Changes to Foreign Affairs Manual (90 day rule): New Guidelines for Inadmissibility for Misrepresentation

On the first of September, the Department of State (DOS) released new guidelines, published in the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), for the term “misrepresentation” for the purposes of deciding grounds for inadmissibility. Misrepresentation of intent to enter the US or receive a visa presents grounds for inadmissibility under INA. The new announcement eliminates the DOS 30/60 rule, which outlined whether a consular officer could presume that an applicant lied about their intentions based on actions that occurred after the applicant entered the US. Now, “conduct inconsistent with status” that occurs within 90 days of entry into the US, will be presumed as a purposeful misrepresentation of intent, creating grounds for inadmissibility.

Old 30/60 Rule

Previously within a period of 30 days, immigration officers assumed that any distortion of truth on applications for visas or entry into the US regarding the foreign national’s basis for admission was a purposeful misrepresentation of intent for visa. For example, if a non-immigrant entered the US on a visitor visa (like a B-1/B-2 visa ) and enrolled into an educational institution within 30 days of arrival or got married and filed an application for adjustment of status, the government previously assumed that the foreign national misrepresented their motive for entry. Under the old guidelines, inconsistent conduct that occurred between 30-60 days was not misrepresentative of the foreign national’s intent at application, but the conduct was eligible for investigation by an immigration officer.

New 90-Day Rule

The new FAM guideline extends the period of assumed misrepresentative intent to 90 days. Consequently, those who are in the US under the US Waiver Program, which allows admittance for a period of 90 days, are assumed to have willfully misrepresented intent if the file and application for change or adjustment of status. Those entering in a B-1/B-2 status or any other non-immigrant visa will also face a similar scrutiny. Under the new provision, consular officers are to presume misrepresentative intent for the entirety of the 90-days. If conduct occurs more than 90-days after entry or approval for US visa, the applicant is not presumed to have willfully misrepresented intent on their application. 

Impact

The new FAM timeline presents an issue for many non-immigrants who have a pending application for adjustment or change of status. The new 90-day rule will not affect applicants on a dual intent visa like H-1B. However, if a foreign national changes status within 90 days of arrival, they may be at a risk of inadmissibility. It is noteworthy to remember that accusations of misrepresentation on an application for a visa or entry in the US is refutable. It is important to receive consultation before changing or adjusting status during the period of 90 days since under the new policy the consular offer may presume misrepresentation at any time, even after 90 days of entry, if the facts of the case support such a determination. This new policy, being broader than the previous one, would result in increased misrepresentation findings which under INA may make an individual permanently inadmissible to the US.

Understanding Your Status: Lawful Status, Period of Authorized Stay, & Lawful Presence

A foreign national’s legal status at the time of a change, extension, or adjustment of status can influence the outcome of an immigration matter. An error in maintaining legal status may prevent the foreign national from receiving the desired immigration benefits. It is important to understand your current legal status and how it may determine your chances for change, extension, or adjustment of status.

 Lawful Nonimmigrant Status

Foreign nationals in lawful nonimmigrant status possess an unexpired arrival/ departure form (I-94) issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A valid I-94 by itself does not grant a valid status. Foreign nationals must also maintain lawful status by adhering to guidelines set by their visa classification. For example, H-1B visa holders must maintain employment with their petitioning employer during the period of I-94 validity. Failure to satisfy visa regulations will result in a loss of lawful nonimmigrant status.

Period of Authorized Stay

If an application to request change or extend status is filed on behalf of an foreign national before his/her status expires, the foreign national may be in a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General.” A good example of this would be where a petition to extend the H-1B is filed on behalf of the foreign national before his/her I-94 expires and the petition remains pending with the USCIS awaiting adjudication, after the expiration of the I-94. 

A nonimmigrant maintains a period of authorized stay as long as the application is still pending a decision even though, under certain circumstances, they may fall out of status. If the USCIS eventually approves the pending application or petition for extension or change of status, the foreign national retroactively transitions into status.

Similarly, those with a pending application for adjustment of status without the underling non-immigrant status are generally in period of authorized stay while the application for adjustment of status is pending with the USCIS.

Out of Status & Unlawful Presence

Foreign nationals not in period of authorized stay or not maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status are considered unlawfully present in the U.S and maybe out of status. A good example of unlawful presence would be a scenario where a foreign national with an expired I-94 card continues to be present in the U.S. Such a foreign national would accrue unlawful presence from the date their I-94 expired, and would be subject to re-entry bar after departing the U.S. Unlawful presence for a period longer than 180 day will result in three-year ban from the U.S. If the person was unlawfully present for a period of one year or more, then the person is banned from the U.S. for a period of ten years. It is important to understand the subtle distinction between out of status and unlawful presence. A person with a valid I-94 who fails to maintain his/her status is out of status through not unlawfully present in the U.S. (hence not accruing the unlawful presence inadmissibility bar). However, it would be hard for them to obtain future immigration or visa benefits.

