US Unveils Visa Modernization Initiative

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The US Government has unveiled a proposal designed to streamline various immigration procedures, including the process of applying for a T visa – for victims of human trafficking – or a U visa – for victims of crime and domestic violence, which has been applauded by Suman Raghunathan, Indian American executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.

DHS will now allow victims of domestic violence to self-petition for a permanent visa and simultaneously apply for work authorization. The Obama administration unveiled a proposal July 15 designed to streamline various immigration procedures; critics concur, however, that legislative action is still necessary to clear huge backlogs in the system.

Last November, President Barack Obama announced an executive order that would allow about four million undocumented people to live and work legally in the U.S. The executive order also expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as allotting more employment-based visas.

Congress immediately blocked the measure, saying the president had overstepped his role, but the Senate allowed the order to stand. Twenty-six states then filed suit to block implementation of the president’s mandate. Texas U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen issued a temporary injunction in February.

The White House Council of Economic Advisors has reported that the president’s executive actions, if fully implemented, would boost the U.S. gross domestic product to over $100 billion, expand the size of the American labor force, and raise average annual wages for U.S.-born workers by four percent over the next 10 years. The president’s actions would also cut the federal deficit by $30 billion in 2024, reported the three-member Council.

In keeping with the president’s mandate, Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, introduced a report July 15, “Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century,” which highlights a number of new actions that federal agencies will undertake to improve the visa processing experience.

“Currently, the process to apply for a visa is complex, paper-based, and confusing to the user,” said Munoz. “Many immigration documents pass through various computer systems and change hands no fewer than six times,” she said, adding: “Our goal is to modernize this process and deliver a positive experience to our users.”

A team of engineers from the U.S. Digital Service agency will work with the Department of Homeland Security to bring the majority of the visa application process online and deliver consistency and ease of use throughout. The administration stated it is aiming to reduce government costs, reduce burdens on employers who must verify that their employees are eligible to legally work in the U.S., and mitigate fraud and abuse of the immigration system.

The new actions simplify the H-1B application process, along with reducing the number of documents needed for applications and extensions of H-1B visas. The new action also simplifies the process under which an employer can directly sponsor students on F-1 visas for legal, permanent employment.

The process of applying for a T visa – for victims of human trafficking – or a U visa – for victims of crime and domestic violence – has also been simplified. “There are numerous avenues for humanitarian relief provided to vulnerable individuals in our immigration system. However, many of our existing policies and regulations do not reflect the most recent laws. These recommendations will improve our system for individuals seeking humanitarian relief,” said the White House in a statement.

Suman Raghunathan, Indian American executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, cheered the simplification of the T and U visa application process and noted that DHS will now allow victims of domestic violence to self-petition for a permanent visa and simultaneously apply for work authorization. Currently, many victims of domestic violence remain in abusive households as their immigration status is linked to their spouse’s status. An abusive partner can hold immigration status as a weapon to keep a spouse in her place, note agencies that work with domestically-abused women.

But the action plan falls short of providing relief for many immigrants, said Raghunathan in a press statement. “The job is not done,” she said, adding that the plan cannot address visa backlogs, which require legislative action.

“Today’s announcement only further underscores the importance of the continued push for comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship,” said Raghunathan. “Our nation and our communities continue to need just and inclusive immigration reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship, keeps families together, and expands economic opportunity for all aspiring Americans. We remain committed to that ultimate goal,” she said.

In related news, Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker July 15 commented on the value of immigrants to the U.S.’s economic growth goals at National Council of La Raza’s Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

“To succeed in the global economy, our path forward must ensure that America continues to be a place where anyone can contribute their ideas and abilities to our prosperity,” said Pritzker. “The United States has been built, strengthened, and sustained by generation after generation of immigrants. This remains true today.”

“Advancing permanent, comprehensive immigration reform is not just a moral obligation; it is a matter of economic necessity. If we do not welcome the best and brightest to our shores, if we do not attract the top minds, workers, and innovators to our communities: put simply, we will be left behind,” she said.

Pritzker said she was also inspired by undocumented youth, who are known as DREAMers.

“Every time I meet a DREAMer, I come away moved by their stories, inspired by their potential, and more committed than ever to their cause. They want the chance to change the course of their lives and participate in our economy. They want to be a part of America’s success in the years to come. Yet they too often sit in limbo,” she said.

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