January 6, 2012

Proposed Change May Allow Immigration Waiver for Undocumented

changes ahead.jpgThe Obama Administration has proposed a change in immigration regulations which would potentially change the lives of undocumented immigrants in the USA.

Maybe the most common problem we see as immigration lawyers is the person who entered the USA with no documentation, or who had a visa but overstayed -- the so-called "undocumented alien." This problem is enormous and affects our clients throughout the nation, not only those at our The Law Offices of J Craig Fong offices in Los Angeles or Palm Springs.

This is very complicated, so please read carefully:

(1) With few exceptions, an undocumented alien can only interview for a green card by going back to his/her home country to have an interview at the US Embassy. The CATCH is that when someone like this departs the country, s/he triggers a ten-year bar, and s/he will not be allowed to return for ten years, even if s/he otherwise qualifies for the green card.

(2) There is one exception to this bar: if the undocumented alien goes to the interview and is barred from coming back to the USA, the applicant can file a "waiver," explaining that some US citizen (or legal permanent resident) will suffer "severe Hardship" if the applicant is not allowed to return. At this time, the waiver can only be filed at the US Embassy at the time of the applicant's interview. The means that the applicant ends up waiting abroad for months waiting for a decision. If the waiver is NOT granted, the applicant cannot return.

(3) If this regulatory change is approved, the Obama Administration would allow the applicant to apply for this waiver BEFORE the applicant leaves to the home country. This would be an enormous benefit. If the waiver is granted, the applicant goes to the Embassy interview and comes back, no 10-year bar. If the waiver is NOT granted, then the applicant just stays put in the US, and avoids going home to be denied and excluded.

This is not an amnesty.

This proposed change allows those who can be legalized to get a green card through the regular immigration process. The only change would be applying for the waiver before departure from the USA. The impact of this small change would have an enormous impact on individuals and families in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California. Right now, this is only a proposal -- it is NOT YET IN EFFECT.

The lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have talked to hundreds if not thousands of people over the years who can benefit from this potential change. Stay tuned. As soon as this change goes into effect, we will be post additional information. --jcf

January 3, 2012

Don't Play with Fire! - Immigration vs the Aggravated Felon

Matches.jpgThe recent Los Angeles arson situation brings to mind many people who have consulted the attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in our Los Angeles and Palm Springs offices. They have a valid visa or legal permanent residence (green card), and they have been convicted of a crime. Sometimes it is a serious crime; sometimes it is something minor. In some of these cases, the conviction has virtually unfixable immigration consequences.

In 1990, Congress created the concept of "aggravated felonies," crimes that are considered so bad that an alien might not even qualify for the typical defenses to deportation (removal), such as asylum, cancellation of removal, or withholding of removal. In other words, the Congress has simply decided that someone who has committed an "aggravated felony" should just be deported (removed) regardless of the defenses s/he might try to use.

The name "aggrevated felony" is misleading. "Aggravated felony" includes such obviously serious crimes as murder, rape, or arson; we can all agree that these crimes are quite serious. However, "aggravated felony" can also include some less- obviously terrible crimes, such as attempted possession of stolen property, attempted robbery, petty theft, trespass, unauthorized use of a vehicle. Even if a crime was charged as a misdemeanor in the legal system, it can still be considered an "aggravated felony" for immigration purposes.

Congress defines an "aggravated felony" as:
(1) murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor;
(2) illicit trafficking in controlled substances;
(3) illicit trafficking in firearms or destructive devices;
(4) any offense related to laundering of monetary instruments in connection with certain unlawful activity;
(5) offenses relating to transportation, receiving, or using explosives, forearms, or ammunition;
(6) using fire (arson) or an explosives to commit any felony or causing an explosion during the commission of any felony; and the catch-all category,
(7) crimes of violence -- which can also, in some circumstances, include theft, burglary, lewd conduct, simple battery, threats, and statutory rape; and
(8) some other Federal and state laws.

As you can see, this a very broad list of crimes.

We caution all our clients who have green cards or who have temporary visas to contact us if they have any contact with law enforcement so that we can evaluate the nature of the underlying crime. Please remember that even if you are already present in the USA, if you commit an "aggravated felony," you could trigger arrest or a deportation (removal) if you try to apply for an extension of stay, a renewal of your green card, a change of status, an adjustment of status (green card), or if you re-enter the USA after a brief absence.

If you have more questions about "aggravated felonies," please contact an experienced immigration attorney. --jcf

December 1, 2011

H-1B Quota Update: No Lottery This Year

Today, the USCIS Service Center Operations released a statement that all properly filed H-1Bs applications received on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 will be accepted under the FY 2012 H-1B cap. USCIS SCOPS also confirmed that there will be no lottery for petitions properly filed and received on November 22.

Those who are awaiting receipt notices for H-1B petitions received on November 22, should be able to rest easy knowing that their cases made it under the cap on the last day of the quota. However, be aware that until you receive a receipt notice, nothing is official. Many petitions get returned due to these typical errors: the filing fees are given in the wrong amounts, boxes on the I-129 Data Collection page are not checked correctly, and for missing signatures. If a petition is returned for an error, it may well take a few weeks for it be mailed back to you. ---ecf

November 23, 2011

H-1B Quota Filled: November 22, 2011

empty_gas_tank.pngThe day has come. The fiscal year 2012 H-1B quota was reached yesterday, Tuesday, November 22, 2011. While this comes as no surprise to those who've been following our blog, it is remarkable that the final 15,800 applications were received by USCIS in just the last three weeks.

So what does this mean for those who didn't make the cap this year? Most of my clients, who did not make the quota this year are fortunately in F-1 status, with most of having some time left on their OPT period of stay. FY 2013 H-1B hopefuls will now have to make a decision of whether to return to their home countries and enter next fall on an H-1B filed next Spring or perhaps extend their F-1 study.

Many students are calling their campus international student officers to see about extending their I-20s so they can continue their studies. As long as a student is a bona fide, full-time student, s/he can remain in lawful F-1 status. But remember, while staying in the US on an extended I-20 is lawful, keep in mind that anyone wishing to travel will still need to check whether their F-1 visas are still valid.

If you must wait for next year's H-1B filing window to open on April 1, 2012, please give the attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong a call to set up a consultation so we can ensure that your petition is one of the first ones received next year. ---ecf

November 3, 2011

Same-Sex Immigrant Couples May Benefit if DOMA Overturned

DOMA Letters.pngThe immigration law offices of J Craig Fong has a very long history of serving the gay and lesbian community, and communities with non-traditional family structures. At our offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs, we are constantly asked about whether the US citizen in a married, same-sex couple can petition the alien spouse. Alas, as of today, the answer is still NO, based on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which is still the law of the land.

The good news is that the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate today began a debate that is a first step in an attempt to repeal DOMA. After today's hearings, many people with experience on Capitol Hill believe the votes are there on the committee to send the bill to overturn DOMA to the Senate floor. However, in the Senate, there must be 60 senators -- the so-called "supermajority" -- willing to bring the question to the floor, before the measure can actually be voted on. Finally, if it passes the Senate, most experts feel the measure would die a quiet death on a committee in the House of Representatives.

There is movement in the Congress. It is important for all those for whom this is an important issue -- for their own families, for their friends, or for a fundamental fairness principle -- to contact their US Senators and Representatives to voice their support for the repeal of DOMA! --jcf

November 1, 2011

H-1B Quota Filling Fast - Only 15,800 Remain

USCIS has released updated H-1B quota numbers as of October 28, 2011:

  • 49,200 petitions have been receipted out of the 65,000 petitions allotted for the regular cap
The advanced degree cap has been met. Those seeking to file during this last phase of the H-1B season should move quickly. Call the immigration attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you would like a free consultation on an H-1B application. --ecf
October 21, 2011

H-1B Quota October 21, 2011 - Advanced Degree Cap Filled

Stopwatch 15 secs remaining.jpg
The last update from USCIS announced that the US advanced degree cap for H-1Bs has been filled.

    The regular H-1B quota has accepted 46,200 petitions leaving 18,800 slots available for new H-1B cases to be filed.

    We can expect this last batch of H-1B slots to fill up quicker since those with advanced degrees will now be making applications towards the regular H1-B quota.

    Remember that if you have an H-1B pending, even with an outstanding RFE pending, the USCIS has allocated an H-1B for you if your case is ultimately granted. If you would like a free consultation regarding an H-1B filing this season, give the business immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong a call now. ---ecf

October 16, 2011

H-1B Quota Numbers: October 2011 - Advanced Degree Quota Filling Up!

The H-1B quota is still open but the H-1B advanced degree quota is nearly full. So for anyone looking to make an application, my advice is to watch the numbers carefully as the end of the year approaches.

  • 41,000 H-1B petitions have been received out of the 65,000 petitions that is subject to the regular Bachelor's degree quota

  • 19,100 H-1B petitions have been received out of the 20,000 petitions that are exempted for applicants with US master's or advanced degrees
  • Depending on usage, the H-1B quota is filled at different times each fiscal year, but I'm always amazed when I meet folks who think that the H-1B program is already "capped out," or that since October 1 has come and passed, H-1B applicants would have to wait until April 1, 2012 since it's just too late to make an application.