For foreign nationals with a timely filed application or petition for extension, change, or adjustment of status, the unlawful presence begins on the denial date. Foreign nationals who are out of status or unlawfully present, are subject to removal from the U.S.

Conclusion

 It is imperative to understand your status before applying for extended stay or adjustment of status. The complexities between lawful status, out of status, period of authorized stay, and unlawful presence greatly impact the immigration process. If you have any question regarding your legal status, feel free to contact our office to schedule a consultation.

FOIA Request to Resolve Immigration Issues

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives any person the right to request access to records and documents from government agencies. Individuals with pending immigration cases can make a request under the FOIA for important records held by U.S. Department of State (DOS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and others. Obtaining records through FOIA may assist in providing the necessary documentation to resolve a pending immigration case.

Helpful for Your Case

Over the years, copies of important records and documents are lost or damaged. A FOIA request can help restore lost copies and provide evidence of immigration history, which is necessary for status renewal or adjustment of status. Those seeking records may also benefit from obtaining access to materials of adjudication from previous cases (like notes from USCIS officers). Accessing these materials may aid in expediting pending or future immigration cases.

How to Make a FOIA Request

There are a variety of ways to request documents under FOIA, however the process may be difficult to navigate. Each request for an immigration document is filed through the agency designated to that particular record. For example, one must request an A-file (alien file) through USCIS by submitting a Form G-639, while CBP processes requests for I-94 records. It may take a long time before a request is processed. A high-volume request may take longer to process than a more directed request that require only a few documents, so the timeline of each request varies drastically.

Records NOT Covered Under FOIA

The Freedom of Information/ Privacy Act does not allow for complete access to all documents held by government agencies. FOIA contains 9 exceptions that include protections of individual privacy, national security, and trade secrets. If an immigration case is currently under investigation by a federal agency, like the FBI, the documents and records will not be public under FOIA.

Conclusion

It is crucial to possess required records and documents for your immigration case. FOIA facilitates freedoms of information, but in a complex and convoluted manner. It can be difficult to know which documents you need, and from what federal agencies. Sharma Law Offices can assist you with navigating your FOIA request for records.

 

Steps to Replace Lost Passport with U.S. Visa

Losing a passport with a valid visa, particularly in a foreign country, is always a huge setback especially for those who are on a short vacation and must return to the U.S.  to resume their employment or to attend school.  Irrespective of the care one takes to guard important documents, every year many passports are stolen. If you notice that your passport containing a U.S. visa is either missing or stolen, it is important to follow these steps to obtain new documents.

File a Police Report

As soon as you realize your documents are missing, go to your local police station and report the loss. According to the U.S. Department of State, it is necessary have a copy of the police report detailing the missing or stolen passport to re-apply for a new passport & visa.

Report Missing Passport to Your Native Country

Obtaining a new passport will depend on your country of citizenship. Most countries have websites that assist in the reporting of a lost or stolen passport. You can contact your local embassy or consular section for your country of citizenship for more information regarding replacement of the lost documents.

Report Missing Visa U.S. Embassy Abroad

Contact the consular section of the U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad that issued your visa. Provide the office with as much identifying information as possible (Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, U.S. address, etc.) and indicate whether the visa was lost or stolen. Make sure you include any documentation of your original passport and visa (i.e. Digital scans of original documents). Once you have reported your lost or stolen visa, that visa will no longer be valid for travel to the United States. Even if you later find your misplaced visa, you must apply for a new visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Reapply for U.S. Visa

You cannot replace your lost or stolen visa in the United States. To replace your lost visa, you must apply in person at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad. You will need to have documentation of your lost or stolen visa, including a copy of your police report.  

It is important to keep track of all important travel documents to prevent future issues. It is highly recommended that one should have a copy of one’s passport and visa as it would help the consulate locate the information in a timely manner.

Global Entry Enrollment Open for Indian Citizens

Travel to United States just became easier for citizens of India. In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that India would be added to the list of approved Global Entry countries. According to the CBP, the Global Entry program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. For approved travelers entering the U.S., Global Entry means reduced wait times in designated airports.

What are the benefits of Global Entry?

Global Entry is available at major U.S. airports and select international airports. Approved travelers can skip paperwork and long processing lines, and check in directly with a Global Entry kiosk. However, CBP retains the right to further inspect Global Entry travelers when entering the United States. Travelers enrolled in the Global Entry program can also benefit from TSA pre-check, which allows travelers to move quickly through security lines.

