The U.S. immigration system saw many changes ordered by the Trump administration during 2019, including some that will take effect in 2020.
The changes by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have a significant impact on the lives of millions of immigrants living legally in the United States.
Designed to slow legal immigration and strengthen the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to enforce immigration laws, some of the changes create obstacles in the immigration process. Others streamline the path to obtain immigration benefits.
COST HIKES FOR KEY IMMIGRATION PROCESSES
In an unprecedented move, it will also charge $50 to asylum seekers for their application. That will make the United States one of only four countries around the world that charge a fee for humanitarian protection.
Other increases will hit petitions for employment authorization — Form I-765, which will go up by 20% to $490 — and for removing conditions on permanent residence obtained through marriage (Form I-751), which will go up by 28% to $760.
USCIS is expected to soon publish a final rule with all the new fees.
CHANGES IN CITIZENSHIP TEST, AND NEW REASONS FOR DENIALS
During Fiscal Year 2019, USCIS approved citizenship for 834,000 legal permanent residents, an 11-year high, according to government statistics.
But permanent residents who apply for citizenship after December 2020 will face a more challenging test — in which immigrants must prove they can read, write and speak basic English, and have essential knowledge of U.S. history and government — because of a review of the current exam ordered by immigration officials.
A memorandum titled “Revision of the Naturalization Civics Tests” announced there would be changes in the exam questions about the U.S. government and history, as well as the oral test of knowledge of the English language.
USCIS also expanded the list of behaviors that would reflect an absence of good moral character — one of the key requirements for naturalization. The new guidance details 15 examples of “unlawful acts” that adversely reflect on moral character for naturalization purposes such as bail jumping, bank fraud, failure to file or pay taxes, and false claim to U.S. citizenship.
MORE IMMIGRATION FORMS AVAILABLE FOR ONLINE FILING
The transition from paper to digital applications for immigration benefits is an important priority for USCIS, the government agency stated in a news release about its 2019 accomplishments.
It said the new forms for electronic filing during 2020 would include the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status; the I-765 Application for Employment Application; the I-131 Application for Travel Document; the I-129 Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker; and the I-589 Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.
The new digital forms will be added to a series of self-help online tools that now allow immigrants to follow the progress of their cases and help to expedite the process.
INADMISSIBILITY ON PUBLIC CHARGE GROUNDS BLOCKS PATH TO GREEN CARD
USCIS amended the regulations related to “public charge” as a ground of impediment to obtaining permanent resident status or entering the United States with an immigrant visa. “The final rule includes definitions of certain terms critical to the public charge determination,” as detailed in the Federal Register in August.
A public charge is “an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period.” The public assistance can come from nine programs, including Medicaid, public housing and food stamps.
Thirteen states have gone to court to block the public charge rule, therefore delaying its implementation until there is a resolution to the litigation in the next few months.
NEW OBSTACLES FOR WORK PERMITS FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS
The Trump administration plans to modify regulations that would change some of the rules on the eligibility and waiting time for work permits based on a pending asylum application.
Among them are increasing the waiting period to apply for employment authorization, denying the permits to asylum applicants who entered the United States illegally, terminating the permit immediately if the asylum application is denied, and removing the 30-day deadline for USCIS to rule on permit applications.
USCIS has separately proposed eliminating the current 30-day timeline from the date an asylum seeker files for employment authorization to grant or deny this benefit. The agency also wants to modify the provision requiring that applicants submit their renewal requests to USCIS 90 days before the expiration of their employment authorization, according to the DHS notice.
This comes on top of one of the stringent measures taken by the administration to reduce immigration: a new rule rejecting asylum requests by migrants who turn up at the U.S. southwestern border. The rule allows USCIS to forbid asylum applications from immigrants who traveled through a third country en route to the U.S. and failed to apply for asylum there.