Treaty Investor Program Open to Israel: E-2 Visa Program

The United States Embassy in Israel announced a new agreement permitting Israeli citizens to apply to the E-2 visa starting this month. Through the treaty, Israel follows 80 other countries listed under treaty investor status.

E-2 Program

The E-2 treaty investor program permits any national of a country with a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States to apply to be admitted into the United States as a capital investor. Those permitted the E-2 non-immigrant classification may enter the United States to invest in businesses. This program expands trade agreements between the US and its allies by allowing foreign investment in U.S. business. To be eligible for the program, investors must hold at least 50% stake of the developing business. The E-2 program additionally expands to employees and organizational associates of primary investors who serve as essential personnel to the U.S. business.

Israeli Tech

The agreement between the U.S. and Israel will boost commerce. The Israeli Tech industry, in particular, has shown interest in expanding in the U.S. market and investing in new startups. According to Forbes, “around 15% of all venture capital investment in cybersecurity goes to Israel, and a recent report from the Israel Venture Capital Research center and ZAG-S&W firm showed that $1.44 billion raised in high tech capital in Q3 of 2017, with the average financing round at $10 million.”The agreement, years in the making, began during the Obama administration in 2012. However, the federal government does not begin a E-2 program with a treaty country until a similar investment exchange program exist with the agreement party. Therefore, given delays in the government of Israel, the Israeli program launched only last year. While years in the making, this agreement should bring booming business to the United States given the successful growing start-up economy in Israel.

USCIS & DHS Takedown Immigration Fraud Scheme Directed at Families

In Florida, federal prosecutors and the United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announced indictment charges for Erika Paola Intriago, of Tampa, Florida. Intriago stands accused of four counts of wire fraud and three counts of wrongfully using government seals. Allegedly, Intriago posed as an immigration attorney through social media, manipulating immigrants and immigrant families from Florida to Illinois. If proven guilty, Intriago could face a penalty of 20 years for each count of wire fraud and up to five years in prison for each count of unauthorized use of governments seals.

Alleged Scheme

According to the indictment released by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Intriago posed as a licensed and qualified immigration attorney, despite holding no license to practice law in the state of Florida or any state for that matter. Intriago operated a business under the name of “EPI Services, INC” that purportedly helped assist individuals and families with all legal immigration matters. Through social media platforms like Facebook, Intriago advertised her services as a qualified legal expert in immigration matters to Hispanic immigrants around Florida. She particularly targeted vulnerable Spanish-speaking families, claiming to be a licensed immigration attorney. Victims of Intriago’s scheme needed assistance with matters before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and other agencies and payed Intriago to communicate between immigration agencies and the immigrant families both domestically and abroad. Intriago manipulated many of her victims by promising to secure her clients legal status if the victims payed through cash or money order. Intriago promised to pay USCIS fees directly, and instead pocketed the money without submitted forms or payments to the government. Intriago also stands accused of unauthorized use of government seals as a part of her scheme. Intriago would allegedly “create, copy, and affix seals of government agencies of the United States, including DHS and USCIS, to email messages, letters, and other documents created for and sent to her client-victims as purported proof that she was and had been acting on their behalf in immigration proceedings.” For some victims who had completed paperwork, Intriago either abandoned the immigration paperwork or did not inform her victims about notices of denial. Those victims who complained to Intriago were further victimized as Intriago would threaten to report undocumented clients to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency for deportation.

If you suspect someone is unlawfully posing as a licensed attorney, or you are someone or are aware of someone who is a possible victim please contact 1-866-DHS-2ICE.

USCIS on Marijuana (Naturalization)

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) updated policies related to conditional bars to naturalization due to substance abuse violations. The policy memo notes that regardless of state law, controlled substance related activity will create a conditional bar to establish good moral character for naturalization. Despite legalization in several states, Marijuana use may put naturalization applicants at risk of denial.

Marijuana & Federal Law

Marijuana, a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) is permitted for recreational consumption and medical consumption in several US states and territories. The USCIS policy memo states that despite the increasing acceptance in the form of legalization or decriminalization of Marijuana in areas across the country since 1996, including the District of Columbia, federal law maintains that Marijuana is a controlled substance. In fact, Marijuana is listed as a “Schedule I” controlled substance whose “manufacture, cultivation, possession, or distribution may lead to criminal and immigration consequences.”

