Applicants for U.S. Visas and Green Cards Must Now Disclose Social Media Profile Information

In response to the Trump Administration’s “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals entering the United States, the U.S. Department of State has increased the amount of personal data foreign nationals must provide when applying for a U.S. visa abroad. Federal government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have dramatically expanded their social media monitoring programs in recent years by collecting a vast amount of user information in the process, such as political and religious views, data about physical and mental health, and the identity of family and friends. DHS increasingly uses this information for vetting and analysis, including for individuals seeking to enter the United States and for both U.S. and international travelers.

As of May 30, 2019, applicants completing the Form DS-160 (the standard online platform for all non-immigrant visa applications) and the Form DS-260 (the standard online platform for immigrant (“Green Card”) applications), must now provide information on all social media accounts used in the past five years. This information will be used to prevent visa and Green Card fraud.

Using dropdown menus, the Form DS-160 and DS-260 requires applicants to provide the names of all social media accounts used (lists 20 of the most popular social medial platforms), and the applicant’s username or “handle” for each account. The form also provides a text box to provide social media information not listed in the drop-down menu.

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USCIS Continues to make Marijuana Activity a “Conditional Bar” to Obtaining U.S. Citizenship Despite Local Decriminalization

Thirty-three US states, The District of Columbia, and at least 26 countries around the world have legalized the production and use of cannabis for medical, and, in some jurisdictions, for recreational use.  This wave of legalization has led to a growing and dynamic industry that employs thousands of individuals and has reduced the levels of criminalization of marijuana-related crimes. Despite this changing landscape however, United States Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) has recently made it clear that virtually any involvement with cannabis, even in jurisdictions where it is now legal, can have serious negative consequences to becoming a United States citizen.

In an April 19 USCIS policy alert, USCIS indicated that it was issuing policy guidance confirming that cannabis-related activity, even when it occurs in a jurisdiction where the activity is legal, creates a conditional bar to demonstrating good moral character for the purposes of naturalization. While USCIS has long treated cannabis-related activity as a basis for withholding immigration benefits, this new pronouncement further highlights the complex and uncertain interaction between state and federal laws, and United States immigration law.

According to the USCIS policy, “marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level,” a USCIS spokesperson said in a statement. “Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”

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Canadian Citizens Will No Longer Be Permitted To Extend or Renew L-1 Status at the US Border

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently implemented a major policy change to the adjudication process of L-1 Intracompany Transferee petitions filed by Canadian citizens.  Beginning in March of 2019, CBP officers at all ports of entry and pre-clearance facilities ceased adjudicating L-1 petitions for extension or renewal, including L-1A blanket petitions. CBP continues to adjudicate all new L-1 petitions for Canadian citizens and L-1 petitions for intermittent/commuter Canadian citizen employees.

CBP made this policy change after determining that the authority to extend/renew L-1 petitions falls to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), rather than CBP. As a result, all L-1 petitions for extension/renewal must now be filed with USCIS by mail.

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Cap on H-1B Visas for FY 2020 Reached Within 5 Days

Each year, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants 85,000 H-1B visas to applicants in “specialty occupations”. This cap has not increased since 2004, and has been greatly outweighed by demand over the last few years. Within the first five days of the 2020 fiscal year application filing period, which started on April 1, 2019, the cap was reached, as 201,011 petitions were received by April 5. This marks a 5% increase in petitions from the previous year.

Immigration legal experts at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have lamented that the limitation on the supply of high-skilled foreign workers is detrimental to continued economic growth of the U.S. economy. H-1B visa holders and applicants are filling a critical and ever-growing void in the U.S. economy by providing needed expertise, particularly in the Information Technology (IT) and tech development industries. Without meeting the demand for these talented foreign professionals, future growth and innovation are stifled.

Even as the economy and labor demand has continued to grow in the past several years, the maximum accepted applications has remained steady for the past sixteen years. The number of applicants has surpassed the numerical cap of 85,000 for the past seven years. The next opportunity to apply for an H-1B visa is April 1, 2020, which would have a job start date of October 1, 2020 or later, depicting on when a decision is reached on an applicant’s case.

