June 8, 2010

Visa vs. I-94: What's the Difference?

"What's the difference between my visa and the I-94 landing card?"
"If my visitor visa is good for five years, why can't I stay in the USA for five years?"

The immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles get this type of question all the time. Let's see if we can't explain this.

US Visa.png This is basically what a US visa looks like. It has the bearer's photo, date of birth, nationality, passport number, and validity dates. It also has various codes that tell the border guard what kind of entry is needed, how many entries will be permitted, and so forth. The most important thing is this: a visa give the bearer the right -- during the validity period of the visa -- to approach the US border and request to be admitted in the category noted on the visa (student, diplomat, investor).

The visa does NOT guarantee admission. The visa does NOT dictate how long of a stay the border guard may grant to you. The visa does not even guarantee in which category (visitor, student, worker, company transferee, investor) the bearer will ultimately be admitted. None of this is dictated or guaranteed by the visa itself. The visa is permission to approach the border.

I-94.pdfThis is the I-94 Arrival-Departure Control Card. All aliens (except US legal permanet residents) are required to fill out the I-94 on the airplane prior to landing at the port of entry (POE). At the POE, the alien presents the I-94 together with passport and visa to the border guard. In most cases -- unless the border guard thinks you're not who you say you are, or that you've previously violated US immigration law, or that you are not qualified to be in the visa category listed on your visa -- the border guard will swipe your passport and visa into the computer, take your picture and fingerprint, and admit you to the USA in the category appropriate to your visa (E-1 trader, F-1 student, H-1b worker, L-1 company transferee, etc.).

At the POE, the border guard will stamp the passport, stamp the I-94, and endorse the I-94 for the visa category (B-2, F-1, H-4), and write in the expiration date of the authorized stay in the USA. The alien must either exit the USA or seek an appropriate extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) prior to this expiration date.

The length of stay granted by the border guard is a function of (a) established policy, and (b) the whim of the officer. Most officers will grant the "normal" amount of time established for the type of visa. B visaholders typically get 6 months. E visaholders typically get two years -- regardless of when their visa expires. H visaholders are typically granted until the expiration of the underlying I-129 petition.

The date written or stamped onto the I-94 governs the alien's length of stay in the USA -- not the visa itself. --jcf

May 28, 2010

H-1B Quota Count: Advice for F-1 Students When OPT Expires

USCIS updated the H-1B quota numbers again last week. Approximately 19,600 applications have been been received for the regular cap and approximately 8,200 have been received for the "master's degree" or "advanced degree" cap.

The increase of 700 applications overall, in the past week shows that it's still anyone's game at this point. If you are a recent graduate and are hoping to find that job before your OPT expires, keep looking and keep in touch with Law Offices of J Craig Fong. I have counseled many F-1 students here currently on OPT and they are awaiting job offers and we are ready to begin H-1B applications just as soon as the right job offer comes along...

It is anticipated that the H-1B season will last for months to come. Even if you are running out of OPT time and considering returning home, you should think about consulting with Law Offices of J Craig Fong before you leave so that if and when a job offer can be made, you can be sure that you have counsel who knows you and your qualifications and is ready to work with your US employer. It's not at all uncommon that attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong represent clients who are outside of the US at the time of their application. If you are leaving the country to avoid unlawful presence, but to keep all your options open for returning with work status, you want an advocate on your side before you leave the country. ---ecf

May 22, 2010

H-1B Quota - Are You Sure Your Case Will be Successful?

As promised, here is yet another update on the H-1B quota. On May 14, 2010, USCIS confirmed that approximately 19,000 H-1B applications have been received, and that approximately 8,100 applications were received for the advanced degree quota.

If you were reading this blog on May 11, 2010, you would have seen that I reported USCIS' most recent count as of that date: 18,000 regular applications and 7,600 applications toward the advanced degree quota.

So the numbers are creeping upwards but if you look at how the numbers progressed last season, we may see these numbers go upwards and then back again. This is when denied H-1B cases are accounted for and subtracted from the total number of applications pending.

Many applicants, employers, and even attorneys have speculated that there seems to be an increase in denials in the last year. It may be akin to the official report that came out recently confirming that deportations have increased dramatically in the last year. It's no secret that enforcement of immigration laws is a priority and rightly so. However, when you've got a good H-1B case, you had better make sure that your attorney or advisor truly knows what they are doing with your case. USCIS' review of cases is becoming ever so thorough and applicants need to know that their case will survive the scrutiny.

