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US green card waiting times lengthen for many

The US State Department predicts longer green card waiting times for many immigrants. Charlie Oppenheim, chief of the department’s Visa Control and Reporting Division, recently shared his analysis of current trends and future prospects with respect to immigrant visa supply and demand.

EB1—Extraordinary ability; outstanding professors/researchers; multinational managers/executives

The employment-based first preference category is not expected to become currently available again for any country of birth. While people born in most countries are predicted to see movement of up to three months per month, Indian-born can anticipate little if any movement. India and China both have waiting times that are years longer than other countries.

EB2—Advanced degree; exceptional ability

EB2 is expected to remain currently available for all countries of birth, except mainland China and India, but that could change, as it did in the current fiscal year. The demand for Indian-born is so great that the predicted movement is only up to one week per month, while China is predicted to move up to two months per month.

EB3—Professionals; skilled workers; unskilled/other workers

The prediction for EB3 is similar to EB2, but with slow and irregular forward movement likely for China and the Philippines. India is predicted to show little to no movement until January 2020. The more limited supply of the “other workers” category makes it likely that it will not remain currently available for the entire fiscal year.

EB4—Religious workers; special immigrant juveniles

The prediction is for EB4 to remain currently available for most countries of birth. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are likely to see little if any movement because of the large demand in the special immigrant juvenile category. Mexico is predicted to see movement of up to four months.

EB5—Immigrant investors

The EB5 category is expected to remain currently available for most countries of birth; mainland China, Vietnam and India will continue to experience longer waiting periods. Mr. Oppenheim did not predict availability.

Note that the October 2019 Visa Bulletin’s EB5 Regional Center final action date is reported as unavailable because Congress and the administration have not yet extended that program. This program has always been temporary in nature and the government always has extended it, often after expiration. In contrast, traditional EB5 remains available.

Family-based preference categories

There are no limits on US citizens sponsoring their spouse, parents and unmarried children under age 21, so these are not reported in the Visa Bulletin.

For October, the F2A (family second preference) category for green card holders sponsoring their spouse and unmarried children under age 21 is reported as current across all countries of birth. Mr. Oppenheim predicted that demand will increase in late 2019 or early 2020, and the category can expect a Final Action Date by February 2020.

Background

The Department of State’s monthly online Visa Bulletin reports on the current wait times for the US immigrant visas (green cards) that are subject to numerical limits. The date the government receives an immigrant visa petition is considered the priority date. The immigrant’s country of birth is another factor impacting how long it takes to immigrate, although a married couple immigrating together can use either spouse’s country of birth for the entire family.

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US green card waiting times lengthen for many

The Government of Canada implements its New Preclearance Act

Effective August 15, 2019, the Preclearance Act of 2016 gives enhanced powers to US Customs and Border Protection officers working in preclearance areas located in Canada, much to the chagrin of many concerned Canadians. The Act was implemented in furtherance of the Preclearance Agreement, a treaty signed by Canada and the US in 2015. Please click here to read the Dentons client alert.

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The Government of Canada implements its New Preclearance Act

Federal legalization of hemp in the United States and its effect on US immigration laws

US immigration laws eased after the US 2018 Farm Bill removes hemp (and extracts of hemp such as CBD), from the list of controlled substances that have immigration consequences. Signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2019, removes a major roadblock that hindered foreign investment and job creation in the US lawful hemp industry. Please click here to read the full article.

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Federal legalization of hemp in the United States and its effect on US immigration laws

Final rule amending regulations governing EB5 program increases minimum investment amounts, gives USCIS sole authority to designate targeted employment areas

USCIS has issued new regulations that makes changes to important provisions of the employment-based fifth preference (EB5) immigrant investor visa program. The changes will require that ongoing EB5 investment projects review, and likely modify, their business plans, economic analyses and legal documents (e.g., private placement memoranda, subscription agreements) to reflect the new requirements.

Effective date

The new regulations apply to all EB5 petitions received by USCIS on or after November 21, 2019. There is expected to be a rush of new EB5 investments and petitions filed with USCIS before November 21, 2019, as petitioners seek to avoid the increased investment requirement.

Required investment will increase

The minimum investment required to qualify for EB5 will generally increase to $1.8 million from $1 million. The required minimum investment required for investments made in targeted employment areas will increase to $900,000 from $500,000.

