3704180135_8cf17fa711_zA new settlement reached against the state of Texas will make it easier for undocumented parents of U.S. Citizens to obtain birth certificates for their American born children. In 2013, Nancy Hernandez, a Mexican immigrant, gave birth to a baby girl in a Texas hospital, although she was unlawfully present in the United States. After the birth, she visited a Texas county office to obtain the child’s birth certificate. Much to her surprise her request was met with resistance when county officials notified her that without presentation of proper documents, she would not be able to obtain her child’s birth certificate proving the child’s U.S. Citizenship.

In response, Hernandez along with dozens of other immigrants, filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas alleging that the state was blocking them from obtaining their children’s birth certificates, a right that is protected by the Constitution. Texas officials had previously outlined specific documents that undocumented parents needed to present, in order to obtain their children’s birth certificates.

Last week, Texas settled the lawsuit promising that the state would expand the list of documents parents were required to present in order to obtain their children’s birth certificates. Under the settlement, Mexican immigrants will be able to present a Mexican voter identification card to obtain their children’s birth certificates. These voter identification cards can be obtained from Mexican consulates in the United States. Parents from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, will be able to present documents certified by their consulates in the United States.

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In a recent blog post, we told you all about the I-751 Removal of Conditions Application. In this segment we will briefly cover the basics of the I-751 Removal of Conditions Application and what you can expect one you have filed the application with USCIS.

Overview: 

The I-751 Removal of Conditions Application is filed by conditional permanent residents who gained their ‘conditional’ permanent resident status, based on their marriage to a United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident. An easy way to know whether you have been given a conditional green card is by checking the abbreviations that appear on your green card under immigrant ‘category.’ If your green card contains the abbreviation ‘CR’ under the immigrant category, then you are a conditional permanent resident. Additionally, if your green card was granted for only a 2 year period, then you have received a conditional green card.

Who must file the Removal of Conditions Application?

It is important to understand who must file the Removal of Conditions Application. If you are still married to the same person through which you gained your ‘conditional’ permanent residence (2- year green card), and you wish to obtain a 10-year permanent green card, you must file an I-751 application for removal of conditions jointly with your spouse. If you have divorced your spouse, you may still apply for removal of conditions on your own, however you must provide substantial proof of bona fide marriage. Applications that are filed by the ‘conditional’ permanent resident alone, are called I-751 waiver applications. Regardless of whether you will be filing the I-751 application with your spouse, or filing the I-751 waiver application alone, applicants must be prepared to demonstrate that they entered their marriage in ‘good faith’ and not for the purposes of evading the immigration laws of the United States. In other words, the additional process to remove the conditions on your permanent residence, is a fraud prevention mechanism to safeguard against sham marriages.

The removal of conditions application must be filed only by those individuals who were given a two-year conditional green card by USCIS. USCIS issues 2-year conditional green cards to foreign spouses (and LPRs) who have been married to a U.S. Citizen for less than to two years, on the date that the green card application is approved. Foreign spouses who have been married to their U.S. Citizen spouse for more than two years, on the date the green card application is approved, receive permanent 10-year green cards, and do not need to apply for removal of conditions.

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A recent working paper published by Harvard economist, William R. Kerr, and Wellesley economist, Sari Pekkala Kerr, is making waves on the subject of immigrant entrepreneurship. The study asks: just how important are foreign-born entrepreneurs to our economy? Are their contributions truly significant?

The study’s abstract reads as follows:

We examine immigrant entrepreneurship and the survival and growth of immigrant-founded businesses over time relative to native-founded companies. Our work quantifies immigrant contributions to new firm creation in a wide variety of fields and using multiple definitions. While significant research effort has gone into understanding the economic impact of immigration into the United States, comprehensive data for quantifying immigrant entrepreneurship are difficult to assemble. We combine several restricted-access U.S. Census Bureau data sets to create a unique longitudinal data platform that covers 1992-2008 and many states. We describe differences in the types of businesses initially formed by immigrants and their medium-term growth patterns. We also consider the relationship of these outcomes to the immigrants’ age at arrival to the United States.