If you are lucky enough to have a job offer, you must work with a qualified immigration attorney to make a successful application. If you have had an H-1B petition or visa denied and want an opinion as to an appeal or refiling your application, call Law Offices of J Craig Fong. --ecf

May 18, 2010

Tam Ngoc Tram - The DREAM Act Loses an Advocate

For years now, Congress has debated whether to pass the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act would give a future to undocumented youth through a conditional path to citizenship and it would have legalized people like Tam Ngoc Tran who died earlier this week in a tragic car accident.

Tam was a native of Garden Grove, California, born in Germany to Vietnamese refugees. She was pursuing a doctorate at Brown University. She was a graduate of UCLA, and she was a tireless DREAM Act Advocate, having testified before Congress in favor of its passage.

Tam, herself was undocumented and found removable by an immigration judge who denied her and her family political asylum. On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals found that the family could not return to Vietnam because of fear of political persecution, so the US could not remove the family to Vietnam. Having been born in Germany, the government sought to remove her to her birthplace, yet Germany refused to grant her entry. Tam was stateless. The only home she knew was the United States.

This tragic accident took the life of another passenger, a fellow UCLA graduate and DREAM Act activist, Cinthya Felix. Law Offices of J Craig Fong offers condolences to the families of both Tam and Cinthya. --ecf

May 14, 2010

"Green" Card Becomes Green Once More

I-551 card.pngThe day when you could become a US Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) simply by walking off of your boat has long passed. Since that time, paperwork or cards documenting an immigrant's status have taken various forms, the most well known being the "green card." The "green card" was a plastic laminated card issued by the US Immigration and Nationality Service (INS) so that immigrants could demonstrate that they were legally in the USA. Here in Los Angeles at the immigration law offices of J Craig Fong, virtually everyone -- even the attorneys -- will at least some of the time call the Legal Permanent Resident card "the green card" It's simply a habit.

The card ceased to be green over 25 years ago.

This week, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, the successor to the INS) announced that it has redesigned the LPR card. It will now have a multitude of security and safety features. The redesigned card has media which will store photo and biometrics of the cardholder; holographic images and laser-engraved fingerprints are supposed to make the card "nearly impossible to reproduce." The LPR card will now also, like US Passports, have a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, allowing the card to be read from a distance.

And the card will be green once more.

USCIS will begin issuing the new cards immediately. Holders of the older green card are NOT being required to obtain the new card at this time. --jcf

May 13, 2010

Legalizing Undocumented Workers is GOOD for US Budget

As the discussion of Comprehensive Immigration Reform moves forward, the immigration lawyers of The Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles have heard and read accusations from some that the US cannot "afford" to have more immigrants, that the US has huge budget problems, and that we should look after Americans first.

At least one American political leader, Florida Governor Charlie Christ, has recognized that a fair, reasonable legalization program will allow millions of undocumented immigrants to get social security cards, pay

May 13, 2010

Federal Official Lies About Following Immigration Law

Pinocchio.jpgBorder guards are not known to be the friendliest people in Federal service. The immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles routinely hear stories of border guards shouting at aliens who are telling the truth, bluntly telling aliens, "you are lying to me," or asking in a hostile manner, "why are you lying to me?" The border guards do this, even when they do not really think someone is lying. They do it to destabilize or disturb the alien, to get the alien to make an error or say something wrong. Basically, it is a trap.

Recently, Alan Bersin, the commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection -- the head of all the border guards -- told Congress that he did not know he was required to fill out and keep Federal paperwork to verify that his household employees had the right to work in the USA.

Bersin is the head of US Customs and Border Protection.

Bersin is a former California Secretary of Education.

Bersin is a former US Attorney.

Bersin went to Harvard and Yale.

Bersin says he had no idea he had to follow the law?

Why is he lying to us?


May 11, 2010

H-1B Quota Update: May 11, 2010

Just today, USICS released information stating that about 18,000 H-1B applications were received. Also, USCIS has announced that 7,600 H-1B petitions were received for the advanced degree quota.

For those of you keeping track of the H-2B quota, about 65,307 of the 66,000 allocated for this fiscal year have been approved.

Looks like time is running thin for H-2B applicants but that H-1Bs are still available. Call or email us at Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you are considering applications for H-2B or H-1B. --ecf

May 1, 2010

H-1B Quota 2010

The H-1B quota. "When will the quota close?" "How long do you think before the H-1B cap is reached?" These are the questions I've fielded for years while professional workers scrambled for jobs or while their employers are completing their forms. The USCIS has announced only receiving slightly more than 16,025 applications for the H-1B quota, which cannot exceed 65,000 approved H-1B petitions per year.

