• Immigration Law Practice-One Year After
  • April 29, 2003 | Author: Lorne M. Fienberg
  • Law Firm: McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, Professional Association - Manchester Office
  • The catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, which transformed the world, have worked important changes in immigration law practices. The creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, and with it the split of the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two new agencies, one dedicated to enforcement and the other to the providing of services to foreign nationals, remains on the legislative horizon. Immigration attorneys wonder how immigrant services will fare under the umbrella of a Federal Department whose primary goals are national security and the fighting of terrorism.

    While we adjust the long-term view of our practice, our routine service to clients sees daily changes. The lowly Form AR-11 used by all foreign nationals, including legal permanent residents, to notify the INS of a change in address is now our most frequently distributed form. Since the Justice Department has affirmed that failure to comply may be a deportable offense, foreign nationals neglect this notice requirement at their peril.

    Changes to the nonimmigrant student program, together with the new electronic student tracking system (SEVIS) have created consternation among education officials and students about things as routine school transfers and as minute as course changes. The reduction of the customary valid stay of B visa tourists and business visitors from 6 months to 30 days has caused individuals with completely legitimate business or personal purposes to "fall out of status" (read illegal aliens). The resulting gap in status may have consequences down the road for individuals seeking to gain permanent resident status. Our practice group's attorneys receive daily calls from both categories of foreign nationals.

    Processing of H-1B nonimmigrant visas for foreign nationals in specialty occupations has declined in the last year. To some extent, this is a product of the slow economy, but it also suggests that many employers are unwilling to hire individuals whose employment might involve dealing with the INS. On the plus side, naturalization applications have increased now that all but a handful of nations recognize the concept of "dual" citizenship.

    Delay has become the watchword of immigration practice and procedure, from the filing of visa petitions and applications for travel permits or work authorization to crossing the border from New Brunswick, Canada into Maine on a summer Sunday. The new Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) imposes security checks on all petitions and applications and, together with the increased enforcement personnel authorized in the proposed Border Security legislation, ensures that patience will be the cardinal virtue of immigration attorneys and their clients.

    For years we assured our clients that the INS had little contact or information sharing with the IRS or the Social Security Administration. The recent flurry of Social Security "no-match" letters asking employers to verify the work eligibility usually of improperly documented foreign workers suggests that government agencies may now be talking to each other. This change presents new complications for human resource professionals and foreign nationals, regardless of their legal status.

    Finally, for immigration attorneys and their clients, the INS's announced "zero tolerance" policy brings with it the challenge of achieving compliance with all laws and regulations while treating everyone living and working in the United States in accordance with basic principles of justice and fairness.