Iraqi SIV Applicants Face Longer Path To Green Card Due to More Security and Background Checks

July 22, 2011

Iraqi SIV applicants can expect even longer delays in processing due to a more extensive background check process out of concerns for U.S. national security.

The end of the long road to a green card used to be the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy, the background checks having been done before this stage.

Now, under a new policy, background checks are done again at the time of the interview to ensure no new negative information about the applicant has surfaced.

These delays are also occurring with Iraqi SIV applicants who are already in the United States and applying to adjust their status there. [The SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) is available to eligible Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for more than a year since March 20, 2003 and have experienced an ongoing serious threat because of that work.]

Our clients began experiencing these delays late last year. These delays can last weeks or months, or worse, years. There is no way of knowing when the person will be cleared and there is almost no way to rush the process.

For the Iraqis already in the United States, the delays are an inconvenience since most are in another valid status. For the Iraqis oversees, and in particular those still in Iraq, however, the delay puts their lives more at risk, thereby undermining the purpose of the SIV. Knowing a long wait exists may also be a deterrant for those seeking legal immigration, provoking  into attempting illegal migration to the United States or elsewhere.

We wish something could be done to speed up this clearance process, but there is little to do but wait at this point. Eventually, after an excessive wait –  normally excessive in the immigration context is years, not months – litigation may be an option.

The trigger for the revised and enhanced background check process was the arrest in the United States of an Iraqi who was admitted as an asylee despite being accused of planting roadside bombs in Iraq, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, more than 58,000 Iraqi asylees and refugees already in the United States will be re-screened, according to the Los Angeles Times article. In addition, those applying for asylee, refugee or SIV status will be subjected to a multi-step background check that due to the work overload on the agencies involved in this process inevitably will delay their application process

The following is an excerpt from an USCIS report on Iraqi refugee statistics that explains the revised background check posture.

Ensuring Security

We are committed to conducting the most rigorous screening in order to ensure that those being admitted through the refugee program are not seeking to harm the United States. In May 2007, DHS announced and implemented an Administration-coordinated, enhanced background and security check process for Iraqi refugees applying for resettlement in the United States. The security check regime, including both biographic and biometric checks, has been enhanced periodically over the last several years as new opportunities and interagency partnerships with the law enforcement and intelligence communities have been identified.

These enhancements are a reflection of the commitment of DHS and other agencies to conduct the most thorough checks possible to prevent dangerous individuals from gaining access to the United States through the refugee program. The latest enhancement to the refugee security check regime involves a new “pre-departure” check shortly before refugees are scheduled to travel to the U.S. It is intended to identify whether any new derogatory information exists since the initial checks were conducted. These pre-departure checks went into effect in late 2010. No case is finally approved until results from all security checks have been received and analyzed.

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Iraqi Worker Immigrant Visa Open For Application Now

July 19, 2008

At long last, the new immigrant visa for certain Iraqis who have worked with the U.S. government is now available, USCIS has announced.

USCIS is accepting applications for the promised special immigrant visa for certain Iraqi nationals who worked for, or were contractors of, the United States government in Iraq for at least one year after March 20, 2003 and who have received serious threats because of that work.

The applicant’s spouse and children are eligible to immigrant as well.

The U.S. government announced the creation of the new Iraqi worker visa in January 2008, but delayed implementation until now while it formulated the regulations and procedures for applications.

To be eligible, the applicant must establish he or she:

1. is a national of Iraq;

2. has been employed by, or on behalf of, the U. S. Government in Iraq, on or after March 20, 2003, for a period of not less than one year;

3. provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. Government, which is documented in a recommendation from the U.S. citizen or national who is the applicant’s senior supervisor, or the U.S. citizen or national currently occupying that position, or a more senior U.S. citizen or national, if the applicant’s senior supervisor has left the employer or left Iraq.

If it is not possible to obtain a recommendation from a supervisor who is a U.S. citizen or national, then the applicant may request a recommendation from the applicant’s senior supervisor, provided the U.S. citizen or national responsible for the contract co-signs the letter.

The recommendation must be accompanied by the approval of the Chief of Mission (COM) or designee of the COM based upon an independent review of records maintained by the USG or hiring organization or entity to confirm employment and faithful and valuable service;

4. has experienced or is experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of the applicant’s employment by the U.S. Government, as documented by a risk assessment conducted by the COM or the designee of the COM;

5. has cleared a background check and appropriate screening; 

6. is otherwise eligible to receive an immigrant visa and is otherwise admissible to the United States for permanent residence. In the determination of such admissibility, the grounds for inadmissibility specified in INA 212(a)(4) (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(4)) relating to “public charge” shall not apply.

Essentially, applying for this visa is a two-step process. First, the applicant must obtain the approval of the COM of the U.S. embassy. Then, the applicant must seek approval from USCIS. Applications for USCIS approval are made using Form I-360. There is no application or biometric fee for this application.

More information on the eligibility criteria is available here on the USCIS website.  

The State Department has posted additional eligibility and processing information about the visa here.

The regulations authorize 5,000 of these visas per year starting in fiscal year 2008 through 2012. If the numerical limitation is not reached during a given fiscal year, the unused numbers will roll-over into the 5,000 authorized for the following fiscal year. If the numerical limitation for FY 2012 is not reached, any unused numbers from that year may be used in FY 2013. Numbers will not carry forward into FY 2014, said USCIS.

This new program for Iraqi workers is different from the special immigrant visa program for Afghan and Iraqi translators. The new Iraqi worker program though, is available to the group of translators as well. In fact, eligible translators who file or who have filed under the translator program before Oct. 1, 2008 but who are unable to adjust status or receive an immigrant visa because  USCIS has reached the current year’s cap of 500, will have their applications automatically converted to the new program for Iraqi workers, USCIS said. 

The translators whose applications are converted to the new Iraqi worker program do not need to provide any additional documents or meet any other eligibility requirements under the new program as long as they meet the requirements under the translator program. However, individuals who file under the translator program after Sept. 30, 2008 will be subject to an annual cap of 50 for FY 2009, according to USCIS.