Visa Delays at Backlogged Immigration Service Strand International Students

Visa Delays at Backlogged Immigration Service Strand International Students
By Erica L. GreenJune 16, 2019
Columbia University’s campus in New York. University officials and students at several colleges, including Columbia, say the delayed visa approvals have thrown some international students into crisis.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Columbia University’s campus in New York. University officials and students at several colleges, including Columbia, say the delayed visa approvals have thrown some international students into crisis.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The visa applications of hundreds of international students seeking to work in the United States this summer are languishing at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, where increased processing times have left students stranded and university leaders struggling with the fallout.

Students have written petitions and panicked letters to leaders of some of the top universities in the country as their internship start dates have come and gone with no word from the federal government.

Recent graduates of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism are pushing back start dates for internships and relying on their parents for day-to-day expenses. Students at Princeton have had job offers rescinded, and have been forced to return home for the summer. At Dartmouth College, students reported losing money they spent for housing and flights to live and work in other states. At Yale, students scrambled to enroll in a newly created course that would allow the university to approve their summer employment.

“Every morning I wake up with anxiety, wondering what am I going to do today when I’m supposed to be working,” said Yaling Jiang, 26, a student from China and recent graduate of Columbia’s journalism school, who was supposed to start an internship last Monday at a trade publication run by The Financial Times.

Such a delay, college leaders suggest, reflects increasing hurdles international students have faced studying and working in the country under the Trump administration. Last year, the administration sought to crack down on students who overstayed their visas, a policy that is under a court injunction. And as trade tensions escalate with Washington, Beijing warned Chinese students this month of visa restrictions and delays in the United States.

Ms. Jiang is among those awaiting work authorization under a program called Optional Practical Training, which allows international students legally attending school to work for up to a year in a field related to their studies. They can apply for the authorization only 90 days before they are scheduled to start a job or complete their degree. In prior years that was not a problem: The maximum wait time was 90 days, though university leaders said that it was rare that it exceeded 60.

This year, Citizenship and Immigration Services is projecting a lag of up to five months, which an agency official said was a result of “a surge in employment authorization requests” that had created a “small backlog.”

The agency said in a statement that it had “implemented a plan to address this and return to standard processing times soon.”

Princeton’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, led a group of New Jersey college leaders who sent a letter to state lawmakers last month, citing the Citizenship and Immigration Services delay as one of several instances of a “disturbing increase in the number — and length — of impediments put in the path of our international students, faculty and staff.” The letter cited studies that found that the overall number of foreign students enrolling in American institutions had declined, and that over the last two fiscal years, processing times for foreign visas had increased 46 percent.

“Some of our schools have experienced decreases in foreign student enrollment and all of our schools have encountered an increasingly log-jammed immigration system that is impacting our ability to recruit, retain and bring to our campuses foreign talent,” the presidents wrote.

The backlog has made it nearly impossible for students who applied in February or March — the earliest they could do so — to begin summer jobs on time, if at all.

“When you start off as an intern, you want to be able to put your best foot forward,” said Jeevika Verma, 23, a recent Columbia graduate from India who submitted her application on March 4, but is still awaiting authorization to begin her internship at WNYC. “You want to start early and stay late, but I can’t start at all.”

A spokesman at Columbia, Scott N. Schell, said the university was focused on preserving access to the practical training programs, and ensuring that students are “well informed about how to navigate this increasingly complex landscape.”

University officials and students at several colleges say the delayed approvals have thrown some students into crisis.

At Princeton, about two dozen international students wrote a letter to the university’s president and the head of its international center, asking for the school to help students with financial hardships.

“Some students are expected to help their families financially using proceeds from their internship,” the students wrote. “There are also students who have paid for rent and flights using loans that they hoped to cover with their internship earnings, as well as others who have no place to sleep, since their housing arrangements were guaranteed by their work benefits.”

Yang Song, a rising senior at Princeton who helped write the letter, received his visa about a week ago after applying in February. That was not in time for his May 28 start date at a New York hedge fund.

Mr. Song, 21, a computer science major from Australia, is one of 10 Princeton students — out of roughly 90 who applied — to receive a work permit for the summer. He has watched friends lose positions at high-profile companies because they could not meet training and orientation requirements. His company created a special onboarding process for him, and he started last week.

“I was one of the fortunate ones,” he said.

Mr. Song said international students were urging Princeton to follow the lead of other institutions in finding a solution that would prevent international students from facing the same predicament in the future.

Yale sprang into action days after receiving a petition from more than 150 students, according to the student newspaper The Yale Daily News, announcing a course in the fall that will allow the university, rather than the federal government, to approve off-campus employment for international students over the summer.

