Vail Valley immigration attorneys regularly deal with visa expiration cases
ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency.
DHS: Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency.
H1-B: A type of temporary work visa for skilled labor.
H2-B: A type of temporary work visa for seasonal labor.
EAGLE COUNTY — Calling immigration law complex is a gross understatement. But there’s one bit of easy-to-understand advice: Keep your documents up to date.
Local immigration attorney Amy Novak said she regularly talks to people who have either over-stayed a visa or somehow want to remain legally in this country.
The problem, she said, is that “If you have overstayed … you no longer have the authority to stay.”
The consequence of over-staying a visa are quite real, Novak said. People can’t get another non-immigrant visa, and therefore often have to go underground.
And, while people who over-stayed their visas weren’t an enforcement priority under President Barack Obama, that policy has changed. Novak said President Donald Trump’s administration now has put people who over-stay their visitor visas detained or deported if they’re reported or caught.
Those people can be taken to detention centers run by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
“It’s a different world right now in terms of immigration enforcement,” Novak said. “It’s more strict.”
Changes in enforcement
Changes in how enforcement laws are handled have seen some significant swings over the past few decades.
Avon-based attorney Chris Pooley has been in the immigration law field since the late 1980s.
Pooley noted that enforcement eased following a 1986 amnesty for illegal immigrants. That measure, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, lasted for about a decade.
When President Bill Clinton was in office, Congress in 1996 passed what Pooley called the “toughest immigration bill of all time,” the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
That measure “basically closed the door” for millions of people seeking to come to this country, Pooley said.
The 1996 law prohibits re-entry to the U.S. for periods between three years and forever, depending on how long a person over-stays a visa.
With the three- and 10-year bars to re-entry, there’s a path to coming back to the U.S., but only if someone is sponsored by an immediate relative — a spouse, parent or child.
But, like many things that involve lawyers, administrators and judges, there can be exceptions in some cases.
There are also constant changes in quotas for seasonal and other temporary work visas.
Those changes hit the Vail Valley hard in the summer of this year. In May, businesses that depended on immigrant seasonal workers were angry over a delay in the federal authorization of H2-B visas for the summer season.
At the time, landscapers, paving companies and masonry firms found themselves without significant numbers of summer workers, many of whom come every year.
In September, Gary Woodworth, CEO of the Gallegos Corp., said that firm received authorization for about one-third of the visas it had requested.
That meant long hours for workers and managers.
Pooley said the problem has been worse than normal the past two seasons, adding that there’s a lot of abuse in the temporary worker visa systems.
Abuse in the programs
Pooley said companies have popped up that essentially pitch temporary workers to U.S. firms and recruit workers in other countries. That’s particularly true for workers using the H1-B visa, a program reserved for skilled workers.
The problem, Pooley said is that federal lawmakers are often seeking “home run” immigration reform. Failing that, the system runs in piecemeal fashion.
That’s where lawyers come in. Pooley said he spends a lot of time staying abreast of current laws and regulations. That can save time and trouble for both employers and visa-holders.
Meanwhile, Pooley said his client mix has shifted over the years. Clients used to be split about evenly between people who arrived “without inspection” — meaning without a visa — and those who had over-stayed already-issued visas. These days, there are more who have entered the country without visas.
For Novak, though, her client mix is more people who have over-stayed their visas.
“The perception is we’re being overrun at the southern border,” Novak said. “That’s somewhat accurate. But nobody ever talked about (people from) England, Australia and France. There are a fair amount of people who are just over-stays.”
For those people, both Novak and Pooley urge keeping up with their paperwork. Extensions are granted, although many are for only 12 months or so. Still, that beats the alternative — the prospect of detention or deportation.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2930.
Participants attached protest signs to ski poles and hockey sticks in Vail Saturday at the 2020 Women’s March.