Immigrant STEM students may need legal help to get a green card
In the United States, the industries of science and technology don’t have enough workers who are skilled in what are known as the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. But there are many immigrants who study these subjects at American universities. For those who are concerned about the American economy and are sympathetic to the plight of immigrants seeking a green card, these facts present a problem that could be solved with meaningful immigration policy.
However, last month Congress did not pass a bill that would have given more permanent residency visas to immigrants who are getting their doctorate or master’s degrees in the United States. Some critics have said the failure to pass the bill was intentional and politically motivated.
Here is another interesting fact: of all Americans who have science or engineering degrees, over 20 percent were born in another country. As for engineering and computer science, the numbers are even higher: more than a third of those who have computer science or engineering degrees are immigrants. Still, America has a huge shortage of workers in these fields.
So far, 140,000 permanent residency visas are given each year to scientists and educators with “sustained national or international acclaim and recognition.” That number represents only 13 percent of all the permanent residency visas given to immigrants last year.
Regardless of whether you have a STEM background, immigrants in New York who are seeking a work-related visa face some challenges that are best handled with the help of an advocate with experience in immigration law. Successfully filing a petition for permanent residency can be complex and time-consuming, and consulting with an immigration law attorney can help expedite the process.
Immigrant activist avoids detainment after a traffic stop
A simple traffic stop. That’s all it can take to be detained on an immigration violation. Many people across the country live in fear of being detained and possibly deported after a simple traffic stop because their immigration status is undocumented or they are living in the Unites States without proper documentation. Even activists are not immune to potential detainment.
An immigrant was stopped by police in another state last week, and taken to a jail where he was questioned about his immigration status by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Although he admits living in the country without proper documentation, ICE decided not to detain him and has not pursued immigration charges. According to a news report in the New York Times about the incident, ICE makes decisions on detaining people based on their perceived threat to public safety, as well as past immigration-related incidents.
While the immigrant was not deemed to be a threat, some people who also have no past violations may have a more difficult time fighting detainment by immigration officials. Even though this prominent activist was released, he still faces charges of driving without a license.
Others who may be pulled over for minor violations might be detained and face deportation. Immigration rights groups contend that although some people are not detained, many others with no previous criminal violations and no resources to obtain a documented immigration status could face deportation from a traffic violation.
States adjust to let young immigrants pay in-state tuition
Education is important for U.S. citizens and immigrants alike. In some states, young people who were brought to the U.S. when they were young face special difficulties in paying for their education. One major barrier for undocumented immigrants has been the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. When you have in-state status, you can pay a lower tuition rate, but not all states give in-state status to young immigrants.
New York passed a law allowing state residency status for undocumented immigrants. Since the administration’s decision to allow most young immigrants to avoid deportation, other states are now taking steps to clarify their own immigration policies regarding in-state residency.
Massachusetts recently clarified its position. Now the estimated 15,000 to 17,000 young immigrants living in Massachusetts can take advantage of the in-state tuition discount. To illustrate how helpful that discount can be, The New York Times compared in-state and out-of-state tuition at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
There, state residents can pay tuition and fees amounting to $13,230, while out-of-state residents have to pay $26,645.
While some states like New York and Massachusetts are clarifying their immigration policies to help young, undocumented immigrants, other states are taking the opposite approach.
South Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, Colorado, Arizona and Georgia have all made it a point to bar undocumented immigrants from qualifying for an in-state tuition discount. Alabama passed a law that prohibits young immigrants from even enrolling at state colleges.
It’s been reported that since Mitt Romney had promised to repeal the administration’s deferment policy, many immigrants were waiting until after the presidential election to come forward. Now, however, young immigrants would do well to take advantage of their right to work and claim in-state residency.
Advocates for Immigrants
Despite an unfortunately common perception in the United States, immigration charges are heard in administrative court, not a criminal court. Still, immigrant detainees throughout the country are treated like criminals.
Recently, to call attention to the inhumane treatment of immigrant detainees, a campaign called “Expose and Close” released a number of reports. These reports claim that immigrants facing deportation charges receive substandard medical treatment and are not provided with the resources they need to work on their cases.
The reports also point out that many of the jails and prisons that house immigrant detainees are located in remote areas. That means detained immigrants have a difficult time contacting lawyers and family members — the very people who can help detainees achieve citizenship, change their status, get asylum or fight deportation.
After publishing its findings, the “Expose and Close” campaign called for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to close 10 of its detention facilities, one of which is the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey. In one of these jails, a detained immigrant died because he didn’t receive the medical treatment he needed. His family was later awarded a settlement.
