Articles Posted in Travel Documents

6442718813_e9b6f49ba9_z

We are pleased to announce that USCIS will adopt a new parole policy, at the recommendation of the Ombudsman’s office, for U visa principal petitioners and their derivative qualifying family members residing abroad, who are currently on waiting lists for the availability of U Visas. As a result of this new policy, eligible applicants will be able to seek parole into the United States and await availability of their U visas from the United States, instead of waiting from abroad.

The U visa was first implemented with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act signed into law by Congress. This piece of legislation gave USCIS the authority to implement a special nonimmigrant visa classification known as the U visa. Presently, the U nonimmigrant visa is available to foreign nationals who have either been a witness to a crime in the United States, or who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse as a victim of a crime that occurred in the United States. The U visa in effect creates a special class of nonimmigrants who may legally reside in the United States for the purpose of assisting law enforcement, or government officials, in ongoing investigations for the prosecution of certain crimes. Unfortunately, there is a congressional limitation on the number of U visa’s that may be issued to principal U visa applicants. That limit is currently capped at 10,000 visas on an annual basis.

Once the 10,000 visa cap has been exceeded, U visa nonimmigrants are forced to remain abroad, and are placed on a waiting list. In order to expedite their entry to the United States, applicants must go through the extra step of applying for humanitarian parole from abroad in order to enter the United States. Such victims are often in danger or in vulnerable situations in their home countries. Most importantly their key testimony and cooperation is of no use to the United States if they are residing abroad.

Continue reading

1325250967_567-armresling-simvol

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.

Continue reading

4525157355_47ec162df5_z

Before filing your green card application, it is important for you to carefully consider several important factors that may limit your ability to obtain employment in the United States and restrict your international travel. If you will be filing your green card application in the near future, you need to be prepared to remain in the United States for a period of at least 90 days, from the date of filing of your green card application. Applicants must also be aware that they will not receive authorization to work in the United States until this 90-day period has passed. Limited exceptions exist which may allow an applicant to expedite the adjudication process of the employment and travel authorization applications which we will discuss below.

Why the 90-day restriction period?

As part of the green card application, the applicant may file the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and the I-131 Application for Travel Document at no additional cost. The I-765 and I-131 applications result in the issuance of a one-year temporary employment and international travel authorization card (EAD), while the green card application is being adjudicated by USCIS. It takes on average 90 days for the EAD card to be issued, from the date of filing of the green card application. This ultimately means that once you apply for permanent residence, you will not be able to seek employment or travel outside of the country until the EAD card is issued to you within 90 days. Once the green card application has been filed with USCIS, the applicant is restricted from any international travel. If the applicant travels without authorization, USCIS will consider the applicant’s green card application ‘abandoned.’ An applicant may only travel internationally if they have received a re-entry permit issued by USCIS known as an ‘advance parole’ document. The ‘advance parole’ notice will appear on the front of the EAD card itself signifying that the applicant is authorized to travel internationally using the card.  The ability to re-enter the United States after returning from temporary foreign travel is ‘discretionary.’ This means that even if you have been issued an EAD card that allows you to travel, it will ultimately be up to the customs official to admit you into the United States.

Consider the alternatives

Before applying for your green card you should carefully consider whether these travel and employment restrictions will have a significant impact on your lifestyle. If the travel restrictions are concerning to you, it may be a more beneficial option for you to apply for an immigrant visa from a U.S. Consulate abroad. There are no travel restrictions for applicants who apply for immigration benefits from abroad. Likewise, if you are concerned that you will not receive employment authorization immediately, it may be worth considering applying for a dual intent work visa first to cover any gaps in employment. There are limited work visa categories that allow for dual intent, or the intent to have a temporary visa status at the same time as having the intent to remain permanently in the United States. If this is the case, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your options.

Continue reading

5395896627_d7714ee637_z

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.

Continue reading

7996334214_995639be77_z

If you have filed your green card application with USCIS, you are probably asking yourself whether you can travel internationally (yes we mean Mexico too) while your application is in process. After all, filing the green card application is admittedly a stressful process for both the applicant and petitioner. Accomplishing this achievement is worth celebrating.  To reward yourself you may be aching to celebrate your newfound immigration status by going on holiday or taking that important business trip you and your business partners have been discussing.

