USCIS Expands Interview Requirements for Some Immigration Applicants

an interview stamp, immigrationThe U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will be expanding in-person interview requirements for certain categories of applicants for permanent residence, affecting people throughout Illinois. The expanded policy was effective as of Oct. 1 and may increase the waiting periods before people are approved for their green cards. Immigrants who are applying for adjustments of status based on their employment and those who are applying as relatives for principal asylees or refugees will all be affected by the new policy. Having representation from an immigration attorney during in-person interviews with the USCIS may help immigrant applicants to protect their rights.

The Expanded Interview Requirements

For many years, the USCIS used a policy under which certain categories of immigrant applicants did not require in-person interviews for the agency to adjudicate their applications for permanent residence. Under the new policy, people who are applying for permanent residence through an adjustment of their statuses, as well as those who are applying as relatives of principal asylees, will be subjected to in-person interviews. Over the past few decades, nearly all applicants who applied for employment-based status adjustments received their green cards without being interviewed, saving substantial time and monetary resources.

Several policies will be unaffected by the new interview requirements. Work authorizations and advanced parole policies will remain while the applications are pending. Applicants will also still be able to apply for adjustments of status and for immigration visas simultaneously. Applicants will still also be able to change jobs without filing new I-140 petitions for immigration visas through adjustment portability.

Reasons for Expanded Interview Requirements

According to the USCIS, the government’s new policy requiring more in-person interviews is ostensible to help to reduce immigration fraud and security risks. However, the agency is already overburdened, and it is unclear how the policy will achieve either stated goal. Families and employers should expect to face increased wait times under the new policy.

Importance of Representation

While applicants are not required to have immigration attorneys at their in-person interviews, having representation may be important. Attorneys may help to protect their clients from systemic abuses. They may also identify errors made by well-intentioned immigration officers that could potentially lead to further problems and possible deportation. The end results of the new policy are not yet known, but people should expect longer waits at a minimum. Applicants should prepare for their interviews and educate themselves about what to expect.


Immigrant Victims of Certain Crimes May Be Eligible for Special Visa

visa page, immigrationChicagoans who are victims of certain types of crimes may be eligible for a special type of nonimmigrant visa called a U visa. This visa is designed for crime victims so that they can remain in the U.S. and help law enforcement and prosecution officials with the criminal cases against the perpetrators. There are numerous crimes for which victims may be eligible for this special visa. If a person holds a U nonimmigrant visa for three years and has been helpful to the prosecution, he or she may then be eligible to apply for a green card to obtain permanent resident status. The best immigration lawyers may help crime victims with securing U visas for themselves and for their dependents.

Eligibility for U Visas

Under the Victims of Violence and Trafficking Act, immigrants may be eligible for U visas if the crime was one that qualifies under the law and they have suffered significant mental or physical abuse as a result of the criminal event. They must also have information about the crime and be helpful or willing to be helpful to law enforcement officers and prosecutors who are involved in the cases. The crime must have violated U.S. laws or have been committed inside of the U.S. Finally, immigrants must be admissible to the U.S., or they must apply for a waiver of inadmissibility.

Qualifying Crimes

Many different crimes of violence and assaults qualify under the law. Victims of various sexual crimes such as assault, exploitation, rape and forced prostitution are eligible. Victims of domestic violence, abduction, human trafficking and others are also eligible. Other qualifying crimes include torture, slave trade, witness tampering, manslaughter, and murder, among others. The best immigration lawyers can advise immigrants about whether or not the crimes of which they were victims might qualify.

Derivative U Visas

Certain family members may also qualify for derivative U visas after the crime victim applies for and is approved for his or her own. For derivative U visas, the crime victim must petition on behalf of eligible family members after receiving his or her own U visa. For victims who are under age 21, eligible family members include parents, children, spouses and unmarried siblings who are younger than age 18. Victims who are 21 or older may petition on behalf of their spouses and children.


Would You Qualify for Legal Immigration with This Strict Screening System?

close up of a computer, immigrationAt the beginning of August, President Trump announced his support for the Raise Act, an immigration bill that would greatly curtail legal immigration and would use a strict screening tool for would-be immigrants. The screening tool is so strict that many U.S. citizens in Illinois would not qualify if they were instead people who wanted to immigrate to the country. With the administration’s aggressive push to curtail legal immigration, people who want to come to the U.S. or to remain may want to secure their visas or green cards now before the laws are potentially changed.

What is the Raise Act?

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act is a bill that is being backed by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia. The law would make substantial cuts in the number of people who are allowed to immigrate to the U.S. and would make it much more difficult for would-be immigrants to qualify. Under the act, people who are between the ages of 26 and 30 would be given preference as would those who have graduate or professional degrees in science, engineering, technology or math. The bill proposes a scoring system for people, and if they don’t obtain high enough scores, they would not be able to apply.

