Making Sense of the Headlines | July 23, 2019

Erick Widman

First Judicial Oversight Hearing for “Crisis-Level” Delays

Over the past several months, senators, immigration attorneys, and many others have begun calling out USCIS for “crisis-level” delays. On July 16, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee held the first oversight hearing to address the problems brought up in previous reports. At the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, asked USCIS to account for the huge increase in Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and denials for H1B and other applications despite no apparent changes to policy or guidelines for filing.

Republicans and Democrats alike are pointing to changes in USCIS’s own internal policies as driving factors behind the extreme delays, massive backlog of pending cases, and increase in denials. AILA President Marketa Lindt testified before Congress and argued that changes to USCIS’s policies, such as requiring in-person interviews for employment-based green card applicants, no longer deferring to prior decisions when adjudicating an extension application for a current visa holder, and significantly increasing the number of Requests for Evidence, are to blame.

The hearing revealed an apparent disconnect between recent case outcomes and USCIS’s external policies and guidelines that have been made available to the public. The current denial rate for initial employment H1B petitions is 32%, up from 6% in 2015. Requests for Evidence are being issued at alarming rates, and the requests are being made for things that many would argue are not within USCIS’s expertise — such as requesting further evidence that an employee holding a Ph.D. is qualified for a job that they already have, or that a massive company has the financial means to sponsor an employee.

Additionally, a new wave of RFEs are asking companies to somehow prove with hard evidence that they will have work assignments and jobs to fill in three years. Companies and sponsors are stuck coming up with documentation of future work assignments, which creates weeks or months of delays while they are desperately in need of immediate labor.

Aside from the frustration and dissatisfaction caused by these new patterns at USCIS, lawmakers, employers, and recruiters fear that skilled workers in STEM fields will start looking at companies in Canada once they realize their petitions for employment in the US are unlikely to be approved in a timely fashion (or at all). According to Rep. Lofgren, “The tech economy in Toronto is growing faster than the tech economy in Silicon Valley and Washington (state), and a lot of people think it’s because of USCIS and our immigration policies.”

These case outcomes do not appear to reflect any actual changes to USCIS policy or guidelines; rather, they reflect “invisible” bureaucratic changes, meaning USCIS officers have likely been given more discretion when reviewing cases and have likely been instructed to hold applicants to a different or more strict criteria than before.

Videos to Replace Interpreters at Immigration Court Hearings

The Trump administration has begun implementing a new system in immigration courts that could put disadvantaged individuals at an even greater disadvantage. According to recent reports, in-person bilingual or multilingual interpreters are being replaced with recorded videos at initial immigration court hearings.

The purpose of initial court hearings is to explain to an individual what their rights are and to schedule future court dates. Asylum seekers and immigrants facing deportation will now be at a greater risk of missing important information or not fully understanding the process, especially those who cannot afford lawyers or who do not have access to a bilingual lawyer. Those who have seen the videos at pilot programs across the country report that the videos (though dubbed in Spanish) are difficult to understand and contain language and legal concepts that most people facing their first court hearing will not be familiar with.

With recorded videos replacing actual humans, those attending immigration court will not have the option to ask questions or ask for clarification unless they can access an attorney or find an available interpreter. Advocates are concerned that the new system will cause more individuals to be confused about what they are expected to do, and potentially miss future hearings, which can be immediate grounds for deportation.

According to officials, the new video system is meant to increase efficiency and cut costs, but many worry that it will create significantly more work for the courts if cases need to be appealed due to misunderstandings or missed hearings. Speakers of indigenous languages may not understand the videos at all.

Portland is the Place to Be

We recently wrote about how great the Portland airport is and how lucky we are to live in a city that makes traveling a bit more enjoyable. It turns out the airport isn’t the only appealing thing about the City of Roses: Recent studies show that more and more millennials and young people are relocating to the west coast, and, according to one source, the highest population are settling in Portland or the surrounding area.

In this study, the Portland metro area beat out Seattle, Denver, and the Bay Area in attracting young people, most likely due to the beautiful Pacific Northwest greenery, abundance of great food, accessibility to the ocean, and huge population of like-minded individuals. Portland was also rated one of the healthiest cities in the US, boasting a high percentage of physically active adults and the most health restaurants per capita of any other mid- or large-sized city.

We all know that millennials have not been following in the footsteps of previous generations for a variety of reasons, and that they are unlikely to have the same priorities or goals that their parents did. We’re not surprised that many young people are choosing to make Portland their home. There are a lot of great places in the world and we’re always curious to learn what draws people to the cities (or countries) they live in!

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