In addition, the required minimum investment will increase in future years to adjust for inflation.

This change will decrease the number of immigrant investors interested in investing in America. The number of new jobs created through EB5 for American workers will decrease by at least 50%. American businesses seeking financing through EB5 will find it harder to obtain such investment, but will need to attracted fewer individual EB5 investors to raise the same amount of investment.

As noted above, the increased investment requirement apply only to EB5 petitions received by the USCIS on or after November 21, 2019. There is no increase for individuals, whose petitions are approved, or pending, prior to that date.

Changes to targeted employment areas

Under current law, the power to designate targeted employment areas (TEAs) is held by each state. The new regulations will strip the states of this power and give USCIS sole authority to designate a TEA. This change is likely to (1) increase the time it takes to receive a TEA designation and (2) decrease the likelihood of receiving a TEA designation. 

Under current regulations, TEAs must be comprised of census areas that are contiguous to each other. Under amended regulations, all of the census areas must be directly contiguous to the census area where the EB5 job creating business is located. The impact of this change will be to greatly restrict the number of locations that qualify as a TEA.

As a result of this change, it will be harder for projects in the US to attract EB5 investors and fewer parts of the US will be able to create jobs for American workers using EB5 funds.

A TEA is a census area whose rate of unemployment exceeds the US national average by 150 percent or more. In addition, two or more contiguous areas whose combined unemployment rate hits that benchmark can be designated a TEA. The latter is affected under the new rule, which takes the authority to designate that group away from the state government and gives it to USCIS, while at the same time limiting what census areas can be combined into the group.

Priority date retention

US law limits the number of people who can immigrate each year through EB5. The limited supply of EB5 visas is allocated in part based on the date the EB5 petition was received (priority date). Under current regulations, if an EB5 investment materially changed or an immigrant wanted to change investments after the petition was granted, the immigrant investor might lose that priority date and their immigration would be delayed. The new regulations preserve the original priority date for investors with multiple approved EB5 petitions.

This is a positive change that will help a small subset of EB5 immigrants to avoid even longer immigration waiting times when their investment plans change over time.

In general

The EB5 immigrant investor program was created in 1990. EB5 grants resident status to investors and their accompanying immediate family members, provided they satisfy a number of requirements which, for the most part, remain unchanged by the new regulations. The final rule does not, for example, change the requirements that:

  • An EB5 investor create at least 10 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs for US workers.
  • The jobs must either be created before the petition is filed or the investor must submit a comprehensive business plan that shows the jobs will be created before the conditional basis of resident status is removed.
  • The investor show that the source of the invested funds is “lawful.”
  • The invested funds be at risk in an active commercial business located in the US.

For more information

The full text of the final rule was published in the Federal Register and is available online, click here to read.

For more information, please contact your lawyer at Dentons or the authors.

Matt Schulz and Mengci Shao are members of Dentons Global Mobility Practice and are based in the firm’s Silicon Valley office.

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Final rule amending regulations governing EB5 program increases minimum investment amounts, gives USCIS sole authority to designate targeted employment areas

Cannabis in the United States and its implications in naturalization applications

In response to requests from state and local officials for clarification and adjustment of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policies negatively impacting the legal immigration status of individuals who work or have worked in the legal cannabis industry, USCIS has updated its Policy Manual—but has not retreated from its position that cannabis-related activities will likely bar a lawful permanent resident of the US from naturalization, even if such activities take place in a state that has legalized cannabis. For a deep dive into the updated manual—including cannabis-related activities which, while not grounds for deportation may still be grounds for inadmissibility if the LPR travels abroad and attempts to re-enter the US—please click here.

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Cannabis in the United States and its implications in naturalization applications

Immigration consequences of Canadian criminal offences

Many Canadian criminal cases have potentially adverse consequences for immigration status. Accordingly, when a criminal lawyer in Canada represents a client who is not Canadian citizen, it is imperative that the lawyer consider the two distinct grounds of criminal inadmissibility described in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act 1 (IRPA)—A36(1), which addresses “serious criminality” and applies to both foreign nationals and permanent residents, and A36(2), which addresses “criminality” and applies only to foreign nationals. For a discussion by Dentons Toronto immigration partner Henry Chang on their respective implications, as well as the impacts of federal, provincial and juvenile offenses, as well as conditional sentences, please click here.

