Trump’s Tougher Visa Screening Rules

March 27th, 2017

According to the NY Times, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has sent four diplomatic cables to consular posts abroad instructing them to increase scrutiny for some visa applicants, implementing a memo that President Donald Trump signed along with his revised travel ban executive order. This increased scrutiny does not apply to citizens of 38 countries – including most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea – who are eligible for the visa waiver program that does not require a foreign national to obtain a visa to enter the US. Citizens from countries from the Middle East or Africa may not benefit from the visa waiver program.

For people from six predominantly Muslim countries (Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Iran), stricter security checks will be applied as well. Two travel bans affecting citizens from these countries have been suspended by US courts. The March 15th cable also noted that there should be increased scrutiny for applicants from Iraq.

The extra scrutiny will include questioning about a foreign national’s background and require information about one’s social media history if that person has ever been in territory controlled by the Islamic State. The March 15th cable states that the follow areas of inquiry may include the applicant’s travel history, addresses and work history for 15 years and all phone numbers, email addresses and social media handles used by the applicant in the last five years. The March 17th cable though provides that consular officials should not commence questioning about the 15-year travel and work histories until the DOS receives authorization from the Office of Management and Budget. It is not clear why such permission has not yet been granted.

The cables do not make clear who will be the focus of the extra scrutiny and the US DOS leaves it to the discretion of consular officials. Immigration advocates claim that they are concerned about people being profiled because of their nationality or name. Also, they are concerned that such enhanced scrutiny will increase the likelihood of visa denials and slow down an already backlogged approval process that can take months or even years in some cases.

Unused Visa Numbers for EB-2s from India and China

April 7th, 2011

The US Visa Office has recently announced that 12,000 unused immigrant visa numbers will be made available to the EB-2 category and for the thousands of seekers of legal permanent residency to the US. Ultimately, these numbers will be assigned to those EB-2 visa applicants from India and China whose priority dates fall within the 2006 calendar year, and 75 percent of these will be granted to those from India.

There are 140,000 immigrant visa numbers available each year to apply for legal permanent residency based on employment, and this process occurs either through consular processing abroad or adjustment of status in the US. Each country is accorded seven percent of that total regardless of its population size and demand from that country. There are five employment-related preference categories and each is granted a certain percentage of that number. The EB-2 (second preference) classification, for positions requiring at least a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus five years of progressive experience, is allocated 28.6 percent of the total visa numbers.

When a visa applicant starts the legal permanent residency process through either a PERM labor certification application or an I-140 immigrant visa petition, that applicant’s filing date is his or her priority date (place in line). Priority dates are assigned within each preference category without regard to the particular country of chargeability, except for countries that expect to exceed the seven percent limit. Applicants who are chargeable to such countries are allocated visa numbers within preference categories.

India and China are expected to exceed the seven percent limitation in fiscal year 2011. This means that even though there are sufficient visa numbers to provide to current EB-2 applicants from countries worldwide (in other words, there will be no backlogs or delays for those applicants to apply for legal permanent residency), those EB-2 applicants from India and China are subject to a cut-off date of 2006. Only those Indians who have a priority date before May 8, 2006, and those Chinese who have priority dates before July 22, 2006, will be able to apply for legal permanent residency.

Fortunately, there is good news on the visa number front in terms of a plethora of unused numbers that can be allocated to the EB-2 category for India and China. The Visa Office has announced that it estimates that 12,000 extra visa numbers will be available for the EB-2 category this year. US law requires that any unused employment-based visa numbers be used without regard to the seven percent per-country limitation. Because the current EB-2 availability for other countries is sufficient to meet demand, the 12,000 numbers will be used by China and India.

In particular, these numbers will be allocated to those approximate 17,400 EB-2s from India and China with a priority date that is within the 2006 calendar year. These were predominantly the applicants who filed to adjust status in July and August 2007 when the Visa Bulletin was current for all countries but whose applications could not be approved because numbers retrogressed during processing. Because most of the 17,400 applicants were Indians (13,200) and the older priority dates are from India, India will most likely get around 75 percent of those numbers.

As emphasized by Jay Solomon, author of “EB-2 Story: India, China and the “Otherwise Unused Employment Visa Numbers – Is the Visa Office Discriminating Against China” published on AILA Infonet (Doc. No. 11040634) and also available at April 2011, there is no discrimination against China in US policy, since it is US law that visa numbers be accorded based on a person’s priority date or place in line, not on a person’s nationality or country of birth. Although it has a practical disproportionate effect on Indian applications, the law neither favors or penalizes any particular country.