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Interviews at the San Diego Field Office

We have great news for our local readers. The USCIS San Diego Field Office is scheduled to resume interviews on July 6, 2020, with priority given to adjustment of status applications filed by doctors and front-line workers fighting to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Under certain circumstances, USCIS will exercise its discretion to waive adjustment of status interviews on a case-by-case basis.


What will be the approach for rescheduling?

The USCIS San Diego Field Office will begin rescheduling all other interviews on a “first-in, first-out,” basis based on receipt date of filing. This will occur as soon as possible.


When will biometrics offices reopen to the public?

Application Support Centers in San Marcos in Chula Vista are scheduled to reopen to the public on July 27, we ask our readers to please be patient while they wait to be rescheduled. Those with cancelled biometrics will be automatically rescheduled and will receive a notice in the mail with a new biometrics appointment.


What about Parole in Place cases?

Parole in place applications continue to be adjudicated, however applicants should expect delays.


What about citizenship applications?

USCIS will continue to prioritize the scheduling of oath ceremonies for naturalization applicants. Those who did not appear at a scheduled oath ceremony will receive a letter by mail. As we previously reported, oath ceremonies in San Diego are being held at the Cabrillo National Monument and the City of El Cajon parking lot adjacent to the police department.

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Our readers and clients have eagerly been asking why the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reported extremely long processing times on their webpage. Others are concerned about when their field offices will reopen and reschedule their interviews. In this post we hope to provide some clarification regarding these very important issues.


Long Processing Times


As some of you may know as a result of the pandemic, USCIS has experienced a significant loss of revenue that has left the agency with no choice but to begin the process of furloughing much needed employees. The agency is no longer able to meet current workloads and has been taking drastic measures to try to cope with the current situation. CIS has requested $1.2 billion in aid from Congress to help keep the agency afloat. Among other things, CIS plans to increase filing fees this summer, and implement additional surcharges on all applications. The agency’s funding crisis has unfortunately resulted in very long processing times for those with pending applications. As many of you have noticed, the processing times listed on the CIS website vary widely depending on the service center processing the application or petition, and the relationship between the applicant and petitioner (for family-based petitions).


What accounts for the different processing times?


First, processing times vary depending on the service center that is processing your application or petition. Each service center has been specifically designated to handle specific types of immigration benefits. The type of center that will process your case depends on a number of different factors including: the type of immigration benefit you are requesting, your immigration category, and also your state of residency.

Since some types of immigration benefits are in great demand, such as permanent residency, service centers handling these types of applications generally have a heavier workload than others. Unfortunately, this means that processing times for service centers with heavier workloads will be longer than others. USCIS has tried to balance the workload by transferring some petitions to other service centers that do not have such a heavy workload. These efforts have been made to try to speed up the adjudication process.

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We have very exciting news for our readers. Yesterday, May 27th the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed that it is preparing to reopen some domestic offices and resume services to the public on or after June 4th.

As you know, on March 18th USCIS made the difficult decision to suspend in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASCs) nationwide to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. While offices were closed, USCIS continued to provide emergency in-person services.

From the agency’s announcement it is clear that not all domestic offices will reopen to the public by June 4, but we know that at least some will begin to reopen to provide relief to those that have been waiting to attend their interviews or biometrics appointments.

USCIS will be following all state mandated precautions including reducing the number of appointments and interviews scheduled for the day, enforcing social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, and reducing waiting room occupancy. Members of the public will be required to wear masks covering their nose and mouth. Sanitizer will be provided to the public.

USCIS urges those who are feeling sick to stay home and schedule their appointments once they are feeling better. As a reminder, there is no penalty for rescheduling your appointment if you are sick.

We expect that USCIS will be scheduling far less appointments than usual to reduce the number of people in the facility at any one time. That means that appointment times will be spaced out and there will be a slight delay to reschedule everyone who has been waiting for an appointment. Please be patient and wait to receive a new appointment notice in the mail.

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UPDATE: Green card interviews are being waived for at least some applicants during COVID-19


Unprecedented times call for unusual measures. Recently USCIS announced the closure of field offices nationwide—until May 3rd–to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

This announcement was immediately concerning given that green card applicants (family and employment-based) must attend in-person interviews at USCIS field offices to establish green card eligibility before their green cards can be approved.

USCIS indicated in their announcement that all impacted interviews would be rescheduled at a future time when offices re-open to the public. Of course, the decision to reschedule interviews at a future time would create a backlog, delaying the adjudication of thousands of green cards.

As it appears, to avoid a drastic backlog, USCIS is relaxing the green card interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is no official policy or memorandum waiving the interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants, USCIS has been doing just that.

We can report that certain employment-based green card applicants who had their interviews canceled as a result of the COVID-19 office closures, have seen their green card “case status” change to “approved” and have received their green cards in the mail shortly thereafter.

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In this post, we would like to provide our readers with an important update released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with respect to the public charge rule.

Given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of the government, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that they will begin implementing the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule on February 24, 2020, EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined for the time being by a federal court.

That means that EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, USCIS will begin to apply the Final Rule to applications and petitions postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after February 24, 2020.

The postmark date for all applications and petitions sent by commercial courier (UPS/FedEx/DHL) is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

The public charge rule will NOT apply to applications or petitions postmarked before February 24, 2020 and petitions that remain pending with USCIS.

