There’s a new State Department rule in town about misrepresentation, and it could signal trouble for certain asylum seekers and others who enter the country on non-immigrant visas and then seek to remain here permanently or engage in other behavior inconsistent with their visas.

The State Department has a long tradition of blocking visas for people facing persecution (if you don't believe me, Google "Breckinridge Long").

To understand the problem, we first need to talk a bit about non-immigrant visas (“NIV”). To obtain an NIV, you have to promise to comply with the terms of that visa. One common NIV requirement is that you must intend to leave the U.S. at the end of your period of authorized stay (some NIVs are exempt from this requirement, most notably the H1b and the L, which are known as "dual intent" visas). Another common NIV requirement is that the visa-holder should not work in the U.S. without permission. If you breach these requirements, there are often—but not always—immigration consequences.

For example, up until the rule change, if an alien entered the U.S. on a B or F visa, or on the Visa Waiver Program, and then filed to “adjust status” (i.e., get a green card) within 30 days of arrival, the alien was presumed to have had an “immigration intent” at the time of entry, and thus USCIS would assume that she lied about her intention to leave the U.S. at the end of her authorized stay (in government-speak, this is called a misrepresentation). If she violated her status between 30 and 60 days after arrival, USCIS might still decide that she misrepresented her intentions when she got the visa (this was known as the 30/60 day rule). If she filed for the green card on day 61 or beyond, she would generally be safe. There are exceptions and caveats to all this, but you get the picture.

Enter the new rule, which appears in the State Department’s Field Adjudications Manual (at 9 FAM 302.9-4(B)(3)):
[If] an alien violates or engages in conduct inconsistent with his or her nonimmigrant status within 90 days of entry… you [the consular officer] may presume that the applicant’s representations about engaging in only status-compliant activity were willful misrepresentations of his or her intention in seeking a visa or entry.

This change specifically affects people applying for visas at U.S. consulates, but it seems likely that USCIS could adopt the rule as well, which would mean that people who come to the United States on certain NIVs and who engaged in “non-status-compliant activity” within 90 days of arrival will be presumed to have lied in order to obtain their visas. All this means that the 30/60 day rule is dead, at least so far as the State Department is concerned, and probably for USCIS as well.

This is all pretty boring and confusing, you say. What does it have to do with asylum seekers?

The issue is, if a person comes to the United States and applies for asylum within 90 days of arrival, he might be considered to have lied about his “immigration intent” in order to obtain a U.S. visa. In other words, requesting asylum (and thus asking to stay permanently in the United States) is not consistent with coming here on most NIVs, which require that you promise to leave the U.S. at the end of your authorized stay.

This problem is not just academic. I’ve recently heard from a colleague whose client came to the U.S., won asylum, and obtained a green card. But when the client applied for citizenship, USCIS accused him of a “misrepresentation” because he entered the country on an NIV and then sought to remain here permanently through asylum. This example comes amidst several cases—including one of my own—where USCIS seems to have pushed the boundaries of the law in order to deny citizenship to asylees. It also seems part of a larger pattern to "bury lawyers and their clients in requests for more and more documentation, and clarification on points that were already extremely clear in the initial filing."

I should note that the above examples are not related to the new State Department rule (probably), though if USCIS implements a similar rule, it would potentially expose many more asylees (and other USCIS applicants) to the same fate.

It’s a little hard to understand what USCIS is trying to do here, or why they are doing it. For one things, there is a waiver available to refugees and asylees who commit fraud (the waiver forgives fraud and allows the person to remain in the United States). Also, when a person fears persecution in her country and qualifies for asylum, low-grade misrepresentations are routinely forgiven. So the likelihood that any asylee would ultimately be deported for having lied to get a visa is close to zero. In other words, USCIS can delay the process, and cause these asylees a lot of stress and expense, but in the end, they will remain here and most likely become U.S. citizens (eventually).

Perhaps this is the Trump Administration’s implementation of “extreme vetting.” If so, it’s more appearance than substance. It looks as if something is happening, but really, nothing is happening. Except of course that USCIS is mistreating people who have come to the United States and demonstrated that they have a well-founded fear of harm in their home countries. So—like a Stalinist show trial—such people will admit their “misrepresentations” (in many cases, for the second, third or fourth time), go through the hassle, stress, and expense of the waiver process, and then end up staying here just the same.

It’s too bad. USCIS can do a lot of good—for immigrants and for our national security. But unfortunately, their current path will not lead to improvements in either realm.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: