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Adjusting to Permanent Resident Status Under INA 245(a): Bars, Exceptions and Exemptions

Section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows certain foreign nationals who are physically present in the U.S. to adjust to permanent resident status and avoid filing for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad.

But unless an exception or exemption applies, you are barred from filing for INA 245(a) adjustment if you are in unlawful immigration status at the time of filing a Form I-485 [INA 245(c)(2) bar]; you have violated the conditions of your nonimmigrant status or visa [INA 245c)(2) and INA 245(c)(2)(8) bars]; and/or you failed to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status when you would otherwise be eligible for employment-based immigration [INA 245(c)(7) bar].

Statutory Bars to Adjusting Status Under INA 245(a)

The bars to INA 245(a) Adjustment of Status (AOS) include the following:

1. You Are In Unlawful Immigration Status at the Time of Filing a Form I-485 Application: INA 245(c)(2) Bar

Under INA 245(c)(2), an INA 245(a) Adjustment of Status application will be denied if at the time of the Form I-485 filing, you are not in lawful immigration status. For purposes of the INA 245(c)(2) bar, lawful status includes nonimmigrants (e.g. B1/B2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B professional worker); refugees; asylees; parolees; and foreign nationals in Temporary Protected Status (TPS​).

You are in unlawful immigration status if you have never had lawful status (e.g. entered the U.S. without inspection and admission or parole) or ​your ​lawful status ​has ended​ (expired or was rescinded, revoked, or otherwise terminated due to violation of nonimmigrant status or other reason).

Having authorized stay is different from having lawful immigration status. The timely filing of a pending application to extend or change status (Form I-129 or Form I-539), or a pending application for adjustment (Form I-485), generally provides authorized stay, but does ​not​ provide lawful immigration status.

​A person who has a timely-filed pending Extension of Status (EOS) or Change of Status (COS) application may file a Form I-485 application after his or her nonimmigrant status expires. But if USCIS denies the EOS or COS application, you are generally considered to be in unlawful immigration status as of the expiration of your nonimmigrant status and on the date the adjustment application is filed. The INA 245(c)(2) bar would then apply, unless an exemption is available.

2. You Failed to Continuously Maintain Status and/or Violated the Terms of Your Nonimmigrant Visa: INA 245(c)(2) and INA 245(c)(8) Bars

You are not eligible to file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, under ​INA 245(a)​ if, other than through no fault of your own or for technical reasons,​you have ever:

Failed to continuously maintain a lawful status since entry into the United States. [You are barred from adjustment of status under INA 245(c)(2) if you are in unlawful immigration status on the date of filing the Form I-485 application.]

OR

Violated the terms of your nonimmigrant status​, such as worked without authorization. [You are barred from adjustment of status under ​INA 245(c)(8) not only if you violated the terms of your most recent nonimmigrant status, but also if you ever violated the terms of your nonimmigrant status at any time during any prior periods of stay in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant.​]

To be eligible for AOS, you only need to maintain your nonimmigrant status until you properly file a Form I-485 adjustment application with USCIS, ​so​ long as you do not engage in unauthorized employment after filing the adjustment application.​ But to protect yourself from being placed in removal proceedings if your Form I-485 is denied, you should continue to maintain your nonimmigrant status (e.g. H-1B) when possible.

When the ​INA 245(c)(2)​ and ​INA 245(c)(8) Bars May Be Excused

For purposes of ​INA 245(c)(2)​ and ​INA 245(c)(8)​, a failure to maintain lawful immigration status or violation of nonimmigrant status may be excused only for the specific period under consideration if: ​

a. The applicant was reinstated to F, M, or J status

If USCIS reinstates F or M student nonimmigrant status or if the U.S. Department of State reinstates J exchange visitor nonimmigrant status, the reinstatement only excuses the particular period of time the nonimmigrant failed to maintain status. The reinstatement does not excuse prior or future failure to maintain status.​

b. The applicant’s failure to maintain status was through no fault of his or her own or for technical reasons

The term  “other than through no fault of his or her own or for technical reasons”​ ​is limited to the following​ ​circumstances:​ 

  • Inaction of another person or organization designated by regulation to act on behalf of an applicant or over whose actions the applicant has no control, if the inaction is acknowledged by that person or organization.
  • Technical violation resulting from inaction of USCIS
  • Technical violation caused by the physical inability of the applicant to request an extension of nonimmigrant stay from USCIS in person or by mail
  • Technical violation resulting from Legacy ​Immigration and Naturalization Service (​INS​)​’s application of the 5-​year​ or 6-year period of stay for certain H-1 nurses, if the nurse was re-instated to H-1 status as a result of the Immigration Amendments of 1988.​

c. The applicant was granted an extension of nonimmigrant stay or a change of nonimmigrant status.

The immigration officer will consider all your current and previous entries into and stays in the United States, including current and previous applications for extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS).

If USCIS approves a timely filed EOS or COS application, or excuses and approves an untimely filed EOS or COS application, the approval is effective as of the date of the expiration of the prior nonimmigrant status. In that event, you will be considered to have maintained lawful​ status ​despite the gap in time between the expiration of the prior nonimmigrant admission and the date of the EOS or COS approval.

3. You Are an Employment-Based Applicant Who Is Not in Lawful Nonimmigrant Status: INA 245(c)(7) Bar

If you are an employment-based adjustment applicant who is not in a lawful nonimmigrant status at the time of filing your Form I-485 application, you are barred from adjusting status under INA 245(c)(7). This bar does not apply if you were in a lawful nonimmigrant status at the time of filing for adjustment, subsequently left the United States, and returned using an approved advance parole travel document while the adjustment application remains pending. ​

For purposes of this bar to adjustment, the term “lawful nonimmigrant status” includes a foreign national in a lawful status classified under the nonimmigrant statutory provisions(e.g. B1/B2 visitor, F-1 student, H-1B professional worker) and a foreign national in Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

​Lawful nonimmigrant status does not include parolees, ​asylees​, or certain other foreign nationals who are otherwise authorized to stay in the United States. ​

Exceptions and Exemptions to the Bars to Adjusting Status Under INA 245(a)

The ​INA 245(c)(2)​, ​INA 245(c)(8), and INA 245(c)(7)​ bars to adjustment do NOT apply to: ​

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens [spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older)]
  • ​Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners/VAWA-based applicants
  • ​Certain foreign doctors/physicians and their accompanying spouse and children​
  • ​Certain G-4 international organization employees, NATO-6 employees, and their family members
  • Special immigrant juveniles
  • ​Certain members of the U.S. ​armed forces​ and their spouse​s​ and children​
  • ​Employment-based applicants in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and certain 4th preference categories who meet the ​INA 245(k) exemption. [The INA 245(k) exemption applies if your failure to maintain a lawful status, engagement in unauthorized employment, or violation of the terms of your nonimmigrant status or nonimmigrant visa lasted only for 180 days or less since your most recent lawful admission.]

​Bars to Adjustment are Different from Grounds of Inadmissibility​

Bars to adjustment should not be confused with the grounds of inadmissibility listed in INA 212.

When you are inadmissible under section 212, you may not adjust status unless you qualify for a limited exception or unless a waiver of inadmissibility is available, you qualify for it, and it is granted to you. Inadmissibility grounds include health concerns (communicable disease of public health significance), criminal activity, national security, public charge, fraud and misrepresentation of material facts to gain immigration benefits, unlawful presence, and prior removals.

Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Because there are various bars and inadmissibility grounds to prevent AOS, as well as exemptions and waivers available, you need to consult an immigration attorney before you file a Form I-485 application to adjust to permanent resident status.

To learn more, read our related article, Who is Eligible (and Not Eligible) for Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status? 

# # #

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Max Braun

 

Who is Eligible (and Not Eligible) for Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status?

When you are physically present in the U.S., your filing for Adjustment of Status (AOS) allows you to become a permanent resident without needing to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate abroad.

But if you are ineligible for AOS and mistakenly file a Form I-485​, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, your request will not only be denied, but you may also be placed in removal proceedings due to failure to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status and/or other grounds.

General Adjustment of Status (AOS) Eligibility Requirements

Foreign nationals may file for adjustment to permanent resident status if they meet the eligibility requirements at the time of submitting their ​Form I-485 application to USCIS.

Who is generally ELIGIBLE for AOS?

Immigrant categories that permit AOS include:

Immediate relative of a U.S. citizen [spouses, unmarried children under 21 years of age, and parents (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older)]

​Other relative of a U.S. citizen or​ relative of a lawful​ permanent resident under ​a​ family-based preference category (See U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for a  list of family-based preference categories)

​Person admitted to the United States on a K-1 visa as a f​iancé(e) of a U.S. citizen and then marries the U.S. citizen. [A K-1 visa holder who enters a valid and bona fide marriage to the U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of arrival in the U.S. remains eligible to adjust status on that basis, even if the marriage is legally terminated (whether by death, dissolution, or divorce) prior to adjustment of status and regardless of whether he/she remarries thereafter.]

Widow(er) of a U.S. citizen

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioner

​Foreign national worker under an employment-based preference category (See U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin for list of employment-based preference categories)

Foreign national entrepreneur (EB5 immigrant employment-based category)

Special immigrant (includes religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, certain Afghans and Iraqis, certain U.S. armed forces members, certain physicians)

Certain victim of human trafficking  (T nonimmigrant)

Certain victim of crime (U nonimmigrant)

Person granted asylum status

Person granted refugee status

Person selected in the ​Diversity Visa lottery program ​

Beneficiary of INA 245(i) benefits

Who is generally NOT ELIGIBLE for AOS?

With limited exceptions, foreign nationals who are barred from applying for AOS include:

Foreign national ​who last entered the United States without being inspected and admitted​ or paroled by an immigration officer. [INA 245(i) and VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this bar.]

Foreign national who last entered the United States on a C-1/D-1 or D-2 visa as a nonimmigrant ​crewman. [VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(1) bar.]

Foreign national who is now employed or has ever been employed in the United States without authorization. [ Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from these INA 245(c)(2) and INA 245 (c)(8) bars.]

Foreign national who ​is not ​in​ lawful immigration status on the date of filing the Form I-485 application. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(2) bar.]

Foreign national​ who ​has ever ​failed to continuously maintain ​a ​lawful status​ since entry into the United States​, unless the failure ​to maintain status ​was through no fault of his or her own or for technical​ ​reasons.  [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(2) bar.]

Foreign national ​who ​was last admitted to the United​ ​States​ ​in​ ​transit​ ​without​ ​a​ ​visa. [VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(3) bar.]

​Foreign national who was last ​admitted​ ​to​ ​Guam​ ​or the​ ​Commonwealth​ ​of the​ ​Northern​ ​Mariana​ ​Islands ​(CNMI) ​as a​ ​visitor​ ​under​ ​the Guam or CNMI​ ​V​isa​ ​Waiver Program​ and who is not a Canadian citizen. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizens are exempt from this bar.]

Foreign national ​who was last ​admitted ​to the United States as a nonimmigrant visitor without a visa under the ​Visa Waiver Program. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizens and VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c) bar.]

Foreign national ​who is​ deportable due to involvement in a terrorist activity or group. [​VAWA-based applicants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(6) bar, but may still be inadmissible for such activity.​]

​Foreign national who is seeking ​employment-based ​adjustment of status and ​who is not maintaining a lawful nonimmigrant status ​on the date of filing this ​application. [In some cases, the INA 245(k) exemption  excuses this INA 245(c)(7) bar.]

Foreign national who has ​ever ​violated​ ​the​ ​terms​ ​of the ​nonimmigrant status. [Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, VAWA-based applicants, and certain special immigrants are exempt from this INA 245(c)(8) bar.]

Foreign national who is a ​conditional permanent resident​. [Conditional permanent residents​ must instead file a Form I-751 petition to remove conditions on their status to obtain permanent residence unconditionally.]

Foreign national who was admitted to the U.S. on a K-1 nonimmigrant ​fiancé(e) visa, but did not marry the U.S. citizen who filed​ ​the petition or foreign national who was admitted as the K-2 ​nonimmigrant​ child of a fiancé(e)​ ​whose parent did not marry the U.S. citizen who filed​ ​the petition.​ 

INA 245(a) Adjustment of Status (AOS) Eligibility Requirements

Most applicants file for Adjustment of Status based on ​INA 245(a), which does not include all the possible ways of adjusting status, such as AOS of Refugees or Asylees under INA 209(b)​.

​​The AOS eligibility requirements under section 245(a) include:

1.  You must normally have​ been​ inspected and admitted​ ​into the United States​; or inspected and paroled into the United States.

Unless you are an INA 245(i) applicant or a V​iolence ​A​gainst ​W​omen ​A​ct (VAWA)​ applicant​, you must meet the Inspected and Admitted or Paroled Requirement before you apply for AOS under section 245(a).

To lawfully enter the United States, you must first present yourself for inspection to an immigration officer at a ​U.S.​ ​port of entry.

Admission

For lawful admission to occur, the immigration officer must authorize you to enter the U.S. in accordance with the procedures for admission.​  If, however, the admission was based on a false claim to U.S. citizenship or to U.S. nationality at the ​port of entry​, the lawful admission requirement is not met.

The most common documents showing lawful admission are:

Arrival/​Departure ​Record (Form I-94)

​Admission stamp in passport​, which may be verified using Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systems

Employment Authorization Card (Form I-688A), for special ​agricultural worker applicants, provided it was valid during the last claimed date of entry on the adjustment application

Temporary Resident Card (Form I-688), for special agricultural workers or legalization applicants granted temporary residence, provided it was valid during the​ ​last ​claimed date of entry on the ​adjustment​ application​

Border Crossing Card (Form I-586 or Form DSP-150​), provided it was valid on the date of last claimed entry.​

Plane tickets evidencing travel to the United States, or other corroborating evidence, when an Arrival/Departure Record is not required in the following situations:

  • a ​Canadian ​citizen admitted as a visitor for business, visitor for pleasure, or who was permitted to directly tr​ansit through the United States;​
  • a ​nonimmigrant residing in the British Virgin Islands who was admitted only to the U.S. Virgin Islands as a visitor for business or pleasure​;​
  • ​a Mexican ​n​ational admitted with ​a B-1/B-2 Visa and Border Crossing Card ​(Form DSP-150) ​at a land or sea ​port of entry​ as a visitor for business or pleasure ​for a period of 30 days to trave​l within 25 miles of the border;
  • a ​Mexican ​n​ational in possession of a ​Mexican diplomatic or official passport.

Waved through at port of entry

A wave through is when you present yourself for inspection, but the inspector waves you through the U.S.-Mexico or U.S-Canada land border, and allows you to enter the U.S. without asking any questions or checking your travel documents.  You must present a credible claim and submit supporting evidence, such as​ ​third party ​affidavits ​from those with personal knowledge about your wave through admission.

​Parole

In some situations, you may receive a grant of parole to enter the U.S. This is a temporary, discretionary act and is not an admission. Without determining whether you may be admitted to the U.S., the immigration officer may parole you in for deferred inspection or due to urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefits.

Parole in Place may also be issued to certain foreign nationals present without admission or parole, such as ​to a spouse, child, or parent of an ​a​ctive ​d​uty member of the U.S. ​a​rmed ​f​orces, a member in the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve, or someone who previously served in the U.S. ​armed forces​ or the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve.

2. You must properly file an adjustment of status application.​

The Form I-485 must be filed with USCIS in accordance with ​the ​form ​instructions, when you are physically present in the United States. It must be signed, accompanied by the ​proper filing fee (unless a fee waiver is granted), submitted ​at the correct filing location​,  and filed when the priority date is current.

3. You must be eligible to receive an immigrant visa and an immigrant visa must be available when you file the adjustment of status application​ and at the time of final adjudication.​

Eligibility for an immigrant visa depends on the immigrant category in which you are filing for adjustment. Except for the Immediate Relative of a U.S. citizen category, the family-based and employment-based categories typically require a wait (sometimes for years or decades) before an immigrant visa becomes available.

4. You must be admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief. 

You are ineligible for adjustment if you are subject to any inadmissibility grounds listed under INA 212, such as certain criminal offenses fraud or willful misrepresentation of material facts to gain immigration benefits and unlawful presence. A waiver must be available and you must qualify for the waiver if you are inadmissible to the U.S.

​5. You must merit the favorable exercise of discretion.​

The approval of a Form I-485 application under certain categories, including INA 245(a) Adjustment, is a discretionary decision.  This means you are not entitled to adjustment even when you are eligible for it.

Besides evaluating your eligibility, the immigration officer also considers other factors such as your immigration status and history;​ family unity;​ length of residence in the United States;​ business and employment; and​ community standing and moral character.​

Statutory Bars to Adjusting Status Under INA 245(a) 

Bars to adjusting status include unlawful immigration status at the time of filing a Form I-485 (INA 245(c)(2) bar); status and nonimmigrant visa violations (INA 245c)(2) and INA 245(c)(2)(8) bars); and failure to maintain lawful nonimmigrant status when you would otherwise be eligible for employment-based immigration (INA 245(c)(7) bar). There are, however, exceptions and exemptions.

Consult an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Because there are various bars and inadmissibility grounds to prevent AOS, as well as exemptions and waivers available, you need to consult an immigration attorney before you file a Form I-485 application to adjust to permanent resident status.

