Recent Developments and Updates on Travel Issues for Non-Citizen Workers
In the months following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., travelers have experienced significant scrutiny and intensified security efforts at airports and at the U.S.-Mexico/U.S.-Canada borders when processing through U.S. immigration. This situation has been incredibly fluid and subject to change without advance notice to the public, particularly with the upcoming Thanksgiving and year-end holiday periods.
At the airports, INS officials are closely scrutinizing identification documents and eligibility for admission. At present, the airlines are providing manifests to the INS and the FBI of all individuals who are traveling to the United States, to allow these agencies to "profile" individuals when they enter the United States. Airports that are most involved in profiling are: New York, Boston, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Miami. The U.S. State Department has a list of forty countries that are designated for increased security measures (i.e. profiling). Although the State Department will not comment on this list, nationals of "suspect" countries should expect closer scrutiny by INS upon entry to the United States. All non-U.S. citizens can expect to be directed to secondary inspections and subject to fingerprints, FBI checks, full body searches, photocopying of documents and videotaping of inspection by INS, FBI or customs.
There have been widespread reports by both the media and immigration practitioners that many individuals on domestic flights have been approached and asked to produce documents verifying their lawful status. There is a little known provision under Section 264(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that states, "every alien, 18 years of age and over, shall carry at all times and have in his possession, any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him." Failure to comply results in misdemeanor charges, fines or imprisonment of not more than thirty days. 8 CFR §264 implementing INA §264 defines what constitutes a registration document for different classes of individuals, including legal permanent residents and nonimmigrant visa holders.
In light of these recent events, even permanent residents have encountered increased scrutiny and it is advisable that LPR's carry one or more documents in addition to their "alien registration cards ("green cards") to confirm their identity. In addition to their "green cards," all LPRs should carry an extra form of photo identification that clearly establishes their identity and retention of lawful permanent residence.
In addition, all nonimmigrant workers holding E, H, L, O, P or R classification should carry their I-797 Approval Notice, passport and valid I-94 admissions card when traveling. Documents which evidence employment in the United States, such as a company identification badge, copy of recent payroll stub, company credit card or business card may also be useful. International travelers may wish to consider bringing a current job verification letter from their employer which includes an explanation for the business trip. Students and exchange visitors in F-1 and M-1 status should carry a valid, endorsed Form I-20 along with documentation evidencing current enrolment at school. J-1 visa holders should carry their IAP 66 along with a current job/training verification letter from their sponsor.
Also, all documents should be in order. Passports should be valid for at least six months; nonimmigrant visas should be valid; I-20's should be endorsed for travel within six months; advance paroles should be valid for multiple entries and aliens should have the right number of copies of the parole document. This is not the time to expect kindness or flexibility from either the INS or U.S. embassies or consulates.
Border posts in Canada and Mexico continue to issue third-country national (TCN) visas, although applicants should expect lengthy waits at the border when processing through immigration on return to the United States. In cooperation with the FBI, TCN applicants must complete a questionnaire, submit fingerprints and are photographed at INS. INS must receive clearance by the FBI before applicants are allowed to enter the U.S. The FBI clearances create an additional backlog of three to four hours, so TCN applicants should expect to spend virtually all day at the border.
In response to the terrorist attacks, subsequent anthrax scares and security alerts, several U.S. embassies and consulates have instituted special procedures and in some cases, have suspended or limited services. The U.S. embassies in Moscow, Paris and Hong Kong are some of the posts which have been affected by such changes. You may access the most up-to-date information on individual posts on the Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/links.html
Other recent developments include the announcement by the Department of State, in conjunction with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other Department of Justice agencies, that it is initiating a review of six countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver program. As mandated by the October 2000 law, all twenty-nine participating countries must be reviewed at least once every five years to ensure that they are in compliance with all of the program's requirements. The first six countries that have been chosen as part of the regular five-year review are Argentina, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Uruguay.
Finally, the Department of State also announced that beginning this week, all men between the ages of 16 and 45 from certain Arab and Muslim countries will be subject to a waiting period on non-immigrant visa applications that will add an additional period of up to 20 days to the application process. Applicants subject to the new security screening will also be required to complete a new background questionnaire that will cover previous military service, weapons training, previous travels and whether the applicant has previously held any other passports. The Department of State has expanded the number of countries subject to the new visa restrictions beyond the list of countries that sponsor or support terrorist activities. The list of countries affected by the new restrictions, includes: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
About The Author
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.