September 22, 2010

Paris Hilton Barred from Japan for Drug Offense

Hotel.jpegParis Hilton -- heiress, bon-vivant, and media magnet -- was denied entry to Japan today due to her recent conviction for possession of cocaine in Las Vegas, Nevada. The immigration lawyers here at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles often hear from immigrants and visitors who want to come to the USA after having been convicted under, or having admitted to having committed a violation of, any law or regulation relating to a controlled substance.

Although Japan's immigration exclusion for drug offenders is strict, the US has similar restrictions, and any alien who has committed an offense more serious than possession of ≤ 30 grams of marijuana should NOT expect an easy time of getting into the USA. A waiver is available for very, very limited cases. We cannot be very encouraging to ANYone who has a prior drug conviction or admission.

Those who have been "cautioned" for marijuana possession in certain countries such as the UK and Australia should know that such "cautions" typically include the perpetrator's admission of the underlying facts of the incident (e.g., the possession). Therefore, the perpetrator has admitted to having committed the violation, even if there was never a trial, a conviction, or other citation. --jcf

September 16, 2010

September 2010 Update on H-1B Quota

Still not too late to apply for an H-1B. New quota figures as of September 10, 2010:

Out of the 65,000 cases that can be approved for H-1B this year, 37,400 cases have been receipted by USCIS for the regular Bachelor's degree H-1B quota. This is up from 36,600 cases which were received since September 3, 2010.

Approximately 13,700 cases have been receipted by USCIS for the advanced degree H-1B quota, a slight increase of about 300 cases filed since September 3, 2010 when approximately 13,400 cases had been received.

October 1, 2010 is around the corner. People with newly approved H-1Bs will soon be able to begin employment. First time applicants can still continue to submit applications for H-1B status until the entire H-1B quota is exhausted. I'll keep you updated on the cap count, so check back soon. ---ecf

September 9, 2010

Relatives of Permanent Residents Visa Numbers Moving Quickly

177934_bus_queue_v.jpgMajor 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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong before those dates start floating backwards again. --ecf

August 31, 2010

H-1B Quota: Slow and Steady Usage

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.

Good luck to all H-1B applicants! ---ecf

August 25, 2010

Elin Nordegren: Her Side of the Story

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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong, 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 the Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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.

We have counseled couples and immigrants who face this difficult situation, sometimes their marriages have ended because they had to escape physical or emotional abuse, other times, the marriage failed because of infidelity or even financial distress. If you need help telling your side of the story to USCIS, call the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong for a free consultation. Maybe we can help. --ecf

August 23, 2010

Naturalization - Yet Another Reason to Seek Citizenship

The attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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. The Law Offices of J Craig Fong encourages those eligible for naturalization make an application and realize their dreams of finally becoming US citizens. ---ecf

August 10, 2010

H-1B Quota Update - Little Change

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

July 28, 2010

Arizona Law, Ruling by Judge

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

July 25, 2010

H-1B Quota Count: Update July 2010

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

July 16, 2010: approximately 25,300 cap cases received; approximately 11,000 advanced degree cases received

July 23, 2010: approximately 26,000 cap cases received; approximately 11,300 advanced degree cases received

The numbers are creeping slowly upwards, but it looks like H-1B season may last the entire fiscal year. ---ecf

July 20, 2010

Re-entry Permit - Just What is Permitted?

The attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you would like a free consultation regarding your case. ---ecf

July 15, 2010

H-1B Cap Count Update

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

June 14, 2010

Homeland Security Phases Out I-94W

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 the Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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

June 10, 2010

Sex / Gender Reassignment & Your US Passport

butterfly cocoon.jpgOn the occasion of Pride Month, the US Department of State has announced a change in policy regarding the way that sex and gender reassignment are noted on US passports. The immigration law offices of J Craig Fong, long-time advocates for gay and lesbian immigrants, receive questions regularly about how gender is reflected on official documents.

Effective today, a US citizen applying for a US passport may present a letter from a physician that the applicant has had "appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition," and the new passport will be issued reflecting that new gender. A short-term passport can also be issued be those who are still transitioning.

If you have any questions about obtaining a US passport, please contact us. --jcf

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