In his first State of the Union address, President Trump described four “pillars” to his immigration plan, with mixed reception. The pillars reinforce his campaign slogan to “Buy American, Hire American” and track with the immigration policy priorities he has previously outlined. These priorities include border security, interior enforcement and a merit-based immigration system.
The first two pillars address building a wall along the Southern border as well as a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented foreign nationals presently in the United States, including about 800,000 young people (Dreamers) who were granted temporary status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, now rescinded by President Trump.
The third pillar would end the diversity visa lottery (DV lottery). This program was established by Congress in 1990 and allocates 50,000 green cards to foreign nationals of countries with historically low U.S. immigration rates. Which countries are eligible can vary from year to year based on government-collected statistics as to how many foreign nationals have immigrated from those countries through other non-DV lottery programs. For example, in FY2018, most African countries were eligible, as were most European countries, except Great Britain. Countries that were not eligible included Pakistan, the Philippines, India, Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, and Peru. The odds of being chosen are poor. Past data reveals about 14.5 million apply annually.
A common misconception, indeed one articulated by President Trump, is that the DV lottery program “randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people”. In fact, however, DV lottery participants must demonstrate that they meet certain educational or skilled work experience requirements in addition to clearing robust government background and security checks. Those selected in the DV lottery must be screened just like any other green card applicant – including family- and employment-based green card applicants. The process is arduous and can take months to complete. Security screenings include biometrics as well as name and fingerprint checks through multiple interagency government databases to identify potential criminal, national security, terrorism, organized crime, gang and other related issues. Applicants also must attend an in-person interview where they are again screened for potential red flags affecting admissibility.
The fourth pillar addresses family-based immigration and would limit it to immediate family members which include spouses and minor children. Referring to “chain migration”, President Trump stated that “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” This misconstrues current immigration law. The United States already limits family-based immigration. Family-based green cards are only available to spouses, children, parents and siblings (for U.S. citizens). Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other extended family members are ineligible. The number of family-based green cards are limited by annual quotas. For example, siblings of U.S. citizens who filed family-based petitions between 1994 and 2004 are only now current. In other words, the wait is long. Furthermore, sponsors of family-based green card applicants must also demonstrate that they have the financial means to support the intended beneficiary by signing a contract with the government agreeing to reimburse for any means-tested public benefit the beneficiary should receive, until the beneficiary has worked 10 years, becomes a US. citizen, dies or leaves the United States permanently.
U.S. immigration law is complex and a challenge to understand for those who aren’t regularly walking its trenches. For those curious about the Administration’s regulatory agenda, https://resources.regulations.gov/public/custom/jsp/navigation/main.jsp is a good place to start. Those interested in learning more about U.S. immigration facts can also access the American Immigration Council’s resources available at https://americanimmigrationcouncil.org.
Jennifer Cory, head of Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP's Business Immigration Solutions practice, can answer additional questions about the issues raised in this client alert. Please feel free to contact her or the Womble Immigration Solutions team.
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