Another case involved a young man whose mother brought him to the U.S. on a visa. He was 8 years old at the time and was seeking asylum. When he ran into a technical issue with his immigration status, he was thrown in jail for 19 months. This kept him away from his 3-year-old son and wife, who is a U.S. citizen. All the while, he had to work on his immigration case from behind bars.
Finally, the young man was given asylum, but he missed over two years of his son’s life.
Immigrants need to know that they are not alone in their desire to become U.S. citizens. Immigration law attorneys are in the business of helping individuals and families fight deportation charges and achieve a change in immigration status.
Harsh local policing major cause of higher deportation numbers
In the last four years, the United States has deported a record number of undocumented immigrants. But in different communities throughout the country, these deportations are higher or lower in number. Interestingly, a recent study indicates that having a larger immigrant population does not appear to be the reason certain communities deport more people.
On the contrary, factors such as local politics and police practices seem to be the major causes of higher deportation numbers in some parts of the United States. In fact, police who were surveyed in communities with higher immigrant populations enforce deportation laws on fewer occasions.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Public Administration Research, surveyed police chiefs from 237 medium to large-sized cities across the nation. According to the findings, in communities where there was a Hispanic police chief, deportation laws were not enforced as often.
The research also indicated that places where most voters are Republican, and where police chiefs answer to the city council and the mayor instead of a manager, immigration-related laws were more strictly enforced.
Perhaps most significantly, the study found that “cities with high shares of immigrants in the population tend to experience less aggressive enforcement.”
In about half of the cities addressed in the research, there had been no city policy regarding the enforcement of immigration laws. That means those police departments were either coming up with their own guidelines or letting officers on the streets make the decisions.
With such widespread disparity in deportation enforcement, immigrants will need a strong deportation defense. If you would like to learn more about defending against deportation, please stop by our office. Our firm helps immigrants who have been detained or who are facing deportation.
Citizenship and green cards: What does the future hold?
On what can be a rocky path to citizenship or a green card, many immigrants in the United States find creative and sometimes illegal ways to gain employment. From a legal perspective, this is not advisable, but the need to provide for one’s family while striving for a better future is something most Americans would identify with. People from nations with governments that fail to provide for their citizens often find that immigration to the U.S. is the best possible option for happiness and prosperity.
Reforming U.S. immigration law is set to be one of the top priorities. The issues involved are complex and numerous, as industries ranging from agriculture to high technology will likely make their lobbies felt. The states and the federal government will also bring their specific concerns to the table, and immigrants would do well to remain alert to any changes to the law.
Immigrants, too, documented or not, are speaking up to let officials know that changes need to be made. The administration initiated the deferred action program for young immigrants, but meanwhile, deportation numbers have risen significantly. Also, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped up audits of employers who may have hired undocumented immigrants.
In fact, ICE audited more companies recently than in any year before. During an audit, ICE looks at employer I-9 forms, which indicate whether a worker is authorized to work in the U.S. Employers are required to make sure the documents provided by the worker look real. But if ICE finds out that a Social Security number doesn’t match up with the provided name, the employer could be fined.
Immigrants who find themselves caught up in an I-9 dispute may want to consult with an immigration attorney.
To learn more about immigration law and how it relates to citizenship, permanent residency, families and employment, please visit our office. Our firm helps people in a variety of ways regarding immigration law.
Green cards and the EB-5 program
A green card is a highly coveted document that can allow non-citizens to live and work in the United States permanently. As a result, many people hoping to live in the US would love to get their hands on one.
However, there is only a limited supply of green cards available each year, approximately 50,000 for qualified immigration applicants. With millions of people from all around the world hoping to win one in the lottery, demand is obviously very high.
However, wealthy people have an advantage that others do not. They can speed up the typically years’ long wait if they are willing to pay a price into a special 22-year-old federal program called EB-5. The investment required can be at minimum anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the area of investment.
Under the EB-5 program, foreign investors can obtain U.S. residency by investing in a new or growing company. This would seem like a win-win situation, both for foreign investors and for businesses seeking capital in this down economy. In fact, the number of foreign investors applying for the EB-5 program has quadrupled in the previous three years.
In order to qualify, the investment must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs within two years of the investment. If this is the outcome, then after the two years, the investor is eligible to apply for a green card, which has a very high success rate. In the meantime, once the investment is made and the government has approved the project, then the investor is eligible for temporary residency for themselves and their family. If the investment fails to meet the job creation requirement in the two-year period, then they will not obtain green cards.
Consultants and brokers work to match foreign investors with promising investments in U.S. companies that will meet the requirements of the EB-5 program, while at the same time offer the hopes of breaking even, or maybe even making a profit.
The administration pushes for comprehensive immigration reform
Undocumented immigrants throughout the United States have their eyes on lawmakers as they try to agree on much-needed immigration reform. Democrats and Republicans alike have been searching for a way to reform immigration policy.
