Tag Archives: visas

SXSW: 4 bands headed to music fest denied entry into US

Organizers of the South by Southwest music festival say at least four international bands have been denied entry into the U.S. and that other performers have had their visa waivers revoked.

SXSW officials said this week that every year there are some issues with bands entering the U.S. for various reasons.

But the latest travel problems come amid tensions over President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

The band Massive Scar Era, whose members are from both Canada and Egypt, posted on Facebook it wasn’t going to “jump to conclusions” about why they were denied entry.

But they noted they have gotten to SXSW twice before with the same documents.

SXSW officials say they’re trying to ensure customs officials treat artist visa waivers as valid.

Baldwin calls for social media background checks in screening process

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined more than 20 Senate Democrats in urging Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the agency to require social media background checks be a part of the screening process for all foreigners seeking an American visa.

The Senate Democrats also requested more information from the department on the existing screening process, such as if the agency faces any resource barriers to implementing these background checks, to ensure the process is as rigorous and comprehensive as possible.

The letter, signed by 22 Senate Democrats, follows reports that the female assailant in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadis sentiments on social media platforms before her fiancé — the male attacker and a U.S. Citizen — ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf.

Here’s the letter by Senate Democrats to the Johnson:

We write to express our deep concern regarding reports that critical background information of individuals participating in American visa programs has been largely omitted from the visa security screening process. 

According to recent reports, the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadist sentiments on social media platforms before her U.S. citizen fiancé, the male attacker, ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf. Media reports have also indicated that Department of Homeland Security officials are able to conduct social media background checks as a part of certain immigration programs, but are doing so inconsistently. We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS’s vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible. 

Therefore, we request that you provide the following information so that we may work with you to implement a more rigorous screening process:

Do you plan to integrate social media background checks into the screening process for all visas?

Do you face resource and/or technical barriers to ‎implementing these background checks? If so, please describe them.

Does the Administration conduct social media background checks in any of the existing screening processes for visa programs? If so, please describe how they are conducted.

Ensuring that the screening processes for our nation’s visa programs are rigorous and comprehensive must be a top priority, as these programs are critical to our security, our economy, and for our bilateral relationships with nations around the world. 

We look forward to working with you to establish a more robust social media background check process for all visitors and immigrants to the United States.

At conservative meeting, Google exec urges Congress to increase skilled work visas

The executive chairman at Google this week called on Congress to increase the number of high-skilled work visas made available to foreigners but to deal with other immigration issues later on.

Eric Schmidt spoke on March 18 at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Schmidt said he believes the United States is better off having more immigrants, not fewer, but he particularly is focused on allowing more immigrants into the U.S. with specialized technical skills.

“In the long list of stupid policies of the U.S. government, I think our attitude toward immigration has got to be near the top,” Schmidt said in answering a question about the biggest policy change he would like to see the federal government make.

“We take very, very smart people, bring them into the country, give them a diploma and kick them out where they go on to create companies that compete with us,” Schmidt said. “Brilliant strategy.”

Schmidt said that increasing the number of H-1B visas, a program that’s separate from the student visa program, would grow the economy because many immigrants will go on to start their own businesses and hire workers. He also said he believes a majority of lawmakers from both parties agree on this point, which is why they should deal with other aspects of immigration reform separately.

A bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah would expand the current annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to between 115,000 and 195,000 visas depending upon market condition and demand. But a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday reinforced that some top lawmakers are strongly opposed to expanding the program. They argued that the U.S. has plenty of high-skilled workers, but companies would rather look elsewhere because it’s cheaper.

“Over the years the program has become a government-assisted way for employers to bring in cheaper foreign labor, and now it appears these foreign workers take over, rather than complement, the U.S. workforce,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said American schools are graduating twice as many students specializing in science, technology, engineering and math than there are jobs to fill in those specialties.

“It has nothing to do with trying to find the best and brightest,” Sessions said of the H-1B visa program’s proposed expansion.

The American Enterprise Institute says it is focus is on “expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.”

Right Wing Watch, a program supported by the People for the American Way, says AEI is is “one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks. It promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism and has been extremely successful in placing its people in influential governmental positions, particularly in the Bush Administration. AEI has been described as one of the country’s main bastions of neoconservatism.”

