Immigration lawyer: Customs and Border Protection Announces New Electronic Data Entry Program for Visitors from China
Until late 2014, visitors to the United States from China had to apply for visitor visas, which were valid for only one year. This meant that Chinese visitors had to renew their visas every year to be able to continue visiting the United States. While this might not sound like a big inconvenience, business visitors who periodically attend meetings in the United States, and investors reviewing investment opportunities were required to apply for new visas – and risk being denied the visa – each year. For anyone not familiar with the process of applying for a visitor visa, U.S. immigration law presumes that everyone is seeking to immigrate to the United States. In other words, everyone applying for a visa intends to live in the U.S. permanently.)
It is up to each person applying for a visitor visa to prove that this is not the case. Applicants for visas can prove this by showing that they own a home in their country of birth or residence, that they are employed and have been given temporary leave to make a brief trip to the United States, or that their immediate family remains in their home country. But even where a person can show some or all of this evidence, a Consular Officer may deny a visitor visa for virtually any reason, even their own negative opinion of a visa applicant. So the visitor visa application process is uncertain – there are no guarantees that a visa will be issued, even where a person has been granted a visitor visa before.
In November, 2014, the United States and China announced that each country would begin issuing visitor visas with validity periods of 10 years. This meant that visitors from China could now obtain visitor visas valid for 10 years, thus reducing the number of visitor visa renewals and facilitating travel between China and the U.S. I was quoted in the Houston Business Journal’s article’s article on this news and how it might affect the city of Houston, which contains one of the largest Chinatowns in the United States.
On March 15, 2016, Customs and Border Protection announced a new Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS) to be used by nationals of China who have 10-year B1/B2, B1 or B2 visas (all various categories of visitor visas) to periodically update their biographical information. Online updating of traveler information through the EVUS portal will be required beginning in November 2016. Chinese nationals (and anyone else traveling on a Peoples Republic of China passport) with a 10-year B1/B2, B1 or B2 visa will need to begin registering through EVUS in November. Customs and Border Protection is stating that additional information will be made available later this year. Information will be posted at www.cbp.gov/EVUS as it is made available.
While this EVUS portal appears to simply be a way for the U.S. government to verify visitor information, we do not know many specifics on exactly what information Chinese visitors will have to provide and how the information might be used. It is possible that information provided in the portal, including answers deemed to be incorrect (even if due to a misunderstanding of the question or another reason), could lead to issues for these travelers at U.S. ports of entry.
Chinese visitors to the United States need to be aware of this upcoming change in procedure and continue to follow the latest updates on the new EVUS portal. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has posted a Frequently Asked Questions page noting that the EVUS portal is expected to become active in November 2016.
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