The study is important because it forces members of Congress to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, in order to determine whether or not it is beneficial for the United States to create more opportunities for highly-skilled entrepreneurs and professionals. Regrettably, the immigration debate has largely centered around illegal immigration to the United States, ignoring calls to create more flexibility for highly-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs. As it stands today, immigrant entrepreneurs can only obtain a green card via sponsorship from a United States employer. The majority of entrepreneurs are forced to remain in the United States on a temporary ‘dual intent’ nonimmigrant visa, until a U.S. employer agrees to sponsor their green card. Visa options are very limited for highly-skilled immigrants. Even for the most brilliant of entrepreneurs, this process requires time and patience. Our current immigration laws are doing us a disservice since they are keeping out some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly important because the number of businesses and American jobs they create is on the rise.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

  • As of 2008, at least one in four entrepreneurs among start-up companies are foreign-born. Similarly, at least one in four employees among new firms are foreign-born
  • 37% of new firms had at least one immigrant entrepreneur working for the company
  • At least 1 in 3 start-up firms were founded by an immigrant entrepreneur, with an increasing rate from 1995-2008
  • The share of immigrants among all employees working for start-up companies is on the rise
  • Immigrant employees in low-tech positions comprise about 22.2% of start-up companies, while 21.2% of immigrants work in high-tech positions in start-up companies
  • Among new start-ups backed by venture capitalists, 60% had at least one immigrant entrepreneur
  • Immigrant employees working for a start-up company backed by venture capitalists have higher mean average quarterly earnings

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27512994306_54f949109a_zDuring November 2015, a couple came to our office seeking legal assistance, after having filed the adjustment of status application on their own, and attending their initial green card interview without legal representation. The couple visited our office seeking legal representation for their second interview before USCIS, also known as the ‘STOKES’ interview. At the conclusion of their initial interview, the couple were given a request for evidence by the immigration officer.  The Request for Evidence asked the couple to prove that the Beneficiary entered the marriage in good faith, and not for the purposes of evading the immigration laws of the United States. The couple responded to the Request for Evidence, providing documents in support of their bona fide marriage, to establish that they did indeed enter the marriage in good faith. In their response, the couple provided 21 items of evidence including photographs together, lease agreements as proof of cohabitation, and other bona fides such as joint utility bills and affidavits from the Petitioner’s parents, attesting to the couple’s bona fide marriage.

Despite producing such evidence, the immigration officer found the documents provided as evidence of cohabitation and marital union unconvincing. Additionally, the immigration officer found that the testimony given during the initial interview was unconvincing. Due to this, the immigration officer scheduled the couple for a second interview to discuss their relationship in more detail. The couple came to our office seeking guidance and representation at this second interview. The second interview is commonly referred to as the ‘STOKES’ interview. At the time of the second interview or ‘STOKES’ interview, the couple is questioned separately by an immigration officer regarding the details surrounding their marriage and relationship. A ‘STOKES’ interview is typically scheduled when an immigration officer suspects that the marriage is a ‘sham marriage’ entered for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit. During the ‘STOKES’ interview the immigration officer probes the couple on the intimate details of their relationship. The ‘STOKES’ interview is very taxing on both the Petitioner and Beneficiary. Some ‘STOKES’ interviews have lasted anywhere form 8-10 hours depending on the complexity of the case. Due to this, it is strongly recommended for an attorney to be present with the couple during a ‘STOKES’ interview.

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The eventual goal of most immigrants, residing in the United States temporarily, is to gain United States Citizenship, and later to immigrate their immediate relatives to the United States. It is very difficult however to obtain U.S. Citizenship, and there are important requirements that must be satisfied before applying. For starters, you must meet the minimum age requirement to apply, you must also be a legal permanent resident (LPR) of the United States (green card holder) for a certain period of time before you may apply. In addition, you must prove that you have maintained your legal permanent resident (LPR) status by demonstrating that you have remained continuously physically present in the United States. Lastly, you must be competent in the English language, and be a person of good moral character in order to apply for U.S. Citizenship. There are many valuable benefits conferred to U.S. Citizens. The most important benefit is that U.S. citizens are entitled to protection from the United States government in exchange for their allegiance to the country. Secondly, unlike green card holders, U.S. Citizens may leave the country and travel abroad for any length of time without having to worry about returning to the United States to maintain their immigration status. U.S. Citizens can also apply for immigration benefits for their immediate relatives and other family members more quickly than legal permanent residents. Legal Permanent Residents may also lose their immigration status and risk removal from the United States if they are convicted of serious crimes such as crimes of moral turpitude. U.S. Citizenship is also required for many jobs in the United States including law enforcement. Generally, there are also greater employment opportunities for American Citizens.