    While it is true that USCIS will begin accepting H-1B applications on April 1st of each year, it is not true that your case must be approved before October 1 of that calendar year. It is also not true that your case must be approved before the quota is finally reached. The business immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong are still preparing H-1B petitions, so if you have questions or need assistance putting together a petition, please give us a call for a free consultation. --ecf

    October 11, 2011

    What Happens When a Family Petitioner Dies?

    headstones.jpgLately, the attorneys at the immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong have been fielding a number of inquiries from families about what to do when their petitioner passes away. These inquiries have been especially common from our offices in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Clients will usually ask if there is a way that they can obtain a substitute sponsor. This is known as requesting "humanitarian reinstatement" of the petition from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, or USCIS.

    For example, a father became a naturalized citizen in 1996 and then immediately filed a petition for his adult son in the Philippines. Although the petition was quickly approved, the priority date would not become current for many years due to the backlog and demand for visas. This delay is due to the Priority Date system used by USCIS and Department of State to determine who is next-in-line. Unfortunately, during the waiting period, the father passed away. Under current regulations, an approved petition is automatically revoked upon the death of the petitioner. The surviving members of the family reside in the United States. Certain members of the family would be eligible to be the substitute sponsor for purposes of the affidavit of support, but the first step would be to request that USCIS reinstate the petition.

    In order to do so, USCIS considers the following factors:

    (1) Disruption of an established family unit; (2) Hardship to Citizens and lawful permanent residents; (3) A beneficiary who is elderly or in poor health; (4) A beneficiary who has had lengthy residence in the United States; (5) A beneficiary who has no home to go to; (6) Undue delay by USCIS or consular officers in processing the petition and the visa; and (7) a beneficiary who has strong family ties in the United States.

    Prior to submitting a request, clients should work closely with their attorneys to assemble a strong evidentiary package that addresses each of the factors that USCIS considers. Bear in mind: the decision to reinstate a petition is completely within the discretion of USCIS. Humanitarian reinstatement applies to beneficiaries outside the United States. Beneficiaries residing inside the United States when the petitioner passes away may be able to avail themselves of Section 204(L) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong are always available to help guide you through this process. --ra

    October 10, 2011

    California DREAM Act is for Education -- NOT for a Green Card

    graduation.jpgOn 9 October 2011, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the California Dream Act. This bill permits undocumented immigrants to attend California public university and community colleges, providing them access to state financial aid. Only three states in the USA permit undocumented immigrants to qualify for state financial aid for college: California, New Mexico, and Texas.

    To qualify, students must graduate from a California high school, after having attended school in California for a minimum of three years. The student must also sign a declaration that they are in the process of adjusting or legalizing his/her immigration situation. It is not yet known what exactly students will be attesting to when they say they are "in the process" of legalizing.

    Immigrants should be very clear: the California DREAM Act is for undocumented immigrant students wishing to go to university in this state. The California DREAM Act does NOT provide legal immigration status, does NOT make the student immune from removal or deportation, does NOT permit the student to work in the absence of an Employment Authorization Document from the US immigration authorities, and does NOT permit the student to travel out of the USA and to return.

    The California DREAM Act does not address the need for comprehensive immigration reform on the Federal level.i

    To be sure, the DREAM Act is a practical, realistic way to address the unarguable fact that so many undocumented immigrants now reside in California, and it is not possible to remove them all. If these students get an education, it is a long-term benefit to California. --jcf

    October 8, 2011

    Labor Certification, Prevailing Wages, and H-1B Timing Issues

    hanging onto time.jpgSeptember 30 marks the end of fiscal year for 2011. I wanted to review some statistics regarding labor certification information by the US Dept. of Labor which shows some interesting statistics about labor certification processing times and audits between October 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011.

    Labor certification audits are still taking about a year for review and out of approximately 22,000 of the cases that were pending as of May 31, 2011, only 44% of those case were pending initial analyst reviews. The rest of the 56% were either in audit, appeal, or at the sponsorship verification stage. Since DOL reported a 63% increase in applications compared to 2010, we can probably expect that audit queue to increase.

    As many of you may have noticed, prevailing wage requests are taking more than 3 months for a determination. Those who might need to file labor certifications before the end of the year in order to preserve the ability to extend an H-1B might begin thinking about leaving the US and recapturing H-1B time later if you are unable to file the initial labor certification 365 days before your anticipated H-1B expiration date. While admittedly, this isn't the ideal scenario, it stops the H-1B clock, even if momentarily... so that you can plan for a timely extension when you're eligible. Call the business immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you'd like an assessment of your labor certification or H-1B case, don't wait another second! --ecf

    October 6, 2011

    The World Mourns Steve Jobs

    Green apple standing out.jpgToday the world mourns Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was the creator and visionary at Apple, Inc. but he is remembered as one of the world's greatest business leaders, ranking up there with the likes of Ford and Rockefeller. Steve Jobs was credited for bringing technology and it's benefits to the every day lives of every day people. The attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong want to thank Steve Jobs for changing how we think about technology, for inspiring us to think creatively in what we do as immigration attorneys.

