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On September 21, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted the adjustment of status filing dates for October 2016.

If you are waiting to apply for permanent residence based on an approved family-sponsored petition (I-130) or based on an approved employment-based petition (I-140), USCIS has advised that you refer to the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart on the October Visa Bulletin to determine when to file your application for permanent residence according to your priority date (the date when your relative or employer properly filed your immigrant visa petition with USCIS) and your preference category. Generally, applicants who have filed the immigrant petition and have been approved, must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available, before seeking adjustment of status to permanent resident. This is because availability of immigrant visas for certain classes of immigrants are limited. These preference categories appear in the Visa Bulletin, as well as the number of visas available for each preference category.

Note: For employment-based petitions if a labor certification is required to be filed with your immigrant visa petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.

What is the Visa Bulletin and the Dual Chart System?

Every month, the Department of State releases a monthly Visa Bulletin which provides estimates on immigrant visa availability according to family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories. As you may recall, in September of last year, USCIS introduced a new chart called the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart in addition to the ‘Application Final Action Date’ chart. Together this dual chart system governs when applicants may file their applications for permanent residence according to visa availability, the applicant’s preference category, and the date of filing (priority date).

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In this post we bring you exciting news about the 2018 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program also known as the “green card lottery” for eligible foreign nationals. Participants in the Diversity Immigration Visa Program will have a chance to win one of 50,000 available visas to immigrate to the United States. Winning entries will be selected at random via a computer-generated drawing. Only foreign nationals of countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States may apply for the program; please see the list of eligible countries below. The entry period for the 2018 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV-2018) will open between Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4), Tuesday, October 4, 2016, and noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-5), Monday, November 7, 2016. Entries must be submitted electronically on the Department of State website for the DV-2018 fiscal year. 

Only one entry may be submitted for each person during this registration period. Individuals who have submitted more than one entry per fiscal year will be disqualified. Once the registration period has ended the Department of State will use their computer software technology to detect multiple entries in the system. Applicants who have submitted multiple entries will be disqualified. There is no cost to register for the program and submit an entry for the diversity visa program. However, if accepted applicants will incur any visa expenses if residing abroad, and the filing fee for the green card application (currently $1,070). Once you have registered and submitted your entry for 2018-DV Program, you must check the status of your entry by visiting the Department of State website. The U.S. government will NOT notify you directly if you have been selected for the 2018-DV Immigrant Visa Program. It is your responsibility to check whether you have been selected.

What is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is administered by the United States Department of State each fiscal year, and is a program that was made possible by Congress with the passage of section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 203(c) of the INA designates visas for a special class of immigrants referred to as “diversity immigrants.” These immigrants will have the unique opportunity to immigrate to the United States on the basis of this special program. For fiscal year 2018, 50,000 visas will be allocated toward the diversity immigrant visa program. If you are residing abroad at the time you are selected for the diversity immigrant visa program, you will be able to immigrate to the United States through consular processing. This process requires you to submit a DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and schedule an interview appointment at a U.S. consulate near you. There you will be able to obtain issuance of your immigrant visa. If you are residing in the United States legally (on a temporary nonimmigrant visa type) at the time of your selection, you may submit your adjustment of status application to USCIS within the United States.

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By the end of this month the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program will be up for renewal before Congress. The EB-5 program was first established by Congress in 1990 in an effort to increase the amount of foreign capital investment in the United States, and to create new jobs for Americans. In 1992 Congress expanded the program and created the Immigrant Investor Visa Program as we know it today, which allows foreign investors to invest in an EB-5 Regional Center project. A regional center is an authorized organization, entity, or agency that is designated by USCIS to sponsor capital investment projects within a specific geographic area including areas of high-unemployment or rural areas.  Section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. Section 1153(b)(5) limits the number of immigrant visas that may be issued to EB-5 investors to 10,000 immigrant visas per fiscal year, provided the qualified investor is seeking permanent resident status on the basis of the creation of a new commercial enterprise. Half of these visas are allocated to EB-5 investors participating in a regional center pilot program. The required investment amount in a new commercial enterprise is $1,000,000 or $500,000 if the investment is being made in a targeted employment area experiencing a high unemployment rate of 150% relative to the national average, or a designated rural area as established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Despite its promise to increase economic growth, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has been the subject of much criticism due to an increase in fraud on behalf of investors and regional centers, as well as the continued use of unlawful funds. This month, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that will be reviewed by Congress and USCIS, in consideration of new measures that may be implemented by Congress as part of the program’s renewal process. The report outlines the inherent weaknesses of the EB-5 program and areas of concern.

