Integrity Legal

Archive for the ‘US Visa and Immigration’ Category

6th January 2019

As the year 2019 opens, it appears as though the process of obtaining and maintaining a Thai or American visa will be more difficult compared to years past. Although certain aspects of each process may involve increased laxity, flexibility, or efficiency the overall theme from immigration authorities in the United States and Thailand would seem to be one of heightened scrutiny and increasingly stringent enforcement measures.

American Immigration Issues

Some facets of the US visa process look to be improving. For example, the Department of State through the National Visa Center and various Embassies and Consulates abroad are becoming more efficient by shifting away from paper documentation over to a new digitized interface allowing faster processing of supporting documentation for immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications. This blogger can say from personal experience that the new system still has some issues to be worked out, but the overall system would suggest that faster processing times at NVC are likely to be a mainstay in the future.

That stated, the overall process of obtaining a US visa would appear to be getting more difficult especially in light of the current administration’s addition of a National Vetting Center tasked with adding scrutiny to the overall adjudication of visa petitions. Meanwhile, policy changes regarding adjudication of visa applications are likely to have substantial impact upon the amount of denials which are issued by USCIS in coming years. A memorandum which came into effect in September of 2018 allows officers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to deny visa petitions much more easily compared to times past when a Request For Evidence generally had to be issued before a denial. These developments coupled with creation of bodies such as the DeNaturalization task force and the prospect of a prolonged government shutdown would suggest that matters pertaining to American immigration are likely to prove more difficult moving forward.

Thai Immigration Issues

Meanwhile, as the United States’ Immigration apparatus becomes more cumbersome, Immigration authorities in Thailand do not seem to be backing down from their position regarding immigration and immigration enforcement in the Kingdom. In the lead up to 2019, the overarching policy of “Good Guys in Bad Guys Out” (a policy of encouraging lawful visitors and immigrants to the Kingdom while attempting to discourage travelers with more nefarious motives) manifested itself in terms of enforcement with “Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner“. By the end of 2018 Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn had announced that tens of thousand of illegal aliens had been arrested, deported, and blacklisted from returning to Thailand. In December of 2018 further statements would suggest that although a great number of visa violators have been precluded from remaining in Thailand, the Immigration office’s vigilance will not decrease. Concurrently, the process of obtaining extensions of Thai retirement visas and Thai marriage visas are likely to become more difficult for some people as it will no longer be possible to obtain an income affidavit for such extensions. This comes at the same time as immigration authorities make comments that would indicate prospective increased scrutiny on those using visa services to obtain retirement and marriage visa extensions by dint of funds on account in a Thai bank.

All of the above developments would indicate that immigration matters in both countries will continue to be complex if not downright difficult in the coming year and beyond.

more Comments: 04

13th December 2018

Although probably coincidental it appears that Immigration officials in both the United States as well as Thailand are taking a firmer stance regarding immigration violations compared to times past. In a recent article from USA Today it was noted:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was ordered to quadruple worksite enforcement this year, and it did just that. In fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30, ICE set 10-year highs for the number of worksite audits conducted (5,981) and criminal charges filed (779). ICE leadership claimed its crackdown is focused on employers and employees equally as part of a balanced approach to worksite enforcement, but the data show that the majority of arrests in 2018 were of workers. The 113 members of management charged with criminal violations in 2018 increased 82 percent from the previous year, but the 666 workers charged with criminal violations increased by 812 percent. The number of “administrative arrests” – those for basic immigration violations that are predominantly used against workers – spiked from 172 in 2017 to 1,525 in 2018. The 121 federal indictments and convictions of managers in 2018 represented a 10-year low for the agency.

It appears officials in the United States are predominantly concerned with immigration violations in an employment context, but there have also been developments which show the administration’s determination to more zealously scrutinize proposed beneficiary’s of immigration benefits as evidenced by the creation of the National Vetting Center as well as the formation of a task force designed to de-naturalize those suspected of immigration fraud. All of these developments in the aggregate provide substantial evidence that American officials are keen to suppress illegality in the Immigration apparatus.