Travel Authorization for Re-entry

Not so fast!! You cannot travel internationally unless you have received a travel authorization document from USCIS, known as an advance parole document. You are required to obtain such travel authorization if you seek to re-enter the United States after temporary foreign travel. To do so, you must file Form I-131 Application for Travel Document with USCIS. For applicants filing a green card application based on their marriage to a U.S. Citizen, the I-485 and I-131 application is typically filed concurrently. There is no fee for the I-131 application if it is submitted along with Form I-485. It takes approximately 90 days, from the date the I-131 application is received, for USCIS to issue this travel authorization. Once the travel authorization is received, it would no longer be worth traveling outside of the country, because applicants typically receive their “interview notice” in the mail during this time frame. The interview notice will contain the date, time, and location of the green card interview and require the applicant to be physically present in the United States. In emergency situations, it is possible to reschedule the green card interview although this will obviously delay receipt of the green card.

Emergency Expedite Requests

Although it is possible to request an expedited advance parole document in emergency situations, there are important reasons why you should not do so. Firstly, the process for expediting an advance parole document is extremely difficult. You must have a legitimate reason for making an expedite request. Attending a business conference, your best friend’s wedding, or going on your honeymoon are not legitimate reasons for making an expedite request. Even in emergency situations such as the death or serious illness of a relative, we have seen immigration officers repeatedly deny expedite requests. Secondly, you are required to be physically present in the United States in order to attend your biometrics appointment for fingerprinting (within 3-4 weeks of filing the green card application) and later to attend your in person green card interview before an immigration officer (within 3-4 months of filing your application).

Taking these factors into consideration, it is important for applicants to plan accordingly. Never make any travel commitments until you have at least received your travel authorization/advance parole document from USCIS. Keep in mind that you will be required to return to the United States in order to attend your in person green card interview. If you do not appear on your scheduled interview date your application will be denied. Do not let this happen to you.

Continue reading

294797273_6efed53754_o

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow the families of certain Filipino World War II veterans to reunite with veterans beginning June 8, 2016 as a result of a new policy change called Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Policy. In order to qualify, extended family members of veterans must be beneficiaries of approved family-based immigrant visa petitions, and be awaiting the availability of an immigrant visa. Certain extended family members of U.S. Citizen or LPR Filipino World War II Veterans will have the opportunity to receive advance parole on a ‘discretionary’ case-by-cases basis in order to travel to the United States to be with their loved ones, while they await an immigrant visa to become available. In addition, certain relatives of deceased Filipino World War II veterans, will be able to seek parole for themselves. This new policy change has been implemented to honor Filipino veterans who enlisted in the World War II Veterans Parole Program to fight for our country during World War II. The initiative will also allow extended family members to care and support their U.S. Citizen or LPR veteran family members during the advanced stages of their life. According to the policy, approximately 2,000 to 6,000 family members will be able to benefit from this new policy change. Applications for the the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program will not be accepted until June 8, 2016.

Presently, the process of immigrating extended family members of U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents residing abroad is a very complex and antiquated process. This is because there is a limit to the number of immigrant visa applications that can be issued for extended family members. The Visa Bulletin outlines the numerical immigrant visa limitations for family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories established by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Continue reading

6848823919_724f516a05_z

On May 04, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule in the Federal Register, announcing that filing fees for many USCIS petitions and applications are expected to increase for U.S. employers and foreign nationals. The proposed regulation stipulates that filing fees may be adjusted for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests by USCIS. The increase in filing fees was considered after USCIS conducted a comprehensive review of its fees and found that the current fees do not cover the cost of services provided by USCIS. According to USCIS, in an effort to fully recover costs and maintain adequate services, “an adjustment to the fee schedule will be necessary”. According to the regulation, fees for most employment-based petitions and applications would be raised by an average of 21%, though other types of petitions may experience a higher increase in filing fees.

According to DHS, the higher fees will more accurately reflect the current cost of processing immigration applications and petition. A portion of the increased fees would provide additional funding for refugee and citizenship programs as well as system support for interagency immigration status verification databases.  The increase in filing fees will not take effect until the federal government approves the regulation, which is expected to take several months following the close of the 60-day comment period on July 5, 2016.

According to the new fee schedule under consideration, employment-based petitions would be the most impacted by the increase in filing fees. The filing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, would increase by 42% to a fee of $460, from the current rate of $325.  Similarly, the filing fee for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, would increase by 21% to a fee of $700, from the current rate of $580. The complete fee schedule under consideration has been provided below for your reference.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program is expected to be the most heavily affected by the new fee schedule. The filing fee for Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, would 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. In addition, Regional Centers would be required to pay a $3,035 annual fee to certify their continued eligibility for the designation. Currently, there is no fee in place for annual certification. The filing fee for the I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, an application associated with the EB-5 visa program, would also increase to a rate of $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 would remain unchanged under these new regulations.

