Scrutiny increased at U.S. Consulates and Ports of Entry

Increased Scrutiny at U.S. Consulates and Ports of Entry

Photo courtesy of: Dubai Unveiled 

Scrutiny has increased at U.S. consulates and ports of entry. Following the injunction on enforcement of President Trump’s revised travel ban, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued diplomatic cables on March 17, 2017, directing all U.S. consular posts to increase scrutiny of visa applications and applicants for security threats. U.S. consular officers are expected to ask more detailed questions about applicants’ backgrounds. Consular officers also must refer applicants to the Fraud Prevention Unit for mandatory social media history checks if they were present in an area when it was controlled by the “Islamic State” (ISIS) or if the officer determines that an applicant may have ties to ISIS or other terrorist groups. This directive has caused a slowdown in visa issuance and an increase in visa denials.

Once a person is issued a visa or is traveling without a visa under the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been reported to have increased scrutiny and raised the usual lines of questioning, specifically for business travelers and those entering on U.S. work visas. Travelers under the Visa Waiver Program should be prepared for questioning if a CBP immigration inspector determines that they have not been previously interviewed and sufficiently vetted before traveling.

Also, President Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order on April 18, 2017. The order sets forth his administration’s policy to “maximize…the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States” and to “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”

The “Hire American” portion of the order calls on the U.S. Secretaries of State, Labor, and Homeland Security and the Attorney General to “propose new rules and issue new guidance to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud or abuse.”

Specifically, the agencies are directed to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B Specialty Occupation Nonimmigrant Visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

In addition to directing agencies to consider changes in the H-1B lottery system, the Executive Order also calls for rigorous enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Immigration attorneys have already seen an increase in the rate of requests for further evidence issued by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Such requests may challenge the nature of the position offered—for example, whether it is a “specialty occupation” that normally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty field—and question the individual’s qualifications for employment in the specialty field. Specific areas of scrutiny include entry-level computer programmers and analysts, as well as staffing companies and foreign workers involved in “third party placement,” which is when the usual place of activity is at a client site rather than the employer’s premises. This trend is likely to continue as USCIS and other agencies move forward in the implementation of the new administration’s enforcement-driven policies.