By Dev Banad Viswanath, Esq.
First there was the President, stating that immigrants were dirty and they were criminals, and that somehow he still loved India and Indians, even though he looked at every way to cut back the South Asian migration to the United States, against Muslims as well as against H1B and L1 visa holders. They went after students too, with scores of Indian nationals changing their hopes of coming to the United States for an education, redirecting to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, where the environments were more hospitable to foreigners, including Indians. So much for a welcoming Statue of Liberty, instead all we could see was the phrase “Build a Wall!!!”
Second, we had the Covid 19 pandemic, which shocked the world and destroyed what little hope there was that 2020 would usher in a new era of improvement to our immigration system. US Consulates and Embassies around the world were largely shut down to visa services. Most consular officers came back to the United States, to hunker down with their families and loved ones. Visa services were nil. Immigration Courts were largely shut down and still are in most jurisdictions. USCIS closed all its field and local district offices to the public and shut down biometrics as well, setting the stage of a huge backlog of people waiting in line to get an interview or be fingerprinted so they could get their cases adjudicated. No one can fault the government on this, it was a Public Health Crisis, and steps had to be taken to curb the spread. Nonetheless, it drastically stemmed movement into the US.
Third came the announcement that USCIS had run out of funds. That because of policy decisions which made applications harder to approve, the number of people and companies applying for visas or status had drastically reduced and that was a huge financial loss to USCIS, which is one of the few federal agencies which is charged with raising its own funds. And this was coupled with the Coronavirus impact on people filing applications (lost jobs, uncertainty of the future, fear of getting sick, or simply because offices were closed). The USCIS announced that its average revenue had dropped by 40% and if they did not receive $1.2 billion in Congressional aid, they would furlough roughly 66% or 13,900 employees for the remainder of the year and possibly beyond. That money never came from Congress, but the agency, with alternative concessions managed to keep their employees for the time being.
Fourth, in an effort to garner some additional funds, and possibly create additional barriers to less financially well immigrants, USCIS devised a plan to substantially increase the fees in most forms (not all) and change the forms that were being used. The Federal Court in Northern California ruled that these fee hikes were unreasonable and temporarily halted USCIS’ attempt. Almost simultaneously, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the increased rules and implementations by USCIS on Public Charge could go into effect. Therefore, retroactively to February 24, 2020 all forms and applications subject to the Public Charge rules will now have to also file and submit Form I-944, which is a lengthy and complicated form about personal financial dealings.
Lastly, four weeks before the Presidential elections (and many important Senate elections), with the prodding of direction from the President, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Labor both announced Interim Final Rules (without the proper proposed rule-making and comment period) to step further and reduce employment based immigration, by increasing wage rates in several categories and changing several definitions of words to make meeting the bar for approval so much harder. I think the general belief is that this is a clear attempt to get voting election points with conservatives and other immigration hardliners. Given the fact that the election is only in a few weeks and these regulations are not supposed to take place until December 7th, it is a valid question as to whether these rules will actually be implemented or what their long term effects may be. Several lawsuits are sure to be filed.
While the aforementioned sounds very sad and paints a gloomy picture of US Immigration, I am happy to report that there is hope and a glimmer of light ahead. Elections are only a few weeks away and it is a time for all Americans to speak up and voice their opinion about the state of this country. An opportunity for us to decide, “Do we want a nativist and populist mantra that is xenophobic and restrictionist, or do we want to live in what the founders called the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?” We will have a day of reckoning around November 3, and it will be our chance to raise our voice, and change the course of America’s future! I humbly and respectfully encourage everyone, EVERYONE, to go out and vote if you are eligible.
The South Asian Times columnist Dev Banad Viswanath is the Principal
Attorney of The Banad Law Offices PC
in the United States, and Banad Immigration in India for which
Attorney Michael Phulwani is also affiliated
as Of Counsel. With Offices in Manhattan,
Queens, Bangalore, and Mumbai, the firm is
able to assist clients with all facets of the
immigration process.Read More