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The Grady Firm, P.C. Celebrates Its Seventh Anniversary

On March 19, 2019, The Grady Firm, P.C. celebrated its seventh anniversary. Since its inception in 2012, the firm has grown from supporting startups in the Silicon Beach region of Los Angeles, to adding immigration and employment law departments for dynamic, rapid-growth international clients with a California presence. The Firm has added multiple attorney specialists in each discipline, and offices in Beverly Hills, Irvine, and San Diego, California. Our network of tech-savvy, multi-lingual attorneys are fluent in Spanish, Italian, German, and Farsi. They are licensed in California, and can practice immigration in all 50 U.S. states.

In addition, the firm has partnerships with intellectual property and non-profit attorneys licensed domestically in Texas, Louisiana, and Washington, and with attorneys that specialize in immigration, business, and real estate licensed internationally in Canada, Italy, and Germany.

The Grady Firm has a diverse roster of clients that work in the fields of automotive repair, communications, construction, entertainment, beauty and wellness, fashion, life science, landscape construction and maintenance, marketing/branding, nightclubs, professional services, restaurants, retail, sports coaching, software engineering, startups, technology, and transportation.

Over the past year, we have broadened the scope of our immigration practice to include H-2B visas for ski resort and landscape industry employees, in addition to already helping our clients obtain visas, Green Cards, and citizenship based on family relations, investment or employment through the EB-1, E-2, EB-3, E-3, EB-5, F-1, H-1B, L-1, J-1, O-1, P, and TN categories.

We expanded our employment law practice as outside employment counsel/Human Resources support to our corporate clients that need help hiring, firing, and disciplining their employees, and bringing top talent to the United States from abroad. In particular, our firm helps Human Resources departments stay compliant with California’s new Sexual Harassment Prevention law that mandates training for employers with 5+ employees to train their employees on sexual harassment prevention biannually, and within six months of hire or promotion of supervisors.

The Grady Firm fifth anniversary party in 2017

The Grady Firm thanks its attorneys, clients, and referral partners for their support and confidence over the years.

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Clarification of STEM OPT Extension Reporting Responsibilities and Training Obligations

STEM guysCertain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT).  On August 17, 2018, USCIS updated the Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) page of its website to clarify the reporting responsibilities for participation in the STEM OPT program. Students and employers must report material changes to the Designated School Official (DSO) at the earliest opportunity by submitting a modified Form I-983. Employers must report the STEM OPT student’s termination of employment or departure to the DSO within five business days.  As previously indicated on the webpage, students must report certain changes, such as changes to their employer’s name and address, to their DSO within 10 business days. Prompt reporting ensures that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is able to exercise effective oversight of the program.

Additionally, DHS is clarified that STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business, as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. DHS will review on a cSTEM OPTase-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan, and verify that the employer that signs the Training Plan is the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience. Continue reading

Update on the Travel Ban and DACA

Travel Ban

travel-ban May 2018On April 25th, 2018 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from both sides on President Trump’s highly scrutinized “travel ban”. The travel ban, now in its third iteration, prohibits entry of travelers from five Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya), as well as North Korea and government officials from Venezuela. Although previous versions of the travel ban were initially partially blocked by U.S. District Courts in Hawaii and Maryland, the Supreme Court lifted such injunctions in December 2017.

Since Trump first issued his travel order, setting off widespread chaos at airports just a few days after his inauguration, the issue has strongly shaped public perceptions of the new administration. It has also led to a string of defeats in lower courts, where judges ruled that the measure exceeded Trump’s authority and, in some cases, said it reflected bias against Muslims.

 

However, the Supreme Court of the United States has provided a friendlier forum, on this topic. The justices issued a ruling in June 2017 that allowed the second version of the travel ban to take partial effect. Then, in December 2017, with only two dissenting votes, they set aside lower-court rulings to allow the administration to put the third version into practice, a strong indicator of where the majority was headed.

Justice Samuel A. Alito rejected the notion Trump’s order could be considered a “Muslim ban,” noting it does not apply to most of the largest Muslim nations.

“If you look at what was done, it does not look like a Muslim ban,” he said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s appointee, questioned whether the challengers had standing to sue in the first place. Foreigners overseas do not have rights in U.S. courts, he said. Plaintiffs who live in Hawaii sued, contending the travel ban was illegal, but “third parties can’t vindicate the rights of aliens,” Gorsuch said.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy portrayed the issue before the court as one of national security in which the chief executive, not the judicial branch, should be entrusted to weigh possible threats from foreign visitors.