But the parties don’t agree on how to make changes. The New York Times reports that the White House is pushing Congress to accept a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws. The administration says its comprehensive bill needs to be passed quickly in order to give the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants an easier path to citizenship.
But Republicans want a different approach. They want a series of bills, rather than comprehensive legislation. One bill would address highly skilled workers; another would address young immigrants, and another would address migrant farm workers. Apparently, breaking the legislation into pieces would be more readily accepted by members of the Republican party who are reluctant about making the path to citizenship easier.
Some people in the country have complained that immigration reform would constitute amnesty for so-called “illegal immigrants,” but the White House disagrees. It isn’t simply amnesty.
In fact, the plan would require some undocumented immigrants to pay back taxes and fines, as well as address other legal issues in order to achieve legal status. The proposal would also initiate a guest-worker program for immigrants with low incomes; create new visas to eliminate the backlog of applications; and let immigrants with certain in-demand skills remain in the country.
Regardless of the particular plan of action adopted by legislators, undocumented immigrants throughout the country will need to remain aware of their legal options for achieving a change of immigration status.
Family-based immigration reform
In a recent display of executive power, the administration issued a new rule making it easier for families to remain together while an immigrant family member applies for permanent residence.
In the past, many undocumented immigrants have been reluctant to apply for permanent residency because it meant they would have to leave the country to do so. But starting on March 4, if an undocumented immigrant can show that being away from his or her U.S.-citizen family members would constitute an “extreme hardship,” the application process can start within the U.S.
Applicants will still have to pick up their visas in their native countries, but not having to leave the U.S. until that time will be a great relief for many immigrants. The new measure is designed to reduce the amount of time families have to spend apart during the application process.
Too many immigration cases in past years have ended when a relative of a U.S. citizen was killed in another country while awaiting a decision on immigration status.
About one million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. could make use of the new rule.
On March 4, a “hardship waiver” could also be given to undocumented immigrants who have overstayed their visas. Before the new law, it was necessary for those who overstayed their visas to leave the country to apply for permanent residency.
“The change will have a significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon,” said the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Many questions arise when it comes to family-based immigration. Family members who are seeking an adjustment of status or a green card would do well to consult with an immigration attorney who can clarify exactly what options are available.
Kids of detained immigrants take legal action to stop deportation
Family members of detained immigrants are often shocked that their loved one, who isn’t a violent or otherwise dangerous person, has to sit in a detention center while his or her immigration case moves forward. Families are split up, even when children in the family are U.S. citizens but their parents are not.
Consider the saddening detention story of one family. The 18-year-old daughter, who is a student at a local community college, has had to essentially stop her life while she and her brother work on freeing their parents from immigration detention.
Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement appeared at the family’s home one morning and detained the parents, who were initially taken to Federal Plaza. Matters became more complicated, however, when the father was moved to a County Jail in another state, while the mother was taken to a County Correctional Center. For several days, the couple’s children didn’t even know where authorities had taken their parents.
Meanwhile, the kids are unsure if they can scrape together money to pay rent.
ICE’s definition of a deportable immigrant is broad. In this case, the father, who is a bus maintenance worker, was convicted twice of DUI more than 10 years ago. The mother, who works at a local packaging factory, has no convictions. The parents were also ordered to be deported about seven years ago, but they didn’t appear for a hearing.
The immigration bill now proposed in the Senate would make immigrants who have been convicted of drunken driving three or more times eligible for deportation. The bill would also make immigrants ineligible for a legal change of status if they have three misdemeanor convictions.
As for this particular family’s struggle, the daughter and brother have taken emergency legal action in an attempt to stop the deportation of their parents. Other families who are going through this kind of ordeal should be aware of their legal options for keeping their loved ones near.
Seeking asylum: A difficult battle
The United States guarantees asylum to individuals who are in the country and can prove they have suffered persecution or have a legitimate fear that they will if they go back to their country of origin. This is one very viable path to citizenship in the country. Also, the country does not limit the number of people who can seek asylum. Nevertheless, immigrants seeking citizenship always face hurdles in their chances for a new life.
To obtain asylum privileges, candidates must make a case. This is usually completed through interviews with immigration officials. If they make an unsuccessful case, immigrants must return to their home country. However, it is important to know that the process is very difficult. Approximately 86,053 applicants sought asylum in the U.S. in one year alone; however, only 29 percent were victorious.
There are two ways to make a pitch for asylum: affirmative and defensive. Affirmative cases are initiated by applicants who are legally in the country at the moment. A defensive case is when someone is in the country illegally, and the filer is attempting to prevent deportation. Defensive applicants must present physical evidence, provide witnesses and submit proof of the conditions in their country of origin. Ultimately, they must include information to demonstrate that they were persecuted at home or would be if they returned.