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On September 7, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published the Affirmative Asylum scheduling bulletin which describes how the service will prioritize the adjudication of affirmative asylum petitions. USCIS has developed a three tier system to prioritize scheduling of interviews and adjudication of petitions.

USCIS has indicated that as of December 26, 2014 applicants who were scheduled for an interview, and who subsequently rescheduled their interview themselves, or had their interview rescheduled by USCIS, will fall under the first tier. These applicants will receive top priority. Applications that were filed by children will fall under the second tier and receive secondary priority for interview scheduling. Lastly, any other pending affirmative asylum applications are currently being adjudicated in the order that they were received by USCIS. Consequently, the oldest cases that were received by USCIS (cases that were received the earliest) are scheduled first. These applications fall under the third tier and have the lowest priority.

In sum, applicants who were rescheduled for an interview and child applicants will receive first priority.

All other applicants will be required to wait in line for an interview based on the date USCIS received their asylum application. The following table provided by USCIS outlines estimates of scheduling dates for asylum interviews by month and year. The table is based on current caseload and volume of applications waiting in line for an interview. Interviews are currently being scheduled taking into account time and resource constraints of local offices.  It is not uncommon for asylum offices to divert their resources to defensive asylum interviews.

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We are pleased to announce that USCIS will adopt a new parole policy, at the recommendation of the Ombudsman’s office, for U visa principal petitioners and their derivative qualifying family members residing abroad, who are currently on waiting lists for the availability of U Visas. As a result of this new policy, eligible applicants will be able to seek parole into the United States and await availability of their U visas from the United States, instead of waiting from abroad.

The U visa was first implemented with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act signed into law by Congress. This piece of legislation gave USCIS the authority to implement a special nonimmigrant visa classification known as the U visa. Presently, the U nonimmigrant visa is available to foreign nationals who have either been a witness to a crime in the United States, or who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a victim of a crime that occurred in the United States. The U visa in effect creates a special class of nonimmigrants who may legally reside in the United States for the purpose of assisting law enforcement, or government officials, in ongoing investigations for the prosecution of certain crimes. Unfortunately, there is a congressional limitation on the number of U visa’s that may be issued to principal U visa applicants. That limit is currently capped at 10,000 visas on an annual basis.

Once the 10,000 visa cap has been exceeded, U visa nonimmigrants are forced to remain abroad, and are placed on a waiting list. In order to expedite their entry to the United States, applicants must go through the extra step of applying for humanitarian parole from abroad in order to enter the United States. Such victims are often in danger or in vulnerable situations in their home countries. Most importantly their key testimony and cooperation is of no use to the United States if they are residing abroad.

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Last week we introduced the unveiling of an exciting new rule called the ‘International Entrepreneur Rule’ which will allow certain entrepreneurs the opportunity to seek ‘parole’ into the United States, based on his or her role in the startup company, provided the company can demonstrate substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation in the United States.

Eligible entrepreneurs will need to be prepared to demonstrate that their entry would create a significant public benefit in the United States, and provide ‘substantial’ and ‘demonstrated potential’ to create more jobs and business growth in the United States, and not merely provide income to the entrepreneur and his or her family members. In this post we will review the requirements, clarify definitions, and describe what evidence can be provided in support of an entrepreneur application.

If this new initiative becomes a final rule, it is estimated that up to 2,940 entrepreneurs would be eligible to apply for this new program on an annual basis. Recently, the Notice of Proposed Rule-making (NPRM) in the Federal Register has provided more guidance on exactly which entrepreneurs and start up enterprises may apply. In addition, more information has been provided regarding which investments will qualify.

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In this segment, we answer 5 of your most frequently asked questions received on our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office to schedule a free first time consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office. For more information on the services we offer please click here.

Fiancé Visa

Q: I am a U.S. Citizen who is planning to marry a Moroccan citizen. I am interested in applying for the K-1 fiancé visa for him. The problem is that we have not met in person and it is hard for me to travel to his country because I am a single parent. I know one of the requirements for this visa is to meet in person. Are there any other visa options available to us since we have not met in person? I have heard of people obtaining waivers due to traveling hardships. Please advise.

A: Thank you for your question. This is a very common fiancé visa question. In order to file the K-1 fiancé visa you must meet the following requirements:

  • You (the petitioner) are a U.S. citizen.
  • You intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé(e) entering the United States.
  • You and your fiancé(e) are both free to marry and any previous marriages must have been legally terminated by divorce, death, or annulment.
  • You met each other, in person, at least once within 2 years of filing your petition. There are two exceptions that require a waiver:
    If the requirement to meet would violate strict and long-established customs of your or your fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice.

