Major news for relatives of legal permanent residents who have been patiently waiting for their petitions to become current. The Department of State reported in the September 2010 visa bulletin that applicants who are spouses or children of greencard holders (filed as late as January 1, 2010) can now be processed for greencards. This is true for applicants from all countries except Mexico and the Dominican Republic, whose priority dates aren’t far behind either: January 1, 2009.

What is a a “priority date,” you ask? A “priority date” is a legal term of art that can be exceedingly hard to explain (especially in a blog), but I’ll try. Let’s start with basics. There is a quota on how many immigrants can come legally to the country per year. Imagine the quota like it is a long line of people lining up for a greencard. The people at the front of the line are those whose relative petitions were filed earliest, ie those with the earliest “priority date.” A priority date is established on the date that your petition is received by the USCIS. Of course, the earlier your priority date, the sooner you can later ask for greencard status. Generally, priority dates always move forward, but these dates can also go backwards, and if applications aren’t received by USCIS before this “retrogression” happens, applicants are back to the waiting game.

In the past month, the (F2A) priority date in the the family-based second preference category (ie for spouses and children of greencard holders) advanced from March 2009 to January 2010! This has made an incredible difference to those who have been waiting to be reunited with their spouses and children, rather than expecting a year or more of wait, this category of new immigrants can now start processing their greencard applications. If you would like assistance in making sure that your application can be made as quickly as possible, contact the attorneys at Fong & Aquino before those dates start floating backwards again. –ecf

Yet another update to the H-1B quota, also known as the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 H-1B cap.

Approximately 34,900 cases have been receipted by USCIS for the regular Bachelor’s degree H-1B quota.

Approximately 13,000 cases have been receipted by USCIS for the advanced degree H-1B quota open to applicants who have earned Master’s or higher degrees from US colleges and universities.

Elin Nordegren broke her silence today and gave her side of the story today telling the world how shocked and embarrassed she was by Tiger’s infidelity. She also defended the marriage, saying that the marriage was real, not orchestrated for the cameras and sponsors.

In our practice at Fong & Aquino, we have seen many marriages, like Elin and Tiger’s which were entered into for love, completely genuine marriages and yet within years (sometimes a lot sooner), the marriage goes awry. For those immigrants whose conditional greencards were based on marriages to US citizens, these men and women find themselves in a situation like Elin, telling their stories to the USCIS, actually defending themselves from deportation, that even though their marriage didn’t survive the test of time, it was not a marriage of convenience for immigration purposes.

If a marriage fails anytime before someone naturalizes, a person who immigrated through marriage will later be summoned by the USCIS for an intense and very uncomfortable interview in order to maintain their permanent residency – even at the time of applying for citizenship. Such interviews can even occur years after the marriage and divorce, so recounting the facts of a relationship and providing the documentation to verify the facts of the courtship, the wedding or civil ceremony, then detailing the timeline of marriage, separation and divorce is more than just burdensome, it’s sometimes impossible. attorneys at Fong & Aquino have defended clients in such interviews, which can take several hours! Not to mention the legal briefing and the administrative review that can take months to years in the most complicated cases.

The attorneys at Fong & Aquino have helped hundreds of legal immigrants seek citizenship over the years. Whether we have worked with you at a naturalization drive, through labor unions, or in our own offices, citizenship is the ultimate goal of most immigrants. Today, the government announced that cash assistance to elderly and disabled immigrants who were granted entry based on humanitarian reasons may lose benefits unless they have naturalization applications pending. Many of those affected are people who were granted asylum or refugee status.

