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Cross your T's and dot your I's, or get deported

By Thomas M Lee

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently updated its guidance, taking a much stricter approach to approving applications that are largely filed by those seeking work in the tech industry.

Under the new policy, which goes into effect Sept. 11, 2018, agents will be able to deny applications deemed incomplete or containing errors, without first asking applicants to address the flaw or warning them of an intent to refuse their submission. Recently the agency also widened the range of cases for which it could begin the process of removing foreign nationals to include those whose immigration benefits, such as work status, have been denied.

The measures are likely to disproportionately affect those whose applications require large amounts of supporting evidence. Employees with H-1B visas — mostly held by people in the technology, science and medicine industries — are currently often asked to respond to a request for evidence from USCIS to prove whether they are qualified for their work, or whether their job is considered a specialty occupation.

The updates could make small errors on filings lead to harsh consequences — including deportation — and are part of a broader trend of USCIS becoming more of an enforcement agency than an immigrants benefits agency. The USCIS in February updated its mission statement to remove reference to the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants” and instead included language on “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland.”

The recent move by USCIS “creates traps” for individuals already working legally in the country — or seeking to work here — by upping the consequences for clerical errors, said Todd Schulte, president of immigration reform lobbying group Fwd.us, which was founded by technology leaders including Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston.

And it could affect more than just tech companies. Cracking down on legal immigration is simply this: It’s encouraging innovation and job growth to happen someplace else. Microsoft expanded its Vancouver office several years ago, in part due to Canada’s more lax visa regulations.

The updated USCIS policies add a layer of instability for employers. As a result there is a likelihood that not only is the case going to be denied, but also that the beneficiary could be placed in removal proceedings. This makes doing business difficult in light of such uncertainty.

USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said the policy changes are part of an effort to help “cut down on frivolous applications, reduce waste, and help ensure legitimate, law abiding petitioners aren’t undermined by those able to game our system.”

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