An Update on Travel Issues for Non-Citizen Workers
In the aftermath of the tragic events of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, many employers, foreign workers and travelers have raised significant concerns regarding potential changes in immigration policies and procedures, and how these changes will impact their lives.
At present, various government agencies, including the US Customs, the Department of State, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and various law enforcement agencies have coordinated their efforts to address travel-related issues. Employers and nonimmigrant workers will undoubtedly experience increased scrutiny and substantial delays when traveling. Employers and nonimmigrant workers should seriously consider the necessity of foreign travel, whether for business or personal reasons, and should be discouraged from any non-essential travel or be prepared to face substantial delays and possible complications upon re-entry.
In the meantime, various news organizations are reporting significant drops in the number of visa applications at US embassies and consulates throughout the world. The Associated Press reports that visa applications have dropped by as much as seventy percent since the terrorist attacks. Despite the decline in the number of visa applications, the Visa Office of the Department of State has advised that virtually all posts are open for full consular services. Moreover, the Visa Office has cabled a reminder to all US embassies and consulates (UNCLAS State 161332, entitled "Recent Terrorist Attacks and Nonimmigrant Visa Processing and Searches of Visa Records") stating that there have been no changes to visa processing procedures as a result of recent terrorist attacks. The cable further urges posts to review and continue to adhere closely to State 109933 - an outline of special processing requirements for certain nationalities and/or circumstances in which additional clearance procedures beyond the standard CLASS name check are required for security related reasons, in connection with issuance of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. State 109933 also includes the Technology Alert List - a list of the sixteen sensitive technology fields. The Visa Office has however, also advised posts that security advisory opinions requests may also be sent to the Visa Office if the post feels one is warranted.
Foreign workers who proceed to US consulates in Canada or Mexico to apply for nonimmigrant visas or immigrant visas may face additional security restrictions on travel. In cooperation with the US, the Mexican government has announced that it will not issue visas to enter Mexico for certain nationalities without a prior check and approval from the Mexican Immigration Authority (Instituto Nacional de Migracion). These countries are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Stateless (Refugee), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarrus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Congo, Croatia, Cuba, China, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kazajstan, Kiguistan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mauritania, Moldovia, Mongolia, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Saharahui Democratic Republic, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Taiwan, Turkmenistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Yemen and Yugoslavia. This additional check may take approximately three to four weeks. Canada already imposes strict visa restrictions for citizens of certain countries, and a comprehensive list of these countries can be accessed at http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas_e.html. Therefore, before making a third country national appointment for a US post in Mexico or Canada, applicants should check visa requirements with the appropriate consulate.
Travelers will also encounter additional scrutiny measures and significant delays on reentry to the United States, both on land and by air. Following the terrorist attacks, the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders have remained open to traffic and commerce. The US customs services remains on Alert Level 1 at land borders and all ports of entry into the United States in coordination with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol. Level 1 is considered the highest state of alert and calls for substantially increased vigilance by Customs officers during the processing of passengers and private and commercial vehicles entering the country. Travelers can expect delays as federal officers conduct more intensive examinations of conveyances and individuals to ensure that packages are inspected and persons are appropriately screened. A list detailing the wait times at key Northern and Southern land border ports of entry are posted twice daily at http://www.customs.gov/travel/travel.htm.
In addition to customs delays, travelers will also encounter significant delays when processing through immigration, as INS officials will closely scrutinize identification documents and eligibility for admission. Reports indicate that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has targeted nationals of 40-50 countries (the same countries that require additional checks prior to entering Mexico) for thorough scrutiny. These applicants can expect to be directed to secondary inspections and be subject to FBI checks, full body searches, photocopying of documents and videotaping of inspection. Even for individuals traveling domestically, it may be prudent to carry a passport, I-94 card and I-797 Approval Notice, as there have been numerous reports that nonimmigrants have been questioned and asked for this documentation when boarding domestic flights.
In the face of increased security measures and intensified scrutiny after the tragic events, it has become critical for employers and foreign workers to consult with their attorneys who can guide them through these changed times.
About The Authors
Tien-Li Loke Walsh is an associate attorney with Wolfsdorf Associates in Los Angeles, and practices exclusively in the area of immigration and nationality law. Ms. Loke Walsh currently serves on the AILA/CSC Liaison Committee. She graduated from the University of Sydney with a B.A. in Political Science and History, and received her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. She travels frequently to consular posts to represent visa applicants.
Bernard P. Wolfsdorf practices exclusively in the area of immigration and nationality law in Los Angeles. He is a California state bar-certified specialist in immigration and nationality law and is listed in Martindale Hubbell's Pre-eminent Specialist Directory, and in the International Who's Who of Corporate Immigration Lawyers. Mr. Wolfsdorf has served on numerous AILA liaison committees, including the AILA/CSC Liaison Committee and the State Department Liaison Committee, and is currently serving on the American Bar Association's Coordinating Committee on Immigration Law. His office assists applicants with consular visa interviews and he is a frequent lecturer on consular processing.