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Is the Situation at the Border Impacting the Availability of Visas and Green Cards?

Over the past couple of years, our news has been filled with promises and proclamations from the current administration relating to immigration. We’ve been inundated with terms like “extreme vetting”, “the wall”, and “ICE raids”. Whether or not you support the current administration’s views on immigration there is no getting around it, immigration is very much in the political spotlight these days. Therefore, this article contains a discussion on how today’s political climate and the current situation at our southern border is impacting the availability of visas and green cards for those individuals who are trying to immigrate and obtain citizenship legally.

What Does it Mean to Immigrate Legally into the U.S.?

Before analyzing the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border it is important to start at the beginning and talk about what it means to immigrate legally into the United States. In a nutshell, an individual legally immigrates into the United States when he/she honestly (i.e. without committing fraud) obtains permission from the government to come to, and reside in, the U.S. However, a foreign national who enters the United States without first obtaining this permission has entered illegally and is deemed to be “undocumented”.

It is important to note that, legally speaking, there is a big difference between legally immigrating into the United States and being an American citizen. Generally speaking, an American citizen (i.e. a passport holder) is always entitled to permanently live and work in the U.S., and can come and go as they please. A legal immigrant, on the other hand, is usually admitted into the country on a more conditional basis. A legal immigrant can be admitted on a permanent basis, a temporary basis, or a discretionary basis, and may or may not be allowed to work depending on the particulars of their immigration status. However, eligible legal immigrants can apply to become a full-fledged American citizen if they are on a “path to citizenship”.

All of this is important background knowledge to have when analyzing the political situation surrounding the US-Mexican border because much of the debate that is currently raging has to do with the availability of visas/green cards and who should be eligible to obtain them.

The Current Situation at the Border

News outlets are classifying the current situation at the U.S.-Mexican border as a migrant crisis. Depending on which newspaper you read the crisis is either defined in terms of the number of migrants who have died trying to reach the border, or in terms of how many undocumented migrants are entering the country. Regardless of whether or not you are pro-immigration, it seems undeniable that there is a crisis at the border as America is experiencing a surge of families, mostly from Central America, seeking asylum at the border. This increase in asylum seekers has caused processing facilities at the border to become overwhelmed and (in the opinion of some) unhuman detention policies to be implemented.

This crisis is punctuated by the Trump administration’s various new policies and directives that are aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from crossing the border and deporting those who do make it through. Promises to build a wall, conduct ICE raids, and take other actions intended to limit undocumented immigration receive by far the most attention in the news, but the political debate surrounding the border extends far beyond undocumented immigration. The situation at the border has sparked wider discussions about legal immigration at large and has led to the implementation of several new policies that limit the options of foreign nationals looking to immigrate legally.

Is it Harder to Get Green Cards and Visas Now?

In a nutshell yes, green card and visa applicants nowadays tend to face obstacles that immigrant hopefuls in the past did not. Over the last couple of years, the Trump administration has made many changes to U.S. immigration policy. Some of these changes have been big and some have been small. Some have been aimed at curbing undocumented immigration into the United States and others have resulted in making legal immigration more difficult. Below we have highlighted a few of the key ways in which legal immigration and the availability of visas and green cards have become more challenging as of late.

The Revised Incomplete or Inaccurate Application Policy

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is now able to deny any visa or green card application that contains an error or is missing evidence. In previous years applicants who made such a mistake on an application were given a chance to correct the mistake and then resubmit their application. Now, making a minor mistake on your application can result in your visa or green card petition being flat out denied. USCIS claims that this policy change was made to cut down on placeholder applications (i.e. an application that is substantially incomplete but is submitted anyway as a means of buying time knowing that USCIS will continue to send the application back to them requesting more information).

An Increased Scrutiny of Highly Skilled Worker Visa Applications

An article in Pro Publica indicates that foreign workers who have been applying for highly skilled worker visas have been requested to provide more detailed information about their specialized skills in recent years than in the past. The aim of this increased scrutiny is to make sure that specialty work visas are only awarded to the most highly skilled foreign workers.

The “Frivolous or Meritless” Directive

A policy directive issued last summer allows USCIS staff members to deny visa applications that they deem to be “frivolous or meritless”. The directive does not spell out what exactly makes an application frivolous or meritless, but the performing arts community fears that these terms will be used to limit the number of work visas that will be awarded to performing and visual artists.

Ending DACA

Back in 2017, the Trump Administration decided to wind down DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The goal of the DACA program was to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children from deportation. Under the program, eligible immigrants were allowed to be lawfully present in the U.S., although it did not provide legal status or a path to citizenship. Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether or not the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA was legal.

Lower Refugee Caps

In 2018 The New York Times reported that the Trump administration had decided to cap the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. at 30,000, which was a record low. The number of visas available for refugees may be reduced even further in the future as CNN reported just last month that the current administration has been floating the possibility of not admitting refugees at all next year.

Is it Still Possible to Legally Immigrate to the United States?

Yes, it is most definitely still possible for foreign nationals to legally immigrate to the United States and to get on a path to citizenship. The policy changes that are noted above to not bar legal immigration, they just make it harder to obtain a visa or green card under some circumstances. Well over one million legal immigrants are admitted into the U.S. annually, so it is definitively still possible to immigrate legally. Furthermore, keep in mind that America is still very much a nation of immigrants. In fact, the Migration Policy Institute notes that according to the most recent census there are more than 44.5 million immigrants currently living in the United States and that one in seven U.S. residents is foreign-born.

Anyone who wants to legally immigrate into the United States should consult with an experienced immigration attorney without delay. As you can tell from this article, the landscape of U.S. immigration law is currently in flux so step one for anyone interested in obtaining a visa or green card should be to consult with a well-respected immigration law firm.

We Can Help

If you or a family member is interested in immigrating to the United States, becoming an American citizen, or have questions about your immigration status the Law Office of William Jang, PLLC is here to help. We are based in Austin, Texas and as such many of our clients are immigrants from Mexico and Central America, however, we also represent clients from around the world. No matter where a client originates from, we are committed to providing top-notch legal representation that is tailored to suit the specific needs and circumstances of that client. To find out what Law Office of William Jang, PLLC can do for you simply give us a call at (512) 323-2333.

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