How Do I Get Global Entry Approval?

Besides U.S. citizens and U.S. legal permanent residents, only citizens of Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Mexico, and (as of July) India are eligible for Global Entry. To be approved, you must create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account and complete the online application. The application process includes: a non-refundable fee of $100, a thorough background check, and an in person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Additional requirements apply depending on country of origin. For citizens of India, applicants must:

  • Pay a ₹500 background check fee;
  • Submit additional information to the Passport Seva Portal;
  • Complete an in-person interview at a designate Passport Seva Kendra/Passport Seva Laghu Kendra (PSK/PSLK) location.

Approved Global Entry travelers must have updated passports and authorized visas. If you have any questions, we invite you to contact our office to receive consultation on visa renewal.

Obtaining Waiver for Nonimmigrants

Nonimmigrants who are found ineligible for admission (inadmissible) for entry into the U.S. are permanently barred from entering or remaining in the U.S. Generally, an inadmissible individual can seek entrance on a temporary basis with an Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §212(d)(3) nonimmigrant visa waiver. This waiver is available to foreign nationals who have been found inadmissible due to various reasons, including criminal convictions, medical grounds, and immigration violations. Eligible applicants can find the waiver useful if they can overcome the grounds of inadmissibility as listed in the INA (exceptions are related to foreign policy and association with Nazi persecutions).

Normally, the waiver is accompanied by a nonimmigrant visa (e.g. H-1B, L1, tourist visa, or student visa). An individual needing a nonimmigrant waiver will file the waiver request at the time of applying for a nonimmigrant visa at an U.S. embassy or consulate. If the consular officer supports the approval of the waiver, s/he would submit his/her recommendation along with the waiver request to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Admissibility Review Office (ARO). The ARO reviews the waiver recommendation and submits a response to the consular post.

If the consular officer does not recommend an applicant for a waiver, the applicant can still proceed with the submission and request the consular officer to forward the waiver application. The consular officer will submit the waiver along with his/her case summary to U.S. Department of State (DOS) Visa Office (VO). If the VO determines that the waiver should be granted, it will forward the waiver request to ARO for final adjudication.  It is noteworthy to remember that the consular officer may submit a recommendation to DOS against the waiver with a summary of reasons for the objection to a favorable grant of waiver.

If a nonimmigrant visa has been obtained or is not required, then the waiver can be applied at a U.S. port of entry. For waivers submitted directly to CBP, instead of submission through a consulate, Form I-192 Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant has to be completed. For cases involving U visas or T visas, the waiver can be applied through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

It is at the immigration officers’ discretion to grant or deny the waiver application. However, there are three main factors that the officers will consider: (1) the risk of harm to society in admitting the applicant; (2) the seriousness of the acts that caused the inadmissibility; and (3) the importance of the applicant’s reason for seeking entry.  

Current processing times for waivers filed with a U.S. consulate is up to 90 to 180 days. For waivers submitted directly to the CBP, processing times can be up to 150 to 180 days. Please note that the processing times are estimates and actual processing times may vary depending on an individual’s case and/or ARO’s caseload.

Waivers are useful and an important solution for many individuals who are found inadmissible. However, filing the waiver application does not mean the waiver request will be granted; it is a complex, lengthy, and discretionary process. Feel free to contact our office to learn more about eligibility and submitting a §212(d)(3) nonimmigrant visa waiver.

Warrantless Searches by CBP at the Border and Port of Entry

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have the broad legal authority to conduct searches at the border and Port of Entry (POE). Unlike police officers who need search warrants, CBP can conduct searches “without individualized suspicion” as stated in CBP’s policy. U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and visitors alike are subjected to CBP searches, including searches of electronic devices and social media accounts.

In light of heightened national security interests and border protection, the Supreme Court has upheld CBP’s right to conduct warrantless searches without any suspicion as “reasonable” and an exception to the 4th Amendment. In this digital age where cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices, contain private information, including photos, contacts, and messages, the warrantless search is rather intrusive, particuarly when it is done without much justification by the CBP agent.

A secondary issue to the warrantless searches is CBP’s access to the individual’s social media accounts. CBP started collecting identifiers (search words) to view one’s public information in 2016. However, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) reported that it has seen instances where CBP agents requested login information so they can view private messages. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said officials were considering a policy that would allow CBP agents to ask refugees and immigrants for their social media login information. 

Speaking to The New York Times, a CBP spokesman reported that CBP agents inspected 4,444 cellphones and 320 other electronic devices in 2015. The number rose to 23,000 in 2016. America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that it has seen an increase in the number of people who said their electronic devices have been searched.

One can refuse to consent to a search, but that does not stop CBP from forcing him/her to unlock the device, detain him/her until s/he consents, arrest the him/her, seize the device and release the person, or for nonimmigrants, refuse their admission into the U.S. There are ways to prepare before traveling. Suggestions from ACLU include:

  • traveling with as little data and as few devices as possible. The less you’re carrying, the less there is to search. Consider using a travel-only smartphone or laptop that doesn’t contain private or sensitive information. You could also ship your devices to yourself in advance. (Be aware that CBP claims the authority to search international packages so it is best to encrypt any devices that you ship.) Keep in mind that a forensic search of your device will unearth deleted items, metadata, and other files.  
  • encrypting devices with strong and unique passwordsand shut them down when crossing the border.  
  • storing sensitive data in a secure cloud-storage account. Don’t keep a copy of the data in your physical possession, and disable any apps that connect to cloud-based accounts where you store sensitive communications or files. (There’s no articulated CBP policy on whether agents may click on apps and search data stored in the cloud. While this kind of warrantless search should be well outside the government’s authority at the border, we don’t know how they view this issue.)  
  • uploading sensitive photos on your camera to your password-protected laptop or a cloud-storage account. Digital cameras don’t offer encrypted storage, so you should consider backing up your photos and deleting them from your camera and reformatting the camera’s memory card.

BIA Appeal Reverses Material Misrepresentation on I-485

From time to time, like in our previous writing, Abandonment of LPR (Green Card) Status (Part II), we discuss unpublished/non-precedential decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) made public thru various means. While non-precedential decisions are only binding on the parties to the case – they are nevertheless very instructive because the BIA is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.

Another such non-precedential decision is the case Muhamad Yusuf Luwaga, A097 750 414 (BIA Dec. 12, 2014), wherein the BIA addressed the issue of whether a false signature on a Form I-485 application for adjustment of status constituted a willful misrepresentation of material fact. By statute, Section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) renders inadmissible any foreign national seeking to procure a benefit  under the INA through fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact.

In Luwaga, the BIA considered an Immigration Judge’s (IJ) ruling that the respondent (Luwaga) willfully misrepresented a material fact on his adjustment of status Form I-485 application by testifying, under oath, that the signature on the application was his when, in reality, it was not. Ultimately, the IJ declared Luwaga inadmissible because there was no properly sworn Form I-485 before the court.

In sustaining Luwaga’s appeal, the BIA stated the general test for assessing whether a misrepresentation is material as “whether the respondent potentially would be inadmissible or ineligible for relief under the true facts, or whether the misrepresentation would tend to cut off a line of inquiry relevant to the respondent’s eligibility for admission or relief.”  

The BIA applied this test and initially conceded as “obvious” the IJ would have inquired further had Luwaga truthfully admitted his signature did not appear on the application.

However, the BIA gave more weight to the fact no finding was made (by the IJ) that the substantive information in the application itself was false or misleading. Furthermore, the BIA found especially significant Luwaga had previously established prejudice due to ineffective assistance of his prior attorney which may have contributed to his false testimony.

Accordingly, in the absence of a finding of material misrepresentation as to substantive content, the BIA determined the identity of the signer on Luwaga’s original Form I-485 not relevant to his admissibility or eligibility for other relief, particularly in the context of a substantiated claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.      

Happily, it appears substance prevailed over form in this BIA ruling. Sharma Law Offices, a highly rated Atlanta immigration law firm, is available for consultation with respect to adjustment of status issues.     

U.S. Supreme Court Decision Broadens Rights Afforded to Same-Sex Couples

In our past news item, DOMA Ruling and Immigration Benefits for Same-Sex Partners, we discussed the implications of a June 2013 Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision invalidating an  operative provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) affecting same-sex marriages.

More specifically, in U.S. v. Windsor, the SCOTUS struck down Section 3 of the DOMA as unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex married couples as married for federal purposes.

Prior to U.S. v. Windsor, DOMA, Section 3, had far reaching consequences because many federal laws addressed or hinged upon marital or spousal status.

With respect to federal immigration law, under DOMA, same-sex partners were disallowed immigration benefits conditioned upon the existence of a marriage or spousal status. For example, persons in same-sex unions were excluded from the same immigration benefits obtainable by persons in opposite-sex marriages such as those related to family-based visas, employment-based visas, refugee status, asylum, naturalization, and discretionary waivers.

After Windsor struck down DOMA’s confinement of marriage to heterosexual couples, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began to recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes. In this regard, USCIS issued a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) specifying how the Windsor decision implicated certain immigration based benefits contingent on marital or spousal status.