 

A final decision by the Court is expected at the end of June. Meanwhile, the current version of the travel ban remains in effect during deliberation. Continue reading

Jennifer Grady, Esq. Speaks to Canadian Entrepreneurs at SelectUSA Canada

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Ms. Grady on a panel about US immigration considerations for Canadian entrepreneurs, along with US Customs and Border protection officers

On April 12, 2018, cross-border attorney Jennifer Grady, Esq. spoke to a group of 100 Canadian entrepreneurs and US Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) at SelectUSA Canada.  SelectUSA is a U.S. government-wide program led by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since its inception, SelectUSA has facilitated more than US $25 billion in investment, creating and/or retaining tens of thousands of U.S. jobs. In addition to the annual Summit in Washington, D.C., it puts on local roadshows and events in countries around the world.

DSC03023Ms. Grady’s topic, “Moving people across the border: Immigration considerations for investors“, provided an overview of considerations and options for moving key personnel to the United States.  In addition, she provided tips on applying for visas and Green Cards based on investment, employment, and temporary business visits.  She was joined as a panelist by executives from the U.S. Consulate in Calgary, and Custom and Border Protection (CBP). Continue reading

Immigration As Usual? Moving Forward in Times of Uncertainty

by Anthony Mance, Esq. and Jennifer Grady, Esq.

Recent announcements by the Trump Administration declaring enhanced vetting of current immigration cases; talks in Congress about major proposed changes to the immigration laws; and constant media discourse regarding the future of DACA, the Travel Ban, employment-based visas, and increased waiting times, may have the effect of chilling immigration applications.  However, with the right information, and a plan that takes these changes into account, it is still possible to submit a successful immigration application.  We discuss the latest updates, and our recommended responses, below.

I. “Enhanced Vetting”

TRUMPOne of the major elements of President Trump’s Presidential Campaign was the promise that he would take a hard line on immigration.  Since he has become President of the United States, this promise has materialized into a policy that enforces existing immigration laws by applying stricter review of immigration applications. Commonly referred to as “enhanced” or “extreme” vetting, the practice requires that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) spend more time reviewing immigration applications, conducting additional background security checks, adding in-person interviews. Continue reading

The Grady Firm joins MAPLE Canadian-US Business Council Delegation to Toronto; Partners with Canadian Immigration Firm to Offer Cross-Border Services

maple-jg-with-sign-e1507223473277.jpgOn September 21-22, 2017, Jennifer Grady, Esq. participated in a delegation of the MAPLE® Canadian-U.S. Business Council of Southern California on a cross-border networking event in Toronto, Ontario.  The delegation visited nine leading innovation, enterprise, and government organizations and hosted a sold-out cross-border networking reception to connect with Toronto-area business leaders.  A panel presentation called “Doing Business with Southern California” featured speakers from Economic Development & Tourism, Business and International Development at Greater Irvine Chamber in Orange County, and the World Trade Center Los Angeles.

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Outside MaRS Discovery District

The following organizations provided the delegation with insight into their work and shared opportunities for cross-border collaboration:

  • EY Canada
  • JLabs Toronto
  • MaRS Discovery District
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Ryerson University Digital Media Zone
  • Toronto Board of Trade
  • Toronto Global
  • Toronto Rehabilitation Institute
  • U.S. Department of Commerce

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Travel Ban Update: U.S. State Department Issues New Guidelines Involving Close, Existing Relationships Within U.S.

by Raj Rathour, Esq. and Jennifer Grady, Esq.

trumpOn June 29, 2017, the U.S. State Department began implementing President Trump’s new visa criteria based in Executive Order 13780. The revised criteria bars U.S. entry for 90 days, for citizens without prior connections to the United States from six Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Stemming from a highly publicized decision by the Supreme Court, the current preliminary injunction has been narrowed to allow only “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States”. Current controversy revolves around the specific language, bona fide relationship,” and the potential for its interpretation of federal courts and officials.

