Translation: Notice of the Beijing Education Committee Regarding Measures for Enrolling in Kindergarten, Elementary, and Secondary Schools the Children of Certain Parents Coming to Beijing for Investment and Innovation

(Source: Beijing Education Commission. English translation is unofficial). Continue reading “Translation: Notice of the Beijing Education Committee Regarding Measures for Enrolling in Kindergarten, Elementary, and Secondary Schools the Children of Certain Parents Coming to Beijing for Investment and Innovation”

Permanent Resident Card Production Delays

USCIS has announced that applicants may experience up to an eight-week delay in the delivery of their permanent resident cards while USCIS upgrades its card production equipment.

If you have recently been admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant, you will still be able to travel and seek employment in the U.S. Your immigrant visa stamped by USCIS at the time of admission is valid evidence of lawful permanent resident (LPR) status for one year from the date of admission.

New Book: The Visa Processing Guide & Consular Posts Handbook

visaprocessingguide

It was my pleasure to write a chapter for the new book, The Visa Processing Guide & Consular Posts Handbook (2009-2010), published by the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA). This 800-page reference book for immigration lawyers provides insight on procedures and strategies for consular processing of U.S. nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. More information is available here.

Utah Governor Nominated Ambassador to China

huntsman_480

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, a Republican, has been nominated by President Obama as ambassador to China.

Huntsman, 49, learned to speak Mandarin Chinese during his days as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan. He and his wife Mary Kaye have seven children, one of whom was adopted from China.

Huntsman previously served as ambassador to Singapore and as a deputy U.S. trade ambassador.

He has been a political moderate on issues like immigration, gay rights and the environment, even though he represented one of the most conservative states in the country.

H1N1 Flu and China/U.S. Travel

h1n1_flu

Summary

Currently neither the U.S. government, the Chinese government, or the World Health Organization is discouraging travel between the U.S. and China. However, travelers to China need to be aware of the possibility of travel delay, including quarantine by the Chinese government.

U.S. Government Sources:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that it does not recommend that people avoid traveling to the U.S. or within the U.S. See Novel H1N1 Flu in the United States.

CDC warns that travelers from the U.S. to China may experience travel delay, including quarantine, upon arrival. See Possible International Travel Delays Due to Novel H1N1 Flu Screening.

Additonal Resources:

  1. CDC, Novel H1N1 Flu and Travel
  2. U.S. Department of State, 2009 H1N1 Influenza Travel Alert
  3. CDC, H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You

Chinese Government Sources:

Neither the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) nor the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) has issued an advisory discouraging travel between China and the U.S.

Additional Resources:

  1. CNTA Advisory: Chinese travelers to the U.S. should take preventive measures, including washing hands frequently, wearing masks, and avoiding crowded places as much as possible.

World Health Organization (WHO):

WHO is not recommending any travel restrictions due to H1N1. See Travel.

WHO does not recommend screenings at country entry and exit points. See Travel.

Additional resources:

  1. What Can I Do?

Visa Scammer Posing as an Alpaca Buyer

alpaca

Wayne England, a Tennessee alpaca farmer, was duped into signing an invitation letter used by two Chinese men to apply for U.S. visas. The men entered the U.S. with the visas and then disappeared off the radar screen.

I was interested enough in the original story by Forbes that I decided to interview England to find out more about how he (and the Embassy) were scammed.

THE SCAM

The story begins in November 2008, when England received an unsolicited email from Huang Siyuan. The man claimed to be an agent working on behalf of Chunjiang Livestock Co. in Hebei, China. He said he’d seen England’s website and was interested in buying up to 100 alpacas. (England’s alpacas are listed at $1,000 to $32,000 each.) Huang said the company would send three people, including a veterinarian, to Tennessee to learn about the alpacas and discuss the purchase.

Huang and England discussed terms of sale. England agreed to a 10% discount off the list price. He asked for half the payment when the order was placed and the other half before delivering the animals to the quarantine station for export

Huang drafted the attached invitation letter, which England signed.

Huang insisted that England mail him photos of the alpacas and other materials. England spent $225 on UPS.

England subsequently received an email from a consular officer at the Embassy. On March 6, 2009, two applicants (Zhang Junqi and Liu Jianqiang) had applied for visas using England’s invitation letter. The officer asked for verification that England had issued the invitation letter and that it wasn’t “counterfeit” or “altered.”

