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November 15, 2013

USCIS Asked to Designate TPS for Philippines -- under consideration


Fong & Aquino 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 1, 2013

DACA: Work Permits for Childhood Arrivals - Still Available

Last summer, President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which would allow some young people who were brought to the United States at a very young age to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD - a work permit). With all the discussion of amnesty and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I still get people asking me here at Fong & Aquino whether this DACA program still exists.

It does.

To qualify for the program, a successful applicant must show that s/he:
* arrived in the USA before age 16;
* has resided in the USA since 15 June 2007;
* is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
* has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
* is not over the age of thirty.

Needed documents include:
* birth certificate
* two passport-size photos
* high school and/or university transcript -- diplomas are helpful, too

If you have questions about the DACA program, please feel free to contact me at my office. --jcf

June 15, 2012

FLASH: Work Permits Possible for SOME Undocumented Youth

The Obama Administration today issued an Executive Order which would allow CERTAIN young undocumented young people to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Los Angeles / Palm Springs immigration attorneys Fong & Aquino have counseled thousands of immigrants, and we know that many undocumented youth are eligible for work permits under this newly-announced program.

The details are not yet available, but the White House has said that the qualifications are:
* Arrived in the USA before age 16;
* Resided in the USA since 15 June 2007;
* Education. Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
* Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
* Age. Are not above the age of thirty.

Each applicant must provide PROOF of all of these items.

Details of how and where to apply are not yet available. Check back to this blog. We will provide more information as soon as it is available. If you wish to discuss your immigration situation, please contact us at +1.323.769.8187. --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 Fong & Aquino if you need help submitting your visa application. ---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 Fong & Aquino, wish the best of luck to all DV 2013 applicants, we also remember and sympathize with the 22,000 individuals of DV 2012. --ecf

September 21, 2011

Studying in the States - New USCIS Website!

%22University%22 building.jpgLast weekend, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the launch of a new USCIS website for students looking to study in the US. The website's name? Yup, "Study in the States." The new website which will be of use to F-1 and M-1 hopefuls, is aimed at disseminating information to foreign students, as well as serving as an interagency resource hub between DHS and it's partner organizations. Information pertaining to J-1 exchange visitors and trainees is still relegated to the US Department of State.

Study in the States provides information on how prospective students should utilize the current version of SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System program. It also tells us what we can expect with the highly anticipated "paperless" SEVIS II, which may launch "in the near future."

There's also general information useful to new immigrants such as how to obtain a social security number, how to enroll your children in Kindergarten through 12th grade, and how to get a driver's license. The attorneys at Fong & Aquino applaud the launch of this user-friendly website and what we hope is not only USCIS acknowledgment that foreign students coming to pursue degrees in the United States represent some of the best and the brightest talents in the world...but that these are the students who can and will someday continue to drive the innovation, entrepreneurship, and values known throughout generations as, the American Dream. --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 Fong & Aquino, 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

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 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

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

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 Fong & Aquino 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.

Fong & Aquino 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

June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson's Concerts in Britain

Microphone.jpgFong & Aquino in Los Angeles has received several calls about artists who have been involved in the preparations for the series of Michael Jackson concerts which were scheduled to take place in London beginning this summer. The performer's recent death has thrown arrangements for those concerts into chaos.

Although the Jackson concerts were to take place in the United Kingdom, extensive preparations were taking place both in the UK and in the United States. In preparation for any big rehearsal, event, performance, or concert, teams of make-up artists, costume designers, hair stylists, choreographers, dancers, back-up vocalists, special effects personnel, music arrangers, musicians, lighting engineers, etc. etc. come together to create the shows that so many enjoy. The number of people involved with a complex series of high-tech, music and dance spectaculars can be upwards of 50 -100 people, not all of them American.

Renowned performers and artists can qualify for the O-1 visa ("extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics) to enter the USA. However, when something catastrophic happens -- like the death of a performer -- the performance or concert on which the O-1 visa is based is cancelled, the performer or artist risks falling out of legal immigration status.

For individuals who have visas which are predicated on a set of facts -- an individual employer, a detailed job description, a specific person, a particular school or academic program, etc., -- it is vital to consult a knowledgeable immigration attorney if there has been any substantial change, in order to preserve visa status. --jcf

April 22, 2009

HIV Declaration for B-1 + B-2 Visitor Visas Introduced by State Department

The nonimmigrant visa (B-1 / B-2) rules for HIV-positive people who want to visit the USA have been issued by the US Department of State (DOS).  Los Angeles-based immigration law firm Fong & Chun counsels and represents many HIV-positive persons, and unfortunately, the new nonimmigrant HIV Waiver Authorization puts HIV-positive people in a difficult position.

US immigration law denies entry to the USA to aliens who are HIV-positive.  For nonimmigrants who wish to come to the USA as business or touristic visitors, the procedure has been to apply for a waiver under Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sec. 212(d)(3)(A)(i).  This waiver procedure is expensive, time-consuming, and exposes the applicant to possible arbitrary, capricious, or AIDS-phobic decisions of some adjudicating officers.

DOS has put into effect a procedure where the visa officer now has the authority to grant otherwise-visa-qualified HIV-positive applicants a B-1 / B-2 visitor visa, provided the alien signs a declaration (DS-5512) that:

(1) admits that s/he is HIV-positive; 

(2) s/he does not currently exhibit symptoms indicative of an "active, contagious" opportunistic infection; 

(3) s/he knows and has been counseled on the nature, severity, and communicability of the medical condition; 

(4) s/he is a minimal risk to public health to, and is unlikely to transmit HIV to any other person in, the United States; 

(5) s/he has an adequate supply of HIV meds for the anticipated stay and has sufficient assets, such as insurance that is accepted in the United States, to cover any medical care in the United States; 

(6) s/he will not create any cost to the United States, or a State or local government or agency, without prior written consent of the agency; 

(7) s/he is coming to visit the USA for touristic or business-visitor purposes only;

(8) that no single admission to the US will exceed thirty (30) days; 

(9) s/he is not subject to any other grounds of admissibility to the USA; 

(10) s/he admits and acknowledges that s/he cannot be admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); 

(11) s/he acknowledges that any failure to meet with ALL the conditions relating to the visa and to admission to the USA will make him/her ineligible for future authorization under this new provision; and 

(12) if s/he is admitted to the USA using this waiver procedure, s/he waives any chance to apply for an extension of stay, a change of status, or adjustment of status.  (An exception is made for applications for asylum.)

Although this procedure is more streamlined than the prior waiver, it puts the applicant in the position of signing a declaration -- admitting or acknowledging a great many facts -- which will stay on record with the US government.  The declaration includes statements which could subject the applicant to difficulties, even persecution, in his/her own country. 

Anyone thinking of signing the DS-5512 declaration to get a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa should consult experienced and HIV-sensitive counsel to discuss the ramifications.  --jcf

April 14, 2009

I-539 Extension of Stay Applications: Common Errors

Something as innocent as obtaining a nonimmigrant extension of stay (EOS) can be fraught with difficulty.  As immigration lawyers here in Los Angeles, Fong & Chun sees many people who have filed the the I-539 EOS application themselves, and the application has been denied or rejected because the applicants did not provide the immigration authorities with appropriate information.  Always be sure:

1.  the name on the application matches the name on the passport,
2.  copies -- do NOT send USCIS originals, unless USCIS specifically requests them in a letter to you -- of the face-page, visa page, entry stamp, and the I-94 arrival document should be included,
3.  the applicant should write a clear, succinct explanation of the need for the extension; this statement should come from, and be signed by, the applicant -- not an attorney,
4.  include enough documentation to show that the applicant has the financial resources to stay in the USA and to return to the home country,
5.  student-related applications -- like F or M visas -- must be accompanied by I-20s signed by a Designated School Official; the original I-20 should be sent with the I-539, and
6.  we recommend AGAINST using an e-check to pay for the application.
As always, Fong & Chun recommends that you (a) keep a copy of EVERYthing that you send to immigration authorities, and (b) send everything by Certified Mail with Return Receipt Requested.  
Should you need assistance, please contact us. --jcf