Recently in Consular Issues Category

February 4, 2013

National Visa Center I-601A Letter Misleads Many Immigrants

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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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.

For some people who do indeed need the waiver -- if they overstayed or entered without any papers -- they should take a look at my blog from earlier this month.

If you have questions about whether you or a relative might need an I-601 or an I-601A waiver, it is very important to consult with a competent immigration attorney. --jcf

January 7, 2013

Illegal Presence Waiver Can Now be Processed in USA

Alt Route Waver.jpgOver many years, the immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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.

Continue reading "Illegal Presence Waiver Can Now be Processed in USA" »

April 7, 2012

Visa Fees to Increase

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
  • Treaty investor and treaty trader visas: E-1, E-2 will decrease from $390 to $270
  • Border crossing cards will increase: BCCs $140 to $160
  • Fiance(e) visas: K visas to decrease from $350 to $240
  • Immediate relative and family preference applications will decrease from $330 to $230
  • Employment-based applications will increase from $720 to $405
  • For more information, visit the USDOS website or call the attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you need help submitting your visa application. ---ecf

January 6, 2012

Proposed Change May Allow Immigration Waiver for Undocumented

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 The Law Offices of J Craig Fong offices in Los Angeles or Palm Springs.

This is very complicated, so please read carefully:

(1) With few exceptions, an undocumented alien can only interview for a green card by going back to his/her home country to have an interview at the US Embassy. The CATCH is that when someone like this departs the country, s/he triggers a ten-year bar, and s/he will not be allowed to return for ten years, even if s/he otherwise qualifies for the green card.

(2) There is one exception to this bar: if the undocumented alien goes to the interview and is barred from coming back to the USA, the applicant can file a "waiver," explaining that some US citizen (or legal permanent resident) will suffer "severe Hardship" if the applicant is not allowed to return. At this time, the waiver can only be filed at the US Embassy at the time of the applicant's interview. The means that the applicant ends up waiting abroad for months waiting for a decision. If the waiver is NOT granted, the applicant cannot return.

(3) If this regulatory change is approved, the Obama Administration would allow the applicant to apply for this waiver BEFORE the applicant leaves to the home country. This would be an enormous benefit. If the waiver is granted, the applicant goes to the Embassy interview and comes back, no 10-year bar. If the waiver is NOT granted, then the applicant just stays put in the US, and avoids going home to be denied and excluded.

This is not an amnesty.

This proposed change allows those who can be legalized to get a green card through the regular immigration process. The only change would be applying for the waiver before departure from the USA. The impact of this small change would have an enormous impact on individuals and families in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California. Right now, this is only a proposal -- it is NOT YET IN EFFECT.

The lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have talked to hundreds if not thousands of people over the years who can benefit from this potential change. Stay tuned. As soon as this change goes into effect, we will be post additional information. --jcf

October 11, 2011

What Happens When a Family Petitioner Dies?

headstones.jpgLately, the attorneys at the immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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:

(1) Disruption of an established family unit; (2) Hardship to Citizens and lawful permanent residents; (3) A beneficiary who is elderly or in poor health; (4) A beneficiary who has had lengthy residence in the United States; (5) A beneficiary who has no home to go to; (6) Undue delay by USCIS or consular officers in processing the petition and the visa; and (7) a beneficiary who has strong family ties in the United States.

Prior to submitting a request, clients should work closely with their attorneys to assemble a strong evidentiary package that addresses each of the factors that USCIS considers. Bear in mind: the decision to reinstate a petition is completely within the discretion of USCIS. Humanitarian reinstatement applies to beneficiaries outside the United States. Beneficiaries residing inside the United States when the petitioner passes away may be able to avail themselves of Section 204(L) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong are always available to help guide you through this process. --ra

June 7, 2011

Are we THERE yet? The Mysteries of the Visa Bulletin.

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 the Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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

March 25, 2011

AIT Temporarily Suspends Visa Services

Taiwan Flag.jpgThe immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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.

Emergency matters should contact the AIT website directly and follow instructions there.

There has been no indication as to when the visa section will re-open for general business. If you have questions about this or any other issues relating to immigration and nationality law, please contact us. --jcf

March 19, 2011

Expedited Processing for Japanese Nationals Affected by Earthquake and Tsunamis

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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong for assistance in making these applications to the USCIS. ---ecf

    March 11, 2011

    Earthquake in Japan: Tsunami Warnings for Hawaii and West Coast

    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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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 Law Offices of J Craig Fong for guidance on how to check the US Department of State for travel warnings and other restrictions. ---ecf

    February 3, 2011

    Prohibited Articles at the US Embassy or Consulate-General

    Hand Stop.jpgThe immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong 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:

    Electronic Devices
    photographic cameras
    video cameras
    mobile telephones
    two-way handhelp radios
    portable radios
    portable DVD players or "Game Boys"
    laptop computers
    magnetic diskettes
    memory sticks or thumb-drive USB memories
    batteries
    calculators
    any electronic cables

    Metallic Objects
    pocket knives
    metallic scissors
    metallic ball point pens
    belts with metallic buckles
    pencil sharpeners

    Personal Articles
    cigarettes, cigars
    lighters
    matches
    lanyard or cord for ID pouch

    Cosmetic Articles
    eyebrow clippers
    eyelash curlers
    metallic nail files
    any aerosol products
    mirrors
    glass containers (e.g., perfumes, mascara, etc.)
    razors

    Some of these items seem silly, but because of incidents that have happened at some US posts, you should not bring any of these things to a consular appointment. If you do, you will be forced to leave the item behind -- and the US posts DO NOT have any facilities to check personal belongings -- which could cause you to be late for or miss your appointment! --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

    February 27, 2010

    Earthquake in Chile; Tsunami Threats Worldwide

    Chile: an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Chile today. Lasting 90 seconds it was 500x more powerful than the one that shook Haiti. Tsunami warnings and alerts are now in place from South America to Asia and throughout the Pacific. Evacuations have already begun in Hawai'i. Law Offices of J Craig Fong sends a message of hope and support to our Chilean clients who may have relatives or loved ones in the country.

    Like Haitians present in the United States after the devastating earthquake in their home country, Chileans in the United States may soon be eligible for "Temporary Protected Status" or "TPS" if Congress designates Chile as a country where nationals cannot return safely because of dire conditions impacting the country. Haiti was designated a TPS country on January 21, 2010, only nine days after the January 12 earthquake.

    Travel back to Chile may be impossible for quite some time, however those who have H-1B1 or other temporary visas, and who want to travel to the country in the weeks to come should review the Department of State website for all warnings on travel conditions.

    Please contact Law Offices of J Craig Fong if you are from Chile and your visa has expired or if you have other questions about possible TPS status. ---ecf

    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

    July 21, 2009

    International "Support" Office Opens in California

    USCIS has recently opened an "International Adjudications Support Branch" in Anaheim, California. This purpose of this office is to help process some of the applications and petitions received from international USCIS offices. The office is meant to help overseas USCIS offices handle periodic fluctuations in work. We at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles have noticed that some of our immigration law clients' forms are being processed at this new office.

    The office is located in the same facility as the Los Angeles Asylum Office, and it does not handle or accept inquiries, appointments, or walk-ins.

    Currently, this support branch is handling I-601 Waiver cases -- except health-related waivers -- from the US Consulate-General in Ciudad Juárez, México. It is not yet known what other cases will be assigned to this office. --jcf