To become a naturalized citizen, applicants must prove good moral character. Evidence of controlled substance-related activity leads to a conditional bar to establishing good moral character, regardless if the individual operates within state law. Additionally, those who are employed in the Marijuana industry, whether directly or indirectly, may be barred from establishing good moral character. The policy clarification states “[an] applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack [good moral character] if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.” Therefore, those who are found to consume or profit from the Marijuana industry, regardless of state legality, are deemed without good moral character under the USCIS policy manual. While the policy update largely targets those applicants in states which legalized marijuana, the controlled substance bar applies to all substances filed under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812).

USCIS Issues Guidance on Child Marriage: Policy Update

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced new guidance for adjudicating officers processing a Form I-130 spousal petition involving a minor party. Now, those petitions involving a minor party will require an initial interview as a part of the early stages of the Form I-130 adjudication.

Impacted Applications

From April 12th, 2019 on, all Form I-130 spousal petitions with a petitioner or beneficiary under the age of 16 years old will require an interview in the early stages. Those petitioners or beneficiaries seeking a spousal petition aged 16 or 17 will additionally be flagged for an initial interview if there is a 10 year or more age difference between the spouses. While there is no minimum age requirement for a spousal petition in the Immigration and Nationality Act, USCIS notes that the service will now consider these petitions with greater scrutiny given the unfortunate circumstances often surrounding child marriage. In many countries and areas around the United States, marriage is permitted before the age of 18 given specific requirements are met. The new initial interview process will ensure that the circumstances of the marriage were both legal and voluntary.

Circumstances Considered

When adjudicating a spousal petition with at least one minor petitioner or beneficiary, USCIS adjudicating officers will now consider the following:

  • Whether the marriage, at the place of celebration (e.g. country, municipality, etc.), was permissible under the local law;
  • Whether the marriage is valid under the current legislation of the couple’s present or understood state of residence, as filed in their Form I-130;
  • Whether the marriage conflicts with current public policy;
  • And, whether the marriage is legitimate under immigration guidelines.

This backstop will now help to ensure that all Form I-130 petitions are submitted without coercion or abuse of minor parties. In a statement, the Director of USICIS, L. Francis Cissna emphasized the Service’s dedication to additional scrutiny for spousal petitions involving minors, noting that the duty now falls upon Congress to provide “more clarity under the law” for USCIS adjudicating officers. Given the absence of federal law restricting the age of petitioners or beneficiaries seeking spousal immigration benefits, USCIS officers must assess these petitions on a case by case basis.

USCIS does however, have the power to issue a request for evidence (RFE), which largely places the responsibility of proving a bona fide relationship to the petitioners. Regardless, all petitions filed with a minor party are automatically flagged in the electronic system. USCIS then is alerted if a minor spouse or fiancé is involved in a Form I-130 petition. If the birthdate of a spouse was incorrectly filed, petitioners will have the opportunity to correct the mistake.

Marriage Fraud Business Take-Down

In Florida, two people stood before a United States District court for their involvement in a marriage and visa fraud scheme. Ravi Babu Kolla, a foreign national from India and Krystal Cloud, of Altha, Florida conspired together to assist Indian foreign nationals with obtaining immigration benefits through the spousal visa program. Both parties have since pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit marriage and visa fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Ms. Cloud, a United States citizen who entered a fraudulent marriage in 2017, faces two years in federal prison while Ravi Babu Kolla awaits sentencing from the acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, Lawrence Keefe.

Florida Marriage Fraud Scheme

For a period of 18-moths, from winter of 2017 to the summer of 2018, Kolla controlled an immigration fraud business in Bay County, Florida that sought out United States citizens to marry Indian foreign nationals. These clients payed Kolla to obtain US citizen spouses to remain in the United States under a fraudulent visa. According to the Department of Justice, a vast proportion of the foreign nationals had unlawfully extended the period of their prior visa or student visa, and were unlawfully present in the United States. While the recruitment of US citizens took place in Florida, the majority of the fake marriages were performed in the state of Alabama. In total, Kolla and Cloud facilitated over 80 fraudulent marriages.

In assisting with recruitment of US citizens, Cloud, a party in a fraudulent marriage herself, targeted vulnerable citizens in the largely rural areas surrounding Panama City and other nearby areas. In total, she pled guilty to assisting over 10 fraudulent marriages starting in late 2017. Cloud additionally aided in the gathering of personal information from the US citizen spouses, required in Form I-130 petitions. Kolla then created fraudulent immigration forms to allow those Indian foreign nationals who payed for Kolla’s services to live and remain in the United States. A United States citizen, Cloud will see only two years of prison. However, Kolla, who is detained in Florida awaiting sentencing procedures, could face up to 5 years for conspiracy to commit marriage fraud in addition to up to 20 years for money laundering conspiracy.

