Articles Posted in Consulates

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President Donald Trump is expected to hand down a controversial Executive Order on immigration within the coming days to protect the nation from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals. Although the Trump administration has not made a formal announcement regarding the proposed order yet, a leaked, unsigned copy of the President’s order has been making the rounds. We do not know whether the President has made any modifications to the order since its leak, and we do not know when exactly the order will be issued. One thing is clear, an executive order on immigration is imminent. It is rumored that the executive order will include a temporary ban on refugees, the suspension of issuance of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries, which are rumored to include Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, collectively referred to as “countries of particular concern,” as well as the end of Syrian refugee processing, and the visa interview waiver program.

The passage of such an executive order although extremely controversial and unpopular, would be within the President’s executive power, if his administration determines that limiting refugee admissions temporarily and restricting the issuance of visas to persons from specific countries is of significant public interest to the United States to combat the war on terror. The administration would need to balance our country’s need to secure its borders against terrorism with the need to resolve the global humanitarian crisis we face today. Donald Trump has already passed a series of executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement authorizing the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, withholding federal grant money for sanctuary cities, hiring 5,000 Border Patrol agents, reinstating local and state immigration enforcement partnerships, and ending the “catch-and-release” policy for undocumented immigrants.

The leaked copy of the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” gives two policy reasons for enacting the executive order. First, the purpose of the order is to protect American citizens from foreign nationals who intend to enter the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Second, the order serves to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to enter the United States to “exploit” the country’s immigration laws for malevolent purposes. The order highlights that following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, hundreds of foreign nationals have successfully entered the United States on an asylum, visitor, student, or employment visa, and have been subsequently convicted or implicated in terrorism related crimes. The order goes on to blame the State Department’s consular officials for their failure to scrutinize the visa applications of the foreign nationals who went on to commit the September 11 attacks, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans.

The main provisions of the leaked order “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” are as follows:

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The H-1B visa is one of the most coveted visas in the United States for several reasons. One of the biggest perks of the H-1B visa is that it is granted for a period of three years, and can be extended for an additional three years. Recipients of the H-1B visa can also bring their dependents to live with them in the United States on an H-4 visa. The H-1B visa is also a popular option because it gives workers the flexibility of accepting and entering new employment, made possible by the portability provision of the H-1B program (8 U.S.C. § 1184(n)). The portability provision allows an H-1B worker to change jobs without having to risk falling “out of status.” Recently, USCIS also improved its portability provision with the passage of a new law that will give H-1B workers who have been laid off a 60-day grace period to transfer to a new employer. But perhaps the greatest upside to the H-1B visa however, is that it is one of the few visas that allows a nonimmigrant to apply for permanent residency as a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition, without the immigrant petition having any negative affect on their H-1B status. This privilege is recognized in the law and is known as “dual intent.” Foreign nationals holding a “dual intent” visa such as an H-1B visa are allowed to file a green card petition, while continuing employment under the terms of their visa, and may also travel on their visa without seeking permission from USCIS.

In this sense, the H-1B visa is one of the few visas that opens a direct path to permanent residency. Other popular employment visas such as the E-2 treaty investor visa do not create a direct path to permanent residency and are not considered “dual intent” visas.

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On December 28, 2016, the Department of State announced that original or “wet ink” signatures are no longer required on Form I-864 Affidavit of Support for immigrant visa petitions. This new measure also applies to I-864 supplements such as the I-864A, I-864W, and I-864EZ. Beginning January 1, 2017 the National Visa Center will begin to accept photocopies and scans of signed I-864 affidavit of support forms. The I-864 will still need to contain the affiant’s signature, however the signature no longer needs to be a “wet ink” signature. Typed names and electronic signatures are not acceptable. Petitioners will be required to submit an amended I-864 form to the National Visa Center if the sponsor’s name and personal information is missing and there is no signature or missing pages. Petitioners who will need to send an amended I-864 will receive a “checklist” containing the information that must be corrected on form I-864. If you receive a checklist letter prior to January 1, 2017 asking for an original signature on form I-864 please contact the National Visa Center.