In fact, the invitation letter had been altered after England signed it. The names of the visa applicants were changed. Concerned, England forwarded the Embassy’s email to Huang, who said these new individuals would be visiting instead. England then replied to the Embassy that the invitation letter was legitimate.

In mid-March, when the visitors still hadn’t arrived, Huang told England they were hospitalized after a car wreck.

At this point, England was suspicious enough to contact the Embassy again, and the Embassy told him that the applicants had in fact been issued visas and traveled to California.

England wrote to Huang: “It pains me deeply to learn that you’re such a fraud. Your two friends ended up in California.” He asked for $1000 compensation for his troubles. Surprisingly, Huang wired England $600. Huang also offered to make England a partner in his visa scams, offering $1000 to $2000 for each additional invitation letter England provided. England turned down that offer.

In the end, England feels that he suffered significant losses from the scam. Besides the $225 UPS bill, he estimates he wasted 150 to 200 hours working on the deal. Most importantly, for the first few months of the year he didn’t try to sell his alpacas by entering them in shows because he thought they would instead be sold to China.

THE WARNING SIGNS

In retrospect, England admits there were a number of warning signs that this was not a legitimate business deal:

  • Huang’s inquiry was unsolicited.
  • England never communicated with the individuals who supposedly were coming to visit him. He only spoke with Huang, their supposed agent.
  • While England was impressed that Huang asked “all the right questions” by email, the fact that they never spoke by phone may be a sign that Huang had something to hide.
  • The strongest sign of a scam was when Huang altered the invitees names on the invitation letter after England signed it. (By this point, England was so eager to make a sale that he didn’t answer the Embassy’s inquiry as to whether his letter had been altered.)

DUE DILIGENCE

 

The Embassy warns that some requests for invitation letters are legitimate,  but some are not. “Oftentimes, the PRC national initiating the contact has no relationship to his/her claimed Chinese employer.  In fact, it is not unusual for these individuals to be part of elaborate human smuggling syndicates.”

The U.S. Commercial Service recommends that exporters use the following precautions:

  1. Request a copy of the business license; check validy of address and phone number, license validity date, name of registered representative
  2. Request a copy of the company’s certificate of import/export authority
  3. Verify the company’s international trade experience and avoid firms that have less than two years of experience
  4. Seek multiple references and check them. Request referrals to both suppliers and customers
  5. Order an International Company Profile report through the U.S. Commercial Service
  6. Accept only secured forms of payment such as letter of credit or direct telegraphic transfer (T/T or wire transfer)

Due diligence may save a U.S. exporter time, money, and aggravation. It also may help the exporter to avoid inadvertently assisting persons in entering the U.S. illegally.

And it may protect the exporter’s reputation. The next time somebody applies for a visa to visit England’s alpaca farm, the application will probably be strictly scrutinized or denied outright.

(Huang Siyuan did not reply to emails requesting an interview).

China Changes Visa Rules for U.S. Citizens

By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 5, 10:28 am ET

China has tightened visa rules for citizens from the United States, which has reported the second highest number of swine flu cases in the world.

A notice dated May 3 on the Web site for the Chinese Embassy and its consulates in the U.S. said that all visa applications would now require six business days to process, with express and rush services for visa applications suspended until further notice.

It is unclear exactly why the rules have been changed, but it came hot on the heels of strident measures by China to contain any possible spread of swine flu, including quarantining of some foreign nationals.

The new visa regulation, effective as of May 4, appears to apply to all Chinese visas, including tourist and business categories. Visa applicants are also required to fill out a form declaring which countries and U.S. states they had visited two weeks prior.

Previously, U.S. nationals could obtain visas in as little as one day.

More than 1,400 people globally have been infected with swine flu, with Mexico reporting the most confirmed cases with 802. The United States so far has reported 380 cases in more than 30 states.

On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu refused to address the specific visa changes for Americans, saying only that “relevant adjustment (to the visa policy) is non-discriminatory and is not targeted at any country. The adjustment of visa policy will not affect the normal entry of foreigners and exchanges of people.”

The new rules do not appear to be in effect for any other country, including Spain or Canada, where swine flu has also been detected.

