Working in the US as an international in the time of Trump

Guest Post by Attorney James Hollis.png

What should you be worried about if you are an international working in the US during these rapidly changing times? How will the changes in immigration policy affect you at work or as you travel? As a career coach, I have worked with several international professionals and have been hearing some questions and rumors about what is happening today.  I asked immigration attorney James Hollis for some clarity and wisdom. James helps us separate fact from fiction and provides tips for internationals working in the US.  He tells me the situation is very fluid and changing quickly. I received an update to add to the post before I even hit publish. Make sure you read to the end for important information if you're thinking about changing jobs or getting a DUI!  Here's his guest post for Blue Sage Career Strategies. Thanks James!

Working in the US during the Trump Presidency

If you’re living and working in the United States as a permanent resident (i.e. you have a “green card”) or as a nonimmigrant (i.e. H-1B, L-1, E, etc.), you were likely shocked by the news as it unfolded at the end of last week. Without notice or warning, nationals of seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and Somalia) were banned from the United States and all immigrant and nonimmigrant visas from those countries were revoked, meaning that people who had already gone through the long process of getting visas from those areas will now have to go back through that process once the ban is lifted.

The effect of this executive order should not be understated. When changes like this are made swiftly, we see bad implementation which has a human cost. That cost is paid first by the people caught in airports or stuck abroad after they were denied preclearance to board their flights to the US. It means missed births, marriages, funerals – it means families being kept apart despite following all the rules. However, it also has a second cost, one that the rest of the immigrant community in the United States pays. Because of the stories that people hear and the fact that immigration law is particularly arcane, worry and rumor blossom into fear and people not impacted by the ban live in fear that their nationality might be next or, out of pure confusion, they think the ban is going to keep out their family member who is traveling abroad.

The first thing I want to do is separate the fact from the fiction and then I’ll discuss some tips for immigrants living in the United States during this time.

Let’s talk about the executive order from 1/27 banning immigrants from seven countries from the US. Below are the specifics of what the order did:

  • Suspends issuance of visas and other immigration benefits for people from the 7 countries (Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and Somalia)
  • Suspends entry to the US as immigrants or nonimmigrants persons from the 7 countries for 90 days
  • Demands certain intelligence information from all foreign governments within 60 days
  • Bans citizens of the countries that don’t comply from entering the US
  • Leaves loophole for a case-by-case analysis of people from banned countries
  • Suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days
  • Bans Muslim Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely but leaves loophole for Christians
  • Limits total refugee admissions to 50,000 (a reduction to 50% of the normal total)
  • Expedites completion of the biometric entry/exit tracking system (been in the works for years but no funding)
  • Resumes mandatory interviews at consulates (so people just renewing visas have to attend a new interview)
  •  Begins publication of semi-annual reports to the American public re: how many foreign nationals are charged with terrorism-related activities; number of FN’s radicalized after entry; # of acts of violence against women and honor killings in US by FN’s, etc.

If you were glued to the television last week like me, you’ve seen the lawsuits and you may notice that what’s happening on the ground is different than the language of the executive order, so I’ll explain where we are as of Thursday, February 2, 2017. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is the immigration benefits organization that approves most visas and renewals, has stopped processing almost all cases (excluding the N-400 naturalization application) for nationals of the seven countries. Green card holders from those countries are no longer being denied entry to the US – good job lawyers on the front lines – though many are still facing significant questioning during inspection from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Airlines, who are fined if they allow people without the right travel documents onto planes heading to the United States, are stopping anyone with nonimmigrant or immigrant visas from the seven countries. Note that an immigrant visa is different from a green card. The immigrant visa is what someone gets to travel to the United States for the first time – they receive the green card in the mail once they get here. (**UPDATE** A court yesterday placed a temporary restraining order against the revocation of immigration visas, so immigrant visa holders from the seven countries should be able to enter) 

This is the current state of affairs. Any other rumors – such as countries being added to the list - that you’re hearing are speculation and we’ll have to wait and see. If you’re a national from a country on the list of seven, I suggest talking to an immigration attorney to discuss what’s going on, making sure that you’re maintaining your status and getting tips for your specific situation. If you’re in the U.S. from one of these countries, I suggest not traveling outside of the US until the ban is lifted. If you’re not from one of the seven countries, you should continue as normal.

I suggest the following tips for everyone who is working in this country as an immigrant or nonimmigrant.

  • When you travel internationally, take your valid, unexpired passport and don’t rely on just your green card to get you back into the US.
  • If you’re a nonimmigrant, travel with your I-797 approval notice showing the validity of the petition sponsoring you.
  • Make a plan for what will happen if your family member is stopped and taken into secondary inspection. Most of the time secondary inspection is just a hassle that immigrants are used to but having an immigration attorney on call can at least provide some comfort while it’s happening.
  • If you’re a nonimmigrant and thinking about changing jobs, make sure you get the advice of an attorney before making the leap so that you can make sure that you’re maintaining status. If you’re from one of the seven countries, this is especially important because USCIS has stopped processing these petitions and strategy is critical to maintain your authorization to work when changing employers during the ban.
  • If you are a dual national of one of the banned countries, travel into the US on your other passport. I also suggest speaking to an immigration attorney about your situation so you can be kept up to date on what’s going on at the port of entry or preclearance station where you’ll be entering.
  • Don’t get a DUI. Consulates have been automatically revoking nonimmigrant visas for the past year when nonimmigrants are charged with DUIs. This doesn’t affect your status in the US but it will require getting a new visa when you travel internationally next.
  • Be mindful about your social media posts and the pictures and text messages that are on your phone when you are returning to the United States after international travel. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have been looking at social media accounts, text messages, and pictures of immigrations recently.
  • In your answers with CBP officers, be polite, brief, and responsive to the question asked.

The situation is very fluid and changing quickly so it's important to keep tabs on the latest information. Contact an immigration attorney for more specific advice and information.

James Hollis is an attorney in the Nashville office of Siskind Susser PC, where his practice focuses exclusively on immigration and nationality law. Mr. Hollis represents businesses and individuals in several areas of immigration law, with a concentration on immigration for entrepreneurs and startup businesses.

Mr. Hollis can be reached by email at, on Skype at jameshollislaw or via Linkedin.


Full Disclosure: James Hollis is also the son-in-law of Anita Flowers, owner, consultant and coach at Blue Sage Career Strategies.