Tag Archives: U.S.

Update on Russian Ban on U.S.-bound Child Adoptions

Just days ago, the Russian Supreme Court issued a letter providing guidance to regional courts. The letter clarifies that families that have had their preliminary court date prior to January 1, 2013 will be able to assume physical custody and obtain the necessary documents from Russian authorities to exit the country. This will be the case even if the 30 day waiting period expired after January 1, 2013. To date, 25 families have obtained visas to leave the country and some have travelled home with their children.

At the same time, other families in-country have experienced delays and have been unable to obtain necessary paperwork from Russian authorities. It is hoped that the Russian Supreme Court letter will help families move forward. Families who fall into this category should contact the U.S. Embassy in Russia, if they have not already done so. They should also keep in close contact with their adoption service providers who are still permitted to process these transition cases and who have more real-time information.

U.S. and Russia Strike Agreement to Ease Visa Policies

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently announced an agreement on the issuance of non-immigrant business, tourist, private and humanitarian visas to the Russian Federation, and for business and tourist visas to the United States, as well as short-term official travel visas to both counties.

This agreement will facilitate travel between our two countries and establish stronger ties between our people. The agreement benefits the largest segments of our traveling Americans and Russians – business travelers and tourists, traveling both as individuals and in groups, by granting as a rule, on a reciprocal basis, multiple-entry visas valid for 36 months.

The agreement also streamlines the visa issuance process by reducing the documentation required. These new visa validity periods will allow for expanded contacts and promote greater mutual understanding [...].  This agreement will go into effect after an exchange of diplomatic notes in Moscow.

U.S. Homeland Security flexing its muscle vis-a-vis the E.U.

The United States’ Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees border security (incl. issues of Immigration), is flexing its muscle in what appears to be a bit of a diplomatic show-down with the European Union (EU).

At issue is the EU’s opposition to DHS’ latest attempt to gather personal data on foreign travellers to the United States in large electronic databases, as a pre-condition to continue travel under the relaxed restrictions of the Visa Waiver Program (currently only available to nationals of 27 countries).

Currently voluntary, an online registration system collects sensitive, personal data from travellers, in advance of their travel to the United States. Starting in January 2009, participation in the online system will start becoming mandatory for certain groups of travellers.

The EU, a long-time bastion of privacy protection and enforceable privacy laws, is taking issue with the U.S. government’s attempt to mass-collect sensitive, personal details of non-Citizens wishing to travel to the United States, on a global scale. According to the EU’s interpretation, anyone wishing to travel to the United States immediately must consent to full disclosure of sensitive information (which could make one ‘undesireable’ or ‘inadmissible’) and relinquish any expectation of privacy.

The United States, on the other hand, counters that this collection of information is to ensure the national security and protection of its borders and its citizenry. While DHS assures that the collection of travellers’ data is within the law, and for proper, limited purposes, the U.S., under its current administration, has historically been very lax with privacy protection in a post-9/11 world, real enforcement of privacy laws being almost non-existent.

In order to compel compliance, the U.S. is now threatening to revoke the privilege of participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for any nation not being ‘on-board’ with the latest intelligence-gathering measure, thereby requiring even a casual traveler for pleasure to obtain a B1/B2-visa, where previously no visa might have been required.

Whether or not the U.S., in this latest stage of diplomatic arm-wrestling with the EU, will make good on its promise and begin revoking Visa Waiver privileges, remains to be seen.

Hopefully, both sides can reach a mutually agreeable, face-saving compromise.

NEXUS now in Niagara Falls, New York.

CBP announced the opening of a joint NEXUS Enrollment Center located adjacent to the Whirlpool Bridge border crossing in Niagara Falls, N.Y. This is the second “Trusted Traveler” Enrollment Center within the Port of Buffalo. The other is located in Fort Erie, Ontario just across the Peace Bridge.

The new Enrollment Center is designed to make obtaining a NEXUS border-crossing card easy and convenient for nearby residents on both sides of the border. The new center also provides a second location for current members to renew their application, which must be done every five years.

NEXUS is a joint CBP-Canada Border Services Agency program that both the American and Canadian governments implemented to enhance border security while simplifying border crossings for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. Approximately 225,000 U.S. and Canadian citizens/residents are currently enrolled in the NEXUS program nationally. Locally, CBP and CBSA have enrolled over 38,000 individuals in NEXUS and this facility will provide increased enrollment capacity and accessibility in preparation for Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) identity document requirements on June 1, 2009.

WHTI is designed to reduce the vulnerability resulting from the sole acceptance of verbal declarations of citizenship for Americans and Canadians entering the U.S. by land or sea, by requiring approved travel documentation.  Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, oral declarations of citizenship alone are no longer sufficient to establish identity and citizenship for entry into the United States.

Currently, U.S. and Canadian citizens ages 19 and older must present a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, along with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate or they may present a single WHTI-compliant document. Children ages 18 and under are currently asked only to present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Passports and trusted traveler cards, such as NEXUS and FAST, are considered WHTI-compliant documents on the northern border and are accepted for cross-border travel.

NEXUS pre-approved travelers crossing the U.S./Canada border receive the added benefits of access to dedicated commuter lanes, expedited marine reporting and access to NEXUS kiosks at designated Canadian airports.  Effective June 1, 2009 travelers will need to present a valid and acceptable document that proves both identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. by land or sea. Travelers on the northern border will be able to select from one of five different documentation options, based upon their needs. These include a passport, the new U.S. passport card, new state-issued enhanced driver’s license, and the two Trusted Traveler Program cards (NEXUS and FAST), which are accepted already.

NEXUS members can use dedicated lanes at selected ports along the U.S.-Canadian border. The NEXUS alternative inspection program allows pre-screened, low-risk travelers to be processed with little or no delay by United States and Canadian border officials. There are currently 18 land border crossings that offer NEXUS and the program is also available in the air and marine modes. Locally, members can use dedicated lanes at the Peace Bridge and Rainbow Bridge border crossings. The Whirlpool Bridge is dedicated as a NEXUS only crossing, the only border crossing in the country to be designated as such. Travelers can apply online at www.nexus.gov.

U.S. industry leaders putting pressure on Congress…

Members of “Compete America” include some of America’s largest and most prestigious companies and organizations. “Compete America” have created a petition to Congress. In this petition, U.S. Industry leading companies have asked legislators in Washington to enact three pieces of legislation: H.R. 6039, H.R. 5921 and H.R. 5882. The three proposals address many existing shortcomings in the Employment-based green card categories.

First, H.R. 6039, aims to assist highly educated, foreign-born students with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (from a U.S. university) by eliminating numerical restrictions on employment-based Green Cards.

Next, H.R. 5921 aims to reduce and eliminate lengthy backlogs and per country limits on employment-based Green Cards.

Finally, H.R. 5882 aims to further reduce backlogs by “recapturing” available, unused Green Cards and releasing those to applicants/beneficiaries who meet the requirements.

USCIS announces changes to the Naturalization Interview process

USCIS has announced some changes to the interview process for Naturalization applicants.
The Service hopes that these changes will improve Applicants’ experience with the process and lead to more efficient, better adjudications.

    Pre-examination check-in process

As applicants arrive at the Field Office for their naturalization examination, consideration should be given to tasks that can be done prior to the applicant’s formal examination; (i.e., signing the photo and distribution of any related informational materials).

In this regard, as applicants arrive, offices are encouraged to provide the applicants an opportunity to review the N-400 Interview Preparation Notice. This notice is provided as an advisory to help prepare the applicant to inform the interviewing officer of any events that may have occurred after submitting their N-400 and which may have bearing on the adjudication.

Offices are also encouraged to verify certificate preparation information with the applicant prior to the interview. Offices can utilize the N-400 Interview Preparation Worksheet B for this purpose. A USCIS representative should complete the shaded portion of Worksheet B with the applicant to verify the biographic information that will appear on the naturalization certificate. CLAIMS 4 should be updated at this point with the biographic information.

Effective immediately, applicants are to sign their photos using their normal signature. Normal signature means signature in English unless exempt from the English language requirement. Signatures need not be legible and names may be shortened consistent with the applicant’s normal signature. Applicants who are seeking a change of name at the time of naturalization should not sign their photos until after the name change is granted.

    Naturalization Testing

When required, USCIS will assess the applicant’s ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language, and assess whether the applicant has a sufficient knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States. USCIS will evaluate the history and civics portion through a naturalization test. USCIS also evaluates English language ability through administration of the naturalization test and the full oral interview.

