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November 15, 2013

USCIS Asked to Designate TPS for Philippines -- under consideration

monster-typhoon-philippines-haiyan_73273_600x450.jpg

The Immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong has many, many clients from the Philippines, both at the Los Angeles office and the Palm Springs office. Last week, the Philippine Islands suffered catastrophic damage from the winds and rain of Typhoon Haiyan. The nation is only now beginning to get assistance to its stricken citizens, and the world is responding as well.

While the Philippines struggle to cope with the after-effects of one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on land, the United States can help in many ways, in addition to the aid that is already underway. One way we can help is to limit the strain on Philippine resources by designating the Philippines for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under §244(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This would allow Filipinos currently on temporary stay in the USA to remain here until the situation in their home country stabilizes. Please write to your Representative and Senators, and urge them to designate TPS protection for the Philippines.

Remember: TPS has not yet been approved for the Philippines. There is no program or benefit to apply for at this time. Please do not call the immigration office to ask, because there is no TPS yet for Philippines.

Consultations are available in both the Los Angeles and Palm Springs offices. Call for an appointment: 323.769.8187. --jcf

February 4, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage and Comprehensive Immigration Reform

rainbow rings.jpgIn my 30 years as an immigration lawyer in the gay and lesbian community, the question I am asked most is, "why can't I bring my foreign partner to the USA? Straight people can get married and bring their spouses! We should have the same rights!" This question has resonated here in my offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. I have been asked the question when I practiced in San Francisco and Chicago. I even get asked the question in Paris and London. The over-simplified answer is the word "marriage."

Under the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the US gives US citizens a "benefit," allowing the spouse of a US citizen to apply for a legal permanent resident card (LPR -- otherwise called "the green card"). Until recently, same-sex marriage (SSM) was quite rare, so the US could hide behind the idea that LPR is only extended to someone married to a US citizen.

Then some enlightened countries began letting same-sex couples get married, and the US was faced with a dilemma: do we apply the law equally and allow these same-sex couples the same rights as other Americans, or do we try to stop them. The result was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA is not a part of the immigration law. DOMA simply says that the US government will not provide any benefits based on marriage if the couple is a same-sex couple. And a green card based on marriage is a "benefit."

President Obama has said that his proposal for CIR will allow an American to petition for a same-sex partner. However, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have already said that they oppose including same-sex couples in CIR.

The US Congress cannot even decide when to have lunch, so the future of CIR is unclear. However, the move to pass CIR is strong in the immigrant community. The gay and lesbian community has never been very skillful in its outreach to communities of color. If ever there was a time for productive dialogue and political-partnering between two groups, this is it.

If you have questions about options legally to immigrate a same-sex partner to the United States, I would be happy to chat with you. --jcf

January 30, 2013

Major Overhaul to Immigration Law May be Coming

Nation of Imm.jpgFor over 10 years, immigrants and their families have come to the immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong and asked me about any possible changes to the immigration law that will help them. I hear, from clients in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and many other places that they need some change in the immigration law to allow them to stay in this country and pursue their dreams, work productively, be free from persecution, and most importantly, to be united with their families.

For the first time since 1990, a major change in the immigration law may be coming.

You probably already know that the US Congress has been deadlocked for over 4 years, with the members (mostly) of one political party refusing to cooperate with the White House. As a result, a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill has never been seriously discussed. With the results of the recent re-election of President Barack Obama, and (many) members of the Republican party realizing that it is in their best interest to help immigrants, CIR may be on its way. What will it do?

No one knows!

So why am I writing this blog?

For the next few months, you will be reading many ideas, proposals, suggestions, conditions, demands, arguments, and so on about CIR. For right now, you need to know that NOTHING has been decided. Most immigration law observers believe that we will have some real, concrete details before the end of February. Some possibilities:

* A pathway to legalization, or an earned path to residency, for those undocumented people who are already here. This possibility is likely to have a requirement for paying back taxes, paying a fine, and learning English or taking a basic English test. We do not know any more right now.