China has already earned the ire of the Mexican government for its aggressive quarantine measures after a Mexican traveler flying to Hong Kong via Shanghai was diagnosed with the illness over the weekend.

More than 70 Mexicans were quarantined in hotels and hospitals in mainland China. A plane chartered by the Mexican government arrived in several cities in China on Tuesday to pick up these and other Mexican citizens and take them home.

China has denied singling out Mexicans, saying it was purely a medical matter and that it hoped Mexico would be “objective and calm.”

A group of 29 Canadian students and their professor were also being held in isolation in China. Two Americans were in isolation while another two who were in quarantine have been released.

Last year, China severely tightened visa regulations ahead of the Olympic Games in August as part of a wider security clampdown, and earlier this month, travel agencies in Hong Kong reported that visa restrictions were being tightened again ahead of the 60th anniversary in October of the communist nation’s founding.

Last week, government spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the reports of changes to visa regulations were “groundless.”

China Forces Dozens of Mexican and Canadian Travelers into Quarantine

May 4: The Wall Street Journal reports that the A/H1N1 flu outbreak is leading to a potential diplomatic row between China and Mexico. Chinese health authorities are rounding up and quarantining scores of Mexicans — only one of whom is thus far reported to be sick –as they fly in on business and holiday trips.

Update May 5: Mexico charges that China’s actions have been discriminatory. And a Mexican plane is en route to pick up the quarantined Mexicans in Beijing and transport them home, according to Reuters.

Update May 6: According to the AP, a government-chartered jet has landed in Mexico carrying dozens of citizens who were quarantined in China despite having no symptoms of swine flu. First lady Margarita Zavala and officials from the Foreign Relations Department waited to greet the passengers as they deplaned at Mexico City’s international airport just before dawn Wednesday. Authorities did not say exactly how many passengers were on the plane but estimated the number at about 140. Mexico has criticized the quarantine as unfair and discriminatory. Of the 71 Mexicans held at hospitals and hotels in China, Mexican diplomats say none had swine flu symptoms. China defended its measures to block the swine flu virus from entering the world’s most populous nation.

Update May 8: Wall Street Journal reports that Canada is concerned over 22 University of Montreal students with no apparent flu symptoms who were put into isolation after getting off a place in Changhun, Jilin Province.

AmCham-China 2009 White Paper

white_paperThe American Chamber of Commerce-China has just released its 2009 White Paper on the state of business in China. It was my pleasure to this year again draft the chapter on U.S. Visa Policy.

The White Paper is based on the views and experiences of AmCham members working and living in China. It gives recommendations on improving the business environment in China to promote economic growth in the midst of the current global downturn. The White Paper includes a chapter on visa policy because for U.S. businesses to succeed in China they need to be able to send Chinese employees back to the U.S. for meetings, training, and project work.

The White Paper is here, and the chapter on U.S. Visa Policy is here.

Beijing Tightens Visa Controls as Anniversary Approaches

South China Morning Post
Kristine Kwok in Beijing
Updated on Apr 29, 2009

Chairman Mao proclaims the founding of the PRC (Oct. 1, 1949)
Chairman Mao proclaims the founding of the PRC (Oct. 1, 1949)

Mainland authorities have once again tightened visa procedures for foreigners in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, travel industry sources said yesterday.

The latest curbs have raised concerns that the central government is reintroducing the draconian visa policy enforced before and during the Beijing Olympics last year.

Under the policy introduced two weeks ago, all new business visas issued recently will expire on September 15, three mainland visa agents confirmed.

Applications for the business visas, also called F visas, beyond September 15 would be put on hold, pending further government clarification, the agents said. “We don’t know what is going to happen after September 15. More policies will probably be introduced as National Day approaches. We’ll have to wait and see,” Marcy Shen Lijun, a visa consultant based in Shanghai, said.

Existing F visas that expired after September 15 would not be affected as they were issued before the introduction of the new policy, agents said. Visa procedures for tourists and students had not been affected yet, they said.

However, information remained sketchy. Foreign applicants have had different experiences in obtaining new visas, with some saying that they had already had problems in applying before September 15.

At least one international conference to be held in Beijing next month had been forced to postpone to November as a result, said Shanghai-based American writer Adam Minter, who registered for the event. He said that he had been told by the organisers the conference could not go ahead as many foreign participants were unable to secure visas.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she was not aware of the new restrictions, but many expatriates on the mainland said they had found it more difficult to secure new visas.