Once the pre-examination check-in process has been completed, offices are encouraged to consider testing the applicants’ knowledge of American government and history (civics), and their ability to read and write English, separately prior to the interview. This procedure has been successfully utilized in the past. It has provided a means of maintaining the quality of N-400 interviews because the interviewing officer is able to focus on the other eligibility issues. Interviewing officers will continue to determine the applicant’s ability to speak and understand English through the oral interview process.

    Interview

Questioning of an applicant must cover all requirements for naturalization. Questions during the examination should build on the results of the preliminary analysis, such as background check results. If the results of the background checks or other preliminary analysis raise questions of eligibility, or the applicant’s response to questions on the N-400 brings eligibility into question, the officer should focus attention on those issues.

Additionally, officers are required to ask each applicant the questions contained in Part 10 H of the N-400. Supervisors should regularly monitor and observe officers to ensure that officers are asking essential or pertinent questions relating to the benefit sought.

    Post-Examination process

When an officer has concluded the interview, the case file may be returned to designated non-officer personnel for post examination processing. Post examination processing may include any duties previously performed by the examining official following an interview and include: scheduling of a follow-up appointment for English literacy and/or civics testing; photo and/or certificate signing; CLAIMS 4 decisional updating; and oath ceremony scheduling.

Visa Revocation vs. Visa Cancellation

People often wonder what reasons are behind the cancellation or revocation of a visa previously issued.

The fact that a visa has been cancelled does not necessarily indicate anything negative about the visa holder. A visa may be cancelled because there has been a clerical or similar error. Example: The person was approved for an “X” visa, but the visa foil in the passport says “Y” visa. These errors and other needs for correction are actually quite common. Think of incorrect birth dates, where the date format in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. can be confusing. If someone’s birthday is April 12, 1968, his DOB can be written as “04/12/1968″ or “12-04-1968″, depending on which date format is used. (did the applicant possibly put his/her birth date on the application form in the wrong date format?)

Embassy staff may also cancel a visa if the visa holder gets a new visa in a new passport, but has a valid visa of the same kind, not yet expired, in the old passport. Non-immigrant visas of aliens deemed inadmissible at a port of entry may also be cancelled. You will sometimes find CBP officers at the port-of-entry cancelling visas, especially in cases where visas may only provide for a SINGLE entry, rather than the customary “multiple” entries, usually encountered on visas.

The fact that a visa has been revoked may or may not indicate something negative about the visa holder. A consular officer will revoke a visa when he or she determines that:

• the alien is ineligible to receive a visa or enter the United States for health, criminal, security, or other serious reasons;
• the alien no longer qualifies for the particular visa;
• the alien has been issued an immigrant visa (IV); or
• the visa has been physically removed from the passport in which it was issued.

What happens when a U.S. visa is revoked?

A consular officer can only revoke a visa on the basis of such a determination if the traveler is outside the United States, or if his or her whereabouts are unknown. When a consular officer revokes a visa, the embassy or consulate informs the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security through designated channels. The consular officer also is responsible for informing all local transportation companies about the visa revocation to prevent the traveler from embarking on a flight to the United States.

CBP Officers working at U.S. ports of entry are also informed electronically of the visa revocation through the following databases; Consular Consolidated Database (CCD), Consular Lookout Automated System (CLASS) and through the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS) in case the traveler arrives seeking admission into the United States.

The Secretary of State (via a consular officer) can also revoke a nonimmigrant visa, regardless of whether the alien is in the United States, and an immigrant visa if the alien has not entered the United States in immigrant status. Such revocation is generally on prudential grounds such that the alien would have to appear before a consular officer to establish eligibility for a visa before being permitted to apply for entry to the United States.

What is “visa shopping”?

“Visa shopper” is the term used to describe a foreign national who applies for a U.S. visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate where he/she thinks it will be easier to qualify for a visa, rather than the embassy or consulate responsible for the area where he/she lives.

Such applicants may be trying their luck, or they may be attempting fraud that they believe is less likely to be detected at an embassy or consulate that is unfamiliar with their home country conditions and fraud patterns.

Sometimes visa shopping takes applicants far away from their home country, as well as from their own region. A citizen of “COUNTRY X” living in “COUNTRY Y”, for example, should apply for the visa near where he or she lives, i.e. in “COUNTRY Y”. Tourists or business travelers however, would not ordinarily apply for U.S. visas in “COUNTRY Y” except under emergency circumstances. If they did, they might fit the definition of visa shoppers.

While not illegal, “visa shopping” is frowned upon by Consular Posts, in non-essential (i.e. non-emergency) situations. Under some circumstances, an accepted form of visa shopping, called “Third Country National” (or TCN) processing is permissible.

