Visas

ICE Alters Internal Guidelines on U-Visas to Deport More Crime Victims

By Peek & Toland on October 2, 2019

In keeping with its pattern of limiting immigration on all levels and increasing deportation levels, the Trump Administration has established a new policy for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that will give the agency more discretion in deporting crime victims from the U.S.

Congress passed legislation that created the U-visa in 2000. The purpose of the visa was to encouraged immigrants with no legal immigration status to come forward and report incidences of substantial physical and mental abuse. In turn, these crime victims would become eligible to remain in the U.S. under U-visas, with the understanding that they cooperate with law enforcement officials in prosecuting their abusers.

ICE Alters Internal Guidelines on U-Visas to Deport More Crime Victims

At this point, however, even applying for a U-visa became a risky proposition. If denied, individuals could trigger deportations proceedings by calling attention to their lack of legal immigration status. Furthermore, since it now takes USCIS about four years to process and decide applications for U-visas, the threat of arrest while the application is pending is much higher than under past administrations.

Now, ICE has reversed one of its internal guidance documents concerning U-visas. Historically, ICE has looked to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to determine the likelihood of approval of a U-visa before denying a request for stay of removal by immigrant crime victims. If USCIS indicated that the visa application was likely to be approved, then ICE essentially would stop deportation proceedings until USCIS made a final decision on the application for U-visa. The only exception was for the presence of specific adverse factors, such as public safety concerns.

With its latest reversal of policy, however, ICE no longer will consult USCIS before denying a stay of removal. Instead, ICE officials will have the sole discretion to review the “totality of the circumstances” in deciding whether to grant or deny a stay of removal based on potential eligibility for a U-visa. However, many immigration attorneys have reported in recent years that ICE officials were not seeking input from USCIS on U-visa applications anyway, or only would seek input if the individuals were detained.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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Court-Ordered Sanctions Against USCIS Could Affect H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on September 11, 2019

A pending lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Guam concerns USCIS processing of H-2B visa petitions but carries implications for H-1B visa petitions, as well. Guam suffers from a shortage of skilled laborers due to its remote location. Traditionally, the approval rate for H-2B visa petitions was close to 100%. This meant that thousands of foreign workers arrived in Guam to work in the hotel, health care, and construction industries. In 2012, however, USCIS began denying most H-2B visa petitions, dropping the approval rate for these visa petitions to almost 0%. USCIS started to take the position that the jobs were not “temporary,” since Guam has become so reliant on the foreign workers in these industries. The approval rate has remained at about 0% every year since 2012.

Court-Ordered Sanctions Against USCIS Could Affect H-1B Visas

As a result, the Guam Contractors Association and several businesses filed a lawsuit arguing that the USCIS had changed the eligibility rules without notice and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The plaintiffs sought and received an injunction preventing USCIS from continuing to deny H-2V visa petitions exclusively based on temporary need. However, USCIS has continued its recent practice of denying almost all H-2B visa petitions.

Due to alleged injunction violations, the plaintiffs now have filed a motion for contempt and sought sanctions against USCIS. A U.S. Magistrate handling the case has recommended that the court granted the motion and order sanctions. Federal courts rarely find the federal government agencies in contempt of court and imposing sanctions is even rarer.

The decision to impose sanctions, in this case, could have wider ramifications, as it deals with USCIS changing its standard of adjudication. Businesses and immigration lawyers have criticized USCIS for abruptly denying or delaying H-1B visa petitions to request more information at a suddenly high rate as compared to the rate of past denials. This trend has caused the approval rate of H-1B visa petitions to drop precipitously in the last two years. At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your immigration problems. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

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What is the E-1 Visa and How Does It Work?

By Peek & Toland on September 4, 2019

E-1 visas are temporary visas for treaty traders from other countries to enter the U.S. These individuals engage in substantial trade in goods primarily between the U.S. and the countries in which these individuals are citizens. The U.S. maintains a list of specific countries that have treaties with the U.S. Only nationals of these countries are eligible for E-1 visas. Foreign nationals who already are in the U.S. in a lawful nonimmigrant status may request to adjust their status to an E-1 treaty trader, as well.

