The U.S. immigration system has undergone numerous changes under the Trump administration, which have strengthened the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to enforce immigration law.
As a result, the legal immigration process has become far more rigorous.
Implementing these changes falls largely to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through a combination of rules, policy memorandums and operational changes.
“Our goal is to apply the nation’s immigration law effectively, efficiently, and lawfully,” the federal agency said recently as it shared a list of the 10 ways it works to improve the integrity of the system — thereby tightening the review of applications for immigration benefits.
1. Enforce policy guidance on deportations
There’s a new Trump administration guidance that expands the list of reasons for which immigrants can be sent before immigration judges to start deportation procedures against them, after the issuance of summonses known as Notice to Appear, or NTAs.
The change affects particularly legal immigrants who have been denied a certain immigration benefit request such as a visa or green card. If their application, petition or benefit request gets turned down, their presence in the U.S. becomes unlawful.
According to USCIS, previously, most such immigrants were not issued NTAs, which normally mark the start of removal procedures.
2. Identify students with expired status
A new guidance clarifies how to calculate the time foreign students with F-1 visas, vocational students with M visas and exchange visitors with J visas accrue unlawful presence in the United States once their academic programs end and they fall out of status.
USCIS states that in the past, students were able to violate their student non-immigrant status and remain in the United States to work without a required permit, but did not accumulate a single day of unlawful presence.
Now, international students who overstay or violate the terms of their visas, will have to voluntarily leave the country or face removal proceedings.
3. Enhance screening and vetting
USCIS began vetting information in some applications for immigration benefits as it receives new information, rather than carrying out only spot checks during the adjudication period, in order to improve the agency’s ability to identify threats to national security.
Among other steps, the agency has strengthened the biometric services for any immigration and naturalization benefit, and the personal interviews carried out by USCIS adjudicators to detect identity and benefit fraud.
4. Address asylum backlog
Officials implemented a change to process requests for affirmative asylum because of a significant backlog of pending cases and a wave of frivolous and fraudulent applications. USCIS now first schedules interviews for recent applications ahead of older filings.
The change deters “those who might try to use the existing backlog as a means to obtain employment authorization,” USCIS explained in a statement.
5. Thoroughly review visa extension applications
The agency updated the adjudication policy to enforce the same level of scrutiny for both the initial applications for certain non-immigrant visas as well as for their extensions, even if the underlying facts remain unchanged from a previously approved visa.
To extend visas, petitioners must now again submit evidence that establishes their eligibility. “USCIS officers should not have their hands tied in assessing whether a petition meets legal requirements,” the agency noted. Previously, officers gave deference to the findings of a formerly approved application.
6. Combat H-1B visa abuse
USCIS adopted a policy memorandum to require detailed documentation on the relationship between American employers and foreign employees during the time when these professionals with a specialty occupation H-1B visa work at third-party work sites.
USCIS said it is essential to confirm that the sponsoring company has a specific qualifying assignment in a specialty occupation for the H-1B visa holder during the up to three-year period covered by this work visa category.
This is one of reasons why USCIS often requests more evidence to demonstrate eligibility.
7. Expand workplace inspections
The immigration agency intensified its program of verification and administrative visits to workplaces, where fraud detection and national security agents make unannounced inspection visits to ensure that the employer as well as the employees are doing the work covered by the visas and following the immigration laws.
For its part, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stepped up its investigations of workplaces to ensure there are no illegal practices, such as exploiting the workers, paying illegal salaries or employing foreigners who do not have legal work permits.
8. Protect U.S. workers
Under the presidential protectionist executive order “Buy American and Hire American,” designed to protect American workers, USCIS established a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice to prevent, detect and investigate discrimination against U.S. workers by employers who bring foreign workers to the United States.
“This new effort improves the way the agencies share information, collaborate on cases, and train each other’s investigators,” the Justice Department said in a press release.
9. Inter-governmental information sharing
USCIS modernized its platforms to share information with the departments of State, Labor and Justice to combat and prevent immigration fraud.
The improvements allow more efficiency in the process of approving and denying visas, including changes in the way the agency issues visas.
10. Tightened policies and regulations
USCIS has proposed and adopted policies “that better comport with the intent of the laws Congress has passed,” including updating the EB-5 visa program for foreign investors, changes in the definition of “public charge” as a reason for denying legal status on grounds of inadmissibility, and the elimination of work authorization in certain visa categories.
The proposed change on the public charge ground of inadmissibility would affect foreigners applying for visas abroad as well as those who want to adjust their status to legal permanent resident within the United States without having to return to their home countries.
The rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security would hinder the path to a green card for immigrants who receive government assistance such as food stamps or subsidies for renting housing under the Section 8 Program.
Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration issues who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth.
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