The case for asylum is not easy. For this reason, it is best to retain a qualified immigration attorney in developing a case. Again, the burden of proof is very difficult. One mistake could lead to automatic deportation, which could send victims back into poor living conditions. To learn more about immigration options, contact an experienced lawyer in your area.
Irish immigrants hope for work visas in an immigration bill
The recent unveiling of the Senate bill for comprehensive immigration reform has people hoping that real change may be on the way, but immigrants also have a healthy degree of skepticism about whether the proposal will actually be signed into law.
The five boroughs are home to immigrants from nations across the globe. People from Ireland, for instance, have historically played a major role in the city’s construction industry. Now Irish and Latin American immigrants are hoping together that the Senate bill makes headway, in large part because the bill would provide thousands of temporary work visas for laborers in the construction industry.
Irish immigrants have been arriving in the United States for more than 200 years, and now the Irish community offers a strong support network for those who come here and decide to stay. The Bronx’s Gaelic Park is an iconic structure for Irish people in New York City, and one footballer at the park estimated that roughly 99 percent of the players were in the country without legal documentation.
That man is like many Irish immigrants who come to the U.S.: he found work on construction sites and hopes to climb his way up and make a good living. He says that playing Gaelic football is a way to network and find jobs.
An Irish construction company owner expressed dismay at how difficult it is for new immigrants to achieve legal permanent residency and citizenship. He said that when he came to the U.S. in the 1980s, it was easier to establish oneself. He hopes the Senate bill passes into law and that immigrants can come “out of the shadows.”
Still, those hopes are tempered by the fact that immigration reform bills have been proposed in the past and failed. For now, they will just have to wait, perhaps take some civic or legal action, and see what lawmakers decide.
Citizenship application fee a big obstacle for many immigrants
Recent research shows that, when immigrants consider applying for citizenship, price matters. When you add the application fee to the cost of getting fingerprints, the total comes to $680. And the research suggests that the price is a serious deterrent to a lot of would-be citizens.
There are immigrants who are among the 8.5 million people eligible for citizenship. These are green card holders, but the high price of the application stands in many people’s way.
In fact, research conducted by the Center for the Study of Immigration Integration indicates that citizenship applications have dropped significantly. That was likely due to the increase in the application fee.
A news article quotes a 78-year-old woman who was born in the Dominican Republic. She is a retired seamstress who now lives in East New York. She says she can’t afford to pay to renew her green card, much less the steep application fee. “I want to be a citizen,” she said, “because it’s a beautiful thing to vote. And you can be calm in this country. There’s no other country like this one.”
According to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center, about 93 percent of immigrants of Latino heritage expressed the desire to apply for citizenship, but 18 percent of those surveyed said that the application fee was their main obstacle.
Right now the path to citizenship is not an easy one, but there is real hope throughout the country that meaningful immigration reform is on the way. There is also legal help available for immigrants who want to ensure the best chance that their citizenship applications will be accepted.
News outlets to stop using offensive immigration terms
A long-overdue change is happening in the way mainstream U.S. media refers to immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation. We’ve written before about the stigmatizing, offensive connotations associated with the term “illegal immigrant.” After all, not having official immigration documents is not a criminal matter; it’s a civil one.
Now, after months of criticism, the Associated Press has announced that it will cease using the offensive term, likely replacing it with something more accurate, such as “living in the country without legal permission.” Other offensive terms such as “illegal aliens” or “illegals” had already been dropped from the AP style guide.
While some news sources, such as the Huffington Post, had already stopped using “illegal immigrant” in their reporting, one major news organization still does: The New York Times. It was reported, however, that the staff at the Times is currently discussing a change and that any standardized alteration would be announced in the near future.
These positive steps in the right direction signal a wider change in the national political climate. Most Americans support an easier path to citizenship, and lawmakers appear to be working more intently on meaningful immigration reform than they have in years.
For immigrants who are waiting or working for permanent residency, these developments can’t unfold quickly enough. People throughout New York are advocating for a better immigration system, one that doesn’t tear apart families and leave immigrants waiting for years and years for judgments.
To ensure that their cases are handled carefully and efficiently, immigrants may want to explore their legal options by consulting with a citizenship attorney.
Asian American groups urge you to file for any family visas now
Under the current version of the immigration reform proposal making its way through Congress, U.S. citizens and green card holders may no longer be able to sponsor those relatives U.S. immigration law categorizes as “lower preference,” such as siblings and married adult children, for lawful permanent residency. While the bill is unlikely to be passed this session, limitations on family immigration are likely to be included or at least used as a bargaining chip, in the final bill.