Cases presented to a Consulate outside of one’s ‘home district’ are accepted on a case by case basis, and at the sole discrection of the Consulate. One should resort to this measure VERY SPARINGLY and only when one feels genuinely compelled to do so, for reasons other than mere inconvenience. Essentially, one has to ask a Consulate for permission to submit (and for the consulate to accept) the case, due to special circumstances.

The consular posts reluctance to accept “visa shoppers” or “third country nationals” in non-essential situations, where reasons for the submission are not compelling, are usually two-fold:

  1. The Consulate already has a high volume of cases (= workload) to process, and wants to minimize its “Extra” load of non-mandatory case adjudications, and
  2. The Consulate may not be familiar with the foreign language of the applicant (where the applicant does not speak English), or may not be familiar with the nature of foreign supporting documentation as well as other considerations of the foreign applicant’s home country.

The Consular Post, may at its discretion, choose to accept an out-of-district application, particular if the reasons for the submission are compelling and/or the representative lawyer makes a good presentation of reasons to the Consulate for accepting the case. One should always be prepared to make several strong arguments well above and beyond “mere inconvenience”.

What happens when a foreign traveler applies for a nonimmigrant visa (NIV)?

While the process of applying for a U.S. visa at a consulate or embassy is not a secret, most people are not familiar with it, unless they have personally been through the process or maybe heard about someone’s experience with the process.

With some exceptions, U.S. law requires every applicant to make a personal appearance for an interview with a Consular Officer. If there are no national security concerns, Consular Officers may waive the personal appearance requirement for limited categories of applicants, including children less than 14 years of age; persons over 79 years of age; officials of foreign governments and international organizations; and, under certain circumstances, travelers renewing recently expired visas. It’s best to review one’s current situation and the current processing guidelines of the nearest consular post.

While oftentimes, a visit to the Consulate or Embassy can take hours, largely due to waiting times and security checks upon entrry, a typical visa interview lasts just a few minutes and often involves applicants trying to persuade the consular officer that they have firm plans to return to their home country after a visit to the United States, that they do not intend to cause harm to the U.S. or its interests, and that they are otherwise qualified for a visa. The interview is face-to-face although the consular officer is behind a blast resistant window.

Before the interview:

While the exact procedures can vary from Consular Post to Consular Post around the world, essentially all of the following points must be completed (maybe in a different order or sequence) by foreigners wishing to visit the United States:

1) submit a passport and a passport-sized photo;

2) pay the nonrefundable application fee (MRV) and obtain a receipt;

3) obtain an appointment date and time;

4) gather any required and supporting documents; and

5) fill out the visa application form and other required forms.

Getting to the interview window:

After the visa applicant arrives at the embassy or consulate on the appointed day, local consular staffers check the application, passport, photograph and any other documents submitted by the alien. In addition, consular staffers also check that all required data has been correctly entered into the computer system, and initiate a computerized check against a database of foreign nationals who have been denied or are ineligible to receive visas, or for whom other derogatory information is known. Consular employees collect digital fingerprints that are also checked against databases for derogatory information. The passport information is also checked against databases to determine if the passport has been reported lost or stolen.

By the time the visa applicant appears in front of the consular officer for his visa interview, the consular officer will have the applicant’s name check results and other data on a nearby computer screen. Consular officers, also called consuls and vice-consuls, conduct the interview, usually in the language of the foreign country.

Visa denials and ineligibilities:

The most common reason for a consular officer to refuse a visa to a non-immigrant visa applicant is Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This section of the law requires applicants to convince the consular officer that the purpose of their trip is permissible under U.S. visa regulations and that they are true non-immigrants with the intention to return home after a temporary visit to the United States.

Other reasons for denying a visa application include staying longer than permitted during a previous visit to the United States, providing false information to visa or immigration officers, assisting other persons to violate U.S. immigration laws, convictions for certain criminal offenses, or having a communicable disease of public health significance. Except in very rare circumstances defined in regulations, consular officers always provide verbal and written notice and explanation identifying the section of U.S. law under which their application was refused.

Getting the visa to the applicant:

Depending on the procedures in effect at the embassy or consulate, Applicants who succeed in qualifying for a visa may be asked to return in order to pick up their passport with the U.S. visa attached inside, or they may pay a courier company, contracted by the embassy, for home or office delivery of the passport.