Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration has snagged Aussies in sometimes unexpected ways. Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP
Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration has snagged Aussies in sometimes unexpected ways. Picture: Saul Loeb/AFP

Trump demands increased questioning of Aussie travelers

A FACT: most Australians living and working in the US are eligible to do so via a unicorn working visa called the E3, and it's arguably the best thing that's happened to Australians for professional expansion in America.

Another fact: a glaring global byproduct of the Trump administration is a brutal crackdown on immigration and the eligibility of foreign nationals to work in the US.

However, with Australia considered some of the most favoured immigrants and relations between our lucky country and the US remaining robust, one would assume Aussies' opportunities in the US were unimpacted. But as the world continues to snowball through a tumultuous period of uncertainty, even Australians aren't exempt from the aftershocks of Trump's rise to power. The ways in which the changes have manifested are often subtle.

ADDITIONAL BORDER QUESTIONING

The intensity of additional questioning for Australians entering US borders as visitors on the electronic visa waiver is increasing in spades, with more devices being searched than ever before and expats reporting unsavoury experiences. This is unquestionably a direct byproduct of the Trump administration, as United States Citizen and Immigration Services officials have been granted licence to deny foreigners at US borders.

Australian-native, New York-based immigration lawyer Zjantelle Cammisa Markel, who facilitates thousands of working visas each year, recounts a particularly harrowing experience: "I met a very accomplished Aussie with a law degree and MBA who told immigration she was staying two months in the US. They then searched her diary and found job interviews, which is not actually illegal. I read her transcript and she had truly done nothing wrong. They detained her, strip searched her, put her in an orange jumpsuit in a women's jail for 48 hours. Then they put her on the plane with handcuffs on her wrists and ankles. Needless to say she didn't end up coming back."

 

Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration has snagged Aussies in sometimes unexpected ways.
Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration has snagged Aussies in sometimes unexpected ways.

 

THE VISA RIPPLE EFFECT

To be eligible to work in the US, many Australians rely on the H-1B, a visa that allows employers to hire foreign nationals as long as the position in question is considered a "specialty occupation". This covers positions that require a degree in a specific field of study to perform the required duties. By thoroughly narrowing the definition of "specialty occupation", the Trump administration has increased the difficulty of acquiring this formerly ubiquitous visa. The crackdown has created a negative ripple effect with other non-immigrant visas, as employers who are familiar with the H-1B visa (and the new difficulties associated with obtaining one) are being deterred not only from considering candidates that may require H-1B sponsorship, but other non-immigrant visas too - including the E3.

Ms Cammisa Markel stresses that educating employers about the E3 and other visa categories is more important than ever for Aussies seeking employment in the US.

"I had a client who was the frontrunner for a role at a software company, and was told at her interview that she should have stipulated that she required a working visa because they'd stopped sponsoring visas across the board," she explained.

"I had to call them and explain the ease of the E3. They were dubious but gave it a shot, and sure enough, three weeks later she was working. If employers start to get funny about visas it means they've been burnt before."

 

The American dream can turn into a nightmare for some Aussies.
The American dream can turn into a nightmare for some Aussies.

 

CRACKDOWN ON GREEN CARDS

Acquiring a Green Card may be the end goal for many long-term expats living in the US, and rightly so; they enable many opportunities. But attaining this miracle immigrant visa is becoming increasingly difficult. All employment-based Green Card applications now require an in-person interview with USCIS before their approval - not previously a requirement. This extra step has created extreme processing delays as the USCIS hasn't increased the number of officers to handle the interviews. "Recently I was having to fix another lawyer's mistake who failed to tell her client about their interview date - the delay ultimately cost the client two years of time," Ms Cammisa Markel explained.

The same rings true with marriage-based Green Cards, which had gone from taking nine months to process to 24 months over the past year - a testy way to start a life in holy matrimony.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

While there's no avoiding Australia's criminal lineage, skirting the law under the Trump administration holds more consequences than ever. Arrests in the US of any kind can result in an automatic visa revocation, with state police now tied to the USCIS and Department of Homeland Security. In this new development, the offender can stay in the US for the rest of the stay they were permitted when they last entered the US. However if the offender's criminal issue is unresolved, it's unlikely they'll be allowed back into the country.

Think you'd never be that stupid? In that case, lay off the beers. Ms Cammisa Markel recounts a recent experience with a young Aussie male: "One client got in a cab, drunk, and instead of paying the $36 fare, he paid $0.36. He subsequently got into an argument with the cab driver because he insisted that he paid, at which point the police charged him theft of services. A week later he got an email saying his visa had been revoked."

SPOUSAL WORKING RIGHTS

Until recently, working rights for spouses of E3 holders (known as the E3D) took no longer than 90 days to facilitate. With the Trump administration having revoked that requirement, and the USCIS beholden to no deadline, work documentation is taking up to six months to reach the hands of E3 dependant spouses. There's no telling how long this unpredictability will last - a diabolical issue for Aussies becuase no visa means no employment.

A 26-year-old Australian woman living in New York, who wished to be identified only as Natalie, said her working authorisation took seven months to reach her hands. "Not being able to work for that long was very financially stressful and without a doubt impacted our living situation. We ultimately had to get Congress involved, after which it got approved straight away," she said.

Even though it may be at odds with our national cultural identity, it's obvious Aussies in the US need stay on their best behaviour while Trump is steering the ship. If not only for our professional expansion and cultural opportunities, then for the sake of a proper coffee education for Americans nationwide.

Molly O'Brien is a Melbourne-native freelance writer living in New York


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