The Trump administration released on Sunday, October 8, 2017, a list of three immigration policy objectives to:

  1. “ensure safe and lawful admissions;
  2. defend the safety and security of [the United States]; and
  3. protect American workers and taxpayers.”

The administration indicated in its statement that it is “ready to work with Congress” to meet these immigration policy priorities.

The three main policy objectives—border security, interior enforcement, and a merit-based immigration system—align with earlier White House pronouncements, including the “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order and the statements accompanying its multiple “travel bans.”

Two aspects of these policy objectives merit close evaluation by employers: an emphasis on heightened visa fraud detection capabilities and the development of a points-based system to measure eligibility of foreign nationals for US permanent residence. We note that there is no reference to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the administration is ending. (Please see our DACA Legal Update.)

Measures to Enhance Visa Fraud Detection

The Trump administration’s policy priorities identify multiple avenues of enhancing enforcement of US immigration laws, including expansion of the Department of State’s authority to collect and use fraud prevention and detection fees to combat visa fraud and enhanced funding of the Visa Security Program, especially at high-risk consular posts. In particular, the administration proposes strengthening the ability of the Department of State to detect and prevent fraud in the following ways:

  • Expand the Department of State’s authority to use Fraud Prevention and Detection fees for programs and activities to combat all classes of visa fraud within the United States and abroad. In contrast, current law limits the use of the Fraud Prevention and Detection Account funds to preventing and detecting fraud by applicants for H-1, H-2, and L nonimmigrant visas.
  • Ensure funding for the Visa Security Program and facilitate its expansion to all high-risk posts. The “Visa Security Program,” which Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) International Operations coordinates to conduct visa security activities,1 has suffered from funding challenges, leading to agency-expressed concerns that the program has not expanded to more visa-issuing posts.2
  • Increase the Border Crossing Card (BCC) fee. The Department of State currently charges a fee of $160 for the issuance of the Mexican BCC. The BCC is used by eligible Mexican nationals in lieu of a B-1/B-2 visa.
  • Grant the Department of State the authority to apply the Passport Security Surcharge to the costs of protecting US citizens and their interests overseas and to include those costs when adjusting the surcharge. The Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2005 (P.L. 108-447) authorizes the Department of State to charge and retain surcharges related to consular services in support of enhanced border security. These fees finance a significant portion of the Department’s Border Security Program.
  • Strengthen laws prohibiting civil and criminal immigration fraud and encourage the use of advanced analytics to proactively detect fraud in immigration benefit applications. A number of civil and criminal immigration fraud measures were included in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). The administration would like to see those authorities expanded.

The prioritization of visa fraud detection is a critical point for employers and their foreign national populations, as employers and employees should expect longer queues and increased security checks for visa benefits. The Trump administration’s prioritization of visa fraud detection and prevention aligns with recent changes announced by the administration, including the phase-in of in-person interviews for all employment-based applicants for permanent residence, including dependent family members, effective on October 1, 2017 for applications filed on or after March 6, 2017. Visa applicants may also find that consular officers will question their eligibility for a visa benefit even when an underlying visa petition has already been granted by DHS (e.g., for H-1B and L-1 benefits).

Development of a Points-Based Immigration System

The Trump administration’s prioritization of a points-based immigration system for employers aligns with the president’s endorsement of the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, which was introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia) in August 2017. The RAISE Act seeks to implement extensive reform to the US immigrant visa system, including replacing the current classification-based system with a merit-based points system. (Please see our RAISE Act Legal Update.)

Implementation of a points-based immigration system would require congressional action and is unlikely to affect petitions and related submission filed under current US immigration laws.

The Announced Priorities: Require Formal Rulemaking and/or Congressional Action?

Below, please find a chart listing each priority provided by the administration, noting whether the priority requires administrative and/or congressional action to be addressed.