* A category of immigration for the same-sex couples, where one partner is a US citizen and the other is a foreigner. This possibility is likely to require proof that the couple has been in an exclusive, emotionally inter-dependent relationship for a minimum period of time -- likely, two years. We do not know any more right now.

* A large database of all persons eligible to work in the USA. In order for ANYone get get a job, employers may be asked to register with or check this database to verify that employees are legally eligible to work in the USA. Will they do such checking for foreigners only, or will this include US citizens? We do not know any more right now.

* A big push for even stronger border control, both at the Southern Border with México, the Northern Border with Canada, and at all airports. This might include enhanced exit control, also, to record not only who enters the USA and when, but also who exits. We do not know any more right now.

Remember: nothing has been decided right now. There is no new law right now. You do not need to register. You do not need to sign up. You do not need to file any form right now.

There are many notarios and others who are not licensed to practice law. In order to get money from you, they will try to scare you into thinking that you might do something now in order to preserve an immigration benefit. Please remember: there is NO new law right now.

Good news is coming. Be patient.

If you have questions, if you would like to consult with me, please feel free to give me a call, and I would be happy to discuss your situation or that of your family. --jcf


January 1, 2013

Law Offices of J Craig Fong

Changes Ahead2.jpgAfter practicing law together for almost one decade, Eileen Chun-Fruto and I have evolved into different forms of law practice. I will continue to practice immigration and nationality law, handle consultations, and do my blog here at my offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. The firm name is now, "Law Offices of J Craig Fong." You can reach me, as before, at Tel: +1.323.769.8187 -- this is the same phone number you have used in the past. My new e-mail address is: j@jfonglaw.com . My webpage is now: http://www.jfonglaw.com .

My practice will continue to focus on families, waivers, small business investors, intra-company transferees, and investor visas. Also, as I have been for all 30 years of my law work, I remain very devoted to counseling, advocating for, and working with non-traditional families.

Eileen Chun-Fruto now practices immigration law with a law firm in downtown Los Angeles. She can be reached at echun@fongandchun.com.

Law offices change forms for many reasons. Eileen and I have parted as friends and colleagues. If for any reason you have questions about your case with the former office of Fong & Chun, llp, you are free to contact either one of us. We are now -- as we always were before -- committed to high quality immigration law work, where each case is treated individually and with respect for your family, your business, and your concerns. --jcf

August 7, 2012

Border Guards Question US Citizens About Back Taxes

IRS.pngThe immigration lawyers at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs have been hearing that US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officers -- the border guards at the airports and other ports of entry (POE) -- have been asking arriving US citizens and residents about taxes owed to the IRS and the US Government.

CBP maintains a database called Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS). This lookout system is used for the screening of travelers at border inspection points and maintains data on people when some kind of enforcement action has been taken against or about that traveler. For example, if an traveler is sent to secondary screening, if a warrant for arrest has been issued, if there is a lookout posted for that traveler, or "where law enforcement or intelligence agencies have identified information or contexts that relate to a person."

Apparently, TECS is now being used to identify taxpayers with unpaid tax assessments who are traveling to the USA. If you live outside the USA or spend a great deal of time outside the USA, and if the IRS has been unable to contact the you, and if you are subject to a filed Notice of Federal Tax Lien, you may be pulled aside at the airport or POE by CBP.

Agents at the airport or POE may ask what assets you have in the USA, the purpose and duration of your trip, where you are staying, and similar information. They can also ask about your employment relationships in the USA, to establish wage garnishment possibilities.

Taxpayers who reside outside the USA are sometimes not aware that they have outstanding US tax liabilities, so whether or not a US citizen is required to file a tax return, it may be a good idea to keep IRS apprised of your current address -- in order to avoid any nasty surprises at a POE. If you have any questions about your tax liabilities, you should contact your tax preparer. If you have questions about your immigration status, contact the immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong. --jcf

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 24, 2012

No Reliability from Republican Candidates on Immigration Reform

Question Mark.jpgThe 2012 Republican presidential candidates have done nothing to speak clearly about immigration law and reform. Instead of speaking in clear, grown-up terms about immigration policy, they are using volatile language, demonizing immigrants. This does not advance any discussion; it is just pandering and solves nothing. This cheap talk from the Republican field is causing concern, dismay, and even panic for some of the clients of the Law Offices of J Craig Fong, in our offices in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and elsewhere.