Ben Chang, a spokesman for Princeton, said the university was “very concerned about the obstacles and delays international students continue to face and are aware of the very real, tangible impact and financial strain this situation is having on them.”

“We are focused on finding solutions in light of students’ near-term needs while taking into account longer-term implications for our programs, and are working in Washington with our partners to alleviate the situation,” he said.

At Columbia, where students are waiting to start internships at prominent news organizations, the delay is particularly excruciating.

As an intern at The Seattle Globalist, Ms. Verma wrote one of her first articles about the barriers — including the Optional Practical Training application process — that international students face navigating the job market. She wants to report on the plight that she and her fellow classmates are facing. But without her visa, that would be illegal.

“Instead, I spend every day incessantly refreshing my case status page to see if anything’s changed,” Ms. Verma said. “And it hasn’t.”


Have questions?
To help serve you better, we’ve compiled and listed some of the top questions we've encountered about immigration related issues.

Go to answers

Ready to get started?
Call (650) 373-1122
to inform us of your immigration needs and set up a consultation. We are also available in person at our offices or by video conference.

Book a Consultation

Filing DACA Renewal Applications in the Wake of the January 9, 2018 Federal Court Ruling

On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. For more information on the rescission of DACA, see AILA’s Practice Alert: Trump Administration Rescinds DACA.  On September 8, 2017, the University of court to enjoin the implementation of the rescission. On January 9, 2018, the district court issued an order directing the government to partially maintain the DACA program. This practice alert summarizes the provisional relief provided by the court.

Scope of Provisional Relief

The court’s decision orders DHS to maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis, under the same terms and conditions that were in effect before the program was rescinded, with the following exceptions:

New Applications: The court stated that applications from people who have never applied for DACA “need not be processed.” However, the court also noted that the decision does not prevent DHS from adjudicating new DACA applications.

Advance Parole: The court stated that applications for advance parole based on DACA do not have to be continued for the time being. However, the court also noted that the decision does not prevent DHS from adjudicating advance parole applications based on DACA.

Discretion: The court stated that the government can take steps to ensure that discretion is exercised fairly and on an individualized basis for each renewal application.

Importantly, the court also stated that the decision does not prohibit DHS from taking enforcement action against anyone, including those with DACA, who it determines may pose a risk to national security or public safety or who – in the judgement of DHS – “deserves … to be removed.”

Filing Renewal Appications

The court’s decision directs DHS to post “reasonable public notice that it will resume receiving DACA renewal applications” and to specify the process by which it will accept renewal applications. As of January 10, 2018, USCIS had not yet released any public guidance on the court’s decision, although it has noted on at least two different USCIS webpages that “more information is forthcoming.”

Practitioners may want to consider waiting to file renewal DACA applications on behalf of their clients until USCIS has released public guidance on the process. Given that 1) the court directed USCIS to specify and publicize its renewal process, and 2) the fact that the USCIS lockboxes and service centers will be relying on guidance from USCIS Headquarters to process applications it receives, submitting a renewal application before guidance is released may cause confusion and ultimately lead to a delay in processing.

AILA has reached out to USCIS and will provide updates as soon as they are available.

Effect on Legislative Efforts to Protect Dreams

While the decision is good news in the short term, Dreamers need Congress to pass a permanent legislative solution now more than ever. It seems clear that this Administration will appeal the court’s decision quickly, and the litigation itself is likely to be lengthy and drawn out. Moreover, the decision only relates to renewal applications, leaving Dreamers who were unable to apply for DACA without recourse. For more information on the need to pass the Dream Act now, see

Source: AILA Jan 10, 2018

Have questions?
To help serve you better, we’ve compiled and listed some of the top questions we've encountered about immigration related issues.

Go to answers

Ready to get started?
Call (650) 373-1122
to inform us of your immigration needs and set up a consultation. We are also available in person at our offices or by video conference.

Book a Consultation

Trump Must Keep DACA Protections for Now, Judge Says


WASHINGTON — In the middle of an intense political fight about the program that shields from deportation young immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children, a federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction late Tuesday ordering the Trump administration to start the program back up again.

Saying the decision to kill it was improper, Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco wrote that the administration must “maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis” as the legal challenge to the president’s decision goes forward.

President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in 2012 to also give young immigrants the ability to work legally in the United States. President Trump moved to end the program in September, saying that Mr. Obama’s actions were unconstitutional and an overreach of executive power.

That decision has set off a fierce debate in Washington as Democrats and Republicans spar about how to provide relief for about 800,000 immigrants who could face deportation when the program ends on March 5. Mr. Trump met with lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon in a remarkable, hourlong televised meeting to begin negotiations.

