Articles Posted in Consular Issues

NVC ltr.JPGIn January 2013, the US Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) began sending letters to many prospective immigrants about the “I-601A PROVISIONAL WAIVER OF UNLAWFUL PRESENCE.” This letter is scaring the living daylights out of thousands of immigrants. At Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, I have fielded about one hundred inquiries about this letter.

The first and most important thing to remember is: this letter and the I-601A Provisional Waiver ONLY — repeat ONLY — apply to a future immigrant if s/he is currently in the USA unlawfully, or has been unlawfully present in the USA in the past. Someone is illegally present if s/he enters the USA without inspection at a border post or airport, or if the person enters legally and then overstays the time granted on their landing permit.

If the future immigrant has never — ever — been in the USA, this letter and the I-601A waiver does not apply to him/her.

Alt Route Waver.jpgOver many years, Fong & Aquino has counseled many immigrants who have come to the USA without passport or visa, or who have come legally but overstayed. In many of these case, it has not been possible to process the paperwork for an immigrant visa (the green card) without first having the immigrant depart the USA to go back to the US Embassy in the home country for an interview. In some cases, this means that the immigrant must file an I-601 Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility at the US Embassy and wait months for a decision. And if the I-601 is denied, the immigrant cannot be reunited with family in the USA for 3 or 10 years!

For this reason, many green-card eligible applicants are afraid to leave the USA for their interview; they are afraid that if their I-601 waiver is denied, they will not be able to return to their families for 10 years. The risk of NOT being granted the waiver is too great, so they have avoided legalizing altogether.

Until now.

In early January 2013, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a new procedure. This new procedure — called the I-601A Provisional Waiver — still requires the immigrant-applicant to apply for the waiver, to seek a pardon for coming to the USA without papers, or for overstaying. However, this request for a waiver can now be filed before departure from the USA and before going to the interview at the American Embassy. In this way, the immigrant-applicant will know provisionally whether they will be able to return quickly after their Embassy interview or not — before leaving the USA.
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Starting April 13, 2012, visa processing fees will increase. The fees for most nonimmigrant visa applications and Border Crossing Cards will increase but we will see a decrease in all immigrant visa processing fees.

  • Petition-based visas: H, L, O, P, Q, R will increase from $150 to $190
  • Visitor, student, exchange visitor and journalist visas: B, F-1, J-1, M-1, I visas will increase from $140 to $160

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 Fong & Aquino offices in Los Angeles or Palm Springs.

This is very complicated, so please read carefully:

headstones.jpgLately, the attorneys at Fong & Aquino 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:

Hourglass.jpg

** You are a US citizen, and you have petitioned your brother from China.

** You are a US legal permanent resident, and you have petitioned your adult, unmarried daughter from Egypt.

** You are a US citizen, and you have petitioned your married son from Argentina.

When is my relative going to be able to immigrate to the USA. Why do we have to wait so long? I know my relative’s priority date, but the dates on the Visa Bulletin swing backwards and forwards. It makes no sense!”

Strangely enough, this is one of the MOST DIFFICULT things to ask an immigration lawyer. The immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles have decades of experience with the immigration system, and we still find it difficult to estimate the progress of the Visa Bulletin. We tell the client to look at the Visa Bulletin, to see which dates are being processed currently. The client calls us back and says, “the Visa Bulletin says that people in my relative’s category who applied in 2003 are being processed now! Does that mean my relative must wait another eight years? (Assume we are in the year 2011.) Well, maybe, and maybe not.

The movement of priority dates on the Visa Bulletin is vastly and famously difficult to predict.  That is because guessing is difficult due to (a) the total number of visas available, (b) the number of visas permitted to each country of the world,  (c) the number of visas taken up by each petition, and (d) the time of year.

There are some technical, extremely detailed explanations about how the Visa Bulletin works. If you would like to read one — and if you think it will help — click here. I have read a number of these explanations, and to be honest, after 30 years of practicing law, the system is as opaque as ever. In practice, this is the way I explain the movement of priority dates when my clients ask me:

First, the US Congress has limited the maximum number of family-based immigrant visas (green cards) that can be granted each year to 480,000.  (There are exceptions to this, but they are not relevant to this discussion.) Of the 480,000, maximums are set for the visas available in each family-based category: son or daughter of a US citizen, spouse or minor child of a legal permanent resident, unmarried son or daughter of a legal permanent resident, married son or daughter of a US citizen, and sibling of a US citizen.

Why 480,000? It is a figure set by Congressional act and is based, at least in part, on the Congressional judgment of the number of immigrants that the USA can reasonably absorb in any one year.

Further: nationals of any one country of the world may not receive more than a maximum of 25,000 annually.  This does not mean that all 25,000 will be given out for each country, but it sets the maximum.

Why 25,000? Again, this number is set by Congress, and it reflects the desire not to have too many immigrants from any one single country arrive in one year, creating an unbalanced demographic picture.