According to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Asians are more reliant on family immigration than most other groups. In fact, nearly half of all immigrants seeking family visas are from Asia. Even now, immigration opportunities are limited for “lower preference” family members. An application backlog has stretched the waiting time for siblings and married children of citizens to get green cards to as long as two decades, in certain cases.
With that in mind, a number of Asian American advocacy groups are urging people to act now if they plan to sponsor relatives for family immigration — or the opportunity to do so may disappear.
“We’re saying file now if you’re thinking about it,” says the head of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “Then you’ll be in line if a bill passes and diminishes the ability to file.”
While family immigration is of particular concern to Asians, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants is also a high priority in immigration reform. Of the estimated 11 million unauthorized migrants in the U.S., more than a million are thought to be from China, Vietnam, Korea or the Philippines.
Asians are less enthusiastic about the current reform bill than other groups, if we accept immigration lawyer and former California state assemblyman Mike Eng as an exemplar. He expressed outrage at the reform effort having been focused primarily on employment-based immigration for high-skilled workers who promise immediate economic benefits to the U.S. Particularly for the Asian American community, these priorities come as a bit of a shock.
“This is the most far-reaching, invasive and detrimental proposal for immigration reform on the Asian American community in at least the last four to six decades,” he told reporters.
Even if you’re not from an Asian background, the advocacy groups’ advice is sound. If you’re considering sponsoring a family member for a green card — especially if that family member is categorized as “lower preference” — apply as soon as possible to preserve your best chance of success.
U.S. citizens’ siblings face a 12-year wait for immigrant visas
When people talk about reforming our immigration system, they often discuss only the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants. In some cases, they may bring up the difficulty U.S. employers have bringing in needed workers on H1-B visas or keeping them when those visas expire. Perhaps because its economic impact is less obvious, family-based immigration gets less attention in the debate, but our family immigration system is also out of date — and it often seems to thwart the goal of bringing families together.
One New York man just wrote into the New York Daily News “Citizenship NOW!” blog about how to get an immigrant visa and ultimately a green card for the sister of a U.S. citizen. The woman is a divorcee from China whose teenage daughter is coming to the U.S. to attend a private school. The woman’s sister is a U.S. citizen who is willing to sponsor her for lawful permanent residency so she can be with her daughter long term.
Unfortunately, the answer was somewhat disheartening. Even if the woman has no other bar from getting a green card, she will have to wait around 12 years before she is eligible for a green card through sponsorship by her sister. That’s because the U.S. currently only allows 65,000 immigrant visas annually for siblings of U.S. citizens seeking permanent residency.
That does not mean she has no way to come to the U.S. to be with her teenage daughter while she attends high school. She should be able to get a B-2 tourist visa for up to six months and then apply for extensions as necessary. However, she would not be allowed to work. She could apply for an EB-5 investor visa if she has $500,000 to invest in a U.S. business. Or, she might qualify for an immigrant visa on her own merit if she has extraordinary ability as a professional, researcher, or an activity that would substantially benefit the U.S. national interest.
In other words, there are a number of options for obtaining an immigrant visa that can lead to a green card. That said, shouldn’t her family ties be enough?
Confused by the changes to permanent resident fee-payment rules?
Some changes were recently made to the procedures at the U.S. Department of State for paying the fees required for family-based immigrants seeking lawful permanent residence in the U.S., or “green cards.” Depending on your situation, there may be two fees.
Every immigrant applying for permanent residency must pay the U.S. Immigrant Visa fee to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. If you’re applying for a green card and are already in the U.S., you will also need to pay a separate fee to the Department of State’s National Visa Center to process your I-864 Affidavit of Support.
The reason this can be confusing is the requirements for who has to pay these fees and when. Either the immigrant or the petitioner (also called the sponsor) can pay the processing fee for the I-864 affidavit, although it is more commonly paid by the petitioner. It can be paid by a transfer from a checking account, a certified check or a money order. The fee is currently set at $88 for those applying for permanent residency from within the U.S.
Once you’ve filed the I-864 affidavit and the National Visa Center is ready to process it, the center will send an invoice for the fee to your petitioner, along with payment instructions.
Next, is the U.S. Immigrant Visa Fee paid to the USCIS. This is required for processing and producing your green card, currently $165. The rules for payment are different for this fee.
Only the immigrant can legally pay this fee, although one person can pay for all accompanying family members.
It is to be paid online, and only by a credit card, a debit card, or transfer from a checking account — not a money order or certified check.
The immigrant has up to a year to pay the fee.
If you don’t pay the fee within a year, it won’t technically affect your status as a lawful permanent resident, but the USCIS will not issue you a green card until you pay. Therefore, the agency recommends you pay this fee after you receive your visa packet but before you enter the U.S. if you’re applying from abroad.
You should also know that fee waivers are available in certain circumstances. Check with an immigration lawyer or the USCIS for more information.
US diversity visa lottery not affected by government shutdown
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program often called the DV lottery or the “green card lottery,” is up and running at the Department of State. The reason the lottery isn’t affected by the federal government shutdown is that many immigration activities of the U.S. government are funded through fees from applicants — although there is no fee for the diversity lottery. So, while some parts of the State Department are subject to furloughs, the diversity lottery, or DV-2015, is moving forward as usual.
The annual lottery allows 50,000 eligible people from qualified countries to obtain lawful permanent residency in the U.S. Don’t be confused by the terminology — a “Permanent Residency Immigrant Visa” is another term for a green card. Qualified applicants must apply online at the State Department’s Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery website. Then, a computer will randomly draw winning applicants’ names.
One important thing to know is that winning the green card lottery does not automatically mean you will get a green card. More than 50,000 people are chosen because some of the winners turn out not to be qualified, and others decide not to pursue permanent residency after all. If you do win the visa lottery, you will still go through a final interview before you receive a green card.
In order to qualify for the lottery, you must meet two basic requirements. First, you must be a native of a qualifying country, which means one with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. There are some situations in which you could be considered a native of your parent or spouse’s homeland, and some other rules that could apply. You can learn the specifics in the materials provided on the application website.
The second requirement concerns education and work experience. To qualify, you must either have completed the equivalent of high school or have at least two years of experience working at a job that requires at least two years of training. Again, more information about specifics is available from the Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery website.
The green card lottery is only one option for obtaining lawful permanent residency in the U.S.
Green-card holders are included in the Affordable Care Act
If you’re already a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. or want to become one, you should know that you’re covered by the Affordable Care Act, which provides access to health insurance through public exchanges and, in many cases, offers government subsidies to buy it. Although the federal government shutdown seems to be an effort to stop the ACA, the fact is that enrollment for insurance offered through the ACA has already begun, and coverage begins on Jan. 1.
Immigrants become eligible for coverage — and any available subsidies — through the ACA as soon as they become lawful permanent residents (green-card holders). A key part of the ACA is to make health insurance affordable for everyone, so the federal government is offering financial assistance for those with lower incomes.
The subsidies vary by income but may qualify for help if your household income is 400 percent of the federal poverty rate or less. That means that a single person would typically qualify for subsidies if he or she makes up to $45,960, while a family of four could make up to $95,200 and qualify. If you make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty rate, you may qualify for Medicaid instead, if you’ve been a green card holder for five years.
According to statistics cited by the New York Daily News, the average plan through the ACA is expected to cost 53 percent less than the same plan, purchased on the individual market, cost before the new law was passed.
Green card holders should also be aware that the penalty provision in the Affordable Care Act also applies to permanent residents. The ACA requires you to have health insurance or pay a penalty. The penalty is $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is higher, but the penalties go up each year.
You don’t have to buy the required health insurance through the ACA exchange — if you have Medicaid, health insurance through your job, or private, comprehensive insurance you like, you won’t owe any penalty.
Wait times for green cards for immediate family at record highs
Both young people and immigrant advocacy groups alike cheered when the launch of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program was announced. For those unfamiliar with this program, it essentially enables those young people who satisfy certain conditions to live and work in the United States for two years, subject to renewal, and then perhaps be eligible for work authorization.
Thus far, the DACA program has enjoyed great success as over 521,000 young people had received deferrals by early February, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processing over 2,000 applications a day.
However, this great success has not come without a cost, as many citizens or permanent residents have seen the wait times for securing a permanent resident visa — or green card — for their immediate family members (spouses, children, parents, etc.) triple.
According to sources, USCIS was given only two months to make the necessary arrangements for the launch of the DACA program having to devote considerable manpower and spread already limited resources to cover the deluge of applications.
While these efforts proved successful, the area of green card applications suddenly saw major delays in processing times, with some families now being separated for over a year and the application backlog growing to over 500,000.
“U.S. citizens petitioning for green cards for immediate relatives are a high, if not the highest, priority in the way Congress set up the immigration system,” said a spokesperson with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This is a problem that needs to be fixed quickly.”
Family members who are citizens or permanent residents are able to sponsor their immediate family members for a green card, a process that has been recognized as especially efficient since there are no annual limits on the number of green cards issued.
In general, the family member submits a petition to USCIS, which will grant its initial approval. From there, the visa petition passes through both the State Department and foreign consulates. While this may seem like a rather lengthy process, it has historically taken five months or less.