In one key FAQ, USCIS concluded the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated determines whether the marriage is legally valid for immigration purposes. Therefore, under this “State of Celebration” FAQ, same-sex couples living in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage could still apply for federal immigration benefits as long as they were validly married in another state that recognized same-sex marriage.

Notably, but for the 2013 SCOTUS Windsor decision, more recent spousal immigration benefits related to the ability to study and work in the U.S. and  discussed in our news items DHS Permits Part-Time F-2 and M-2 Study and Removes DSO Cap and H-4 EAD for Certain Dependent Spouses Now in Effect, would not have applied to persons in same-sex marriages under the pre-Windsor Defense of Marriage Act.

On June 26, 2015, as the title to the present article suggests, the SCOTUS issued another decision in Obergefell v. Hodges which effectively broadens the scope of the Windsor decision.

Whereas Windsor invalidated a provision of a federal law (DOMA), Obergefell addresses the more global issue of whether individual states are permitted to limit the definition of marriage to the union between one man and one woman.

In Obergefell, the SCOTUS found the right to marry is a fundamental liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that exists between two people of the same sex. In doing so, Obergefell now requires all 50 states to license same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed out of state.

Accordingly, de facto expansion of the above mentioned “State of Celebration” FAQ is one result of the Obergefell decision because pre-Obergefell variation in state law as to the validity of same-sex marriage is no longer an impediment to immigration benefits conferred under federal law.

Over the years, Sharma Law Offices, a top rated Atlanta Immigration Lawyer, has handled thousands of marriage-based and employment-based petitions and is proud to work on behalf of individuals and businesses seeking same-sex immigration benefits.

U.S. Supreme Court Solidifies the Doctrine of Consular Nonreviewability

On June 15, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in Kerry v. Din which reinforces the viability of the judicially created doctrine known as “consular nonreviewability.”

At its broadest, the doctrine of consular nonreviewability is typically understood to mean a consular officer’s decision to deny a visa is not subject to judicial review and scrutiny regarding the underlying bases for such denial. As a narrow exception, the government need only supply a “facially legitimate and bona fide” reason for denying a visa when the denial affects the rights of a U.S. citizen. The end result is an applicant is often bereft of meaningful recourse to test the validity of and/or overcome a consular officer’s decision to deny his or her visa.

The doctrine evolved from case law more or less beginning in the late 1800s at a time when anti-immigration sentiment ran high. The decisions in this line of cases generally found U.S. courts should not interfere with determinations whether to allow foreign nationals into the U.S. because such matters are sovereign and political in nature and rest exclusively within the province of congress. This is sometimes also referred to as “plenary power” of congress to exclude foreign nationals the privilege to enter the United States. 

Under the facts of Kerry v. Din, the foreign national, Kanishka Berashk, a citizen of Afghanistan, is married to Fauzia Din, a naturalized U.S. citizen. Berashk also held a civil servant position (payroll clerk) with the Afghanistan government during a time when the Afghan government was controlled by the Taliban.

Din filed and obtained approval of an I-130 petition for her husband “as an immediate relative” so they could be together as husband and wife in the United States. However, after a prolonged waiting period, the consular officer denied Berashk a visa – vaguely citing an INA provision prohibiting admission of individuals engaged in “terrorist activities.” The denial offered no explanation specifying what terrorist activities Berashk engaged in or what Berashk had otherwise done that led to denial of his visa. One can speculate Berashk’s civil servant position under a Taliban controlled government played some part in the denial.   

Din thereafter filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court seeking relief in the form of an extraordinary writ instructing the government to properly adjudicate Berashk’s visa application and provide notice as to the facts upon which the government relied to deny her husband’s visa. The U.S. district court dismissed Din’s claim under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability. Upon Din’s appeal, the U.S. circuit court disagreed with the district court and found the government’s mere citation to an INA statute in the absence of supporting factual allegations was not a facially valid reason to deny Berashk’s visa application.  

The government thereafter appealed the circuit court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Unfortunately for Din and her husband, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit court decision and found Din, as a naturalized U.S. citizen, did not have a right to a more detailed explanation than the “facially legitimate and bona fide” citation to the federal INA statute related to terrorist activities, and, ultimately, Din did not have a due process right for judicial review of the consular officer’s denial.

The importance of carefully crafting visa applications at consulates abroad in the first instance is crucial, especially in light of the continued viability of the doctrine of consular nonreviewability rendering it very difficult to upset a consular officer’s decision to deny a visa. Therefore, it is recommended one contact an experienced immigration attorney to consult on such matters, particularly when there may only be one bite at the apple.