This means that a low-demand country, say, Monaco or Vanuatu, would probably not use up its allotment of 25,000, across all the family-based visa categories.  However, a high-demand country, say, China or the Philippines, would have more than 25,000 people who want to immigrate to the USA in any given year.  However, even if Monaco does not use up its 25,000 visa allotment, China does not get to have more than the maximum 25,000 visas as a result!

Second, each petition can account for more than one beneficiary.  For example, let’s pretend that Mr. Smith, from the United Kingdom, is married with two minor children. Mr. Smith’s brother is an American citizen, and Brother files an I-130 Family Petition for Mr. Smith. So: when Mr. Smith immigrates, the one petition will end up using up four green cards: one for Mr. Smith, one for Mr. Smith’s wife, and two for each of Mr. Smith’s minor children.

US immigration counts petitions not beneficiaries. This makes estimates VERY difficult.

Third, the US fiscal year begins on 1 October.  It is on this date that the “new” batch of 480,000 green cards (immigrant visas) hits the system.  This means that ANY of the unused visas for the fiscal year that just ended die — although there are RARELY any of the 480,000 visas which go unused, given the high demand.  The new fiscal year means a brand-new start with 480,000 family-based visas.

As a practical matter, this means that US consulates begin processing many, many green cards at the beginning of the fiscal year — October, November, December, and January.  When this happens, the priority dates begin to move rapidly.  People look on the monthly Visa Bulletin issued by the Department of State, and they see the priority dates moving like lightning.  People say to themselves, “My god: the priority date is jumping 8-9 months every calendar month!  I will get to immigrate soon!!!”

Then in February, March, and April, as the fiscal year moves on, the movement in the processing dates begins to slow to a crawl, because consular officers get cautious about processing people when there may not be enough visas to last until 30 September, to the end of the fiscal year.  Finally, in July, August, and September, the numbers stop advancing and SOMETIMES they retrogress.

My advice to any one who is waiting for the arrival of a priority date: regularly watch the State Department’s  Visa Bulletin, which comes out on the 15th of each calendar month.  This will provide you with a better idea of how the priority date is advancing. –jcf

Taiwan Flag.jpgThe immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles have recently learned that the United States’ American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) temporarily closed its visa section as of 18 March 2011, in order that personnel at AIT can assist US diplomatic staff in nearby Japan.

US-Taiwan diplomatic relations are unique, and there is no US Embassy in Taipei. The AIT oversees US interests in Taiwan, handles liaison with the Taipei government, and issues US visas.

For those who may have had immigrant and nonimmigrant visa interviews at AIT after 18 March 2011, AIT is instructing that you visit the AIT’s visa processing website to reschedule.

The USCIS this week provided information on the types of immigration applications for Japanese nationals who are affected by disasters caused the earthquakes and tsunamis last week. In limited circumstances, the USCIS can expedite the processing of the following types of requests/cases:

  • requests for extensions or change of non-immigrant status even if the request is made after the applicant’s stay has expired
  • re-parole of individuals who have already been granted parole by USCIS
  • expedited processing of advanced paroles
  • expedited adjudication and approval for requests for off-campus employment in the case of F-1 students suffering economic hardship
  • expedited employment authorization
  • If you or someone you know is eligible for these services, please contact the attorneys at Fong & Aquino for assistance in making these applications to the USCIS. —ecf

    Japan: an 8.9 earthquake has rocked Japan today, marking the most powerful earthquake in Japan’s recorded history. This quake is the fifth most powerful in the world since 1900, says the U.S. Geologic Survey. Tokyo reports massive aftershocks. Narita Airport, Sendai Airport remain closed, although Haneda Airport has reopened already. The immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino who practice in business immigration, family-based immigration, removal defense and appellate work extend sympathy and concern to all our Japanese clients and those with family and friends abroad who are affected by this devastating disaster.

    Over the years, the immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have worked proudly in the Japanese immigrant community, having represented multinational executives and managers for some of Japan’s largest corporations, professors providing invaluable research and teaching in top U.S. universities, professional employees working in companies based in Little Tokyo and in Japanese American non-profit organizations, and of course, countless individuals and families of Japanese descent.

    With early reports of the death toll, the true damage the earthquake has caused remains unknown at this moment. We do know that this earthquake may cause tsunamis powerful enough to engulf or wash over small islands in the Pacific causing more damage and posing continued danger to those in the Pacific. For clients wishing to return to Japan in the weeks to come, please call the attorneys at Fong & Aquino for guidance on how to check the US Department of State for travel warnings and other restrictions. —ecf

    Hand Stop.jpgThe immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino prepare hundreds of visa applications annually. We handle visa applicants from the UK, France, Spain, Switzerland, China, Japan, Canada, México, El Salvador, Argentina, Australia, Nigeria, Ghana, South Afrika, and dozens of other countries.

    Under some circumstances, our clients, whether they are here in Los Angeles or elsewhere, must leave the USA to obtain their visas from the US Embassy or Consulate-General outside the USA.

    Because of heightened security concerns at US posts abroad, many everyday articles MAY NOT be brought into a US Embassy or Consulate. The obvious ones are: fire arms, ammunition, sharp weapons. But other prohibited items include: