Articles Posted in Filing Fees

26417675520_2b93773995_zLast week, we reported that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had updated a large number of forms that were to be used immediately from December 23, 2016 forward. USCIS published the updated versions of the forms following the implementation of a new fee schedule affecting certain immigration and naturalization petitions which went into effect on December 23, 2016. USCIS did not notify the public prior to the publication of the new form editions, and no alerts were sent out to interested parties regarding compliance with the new form editions. At the time the new form editions were released, the USCIS website indicated that, apart from the form I-129, older versions of the affected forms would not be accepted.

Today, December 29, 2016, USCIS announced that previous editions of affected forms will continue to be accepted by USCIS until February 21, 2017, except for the N-400 Application for Naturalization. N-400 Application for Naturalization must be filed with the 12/23/16 edition date. No prior editions of form N-400 will be accepted by USCIS. Despite this update, please remember that the new fee schedule will continue to be enforced. Forms filed with previous editions must include the new fees. New form editions will contain an edition date of 12/23/16. Updated forms can be found at uscis.gov/forms. The complete fee schedule can be found at uscis.gov/forms/our-fees.

USCIS has released new form editions of the following forms: I-90, I-102, I-129, I-129CW, I-129F, I-130, I-131, I-131A, I-140, I-191, I-192, I-212, I-290B, I-360, I-485, I-485 Supplement A, I-525, I-539, I-600, I-600A, I-601, I-601A, I-612, I-690, I-694, I-698, I-751, I-765, I-800, I-800A, I-817, I-824, I-910, I-924, I-924A, I-929, I-942, I-942P, N-300, N-336, N-400, N-470, N-600, and N-600K.

UPDATE: Today, December 29, 2016, USCIS announced that previous editions of affected forms will continue to be accepted by USCIS until February 21, 2017, except for the N-400 Application for Naturalization. N-400 Application for Naturalization must be filed with the 12/23/16 edition date. No prior editions of form N-400 will be accepted by USCIS. Please remember that the new fee schedule will continue to be enforced. New form editions will contain an edition date of 12/23/16. Updated forms can be found at uscis.gov/forms. The complete fee schedule can be found at uscis.gov/forms/our-fees.

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It is our pleasure to bring you the latest immigration news.

Adjudication of DACA-based Advance Parole

In response to the uncertain political climate, USCIS has responded to rumors that USCIS has suspended the processing of DACA-based advance parole documents. USCIS has confirmed that they have NOT suspended processing of DACA-based advance parole applications, and will continue to adjudicate these applications as normal. In addition, USCIS released a statement notifying the public that they will continue to process all applications, petitions, and requests consistent with current immigration laws, regulations and policies. We have also learned that USCIS has distributed guidelines to USCIS Field Offices across the United States providing officers with a clear framework regarding the issuance of emergency advance parole documents for DACA applicants. Please be aware that if you are in the process of applying for a DACA-based advance parole document, the advance parole document contains an important disclaimer which states that an advance parole document does not guarantee any person admission to the United States. Customs and Border Patrol may use their discretion in deciding whether or not to admit a person with an advance parole document into the United States. DHS may also revoke or terminate an advance parole document at any time.

Donald Trump on Visa Program Abuses

On November 21, 2016 the President-elect, Donald Trump, released an update on the Presidential Transition, outlining some of his policy plans for his first 100 days in office, including his day one executive actions. Donald Trump announced that he during his first day in office he plans to direct the Department of labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker. So far, it is unclear what position he will take on nonimmigrant worker programs.

Increase in Filing Fees

On December 23, 2016 USCIS will increase filing fees for certain immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions processed by the service. In order to avoid these fee increases, USCIS must receive your application before this date. The petitions that will be most heavily impacted by the fee increases include Form I-924 for Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, Form I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, the N-400 application for citizenship, I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant workers, the I-485 Adjustment of Status Application, the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, the I-129F petition for alien fiancé, and the I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence. Fee waivers are available for select family based petitions. For a complete list of the fee schedule please click here.

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In this post we bring you your daily dose of immigration updates. For more information on the immigration services we provide please visit our website. For a free first legal consultation please contact our office. It is our pleasure to accompany you on your immigration journey.

USCIS extends TPS Designation for Nepal for 18 months

The Secretary of Homeland Security recently announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Nepal will be extended for an additional 18 months, beginning December 25, 2016 through June 24, 2018. Eligible TPS applicants must either be foreign nationals of Nepal or habitually resided in Nepal. DHS will be extending current TPS Nepal Employment Authorization Cards (EADs) with a December 24, 2016 expiration date for an additional 6 months, valid through June 24, 2017.

For more information regarding TPS for Nepal please click here. For information about the TPS program please click here. Employers interested in verifying or reverifying the employment eligibility of employees who are TPS beneficiaries, may click here for more information.

EADs Extended 6 Months for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone TPS Beneficiaries

Current Beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for the designations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have had their TPS status extended for a period of 6 months, to expire on May 21, 2017. The Department of Homeland Security authorized this temporary extension to allow beneficiaries to make an orderly transition out of the United States, before termination of their TPS status on May 21, 2017. Current beneficiaries of the TPS program from these designations will automatically retain their TPS status until this date, and the validity of their current Employment Authorization Cards (EADs) will be extended through May 20, 2017.

Click here for more information about the 6-month extension of orderly transition before termination of TPS designations for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. For general information about the TPS program please click here.

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Today, October 24, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security published the final rule increasing fees for certain immigration and naturalization petitions processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Overall the Department of Homeland Security increased filing fees for certain petitions by an average of 21 percent. The new fees will be enforced by USCIS beginning December 23, 2016. The fee schedule has been adjusted following the agency’s decision to conduct a comprehensive review of filing fees for fiscal year 2016/2017. USCIS determined that an adjustment in the filing fees would be necessary in order for USCIS to recover costs for services expended and maintain adequate service. The proposed fee schedule was first published on May 4, 2016. The final rule clarifies that all persons applying for immigration benefits may be required to appear for biometrics services or an interview, and thus must pay the biometrics services fee accordingly.

EB-5 Investor Visa Program

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program will be most heavily impacted by the new fee schedule. The new filing fee for Form I-924, Application for Regional Center under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, will increase by a rate of 186% requiring Regional Centers seeking designation under the program, to pay a filing fee of $17,795 instead of the current rate of $6,230. Regional Centers will be required to pay a $3,035 annual fee to certify their continued eligibility for the designation.

The filing fee for the I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, an application associated with the EB-5 visa program, will increase to $3,675, a 145% increase up from the current rate of $1,500. The filing fee for an investor’s petition to remove conditions on residence remains unchanged.

Naturalization

USCIS has established a three-tiered fee schedule for naturalization applicants filing Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. First, the fee schedule includes a standard filing fee for most applicants, from a rate of $595 to $640. Second, DHS has established a reduced fee of $320 for naturalization applicants whose household income is greater than 150% but less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Third, there will be no filing fee for naturalization applicants who are members of the military, applicants with approved fee waivers, and others who may qualify for a fee waiver according to sections 328 or 329 of the Immigration and nationality Act (INA).

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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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Our clients often ask us what the difference is between adjusting their status within the United States versus applying for a green card at a United States consulate abroad. In order to adjust your status to permanent resident within the United States by filing Form I-485, you and your spouse must be living inside of the United States at the time of filing. The intending immigrant must also have entered the United States legally in order to adjust status within the United States, although there are few exceptions (as is the case of individuals who qualify for 245i). This means that generally, in order to qualify for adjustment of status, you must have been inspected by a U.S. Customs official at a United States port of entry. As part of the Adjustment of status process, the green card applicant must be able to prove that they were inspected upon entry by showing their I-94 arrival/departure record. The I-94 is a small white paper that is placed in the passport containing a stamp of admission with the date of entry, place of entry, the person’s name, I-94 number, and other important details.

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Sample I-94 arrival/departure record

If you did not receive a paper I-94 in your passport, you may obtain your I-94 electronically by visiting the DHS website.

Consular processing on the other hand is an option that is typically utilized for spouses of US Citizens residing abroad and/or foreign spouses who have never visited the United States, do not have a United States visa, or cannot obtain one, because they are already married to a US Citizen. Foreign spouses who are obligated to travel frequently such as businesspersons may also prefer to obtain an immigrant visa through ‘consular processing’ because this process does not prohibit international travel. Adjustment of status applicants on the other hand are prohibited from traveling internationally once the I-485 green card application has been filed, unless they have received travel permission from USCIS known as an advance parole document. If the applicant travels without this advance parole document, the I-485 application will be considered abandoned.

Advance Parole for Adjustment of Status Applicants

In order to receive this advance parole document, the applicant must file Form, I-131 Application for Travel Document at the same time as Form, I-485 in order to return to the United States after temporary foreign travel. If the applicant wishes to apply for a work permit they must also file Form, I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. There is no additional fee for the I-131,765 applications if the applicant has a pending I-485 application with USCIS. The I-131,765 applications take approximately 90 days to process from date of filing and culminate in a travel/work permit combo card known as the EAD (Employment Authorization Document). This document allows the applicant to work, travel, obtain a SSN number, and driver’s license. Consular Processing applicants do not receive any travel or employment authorization and cannot obtain a driver’s license or SSN until they have received their green card once they enter the United States with an immigrant visa.

Adjustment of Status Benefits

There are many benefits that come with adjusting your status within the United States however to qualify you and your spouse must be living in the United States and you must have been inspected upon entry to the United States (with few exceptions), otherwise you are not eligible to apply for adjustment of status within the United States. If you have committed any immigration violations or have a serious criminal history, you must consult an attorney.

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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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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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