Substantial trade generally involves a continuous flow of sizable international trade items and numerous transactions over time. Trade that involves multiple exchanges of significant value can result in a more successful visa application. However, there is no required dollar amount of volume of goods for any of these transactions. Furthermore, to constitute primary trade, over 50% of the total volume of the business must be between the visa applicant’s country and the U.S. Among other items, trade may include goods, services, international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, technology, and some news-gathering activities.

What is the E-1 Visa and How Does It Work?

Employees of treaty traders also may be able to utilize E-1 visas to come to the U.S. Employees must meet the following criteria to obtain E-1 visas:

  • Be the same nationality as the employer and the treaty country
  • Meet the definition of “employee” under relevant immigration laws
  • Either be engaged in executive or supervisory duties or, if engaged in lesser tasks, have special qualifications

Individuals have supervisory or executive duties when they have ultimate control and responsibility for a significant component of the business operations or the entire business. On the other hand, special qualifications are skills that make individuals essential to efficient business operations. No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases every day and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to resolve your immigration law case successfully.

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Religious Worker Visa Laws to Change

By Peek & Toland on September 2, 2019

Changes soon will go into effect for a unique visa program that allows religious workers to immigrate to the U.S. or adjust their status to obtain legal permanent residency. This is an employment-based, fourth-preference visa program that permits both ministers and non-ministers to enter the U.S. to perform full-time, paid religious work. The federal government historically has restricted the number of non-minister religious workers able to obtain visas under this program to 5,000 per fiscal year. However, the federal government has placed no such restrictions on ministers and their spouses. As of September 30, 2019, the non-minister program is scheduled to end altogether, following a final extension of the program that President Trump signed on February 15, 2019.

As a result of the expiration of this visa program, non-ministers who want to immigrate to the U.S. or seek a green card must do so before September 30, 2019. This sunset date also applies to spouses and children who accompany non-minister religious workers to the U.S. Ministers who hold these visas are not affected by this date.

Religious Worker Visa Laws to Change

Several different criteria affect which religious workers qualify for this program. For instance, workers must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Workers must have been a member of a bona fide religious group for at least two years before their applications and continuously be engaged in religious work as an adult
  • Bonafide religious groups must be non-profit organizations in the U.S. or organizations affiliated with religious denominations in the U.S.
  • All religious work in the U.S. must be full-time, averaging at least 35 hours per week, and paid
  • Workers can be employed in a professional or non-professional capacity

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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Businesses Continue to Feel Impact of Crackdown on Approval of Foreign Worker Visas

By Peek & Toland on August 21, 2019

Two years following the signing of President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, U.S. businesses increasingly are feeling its impact. Companies traditionally have used the H-1B visa program to hire skilled foreign workers for three years. Now, however, this visa has become much more difficult to obtain for U.S. businesses. In 2017, the rejection rate for these visas was 13%. In 2019, the rejection rate now has risen to 32%. Likewise, the rejection rate for applications to extend the visas for an additional three years has increased from three percent to 18%.

One successful immigrant business owner has decided to quit seeking workers using the H-1B visa program. Previously, he recruited two people per year to work for his company under H-1B visas. Receiving several requests for evidence (RFE) in response to his applications has discouraged him from using the program at all.

Businesses Continue to Feel Impact of Crackdown on Approval of Foreign Worker Visas

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also has increasingly revoked H-1B visa applications often on the grounds of alleged fraud. For instance, when a healthcare staffing company tried to obtain H-1B visas on behalf of various clients, it took six months. By that time, the client already had moved on, unwilling to wait that long for foreign workers whose presence was not guaranteed. Once USCIS learned of the change, it accused the company of lying on its H-1B visa petitions and revoked them. Although there is no publicly available data on how often H-1B visas are revoked, it appears to some that revocations are becoming almost as universal as denials of these visas. The rising rate of revocation also discourages U.S. companies from seeking foreign workers using the H-1B visa.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today at and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

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State Department Requiring Social Media Information from All Visa Applicants

By Peek & Toland on August 1, 2019

Under a new State Department policy, visa applicants now must submit information about any social media accounts that they have used during the past five years, including their social media handles or user names, emails accounts, and telephone numbers. Submitting this information about allow authorities to access any photos, milestones, demographic data, and comments posted on these sites by applicants.