The USCIS has indicated that it is working hard to reduce the wait times for the processing of green cards back down to five months, but that this likely won’t occur immediately.
In the meantime, this news is likely of little consolation to families that have been apart for over a year, having to put their plans for school, housing, and life on hold.
Report finds federal government is losing more deportation cases
The Transactional Records Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, whose stated purpose is to gather “comprehensive information about staffing, spending, and enforcement activities of the federal government,” recently released a very eye-opening report discussing how immigrants are faring in the fight against deportation.
Somewhat surprisingly, the TRAC report reveals that almost half of all immigrants facing deportation over the course of the last year have emerged victorious in their legal battles to stay in the U.S.
Breaking the numbers down, the TRAC report found:
Immigration judges have heard 42,816 deportation cases since the start of fiscal year back in October and since that time have ruled in favor of immigrants in nearly 50 percent of cases.
Immigrants have seen higher success rates in immigration courts located in California, Oregon, and New York.
Attorneys with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who represent the federal government in the immigration courts, won roughly 52 percent of their cases.
ICE attorneys have been losing more deportation cases with each passing year since 2009. Curiously, experts are somewhat baffled as to the reasons for this trend given that immigration laws here in the U.S. have not undergone any substantial changes over the last few years. However, some are theorizing that the trend can perhaps be attributed to a concerted effort by the administration to change its approach to immigration law enforcement.
For instance, the administration has issued a series of policy orders over the last few years directing ICE to exercise greater discretion in deportation cases, such that less of an effort is made to deport those immigrants who have been here in the U.S. for many years, and who pose no threat to public safety or national security.
“ICE’s enforcement strategies and policies are designed to prioritize its resources on public safety, national security, and border security threats,” said a spokesperson for the agency. “ICE continues to focus on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States.”
While these TRAC report figures are certainly encouraging, many experts are warning that it’s still far too early to draw any real conclusions. In the meantime, here’s hoping the trend of more people successfully fighting deportation in the immigration courts continues for the foreseeable future.
Mayor announces new incentive for securing municipal ID cards
Unlike many other locations in the U.S., New York City is a year-round tourist destination. In other words, the allure of the world-renowned performing arts centers, concert halls, zoos, botanical gardens, and, of course, museums is so great that many people are willing to brave less than ideal weather conditions to see all that the city has to offer.
Interestingly, the Mayor announced a new program yesterday that will provide the city’s undocumented immigrants with the chance to see these same cultural landmarks free of charge provided they enroll in the new municipal ID program.
Created by legislation signed by the mayor back in July, the municipal ID program will be open to all residents of the city’s five boroughs able to provide proof of identity (foreign birth certificate, driver’s license, etc) and satisfy certain residency requirements.
The ID cards, available free of charge during the first year of the program, will feature both a picture and list a person’s vital information, such as their name, address, and date of birth (along with an expiration date).
The thought is that these municipal IDs will be of great assistance to the city’s rather sizeable undocumented immigrant population, who should theoretically encounter less difficulty performing the tasks that many people otherwise take for granted with the IDs, including signing leases, opening a bank account and accessing city services.
As mentioned earlier, the mayor, working in conjunction with the Cultural Institutions Group, has devised a program promising that anyone who secures a municipal ID will get a one-year pass — equivalent to a standard family or individual membership — to 33 of New York City’s top landmarks.
This one-year pass, which promises free admission and discounts, includes everything from the Bronx Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the New York City Ballet and Carnegie Hall.
“The municipal ID is a powerful tool to bring more New Yorkers out of the shadows and into the mainstream.” “It is now also a key that opens the door for hundreds of thousands of more New Yorkers to our city’s premier assets in culture, science and entertainment.”
It will indeed be interesting to see how many undocumented immigrants here in New York secure the ID cards.
Supreme Court to decide on basis for denying family visas
If you were born in the United States, you may not understand how difficult it is to get citizenship in our country. It’s a long process filled with applications, the possible need for sponsorship, and a long list of federal laws that may be incredibly difficult to understand without proper legal help. And in the end, there is no guarantee that an application for citizenship will be approved in the end.
As some know, when a visa petition is denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, the denial letter usually cites a reason why and tells the petitioner how they may appeal. But what happens if the reason is too vague and offers little explanation for why the application was denied? What if this lack of information is standing in your way of moving forward with an immigration application?
One case exemplifies these questions perfectly and is partially the reason why the U.S. Supreme Court is set to look into the issue behind these questions. Depending on how the higher court decides, the case could force the government to provide a better explanation for why a visa application has been denied, especially in instances where the grounds for denial were because of “terrorism-related reasons.”
