provided new guidance to its officers and adjudicators on calculating unlawful presence for nonimmigrants in F, M, and J status. This policy memorandum, which becomes effective on August 9, 2018, represents a dramatic shift in long-standing USCIS policy.

The date unlawful status begins to accrue is extremely important as this date is a linchpin in determining when the 3-year and 10-year bars of reentry may apply.  Generally, unlawful status for more than 180 days, but less than 1 year, triggers a 3 year bar of reentry, while unlawful status for more than 1 year triggers a 10 year bar. Waivers of the bars may be available if certain requirements are met, including in some cases extreme hardship to a U.S. or permanent resident spouse or parent.

The new policy specifies that F, M, or J nonimmigrants who failed to maintain their status (for example by no longer pursuing a full-course of study, no longer engaging in an approved training program or activity, or engaging in unauthorized employment) before August 9, 2018, will start accruing unlawful status on August 9, 2018, unless the nonimmigrant already starting accruing unlawful status on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denial of an immigration benefit, if DHS determines that the nonimmigrant violated his or her nonimmigrant status while adjudicating that immigration benefit;
  • The day after the nonimmigrant’s Form I-94 expires, if the F, M, J nonimmigrant was admitted until a certain date; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered the nonimmigrant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

F, M, or J nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status on or after August 9, 2018, begin accruing unlawful presence on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after the F, J, or M nonimmigrant no longer pursues the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after he or she engages in an unauthorized activity;
  • The day after completing the course of study or program (including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period);
  • The day after Form I-94 expires, if the F, J, or M nonimmigrant was admitted for a date certain; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals orders the alien excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

The new policy is a dramatic change in how USCIS previously calculated unlawful presence.  Under the prior policy, unlawful presence for those in admitted F, M,  or J status for the duration of their status (D/S) started accruing only on the day after:

  • USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit; or
  • An immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed), whichever came first.

F, M, or J nonimmigrants who were admitted until a specific date, instead of D/S, accrued unlawful presence only on the day after:

  • Their Form I-94 expired;
  • USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit; or
  • An immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first.

This new policy also affects the immigration status of dependent family members as the validity of their status is dependent on the principal maintaining his or her status.

To review the text of USCIS’ new policy memorandum, please click here.

The USCIS announced today that the FY2019 H-1B cap has been met.  The USCIS will hold a lottery for the H-1B visas as early as next week.  Those selected will receive receipt notices in the mail; those rejected will have their filings returned, along with the filing fee checks.   We expect that the receipt notices for those selected will begin to trickle in later this month through most of May; the rejected petitions will take longer to return.  The USCIS has not yet released the number of petitions it received.  Please check back for updates.

If 2017 is any indication, the new year will bring a fresh cascade of changes – both announced and unannounced, anticipated and unanticipated – in the business immigration landscape.  Few, if any, of these changes are expected to be good news for U.S. businesses and the foreign workers they employ.

In 2017, while much of the news media focused on the Trump Administration’s draconian changes to practices and policies that affected the undocumented – including ending the DACA Dreamer program, shutting down Temporary Protected Status for citizens of countries ravished by war and natural disaster, and aggressively enforcing at the southern border and in “sensitive” locations such as churches, courthouses, and homeless shelters – relatively less attention has been paid to the steady, incremental erosion of rights and options for legal immigrants, particularly those who are sponsored for work by U.S. employers, under the Administration’s April 2017 “Buy American / Hire American” executive order.  There is no doubt that such restrictions to the legal immigration system will continue to cause business uncertainty and disruption in 2018.  Here’s what to expect:

Continue Reading Buckle Your Seatbelts: 2018 Will Be a Watershed Year in Business Immigration

On November 20, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued a policy memorandum restricting TN nonimmigrant classification under the profession of Economist, to those who will primarily engage in activities consistent with the profession of Economist and specifically excluding those employed as Financial Analysts, Market Research Analysts, and Marketing Specialists. USCIS explains that the policy memorandum was necessary, because the lack of an in-depth description of the Economist profession in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created the TN nonimmigrant classification, has led to inconsistent adjudications regarding which positions are encompassed under the Economist profession.

In its memorandum, USCIS explains that Economists generally specialize in either the analysis of individuals or firms to better understand the relationship between supply and demand or in the analysis of aggregated indicators to determine how different sectors of the economy are related to each other.  USCIS adds that Economists may apply economic analysis to issues in a variety of fields including labor, international trade, development, econometrics, education, health, and industrial organization.

Continue Reading USCIS Issues New Guidance Restricting who Qualifies as a TN Economist

This week, Tom Homan, acting Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), announced that he has instructed Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative branch of ICE, to quadruple the number of worksite inspections.  Danielle Bennett, spokeswoman for the agency, confirmed this directive and added “ICE’s worksite enforcement strategy continues to address both employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers and the workers themselves.”

What does this mean for U.S. employers? This means that employers should expect to see increased HSI visits during which HSI will conduct not only I-9 audits to ensure that employers are complying with established employment eligibility verification requirements, but also other investigations related to compliance with immigration and labor regulations.

Continue Reading Employers Should Take the Necessary Steps to Prepare for Increased Worksite Inspections

Following the arrest of a US consular employee by Turkish authorities, the United States has suspended the issuance of nonimmigrant visas at the US Embassy in Ankara and the US Consulate General in Istanbul.  This is not a travel ban on Turkish nationals, as those with nonimmigrant visas can continue to use them, and those wishing to apply for nonimmigrant visas can do so at other US consular locations outside of Turkey.  The processing of immigrant visas will continue without interruption.

In response, the government of Turkey announced the immediate suspension of visa services to US citizens.  This suspension includes the issuance of physical sticker visas issued at border posts, as well as the online “e-visa”.  US citizens planning to visit Turkey should contact the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or a Turkish Embassy or Consulate in the United States, before travel.