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Immigrant Visa Procedures Could be Revised by Bills Currently Pending in Congress

dogThe process of applying for a visa to come to the United States is lengthy and complex, even at its best. Two bills currently pending in the U.S. Congress would modify various aspects of the visa application process, and they could possibly complicate the process even further for some prospective immigrants. H.R. 5203, the Visa Integrity and Security Act (VISA) of 2016, would affect how petitions are submitted, the extent of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) background checks, and the burden of proof to establish visa eligibility. H.R. 5253, the Strong Visa Integrity Secures America Act (SVISAA), would modify procedures for vetting visa applicants and for sharing information within DHS and between DHS and the Department of State (DOS).

U.S. immigration law provides for two broad categories of visas. An immigrant visa allows a person to come to the U.S. with the intention of remaining permanently, usually after qualifying through a family member or an employer. Someone who comes to the U.S. on an immigrant visa often applies to adjust their status to lawful permanent residence, also known as a “green card.” Once they have been in the U.S. long enough, they might be able to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. By contrast, a nonimmigrant visa allows a person to come to the U.S. temporarily for a specific purpose. A B-1 tourist visa, for example, allows a person to visit the U.S. but not to work, while an H-1B visa allows a person to hold a job in the U.S. while the visa remains valid. Nonimmigrant visa holders who remain in the U.S. after their visa expires are said to be “overstaying” their visa.

A person petitioning for a visa typically files the petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of DHS. A prospective immigrant located outside the U.S., however, has to go through a U.S. consulate in the country where they are located. The U.S. consulates are part of DOS.

VISA would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq., to modify the petition process for both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas:

– It would require a signature on any petition or application filed with either DHS or DOS. For immigrant visa petitions, a prospective immigrant must sign the petition in the presence of a consular officer.
– Background checks on the petitioner and all of the beneficiaries would be required for all visa petitions, including reviews of social media activity. Petitions based on biological relationships would require DNA testing. An additional “security advisory opinion” would be required for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and any other country designated by DOS.
– The burden of proof to establish visa eligibility would change from “the satisfaction of the consular officer” to “clear and convincing evidence.” See 8 U.S.C. § 1361.

SVISAA would amend the Homeland Security Act, 6 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., in ways that mostly affect behind-the-scenes procedures. For example, DHS would be required to make an annual report to Congress on the estimated number of visa overstays. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of DHS, would be required to provide information about student visa holders from the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), another DHS agency.

Employment visa attorney Samuel C. Berger practices in New York City and Northern New Jersey, representing people who want to immigrate to this region or who have already made homes here, as well as employers and families petitioning on behalf of a prospective immigrant. To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced immigrants’ rights advocate, contact us today online, at (201) 587-1500, or at (212) 380-8117.

More Blog Posts:

Lawsuit Seeks Transparency Regarding Selection of H-1B Visas, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 9, 2016

New York City Human Rights Agency to Issue Certifications for U and T Visas, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, May 12, 2016

New Law Mandates Changes to Visa Waiver System, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 10, 2016

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.