Immigration News and Analysis

International Students to Be Subject to Increased Scrutiny Upon Return to the U.S.

According to an internal memorandum from a senior official at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), all F-1 visa holders seeking admission to the United States will now have the validity of their student status checked by a border agent prior to being admitted into the country.

Under prior procedure, a border agent at primary inspection would not have had access to information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS. The information contained in SEVIS would have been verified only if the student was referred to secondary inspection, where his or her student status could be confirmed.

After the Boston marathon bombing, it was revealed that an international student charged with hiding evidence after the bombing was allowed to re-enter the country despite the invalidity of his student status. As a result, customs and immigration authorities accelerated their efforts to verify the status of all student visa holders applying for admission to the United States. The new proposed procedure will involve the verification of a student’s visa status before the individual arrives in the United States by looking to information contained in flight manifests. Customs and border agents may also check the visa status manually with the agency’s national targeting data center.

It is unclear at this time whether this new policy will cause significant delays at the airport for returning student visa holders. However, F-1 visa holders are advised to allow for additional time to go through immigration processing, at least while the policy is in its early stages.

Social Security Administration Updates Policy and Documentary Evidence of Nonimmigrant Status

The Social Security Administration updated its Program Operations Manual System (POMS) substantially in April, adding “admission stamp in unexpired foreign passport” to its list of acceptable primary evidence of identity among other key changes. The updated SSA information, “List of Documents in Priority of Acceptability for Use as Evidence of Identity,” notes that this is considered to be a separate document from an unexpired foreign passport. SSA has also posted new types of nonimmigrant evidence, including the admission stamp and recently introduced versions of the I-94 Arrival/Departure record, and has added a parole stamp placed in an unexpired foreign passport as acceptable evidence of parole status for a Social Security number (SSN).

Importantly, SSA has also eliminated the 10-day hold procedure for verifying evidence of status for an SSN using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program through the enumeration system (SSNAP). SSA made these changes as a result of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) automation of the I-94 Arrival/Departure record and recent DHS information regarding the real-time verification of alien status information.

Elimination of the Family-Based Fourth Preference Category: Brothers and Sisters of U.S. Citizens

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744), which is currently under review by the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposes to eliminate the Family-Based Fourth Preference Visa category which allows adult U.S. citizens to petition for their brothers and sisters to immigrate to the U.S as permanent residents.

Under the current system, visas are distributed to applicants seeking to become U.S. permanent residents according to a preference system. Green card applications based on a sibling relationship with a U.S. citizen fall under the Family-Based Fourth Preference Visa category. U.S. citizens must be 21 years old or older to be eligible to petition for their brother or sisters. The U.S. Department of State allocates approximately 65,000 visas per year for this category. Ther