It’s been several months since we’ve heard anything about immigration reform. Deferred Action for Parents (DAPA) and Expanded DACA remain stuck in Federal Court, and we may not have a decision on those programs until President Obama is out of office.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform that would require Congress to act together seems laughable right now. But, just because these big actions aren’t happening doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. There is a lot going on in the world of immigration if you look just below the surface.

The laws may not be changing – only Congress can do that and we’ve been waiting a long time for that to happen – but the policies always are. Policies are how government agencies interpret the laws and do their job.

Think of it like this: The law says – everyone must eat vanilla ice cream. The policy could include – how do you make vanilla ice cream? How much milk is in there? Can you add sprinkles? How much ice cream should everyone eat? So, while the law is very important, the policies that tell us how to get there are just as important, though they are often overlooked by the media.

In the past month, we’ve seen two huge policy changes start to transpire within our immigration system.

Last week, USCIS released draft policy guidance on changing how they define and interpret “extreme hardship” in determining waiver applications. There is a lot to digest and it’s only in draft form – but we know big changes are coming soon. I’ll write more about this in a later blog, but for an initial review, I suggest this overview from AILA on YouTube.

In September, we saw what’s being called “Visagate 2015” where the Department of State, working based on numbers provided by USCIS, issued a new version of the monthly visa bulletin (used in preference category cases).

At first, the new version brought hope to thousands of potential immigrants who thought they could now apply for a visa or green card, but within a few weeks, those hopes were dashed. USCIS realized they miscalculated, and they took away the visas that they had just said were available.

There’s a lawsuit pending and for more information on what transpired and the latest news, you may want to follow the VisaGate Facebook page. This back and forth from USCIS primarily impacts highly skilled workers, and though I do not practice employment-based immigration law, I know enough to know that what was done was unfair, cost applicants a lot of money, and USCIS provided very little explanation.

While immigration reform may not be on the front page of the newspaper right now, changes are happening. They’re happening on a quieter scale, and they are more focused – discussing how to interpret a certain phrase or defining a certain group of people. These narrow changes don’t mean that they are less important or can be ignored.

If you ever hire an immigration attorney, ask her how she keeps up with all the changes. If she says nothing big ever changes – you may want to consider getting a second opinion.

– Tracie