INS Changes Reporting Rule for Foreign Nationals

New INS Rule Requires Foreign Nationals To Report Changes of Address

8/19/2002
A new anti-terror measure has the potential to create problems for law-abiding foreign nationals and their employers - unless they quickly get up to speed on compliance requirements. You don't have to be a terrorist to get nabbed. As part of a broader effort to prevent terrorism by tracking noncitizens within the U.S., the Immigration and Naturalization Service has begun enforcing a fifty-year old rule requiring all foreign nationals to register their home addresses, and to re-register within 10 days each time they move. Many law-abiding foreign nationals, both nonimmigrants and holders of green cards, may be unaware that failure to notify the INS of their changes of address is an immigration violation which could jeopardize their good standing in the United States and their eligibility for future immigration benefits. The Department of Justice has publicly admitted, in what is likely a major understatement, that this change-of-address notification has not been "effectively enforced" by the INS in the past. However, there are several indications that the INS, under Congressional pressure to demonstrate it can keep track of foreign nationals admitted to the United States, has become serious about enforcing this requirement. One problem with enforcement has been that relatively few foreign nationals seem to have been aware of the requirement, so imposing serious consequences for violation creates an appearance of unfairness. To remedy this problem, the INS now proposes to amend many of its application forms so that in applying for immigration benefits, foreign nationals will, in writing to the government, explicitly acknowledge their awareness of the requirement to register changes of address and also their responsibility for the consequences if they fail to do so. On this basis, noncitizens may be held accountable for knowing about any communications sent by the INS to whatever is the most recent address on file, whether or not the foreign national actually still lives there and even if, because of an unreported move, the foreign national never actually receives notice of actions being taken by the INS and fails to respond. All employers of foreign nationals should take steps to assist employees in complying with INS regulations and in maintaining good status as noncitizens. The INS is looking for legal angles to use against potential terrorists, which is understandable, but it is possible for innocent bystanders to get caught up in the effort. Employers need to take steps to avoid such entanglements. (Prepared by John D. Stout)
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