Meanwhile, in Thailand officials continue to conduct raids on locations where “outlaw foreigners” are suspected of congregating or residing. However, it appears as though sham marriages have been an issue of more pressing concern as The Nation recently reported that Immigration authorities have had to deal with a number of individuals who have arranged marriages of convenience solely for the purpose of obtaining Thai Immigration benefits:

Police, in the ongoing crackdown on foreigners living unlawfully in the Kingdom, have arrested 10 Indian men and 24 Thai women os suspicion of involvement in a scam whereby fake marriages and false documents were used to extend the men’s stay in Thailand…Immigration Police Bureau 1 in Bangkok had detected the fake marriages between the 30 men and 30 women, which were falsely documented in order to extend spousal visas for the men, most of whom made a living in Thailand as illegal moneylenders or salesmen for pay-by-installment goods such as clothing and electrical appliances, police explained.

These recent developments evidence both an increased interest on the part of immigration officials to ascertain whether marriages are being entered into for legitimate purposes as well as an increasing level of sophistication utilized by Thai law enforcement officials in targeting suspected visa violators.

As of the time of this writing, it does not appear as though the pressure on illegal immigration operators in Thailand and the USA will let up.

more Comments: 04

5th July 2018

It would appear that Thailand is not the only jurisdiction which is tightening immigration regulations and enforcement. In recent weeks, an announcement from the agency which oversees immigration matters is likely to have a significant impact upon future immigrants and non-immigrants alike. For example, in a recent press release from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) it was noted that certain non-immigrants such as J-1, F-1, and M-1 visa holders will no longer be granted an effective reprieve from accruing unlawful presence in the USA through use of so-called “duration of status” exemption.

What is “duration of status”? Duration of status (also referred to as “DS”, “D of S”, or D/S in certain immigration circles) refers to the status by which certain non-immigrant are admitted into the United States. In this blogger’s opinion it was designed to streamline immigration functions as certain exchange visitor programs and course curricula do not necessarily have a definite end date (this is especially the case with so-called practicum courses following after a more organized academic schedule). Due to the fact that it is somewhat difficult to nail down policymakers allowed for “duration of status” to act as a sort of floating grace period. In the past, those admitted in this status were unable to accrue unlawful presence once admitted even where a course or other reason for admission had clearly terminated. This lead to what some would describe as abuse of the system. This was simply a “loophole” in the rules that allowed such individuals to obtain later immigration benefits without the need to worry about an finding of inadmissibility for overstay since unlawful presence could not ever be determined. Pursuant to a recent announcement from USCIS this appears to be changing. To quote directly from the USCIS website:

Individuals in F, J, or M status who fail to maintain their status on or after Aug. 9, 2018, will start accruing unlawful presence on the earliest of any of the following:

  • The day after they no longer pursue the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after they engage in an unauthorized activity;
  • The day after completing the course of study or program, including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period;
  • The day after the I-94 expires; or
  • The day after an immigration judge, or in certain cases, the BIA, orders them excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

This change in policy will have a significant impact upon those who have been admitted to the USA in one of the above categories. Moreover, those previously admitted in duration of status who are no longer pursuing the program for which they were admitted are well advised to consult an immigration attorney soon in order to understand their options. Obviously, failure to remain in lawful status could harm future applications for further immigration benefits pursuant to the forthcoming rule change. It seems logical to infer that more findings of accrued unlawful presence are likely to be made in future immigration cases and in that case such matters will only be remedied through use of an I-601 waiver petition.

more Comments: 04

6th February 2018

It has recently been announced that the Trump administration is creating a new “National Vetting Center”. The following article is intended to shed light on what this institution is designed to do and how it will fit into the overall immigration process.

It should first be noted that the National Vetting Center should not be confused with the preexisting National Visa Center which acts as a sort of clearing house and central repository for documentation pertaining to visa applications through the Department of State. The National Visa Center’s function is to gather relevant documentation and forward cases to the appropriate US Embassy or US Consulate for visa interview scheduling.

The National Vetting Center would seem to have a different mandate, although not altogether different as both institutions deal with matters pertaining to US Immigration. In an effort to provide further insight it is necessary to cite a recent article from the website of USA Today:

The National Vetting Center will be run by the Department of Homeland Security with assistance from the intelligence community and the departments of State, Justice and Defense. Its mission: To “collect, store, share, disseminate, and use” a broad range of information about people who seek to enter the United States, with a goal of identifying people who may be a threat to national security or public safety. “This is yet another step towards knowing who is coming to the United States — that they are who they say they are and that they do not pose a threat to our nation,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a statement.

Although disregarded by some at the time as overreacting, this blogger has noted in prior discussion of so-called extreme vetting policy that although it was initially discussed in a very narrow geographical and situational context the establishment of the National Vetting Center and the presumption that all future US Immigration processing will involve said institution shows that this policy will have broad ramifications for all visa applicants.