The Scoring System

The proposed scoring system would assign points to applicants based on different characteristics. In order to apply to immigrate, applicants would need to score 30 points or higher on the screening tool. The tool gives the highest points to applicants who:

  • Are between 26 and 30
  • Have advanced degrees in a STEM field
  • Have job offers to make $155,800 or more
  • Are fluent in English
  • Plan to invest $1.8 million or more in the U.S.

The tool would also give preference to applicants who have won the Nobel Prize or who have medaled at the Olympics in the past eight years. Applicants who make less than $77,000 per year would receive zero points, and an advanced degree in a field other than the STEM professions wouldn’t receive additional points. People who have less than $1.35 million to invest would receive no points for their investments. The Raise Act also proposes an English ability test for applicants.

The bill is unlikely to pass, but Trump’s support demonstrates the direction that the administration would like to go. An immigration attorney may help applicants get their visas while they still can.

Justice Department Cracks Down on Continuances in Immigration Cases

gavel with America flag, immigrationWith Trump’s promise to take an aggressive approach to immigration, the Justice Department recently issued new guidance to immigration courts to grant fewer continuances to lawyers so that they can prepare. This may result in far more deportations because of the inability to properly prepare for deportation and removal hearings. While the court process has been bogged down, speeding it up by denying continuances may have due process implications. A Chicago immigration lawyer must have time to properly investigate cases and prepare for these hearings to better represent the interests of clients.

The Guidance to Immigration Judges

The Department of Justice sent a memorandum on July 31 to all immigration courts in the nation. It urged immigration judges to grant fewer continuances in order to try to clear the huge backlog of immigration cases. There are currently more than 600,000 pending cases in the immigration court system, a number that has doubled since 2011. While this backlog is an acknowledged problem, denying attorney requests for continuances so that they can have time to prepare may violate the due process rights of the immigrants.

Why Denying Continuances Is Problematic

In the criminal justice system, the government must turn over all of the evidence it has gathered against defendants to the defense. This is done so that defense lawyers are able to prepare their clients’ cases. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that defendants in the criminal justice system have the right to present a defense. They also have the right to receive the discovery in their cases so that they can see the evidence that the state has against them before accepting pleas or going to trials.

In the immigration system, the government does not have to turn over the evidence that it has gathered against immigrants. Instead, the immigration attorneys often have to file Freedom of Information Act requests in order to get the evidence that will be used against their clients. FOIA requests can take months to be processed by the government, necessitating attorney continuances so that they can prepare. In many cases, attorneys are retained shortly before their clients’ scheduled appearances and need to request continuances in order to adequately represent them. If these continuances are routinely denied, it will make it far more difficult for Chicago immigration lawyers to secure the evidence that they need before their clients’ deportation and removal hearings.


Chicago Stands Strong with Lawsuit Against Justice Department

a chicago view, immigrationIn the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s threat to cut off federal funds for sanctuary cities, including Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice on Aug. 4. The city’s lawsuit concerns newly issued DOJ regulations that would prevent Chicago from accessing federal grants for public safety unless immigration authorities were given full access to the city’s police stations and were notified by a minimum of 48 hours when wanted immigrants were scheduled for release from custody. While this fight wends its way through federal court, the best immigration lawyers in Chicago continue advocating for immigrants who are ensnared in the immigration system and those who are attempting to secure the visas that they need to remain in the U.S. legally.

Why Chicago Sued the DOJ

The Trump Administration has claimed that cities with sanctuary policies for immigrants are endangering others, which is why the DOJ has taken such an aggressive stance. Cities and law enforcement officers argue that enacting policies that would make law enforcement officers notify federal immigration authorities when they encounter undocumented immigrants would instead hurt public safety. Law enforcement agencies work to build trust relationships with the public, including in minority communities. This helps victims and witnesses of crimes feel more comfortable in coming forward. If these victims and witnesses believe that they might be turned over to immigration authorities, they will be less likely to report crimes.

The Grants That Are at Stake

The lawsuit concerns public safety grants through which cities can purchase vehicles, SWAT team equipment and guns for their police forces. While these grants are currently just a tiny portion of Chicago’s overall budget, city officials argue that if the city failed to challenge the regulations, the funding cut-off could be extended by the Justice Department to include other important federal grants as well.

Opponents of Trump’s push to cut off funds for sanctuary cities also argue that this type of action would be a federal overreach and unconstitutional. In April, a federal judge in the Ninth Circuit blocked a portion of Trump’s executive order to cut off funding to sanctuary cities, ruling that it would cause immediate and irreparable harm to the cities.

It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen with the DOJ’s regulations. The best immigration lawyers will continue to represent businesses and people who have immigration issues in the meantime.