February 11, 2010

Immigration Reform Bill Introduced in Congress

As immigration attorneys with very strong roots in the immigrant communities of Los Angeles, the lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong stay current on legislative developments that could affect our clients and their families. On 15 December 2009, over ninety House Democrats unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill is called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR-ASAP).

President Obama has said there should be comprehensive immigration reform. The bill includes an "earned" legalization program. The program as currently proposed would allow undocumented people in the USA as of 15 December 2009 to apply for legalization. There would be special, more lenient rules for young persons. Many people want to call this an "amnesty," but it is important to see all the details about the program before getting too excited.

There are other provisions for "visa recapture" to reduce waiting times and backlogs. This bill would also put a new employment-eligibility-verification system into place. There would be harsh penalties for hiring unauthorized workers.

These proposed changes are very exciting; however, we must remember that this bill is only a PROPOSAL. It will have many reincarnations before a final bill passes, if a bill passes at all. The President has said he wants CIR on his desk by the end of 2010, but there are obviously many other things occupying the attention of Congress at this time. Stay tuned. --jcf

February 8, 2010

The USA is Bigger...

flag_CNMI.gifAll immigration law attorneys must deal with foreign countries, unique international legal issues, and some quaint interpretations of law. The lawyers at Los Angeles' Law Offices of J Craig Fong are no exception, and in fact, this recent change affects some of our clients who do business in or own businesses in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

On 28 November 2008, "the United States" as defined for purposes of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) just got bigger, with the addition of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Although there are probably wrinkles I have not yet read in the treaty, this essentially puts the CNMI on the same footing as Puerto Rico. Here's the cute part:

Because the CNMI will become part of the "United States" as defined by §101(a)(38) of the INA, "residence or presence in the CNMI before 28 November 2009 shall NOT be considered residence or physical presence within the USA for INA purposes. Thus, on 29 November 2009, all persons physically present in the CNMI are considered "to be present in the United States without inspection, by operation of law."

Will these PWIs (present without inspection) be eligible to adjust status? Unclear? Are they working "abroad" for purposes of L visas? Yes, as it turns out. One thing is clear: Legal Permanent Residents (so-called "green" card holders) who wish to base a naturalization application based on physical presence in the CNMI will NOT be able to do so for pre-29 November 2009 periods of time. Isn't this esoterica fun? --jcf

February 5, 2010

Retina Scans Being Done at US Ports of Entry

We at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles believe in keeping the USA safe; however, we are also aware that many security measures can be a burden. As immigration attorneys, we are alert to security mechanisms which may violate the civil rights of immigrants and visitors.

We have recently recently received a report -- which we have not yet been able to verify -- that the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Newark, New Jersey ports of entry are conducting retina scans on arriving non-Americans and non-Legal Permanent Residents. This is in addition to the fingerprints that are routinely taken from all US visitors.

There may be other ports of entry using the retina scan, and we would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows which other POEs are using such scans.

Although the retina scan is not intrusive and does not cause any discomfort, it is an additional level of identify verification being used by the Department of Homeland Security. Visitors should not be surprised if they are asked to permit a retina scan. --jcf

January 29, 2010

Changes to Vaccination Requirements for Immigrants

Immigrants are asked to take a medical exam before being granted legal permanent resident status in the USA. As part of this exam, immigrants are required to take various vaccinations. The immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles are often asked whether someone is required to take ALL the vaccinations.

Since November 2009, USCIS has delayed the processing of many "green" card applications, because new vaccinations criteria would become effective in December 2009. Beginning on 14 December 2009, the vaccinations for herpes zoster and human papilloma virus (HPV) were no longer required for immigration purposes.

After 14 December 2009, cases that have been held in abeyance should be processed. If your Adjustment of Status case was put "on hold" due to vaccination-related issues, the case should be revived now and processed. If you have not received a resolution of your vaccination-delayed Adjustment of Status by mid-February, you should contact an immigration attorney to do a follow up with USCIS. If you have questions about the vaccinations that you will be required to take, please contact us for a consultation. --jcf

January 26, 2010

DHS Roams Airport Terminals, Requests ID and Passports

PPT Control.pngWith all our experience counseling on immigration law questions, the attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles do not regularly get the chance to see the day-in, day-out operations at airports and other ports of entry.