Most immigrants are eligible for naturalization after a 3 or 5 year period after their initial residency period begins. Many immigrants delay applying for naturalization because they fear the English or history exams. While the naturalization exam can seem daunting, the government allows for applicants to re-take their exams if they fail the first time. Some immigrants who are long term residents may even take the examination in their native language, but many immigrants simply put off the naturalization process because it has become intimidating or costly. However, in most cases, an immigrant who truly desires to naturalize and is eligible to do so can make an application and be successful with the right type of support and preparation. Today’s announcement by the administration poses yet another reason for immigrants who have been putting off their citizenship application to call and find a qualified immigration attorney to help them with the process. Fong & Aquino encourages those eligible for naturalization make an application and realize their dreams of finally becoming US citizens. —ecf

As of August 6, 2010, approximately 28,500 regular H-1B cap cases have been receipted by USCIS and approximately 11,900 advanced degree cases. Keeping in mind that H-1B extensions and changes of employer petitions don’t count against the cap, initial H-1B applicants are in good shape this fiscal year since the quota is far from being exhausted. —ecf

Although the controversial Arizona immigration law will still go into effect tomorrow, portions of the law have been blocked by the Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton. Judge Bolton has issued a preliminary injunction to “put on hold” the proposed part of the law that would require Arizona law enforcement to determine whether a person is here in the country legally or not. Mistaken arrests of US citizens have already been made since the law’s proposal.

The Court ruled in favor of the preliminary injunction primarily on federal preemption grounds, as our nation’s immigration law is a matter of federal jurisdiction. This means that immigration law is governed and enforced by the federal government, not by individual states in the union. It is expected that Arizona will appeal, allowing the Ninth Circuit to review the issue as the nation’s debate over immigration continues to roar. –ecf

Thanks to USCIS, we have four H-1B quota updates to report in the month of July 2010:

July 2, 2010: approximately 24,200 cap cases received; approximately 10,400 advanced degree cases received

July 9, 2010: approximately 24,800 cap cases received; approximately 10,600 advanced degree cases received

The attorneys at Fong & Aquino are often asked whether using a re-entry permit “guarantees” re-entry to the US after a prolonged absence. A lot of people seem to think that there is some guarantee that using the re-entry permit will ensure their safe return to the US. In most cases, this is true, but it’s important to remember that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can and now will often still interrogate returning permanent residents about their reasons for leaving the US for long periods of time, most especially, those trips outside the US that are more than 6 months.

Using a re-entry permit allows a permanent resident to ask for re-entry to the US, but it only ensures that the CBP cannot use the length of absence as the only reason for denying entry. If CBP finds that a person holding a re-entry permit may have been employed abroad, or took up formal residence abroad, CBP can refer an individual for removal proceedings or deferred inspection when CBP will conduct a more formal interview of the applicant for re-admission. This will give you, the applicant a chance to rebut any allegation that you have abandoned your US permanent residency. If you are facing an abandonment interview with CBP, you will have one chance to show that you are eligible to keep your status. Contact the attorneys at Fong & Aquino if you would like a consultation regarding your case. —ecf

As of July 9, 2010, approximately 24,800 H-1B petitions have been received. Our of the advanced degree cap, approximately 10,600 petitions have been receipted.

The numbers are very, very slowly creeping upwards. Naturally, the H-1B numbers are a sign of the slow economic times, and that the unemployment rate is still high. Anyhow looking to file an H-1B petition still has time on their side. —ecf

I-94W.pngThe US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said that it will start phasing out use of the I-94W Arrival-Departure Card. Immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino have been practicing law a very long time, and the I-94 is a venerable old immigration law fixture. It appears that DHS has decided to attune to the times, automating the gathering and review of biographic information about persons entering on the Visa Waiver program.

The Visa Waiver program allows nationals of certain countries to enter the USA without a visa, provided the entry is for touristic or non-employment business reasons. In the past, Visa Waiver entrants had to fill out the green I-94W card and present that card to a border guard at the Port of Entry (POE). Over a period of time, DHS will phase out the use of the I-94W, and a Visa Waiver entrant will simply show a passport at the POE, be photographed and fingerprinted, and then the passport will be franked (stamped). This new arrangement is similar to the pre-arrival gathering of information used by Australia’s “electronic visa” system. –jcf