In a recent article in the New York Times, candidate Mitt Romney has reportedly abandoned his usually anti-immigrant rhetoric. Why? Because he's campaigning in Florida, where over 22% of the population is of Hispanic origin! So, what is his true position? And can he be relied on to stick to it?

Candidate Newt Gingrich is not much better, because although Gingrich has rightfully observed that the USA cannot simply deport all undocumented immigrants, he has proposed few concrete solutions.

Both Romney and Gingrich have spoken in favor of one part of the so-called DREAM Act. The DREAM Act would allow young people who were brought to the USA, and who have gone to high school in the USA, to legalize their immigration status, PROVIDED (1) they perform military or other public service, or (2) they pursue post-high school education. Romney and Gingrich are saying that they would support part of the DREAM Act for those who would serve in the military -- but not for those who complete college. In other words, Romney and Gingrich would legalize those who would risk death in the name of the USA, but NOT for those who would go to college to improve the US workforce!

As we move further into this election year, it is important to recognize that the Obama Administration has tried to get the cooperation of Congress on some types of immigration reform -- and Congress has refused. It is NOT a question of whether Obama should be doing more. It is MORE a question of whether Congress will cooperate on anything the Obama Administration would propose. And given that Congress cannot even agree on when to have LUNCH, I doubt they're going to agree on immigration reform.

As the year wears on, we will try to discuss some possible immigration reforms -- reforms which will NOT create a new amnesty, NOT create a new program, but will create humane solutions. --jcf

January 10, 2012

The Law Offices of J Craig Fong on Twitter

Twitter.jpgFor 2012, the attorneys at the law offices of Law Offices of J Craig Fong, have decided to make use of Twitter to notify interested followers of immigration news. Whether you are in the fast-lane of Los Angeles business or the laid-back Desert life in Palm Springs, rapid access to news in this field is important.

Getting "breaking news" on the complex, fast-moving issues surrounding immigration is vital, whether you are a family member who wants to sponsor a relative, an employer who hires immigrants, a spouse being sponsored by an American, an investor wanting an E-2 visa to open a business in the USA, an O-1 extraordinary ability actor who is seeking a big break in the Industry, or any other visa hopeful.

To be sure, immigration laws and regulations do not always change daily, so we will not be Tweeting daily. However, whenever there is an interesting development, we will raise the issue on on Twitter, as well as point you to blogs or articles for more information.

Follow us on Twitter at: FongChunLaw

October 10, 2011

California DREAM Act is for Education -- NOT for a Green Card

graduation.jpgOn 9 October 2011, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the California Dream Act. This bill permits undocumented immigrants to attend California public university and community colleges, providing them access to state financial aid. Only three states in the USA permit undocumented immigrants to qualify for state financial aid for college: California, New Mexico, and Texas.

To qualify, students must graduate from a California high school, after having attended school in California for a minimum of three years. The student must also sign a declaration that they are in the process of adjusting or legalizing his/her immigration situation. It is not yet known what exactly students will be attesting to when they say they are "in the process" of legalizing.

Immigrants should be very clear: the California DREAM Act is for undocumented immigrant students wishing to go to university in this state. The California DREAM Act does NOT provide legal immigration status, does NOT make the student immune from removal or deportation, does NOT permit the student to work in the absence of an Employment Authorization Document from the US immigration authorities, and does NOT permit the student to travel out of the USA and to return.