Such requests will contain the following language:

[ x ] In Part 8. Sponsor’s Contract, please correct the following…

[ x ] Item 6.a. You must sign the form and your signature must be original (in ink).

These improvements will simplify the immigrant visa “consular processing” by streamlining the submission of financial evidence in support of an immigrant visa application. The Department of State hopes that this new measure will reduce the amount of immigrant visas rejected at the interview stage. The NVC will continue to use an assessment type of letter to address other inconsistencies and errors found on the I-864 form. This assessment letter indicates which issues if any appear on the affidavit of support which could potentially delay the adjudication of the immigrant visa petition. Typically, this letter will indicate either that the sponsor has completed the form incorrectly or did not provide sufficient financial documentation in support of the affidavit of support. For example, if the petitioner does not meet the income requirement based on their household size, the assessment letter will indicate that more evidence is needed to establish that the income has been met, or a joint sponsor will be required. The assessment letter asks the petitioner to correct the issues before the immigrant is scheduled for their immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. If NVC sends an assessment letter, follow the instructions on the letter. Typically, the immigrant is instructed to bring a corrected affidavit of support to the interview with the suggested documents.

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On December 12, 2016, the Department of State published the Annual Numerical Limits for both family and employment-based visa preference categories for Fiscal Year 2017.

Family preference and employment immigrant categories are subject to numerical limitations and are divided by preference systems on the Visa Bulletin and become current based on the immigrant’s priority date. The Visa Bulletin estimates immigrant visa availability for prospective immigrants. Applicants who fall under family preference or employment categories must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available to them, for applicants to proceed with their immigrant visa application. Once the immigrant’s priority date becomes current per the Visa Bulletin, the applicant can proceed with their immigrant visa application. A priority date is generally the date when your relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS. The Visa Bulletin exists due to numerical immigrant visa limitations for family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories established by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 226,000 visas per year, while employment-based preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year. The Visa Bulletin is a useful tool for aliens to determine when a visa will become available to them so that they may apply for permanent residence.

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In this informational post we discuss the I-130 Consular Process for spouses. Consular processing refers to the process by which a U.S. Citizen immigrates their foreign spouse to the United States from abroad. Depending on the foreign spouse’s country of residence, and the volume of applications processed by USCIS, the National Visa Center, and the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where the foreign spouse will have their immigrant visa interview, the process to immigrate a spouse to the United States can take anywhere from 8 to 12 months. Consular processing is a complicated process. It is recommended that applicants obtain the assistance of an experienced attorney to file this type of application.

What is the first step involved in the process?

The first step involves filing the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This petition establishes that a relationship exists between the U.S. Citizen and intending immigrant. This petition thus is used for family-based immigration to the United States. A separate I-130 must be filed for each eligible relative that will immigrate to the United States including minor children of the foreign spouse. The filing and approval of the I-130 is the first step to immigrate a relative to the United States. Because this petition is filed by the U.S. Citizen petitioner, the foreign spouse does not need to wait until a visa number becomes available before applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy abroad. By contrast, if the petitioner is not a U.S. Citizen and is instead a Lawful Permanent Resident, an immigrant visa is not immediately available to the foreign spouse. Due to this, the foreign spouse must wait until their priority date becomes current according to the visa bulletin issued by the Department of State. The I-130 is accompanied by various supporting documents mostly biographical in nature. These documents include the signed forms, the filing fees, passport photographs of the petitioner and beneficiary, the petitioner’s proof of citizenship, a copy of the beneficiary’s passport ID page, copy of their birth certificate with a certified translation, and a copy of the marriage certificate. Once these documents have been compiled, the applicant mails them to USCIS for approval. USCIS takes approximately 4 months to process and approve this application. This time frame will depend on the volume of applications being processed by USCIS at the time of filing.

