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 Fong & Aquino, 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 Fong & Aquino 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 Fong & Aquino 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 Fong & Aquino 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 Fong & Aquino 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. Fong & Aquino 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 ( 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 Fong & Aquino 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). Fong & Aquino'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' Fong & Aquino 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 Fong & Aquino 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!

Fong & Aquino 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 Fong & Aquino, 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 Fong & Aquino 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

March 9, 2010

Greece Now Eligible for Visa Waiver Program

SmGreek Flag.jpegThe citizens of some countries are allowed to enter the USA as touristic or business visitors without first obtaining a B-1/B-2 visitor visa. As Los Angeles immigration lawyers, Fong & Aquino often receives questions about whether a particular country is eligible for this Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Today, the US Department of Homeland Security announced that citizens of Greece are now eligible to enter the USA as visitors, using the VWP. Eligibility for the VWP is based on a country's compliance with security and data-sharing requirements--such as law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States; timely reporting of lost and stolen passports; and maintenance of strong law enforcement, counterterrorism, border, aviation, and document security protocols. In turn, citizens of Greece will be permitted to travel to the United States for up to 90 days as visitors without first obtaining a visa.

Any Greek citizen that wishes to enter the USA as a visitor using the VWP must first register him/her self under the US government's Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). This registration must take place prior to boarding any flight to the USA. Information about ESTA is available here. --jcf

March 8, 2010

Chile: Estado protegido temporal (TPS)

Flag Chile.jpeg

The powerful earthquake that hit Chile moved the entire city of Concepcíon, Chile 3 meters to the west! When such a natural calamity strikes a particular country, the immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles receive many calls and e-mails from citizens from that country about the possibility of staying in the USA, because of the problems back home.

The US government sometimes permits citizens from that country to remain in the USA -- even after their visas or landing permits have expired -- due to the emergency circumstances in the home country. This designation -- which is called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) -- is made by the US government. At the present time, Chile has not yet been designated a TPS-eligible country by the US government.

A veces, por situaciones de urgencia nacional, el gobierno estadounidense les permite a ciudadanos de algunos paises de quedar en los EE.UU. -- aunque sus visas o permisos sean vencidos. Esta designación se llama Estado Protegido Temporal (TPS, en inglés). En este momento, los ciudadanos de La República de Chile todavía no han sido nombrado como eligible por TPS por el gobierno estadounidense.

If you are from Chile and wish to contact the attorneys at Fong & Aquino to discuss your options, please call to make an appointment. --jcf

March 5, 2010

USCIS (Again) Criticized for Arbitrary Requirements

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (for the western part of the USA) handed down a decision on 4 March 2010 that strongly criticizes -- and rules against -- US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for arbitrarily imposing novel substantive or evidential requirements over and above those required by immigration regulations. Fong & Aquino immigration lawyers in Los Angeles have recently seen an increase in USCIS Requests for Evidence (RFEs) which ask for (a) documents which have already been submitted, (b) information which does not relate to the case at hand, and (c) proof which is not required or is irrelevant.

This case is a vindication of the rule of law, that USCIS cannot simply make up the rules as it goes along, lawlessly flying by the seat of its administrative pants. This case says that USCIS must follow the law and provide a reasonable and fair process. This case, called Kazarian v. USCIS, can be read here.

Does this mean that USCIS will now and forever cease and desist from arbitrary and capricious rulings, making up requirements outside the regulations, and creating their own rules? Of course not. It does mean that, at least here in the western region, attorneys have an additional legal precedent to correct future wrong-doing. --jcf

March 3, 2010

Job Creation - Opportunities for Foreign Investors

When the Senate advanced the job-creation bill last week, employers were given the signal that hiring tax incentives are on the horizon. Perhaps in a nod to the Administration's No. 1 priority of creating jobs for unemployed Americans, the USCIS has just announced a forum on the EB-5 immigrant investor program. In the last year, and as recently as December 2009, the USCIS issued updated guidance on I-526 and I-829 filings so that USCIS adjudications could make decisions with clarity and consistency, allowing investors to make job creation through the EB-5 program a reality soon as possible. These are all indications that this is the time for foreign investors to again bring private enterprise to our great nation.

The upcoming USCIS EB-5 forum is only open to attorneys representing these so-called "million dollar investors." Fong & Aquino attorneys will be in attendance and ready to present concerns facing our clients as well as potential issues for those investors considering the EB-5 program.

It is true that the EB-5 investors greencard process is often called "hypertechnical," and has in the past been plagued by administrative delay and inconsistent treatment. But I believe that the view of recent USCIS' actions, the agency is acknowledging just how critical the EB-5 investors program is to our nation's economic recovery. For each EB-5 investment, 10 full-time jobs must be created, and that means 10 more working Americans. Call Fong & Aquino if you would like to discuss how you can start investing in America. ---ecf