The California DREAM Act does not address the need for comprehensive immigration reform on the Federal level.i

To be sure, the DREAM Act is a practical, realistic way to address the unarguable fact that so many undocumented immigrants now reside in California, and it is not possible to remove them all. If these students get an education, it is a long-term benefit to California. --jcf

October 6, 2011

The World Mourns Steve Jobs

Green apple standing out.jpgToday the world mourns Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was the creator and visionary at Apple, Inc. but he is remembered as one of the world's greatest business leaders, ranking up there with the likes of Ford and Rockefeller. Steve Jobs was credited for bringing technology and it's benefits to the every day lives of every day people. The attorneys at Law Offices of J Craig Fong want to thank Steve Jobs for changing how we think about technology, for inspiring us to think creatively in what we do as immigration attorneys.

Law Offices of J Craig Fong is proud to run our office on Apple technology. We love our Apple computers, iPhones and iPads. But more importantly, the immigration attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have also embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and determination which is best exemplified by Steve Job's own words:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

As immigration lawyers, we know that the law allows families to reunify, it gives foreign workers and entrepreneurs a chance to realize their dreams. What we do at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong gives people a chance in a lifetime to make a change for the better. Many, many of our clients come to us after other immigration attorneys have turned their cases away hearing their employers were too small, too new to sponsor an H-1b or that a new company L-1 is just impossible these days. Or perhaps their family members were facing removal or in desperate need of an immigration waiver but that odds were against them so that it wasn't worth trying. at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong, we don't provide formulaic solutions to challenges. Steve Jobs didn't do that and neither do we. Challenging cases require exacting solutions. We work on each case with the individualized attention that each case deserves and we have the years of experience to know what works and what does not. When other immigration attorneys won't make the extra effort to take on cases that are outside the norm, we do - because this is what makes our work meaningful, and this is what inspires us to create great work and to make a difference, a world of difference to the individuals who didn't settle and tried anyhow. --ecf

September 27, 2011

DV Lottery Begins October 4, 2011

Opportunity in the sky.jpgFollowing this past year's diversity lottery fiasco, the US Department of State has announced that it will begin accepting applications for DV 2013 at noon (EDT) on October 4, 2011. The application period will close on November 4, 2011 at noon (EDT).

It has only been a few months since Dept of State notified then revoked the winning results of 22,000 "winning" lottery applicants. In the incident, now commonly known as "22,000 tears," the DOS reported that a computer glitch caused 90% of the DV2012 winners to be selected from applications made during the first 2 days of the 30-day application period, and that because of this, the results were not "randomized," and hence, invalid. DOS states that it "mistakenly informed" these unfortunate 22,000 "winners," some of whom had already started making plans and selling off assets to move to the US and begin their American Dream.

As we look ahead, some changes have been made to the countries whose nationals can now participate in the DV 2013 lottery. Nationals of South Sudan and Poland are now eligible to submit applications and although mainland Chinese born applicants cannot participate, Hong Kong SAR, Macau, and Taiwanese applicants may still apply. While the Los Angeles visa attorneys at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong, wish the best of luck to all DV 2013 applicants, we also remember and sympathize with the 22,000 individuals of DV 2012. --ecf

August 22, 2011

Foreign Students Walk Off Hershey's Chocolate Factory Jobs

chocolate.jpgRecently, the news -- local Pennsylvania news, the Associated Press, and even The New York Times -- has been filled with a story about foreign students who came to the USA to participate in an "exchange program," who ended up working under allegedly harsh conditions at the Hershey chocolate factory in Pennsylvania. Here at the immigration law offices of J Craig Fong, we began to get calls from people around Los Angeles, as well as throughout the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs and Palm Desert), about these exchange visitor visas.

Essentially, the J visa program was created as a foreign-policy tool to encourage international understanding, to provide a way for foreigners to get to know American life and work. It also allows a freer exchange of information, permitting professors and researchers to continue their studies and presentations in the USA. The visa is for a:
* professor or research scholar,
* short-term researcher or scholar,
* trainee or intern,
* college or university student,
* teacher,
* secondary school student,
* nonacademic specialist,
* foreign physician,
* international visitor,
* government visitor,
* camp counselor,
* au pair, or
* summer student in a travel/work program.

