Articles Posted in Petition for Alien Relative

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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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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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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 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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One of the biggest critiques of the U.S. immigration system is that there are very few options available to foreign nationals that create a direct path to permanent residency. Indeed, this is a very cruel reality for our clients. A reality that we struggle to overcome on a day to day basis. More often than not we speak to clients who simply cannot immigrate to the United States because of our antiquated immigration laws.

The immigration system boils down to two harsh realities. Generally, you may apply for permanent residence only if: 1) you have a qualifying family relationship to a legal permanent resident (LPR) or U.S. Citizen (family sponsorship) 2) you have secured employment with a U.S. company willing to sponsor your permanent residence (employment sponsorship) or 3) you belong to a special category of green card applicants and may immigrate on the basis of that category (VAWA recipients, asylees, diversity visa lottery winners etc.)

In order for you to understand the green card options available to you under the current immigration laws of the United States, we outline 9 of the most common ways to obtain permanent residence below:

Green card based on a qualifying Family-sponsorship

You are generally eligible to apply for permanent residence if you have a qualifying family relationship with a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident:

  1. If you are the immediate relative of a U.S. Citizen your relative can file Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative on your behalf, which will allow you to file the I-485 application for Permanent Residence. Immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens include spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21 of a U.S. Citizen, and parents of U.S. Citizens 21 years of age or older.

Immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens DO NOT have to wait in line for a visa number to become available to them in order to immigrate to the United States.

  1. If you are the family member of a U.S. Citizen and you fall under a qualifying “preference category,” your U.S. Citizen relative may file the I-130 Petition on your behalf. Family members of U.S. Citizens that fall into a “preference category” include: unmarried sons or daughters over the age of 21, married children of any age, and brothers and sisters of U.S. Citizen petitioners 21 years of age or older.

Immigrant visa numbers for these individuals are limited and are therefore subject to a waiting period. You must wait for your priority date to become current on the Visa Bulletin, based on your preference category and country of charge ability, before you are eligible to either apply for adjustment of status in the United states, or apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consular post abroad (if you reside overseas).

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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.

I-94A

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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