    2. If you prove that the requirement to meet would result in extreme hardship to you.

As indicated above there are only two exceptions that would allow you to seek a waiver of the K-1 visa two-year meeting requirement. The first requires the petitioner to demonstrate that compliance of the two-year meeting requirement would violate strict and long-established customs of either your fiancé’s foreign culture or social practice or of your own foreign culture or social practice. While it is difficult to prove this, it is not impossible, however the couple should be aware that substantial evidence is required to prove that either your or your fiancé’s culture explicitly prohibits you from meeting the two-year requirement. Of course this element is largely at odds with traditional Western norms and practices, therefore it is extremely difficult to explain to an immigration officer why you and your fiancé cannot meet in person before you are to be married.  This waiver should only be considered in very limited circumstances.

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to run a study to determine whether privately run detention facilities are unsafe for migrants. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, has stated that the administration will evaluate whether or not the agency will end the practice of privatizing immigration detention facilities, issuing a recommendation by November 30th of this year.

The announcement comes following reports that private immigration detention facilities have unlawfully withheld proper mental health and medical care from persons being detained in their immigration facilities. Presently, the two major private companies running ICE immigration detention facilities across the United States are the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group. Together these private companies hold lucrative state and federal government contracts. It is estimated that the Corrections Corporation of America has earned $689 million alone from its contracts with ICE dating back to 2008, while the GEO Group has earned an estimated $1.18 billion from these contracts during that same period.

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Today August 26, 2016 we bring entrepreneurs around the world exciting news regarding a new measure USCIS plans to implement designed to benefit entrepreneurs of startup companies. USCIS has announced a new proposal that will make it easier for certain foreign entrepreneurs to receive temporary permission to enter the United States, also known as ‘parole,’ for the purpose of starting or scaling their start-up business enterprise in the United States.

The rule has been referred to as the ‘International Entrepreneur Rule’ which will give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to expand discretionary statutory parole status to eligible entrepreneurs of startup companies, who can demonstrate that the startup enterprise they are interested in creating, has a substantial potential to yield rapid growth, and job creation in the United States.

Under this new rule, DHS would be able to grant parole on a case-by-case basis to eligible entrepreneurs of startup companies who can demonstrate the following:

  • At least a 15 percent ownership interest in the startup enterprise in question;
  • That they take on an active and central role in the startup enterprise’s operations;
  • That the startup enterprise has been formed in the United States within the past three years; and
  • That the startup enterprise has proven to yield a substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation as evidenced by:
  1. Having received a significant investment of capital of at least $345,000 from certain qualified U.S. investors that have a proven track record of success i.e. showing established records of successful investments;
  2. Having received significant awards or grants of at least $100,000 from federal, state, or local government entities; or
  3. By partially satisfying one or both of the above criteria, in addition to presenting other reliable and compelling evidence to show the startup entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation in the United States;

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Many of our clients are unaware that they may be eligible to receive a fee waiver upon demonstration of a clear financial need. Although USCIS receives much of its funding from the application and petition fees they charge to applicants, the service understands that applications can be very costly for applicants, and that some applicants will not be able to pay the necessary filing fees. Although not all applications and petitions are eligible to receive a fee waiver there are many petitions that qualify.

Who may apply for a fee waiver?

A fee waiver request may be submitted by persons who are unable to pay the required filing fees or biometric service fee(s) for any application or petition that is eligible to receive a fee waiver. In order to receive a fee waiver, applicants must demonstrate that they are unable to pay the filing fees by providing documented evidence of that need with the fee waiver request Form I-912. A fee waiver request, Form I-912, must be filed with all applications and petitions for which you are requesting a fee waiver.

You can request a fee waiver if:

  1. The form you are filing is eligible for a fee waiver (refer to list below) and
  2. You can provide documentation showing that you qualify based upon at least one of the following criteria:
  • You, your spouse, or the head of household living with you, are currently receiving a ‘means-tested benefit.’
  • Your household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you file.

You can verify whether your income is below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines by calculating your household size and household income, and reviewing the I-912P 2016 Federal Poverty Guidelines.

For example, if you are living in the state of California and you have a household size consisting of three people (you, your husband, and your child) and your total income is at or below $30, 240 you may file a fee waiver request by providing evidence that your income falls below the federal poverty guideline based on your household size and place of residence.

  • You are currently experiencing financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee, including unexpected medical bills, emergencies, or other hardship.

Note: You are only required to file one Form I-912 for all family-related applications or petitions you would like to qualify for a ‘fee waiver’ at the same time.

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