While the State Department had requested that visa applicants voluntarily submit this information beginning during the Obama Administration, it now is a requirement. Furthermore, the State Department previously was collecting social media information only from those visa applicants whom they had identified for additional scrutiny, such as those who had traveled to countries known to be controlled by terrorist groups. This group amounted to about 65,000. Now, except for a few applicants for official and diplomatic visas, everyone must submit the information. The policy change is expected to impact more than 15 million people.

State Department Requiring Social Media Information from All Applicants

Opponents of the policy have objected to it as overly broad and an intrusive breach of privacy for visa applicants. They also criticize the federal government for not stating how they would use the information gleaned from social media, or how that information about be a reliable sign that a person posed a security threat if allowed into the country.

The newly required social media information for visa applicants is part of the Trump Administration’s 2017 memorandum in which it announced that they would subject individuals coming to the U.S. to extreme “vetting” to minimize any security risks from entering the country. The federal government has categorized this information as part of the other demographic information that they require visa applicants to provide to confirm their identities. The State Department claims that the information will assist it in screening out terrorists and people who are safety threats. The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

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H-1B Visa Revocations Increase

By Peek & Toland on July 29, 2019

According to a recent Bloomberg Law article, revocation of H-1B visas and denial of visa extensions that used to be automatic have increased dramatically in recent months. Competition for these visas is fierce. As of April, employers had submitted over 201,000 H-1B petitions for the 85,000 H-1B visas that will be available beginning in October.

These actions appear to be part of a larger effort by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to crack down on the H-1B visas that employers use to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. One of the primary users of the H-1B visa is the tech industry. Tech companies, as well as companies in other industries, often use staffing agencies to hire these workers. Some of the recent policy changes seem to focus on cracking down on staffing and consulting companies for alleged fraud in completing the visa petition process for these highly skilled workers.

H-1B Visa Revocations Increase

Denial of H-1B petitions increased from 7.4% in fiscal year 2017 to 15.5% in fiscal year 2018. Advocates state that revocation of H-1B visas have become nearly as common as denials. Scrutiny of all H-1B visa petitions has increased, which has translated into longer waiting times and far fewer approved petitions than before.

In response, USCIS claims that it has made no policy changes in the H-1B visa processing program, but that it has the authority to revoke these visas under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations. Potential reasons for revoking visas may include fraud, misrepresentations, violation of the terms of the approved petition, or that approving the visa violated regulations or was in error.

Revocations can place employers and foreign workers in a difficult position. Generally, the workers must leave the country within 30 days or face sanctions for remaining in the country illegally. Instead of being able to secure an extension of the visa as planned, the company will have to go through the lengthy H-1B visa lottery all over again. An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case, present your options, and help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you, based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

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Can I Change a Tourist Visa to a Student Visa?

By Peek & Toland on July 25, 2019

If you are in the U.S. on a specific nonimmigrant visa and wish to change your status to another nonimmigrant category, you must file the appropriate request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Therefore, if you entered the U.S. on a tourist visa, but now want to attend school in the U.S., you would have to apply for a student visa.

As soon as you determine that you want to change your status, you should take the steps necessary to submit your request, since processing times can be lengthy. You must change your status before your current status expires. You also should not modify your activities, such as by enrolling in school, until your new status has been approved. Otherwise, you could end up present in the U.S. without a legal immigration status. This could lead to you being deported or barred from returning to the U.S.

Can I Change a Tourist Visa to a Student Visa?

Generally, you can change your nonimmigrant status if you meet the following conditions:

  • You were lawfully admitted to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa.
  • Your nonimmigrant status is still valid.
  • You have not violated any of the conditions of your immigration status.
  • You have not committed any crimes that would you ineligible.