DOL Investigations Yields Order for H-1B Backpay

A United States Department of Labor (DOL) investigation has resulted in a federal order for a Minnesota technology company to pay an engineer back wages to the amount of $43,336. A federal judge ruled against the company, citing violations to H-1B wage regulations.

The Case

The DOL Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) and its investigation unit provided evidence to Judge Theresa Timlin in Minnesota following findings of misconduct within the TLC Precision Wafer Technologies Incorporation, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The company, which employs H-1B highly skilled workers, failed to pay a microfabrication engineer, working under the H-1B program, the wages stated in the H-1B application. TLC Precision Wafer Technologies Inc. additionally failed to maintain adequate records of payment to the engineer. While the Tech company had payed the engineer over $14,000 in cash reimbursements, Judge Timlin denied credit for the payment due to the lack of records and reporting of the payment to payroll and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as required to credit these payments.

Originally, the engineer was set to receive an annual salary of $43,000, per the H-1B petition. However, the employee left the tech company after they received reduced hours and pay. H-1B workers must be paid “at least equal to the actual wage paid by the employer to other workers with similar experience and qualifications for the job in question, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of intended employment – whichever is greater.” In denying the engineer payment as agreed in the H-1B program, the company unlawfully exploited the engineer. The company will now pay back wages of $43,366 in addition to payments for pre-judgement and post-judgement interest.

In a statement, the director of WHD in Minneapolis, David King said, “The resolution of this case demonstrates our commitment to safeguard American jobs, level the playing field for law-abiding employers, and ensure no one is being paid less than they are legally owed.” While the DOL works primarily to protect the interest of US worker, the DOL additionally protects the wages guaranteed to foreign nationals, especially in the case of the H-1B minimum salary requirements.

Student Groups Speak Out: New Foreign Student Requirements

According to Forbes, students in graduate programs across the country are urging law makers to immigration policies affecting international students. In a letter to members of congress, the graduate student associations of five of Texas’ top university urged lawmakers to reconsider recent policy changes to student visas. The student group, which represents graduate students both native and foreign, cited a National Science Foundation study that noted federal changes had resulted in a nearly 6% decrease in international graduate enrollment.

Call for Action

The presidents of Graduate associations from Baylor, Rice, Texas A&M, University of Houston, and the University of Texas at Austin, some of the leading research institutions in the United States, were included in the joint letter to members of congress. The letter cited three major USCIS policies that were cited as contributing to the decline in international enrollment for graduate programming. The first policy, involves a May of 2018 change to USCIS procedures for determining “unlawful presence” for foreign students, which according to the letter imposed stricter interpretations of accrual of unlawful presence days following the expiration of a F, J or M visa. The second policy concern revolves around a series of memos posted this summer that shocked many seeking immigration benefits in the United States. Specifically, the student organization opposes guidelines for USCIS officers allowing adjudicators to deny a request for immigration benefits without issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). Without the opportunity to amend errors in applications, students are now left without an opportunity pursue research in areas of need, like Texas.

Thirdly, the graduate student group offered criticism for the Department of Homeland Security proposal to “set a uniform and fixed maximum period of stay for student visas.” Although the Trump administration states that the change would “reduce overstay rates for nonimmigrant students,” the letter warns of the immense cost. Given the unpredictable period of research cycles, students would be unable to determine a fixed period for a full duration of their research. Therefore, many graduate researchers could be forced to leave the country before the end of their program. The group claims that this change would deter many of the world’s top researchers from coming to the United States to study. The students want congress to act against these policies, both proposed and implemented, so that research operations in universities and colleges can continue to produce must needed breakthroughs.

The $5 Billion Behind H-1B: NFAP Report

Several media sources, and employers across the nation, were surprised when the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a non-partisan research group, released aggregated data from the last two decades of H-1B filings. Since Fiscal Year 1999, H-1B fees payed by employers totaled nearly $5 billion. The report, released early April, highlights many of ways in which the H-1B financially supports government programming for the benefit of native workers. Although non-partisan in nature, the report does mention and critique the recent immigration changes made during the Trump Administration. In particular, the report assesses the potential consequences of the Trump Administration’s proposal to double H-1B fees.