Each of these categories has its own set of requirements -- too much to mention here. Suffice to say that the J-visa holder must be taking part of a legitimate program and should have sufficient funds; be able to speak, read, and write English; maintain sufficient medical insurance in case of accident and illness; and have and maintain a residence abroad to which the visa holder will return.

The J visa program was established to allow visa holders -- typically students, trainees, researchers, and teacher/professors -- to visit the USA, engage in cultural programs, teach or lecture to share information, do home-stays or au pair work as part of family exchange programs, or to do hands-on training in a field for which they have had educational or vocational training.

The program was certainly not created to allow employers to avoid hiring US workers, or to use foreign students as cheap labor, or to cheat foreign students out of a valuable chance to have a cultural-exchange experience in the USA.

Unfortunately, less-than-scrupulous organizations have created partnerships with certain employers and manufacturers to provide inexpensive labor in the guise of cultural exchange. Even more shocking: many of these student visitors are CHARGED by the organizations which have organized this so-called cultural-exchange experience for them -- the way one might be charged by a tour operator. In the end, however, these J-1 students apparently had a very unpleasant experience.

I know nothing of the alleged conditions at Hershey. However, it is important that visitors thoroughly understand the visa that they are applying for and feel comfortable with the attorney or trip organizer with which they are working. --jcf

August 19, 2011

Beware of Notarios and other Immigration Scams

handshake.jpgThe immigration Law Offices of J Craig Fong serves the entire Los Angeles area, including Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, Long Beach, and indeed, clients all around the United States. We handle family visas, business and investor visas, and removal / deportation cases. Our attorneys frequently encounter people who come in and say that they have been working with an "immigration service" or "immigration consultant" or "notario" or "notary public" for the processing of their paperwork. In the vast majority of these cases, the results obtained by these so-called service-providers have been devastating.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a nationwide program to target non-attorney notaries and others who are advising and preparing paperwork for clients. The immigration system is complex, and although DHS often views attorneys as a hinderance to its work, DHS also understands that the only way an immigrant gets proper representation, a fair hearing, is through a competent, licensed attorney.

This is a difficult subject, because those of us at the Law Offices of J Craig Fong have met and seen the work of a few excellent, conscientious, knowledgeable notaries. However, to be frank, these are a great exception. In truth, notaries have no legal training and have no requirement to stay up-to-date in their knowledge. Attorneys do.

It is also true that not every attorney is going to be a good fit with every client: as you seek an immigration attorney, please ask yourself:

* Is this person a licensed attorney? If you're not sure, ask the state bar association.

* Does this lawyer have the experience to handle my case? Ask whether s/he has handled such a case before. Ask how long s/he has been licensed to practice. Some attorneys TEACH immigration law to other attorneys. This is a pretty good sign that the attorney has solid practical experience.

* Is this attorney listening to me? Some attorneys handle cases in mass quantities and do not make the effort to know you, your family, or your business.

* Is this attorney telling me what s/he is going to do? Some attorneys will just say, "it's ok, just leave it with me. I will take care of it." This is not good. You need to know what is being done by the attorney in your name. In the end, you are responsible for what the attorney files if you sign the papers.

* Is this attorney willing to explain things to me? Immigration law is a field of law where the client must understand what's going on; your future in this country depends on being knowledgeable. Does this attorney explain things to you clearly and in a way that you understand?

* Do I fundamentally trust this attorney? You are putting your family or business in the hands of this professional. Look him or her in the eye and ask yourself, "is this person honest, clear, and straight-forward?"

* Is this attorney a member of a reputable immigration law association? Merely being a member of any ole' professional organizations is not the key here; any lawyer can write a check to join an organization. However, some organizations require a minimum number of years in practice before an attorney can apply to be admitted to membership. It should raise a little bit of concern if your attorney is NOT a member of, or active with, any such organizations. The main professional organizations for immigration attorneys are the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Federal Bar Association (Immigration Section).

--jcf