Whether it is Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy or not, I do not know, but last week, I noticed DHS personnel roaming through the terminals at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. They actually went to various gates and randomly requested ID or passports from OUTBOUND passengers seated in the boarding areas.

That is, they checked the documents of both Americans and foreigners who were LEAVING the USA. Not entering.

I followed them around a little bit. The officers were friendly, civil. They approached passengers in the terminal, asked them their final destinations, and asked if they could see their passports. Interestingly, although I was standing right next to a bank of chairs in the boarding area, they did not ask me for my passport, nor did they ask anyone who was standing or walking through the terminal. They only approached persons seated in the departure gate area. I did not see them detain anyone.

I have often been asked whether DHS personnel made random checks of persons in airports. I used to say that "they could, but I've never seen it." Well, I have now. --jcf

December 20, 2009

HIV Ban Lifted

Beginning January 4, 2010, applicants for visas or greencards will no longer be considered inadmissible for being HIV positive. Early last month, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) removed HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) from the definition of a "communicable disease of public health significance."

This marks a major success by immigration advocates like Law Offices of J Craig Fong and HIV/AIDS health advocates. J Craig Fong was cited in a recent Los Angeles Times article as one of the few immigration attorneys in the nation who work with HIV positive immigrants and who has been extremely successful in HIV waiver applications with the USCIS to overcome this ban.

Law Offices of J Craig Fong applauds the Centers for Disease Control, the HHS, and USCIS in recognizing that the ban against nonimmigrant visa and permanent residency applications by HIV positive individuals was wrong. --ecf

December 18, 2009

Jon and Kate Divorce is Final but What if...

Jon and Kate Plus 8, the once-popular TLC reality program about the Gosselin family, their twins and their sextuplets is kaput. But that's old news. Today, the Gosselins officially closed the chapter on their 10 year marriage with the announcement their divorce becoming final.

Divorce is always difficult. Kate says she looks forward to her future. No word from Jon...yet. For the Gosselins, they can and should move on.

But what if Jon or Kate were immigrants? What if Jon or Kate faced deportation because their marriage failed? If Jon or Kate had been granted a greencard based on their marriage, what would happen to them once their marriage ended?

This is an immigration concept called conditional residency. We represent many individuals who apply for permanent residency through their marriage to a US citizen. These are usually great cases because we are helping happy new couples stay together, and "move forward" in their lives. But what happens if the happy couple separates or divorces? In the worst scenario, USCIS will revoke or terminate the foreign spouse's conditional residency, leaving the spouse vulnerable to deportation proceedings, standing alone and at best, with competent immigration counsel at his/her side.

In revoking conditional residency and initiating deportation proceedings, USCIS looks into the nitty gritty details of what happened in that marriage, was the marriage entered into for the immigration benefit rather than purely for love? Who's fault was it that the marriage ended? And could you (the foreign national) prove it? Imagine the reality show going behind the scenes to investigate, whether it was Kate's nagging that led to the failure of the marriage, or whether Jon's alleged affairs were the actual cause of the breakup and divorce. And would you feel comfortable knowing that USCIS is your final arbiter? If you married, got conditional residency and are now in divorce proceedings or separated from your spouse, think about calling Law Offices of J Craig Fong for a free consultation. ---ecf

December 15, 2009

H-1B Quota: This is It.

No, not the Michael Jackson, This is It. This is it for FY 2009 H-1B season. USCIS states that as of December 15, approximately 64,200 cases have been filed. That leaves about 800 slots left for H-1B applicants and perhaps several hundred on top of that since USCIS will need to account for potential denials or revocations of previously filed H-1B applications.