Right Wing Watch said AEI’s “areas of interest include: America’s ‘culture war,’ domestic policy and federal spending, education reform, neoconservatism, affirmative action and welfare reform.”

1st Social Security benefit payments processed for same-sex couples

The Social Security Administration announced on Aug. 9 that the first marriage-related benefits payments for same-sex couples were processed.

Carolyn W. Colvin, the acting commissioner for the SSA issued a statement. She said, “I am pleased to announce that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due. The recent Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, made just over a month ago, helps to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

In late June, the Court overturned the provision in DOMA that required the federal government to ignore same-sex marriages.

The ruling cleared the way for same-sex couples to access more than 1,100 rights and benefits associated with marriage. At many levels of government, the details are still being worked out. BUt advances have been made, particularly with visas.

Regarding Social Security, Colvin said, “We continue to work closely with the Department of Justice. In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear.

I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”

Senate passes immigration reform bill

The Senate has just voted 68-32 for a massive immigration reform bill, which now goes to the U.S. House.

However, House Republicans have said they reject the Senate’s bill and are crafting their own legislation.

The Senate bill, drafted by the so-called Gang of Eight – four Democrats and four Republicans – tightens border security, creates a path to citizenship, raises the cap on visas for highly skilled workers, creates a new visa for low-skilled workers and requires employers to electronically verify the eligibility of employees to work in the United States.

Fourteen Republicans joined the Democratic majority in the Senate to pass the sweeping measure, the most significant immigration reform bill in years.

The legislation has critics from all sides of the issue and both political parties, but its supporters, including President Barack Obama, maintain that it represents strong bipartisan compromise.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., voted for the bill.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., voted against the bill.

Reacting to the Senate action, Laura W. Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “Today’s vote moves our country one step closer to a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in the shadows. While we are deeply troubled by the border militarization changes added at the 11th hour, the bottom line is that this bill will make a real, substantive difference to the lives of millions of aspiring citizens.”

She continued, “Over the coming weeks, the ACLU will pursue every avenue to have the problematic new border surge language removed, and to make other civil liberties improvements, before the bill heads to President Obama’s desk. The ACLU will continue to work with the House to adopt legislation that will not compromise civil liberties and will provide a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who contribute every day to the vitality of our country. We’re confident that continued public pressure will be instrumental in forcing the House to move forward on immigration reform.”

United We Dream national coordinating committee member Evelyn Rivera, whose mother was deported over six years ago after a traffic stop and who she reunited with through the border fence two weeks ago, said, “Today, 100 DREAMers were in the Senate gallery to send a message that we are watching and will continue to hold politicians from both parties accountable for delivering reform with a real, inclusive pathway to citizenship. The momentum on immigration reform is the direct result of organizing muscle across the country by immigrant youth leaders and our allies and the result of power wielded by Latino and immigrant community voters at the ballot box.”

Rivera, representing the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation, added, “We are deeply disappointed by the compromises that negotiators agreed to in order to secure additional Republican support for the bill. We know these deals will only add to the pain DREAMers and our parents have experienced from border militarization and record deportations.”

A look at the amended Senate bill:

BORDER SECURITY

-The bill sets out a series of requirements that must be achieved over 10 years before anyone here illegally can obtain a permanent resident green card. These include:

(1) Roughly doubling the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border, to at least 38,405.

(2) Completing 700 miles of pedestrian fencing along the border, which would require approximately 350 new miles of fencing.

(3) Installing a host of new security measures and technologies in specified locations along the border, including specific numbers of surveillance towers, camera systems, ground sensors, radiation detectors, mobile surveillance systems, drones, helicopters, airborne radar systems, planes and ships.

(4) Implementing a system for all employers to verify electronically their workers’ legal status.

(5) Setting up a new electronic system to track people leaving the nation’s airports and seaports.

-The border security improvements are designed to achieve 100 percent surveillance of the border with Mexico and ensure that 90 percent of would-be crossers are caught or turned back.

-If the goals of a 90 percent effectiveness rate and continuous surveillance on the border are not met within five years, a Southern Border Security Commission made up of border-state governors and others would determine how to achieve them.

