stairway.jpgThe US Government recently announced that NSEERS registration is no longer necessary. Like many other immigration law firms, Fong & Aquino of Los Angeles has numerous clients from countries in which Islam is the predominant religion. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was implemented in 2001. NSEERS required the citizens of certain Islamic countries who are visiting the USA to undergo special treatment and registration upon entry to and exit from the USA. Many Fong & Aquino clients in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas were especially impacted by NSEERS.

Persons born in or citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen were all subject to NSEERS arrival-departure control.

Implemented in the wake of the attacks of 9/11/2001, the NSEERS program was designed to record the arrival, stay, and departure of certain individuals from countries chosen based on an analysis of perceived national security threats. Because the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has now implemented automated systems that capture arrival and departure information for persons of all nationalities — that includes citizens of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave (Americans) — the NSEERS registration is no longer required.

H-1B season looks like it’s going to last a while this year. With nationwide unemployment still high, offers for H-1B employment seem to be lagging as well. Here are updated H-1B quota numbers for those looking for H-1B sponsors and wondering “how much time do I have left before the H-1B quota runs out…”

  • Regular cap: approximately 15,200 cases have been receipted out of the 65,000 available as of June 15
  • US Advanced degree cap: approximately 10,200 have been receipted from the 20,000 available

plane+jetway.jpgRecently, I toured the Federal Inspections area at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). As an attorney affiliated with Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles, I routinely get questions from clients about “what happens to me when I land after my international flight? What will the procedures be like for me?”

Although my visit was to LAX, it is fair to say that the same immigration procedures and data bases are in place at all international airports in the Southern California region: Orange County, San Diego, Ontario, Palm Springs, and other international airports nationwide.

Every day, thousands of people pass through the Tom Bradley International Terminal and the other international arrival terminals at LAX. After deplaning and waiting in the seemingly interminable queues, most passengers will only see one immigration officer. Then they will collect their luggage and see a customs officer. And then, they will go up a ramp where they are greeted by a smiling photo of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa welcoming them to the United States.

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** 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

dice.pngThe business immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have often been asked to review denied H-1B cases prepared by other attorneys. We are asked for advice on whether and how to re-submit a new successful H-1B petition. While it is a difficult task to overcome a previously denied H-1B petition, it is not impossible… it’ll be hard work, but it’s not impossible.

The following are questions that are appropriate to ask if you have had a denied H-1B petition:

1. Did the first attorney spend enough time with me and my employer to understand what special knowledge and tasks are involved in the offered H-1B job?

Thanks to USCIS for the updated quota numbers:

Regular cap: approximately 13,100 have been received Advanced degree cap: approximately 9,000 have been received
Many people are continuing to ask when the quota might be reached. While it’s impossible to really know and difficult to estimate, it seems that the quota numbers are moving slowly. Those who are still looking for H-1B employment and/or those on F-1 OPT still have ample time to prepare a case for this year’s quota. Contact the business immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino for a consultation. —ecf

The immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino are often asked by foreign job seekers whether there are options other than H-1B for living and working in the US. Given the difficulty of finding an appropriate H-1B employer these days, many people have asked specifically whether the J-1 exchange visitor is a good option.

Although there are several types of J-1 exchange visitors, this blog will focus on the J-1 internship category.

Here are a few pointers to follow when looking for a J-1 sponsor:

Screen shot 2011-05-11 at 2.58.08 PM.pngPresident Obama addressed the nation in a highly anticipated speech on immigration reform from El Paso, Texas. Many have criticized the President’s speech because he offered little in detail but spoke in broad terms.

The immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino would like to note that while deportations have increased under the Obama administration, President Obama reiterated that legalization should be offered to the undocumented, but with an emphasis on accountability. The President stated clearly: “those who are here illegally have a responsibility as well … they have to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. And they have to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization.”

The President also weighed in on the hallmark of immigration: family reunification. President Obama said “I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families. That’s not right. That’s not who we are.”

The business immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have been asked numerous times when the H-1B cap will be reached, or whether the quota is closing soon. While no one knows when the H-1B cap will be reached, USCIS has released some recent numbers of the current H-1B usage.

As of May 6, approximately 10,200 petitions have been received for the regular, Bachelor’s degree quota while approximately 7,300 petitions have been received for the advanced degree quota.

It seems that the H-1B quota is still wide open and those interested in consulting with the attorneys at Fong & Aquino for potential applications should give us a call as soon as possible given the fact that it can take USCIS months to adjudicate H-1B petitions. —ecf

Thumbprint.jpgLos Angeles-based immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have received a recent string of consultations from the Palm Springs and Inland Empire area involving the immigration consequences of drug convictions.

One individual is a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who was convicted in 2000 for possession of drug paraphernalia. The conviction did not come to the government’s attention until the gentleman returned from a vacation abroad and he re-entered the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has placed him into removal proceedings, charging that he had been convicted of a controlled substance offense.

Another man recently walked in with a Notice to Appear in which the DHS alleged that he entered the United States in 1965. “That’s wonderful!”, I thought, “I’ve got one of the few people in America that is eligible for registry.” My excitement waned when I discovered that the man had a conviction for possession of drugs in the 1980s.