What does this mean for the timing of US visa applications? At this time it is too soon to say whether the addition of National Vetting Center protocols will result in slower processing times. However, it stands to reason that adding an entirely new institutional bureaucracy to the overall immigration framework will result in at least some delays in the processing of petitions and applications.

As has been discussed previously on this blog and through some of our firm’s videos: the Trump administration’s policies with respect to Immigration could have wide ranging and long lasting ramifications for those seeking visas in the future. Furthermore, if a deal can be reached with respect to Comprehensive Immigration Reform it looks as though the era of so-called “chain migration” (allowing extended family of Lawful Permanent Residents and American citizens to seek visa benefits)  and the visa lottery will likely come to an end.

more Comments: 04

27th May 2017

It has come to this blogger’s attention that the new administration in the USA has promulgated policies which will place more scrutiny upon those who may be applying for visas to the USA in the future. The proposed “extreme vetting” of US visa applications in a Consular Processing context appears to be aimed at narrow subsets of “red flagged” visa applicants. In order to best summarize this policy shift, it is necessary to quote directly from a relatively recent Reuters article:

The final cable seen by Reuters, issued on March 17, leaves in place an instruction to consular chiefs in each diplomatic mission, or post, to convene working groups of law enforcement and intelligence officials to “develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.” Applicants falling within one of these identified population groups should be considered for higher-level security screening…

The new administration appears keen to narrowly target those applicants which are deemed to be appropriate for “increased scrutiny”. However, a rather recent proposal has been submitted by the U.S. Department of State requesting implementation of the emergency review procedures of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. In short, the DOS is requesting expedited processing of a request to modify the forms associated with applications for US visas. To quote directly from the US government website Regulations.gov:

The Department proposes requesting the following information, if not already included in an application, from a subset of visa applicants worldwide, in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel;
  • Address history during the last fifteen years;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Name and dates of birth for all children;
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

 

Most of this information is already collected on visa applications but for a shorter time period, e.g. five years rather than fifteen years. Requests for names and dates of birth of siblings and, for some applicants, children are new. The request for social media identifiers and associated platforms is new for the Department of State, although it is already collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for certain individuals.

It is this blogger’s opinion that the long term implications of these policy changes will be broad. However, from reading the aforementioned notice, it appears that, at the present time, DOS personnel will only be seeking more detailed information on certain individual applicants, and not from all applicants seeking visas to the USA. How will the narrow subset of applicants subject to increased scrutiny be determined? To answer that it is necessary to quote further from the Regulations.gov website:

Department of State consular officers at visa-adjudicating posts worldwide will ask the proposed additional questions to resolve an applicant’s identity or to vet for terrorism or other national security related visa ineligibilities when the consular officer determines that the circumstances of a visa applicant, a review of a visa application, or responses in a visa interview indicate a need for greater scrutiny.

Notwithstanding the fact that enhanced scrutiny will apparently only be applied on a case by case basis and only upon those individuals who are deemed to be in need of such scrutiny it seems logical to infer that at some point these additional screening protocols may be applied on a broader basis; if for no other reason than the fact that applying such scrutiny across the board might save time and resources of Consular Officials making cases by case determinations. As it stands, as of the time of this writing, the new protocols add a degree of uncertainty to the visa application process and Consular processing in general as it is difficult to foresee what may be considered a trait which warrants heightened scrutiny. Therefore, planning for such an eventuality is problematic.

As this situation continues to evolve this blog will post further updates.

more Comments: 04

11th March 2017

It recently came to the attention of the administration of this web log that the subject of the Value Added Tax (VAT) has been a hot news item in Thailand in recent days as the current Prime Minister was noted speculating about the advantages to be gained by the Thai government if the VAT were to be raised one percentage point from the current level of 7% to 8%. To quote directly from The Nation’s website:

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has floated the idea of raising the value-added tax (VAT) rate by one percentage point from the current 7 per cent to 8 per cent to raise an additional Bt100 billion in annual tax revenues to finance various public projects.

Meanwhile, it became unclear from further reports whether the Prime Minister was simply expounding upon the advantages to be gained by an increase in VAT or if a change of policy was being discussed. To quote from the official website of the Bangkok Post:

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said the government plans to keep VAT unchanged at 7% for another year when the previous extension of the last period for keeping VAT at 7% ends on Sept 30. VAT would not increase during the term of this government, he added.

