Aussies caught up at US border as visa crackdown looms
MORE Australian tourists are getting pulled up at the US border since Donald Trump became president and now a proposed shake-up of the visa system could see some Aussies barred from working in the States.
Andrew David, an Australian-born immigration lawyer based in the US, says he has noticed increased scrutiny on Australians attempting to gain entry to the US and receive visas since Mr Trump became president.
While the entry rules haven't changed, immigration officials appear to be more likely to follow the rules to the letter under Mr Trump.
Now, there are fears that it could be harder for some Australians to gain work in the US due to the President's "hire American" push.
The J-1 visa program is under review and foreigners could soon be barred from winning visas as tourist workers, live-in childcare workers, summer camp counsellors, interns and trainees, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Mr David said the Australians most likely to be affected by the mooted changes would be those completing on-the-job professional training in the US, such as hospital staff.
He said "thousands" of Australians would be affected if the changes were implemented.
While no changes to US visas have been finalised, there are fears among Australian tourists and the expat community, mostly expressed on social media, that a crackdown is coming.
"There's definitely a basis for those sorts of [fears]," Mr David said.
"These changes we are seeing in the past six or seven months [since Mr Trump became President] are trapping people more than it otherwise would have.
"Across the board, there's harder scrutiny across every visa category.
"So, when trying to get [visas] through, you've got to meet that extra scrutiny with extra transparency and extra vigilance to give yourself the best chance for success."
Mr David said he was seeing more delays in visa approvals and small blemishes on applicants' records that would have been overlooked in the past were now enough to see visas being denied.
"Let's say you committed a crime years ago. That would have been OK, now, all of a sudden, you might see a denial as a result of that crime," he said.
Furthermore, Australians - like other nationalities - are running into more issues at the US border if they have overstayed the standard 90-day visa waiver for tourists or were unclear about their intentions for entering the country.
Australian Baxter Reid was locked up in the US for two weeks in April and May when he overstayed his B-1/B-2 visa by about an hour.
"I see it every couple of weeks, where people come up to the end of their 90 days and they're not as transparent as they should be," Mr David said.
"If you are travelling to see a partner, be vigilant about what you are doing, be clear about your intentions.
"Give them the facts. If it looks like a misrepresentation, then you're done."
It is still unclear whether any J-1 visa changes will be implemented. When asked about the shake-up last month, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that she had "nothing to announce at this time".
For those hoping to gain employment in the US, the good news is that Australians have access to a special class of working visa, the E-3, which is likely to be immune from any changes.
If there were any changes to it, "that would be likely devastating" for Aussies wanting to live and work in the States.
"I don't want to say that it's a golden ticket, but it's a really good way in for Australians," Mr David said.
He believed the E-3 program, which offers up to 10,500 visas a year, was most likely "safe" from being overhauled because it was only open to Australians.
"For them to pull the E-3, that would be targeting Australians effectively," he said.
Mr David said Australians would still be able to visit and work in the US as they always had if they were smart. He warned Aussies against bending the rules.
"Planning ahead is always a good first step. Be aware of what you can and can't do on the visa waiver program," he said.
"Make it easy for them. Use common sense.
"The main takeaway is to be vigilant, be thorough, be transparent and plan ahead as much as possible."