Back on April 1, 2009, a lot of speculation was made about how fast or slowly the H-1B quota would fill. Predictions from one day to 6 months were made. But it looks a lot clearer now... by Christmas or maybe, by the New Year. There really is no way to tell. Practitioners who focus on H-1B work like me, know that odds look dim for someone seeking a new H-1B and who hasn't started the process yet. Issues of delayed LCAs (labor condition applications) and employer FEIN (federal employer ID numbers) are wreaking havoc on how quickly anyone can prepare a new application to get in on this year's quota.

If you have not been able to file an H-1B yet. Call us about planning your case for April 1, 2010. It's never too early, but it can be too late. ---ecf

November 9, 2009

H-1B Quota: Advanced Degree Cap is Full

The H-1B quota is slowing reaching its limit. The so-called advanced degree cap is now full and approximately 53,800 cases have been counted against the 65,000 allocated to the regular cap. USCIS has advised that those wishing to be counted against this year's cap should submit their applications as soon as possible.

A lot has been said about how much longer the H-1B quota has lasted this year. There's a been a lot of speculation about the reasons why the quota is still open. It's pretty obvious that the economic situation has led to a reduced number of filings, but less people talk about the other reason. USCIS is generally pretty skeptical about the H-1B program, believing that many candidates for H-1B are filing marginal cases. This has increased the number of requests for evidence that USCIS has issued this season as well.

While the open cap provides an opportunity for a late-season submission, H-1B applicants and their employers should be well aware of the scrutiny they may have to endure. Working with advocates like the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong will ensure that you have a candid opinion before you make the decision to file an H-1B and how you can make a difference in your chances by simply being educated about the H-1B process.

Anyone wishing to file an H-1B case should call the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong for a free consultation and realistic assessment of their case. ---ecf

October 30, 2009

HIV Travel Ban to be Lifted

At a ceremony at the White House today, President Barack Obama announced the publication on Monday, 2 November 2009 of the final rule repealing the HIV immigration restriction. The immigration lawyers here at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have worked here in Los Angeles and nationwide as part of the movement to have this onerous restriction on people with HIV/AIDS repealed. More details to follow, after we have seen and reviewed the "final rule." --jcf

October 15, 2009

Principles for Immigration Reform

On 14 October 2009, Congressman Luis Gutíerrez of Illinois released a set of principles which he hopes will be incorporated into any Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) package. As advocates for immigrants, the attorneys at the Los Angeles-based immigration law offices of J Craig Fong, we watch closely any progress on CIR.

Central to his approach are:

1. a rational and humane approach to resolving or legalizing the status of the undocumented population,

2. a mechanism to protect US and legal immigrant workers,

3. allocation of sufficient visas to stop immigrants from trying to "cut in line" or "jump the queue" and get to America earlier but illegally,

4. enhancements to protect the US homeland,

5. establish a wise border enforcement policy that reflects America's needs and values,

6. keeping together and unifying American families,

7. promotion of immigrant integration,

8. inclusion of the DREAM Act and AgJobs bill, and

9. protection of fundamental rights.

Representative Gutíerrez' statement of principles is an excellent first step as the debate over CIR begins. --jcf

October 8, 2009

PERM Delays: Audits and Backlogs

PERM cases are backlogged now to December 2008. So if you have a PERM case pending that was submitted more than a year ago, DOL may entertain an email inquiry from you. But if your case was submitted in October 2008 or after, you still have a long wait ahead of you and yes, DOL does not want to hear from you at all...

USDOL reports that they have approximately 65,800 cases in the processing queue for PERM. This number also includes cases that are on appeal. Of these cases, approximately 24,600 or about 37% of the cases were issued audits.

For people waiting for final adjudication after submitting an audit response, DOL informs us that they are still working on audited cases from October 2007!