To learn more, read our related article, Adjusting to Permanent Resident Status Under INA 245(a): Bars, Exceptions and Exemptions.

# # #

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Sam Howzit

 

The Trump Factor on Immigration: To Fear or Not to Fear?

Donald Trump’s Administration will begin when Barack Obama’s ends on January 20, 2017. The risk of deportation is expected to get higher for unauthorized immigrants, particularly those with illegal entries and certain criminal histories. A Trump Administration could also repeal Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) and set the stage for H-1B (professional worker) visa reform.

These are just some of the potential changes in U.S. immigration, if you accept Trump’s rhetoric at face value.

Here’s how the Trump Factor could affect immigration if his 10 Point Plan to Put America First and election campaign promises are carried out: 

1. “Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one.”  (#1 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

“Build that wall! Build that wall!” was a popular chant at Trump’s campaign rallies. According to Trump, the wall would cover 1,000 miles of nearly 2,000 miles of the southern U.S-Mexico border, with half of that protected by natural barriers.

As of today, there are already 700 miles of border fencing and some of it includes metal wall. There are also U.S. Border Patrol agents, drones, scanners and cameras protecting the border. A record number of removals and returns occurred under Obama.

Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. taxpayers spent $90 billion on border security. The costs involve deploying National Guard troops to the border, paying U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, building barriers, employing drug-sniffing dogs, and using predator drones.

Whether “an impenetrable physical wall” is built will depend on various factors, including who pays for it. Trump says Mexico will foot the bill. Otherwise, it might take an act of Congress to obtain funding for the wall.

A wall is mostly symbolic. It’s not enough to keep out unauthorized immigrants, especially those possessing fraudulent travel documents or those misusing their visas or the visa waiver program. Border security requires constant monitoring by properly trained CBP agents.

2. “End catch-and release.” (#2 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Ending the so-called “catch-and release” policy will bring more serious immigration consequences to noncitizens stopped at the border. Trump’s plan is to detain anyone who illegally crosses the border until he/she is removed from the country.

In November 2014, the Obama Administration issued a Policy Memorandum on the apprehension, detention and removal of undocumented immigrants. The policy divided enforcement priorities into three general categories:

Priority 1: Aliens who pose a threat to national security, border security, or public safety.

Priority 2: Aliens who are misdemeanants and new immigration violators.

Priority 3: All other immigration violators.

The Policy Memorandum instructs the agencies to focus on priority one and priority two offenders. If the Memorandum is withdrawn by Trump, each local ICE agency will have more freedom to decide who it wants to remove from the U.S.

Policy Memorandums are opinion letters from agency heads instructing CBP, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) how to enforce current law. The Trump Administration may readily revoke Policy Memorandums, and replace them with new, hard-line ones – consistent with laws already passed by Congress

While the Obama Administration prioritized the removal of criminal non-citizens and repeat offenders, Trump has vowed to detain all persons who enter the U.S. illegally and spare no group of unauthorized immigrants. This spells an increase in immigration detention, removal proceedings before immigration courts, and expedited removal at the border or ports of entries.

Resources are limited. If there is no formal prioritization for immigration enforcement, more immigration judges and prosecutors will be needed to prevent increased backlog in the removal system.

3. “Move criminal aliens out day one, in joint operations with local, state, and federal law enforcement.” (#3 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Criminal aliens” is a very broad term. “Aliens” include lawful permanent residents (green card holders) because they are not U.S. citizens. Criminal offenses range from misdemeanors to felonies.  There are various types of crimes, such as DUI, assault, drug possession, theft, fraud, domestic violence, and murder.

Criminal convictions can lead to a non-citizen being deported from the U.S., denied entry (or reentry) into the U.S., and stripped of immigration benefits, including permanent residence. The immigration consequences continue long after the person has already served his sentence.

But under current immigration law, not all non-citizens with criminal offenses are subject to removal or denial of entry on crime-related grounds. For example, a noncitizen is deportable if convicted of a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (other than a political offense), but only when it was committed within five years after the date of his admission to the U.S., and for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed.

In addition, the U.S. Constitution provides due process and equal protection to all persons, including “criminal aliens. ” In a 2001 case, Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the due process clause applies to aliens whose presence may be or is “lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.”

Existing immigration law also permits defenses against removal and applications for relief from removal before the Immigration Court, if the person is eligible.

Due to Constitutional rights, legal obstacles, and limited cooperation from certain local law enforcement agencies, it will be very difficult for the Trump Administration to move criminal aliens out day one.

