The U.S. immigration system has been in need of reform on a variety of fronts—from the challenges facing those in the country without documentation to the need for fairer asylum laws, to often-inefficient processing of employment-based immigration benefits—and is crying out for common-sense solutions. Sadly, no immigration legislation has passed both houses of Congress since 2005, and the outcome of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections has exacerbated an already taxed system.
For physicians, several new government policies—both proposed and already implemented—can cause serious consequences and derail genuine attempts to immigrate lawfully to the United States. Because these changes largely are policy-based—i.e., the government decided to apply the law differently than it had before, and were not created by regulation or legislation—they have escaped close public scrutiny leaving many affected individuals unaware of them or at least unaware of their possible impact.
The government’s policy changes largely are justified as implementing the Buy American, Hire American (BAHA) Executive Order, which President Donald Trump signed on April 18, 2017. BAHA directs all federal agencies that deal with immigration matters to review all immigration-related policies and regulations and to consider the effect of those rules and policies on American workers.
Under the new policy, USCIS officers are mandated to issue an NTA when the denial of a petition or application leaves an individual without lawful status. USCIS has been implementing the new NTA memo in stages; so far, it applies only to applications that have been denied, such as I-539s and I-485s, but broader implementation is planned. In addition, USCIS says it will delay issuance of an NTA for enough time to allow an individual to move to reopen the denied case in case an error was made. But the bottom line is that the consequences of a denial are greater than ever.
The consequences of the NTA memo make the other policy memorandum from the summer of 2018 even harder to swallow. Past USCIS policy required officers to issue a request for evidence (RFE) or notice of intent to deny (NOID) before denying a petition or application in order to afford the petitioner and beneficiary an opportunity to cure whatever defect(s) the officer found.
As an immigration attorney, I remain ever vigilant in staying apprised of the government’s policy changes.