Continue reading

District Court Denies Request for Temporary Restraining Order to Halt Syrian Re-Settlement Program in Texas

23348054250_3bfc1cd6a0_z

First Family of Syrian Refugees Arrives in Canada

In their December suit, Texas Health and Human Services Commission V. United States, et, al., the state of Texas alleged that the United States government and the International Rescue Committee unlawfully attempted to re-settle six Syrian refugees in the city of Dallas without prior  consultation and collaboration. According to Texas, the federal government failed to consult with the state regarding re-settlement of these refugees, and prevented them from receiving vital information relating to security risks posed by Syrian refugees prior to their re-settlement. Texas also claimed that the International Rescue Committee similarly failed to collaborate and consult with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in advance prior to the re-settlement of these refugees. To protect itself, the state of Texas asked for an injunction and a temporary restraining order to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees until security checks could confirm that these Syrian refugees do not pose a threat to the state of Texas.

On December 9, 2015 the U.S. district court denied the temporary restraining order, adding that the state of Texas failed to provide compelling evidence to suggest that Syrian refugees pose a substantial threat of irreparable injury to its citizens. Presiding district court Judge David C. Godbey added that, “the [Texas] commission has failed to show by competent evidence that any terrorists actually infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular refugees are terrorists’ intent on causing harm.” Although the lawsuit still stands and will likely not receive a final ruling until early next year, the district court set an important precedent in its denial of the temporary restraining order. Judge Godbey further maintained that it is not within the purview of the district court to assess what risk, if any, Syrian refugees pose to any particular state. Such risk can only be assessed by the federal government. On this issue Godbey stated that, “the Court has no institutional competency in assessing the risk posed by refugees. That is precisely the sort of question that is, as a general matter, committed to the discretion of the executive branch of the federal government, not to a district court.” The rest of the lawsuit remains in litigation.

Continue reading

8128488258_ce420104bb_z
Jose Antonio Vargas has quickly become the face that has humanized the struggle for immigration reform. Unlike other immigrants, Jose is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Washington Post reporter, activist, and the founder of an immigration awareness campaign called ‘Define American’. Back in June of 2011, Vargas courageously revealed to the world that he was undocumented in a column he wrote for New York Times magazine. In it he describes what his move to the United States was like, the lengths he went to as a child to fit in to the American lifestyle, and what it has been like residing in the United States unlawfully. Jose’s journey to the United States began much like that of any other immigrant. He was smuggled into the United States from the Philippines when he was only 12 years old by an individual he believed to be his relative. Once in the United States, Vargas was raised by his hardworking grandparents who afforded him a better future. From the outset, his upbringing in the bay area of San Francisco appeared to be much like that of any other American child.

It was not until he made a visit to the DMV to obtain his driver’s permit that he realized the green card he was given by his grandfather was in fact fake when he was told by the woman at the DMV window not to come back there again. For years, Jose Antonio Vargas has dedicated his life to standing in solidarity with the thousands of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States illegally. He has done this by serving as the voice of the undocumented, attending hundreds of conferences and speaking engagements, in addition to writing as a distinguished columnist.

Up until July 15th Vargas was able to advocate for the plight of undocumented immigrants without being apprehended despite constantly being in the public eye. A few days prior to July 15th Vargas appeared at a shelter housing Central American children and refugees and attended a vigil to honor them near the Rio Grande Valley. His presence in the region was meant to call attention to the humanitarian nature of the subject. In order to attend the event, Vargas crossed the McAllen, Texas TSA checkpoint, an area known to be highly secured and militarized. Vargas had not given much thought to the possible risk of being detained once he would return to the United States through the same checkpoint. According to the Department of Homeland Security Vargas was detained once he told TSA officials that he was residing in the country illegally. He was then taken to the McAllen Border Patrol Station and was given a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge. He was released within the same day after speaking with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Unfortunately for Vargas, until comprehensive immigration reform is passed, he will continue to be forced to live under the radar. Vargas was not able to qualify for the Dream Act or for DACA, because his age did not meet the cutoff age as required by law. Shortly after being released Vargas issued a statement saying that the undocumented are constantly having to live in fear as a result of the failure of Congress and President Obama to act and bring about a viable solution to the problem. Jose Antonio Vargas challenges Congress to act by asking them the question: how do we define American?

It has been reported that this Wednesday, July 23, the State Department’s global database for issuing travel documents has crashed, resulting in major delays for potentially millions of people around the world waiting for U.S. passports and visas.

Unspecified glitches in State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database have resulted in “significant performance issues, including outages” in the processing of applications for passports, visas and reports of Americans born abroad since Saturday. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the problem is worldwide and not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category.

This failure may cause hardship to applicants waiting on visas and passports. State Department is working to correct the issue as quickly as possible.