As for the US advanced degree H-1B quota, only 6,739 have been received by USCIS. There is a total of 20,000 additional H-1Bs allotted towards H-1B applicants who earned advanced degrees in the US.

The low rate of applications this year is clearly an indication of the poor job market but those who have specialized skills are still of benefit to US employers, who need more than ever, employees who can contribute their skills to build and create continued business in the US. Call Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you are interested in the H-1B program. ---ecf

April 30, 2010

WHEN will Immigration Reform Pass?

Los Angeles is full of immigrants. California is a home to people from many nations. The immigration law offices of J Craig Fong in Hollywood has clients from everywhere, and we get calls and inquiries from people all over the world. With all the talk about illegal aliens, unemployment, and the new "breathing-while-brown" law in Arizona, I keep getting one big question.

"WHEN will a comprehensive immigration law pass?"

I wish I could say that I am so god-like that I am always right. Most attorneys don't like being wrong -- and our clients do not like it, either, to tell the truth. If someone asked me six months ago whether immigration reform would pass, I would have said, "I think a new immigration law -- perhaps including a legalization program, the DREAM Act for young people who were brought to the USA by their parents, and a program to allow same-sex couples to immigrate on a similar basis to married couples -- will pass by the end of 2010."

I must confess that the political mess in Washington and the "culture of no" so internalized in the Republican Party has made the passage of comprehensive immigration reform unlikely by the end of the year. Could it happen? Yes. Is it likely? I don't think so.

I realize that this is a grave disappointment to immigrants, many of whom want to legalize and come out of the shadows, want to work legally and pay taxes, want to petition their relatives so that their families can be united. Unfortunately, I can only urge all US citizens and Legal Permanent Residents to write -- don't call, don't e-mail -- to their Congressperson and to their two US Senators to urge the passage of comprehensive immigration reform soon.

And cross your fingers. --jcf

April 26, 2010

Religious Organizations' Notification Requirements

According to CFR 214.2(r)(14), petitioners of religious workers are now required to submit a notification to USCIS when their beneficiary works less than 20 hours a week or employment is terminated before the expiration of the R-1 visa. This notification must be emailed (CSCR-1EarlyTerminationNotif@dhs.gov) or mailed to USCIS (California Service Center, Attn:X/BCU ACD, P.O. Box 30050, Laguna Niguel, CA 92607-3004) within 14 days upon the occurrence of either of the above events.

The notification must consist of:
1. reason for the notification and/or its delay
2. an approved, R-1 receipt number provided by USCIS
3. Petitioner's address, including name, address, telephone number, and employer's identification number (FEIN), and
4. R-1 beneficiary's information, including name, birthdate, country of birth, last known address, and phone number.

Failing to provide notice to USCIS may result in employer sanctions or other immigration penalties. The lawyers at Law Offices of J Craig Fong welcome any questions from religious organizations regarding notification requirements. - ECF

April 2, 2010

All Travelers Subject to Review by Border Guards

Magnify Glass.jpgIn our blog of yesterday, 1 April 2010, we mentioned the new screening procedures at US ports of entry (POE). The Law Offices of J Craig Fong's clients travel a great deal, passing through Los Angeles and other immigration ports of entry. As lawyers to so many travelers, we try to provide accurate information about border issues. We have learned a little more about the new screening protocol.

In the past, all citizens of certain countries believed to be supporters of terrorism would all be scrutinized indiscriminately. Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Sudan are widely believed to have been on this list of soi-disant unfriendly countries. Citizens of other countries -- perceived as "friendly" to the USA -- would be subject to less scrutiny.

The new POE screening procedures use intelligence-based threat assessments. This information will be applied to all persons arriving at a POE, including Americans. If border guards have intelligence that -- let's pretend for a moment -- a university-age male student from Africa might be trying to engage in dangerous activity, then the border guards would be on the lookout for university-age male students from Africa. In contrast, university-age male students from, say, Malaysia, México, Moldova, Monaco, or Myanmar would not be subject to the same scrutiny.

This new, intelligence-based approach makes the most of the information provided by US intelligence sources without painting everyone with an indiscriminately broad brush. --jcf

April 1, 2010

Border Guards Will Finally Use Some Common Sense

The Barack Obama Administration recently announced that border guards at United States Ports of Entry (POE) will begin screening aliens arriving from certain countries based on specific information about threats to the USA. The immigration attorneys at Los Angeles' Law Offices of J Craig Fong immigration law firm are advocates for national security balanced against sensible protections for civil rights. We hope this change will reduce the number of unwarranted, unreasonable, and (usually) unfriendly challenges to certain arriving visitors.