-Border security spending in the bill totals around $46 billion.

PATH TO CITIZENSHIP

-The estimated 11 million people currently living in the U.S. without legal government papers could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill as long as:

(1) The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans, per the specifications set out in the bill.

(2) They arrived in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, and maintained continuous physical presence since then.

(3) They do not have a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanors.

(4) They pay a $500 fine.

-People in provisional legal status could work and travel in the U.S. but would not be eligible for most federal benefits, including health care and welfare.

-The provisional legal status lasts six years and is renewable for another six years for $500.

-People deported for noncriminal reasons can apply to re-enter in provisional status if they have a spouse or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or if they had been brought to the U.S. as a child.

-After 10 years in provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they are current on their taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have maintained continuous physical presence in the U.S., meet work requirements and learn English. Also the border triggers must have been met, and all people waiting to immigrate through the legal system as of the date of enactment of the legislation must have been dealt with.

-People brought to the country as youths would be able to get green cards in five years, and citizenship immediately thereafter.

HIGH-SKILLED WORKERS

-The cap on the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers would be immediately raised from 65,000 a year to 110,000 a year, with 25,000 more set aside for people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. school. The cap could go as high as 180,000 a year depending on demand.

-New protections would crack down on companies that use H-1B visas to train workers in the U.S. only to ship them back overseas.

-Immigrants with certain extraordinary abilities, such as professors, researchers, multinational executives and athletes, would be exempted from existing green-card limits. So would graduates of U.S. universities with job offers and degrees in science, technology, engineering or math.

-A startup visa would be made available to foreign entrepreneurs seeking to come to the U.S. to start a company.

-A new merit visa, for a maximum of 250,000 people a year, would award points to prospective immigrants based on their education, employment, length of residence in the U.S. and other considerations. Those with the most points would earn the visas.

-The bill would eliminate the government’s Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which randomly awards 55,000 visas to immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, so that more visas can be awarded for employment and merit ties.

LOW-SKILLED WORKERS

-A new W visa would allow up to 200,000 low-skilled workers a year into the country for jobs in construction, long-term care, hospitality and other industries.

-A new agriculture worker visa program would be established to replace the existing program. Agriculture workers already here illegally, who’ve worked in the industry at least two years, could qualify in another five years for green cards if they stay in the industry.

FAMILY IMMIGRATION

-Under current law, U.S. citizens can sponsor spouses, children and siblings to come to the U.S., with limits on some categories. The bill would bar citizens from sponsoring their siblings and would allow them to sponsor married sons and daughters only if those children are under age 31.

-Legal permanent residents can currently sponsor spouses and children, but the numbers are limited. The bill eliminates that limit.

EMPLOYMENT VERIFICATION

-Within four years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program to verify electronically their workers’ legal status. As part of that, noncitizens would be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.

Follow WiG on Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. resumes denying visas for same-sex couples

After a brief reprieve, U.S. immigration authorities are once again denying applications for immigration benefits for same-sex couples following a legal review.

Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, said that after a review by lawyers from the Homeland Security Department, it was concluded that a law prohibiting the government from recognizing same sex marriages must be followed, despite the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the law in court.

The law, the Defense of Marriage Act, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Earlier this week, USCIS announced that applications from foreigners married to a U.S. citizen of the same sex would be held in “abeyance” while the legal review proceeded. Bentley said Tuesday that the temporary hold on application decisions was not a change in policy.

In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announcement that the government would no longer defend the law, which gay rights activists have said is discriminatory.

Bob Deasy, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the latest ruling is a “disappointment.”

“The administration has the authority to put these cases on hold” while the fate of the marriage law is decided in court, he said.

Holder’s announcement appears to have already had an impact on at least one immigration case.

Earlier this month a New York-based immigration judge decided to postpone a deportation order against an Argentine lesbian married to a U.S. citizen.

Following the ruling to adjourn the case until December, Monica Alcota’s lawyer, Noemi Masliah, praised the judge’s decision.

“The right thing to do, and this judge did do the right thing, is to adjourn this case and see what happens down the road,” Masliah said. “Given that the law is so up in the air … it’s hard to enforce at this point in a negative way.”

The announcement did not have any immediate impact on Alcota’s case.