I am often asked whether the Trump Administration is impacting immigration law. The headline news concerns travel bans from certain countries and refugees, and this indeed is impacting noncitizens. I routinely hear from professionals who are concerned about their eligibility for benefits under the new administration. Their anxiety is real. Human Resource Departments feel the stress too, as key employees send emails and phone busy staff, with palpable concern. The undocumented communities are very anxious about police coordinating with ICE, as the Administration makes overtures towards “sanctuary” cities and enforcement policies.
Here are a few things that have occurred recently that may not be getting as much press coverage:
1. USCIS recently issued a memo revoking old guidance on computer programmers, and encouraging adjudicators to take a longer look at whether computer programmer positions are actually specialty occupations. Information technology professionals cover about half of the annual quota for H-1Bs professionals.
2. Recently, some ports of entry began to say that Advanced Nurse Practitioners do not qualify for TN status as registered nurses, despite historic practice. This means there is increased risk in traveling abroad for RNs who are ARNPs, as well as with renewals. It does not appear this is a universal interpretation.
3. Premium processing for H-1Bs–which guarantees 15 day adjudication for the price of $1225- is suspended as of April 3rd. USCIS has a considerable backlog on H-1Bs that they need to manage, but there is no confidence that they’ll be able to do this without this program, which, by the way, generates substantial revenues. In particular, physicians who complete their residencies and take on new fellowships on July 1st are particularly concerned.
4. Searches of electronic media at the border have gone up considerably. The Guardian referred to this as a digital strip search. CBP asks for a password, and then takes a person’s phone or computer to another room, and comes back a while later, having scanned photos, emails, and other confidential information. Often, they offer no reason for the search—they just claim the authority and proceed.
5. The border is also asking more frequently whether a person has ever smoked or used marijuana. If the person responds yes, during a sworn statement, the agency is then finding the person inadmissible and requiring them to get a waiver. Waivers cost $585 for Canadians, and take months to process.
6. The Department of State has issued cables to its consular officers requiring them to “improve visa applicant vetting” and to implement “the concepts undergirding the Presidential memorandum.” Also, a hiring freeze was ordered, which will eventually further backlog appointments.
7. Contractors are lining up to build the wall.
8. ICE is deporting persons who have had deferred action and persons who are showing up for USCIS appointments. These have included family members, DREAMers, and other non-criminals.
Make no mistake—the Administration is not just focused on illegal immigration. The Administration is focused on limiting all immigration, and is implementing immigration procedures which effectively do this, even before pursuing a legislative agenda. These measures add complexity and require added time for all immigration processes.