Still, Trump will get help from the U.S. Attorney General, who is in charge of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, including the immigration courts. The office sets standards for hiring and selecting immigration judges, and for training them on how to apply immigration law.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been picked by Trump for Attorney General and, if confirmed, will influence immigration policy. The Attorney General may issue legal opinions to promote executive actions; hire more hard-line judges for federal immigration courts; and challenge the legality of state immigration policies.

4. “End sanctuary cities.” (#4 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Since Trump’s election, many “sanctuary” counties and cities, like New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Francisco and Seattle have vowed to limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. They won’t stop immigration authorities from enforcing federal law within their boundaries. But they will focus on local law enforcement so residents don’t avoid talking to the police out of fear of deportation risks.

An “immigration hold” (detainer) is one of the key tools ICE agents use to apprehend individuals who come in contact with local and state law enforcement agencies and place them in the federal removal process.

An ICE detainer is a written request to a local jail or other law enforcement agency to detain persons for an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after their release date to permit ICE to decide whether to take them into federal custody for removal purposes. ICE detainers are not followed in some counties and they have been challenged in federal courts.

Threats to cut federal funding to “sanctuary” counties and cities do not make an effective long-term strategy.

5. “Immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.”  (#5 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

During his two-term Administration, Obama has never granted “amnesty” – at least not to the extent that President Reagan did when he signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that permitted 3 million undocumented immigrants to apply for lawful immigrant status.

Through executive policy, Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on June 15, 2012. DACA was made available to undocumented immigrants who were under the age of 31 and who came to the U.S. before age 16. Certain other eligibility requirements also have to be met, such as no conviction of a felony, significant misdemeanor,or three or more other misdemeanors, and no threat to national security or public safety.

While DACA provides relief from removal, work authorization, and authorized stay in the U.S., it does not offer a path to permanent residence or citizenship or provide lawful immigration status in the U.S. Moreover, USCIS may share the information in a DACA request with national security and law enforcement agencies, including ICE and CBP, for purposes other than deportation, including to identify or prevent fraudulent claims, for national security purposes, or for the investigation or prosecution of a crime.

The expanded DACA and new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs, that were expected to kick in on February 18, 2015 and May 19, 2015, respectively, were put on hold by a federal court injunction.

In a February 16, 2015 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas sided with the Texas-led coalition of 26 states that filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the expanded DACA and the new DAPA. Then in a June 23, 2016 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgement in a 4-4 decision, effectively blocking the programs from being rolled out.

DACA and DAPA were intended to protect undocumented immigrants in low-priority categories from removal and bring them out of the shadows. But in his 10 Point Plan, Trump notes, “Anyone who enters the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws in this country.” Taken literally, this statement reveals that even undocumented immigrants who came to the country illegally as children, and who grew up in the U.S., do not have to be considered low priority for removal.

There is a growing fear of detention and removal among DACA recipients, who listed on the DACA applications all their residential addresses from the time they entered the U.S. Locating DACA recipients is easier than finding undocumented immigrants who never applied for the relief.

Some immigration attorneys are advising DACA recipients to avoid filing for renewals at this time, until the future of the program is decided after Trump takes office. Others recommend DACA renewals be filed while the program is still intact.

During his campaign, Trump promised to rescind such executive actions and orders by Obama. He may revoke DACA altogether or issue an order preventing new DACA applications or renewals. Whether the Trump Administration will use the addresses on the DACA applications to initiate removal proceedings is a concern. But for practical, political and financial reasons, Trump will likely prioritize removal of unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal records, just like Obama.

A repeal of Obama’s executive actions does not prevent immigrant relief passed by Congress. On December 9, 2016, Sen. Dick Durbin (D. Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced legislation called the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow Our Economy (BRIDGE Act), to protect persons who would otherwise qualify for DACA.

6. “Suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur, until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put into place.” (#6 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

The President sets the number of refugees who will resettle in the U.S. each year. The Obama Administration met its target of settling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. by the end of fiscal year 2016. On the other hand, Trump expressed his intent to halt the Syrian refugee program and “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur.” The regions include Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, which produce half of the world’s refugees.

The Trump Administration could also implement additional security protocols to make it harder for applicants who are Muslim, believed to be Muslim, or from Muslim-majority countries to obtain visas, especially tourist/visitor visas and other nonimmigrant visas. Trump may issue an executive order to temporarily suspend or cancel entry to the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas from target countries. Even if such a policy is eventually struck down by the courts, it will slow down visa processing for all applicants.