Setting aside the issue of what the Prime Minister’s intentions were with respect to his comments regarding VAT increase (and it would appear from this writer’s perspective that he was indeed simply commenting upon the benefits to be garnered by the government should VAT be increased to 8%) it appears that at least for the foreseeable future the VAT in Thailand will not be increased.

For those who have had experience doing business in Thailand VAT is known as a fact of business-life. In fact, those foreign nationals wishing to setup a Company in Thailand are well advised to note that in order to get a Thai work permit associated with such companies the relevant corporate entity oftentimes must be registered for VAT. Therefore, unlike Thai businesses which may or may not require VAT registration, foreign companies in Thailand will often be VAT registered and therefore an increase in VAT will have a substantial impact upon such enterprises.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of recent changes to American policy with respect to US Immigration it appears that a number of new Immigration Judges have been impaneled to deal with the staggering backlog of United States Immigration cases in the Immigration Courts. To quote directly from Reuters News Service:

The Department of Justice is deploying 50 judges to immigration detention facilities across the United States, according to two sources and a letter seen by Reuters and sent to judges on Thursday. The department is also considering asking judges to sit from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., split between two rotating shifts, to adjudicate more cases, the sources said. A notice about shift times was not included in the letter.

Clearly, the new Administration in the USA is stringently enforcing immigration laws as evidenced by the recent stories of increased deportations, travel bans, and heightened scrutiny of immigrants (both Green Card holders and other immigrants) at ports of entry in the USA. It seems rather reasonable to infer that US Immigration matters are likely to be more difficult and time consuming to process in coming weeks and months.

more Comments: 04

3rd January 2017

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the officials of the Royal Thai Immigration Police have made policy changes regarding passport holders of certain countries. It appears that passport holders from 37 different countries will now be able to obtain a 30 day visa exemption stamp by crossing a land border into Thailand. The recently announced list includes the following countries:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bahrain, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey

It should be noted that most holders of passports on the above list were already eligible to receive 30 day exemption stamps when arriving at one of Thailand’s many international airports. However, 30 day exemption stamps were apparently not available when arriving at land borders. While this liberalization is likely welcome news to prospective tourists who wish to travel to countries surrounding Thailand it should be be analyzed in conjunction with recent announcements regarding so-called border runs.

As previously noted on this blog and other sites, Thai border runs are effectively a thing of the past as recent laws have been enacted which bar individuals from making border runs more than 2 times per calendar year. Although this new rule is unlikely to impact genuine tourists in Thailand, those who have used ostensibly temporary visas and visa exemption stamps to live in Thailand are likely to find maintaining their status in this way to be very difficult in the future. This news comes at the same time as a number of foreign owned or managed businesses in Thailand are reporting significant increases in immigration inspections as well as well known hostels are being raided by those seeking not only criminals, but over-stayers in particular. How this will all play out in 2017 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: staying long term in Thailand is becoming increasingly difficult, expensive, and time consuming.

Meanwhile, as Thai Immigration cracks down, it appears that the Department of Homeland Security’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has made new regulations regarding the forms which must be submitted in connection with petitions for various immigration benefits. Forms such as the I-130 (associated with spousal immigration petitions for visas such as the CR-1 or the IR-1) have been upgraded and apparently the USCIS will no longer accept forms of an older pedigree. The same is apparently true with respect to the I-129f (the form associated with the K-1 visa used to bring fiancees of American Citizens to the USA) as that form has been updated.

Concurrently, it appears that there has been an across-the-board increase in the fees associated with the filing of certain immigration petitions. It is advised that those interested in this matter either speak with a qualified professional or conduct their own research to ascertain the current costs and fees associated with a visa to the USA.

more Comments: 04

5th September 2016

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the United States Consulate-General in Chiang Mai will be suspending services from September 12, 2016. It may be best to quote directly from the US Consulate’s website:

Except for U.S. citizen emergencies, consular services at the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai will be suspended from September 12, 2016 to November 1, 2016, due to necessary renovations to the Consular Section…All nonimmigrant visa (NIV) applicants who intend to travel during this period should make appointments with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok…The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit will remain available by email and phone for emergency U.S. citizen services such as death and welfare/whereabouts cases; and we will continue to accept voter registration, absentee ballot requests, and absentee ballots.  Also, please note that the ACS Unit will conduct several U.S. citizen outreach events in and around Chiang Mai during this period…

Those wishing to learn more are well advised to click the link above.

Those seeking non-immigrant visas such as US Tourist visas and US student visas will, at least for the time being, be required to interview for such travel documents in Bangkok. It should be noted that this announcement has no impact upon those seeking immigrant visas such as the IR-1 visa or the CR-1 visa nor does it change the current processing protocols of the K-1 fiancee visa as although such fiance visas are considered non-immigrant visas they are processed in much the same manner as immigrant visas. As dual intent visas, holders of the K-1 visa may enter the United States in non-immigrant status with the intention of remaining and thereby use the adjustment of status process in order to convert into lawful permanent resident status (aka Green Card holder status) once in the USA. All of the aforementioned visa categories are initially adjudicated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security; before undergoing further Consular Processing at the United States Embassy in Bangkok, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of State.

Notwithstanding the continuation of regular immigration services for those wishing to permanently move to the USA. It would appear that this situation may cause inconvenience for those in the North of Thailand seeking American Citizen Services such as passport renewal, notarization, and issuance of Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA). Other than occasional Consular outreach, many of these services will apparently need to be obtained from the Post in Bangkok during this renovation period.

more Comments: 04

15th May 2016

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that those attempting to travel to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program may find themselves being denied  admission to the USA due to the fact they do not have a biometric passport (also known as an electronic passport or an e-passport). A recent posting on the official website of the United States Customs and Border Protection service notes that as of April 1, 2016 those traveling to the USA without a biometrically encoded electronic passport will be denied entry to the United States.

In most countries, electronic passports have been in wide use for some time, but some older travel documents and those issued by certain countries may not have the biometric chip. Therefore, one should look at one’s passport and use the link above to decipher whether or not one’s passport has biometric encoding and therefore complies with recently issued rules and regulations.

It should be noted that the visa waiver program requires that most travelers traveling to the USA on a waiver utilize the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (or ESTA) before they travel to the USA. In a way ESTA is a sort of pre-travel authorization although not a visa per se.

more Comments: 04

27th January 2014

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that Vietnam has legalized same sex wedding ceremonies performed in that Southeast Asian nation. Prior to this announcement it was illegal for same sex couples to have a marriage ceremony performed in Vietnam and also illegal for same sex couples to cohabit without fear of government reprisal. It should be noted that these recent measures only allow same sex couples to have a marriage ceremony, notwithstanding the fact that such ceremonies will have no legal recognition in Vietnam (or elsewhere). However, many LGBT rights activists believe that this is a significant step towards eventual marriage equality in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Thailand the struggle still continues to see the full marriage equality. Unlike Vietnam, Thailand has allowed same sex marriage ceremonies within their jurisdiction for some time. It should also be noted that Thailand is one of the most tolerant nations in Southeast Asia when it comes to LGBT issues. However, the law in Thailand still stipulates that a legally recognized marriage is a union between one man and one woman. There are many activists in the Kingdom hoping to change these rules in order to allow same sex couples the right to get married. With recent political turmoil in the Kingdom and uncertainty surrounding upcoming elections it remains to be seen whether any change to the current law will speedily occur, but some believe that the tolerant attitude in Thailand will lead to changes in the law especially in light of the fact that recent proposals in the Thai parliament would, if adopted, allow same sex couples to legalize their marriages.

The issue of same sex marriage legalization is of concern to many same-sex bi-national couples since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision granting federal recognition of same sex unions. One result of this decision was that same sex couples and spouses are now eligible to receive United States visa benefits in the same manner as different sex couples. Therefore, visas such as the CR-1 visa and IR-1 visa are now available to same sex couples who are already married. Although this may not be a highly sought after category in Southeast Asia at this time as no jurisdiction in the region currently recognizes same sex marriage, it could be of substantial importance in coming years as laws may be amended to equalize marriage laws for the LGBT community. Meanwhile, officials at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) as well as the Department of State have noted that same sex couples, where one of the partners is American, who maintain a bona fide intention to marry in the USA may be eligible for the K-1 visa (more commonly referred to as a fiance visa). This type of visa allows the foreign fiance of an American citizen to travel to the United States for 90 days for the express purpose of getting married and filing for adjustment of status to Lawful Permanent Residence.

more Comments: 04

The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisement. Before you decide, ask us to send you free written information about our qualifications and experience. The information presented on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.