During his three years in office, President Donald Trump has signed several executive orders designed to restrict both legal and illegal immigration and tighten the criteria for the adjudication of immigration benefits.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been one of the federal agencies enforcing some of these measures, drawing harsh criticism from immigration lawyers and immigrant rights activists.
USCIS nevertheless issued a report last week celebrating the results of its efforts to implement Trump’s agenda during Fiscal Year 2019, which ended Sept. 30.
“FY 2019 has been a historic year for USCIS and we have achieved many of President Trump’s goals to make our immigration system work better for America,” said acting director Ken Cuccinelli in a statement. He pointed to measures to “mitigate the loopholes in our asylum system” and “combat fraudulent claims.”
“In the coming year, we will continue to use every tool available to us to deliver on President Trump’s promises to the American people,” Cuccinelli said. “We will continue to fulfill his goals to strengthen our nation’s strained immigration system and alleviate the crisis at our border.”
These are the five changes that USCIS highlighted in the announcement as part of its effort to comply with Trump’s orders:
Reduce asylum applications
One of the stringent measures taken by the administration to reduce immigration was a new rule rejecting asylum requests by migrants who turn up at the U.S. southwestern border.
The rule allows USCIS to forbid asylum applications from immigrants who traveled through a third country en route to the U.S. and failed to apply for asylum there.
It also rejects immigrants who have lived legally in third countries, considered to be safe, and later apply for U.S. asylum.
Deny residence to immigrants considered ‘public charge’
The new USCIS rule, Inadmissibilty on Public Charge Grounds, added new requirements to proving that applicants will not be a public charge at any time in the future if granted a green card or an immigrant visa.
A public charge is “an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period.” The public assistance can come from nine programs, including Medicaid and food stamps.
The rule faces legal challenges. Just days before it was to take effect, three federal judges issued temporary injunctions ordering the Department of Homeland Security to halt implementing the measure until a final resolution of the litigation.
Increase minimum monetary requirement for investor-based residency
USCIS tightened the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which had been an attractive alternative for wealthy foreigners seeking permanent U.S. residence.
The new rule governing EB-5 immigrant investors, which takes effect Nov. 21, significantly increases the required investments. The standard minimum investment amount will rise from $1 million to $1.8 million.
Minimum investments in targeted employment areas with high unemployment will rise from $500,000 to $900,000. The amounts will be adjusted every five years, according to inflation.
Scrutinizing social media use of citizenship and visa applicants
Responding to Trump’s Executive Order 13780, USCIS will review information published over the past five years on social media by immigrants who apply for nine types of benefits — including U.S. citizenship through naturalization, asylum and some petitions involving permanent residence.
Aimed at determining whether the applicants represent a threat to national security, they will be asked on a variety of application forms for their usernames and other identifiers or handles on 19 social media networks of interest to USCIS such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube.
The new rules are similar to the State Department’s plan to ask foreign citizens applying for immigrant and non-immigrant visas questions about the social media accounts they have used in the past five years — about 15 million people per year who request these visas through consulates abroad.
Escalating investigation and screening of immigrants
Answering Trump’s call for improvements in the vetting and screening process of foreign nationals who apply for immigration benefits, USCIS required more corroborating evidence for applicants to demonstrate their eligibility for benefits sought.
USCIS personnel also made more than 8,000 unannounced site visits to workplaces, trying to verify that foreign employees — including religious workers and holders of H-1B visas for professionals and L-1 visas for intracompany transferee executives — are complying with the terms and conditions of their petitions.
The number of cases referred to the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate for additional analysis rose by 22% during fiscal year 2019, compared to the 2018 period.
The USCIS statement also noted that the service had increased the processing of applications for immigration benefits and the approvals of naturalization for a higher number of new U.S. citizens: “an 11-year high.” It said the official statistics will be made public next month.
Daniel Shoer Roth is a journalist covering immigration law who does not offer legal advice or individual assistance to applicants. Follow him on Twitter @DanielShoerRoth. The contents of this story do not constitute legal advice.
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