The processing of I-130 (family-based) and I-140 (employment-based) immigrant petitions, which is the first step in obtaining an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate, is unlikely to be affected by a Trump Administration. Filing fees, not tax dollars, provide funding for USCIS’ review of immigrant petitions. The availability of immigrant petitions in the family-based and employment-based categories is also governed by statutory law, not by the President.

Immigrant-based visas such as the F-1 fiance visa and CR immigrant visa already have strict requirements. Nevertheless, the Trump Administration could suspend the issuance of such visas until more vetting mechanisms are implemented.

6. “Reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, keeping immigration levels within historic norms.” (#10 on Trump’s 10 Point Plan)

Legal immigration is governed by regulations and legislation, not by a President’s executive action. The President’s immigration policy must operate within the bounds of existing law. The President has limited power to regulate and deregulate. Only Congress has power to introduce and pass immigration laws.

Regulation

A regulation is much harder to rescind than an executive order. The Administrative Procedure Act requires all regulations to be published in the Federal Register, undergo public notice-and-comment, receive financial consideration by the Office of Management and Budget, and be finalized for rulemaking. The I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver is one example of a regulation.

Under statute passed by Congress, a person is generally barred from reentering the U.S. for 3 years if he accrued more than 180 days to less than 1 year of unlawful presence before leaving the U.S. The bar to reentry is 10 years if the unlawful presence lasted 1 year or more. The 3/10 year bar is triggered when the person departs the U.S. (without advance parole) to apply for an immigrant visa. The unlawful presence waiver, which is available under statutory law, excuses certain eligible persons from the 3/10 year bar.

On March 4, 2013, the Obama Administration introduced the I-601A regulation modifying the process for applying for the unlawful presence waiver. It allows eligible immigrant visa applicants to file for the waiver while they are still in the U.S. if the 3/10 year bar is the only ground that prohibits reentry to the U.S. The final rule expanding the I-601A waiver to all statutorily eligible applicants went into effect on August 29, 2016.

A new President may suspend the effective date of regulations that have yet to take effect. During the suspension, the Administration decides whether to begin a regulatory process to repeal the regulation and prevent it from taking effect. For regulations passed in approximately the last eight months of the prior Administration, the new Administration may ask Congress to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn a recently issued regulation. The Act, however, may not be used on any regulations issued before May 2016.

If Trump wants to change or cut the I-601A waiver process, he will have to introduce a new regulation, have the regulation go through public notice-and-comment, make adjustments, and then have the final rule published. While elimination of the I-601A process is possible, this does not seem to be a high priority for Trump.

Legislation

Legislation, passed by Congress, is the toughest to repeal and replace. Comprehensive Immigration Reform has been discussed extensively, but no new broad bills have been enacted for decades. Although the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, they do not all agree with Trump’s proposed plans.

Permanent changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs legal immigration, including which persons are eligible for permanent residence, naturalization, or relief from removal,  requires an act of Congress. Legislative changes require approval of bills by both the House and Senate.  The President has limited veto power.

Trump’s 10 Point Plan promises to return U.S. jobs to U.S. workers. He vowed to suspend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a three-country accord negotiated by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., which went into effect on January 1994. The treaty contains the TN visa category for professionals from Mexico and Canada.  If Trump suspends NAFTA, the TN visa could also go away.

Trump has also criticized the H-1B professional program. With an annual cap of 65,000 per year, plus an additional 20,000 for foreign workers with a U.S. master’s degree or higher, the H-1B program is subject to legislative changes by Congress.

With U.S. business interests at stake, and general support of the H-1B program from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the nature of H-1B reform (if any) is uncertain. An expansion of the H-1B visa program is unlikely if the Republican-controlled Congress falls in line with Trump’s promises. Instead, Congress could introduce an American-worker-first element that requires recruitment of U.S. workers prior to filing an H-1B petition for a foreign worker.

To Fear or Not to Fear? 

Trump’s 10 Point Plan and campaign promises are a legitimate source of fear for immigrant communities. But campaign talk is not always followed by action. U.S. Presidents lack unfettered power, fail to carry out plans, and do the opposite or a watered-down version of what they said they would do.

No one can fully predict the impact of a Trump Administration on immigration. Uncertainty breeds fear. But the fear is not necessarily based on reality.