This is obviously bad news for applicants and employers who are waiting patiently for these processing queues to move forward. If you have been in this queue already, you already know that PERM has slowed down to a crawl. For anyone thinking of filing a new PERM case, be warned that since it is taking so long for an initial or final adjudication, employers and employees must be extremely careful about how their case is presented and hope that their case goes through without the additional delay of an audit. Further, take care to cover yourself and maintain status throughout the anticipated pendency of a PERM application. If you have questions about PERM or presenting a new case, contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong for a free initial consultation. ---ecf

October 6, 2009

Verifying Undocumented Aliens for Health Care

Since July 2008, the County of Los Angeles has posted 81 people in 27 social service offices to check and verify immigration status of all applicants for social services. As the debate continues on health care, the lawyers at the immigration law offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles remain concerned that immigrants are being made the scapegoats for a dysfunctional health-care system that they have had no hand in creating.

According to an article in today's Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles County has so far not found one illegal immigrant masquerading as a legal resident in order fraudulently to obtain social benefits. Among Medi-Cal applicants, only about 0.1% of the total applicant pool was found to be ineligible because of immigration status.

One has to ask the question: is the expense of this verification system worth what we're paying for it?

One federal study noted that the records-verification system implemented in 6 states cost about $16.6 million in administrative costs -- and found only eight undocumented immigrants.

Please contact your Senators and Representative to let them know that health-care reform is important for our nation, and that immigrants should not be used as an excuse for not providing the health care that Americans must have. --jcf

October 2, 2009

H-1B Quota, Fraud Detection, On-site interviews

The H-1B quota has now reached approximately 46,700 and although the USCIS has announced that they've received approximately 20,000 advanced degree applications, it still continues to accept advanced degree cases.

I have been fielding a lot of questions about whether a person is still "in H-1B status" even if they are no longer working for the employer who sponsored them. Simply put, the answer is "no." When H-1B workers are petitioned for by a specific employer, not only are they expected to work for that employer only (unless they have a concurrently approved H-1B for a separate employer), but they must always comply with the original terms of the H-1B petition. Any changes considered to be material to the employment must be reported to the US Department of Labor and possibly to the USCIS.

Further, H-1B employees are considered to be out of status if they lose their jobs or quit working for the H-1B sponsor. And as of late, the USCIS has been conducting random on-site visits to H-1B employers, interviewing the foreign worker(s), HR or the company owner, as well as verifying the terms and conditions of their work.

It shouldn't be a surprise to people that the Department of Homeland Security is utilizing their resources to crack down on employers and employees under the H-1B program.

Just 3 days ago, Senator Grassley of Iowa wrote a letter to USCIS Director, Alejandro Mayorkas, imploring him to "ensure accountability" in the H-1B program. This wasn't the first time Sen. Grassley has done so. Earlier this year, Sen. Grassley called out "Microsoft" for their usage of the H-1B program as well.

If your company is facing lay offs or you have lost your H-1B job, you need advice on how to maintain status (if possible) and/or guidance on what you may face in future applications for work authorization or work visas. ---ecf

September 11, 2009

You lie! -- No apologies from Congressman

Representative Joe Wilson's outburst on the floor of the House of Representatives, effectively calling the President a liar has continued to resonate throughout the country. As advocates for immigrants, Los Angeles immigration lawyers at The Law Offices of J Craig Fong have warned that immigrants will be used as scapegoats during the health care debate. And so they have.

The fact that Congressman Wilson was told by Republican party leaders to immediately call the White House to apologize should be a signal; Wilson did not choose to apologize himself. He has maintained that he is right, despite the facts. Instead, we are worried that he will become a symbol to radical right-wing activists that it is perfectly alright to shout down the President, perfectly acceptable to simply interrupt anyone with whom one disagrees, perfectly acceptable to ignore facts. This type of approach leads to a my-way-or-the-highway approach to politics, and no one gains from that.

We believe that as the debate on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) begins in 2010, this form of argument, simply cutting off or shutting down civilized discussion, will become worse. This is a danger to our democracy and will harm immigrants and our country.

We have already written about how these tactics cheapen our legislative process. We urge all immigrants, friends of immigrants, and advocates for immigrants to be alert in the coming months. Stand up for our friends! Encourage oure elected officials, our neighbors, and our friends to Welcome the Stranger. Be sure to write to your elected officials, urging them to support CIR and giving them the support needed to stand up for immigrants. --jcf