Migration options under the Trump administration

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CRISPIN R. ARANDA

UNTIL recently, immigration had been in President Donald Trump’s Tweeter backburner – consumed as he was in belittling Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential elections and collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.

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With the raid of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s residence, Mueller is following the money—starting small and working the case up, yanking the weakest link with the threat of pursuing charges such as “tax evasion, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice”.

While Mueller is following the money, President Trump is following his instincts and tactics that has so far worked in his artful deals: attack when cornered, threaten and file lawsuits upon lawsuits, mock, insult, degrade and belittle.

After the Charlottesville backlash following his remarks seeming to favor white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Trump dug deep into the winning formula of his offense arsenal and rallied his base in Phoenix, reviving the call for the Wall, even threatening to shut down US government operations if there is no budget for a “beautiful, beautiful wall” and a raise in America’s debt ceiling.

Shifting the conversation to immigration offers instant benefits, more supporters and fresh red meat to his base. Last month, Trump gave his boot-stomp of approval to a proposed immigration reform bill by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, seeking to cut legal immigration in half by cutting family-sponsored categories and pushing for a Canada-style points-based migration system.

The bill – S.1720 – intends to “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish a skills-based immigration points system, to focus family-sponsored immigration on spouses and minor children, to eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, to set a limit on the number of refugees admitted annually to the United States, and for other purposes.”

So, what are the legal migration options available to Filipinos and other foreign nationals under the less-than-a-year-old administration of President Donald Trump?

For those outside the US – temporary visas
B-1/B-2 tourist visas. No sponsorship required. Application can be made directly with the specific consular post, e.g., US Embassy in Manila. Purpose of visit must be valid and verifiable, reasons to return to the Philippines or country of origin/nationality must be compelling. Official estimates put the rate of approval at 70 percent, according to Consul General Michael R. Schimmel during an interview in 2011. Last year, a total of 99,967 B-1/B-2 visas were issued to Filipino applicants; 7,850 in the B-1 and 730 in the B-2 categories. (B-1 is temporary visit for business; B-2 temporary visit for pleasure). B-1/B-2 visas are issued to applicants who are deemed to be eligible to apply for both business and pleasure on temporary visits.

F1 student visas. Acceptance in a government (SEVIS) authorized institution is required and evidence of enrolment and financial ability to pursue a full-time academic course is needed. More than a thousand F-1 visas issued to Filipino applicants.

Temporary work visas. – HJ-1B visas (for jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or duties that need specialized education/training ) are by lottery. Last year, 1,455 Filipinos got H-1B visas while only 835 were issued the H-2B visas (for entry level or semi-skilled jobs that are either for recurring, one-time occurrence, seasonal or peak season reasons). The US employer must first obtain a temporary labor certification before an I-129 petition is filed with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

H-4 visas, dependents of temporary visa holders and trainees. The spouse and minor children of an H-1B, H-2B or a trainee (H-3) visa holder may come with the principal applicant and stay in the US for the duration of the worker/trainee status. A minor child remains a dependent until he or she turns 21.

Exchange visitors (J-1) visas. Issued to “individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs that are authorized by the Department of State. J-1 visa holders in private sector programs may study, teach, do research, share their specialized skills, or receive on-the-job training for periods ranging from a few weeks to several years. J-1 visas for programs that are funded in whole or in part by the US government or by the country of the applicant’s nationality or last residence are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement requiring the J-1 visa holder to return to home country for at least two years at the end of the exchange visitor program.

L-1 intra-company transferees. For executives or managers of Philippine-based companies that intend to or are currently operating in the US through subsidiaries, affiliates or joint ventures. The L-1 applicant must have been in an executive or managerial capacity with the Philippine company before the US firm sponsor could file the petition. The presence of a multi-billion-dollar purchasing power of Filipinos in the US has spawned the setting up of Filipino banks, financial institutions, food, restaurant establishments, BPO-related, travel and services. There were 653 L-1 visas issued to Filipino applicants in 2016 alone.

Hybrid visas – K-1/fiance(e). While the K-1 visa is officially under the nonimmigrant category, it is treated as an immigrant visa because the intention is to permanently reside in the US with the sponsoring US citizen fiancé/future spouse. Within 90 days of admission into the US on a K-1 visa, the foreign national and US citizen sponsor must get married, otherwise, the visa holder faces deportation or removal. Close to 7,000 visas were issued to Filipino fiancé(e)s last year.

It is a long-held immigration rule that all nonimmigrant visa applicants are considered to be intending immigrants unless proven otherwise.

Except for the K-1, applicants in the temporary visas above must prove to the US consular office that they are returning to the Philippines instead of joining the 12 million TNTs in the US.

So, how do they apply for permanent residency if such a choice is made?

The answer next week.

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