However, you do not need to change your nonimmigrant status to attend school in the U.S. if you are the spouse or child of individuals who were lawfully admitted to the U.S. in specific nonimmigrant visa categories. These categories include temporary workers on H visas, international trade and investors on E visas, or representatives of foreign media on I visas, among others.

There also are some nonimmigrant statuses that do not permit you to apply for a student visa or other nonimmigrant status. These individuals include those who are in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, informants on terrorism or organized crime, or fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens or dependents of fiancé(e)s. The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your situation. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration issue.

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U.S. Targets Some Nations for Small Numbers of Visa Overstays

By Peek & Toland on July 21, 2019

Relying on a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) overstay report, the Trump administration is now targeting some nations that they claim have unusually high rates of visa overstays. However, a closer look at the DHS report shows that these enforcement efforts involve a minimal number of immigrants.


More specifically, the Trump administration directed federal agencies to consider action against countries with business and tourist visa holders who overstay their visas at a rate of 10% or more. Although 20 countries have an overstay rate of 10% or more, each of those countries accounted for less than 1,000 of the individuals who overstayed their visas, except for Syria and Nigeria. Many of these countries had less than 500 individuals who overstayed their visas. The only country with a large number of people who overstay their visas is Nigeria, whose overstays approached 30,000 in FY 2018.

Meanwhile, much larger countries had many more individuals who overstayed their visas, but due to the high numbers of travelers from those countries, they did not make the list. For instance, there were more than 43,000 overstays from Mexico and 88,000 from Canada in FY 2018. However, Mexico’s overstay rate is only 1.5%, and Canada’s overstay rate is less than one percent.

U.S. Targets Some Nations for Small Numbers of Visa Overstays

The Trump administration gave State Department officials four months to consult with DHS officials and recommend sanctions against these 20 countries, which could include suspending or limiting the number of available visas for those countries.

Statistically, however, even harsh sanctions against these countries would do little to combat or change current visa overstay rates. A strategy based on visa overstay percentage rates per county also would disproportionately affect African nations, which comprise 13 of the 20 countries at issue and avoid any such conflicts with or sanctions against more powerful countries, such as China and India. Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

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Trump Administration Relies on Questionable Visa Overstay Reports to Crack Down on Legal Immigration

By Peek & Toland on July 18, 2019

The Trump administration is justifying its new restrictions on legal immigration, such as concerning international students, temporary workers, and visitors, on a controversial Department of Homeland Security (DHS) FY 2018 Entry/Exit Overstay Report. Relying on the DHS report is problematic for various reasons.

First, the DHS report as to the number of people who overstayed their visas is not accurate. Instead, it contains both individuals who overstayed their visas and those arrivals whose departures DHS could not verify., which significantly increases the number of people in the report. A departure might go unverified for various reasons, such as if the individual remained in the U.S. according to a different valid visa. Some individuals also might pass away, adjust to lawful permanent resident status, or be deported by DHS. Looking at broader statistics on overstays, furthermore, there has been a downward, not an upward trend in overstays, so the DHS report is misleading in this respect.

Trump Administration Relies on Questionable Visa Overstay Reports to Crack Down on Legal Immigration

Another issue with the DHS report is that many of the “overstays” included in their statistics are not documented overstays. Instead, there is evidence that as many as half the “overstays” cited in this report are no longer present in the U.S.

Finally, the Trump administration has relied on “negative” trends in the DHS report, yet wholly ignored “positive” trends in the report. For example, the administration uses the alleged 6.19% overstay for F-1 visa international students in FY 2016 as justification for making it easier to deport these students, even if they inadvertently lose their legal status. However, the report shows that the overstay rate for F-1 visa holders declined 42% between FY 2016 and FY 2018, dropping from 6.19% to 3.59%. Given this significant drop in the number of overstays, even if the numbers are correct, it is difficult for the administration to justify increased efforts to further reduce the overstay percentage of this group of visa holders. When facing any immigration issue, you are likely to need the legal advice that only experienced Texas immigration attorneys can offer you. Peek & Toland regularly provides strong legal representation for individuals, families, and businesses who are dealing with immigration problems. It is our priority to represent your interests and protect your rights.  Call us at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment to speak with us today.

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