Immigration and firm news

Holiday Travel Tips in the Age of Trump

Travel abroad during the holiday season has more risks this year because of extreme vetting, stricter scrutiny, travel warnings, policy changes, and unsettled case law dealing with the various Presidential Proclamation travel bans.

If you need to apply for a US visa while abroad:

The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) has been updated in several key sections. Consulates rely upon the FAM for guidance and procedures.  Key updates this year include requiring more evidence of ties abroad and intent to return home for foreign students; a 90-day rule on “inconsistent activities” while in the US contrary to the visa type that could lead to a finding of misrepresentation or preconceived intent. In addition, consular officers are giving less deference to prior adjudications of the same visa type and are looking for fraud in visa petitions filed with USCIS, meaning potential re-adjudication of all underlying requirements. Finally, security checks and greater vetting can lead to delays. Nationals from certain countries may be required to fill out longer applications asking for extensive biographic information going back at least 15 years.  Remember, that US government officials DO look at social media, so be sure your social media presence is consistent with your visa category.

Be sure to check the websites of the consulate you plan to use and find out from your airline whether you need a transit visa to board the aircraft. You can check Consulate processing times here. However, these are not guaranteed processing times.

For business visa applicants, be sure to bring a new original signed employment verification letter along with all key documents to prove eligibility and recent pay stubs and W-2s/tax returns.

What if your case gets stuck in “administrative processing”?

This can be for a few days or weeks, or months in the dreaded abyss where it’s hard to get any information about your case, depending upon where you are from (potential “extreme vetting”) or whether the nature of your work involves the technology alert list.  ALWAYS MAKE BACKUP PLANS. Make sure your employer knows they need to be flexible and plan for delays. If you are applying for a visa for the first time, do not sell or give up homes, quit jobs, sell property or make nonrefundable plans until your visa is in your hand – literally.

What is the latest with the travel bans?

There are two main parts to the travel bans – one dealing with who can get a visa and come to the USA and the other dealing with refugees. Both parts have been tied up in the courts. As of this writing on December 24, 2017, the US Supreme Court has ruled that President Donald Trump’s Presidential Proclamation known as Travel Ban 3.0 is in effect (at least until the lower courts make additional rulings) affecting individuals from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.  Not everyone from these countries is affected. Each country’s travel ban covers certain individuals.  However, the Supreme Court case turned on a procedural issue without discussion of the merits, while the lower courts still have cases in play dealing with the merits of the ban. As recently as December 22, 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that portions of the ban violate the President’s authority. There is another case in the 4th Circuit out of Maryland. Both are headed to the US Supreme Court on the merits during 2018.

What if your visa is still good but you have a pending change of status, extension of stay, or advance parole application with USCIS and want to travel?

If you have a pending change of status, extension of stay, or advance parole application, you should not travel abroad until those applications are decided.  A new policy (through liaison with the American Immigration Lawyers Association) states that even employees with valid H and L visas should not leave while their advance parole applications are pending. If you do, that application will be abandoned and you will need to refile the I-131 application. (Advance parole is a travel document for pending adjustment of status applications.)

What other travel issues should immigrants and US citizens be aware of?

All travelers, including US citizens, should check the Department of State website for travel alerts about worldwide safety and security. In addition, beware of US border searches of your electronics upon your return, and the search policies of other countries you will be visiting. According to the ACLU, warrantless searches of electronic devices have increased by 125 percent since 2015. During the first half of 2017, 15,000 such searches have been conducted. The ACLU has filed a suit in federal court in Massachusetts challenging these searches. See also, the TSA tip list. And, remember, if you use Global Entry or any of the alternative Trusted Traveler priority inspection programs, even a minor mistake can lead to revocation of that privilege. Check your bags carefully for items that would be prohibited in customs, and verify you have all the proper documentation for your intended visa category and allowable US activities.