Prepare for Changes: USCIS to update all Adjustment of Status Forms

USCIS has announced that the agency will be updating all forms associated with the filing of adjustment of status, its policy manual, and will be providing updated submission instructions on its website this week to give applicants and their legal representatives enough time to review filing procedures and changes that will apply to all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Failure to submit forms with the correct edition dates and/or abide by the new filing procedures will result in the rejection of an application or petition.

The Final Rule provides that adjustment of status applicants subject to the public charge grounds of inadmissibility will be required to file Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency along with Form I-485, as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination to demonstrate they are not likely to become a public charge. Therefore, we expect USCIS to provide instructions regarding the submission of Form I-944 with adjustment of status applications.

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Image Courtesy of Scotland Shop

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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On January 21, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act would begin to be implemented. As a result of the recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino county and abroad, Congress passed the Act in an effort to protect Americans from potential attacks and to secure the border. The Act increases travel restrictions for certain nationals seeking admission to the United States via the Visa Waiver Program.

Presently, the Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from 38 designated countries to travel and seek admission to the United States without a visa, for a maximum duration of 90 days. Visa Waiver Program travelers must have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before travel.

As of January 21, nationals of visa waiver participating countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 will no longer be eligible to travel or seek admission to the United States under the visa waiver program.  Nationals from visa waiver participating countries who maintain dual nationality with any of the aforementioned countries, are also excluded from traveling or seeking admission to the United States under the visa waiver program. Instead, these individuals must apply for a tourist visa at a United States Consulate or Embassy abroad before seeking admission to the United States. Part of this process will require a nonimmigrant interview to be conducted, before issuance of a tourist visa. DHS expects that this new legislation will not adversely impact visa waiver program travelers, since the Act does not ban these individuals from traveling to the United States, rather it removes the privilege of traveling under the visa waiver program, and requires these individuals to apply for a tourist visa.

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Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani citizen, and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, a naturalized United States Citizen, are known globally as the couple behind the San Bernardino shootings, which took the lives of 14 people and left 21 injured. Twenty-eight-year-old Syed Farook was identified as an environmental health services inspector employed by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. He was attending a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center where he worked. Reports confirm that a dispute occurred between Syed and an attendee of the party causing Syed to leave the party. He later returned with his wife Tashfeen dressed in tactical gear carrying assault weapons and semi-automatic pistols. Days after the attack, it became known that the assault was inspired but not directed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the terrorist group which claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks that occurred in Paris just last month. Through a radio message disbursed online, ISIL confirmed that the duo were indeed supporters of the group praising them for their efforts, but stopping short of taking credit for the attack. The FBI has since confirmed that the couple had been ‘radicalized’ for some time before the actual attack took place, though it is not clear how the couple became radicalized, how they rehearsed the attack, and whether the couple maintained ties to any other terrorist organizations. It is known that Syed and his wife Tashfeen had visited gun ranges in the Los Angeles area for target practice just days before the December 2nd assault at the Inland Regional Center, a social services facility located in San Bernardino, California where Syed was employed.

Investigations have revealed that Syed and Tashfeen met one another on a Muslim dating site a couple of years ago. The relationship flourished, and eventually Tashfeen Malik obtained and entered the United States legally on a K-1 fiancé visa. Last year, Tashfeen became a United States lawful permanent resident through her marriage to Syed, a naturalized citizen. In response to the recent terror attacks around the world and the Syrian refugee crisis, President Obama delivered a rare address to the nation from the Oval Office yesterday evening declaring the San Bernardino massacre an “act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people.”

In his address, President Obama outlined his administration’s four-tier strategy to defeat ISIL and discussed necessary measures that must be taken by Congress to bring about legislation that will protect our country from extremism and combat the war on terror. Such measures include the following:

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The Department of State has issued an alert announcing that as of June 26, 2015 all visa issuing US embassies and consulates are now able to continue visa processing. Staff at US consulates and embassies were able to work over the weekend and resolve backlogs which are expected to be eliminated this week.

As you may recall between the time period of June 9, 2015 to June 19, 2014, 335,000 visas were unable to be printed due to clearance and technological issues. Of those 335,000 visas, approximately 300,000 have now been printed.

Consulates and embassies worldwide are now scheduling visa interviews and issuing non-immigrant and immigrant visas.

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What are the most challenging questions for couples at a STOKES/Fraud Interview?

By Attorney Marie Puertollano, Esq.

What happens when a US Citizen Spouse and the intending immigrant spouse fail an interview pending an application for permanent residence?

Normally couples who have failed to provide sufficient documentation to an immigration officer, for the purpose of establishing their bona fide marriage—in other words that the marriage between both parties was entered in good faith and NOT to obtain an immigration benefit—may receive an appointment for a second interview also known as the STOKES or fraud interview. In some cases however a couple may be scheduled for a STOKES or fraud interview the very first time around. There are multiple reasons a couple may be scheduled for a STOKES/fraud interview. Couples should note that the burden of proof always rests on the couple. So what happens at this fraud interview? During the STOKES/fraud interview the couple is separated in different rooms and interrogated by an immigration officer. The officer will first interrogate one of the parties in a separate room. Then, the officer will question the other party asking the same exact questions.

Fraud interviews are lengthy and very complex. Officers ask very detailed questions that are challenging even for couples who have been together for many years. Our attorneys have successfully represented couples at hundreds of fraud interviews. Here are the most challenging questions that almost all couples are unprepared to answer despite having been together for many years. It is important that if a question is unclear or if the context of the question is unclear that the party ask the immigration officer for clarification.

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