On top of highlighting the complexity of immigration laws in our country, the issue before the Supreme Court further illustrates the necessity of getting the right help when dealing with complicated legal issues. Obtaining a lawyer can make sure that you are following the immigration process to the letter of the law and that the agencies in charge of immigration are not violating your rights as well.
The Form I-130 and financial sponsorship
In order for a citizen-sponsor to help their loved one secure a green card, they must not only provide evidence demonstrating that the documented familial relationship exists, but also provide evidence that they have sufficient assets/income to support them upon their arrival here in the U.S.
Once the Form I-130 petition has been filed and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determines that the relative is eligible to immigrate, the citizen-sponsor will then be required to file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. This document is essentially an agreement to provide financial sponsorship for the relative upon their arrival.
In the event the citizen-sponsor does not meet the minimum qualifications for financial sponsorship, it will be necessary for another qualifying individual to make this commitment before the relative can immigrate.
The waiting period
It’s important to remember that filing Form I-130 only serves to establish the familial relationship between the citizen-sponsor and the relative and does not mean that they can immediately move to the U.S.
Indeed, USCIS indicates that relatives living outside the U.S. should remain in their native country until they are given the green light for a green card. An exception to this is that the spouses, unmarried children under 21 and parents of citizen-sponsors who originally entered the U.S. legally can apply to adjust their status to permanent resident at the same time the Form I-130 is filed.
Form I-130 and processing times
According to USCIS, it is impossible to provide an exact timeframe for the processing of Form I-130 given the number of variables involved. However, the agency does post updated processing times on its website.
Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about this process or any other family immigration matters.
Just how hard is it to secure refugee or asylee status for a relative?
When a person is granted refugee or asylee status here in the U.S., it understandably comes as a great relief given that they are typically looking to escape persecution or otherwise dangerous conditions in their home nation.
In light of this reality, it’s understandable how people in these situations would want to see this same type of relief extended to family members who may be facing similar persecution or danger.
In today’s post, we’ll examine the steps a person can take to help their relatives secure refugee or asylee status here in the U.S.
How does a person even go about helping their relatives secure refugee or asylee status here in the U.S.?
In general, a person granted refugee or asylee status in the U.S. can help their relative secure the same status by filing the Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition otherwise known as Form I-730.
Are there any limitations on filing Form I-730?
Yes. An I-730 petition can only be filed within two years of being granted refugee or asylee status in the U.S.
In the event it has been longer than two years, officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services advise those looking to help a relative secure refugee or asylee status to consider speaking with a legal professional to explore other options.
Can you file Form I-730 on behalf of any relative?
Unfortunately, the Form I-730 may only be filed on behalf of 1) spouses or 2) unmarried children who were less than 21 years of age at the time the petitioner was granted refugee or asylee status in the U.S.
We will continue this discussion in a future post …
If you have questions about refugee or asylum-related matters, consider speaking with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and your options.
What happens after a federal judge refuses to lift an immigration injunction?
A federal judge in Texas issued an injunction spoiling plans to start rolling out programs designed to realize the objectives spelled out in the administration’s historic executive order that would prevent the deportation of as many as five million undocumented immigrants.
The injunction was sought by the Attorneys General of 26 states who successfully argued that the administration had exceeded its authority such that the executive order was unconstitutional.
For their part, the administration filed a motion requesting that the injunction be lifted while an appeal was pursued, arguing that among other things that the 26 states lacked legal standing.
In recent developments, the federal judge refused to lift the injunction in a ruling handed down last Tuesday.
What did the ruling say?
In his ruling, the judge indicated that the administration had indeed exceeded his constitutional authority. Furthermore, he held that his actions in the executive order were violative of established administrative procedures and therefore could not be allowed to move forward during the pendency of the litigation.
Simply put, he refused to lift the injunction on the grounds that doing so would result in irreparable harm.
It is worth noting that he also called out Justice Department attorneys for misrepresenting the facts concerning whether any part of the executive order had already been implemented.
What happens next?
The Justice Department has filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit requesting that it lift the injunction and allow the immigration programs to roll out. Oral arguments are scheduled for later this week.
Any indication as to how the appeals court might decide the issue?
Legal experts are indicating that the appeals court might actually lift the injunction in light of a decision it made last week concerning a challenge filed by state officials and immigration agents concerning the executive order creating the Dream Act.
Here, the court found the arguments by state officials that allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. resulted in considerable expense, and the arguments by immigration agents that they were legally unable to detain undocumented immigrants unpersuasively. Specifically, they found that these plaintiffs suffered no harm because of the executive order and therefore lacked the legal standing to challenge it.
Legal experts say that this is significant given that the arguments heretofore made by the 26 AGs in the present matter are very similar to those made by the states and immigration agents.