When applicants sign the N-400 application for naturalization they are promising to support the United States constitution, obey all of the laws of the United States, renounce foreign allegiances and/or foreign titles of nobility, and bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or to perform services for the U.S. government when called upon. The N-400 oath of allegiance must be taken very seriously. If you are not prepared to support the U.S. Constitution and bear arms for the U.S., you should not apply for citizenship.

General Naturalization Requirements

In order to apply for naturalization, applicants must satisfy all of the requirements below except for members of the armed forces and their immediate relatives. Members of the armed forces may apply for expedited naturalization as indicated below.

  • Language Requirement: You must be able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language in order to take the Citizenship test, although exemptions exist for certain applicants.

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Before filing your green card application, it is important for you to carefully consider several important factors that may limit your ability to obtain employment in the United States and restrict your international travel. If you will be filing your green card application in the near future, you need to be prepared to remain in the United States for a period of at least 90 days, from the date of filing of your green card application. Applicants must also be aware that they will not receive authorization to work in the United States until this 90-day period has passed. Limited exceptions exist which may allow an applicant to expedite the adjudication process of the employment and travel authorization applications which we will discuss below.

Why the 90-day restriction period?

As part of the green card application, the applicant may file the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and the I-131 Application for Travel Document at no additional cost. The I-765 and I-131 applications result in the issuance of a one-year temporary employment and international travel authorization card (EAD), while the green card application is being adjudicated by USCIS. It takes on average 90 days for the EAD card to be issued, from the date of filing of the green card application. This ultimately means that once you apply for permanent residence, you will not be able to seek employment or travel outside of the country until the EAD card is issued to you within 90 days. Once the green card application has been filed with USCIS, the applicant is restricted from any international travel. If the applicant travels without authorization, USCIS will consider the applicant’s green card application ‘abandoned.’ An applicant may only travel internationally if they have received a re-entry permit issued by USCIS known as an ‘advance parole’ document. The ‘advance parole’ notice will appear on the front of the EAD card itself signifying that the applicant is authorized to travel internationally using the card.  The ability to re-enter the United States after returning from temporary foreign travel is ‘discretionary.’ This means that even if you have been issued an EAD card that allows you to travel, it will ultimately be up to the customs official to admit you into the United States.

Consider the alternatives

Before applying for your green card you should carefully consider whether these travel and employment restrictions will have a significant impact on your lifestyle. If the travel restrictions are concerning to you, it may be a more beneficial option for you to apply for an immigrant visa from a U.S. Consulate abroad. There are no travel restrictions for applicants who apply for immigration benefits from abroad. Likewise, if you are concerned that you will not receive employment authorization immediately, it may be worth considering applying for a dual intent work visa first to cover any gaps in employment. There are limited work visa categories that allow for dual intent, or the intent to have a temporary visa status at the same time as having the intent to remain permanently in the United States. If this is the case, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your options.

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What is Adjustment of Status?

Adjustment of Status is the process by which a foreign national can change their immigration status from a temporary nonimmigrant to an immigrant (permanent resident), while in the United States. There must be a basis under which a foreign national can apply for adjustment of status. In most cases the foreign national must have an immediate relative who is a U.S. Citizen or have an employer willing to file an immigrant petition on their behalf.

Generally, a foreign national can apply for adjustment of status, if they were inspected by a customs official at a United States port of entry and admitted or paroled into the United States, and meets all requirements to apply for a green card (permanent residence). The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows an eligible foreign national already living in the United States with their U.S. Citizen spouse, to obtain permanent resident status without having to return to their home country to apply for an immigrant visa at a United States consulate abroad. Spouses of U.S. Citizens are eligible for adjustment of status to permanent residence once the US Citizen spouse files a petition on their behalf called the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. The I-130 Petition for Alien Relative is typically filed at the same time (concurrently) as the I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. For immigration purposes, the intending immigrant (or foreign national) is referred to as the ‘beneficiary’ of the application, while the U.S. Citizen spouse is referred to as the ‘petitioner’ of the I-130 application. The petitioner allows the beneficiary to apply for adjustment of status on the basis of their marital relationship (established with the filing of the I-130 Petition).

In general, most immigrants become eligible for permanent residence once an immigrant petition is filed on their behalf by either a qualifying family relative (I-130 Petition) or through an employer (I-140 Petition) although there are special categories of green card applicants that exist. Unlike distant relatives of U.S. Citizens and alien workers, spouses and immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens are not subject to any visa limitations. This means that they do not need to wait in line to receive permanent residence; an immigrant visa is immediately available to them and there are no quotas. The process of immigrating a foreign spouse through adjustment of status takes approximately 4-6 months depending upon the volume of adjustment of status application being processed by USCIS at the time of filing, and the amount of applications waiting in line for an interview at your local field office.

