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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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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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You have Questions, We have your Answers. Here are answers to 5 of your Frequently Asked Questions

In this blog we are answering 5 of your frequently asked questions in detail. Please remember that every case and every story is different and unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance on your immigration journey. For any further questions please visit our website or call our office for a free legal consultation. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office.

Q: I am visiting the United States as a tourist from a non-visa waiver country. My duration of stay will expire in approximately 1 month. Is it possible for me to extend my stay in the United States?

A: Yes, it is possible to extend your duration of stay if you plan to remain in the United States for purposes of tourism, leisure, or medical treatment. In order to extend your duration of stay you must file Form I-539. The process can be confusing for some, we recommend that all applicants seek counsel from an accredited legal representative or attorney to guarantee success.  In order to extend your duration of stay, you must be able to provide documentation proving that they have strong ties home including but not limited to: proof of employment, proof of academic enrollment, deed of property ownership, proof of financial obligations, etc. You must also be prepared to provide documented evidence supporting the fact that your stay will be for temporary purposes of tourism and/or leisure including a detailed personal statement establishing the fact that you will be in the United States for a temporary period of time, and will be returning back to your home country at the conclusion of your trip. Lastly, you must provide evidence that you have the sufficient finances to support yourself in the United States. The more evidence you can provide to support your claims, the better chances of your application being approved.

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You have Questions, We have your Answers. Here are answers to 6 of our Frequently Asked Questions

In this blog we are answering 6 of your frequently asked questions in detail. Please remember that every case and every story is different and unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance on your immigration journey. For any further questions please visit our website or call our office for a free legal consultation. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office.

Q: I have my green card and I can file for citizenship in the near future but my marriage is not working and I am trying to figure out my options.

A: The first question our office would have for you is whether you have a conditional 2 year green card or a 10 year green card? If you have a conditional 2 year green card you must apply for the I-751 removal of conditions application in order to receive the 10 year green card. It is possible to file the I-751 application for removal of conditions, even if you are now separated and in the process of dissolving the marriage or if you are legally divorced. This is called seeking a waiver of the joint filing requirement for the I-751 removal of conditions application or what is typically referred to as the I-751 waiver. In order to do so, you will need to indicate on the I-751 Removal of Conditions Application that you are seeking a waiver of the joint filing requirement. To file for an I-751 Waiver you must be presently separated and in the process of dissolving your marriage or already be legally divorced. Filing for a waiver of the I-751 is very detail-oriented and a very time consuming process, given that the applicant needs to prepare a detailed personal statement providing a detailed timeline of the relationship from beginning to end, as well as detailed information regarding why the marriage broke down and the applicant’s plans for the future. In addition, the applicant must be prepared to provide documented evidence that the marriage was entered into in good faith and the relationship and marriage was bona fide. You should definitely seek the help of an accredited legal representative to assist you in order for your application to be successful.

If you already have the 10 year green card, you cannot apply for citizenship until at least 5 years have passed from the date of becoming a permanent resident. If you have any arrests or other criminal history you must consult with an attorney or accredited legal representative. We would be happy to assist.

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Prospective clients often ask our law office, how long does the adjustment of status to permanent resident usually take? At what point can I legally work in the United States? How can I obtain my social security number and driver’s license? When can I travel internationally?

Below is an approximate timeline that will give you an idea on what the current wait times are for the adjustment of status process, based on your marriage to a U.S. Citizen:

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During the 2-3 month mark, the applicant will receive a very important document in the mail, known as the employment authorization card. The employment authorization card is important for a variety of reasons:

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If you are adjusting your status to permanent residency, based on your marriage to a United States citizen, chances are you are already thinking and may even be dreading your interview.

All green card applicants, who have filed Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, based on their marriage to a US citizen, can expect to receive an initial interview notice scheduling both the green card applicant and their US Citizen Spouse to appear at a local office on the date and time indicated on the appointment notice. The initial interview notice typically arrives in the applicant’s mailbox about 3-4 months from the receipt date. The actual interview takes place about one month after receiving the initial interview notice.

Many of our clients begin to wonder about the marriage interview early on and it is a reoccurring topic in our consultations with couples who are ready to start the process. Couples have asked us countless times ‘so are they going to ask me what side of the bed my spouse sleeps on, what color my spouse’s toothbrush is, or about the last time we were intimate.’ The answer to this question is no, not at the initial marriage interview. Like the thousands of couples who have already gone through the interview process, and the thousands more who will go through the very same process in the future, your interview will also be successful with the right preparation and representation.

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