Bona Fide Relationship

auditOn May 25, 2017, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld an injunction against enforcement of Executive Order 13780, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, which was an executive order signed by United States’ President Donald Trump on March 6, 2017.  That order placed limits on travel to the U.S. from certain countries, and by all refugees who do not possess either a visa or valid travel documents. According to its terms, it revoked and replaced the original travel bar Executive Order 13769, which was issued on January 27, 2017. Continue reading

Trump’s Travel Ban Unanimously Rejected by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

trumpOn February 5, 2017, President Trump’s controversial “travel ban” was unanimously rejected by the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, located in San Francisco, California. This controversial “travel ban” stems from President Trump’s January 27, 2017 Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” that banned citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for the next 90 days, and suspended the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

The Executive Order ignited protests in many airports around the country as US Customs and Border Protection officials struggled to interpret the new rules, and citizens of the banned countries were prevented from entering the United States.  Just three days later, the plaintiff, the State of Washington (“Plaintiff”) filed suit in the Seattle District Court, to stop the enforcement of the ban. Continue reading

The Grady Firm Attorneys Speak to Students at UCI Blackstone Launch Pad on business and visa options for graduate entrepreneurs

Group photo.jpgRecently, Jennifer Grady Esq. and Anthony Mance, Esq. of The Grady Firm, P.C. hosted an informative “Fireside Chat” about the various immigration options that are available to foreign students upon graduation from U.S. undergraduate or graduate programs. The event took place at the Blackstone Launchpad of University of California, Irvine. The program was recorded and is available for viewing by members of the international Blackstone Launchpad community. 

uci blackstoneThe esteemed UCI Blackstone Launchpad was founded in 2007 with the goal of inspiring global entrepreneurship, and is accessible to over 500,000 university students globally.  This university-based entrepreneurship program is designed to mentor students, staff, and alumni of all disciplines and experience levels. The Blackstone Launchpad is an initiative of The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and offers one-on-one mentoring, online tools, and a international community that supports ideas from the idea stage to execution and investment. Continue reading

Apply NOW for U.S. Citizenship: Vote in November Elections & Have Your Application Reviewed Before a New President Takes the White House

how-to-apply-for-american-citizenship-online

If you are a Legal Permanent Resident who has held off on applying for U.S. citizenship, now is the time to submit your application to USCIS so that it can be reviewed and approved before November 2016.

First, immigration will be a big ticket issue in the upcoming election, and the outcome and future of U.S. immigration policy could ride on your vote.  Click the links to read more about the immigration platforms of the current Democratic (Hillary Clinton) and Republican (Donald Trump) U.S. presidential candidates.

hillaryclinton.wikimediaSecond, as the new president and his or her cabinet may have a different vision of immigration reform than that held by the current administration, it’s prudent to apply for immigration relief before the powers in charge change.donaldtrump.wikimedia

Third, in anticipation of the upcoming election, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has reduced the processing period for naturalization and other immigration applications to between approximately three to six (3-6) months.

Even if you are not eligible for naturalization, you may be able to apply for legal immigration status under various other laws currently in effect.  But you must act now, as any of these laws could change based on the outcome of the November elections. Continue reading

J-1 Cultural Exchange Visitor Visa for Entrepreneurs, Scholars, Au Pairs, Professors, and Trainees

globe with kidsThe J-1 Visa is a non-immigrant US visa available to cultural exchange visitors, scholars, and professors. The Exchange Visitor Program fosters global understanding through educational and cultural exchanges. It is often used by entrepreneurs, “au pairs, ” or to obtain business or medical training in the United States. J-1 visas are obtained as part of an exchange program, and the Department of State designates both public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. All exchange visitors are expected to return to their home country upon completion of their program in order to share their exchange experiences.

The Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) provides opportunities for around 300,000 foreign visitors per year to experience United States society and culture and engage with Americans.  Exchange visitors on private sector programs may study, teach, do research, share their specialized skills, or receive on-the-job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years.   EVP participants are young leaders and entrepreneurs, students, fledgling and more seasoned professionals eager to hone their skills, strengthen their English language abilities, connect with Americans, and learn more about the U.S. There are fifteen different categories under the J-1 visa program, including: professors and research scholars, short-term scholars, trainees, interns, college and university students, teachers, secondary school students, specialists, foreign medical graduates, camp counselors, au pairs, and the summer work travel program. Continue reading