A Typical ‘Dreamer’ Lives in Los Angeles, Is From Mexico and Came to the U.S. at 6 Years Old
There are roughly 800,000 current beneficiaries of the DACA program. Here’s who they are.

OPEN Graphic
But critics of the president’s decision to end the policy, including several states and organizations, had already sued the administration, saying that shutting down the program was arbitrary and done without following the proper legal procedures.

One of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Janet Napolitano, is currently the president of the sprawling University of California system of colleges but served as the secretary of homeland security for Mr. Obama in 2012 and was an architect of the DACA program.

In his ruling, Judge Alsup questioned the administration’s contention that the DACA program had not been put into place legally. He asserted that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has long had the authority to grant the kind of temporary protections that formed the basis of the program.

Judge Alsup also cited several of Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts that expressed support for the program. He noted that in September, the president wrote: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” Such tweets, the judge said, bolstered the idea that keeping the program going was in the public’s interest.

The judge wrote that previous beneficiaries of DACA, known as Dreamers, must be allowed to renew their status in the program, though the government will not be required to accept new applications from immigrants who had not previously submitted one. The judge also said the administration could continue to prevent DACA recipients from returning to the United States if they leave the country.

Janet Napolitano, a former homeland security secretary and the president of the sprawling University of California system of colleges, in May. Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
It is unclear what the legal effect could be from the judge’s ruling, but the Trump administration may be headed for more intense legal wrangling like the kind that happened after the president’s travel bans.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Devin O’Malley, said that the ruling did not change the department’s stance.

“DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens,” he said. “As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress, and was susceptible to the same legal challenges that effectively ended DACA. The Department of Homeland Security therefore acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner. Promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens.”

The administration could quickly appeal the judge’s ruling, hoping that an appeals court would prevent the injunction from taking effect and allowing the shutdown of the DACA program as the president announced in September.

But such a ruling could itself be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, potentially tying the fate of the DACA program in court action for days, weeks or longer.

About 800,000 young undocumented immigrants are protected under DACA. We spoke with a few of them in September, when President Trump announced intentions to end the Obama-era program.

By A.J. CHAVAR on September 5, 2017. . Watch in Times Video »
Either way, the ruling could have serious political effect.

If the court’s order to restart the DACA program stands, that could take pressure off Republicans and Democrats to find a political solution for the young immigrants who could be deported if the program ends.

Almost immediately after the president rescinded the DACA program in September, Mr. Trump expressed sympathy for the young immigrants who were children when their parents brought them to the country illegally. Mr. Trump repeated his sympathies on Tuesday at the White House meeting.

Democrats have seized on the president’s attitude, urging their Republican colleagues to support legislation that would permanently legalize the Dreamers to work in the United States, and give them an eventual path to American citizenship.

But hard-line conservatives say that would amount to an amnesty program for lawbreakers, and some Republicans in Congress have been pressing for other immigration changes before they will support legislation for the Dreamers.

In particular, Republicans at the White House meeting demanded an end to rules that allow immigrants to sponsor their extended family members — aunts, uncles, cousins — to enter the United States. And they want an end to a State Department visa lottery program that prioritizes legal immigration from certain countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Democrats have warned that demands for those measures could undermine support from their party for legislation on the Dreamers, potentially threatening a budget deal necessary to keep the government open past this month.

Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general and a former Democratic representative in Congress, filed one of the lawsuits seeking to block the administration from ending the DACA program. He hailed the judge’s ruling in a statement.

“Today’s ruling is a huge step in the right direction,” Mr. Becerra said. “We will fight at every turn for their rights and opportunities so they may continue to contribute to America.”

But some advocates expressed concern that the legal efforts, while well intentioned, could undermine the push to earn permanent relief for the young immigrants.

Camille Mackler, the director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said that while advocates were relieved that more DACA recipients would be able to renew their membership, they expected the government to appeal the judge’s ruling.

In the meantime, she said, only legislation offering legal status to Dreamers would suffice to protect them.

“This is not a win for us,” Ms. Mackler said. “We’re obviously glad that this is going to provide some relief, but what we really need is a clean Dream Act,” a reference to a bill that only legalizes the young immigrants without also imposing other immigration changes that Republicans are demanding.

Have questions?
To help serve you better, we’ve compiled and listed some of the top questions we've encountered about immigration related issues.

Go to answers

Ready to get started?
Call (650) 373-1122
to inform us of your immigration needs and set up a consultation. We are also available in person at our offices or by video conference.

Book a Consultation