The National Visa Center Stage

Once the I-130 petition has been approved, USCIS will mail the petitioner a receipt notice known as the I-797 Notice of Action. This Notice of Action serves as proof that the I-130 petition has been approved, and more importantly indicates that the petition will be forwarded to the Department of State’s National Visa Center within 30 days. The National Visa Center is a government agency that conducts pre-processing of all immigrant visa petitions that require consular action. The National Visa Center requires the applicant to send various documents, before the application can be sent to the United States Consular unit where the foreign spouse will attend their immigrant visa interview. The NVC determines which consular post will be most appropriate according to the foreign spouse’s place of residence abroad, as indicated on the I-130 petition. Once the NVC has received all documents necessary to complete pre-processing of the immigrant application, the case is mailed to the consular unit abroad. From the date the I-130 has been approved, it takes approximately 30-45 days for the National Visa Center to receive the application from USCIS and begin pre-processing.

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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. Do you want us to answer your question? Please submit your questions to us through our website, or our Facebook page. For more information on the services we offer please click here.

The Affidavit of Support: Using Assets to Supplement Income

Q: I will be petitioning my spouse for permanent residence soon and have a question about the affidavit of support. If I do not have the support of a joint sponsor and my income does not meet 125% of the federal poverty line, can I use my assets?

A: Yes, you may use your assets to supplement your income if your total income does not meet the income requirements of the 2016 HHS poverty guidelines according to your household size, as specified by the charts below. If your total income falls short, you may submit evidence to demonstrate the value of your assets, or the sponsored immigrant’s assets, and/or the assets of a household member with their consent. Not only can the assets of the petitioner, immigrant, or household member be used to supplement any deficient income, but the assets of these persons can be combined to meet the necessary financial requirement. In order to use assets, the total value of the assets must equal at least five times the difference between your total household income amount and the current Federal Poverty Guidelines for your household size. An exception exists for U.S. citizens sponsoring a spouse or minor child. In this case, the total value of the assets must only be equal to at least three times the difference. Not all assets may be used to supplement income. Assets that can be converted to cash within one year without hardship or financial harm may only be used to supplement income. The owner of the asset must provide a detailed description of the asset (if the asset is property, an appraisal can be included or online listing from a reputable website showing the estimated value of the asset), proof of ownership of the asset (title, deed, etc.), and the basis for the owner’s claim of its net cash value. If you are using your home as an asset, you must use the net value of your home (the appraised value minus the sum of all loans secured by a mortgage, trust deed, or other lien on the home). You may use the net value of an automobile only if you can show that you own more than one automobile, and at least one automobile is not included as an asset. Other examples of typical assets used to supplement income include property, 401k, IRA, mutual investment fund, etc.

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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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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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Q: What qualifies as a bar of “Unlawful Presence?”

A: If you have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence in the United States, you are subject to a 3-year bar preventing you from being re-admitted to the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Action Section §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(I). The bar is triggered once you have departed the United States.

If you have accrued one year or more of unlawful presence in the United States, you are subject to a 10-year bar preventing you from being re-admitted to the United States under §212(a)(9)(B)(i)(II).

If upon your entry to the United States, you were not inspected, admitted, or paroled by a U.S. Customs Official, then you are ineligible to adjust your status to lawful permanent resident (LPR) within the United States, even if you have an approved visa petition. This means that in order to legalize your status, you are required to depart the United States and apply for an immigrant visa at a United States embassy or consulate abroad. Your departure from the United States will then trigger a 3- or 10-year bar to readmission, preventing you from returning to the United States, depending on the amount of “unlawful presence” you accrued prior to your departure.

There are ways to waive these 3- and 10-year bars to readmission only if you can demonstrate that your refusal of admission to the United States would cause an “extreme hardship” to your U.S. Citizen immediate relative or Legal Permanent Resident spouse or parent.

Q: Can I apply for the provisional waiver if I was previously deported, removed, or excluded from the United States?

If you received a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion you may apply for a provisional waiver of unlawful presence, however you must first apply for the I-212 Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the United States After Deportation or Removal, and the application must be conditionally approved.

If ICE or CBP has reinstated a prior removal order under 8 CFR §241.8, before filing of the provisional waiver application or while the application is in process, you are no longer eligible to receive a provisional waiver of unlawful presence. A provisional waiver approval would be automatically revoked if the applicant is found inadmissible under INA §212(a)(9)(C) for unlawful return to the United States after prior removal or prior unlawful presence.

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