Spouses of U.S. Citizens residing abroad are not eligible for adjustment of status

For spouses of U.S. Citizens residing abroad, adjustment of status is not an option because the intending immigrant and U.S. Citizen spouse must be living together in the United States in order to apply. Instead, spouses of U.S. Citizens who are living abroad must resort to consular processing, in order to obtain an immigrant visa and permanent residency. Consular processing is also utilized to immigrate a foreign spouse who is ineligible to adjust status, for example in the case where the foreign spouse entered the United States illegally.

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Last week our very own managing attorney Jacob Sapochnick, Esq., and associate attorney Yingfei Zhou, Esq. had the pleasure of attending the 2016 American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Conference on Immigration Law in Las Vegas, Nevada. Together, they bring you the most up to date information on the new N-400 online filing system and new N-400 form, the new customer service tool EMMA—a computer-generated virtual assistant, information regarding delays in adjudication of H-1B extension/transfer applications and Employment Authorization applications, filing tips for H-1B extensions, updates on EB-1C Multinational Executive/Manager green cards, Employment Authorization eligibility for spouses of E-2 and L-1 visa holders, and updates on Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) Decisions.

New Naturalization Form and N-400 Online Filing System

  1. USCIS recently published a new N-400 form on 04/13/2016. Applicants may use the previous 09/13/2013 version until 08/09/2016. Any naturalization applications received on or after 08/10/2016 containing the old form with revision date 09/13/2013 will be rejected and returned to the sender.
  1. USCIS is currently testing a new N-400 online filing system. This system will be available to applicants without legal representation and will eventually become available to applicants represented by an immigration attorney.

New Customer Service Tools EMMA

  1. USCIS is introducing a new customer service tool called EMMA – a computer-generated virtual assistant who can answer your questions and even take you to the right spot on the USCIS website. EMMA is USCIS’ version of ‘Siri’ and is designed to help you navigate the USCIS website. EMMA is available in the Spanish language. So far, EMMA has managed to answer 80% of questions asked.

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If you have filed your green card application with USCIS, you are probably asking yourself whether you can travel internationally (yes we mean Mexico too) while your application is in process. After all, filing the green card application is admittedly a stressful process for both the applicant and petitioner. Accomplishing this achievement is worth celebrating.  To reward yourself you may be aching to celebrate your newfound immigration status by going on holiday or taking that important business trip you and your business partners have been discussing.

Travel Authorization for Re-entry

Not so fast!! You cannot travel internationally unless you have received a travel authorization document from USCIS, known as an advance parole document. You are required to obtain such travel authorization if you seek to re-enter the United States after temporary foreign travel. To do so, you must file Form I-131 Application for Travel Document with USCIS. For applicants filing a green card application based on their marriage to a U.S. Citizen, the I-485 and I-131 application is typically filed concurrently. There is no fee for the I-131 application if it is submitted along with Form I-485. It takes approximately 90 days, from the date the I-131 application is received, for USCIS to issue this travel authorization. Once the travel authorization is received, it would no longer be worth traveling outside of the country, because applicants typically receive their “interview notice” in the mail during this time frame. The interview notice will contain the date, time, and location of the green card interview and require the applicant to be physically present in the United States. In emergency situations, it is possible to reschedule the green card interview although this will obviously delay receipt of the green card.

Emergency Expedite Requests

Although it is possible to request an expedited advance parole document in emergency situations, there are important reasons why you should not do so. Firstly, the process for expediting an advance parole document is extremely difficult. You must have a legitimate reason for making an expedite request. Attending a business conference, your best friend’s wedding, or going on your honeymoon are not legitimate reasons for making an expedite request. Even in emergency situations such as the death or serious illness of a relative, we have seen immigration officers repeatedly deny expedite requests. Secondly, you are required to be physically present in the United States in order to attend your biometrics appointment for fingerprinting (within 3-4 weeks of filing the green card application) and later to attend your in person green card interview before an immigration officer (within 3-4 months of filing your application).

Taking these factors into consideration, it is important for applicants to plan accordingly. Never make any travel commitments until you have at least received your travel authorization/advance parole document from USCIS. Keep in mind that you will be required to return to the United States in order to attend your in person green card interview. If you do not appear on your scheduled interview date your application will be denied. Do not let this happen to you.

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