The tightening of the procedures echoes similar arrangements mainland authorities put in place during the Olympics.

A ceremony is to be staged in Beijing on October 1 to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding. All state leaders will be attending the celebration, which will also feature a military parade. Beijing will be taking no chances on anything ruining the celebration. It earlier announced that security measures for the anniversary would be similar to those operating during the Olympics.

Ms Shen and two other Beijing-based visa agents said the new policies were introduced to control the influx of foreigners, and the authorities believed this could improve stability and security.

One visa agent in Beijing said: “It’s just like the Olympic Games. The government wants to control the number of [foreign] people in China. The smaller the size, the easier it is to control.”

Last year, Beijing imposed a series of entry restrictions in the run-up to the Olympics in August, dealing serious blows to the capital’s tourism industry and some in the business sector. Most of the regulations were lifted after the Games, while some have remained in place. The visa agents said it had been much easier to obtain visas after the Games.

The American Chamber of Commerce and European Union Chamber of Commerce said they had yet to receive any complaints about visa problems from their members.

USCIS Focuses Fraud Investigations on Small Companies

I previously reviewed a September 2008 USCIS report, entitled H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment, finding that small companies are more likely than large companies to violate the rules related to employing workers with H-1B visas.

In January 2009, I reported that USCIS had implemented the report’s recommendations by closely scrutinizing small companies filing H-1B petitions, including asking for extremely detailed financial information, zoning records, payroll data, evidence of business contracts, and much more.

Now, USCIS has inadvertently leaked an internal “H-1B Petition Fraud Referral Sheet” showing that all petitions for small companies are automatically referred for special fraud investigations. Specifically, any petition that meets 2 of the 3 following criteria must be referred: (a) gross income less than $10 million; (b) less than 25 employees; and (c) company established for less than 10 years.

I continue to believe that cracking down on small business owners is the wrong strategy. It seems to me that the main problem is that the H-1B rules are hyper technical. They consist of hundreds of pages of regulations from USCIS, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of State. Large companies hire outside immigration lawyers llike our firm, have in-house immigration specialists, and perform periodic compliance audits. Small businesses don’t command such resources. To improve compliance rates among small businesses, the best thing to do is to simplify the bewildering maze of rules.

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball–Part III–Changes in Fingerprint Procedures for Visa Applicants

fingerprintIn August 2008, I reported that the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, planned to outsource part of the U.S. visa application process—fingerprinting would be done by private contractors at a separate facility.

This began on April 6. Before going to the visa appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, applicants must first make a separate fingerprint appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC) facility across town.  While the goal is to allow applicants to schedule the ASC in the morning before the consular interview in the afternoon, currently the appointments must be on separate days.

This arrangement may save the State Department money and may reduce crowding in one of the busiest consulates in the world.

But what about customer service? It seems that the State Department forgot to take into account the convenience to the hundreds of thousands of applicants served each year. They now need two appointments in different locations on separate days. For applicants who don’t live in Ciudad Juarez, an extra night’s hotel stay is also needed.

The State Department envisions using this model at other Consulates worldwide. OK. But make sure the ASC is next door to the Consulate so an applicant needs just one appointment to both get fingerprinted at the ASC and then attend the consular interview next door.

USCIS Says Annual H-1B Visa Cap Not Yet Reached

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that the annual H-1B visa cap of 65,000 new H-1B petitions had not yet been reached. In fact, USCIS has only reached “about half” that number of petitions, according to a USCIS spokesman.

As background, H-1B visas are temporary work visas for professionals. There is an annual cap of 65,000 new H-1B petitions that can be approved, 20,000 of which are set aside only for persons with at least a U.S. master’s degree. H-1B petitions are accepted by USCIS beginning on April 1 of each year for work to begin on October 1 of the same year.

Blame it on the economy. Last year, within one week of April 1, USCIS received requests for about double the visas that could be issued for the fiscal year. Two years ago, the cap on H-1B petitions was reached in two days before the agency stopped accepting the applications. In fact, for each of the five previous years, the H-1B cap has been filled before October 1.