Since the New York terrorist attack in September 2001, the USA has maintained a list of approximately fourteen countries (the so-called "group of fourteen") which are considered to encourage state-sponsored terrorism, or which are believed to provide assistance to terrorists. The US would not even officially name the specific countries, or confirm the exact number of countries, on the list. All citizens of one of these countries -- of any gender, any age, any social class, any educational level, for any reason -- would be subjected to additional interrogation by US Border Guards.

The newly-announced change sets up a system which uses intelligence information and threat assessment -- about specific persons, specific targets, and specific descriptions, to identify passengers who might have a link to terrorism. Quite properly, those persons would be subjected to additional scrutiny. Others who do not meet the more reasoned threat profiles would be allowed to enter the USA in the way of other visitors.

For example: most people in the know would say that the Islamic Republic of Iran was part of the group of fourteen. All citizens from Iran -- absolutely all -- would be pulled aside and interrogated at POEs. Under the new system, if the US has specific information about a 26-year old male Iranian student, or an Iranian woman with a certain name, or even someone with a partial passport number, then persons meeting those descriptions will be pulled aside. This allows border guards to focus their efforts on persons about whom the USA has specific threat-related information. --jcf

March 17, 2010

USCIS Often Googles, Checks Facebook and Other Networking Sites

Flying Trapeze.jpgAn immigration lawyer who has been in practice for any respectable period of time encounters fun, funny, and bizarre situations. The attorneys at the immigration law offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles have, among them, 40 years of experience, and a recent article describes how the Department of Justice uses your own Google enties, and postings to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites as evidence against you. If you post about the car you stole, or you post your picture taking a hit from your favorite bong, that information can be used against you!

The Law Offices of J Craig Fong are located in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, and we are no strangers to clients with "fast" lifestyles. Years ago, one American client applied for Legal Residence for his wife, who was from Scandinavia. Imagine their shock -- and mine -- when at the immigration interview the adjudicator pulled up photos that were posted on the couple's Facebook page -- photos that depicted a very frisky sex party that they had hosted at their Hollywood Hills home two months earlier. Not having been invited to the party myself, I had no idea about this couple's hobby, and they certainly never told me about it. Now, there is nothing illegal in California about having a some like-minded friends come for an evening's fun and recreation. However, this is hardly the kind of thing that promotes a favorable experience with generally-suspicious immigration officers. (Yes, the green card was eventually granted.)

So: at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong, we have been telling immigration applicants for years that if there is ANYthing found on a Google search or posted on social networking sites -- even postings and activities that are perfectly legal -- that they would rather not show to the Department of Homeland Security, it would be wise to remove them. Better to be safe than to be put into the position of explaining to USCIS what you do with that trapeze in the living room. --jcf

March 11, 2010

Some Small Options for Citizens of Chile

Two very strong aftershocks hit Chile today, right around the time of the inauguration of Chile's new president, Sebastián Piñera, in Santiago. Immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles have received a continuous flow of inquiries about any possible immigration benefits that might be made available to Chilenos. While el Presidente Piñera may have promised una nueva forma de gobernar, it is mostly business as usual with US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some small developments:

* USCIS says that Chilenos may submit applications for extension of stay (EOS) or change of visa status (COS), even in cases where the individual's authorized stay on the I-94 has expired. Please note that USCIS does not say that all these applications will be approved. If a Chileno has been out of status in the USA for a very long period of time, it is not clear that filing a EOS or COS would be effective to fix things.

* Individuals may seek to extend a parole that has already been granted. Also, individuals may apply for expedited advance parole to exit and re-enter the USA. Be careful, because an advance parole is not a guarantee of re-admission, and an advance parole does not cure the problem of the 3-10 Bar which applies to persons unlawfully present in the USA for more than 6 months. If you exit the USA, and if you have been unlawfully present in the USA for more than 6 months, you may have serious difficulty getting another visa or legal resident status in the future.

* Chilean F-1 students can apply for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) which will allow them to accept employment in the USA, if they can demostrate that they are experiencing economic hardship due to the earthquakes in Chile.

* Certain family immigration petitions can be expedited.

Many Chilenos have had questions about Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and it does not seem as if Congress is going to create a TPS for Chilenos. It is still a possibility, but if they have not done so by now, I am doubtful. If you have questions about your options, contact our office, or the office of an experienced immigration attorney. --jcf