Immigration and Visa Updates

Suspension of Premium Processing

USCIS has announced that they are suspending premium processing of H-1B applications, possibly until early October 2017. Premium processing allows an employer to request an expedite of the application by paying an additional fee. This suspension should allow the USCIS to process a backlog of H-1B applications, creating a shorter wait for regular processing.

Note that H-1Bs who are extending their stay or amending their petition (for job changes or other material changes) are eligible to work while those applications are pending, as long as they have been timely filed. Applications for new H-1Bs for individuals already on an H-1B are eligible for H-1B portability, if the individual meets the criteria for portability. These requests will be filed through the normal process of the OISS.

If there are applications for new H-1Bs who are on another status or are outside the US, we will not be able to file for premium processing.  This means that requests for an H-1B should be filed with the OISS as early as possible to have the best chance of approval by the requested start date.

For questions about this suspension, please contact the OISS at oiss@wustl.edu or 314-935-5910.

Travel Ban

On January 27, 2017 and again on March 6, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Orders which were referred to as “travel bans” on entry into the United States by students from certain countries. However, in regards to both Executive Orders, the courts have now blocked their implementation. There may be additional legal action by the Executive branch to challenge these court rulings. But at the moment, neither Executive Order is being implemented. We are still recommending that students and scholars from any of the seven countries (i.e., Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) specified in the first Executive Order avoid travel at this time and, if travel is necessary, speak in person with an OISS Advisor before finalizing travel plans.

Travel for International Students and Scholars From Other Countries

International students and scholars who plan to travel outside the US should keep in mind that re-entry to the US has never been, nor is currently, guaranteed. We have heard anecdotally that travelers applying for entry to the US are being asked more questions and are under more scrutiny upon entrance into the US.

We have anecdotal evidence that individuals who are not citizens of the countries covered under the travel ban, but who traveled in those countries are experiencing greater scrutiny. Thus, anyone who has traveled to these countries should carefully consider their travel and should consult with immigration counsel before leaving the country.

Applications at USCIS

The US Citizenship and Immigration Service has confirmed that they are continuing to process applications for benefits for individuals from the countries covered under the travel ban, and that this Executive Order does not affect this processing. Based on our experience, the USCIS has been approving applications for students and scholars from these countries.

Visa Interview Waivers/Visa Processing

In recent years, it has been possible for some individuals to obtain a waiver of the visa interview for renewals of visas. The Executive Order eliminated that possibility. However, the actions of the courts put a temporary hold on such a change. It is possible that visas will again become required for all applicants, which could result in longer delays in visa processing, particularly at certain high-volume consulates. Thus, anyone who is must obtain a new visa to enter the US is advised to apply early.

General Advice

Now, as always, it is particularly important that students and scholars maintain their status while in the US and that they carry the necessary documents when re-entering the US (for example, for F-1s, an I-20 recently endorsed for travel on page 2). Please note that when an international student or scholar attempts to enter the US, the border officials may ask for access to their cell phone or computer. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents are allowed to search cell phone and computers for contacts, past calls, social media posts and internet activities. CBP is also allowed to ask any questions deemed necessary to determine eligibility for entry, including questions about a traveler’s religion and political opinions.

 

If you have any concerns about your travel plans and immigration matters, please speak with an OISS Advisor during walk-in hours, or you can contact us or email oiss@wustl.edu.