Many companies have complained about the artificially low cap on H-1Bs. “U.S. employers deserve better than a random lottery to determine if they can hire the highly educated candidates they need,” Robert Hoffman, vice president for government and public affairs at Oracle.

There’s no way to calculate when this year’s H-1B cap will be reached.

Free DVD—Travel USA 101

America welcomes you! The American Chamber of Commerce-China, with the participation of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, has released Travel USA 101, a Chinese-language DVD explaining how travelers to the U.S. can apply for visas, and the best places to visit, shop, and party in the U.S.

If you would like a copy of the DVD, send an email to gary@lawandborder.com with your name and complete address. Don’t forget to mention Travel USA 101. (We respect your privacy. Your contact information will not be retained or used for any purpose other than to send you the DVD).

One reason the U.S. is now a prime destination for Chinese travelers is that the U.S. and Chinese governments have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) facilitating Chinese group travel to the United States. Under the MOU, U.S. travel destinations can advertise in China, approved Chinese travel agencies can organize group leisure travel to the U.S., and the U.S. Consulates in China will book group visa appointments for such groups. According to forecasts, by 2011 there will be 579,000 Chinese visitors to the U.S. annually.

This DVD will help you understand the best options for group leisure travel to the U.S. and how to maximize your chances of obtaining a visa. The DVD also features information about the best hotels, shopping, and major attractions in the U.S.

Request your free copy now.

EB-5 Regional Centers Stay Alive … for the Moment

On March 11 the President signed the Fiscal 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, H.R. 1105, extending the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program. 

This is the Pilot Program that allows USCIS to receive, process, and adjudicate Forms I-526, Immigrant Petitions by Alien Entrepreneur, affiliated with Regional Centers relying on “indirect” job creation analysis. The law also gives USCIS the power to approve applications for adjustment of status on the basis of such I-526s and gives U.S. Consulates the power to approve applications for immigrant visas on the basis of such I-526s. Currently, there are 45 regional centers throughout the United States.

Unfortunately, the Pilot Program was extended only through September 30, 2009. This leaves investors in doubt–if they invest in a Regional Center now, their applications for adjustment of status or immigrant visas will only be approved after September 30 if the law is extended once more.

Such a short extension doesn’t exactly inspire foreign investors’ confidence in the American economy, does it?

Advice for Dealing with Long SAO Waits

Parying Mantis

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, nonimmigrant visa applicants are now waiting for 12-14 weeks for Visas Mantis security advisory opinions (SAOs). This SAO is a security check to ensure that science and technology students and professionals seeking U.S. visas aren’t likely to try to illegally export U.S. technologies. These waits are terribly disruptive to business and universities. Continue reading “Advice for Dealing with Long SAO Waits”

As Processing Times Rise, the Spotlight Shines on SAOs Again

Visas Mantis SAO processing times have risen to 12-14 weeks, causing disruptions in the lives of travelers planning to enter the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas. For example, many students and temporary workers who returned home for vacation during Christmas 2008 are still awaiting their visas to return to school and work. Continue reading “As Processing Times Rise, the Spotlight Shines on SAOs Again”

How Many Chinese are Unauthorized Immigrants in the U.S.?

According to a new study by the Department of Homeland Security, as of January 2007 there were 11.8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Among them, 290,000 were born in China. This is a 49% increase in the number of Chinese unauthorized immigrants since 2000. China ranks fifth on the list of source countries for unauthorized immigrants, after Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Philippines. The term “unauthorized immigrants” here refers to persons who entered the U.S. without inspection or who were admitted temporarily and stayed past the date they were required to leave. See Michael Hoefer, et al., Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2007 (USCIS Sept. 2008).

Here’s my take on this study. The study doesn’t explain whether the rate at which Chinese are violating U.S. the immigration laws (i.e., entering without inspection or overstaying their visas) is increasing or decreasing. It’s possible that the rate has decreased significantly due to improving social and economic conditions in China. The figures may not reflect this decrease because, according to some sources, there are up to 50,000 PRC citizens in the U.S. with final orders of deportation who have not been repatriated because the PRC government has not cooperated sufficiently by issuing the necessary travel papers for them to be returned to China. If this is true, a large percentage of the increase in the number of unauthorized immigrants from China may be due to the slow rate of violators departing the U.S., not due to the rate of violations by new entrants.