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On July 14, 2020, by means of executive order, the Trump administration announced that it will no longer recognize Hong Kong as a distinct autonomous region as compared to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The executive order cites as its reason the national security legislation that the PRC imposed that has purportedly undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy to such an extent  that the region no longer warrants preferential treatment under United States law. The order directs the heads of various U.S. government agencies to commence execution of the imposed changes within 15 days of the date of the order. These changes include stripping various beneficial treatments and exemptions for Hong Kong related to immigration, national security, exports, foreign policy, and U.S. economic interests.

Prior to the executive order, persons born in Hong Kong had received differential immigration-related treatment as compared to persons born in mainland China, especially related to the allocation of immigrant visas or green card numbers. Pursuant to the order, foreign nationals born in the Hong Kong region must now wait in the same quota line as foreign nationals born in mainland China. This will significantly expand the overall wait time until immigrant visa numbers become available for impacted persons based on the length of the per-country quota lines. Previously, foreign nationals born in Hong Kong were counted under the “All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed,” which historically has had the shortest wait times for immigrant visa numbers. In addition, the executive order eliminates eligibility for persons born in the Hong Kong region to enter into the annual Diversity Visa Program since this program is not available for mainland China.

Federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the adjudication of nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions filed inside the United States, and the U.S. Department of State, which oversees all visa-processing activities at the U.S. consulates and embassies, will have 15 days from the date of the order to begin implementing the changes, including the amendment of applicable regulations and issuing related policy and procedural guidance. The order is effective indefinitely.

Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will monitor developments with respect to these and other policy changes and will post updates on the Immigration blog as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.

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