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Greater Scrutiny Set for Nonimmigrant Work Visa Renewals

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H1B Visa, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
A security guard looks out of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York. VOA
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United States, October 27: The United States has announced changes to its nonimmigrant work visa policies that are expected to make renewals more difficult.

In the past, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would generally approve the renewals unless the visa holder had committed a crime. Now, renewals will face the same scrutiny as the original applications.

“USCIS officers are at the front lines of the administration’s efforts to enhance the integrity of the immigration system,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said, according to the announcement posted on USCIS’ website this week. “This updated guidance provides clear direction to help advance policies that protect the interests of U.S. workers.”

The new regulations could affect more than 100,000 people holding at least eight different types of work visas who fill out the I-129 form for renewals.

Sam Adair, a partner at the Graham Adair business immigration law firm in California and Texas, said that for the most part, he expected visa holders would most likely face lengthier adjudication periods in their renewal processes, as opposed to increased numbers of denials.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big shift for us,” Adair told VOA. “But I think what we’ll see is just an increase in the number of requests for evidence, an increase in the delays on the adjudication of these petitions, and really it’s going to just result in more costs for the employers who are filing these petitions.”

‘High-skilled’ workers

Of all visa holders affected by this policy, those in the United States on an H-1B, a visa for “high-skilled” workers, are the biggest group. Of 109,537 people who had to submit I-129 forms in fiscal 2017, 95,485 were H-1B holders, according to data sent to VOA by USCIS.

H-1B visas have been threatened in the past, most recently by a bill proposed this year that would have raised the minimum salary requirement for workers brought in on the visa. While advocates of the program argued that it would keep workers from being exploited, many H-1B holders feared that businesses would be less willing to hire them or keep them on board.

But some Americans support the new regulations, saying that nonimmigrant work visas hurt American workers.

“It’s prudent to make sure that the people that receive those visas are in complete compliance with all of the requirements,” Joe Guzzardi, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization, told VOA.

“It just isn’t possible to think that there aren’t American workers that couldn’t fill these jobs,” he said, noting that while the regulations might hurt businesses, they would help Americans looking for work.(VOA)

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US Immigration Agency Opens up on Female Mutilation

Female Mutilation should be stopped, opens up US Immigration Agency

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FILE - A man's T-shirt reads
FILE - A man's T-shirt reads "Stop the Cut," referring to female genital cutting or mutilation, during a social event advocating against the practice at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani. VOA

On a few days over the last year, federal agents approached travellers at several U.S. airports — flights bound for or connecting to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Frankfurt, Germany, and Dakar, Senegal.

The officials — part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — weren’t searching for contraband, or guiding bag-sniffing dogs. They were part of a smaller office within the agency that doesn’t focus on detaining and deporting people. Instead, they were handing out printed materials. They wanted to talk about female genital cutting.

JFK. Newark. Washington-Dulles. They targeted some of the country’s biggest international airports. In May, they roamed the gates in Atlanta — in the state where an Ethiopian man deported last year was believed to be the first person criminally convicted in the United States for FGC, sometimes referred to as female genital mutilation or FGM.

ICE declined a request to speak with the agents for details about how the initiative is carried out. There are brochures involved and, according to photos attached to the agency’s news releases, male and female agents chat with women about to board flights abroad.

FGC is a federal crime, the agency says it tells travellers. It can have consequences on child custody, and in immigration cases, too, even if the procedure is performed outside the U.S.

FILE - A badge reads "The power of labor aginst FGM" is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Cairo, Egypt. VOA
FILE – A badge reads “The power of labor aginst FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Cairo, Egypt. VOA

An agency spokeswoman told VOA via email that “people were happy to hear that’s why [Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security] was out there with materials. Some folks have never heard of it; many have but don’t understand it, the extent of the problem and how harmful the procedure and associated complications are. And some women had been subjected themselves to FGM.”

The project is modelled after one in the United Kingdom, an “awareness” campaign designed to talk about the risks of FGC and publicize the criminality of the procedure.

Removing part of the female genitals for nonmedical reasons is a practice concentrated in a few dozen countries, but performed on a smaller scale in many more, including the United States, where cases have been documented dating to as early as the 19th century. Last year, ICE investigators unravelled the Michigan case of a medical doctor performing FGC on young girls.

Reasons given

The justifications can include religious, cultural or pseudomedical rationales, like when U.S. doctors used the procedure to treat “hysteria.” Hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the U.S. are FGC survivors, or are vulnerable to it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mariya Taher, head of Sahiyo — a U.S. nongovernmental organization that advocates for an end to FGC — has spoken publicly about her experience surviving the procedure. Now, her organization is spearheading its own effort to publicize the stories of other survivors in the U.S., with a video project due out this month.

FILE - A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have subject their daughters to female genital mutilation, in Minia, Egypt. VOA
FILE – A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have subject their daughters to female genital mutilation, in Minia, Egypt. VOA

Does Taher think ICE agents handing out pamphlets and talking to families headed to visit relatives abroad, who are maybe considering having the procedure done on their daughters, or planning to have it done on that summer vacation, is an effective method?

“A large part of prevention is educating that it IS illegal … many people don’t recognize that it IS,” said Taher. She wants to know more about what information is being shared and how the conversations with travellers are happening before passing judgment on the project.

Unintentional effect?

“Any effort about the health, legal consequences, support services, I think is really helpful and beneficial,” Taher said. On the other hand, she noted, “I feel conflict. We’re trying to show that FGC happens across the board, regardless of ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status. … I’m a little afraid, if we’re just targeting certain countries, that we’re unintentionally misrepresenting whom FGC happens to.”

Also Read: “The Restorers” : Kenyan Girls Use Technology to Combat Female Genital Mutilation

Dozens of U.S. states have passed laws, in addition to the federal legislation, criminalizing FGC. In the Michigan case, doctors who performed the procedure on girls were charged, as well as four mothers who agreed to the medically unnecessary surgeries. (VOA)