May 2009 Archives

May 28, 2009

Faint Fingerprints Can Lead to Airport and Immigration Delay

It's recently been reported that a cancer patient traveling to the USA was detained at a Port of Entry (POE) for over five hours because he had been taking a drug that caused his fingerprints to fade or become indistinct.  Clients of immigration law firm Fong & Chun in Los Angeles travel all the time, of course, and we have received anecdotal evidence for several years of individuals being detained, harassed, and even verbally abused by immigration authorities because their fingerprints have been difficult to detect.

The case reported in the Annals of Oncology recounts a 62-year old cancer survivor from Singapore had been taking the prescription medication capecitabine.  One of the side effects of the drug is a chronic inflammation of the palms and feet; an ancillary effect is that patient's fingerprints can become distorted or indistinct.  Because all foreigners are fingerprinted at POEs, and because the traveler's fingerprints were indistinct, border guards detained the man for five hours.  The fading or distortion of fingerprints can also occur when people work a great deal with their hands, regularly apply unusual friction to the fingers, or work with acidic chemicals which can erode the tissue.

Fong & Chun warns clients that immigration authorities at POEs and at Application Support Centers can be myopically devoted to getting fingerprints, even to the point of harassing, blaming, or verbally abusing the alien's whose fingerprints are indistinct.  --jcf
May 26, 2009

H-1B Cap is Still Open; New Quota Count from USCIS

According to USCIS today, the H-1B quota is still open.  On May 22, 2009 USCIS reported that 45,700 H-1B applications were received as of May 18, 2009.  We at Fong & Chun, LLP believe that USCIS will continue to accept at least 20,000 more applications since the USCIS must accept more than 65,000 petitions.  

In an earlier blog, I talked about why USCIS accepts more applications than there are H-1B openings.  It is simply because the USCIS will reject or deny many of those applications that submitted.  This makes it imperative that H-1B applicants submits more than just a skeletal or minimal application to the USCIS.  If you want to submit a successful and strong H-1B case, you need to make sure that your petition is well prepared, complete, and that you have chosen the best applicant for the position or if you are the applicant, you have chosen the best employer for your case.

When the H-1B season began in February and March, no one expected that the H-1B filing window would be open this late in the season.  Many have speculated that the dampened economy has resulted in fewer job offers.  Unemployment rates are also a factor.  Perhaps less applications were made this year because USCIS has been cracking down on "fraudulent" visa applications, or it's because deportation enforcement is at an all-time high.   Regardless, what we know to be true is this: only 45,700 applications have been received this year.  

May 6, 2009

FBI Watchlist Slow to be Updated

The Associated Press reports that the FBI has been remiss in adding, removing, and updating the national terror suspect watchlist.  As immigration lawyers, Fong & Chun has clients both in Los Angeles and abroad who have had difficulty because the individuals were misidentified or because they requested to be removed from the watchlist and the removal did not occur in a timely fashion.  The inefficiency can damage national security, hinder much-needed commerce and tourism, and gravely damage an individual's ability freely to travel.

In 8% of cases, FBI failed to remove persons from and update the watchlist.  The AP also reports that in almost 75% of cases, the FBI did not do its job in a timely fashion.

In a blog entry in April we reported that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) would begin "Secure Flight" screening of air travelers.  We observed at that time that it would be mission critical for TSA to have a program to identify and quickly respond to anyone who has been wrongly placed on the watchlist.  --jcf

May 5, 2009

H-1B Count - Update on the Numbers Available: May 4, 2009

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a press release on May 4, 2009 confirming that only 45,000 H-1B petitions have been received out of an allotted 65,000 available this Fiscal Year 2010 for people holding Bachelor's degrees.  USCIS also announced that they are still accepting applications to be counted toward the Advanced Degree (US Master's) cap. 

Many people were anticipating that the H-1B filing window would be closed within the first week after April 1, 2009.  Without a doubt, the decrease in H-1B applications we see today is due to the global economic crisis and high unemployment rates.

Years ago, the H-1B quota was rarely reached because the cap was 195,000 per fiscal year.   Applicants and their employers had the opportunity to file H-1B applications year-round.  Today's cap of 65,000 plus 20,000 advanced degree H-1Bs is less than half of what used to be allocated!

Yesterday's announcement confirms that applicants have a rare opportunity this year to pursue the option of an H-1B at a more comfortable pace.  I always advise employers to take enough time to understand the responsibilities of sponsoring an H-1B and also, employees should also take the time to search for the right job offer, one that fits their long term goals.  I often meet with clients before they have a final job offer in hand.  I also speak with business owners and company HR representatives to answer their questions about the H-1b process and what to anticipate.  These conversations do take time but luckily, this year, we seem to have time on our side.  ---ecf

May 4, 2009

Waiver Appointments at Ciudad Juarez, México

Fong & Chun has been informed that the US Consulate-General at Ciudad Juárez is modifying the way it processes waivers. Immigrant visa applicants who seek a waiver of a ground of inadmissibility at Ciudad Juárez, México should expect to wait at least two months for the waiver interview.   Our Los Angeles clientele includes many Méxican nationals, and those who to Mexico.jpgare applying for waivers will experience this delay and should plan accordingly.

Because applicants have flooded the Consulate with requests for waivers, and because many of those applicants do not even qualify for the waiver in the first place, the immigrant visa unit at the Consulate has been inundated.  The result has been (a) the imposition of a 48-hour waiting period before an applicant can even telephone to make a waiver interview appointment, and (b) a wait of at least two months for the appointment.

Applicants should make plans in advance, because unless an applicant has a valid visa, it is unlikely that an applicant can return to the USA prior to the waiver interview.  That means that applicants will need to anticipate an extended stay in México, until the waiver is granted.  Further, because of safety considerations, applicants may wish to pass that waiting time in a city other than Juárez.  If you have questions about how waivers work and whether you qualify, please feel free to contact us.  --jcf

May 1, 2009

Economic Downturn Causes Couples to Live in Different Cities

Fong & Chun is an immigration law firm with extensive experience with family-based petitions.  Although we are located in Los Angeles, we handle cases throughout the USA, and we have recently noticed that the economic slowdown being felt in the USA is causing some married couples to take jobs in different cities.

This situation is hard enough on families where everyone is a US citizen.  The effect on a couple which has pending marriage-based application for a legal permanent resident card -- the so-called "green card" -- can be horrendous.  In my experience, many immigration officers don't or won't understand that economic need, job opportunities, family issues, and other circumstances can cause a perfectly legitimate married couple to have to live apart for a time.

Couples with marriage-based immigration cases should take care to (a) document the circumstances of the separate residences, (b) include any employment contracts or offers, (c) continue to place both spouses names on documentation like bills, insurance policies, leases, etc., to demonstrate that the couple is living in marital union.

If you have a marriage-based immigration case, and you are living apart from your spouse or are "commuting" back and forth between two residences due to economic reasons, you should contact counsel experienced with family-based immigration matters.  --jcf