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Immigration consequences of Canadian criminal offences

How US federal cannabis legalization would affect US immigration law

During the 115th US Congress, several bills were introduced to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Those receiving the most attention were: (1) the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (STATES Act); (2) Marijuana Justice Act of 2017/Marijuana Justice Act of 2018 (Marijuana Justice Act); and (3) the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (Marijuana Freedom Act). While all three died when the Congress ended on January 3, 2019, they are likely to be reintroduced (without change) during the 116th Congress. For our analysis of how they might affect the ability of foreign nationals to enter the United States, click here.

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How US federal cannabis legalization would affect US immigration law

An overview of Canada’s Start-Up Business Class

Many foreign nationals are now aware that US immigration policies are more restrictive than in years past. For example, to protect the economic interests of US workers, President Trump issued an executive order directing government agencies to rigorously enforce and administer immigration laws. Meanwhile Canada remains relatively open to accepting new immigrants and, according to a report published by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, could accept as many as 1.1 million in total in the years 2019 through 2021. As a result, many foreign entrepreneurs who might otherwise have permanently settled in the US are instead considering Canada. Dentons partner, Henry Chang (who is based in our Toronto office) has provided a detailed discussion of Canada’s Start-Up Business Class, a permanent residence option for innovative foreign entrepreneurs. The full article appears here.

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An overview of Canada’s Start-Up Business Class

Proposed change to afford certain temporary foreign workers with increased mobility

A proposed amendment to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) would provide increased employment mobility to certain foreign workers under the Canadian Temporary Foreign Worker Program. It still remains to be seen whether Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada will move forward with the amendment, and whether there is any appetite to provide similar changes to programs used to employ more highly-skilled foreign workers. To view the article on this proposed amendment, written by a member of our Toronto Employment and Labor team, click here.

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Proposed change to afford certain temporary foreign workers with increased mobility

New Zealand citizens may now pursue E1/E2 visas


Citizens of New Zealand and the United States making a business investment in the other country or engaging in trade between the two countries are now eligible for new immigration benefits. On June 10, 2019, US consular officials in New Zealand began processing E-1 treaty trader and E-2 treaty investor visa applications filed by New Zealand citizens. 

These visas are allowed under the Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors (KIWI) Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in August 2018.

To qualify for E-1 classification, the applicant must:

  • Be a citizen of New Zealand and the US business must be at least 50 percent owned by citizens of New Zealand;
  • Carry on “substantial trade,” as measured by a history of continuous flow of sizable international trade items involving numerous transactions over time;
  • Carry on “principal trade,” meaning at least 50 percent of the business’s international trade is between the US and New Zealand; and
  • Develop and direct the enterprise through either (i) at least 50 percent ownership of the enterprise or (ii) employment in a supervisory capacity or where the applicant brings essential skills. 

To qualify for E-2 classification, the applicant must:

  • Be a citizen of New Zealand and the US business must be at least 50 percent owned by citizens of New Zealand;
  • Invest substantial capital in an active, commercial enterprise in the US at a level that is above that which could merely support the applicant and his or her accompanying family members; and
  • Develop and direct the enterprise through either (i) at least 50 percent ownership of the enterprise or (ii) employment in a supervisory capacity or where the applicant brings essential skills. 

Successful applicants will be issued a multiple-entry visa, valid for up to five years and be allowed an initial stay of up to two years, with extensions available. There is no limit on the total time spent on E-visa status, but E- visa holders must be able to prove their intention to depart the US at the end of their authorized stay, whether through status expiration or termination. The applicant’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 are eligible for the same visa and period of stay. The spouse also may apply for an employment authorization document and family members may attend school.

Although the KIWI Act is not a bilateral treaty extending equivalent benefits to US citizens. For Americans interested in New Zealand, it should be noted that New Zealand already has an immigrant investor visa, an entrepreneur visa and a global impact visa that collectively offer broader benefits to citizens of the US and other countries than the KIWI Act provides New Zealanders.

The visa benefits for citizens of New Zealand and the US are a welcome addition that will benefit both countries. Please contact Dentons for more information.

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New Zealand citizens may now pursue E1/E2 visas