Key Statistics

Employers seeking to hire high-skilled foreign nationals through the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program must pay a training and scholarship fee to the amount of $1,500. While the Trump administration has considered increasing these fees, the study claims that employers of H-1B holders have funded nearly 90,000 scholarships since its start in Fiscal Year 1999. With these funds over one million student and teacher recipients gained monetary funding for science, technology, engineering and math fields; these funds in the 20 year time span totaled $1.94 billion. H-1B fees paid by employers additionally granted around 2.5 billion dollars’ worth of technology training for US workers. Excluded from these estimates are the $1.6 billion worth of anti-fraud fees payed by employers.

The studynotes that, since Fiscal Year 2005, employers have paid nearly $1.6 billion to fund “audits and investigations against themselves.” While fees payed by employers have increased over the years, these increases have been matched with the expansion of the H-1B program. However, the report argues that the FY2020 increase in H-1B fees proposed by the Trump administration would unfairly burden employers. While there have been increases to fees in the past (outside of normal inflation adjustments), these increases have been met with increases to the H-1B cap. The proposal, which omits any expansion of the H-1B cap, could further deter employers and subsequently harm the scholarship program.

Trump Administration to Close All International Immigration Field Offices (USCIS)

The director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), L. Francis Cissna has reportedly announced the end to the International Division of USCIS. This change would bring about the end of two dozen international branches of USCIS. The end of the USCIS international field office program would occur by the end of 2019, ending 24 programs in 21 countries. The decision to close USCIS international offices around the world comes as an effort to save millions of dollars per year.

Initial Reports

Several reports indicate that USCIS is in the “preliminary” stages of disseminating all USCIS field office responsibility to officials in the US State Department. Therefore, the personnel of the State Department would be responsible for immigration matters previously held by the international USCIS field offices. However, some US embassies and consulates abroad could now hold USCIS type responsibilities. These responsibilities include refugee applications, family reunification visas, foreign adoptions, parole requests, and naturalization documents for military members with foreign national spouses.

A representative for USCIS, Jessica Collins, told NPR that “The goal of any such shift would be to maximize USCIS resources that could then be reallocated, in part, to backlog reduction.” Collins further commented in response to concerns about the sudden closers, stating that the Department of Homeland Security and the US State Department would “ensure no interruption in the provision of immigration services to affected applicants and petitioners.” While the reallocation of resources spent on operations abroad could have a small impact on the backlog domestically, the move likely comes as President Trump works towards slashing government spending to pay for other administrative priorities. These changes will cause longer wait times for those who seek US visa privileges from abroad, and the closures will be especially harmful for refugees.

Refugees

Along with retransferring basic USCIS responsibilities to already over-worked State Department and embassy staff, the new changes could spell greater delays for refugees seeking residence in the United States. Many are concerned that the added workload will exacerbate an already slow refugee process, in a time when there is the largest refugee population in recorded history.

False Naturalization Statements Leads to Jail Time

When completing a naturalization application, or any application for visa or citizenship privileges, applicants are held under the penalties of federal law. In Worcester, Massachusetts a man is in custody under charges of making a false statement on an application for naturalization. While many believe making false statements to conceal any past unpleasantries (e.g. former criminal charges, etc.) may increase their chances of receiving approval for benefits sought, willful omission of facts or direct false statements in an application, for naturalization or any immigration benefit can lead to federal prosecution.

Worcester Case

The individual in custody, who remains innocent until proven guilty, stands accused of making a false statement on his application for naturalization. Richard Cheremeh, although real identity unknown, was charged with one count of making a false statement relating to his naturalization and one count of aggravated identity theft. The indictment lists the man under the name John Doe due to suspicion that the individual listed as “Richard Cheremeh” has stolen the identity. During “Doe’s” naturalization process, the man falsely stated that he had never given any US government official any information or documentation that was false, fraudulent, or misleading, one of the common questions on the N-400 application for naturalization. This contradicts allegations the man’s naturalization was obtained through the use of a stolen identity. By allegedly lying on question 31 of the N-400 application, “Doe,” if found guilty, is now at risk of a federal prison sentence.

Federal Penalties

If someone is found guilty of making a false statement related to their naturalization, this individual will face prison time for no greater than five years including three years of supervised release. Additionally, guilty parties face up to a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of fines. “Doe,” who is additionally charged with identity theft could face a minimum of two years in prison and up to one year of supervised release with an additional penalty of up to quarter of a million dollars. The details of the idictment were made public to warn other of the consequences of false statements on applications for naturalization. The individual in custody is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the federal court responsible for this case.