    Law Offices of J Craig Fong is proud to run our office on Apple technology. We love our Apple computers, iPhones and iPads. But more importantly, the immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have also embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and determination which is best exemplified by Steve Job's own words:

    Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

    As immigration lawyers, we know that the law allows families to reunify, it gives foreign workers and entrepreneurs a chance to realize their dreams. What we do at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong gives people a chance in a lifetime to make a change for the better. Many, many of our clients come to us after other immigration attorneys have turned their cases away hearing their employers were too small, too new to sponsor an H-1b or that a new company L-1 is just impossible these days. Or perhaps their family members were facing removal or in desperate need of an immigration waiver but that odds were against them so that it wasn't worth trying. at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong, we don't provide formulaic solutions to challenges. Steve Jobs didn't do that and neither do we. Challenging cases require exacting solutions. We work on each case with the individualized attention that each case deserves and we have the years of experience to know what works and what does not. When other immigration attorneys won't make the extra effort to take on cases that are outside the norm, we do - because this is what makes our work meaningful, and this is what inspires us to create great work and to make a difference, a world of difference to the individuals who didn't settle and tried anyhow. --ecf

    September 27, 2011

    DV Lottery Begins October 4, 2011

    Opportunity in the sky.jpgFollowing this past year's diversity lottery fiasco, the US Department of State has announced that it will begin accepting applications for DV 2013 at noon (EDT) on October 4, 2011. The application period will close on November 4, 2011 at noon (EDT).

    It has only been a few months since Dept of State notified then revoked the winning results of 22,000 "winning" lottery applicants. In the incident, now commonly known as "22,000 tears," the DOS reported that a computer glitch caused 90% of the DV2012 winners to be selected from applications made during the first 2 days of the 30-day application period, and that because of this, the results were not "randomized," and hence, invalid. DOS states that it "mistakenly informed" these unfortunate 22,000 "winners," some of whom had already started making plans and selling off assets to move to the US and begin their American Dream.

    As we look ahead, some changes have been made to the countries whose nationals can now participate in the DV 2013 lottery. Nationals of South Sudan and Poland are now eligible to submit applications and although mainland Chinese born applicants cannot participate, Hong Kong SAR, Macau, and Taiwanese applicants may still apply. While the Los Angeles visa attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong, wish the best of luck to all DV 2013 applicants, we also remember and sympathize with the 22,000 individuals of DV 2012. --ecf

    September 23, 2011

    EB-5 Success Rates

    plant growing from pile of coins.jpgThe EB-5 attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong want to report about the recent EB-5 stakeholders meeting which took place recently. Probably of most interest are the EB-5 success rates reported by USCIS. In general terms, the Department of Homeland Security reports that in Fiscal Year 2010, approximately 110 initial Regional Center proposals were submitted and approximately 36% received approvals in the initial adjudication.

    Evidencing a major increase in regional center filings, DHS reported that 176 initial regional center applications were received in the first three quarters of Fiscal Year 2011 (October 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011). Of those, 46% were approved upon initial adjudication and 23% were denied upon initial adjudication. The attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong are consulted regularly by investors seeking regional center certification.

    It's been no secret that EB-5 regional center filings are on the rise and that the program which has been in existence for years is gaining popularity again. Although approval rates seems are encouraging, investors know that the program is obviously, not without enormous risk. The LA Times reported earlier this month about some of the problems still plaguing investors. Contact the business immigration attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you would like a consultation regarding regional center certification and/or the traditional EB-5 program. --ecf

    September 21, 2011

    Studying in the States - New USCIS Website!

    %22University%22 building.jpgLast weekend, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the launch of a new USCIS website for students looking to study in the US. The website's name? Yup, "Study in the States." The new website which will be of use to F-1 and M-1 hopefuls, is aimed at disseminating information to foreign students, as well as serving as an interagency resource hub between DHS and it's partner organizations. Information pertaining to J-1 exchange visitors and trainees is still relegated to the US Department of State.

    Study in the States provides information on how prospective students should utilize the current version of SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System program. It also tells us what we can expect with the highly anticipated "paperless" SEVIS II, which may launch "in the near future."

    There's also general information useful to new immigrants such as how to obtain a social security number, how to enroll your children in Kindergarten through 12th grade, and how to get a driver's license. The attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong applaud the launch of this user-friendly website and what we hope is not only USCIS acknowledgment that foreign students coming to pursue degrees in the United States represent some of the best and the brightest talents in the world...but that these are the students who can and will someday continue to drive the innovation, entrepreneurship, and values known throughout generations as, the American Dream. --ecf