A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Think Twice Before You File Any Immigration or Naturalization Application

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a recent policy guidance that indicates an expanded scope of power in issuing Notices to Appear (NTA). A Notice to Appear is a document that begins removal proceedings for a foreign national. It directs them to appear in immigration court in front of a judge and can end in deportation.

USCIS already has the authority under a previous guidance to issue NTAs in cases of national security concerns, cases where they are required to do so by statute or regulation, and in Temporary Protected Status and DACA cases. The recent policy update specifies that USCIS can issue an NTA on denied cases "for reasons other than fraud". This is a very broad definition, giving much leeway for USCIS to legally serve NTAs. There is a notable change in the scope of USCIS' authority between this new guidance and the previous one.

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Furthermore, under the new guidance, after USCIS denies an immigration application, the applicant could be placed in removal proceedings if the person is unlawfully present in the U.S.  Currently, USCIS would issue a notice instructing an out-of-status applicant to leave the country after denial.

Change of employers under H-1B status, for example, can become risky if the applicant leaves the initial employer before the petition to change employers is decided. A denial would result in the applicant becoming out of status.   Another example is a B1/B2 visitor applying for extension or change of status.  The current lengthy processing times mean that the applicant's authorized stay will almost certainly have ended when a decision is issued.  If her application is then denied, she is unlawfully in the country. The recent policy guidance gives the USCIS the authority to immediately issue an NTA in these circumstances. 

USCIS is also now able to serve NTAs to applicants charged or convicted of criminal offenses, regardless of whether the crime was related to the case. The policy guidance also writes that denial of N-400 applications on good moral character grounds because of criminal offenses can also result in an NTA. There is no specification on how old the charges or convictions need to be.

With these changes, the USCIS has become a powerful enforcer. The authority to serve NTAs under such broad definitions is substantial. It is not clear to what extent USCIS will exercise this new authority, especially given the huge backlog of removal cases already pending before the immigration court. Nonimmigrants must now plan very carefully when it comes to changing their immigration status. They should weigh the pros and cons before filing any petition with USCIS, as a denial could result in being placed in removal proceedings. An order of removal would make it very difficult for a foreigner to return to the U.S. in the future. 

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