Immigration Roundup (February 15, 2005)
Spouses Who Filed in New York Are Not Getting Fast-Tracked
Over 2,000 foreign spouses of United States citizens who paid hundreds of dollars in fees to get on what they thought was a 90-day government fast track to a green card interview learned last week that they were instead stuck in the two year backlog with everyone else. A spokesman for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed that the eight-month-old fast track program was halted in New York last week but was continuing indefinitely in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Dallas to attempt eliminating paperwork backlogs.
Spokesmen for USCIS said the pilot program was dropped last week because it was not meeting its goals: to handle applications within 90 days and to detect a higher incidence of fraud among marriages. He said no refunds were due because the program was an internal management tool and not a guarantee that applicants would be on a fast track.
Some immigration lawyers are disputing these claims, saying that if a marriage-based case was filed in New York after April it was on an expedited track. Some lawyers advised clients stuck in the waiting list to re-file, even though it meant paying fees again, because in most cases approval was granted within four months.
Other immigration lawyers in New York are saying that it was up to the government to end the program, but are critical of the lack of notice. Many applicants now have expiring work authorization and travel permits. Those already scheduled for interviews may still be handled on the fast track, but those who applied in December and January - roughly 2,000 couples - can expect a two-year wait instead.State Department Official Indicted on Visa Fraud Charges
A U.S. Department of State official was indicted on fraud and bribery charges for allegedly issuing visas to Armenian foreign nationals in exchange for cash. The official, Piotr Parlej, was arraigned last week in U.S. District Court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to visa fraud, bribery and conspiracy charges.
The U.S. Magistrate Judge presiding over the case ordered Parlej to remain in jail while he weighs the prosecutionsí argument that the defendant is likely to leave the country if freed on bond. In regard to him being likely to flee the country, prosecutors noted his very few ties to the United States and none in the Washington region with the exception of one friend.
As a U.S. consular, Parlejís duties included interviewing visa applicants and issuing visas if the necessary qualifications were met. The indictment alleges Parlej issued unwarranted visas to six foreign nationals in Armenia for as much as $10,000 on each occasion.
The State Departmentís Diplomatic Security Service led the investigation and, upon informing Parlej of the allegations, urged him to come back to the United States. He returned to the Washington region, where he was arrested.
If convicted, Parlej faces between five and 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.Visa Mantis Program Extends Time in US for Some Scientists and Students
The State Department has extended the time many foreign students and scientists can remain in the country before renewing security clearances in response to concerns that strict visa requirements are discouraging them from coming to the United States.
The clearance is required for foreigners working in areas the government deems sensitive, including fields like chemistry, engineering and pharmacology. The change will lengthen the validity of the clearance to up to four years for students, two for working scientists, making it easier to remain in the United States for the duration of work or study programs. Until now, they had to reapply for clearance each year. The State Department consulted with the Department of Homeland Security before granting the extension.
The security clearance program, known as Visas Mantis, was established in 1998 to prevent scientists from illegally transferring technology out of the country. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the caseload increased and the process became more time-consuming. Several of those who carried out the Sept. 11 hijackings had been issued student visas.
A study released last February by the Government Accountability Office found that scientists had been waiting an average of 67 days for a decision on their Visas Mantis clearances. The office is to release a follow-up report on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The State Department has taken other steps to expedite Visas Mantis security clearance, including investing $1 million in technology upgrades. The agency estimates that the extension will reduce by 50 percent the number of Visas Mantis clearances to be handled each year.House Backs Real ID Act
The U.S. House of Representatives approved last week a sweeping set of rules aimed at forcing states to issue all adults federally approved electronic ID cards, including driver's licenses.
Under the rules, federal employees would reject licenses or identity cards that don't comply, which could curb Americans' access to airplanes, trains, national parks, federal courthouses and other areas controlled by the federal government. The bill was approved by a 261-161 vote.
The measure, called the Real ID Act, says that driver's licenses and other ID cards must include a digital photograph, anti-counterfeiting features and undefined "machine-readable technology, with defined minimum data elements" that could include a magnetic strip. The Department of Homeland Security would be charged with drafting the details of the regulation.
Republican politicians argued that the new rules were necessary to prevent terrorists from being in the United States, saying that four of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers possessed valid state-issued driver's licenses.
States would be required to demand proof of the person's Social Security number and confirm that number with the Social Security Administration. They would also have to scan in documents showing the person's date of birth and immigration status. Another portion of the bill says that states would be required to link their DMV databases if they wished to receive federal funds. The information that must be shared includes all data fields printed on drivers' licenses and identification cards, and complete drivers' histories, including motor vehicle violations, suspensions and points on licenses.
About 95 percent of the House Republicans voted for the bill, which had been prepared by the judiciary committee chairman, F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican. More than three-fourths of the House Democrats opposed it.
Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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