If you are an undocumented immigrant or noncitizen with concerns about removal from the U.S. or being denied entry into the U.S., your best step is to consult an immigration attorney about your options under current law, regulation or policy. An experienced and attentive attorney can also guide you through immigration changes under a new Administration.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Grant of Motion to Vacate Expedited Removal Order + Rescission of Misrepresentation Charge = A True Success Story

On November 9, 2016 – several hours after Donald Trump gave his acceptance speech as U.S. President-elect – I received a telephone call from the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) on a Motion to Vacate Expedited Removal Order I had filed on October 31st (only 9 days earlier). I had appealed to the CBP Field Office, which denied my client admission at the U.S. port of entry, to rescind the removal order and the charge that she willfully misrepresented material fact to gain entry into the U.S. as a visitor.

My client sought entry into the U.S. on a valid B1/B2 visitor visa, which she obtained six months before she married her U.S. citizen spouse. Following the marriage in her home country, she and her elderly parents arrived at an international U.S. airport for a temporary visit. Her American spouse also accompanied them on their first trip to the U.S.

Her plan was to tour the U.S. with her parents and get accustomed to the American lifestyle and culture before she returned to her home country to start the marriage-based immigrant visa process. They had return airline tickets to leave the U.S. within two weeks.

At primary inspection, she and her parents presented the proper travel documents (valid passports) and entry documents (unexpired 10-year, B1/B2 visitor visas) to the CBP officer. While her parents were admitted as visitors, she was pulled into secondary inspection.

During secondary inspection, the CBP officer questioned her about the purpose of her trip. She explained the temporary nature of her visit and, while she was reaching for her return airline ticket, the officer took her personal belongings and searched through them.

Among her personal belongings was a folder containing several documents. In the folder, the CBP officer found two letters from an employer in her home country that were contradictory. The first letter stated she had resigned from her position, indicating she was no longer employed. The second letter stated she was on a leave of absence, implying she still had a job.

She immediately clarified that the second letter contained false information and she had in fact resigned from her job. She described her plans to return to her home country on time and later apply for an immigrant visa, based on her marriage to a U.S. citizen.

Instead of allowing her to withdraw her application for admission due to lack of a proper visa, the CBP detained and interrogated her for at least five hours. She was questioned by two CBP officers until her Sworn Statement was taken about eight hours after she arrived at the airport.

Using a Form I-867A & B, Record of Sworn Statement in Proceedings under Section 235(b)(1) of the Act, the CBP officer documented her testimony in a question and answer format. My client signed the Sworn Statement and initialed each page without fully reading or understanding the contents.

The CBP issued a Form I-860, Notice and Order of Expedited Removal Order, finding her inadmissible, denying her entry, and ordering her expeditiously removed on two counts. The first charge was under INA 212(a)(7)(A)(i)(I), i.e. lack of proper travel documents. The second (and more serious) charge was under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i), i.e. fraud or willful misrepresentation of material fact to gain admission into the U.S. by presenting a fake letter.

My client was sent back to her country the following day on the next available flight. Her spouse and parents booked airline tickets and returned there as well. A week later, she and her spouse completed a video consultation with me via Skype.

In the consultation, I explained that the expedited removal order, by itself, subjects you to a 5-year bar to reentry. And a charge of fraud/willful misrepresentation under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) furthers bars you permanently from entering the U.S.

I  described the two main options to immigrate to the U.S. following an expedited removal order with a misrepresentation charge.

Option A is to submit a Motion to Vacate the Expedited Removal Order to the CBP Field Office that issued the order. Because this request is, in essence, a motion to reopen or reconsider to the Service, the CBP must receive it within 30 days of the date of the order.

Option A is available if the applicant has factual grounds and legal claims to challenge the CBP’s determination that she is inadmissible to the U.S. and must be expeditiously removed from the U.S.

Option B is to file an  I-212, application for permission to reapply for admission after removal, to overcome the 5-year bar. Plus file an I-601, application for INA 212(i) waiver of inadmissibility, to be excused from the section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) charge – a permanent bar. Both waivers must be filed in conjunction with the immigrant visa application, and are typically submitted at or after the visa interview.

Option B is available if the applicant meets the eligibility requirements for the I-212 waiver and I-601 waiver. To get the I-212 waiver, the applicant must have favorable factors (e.g. close family ties in the U.S.) that outweigh the unfavorable factors (e.g. bad moral character). To receive the I-601 waiver, the applicant needs a qualifying relative (i.e. U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent) who will suffer extreme hardship if she is not admitted to the U.S.

The foreign national and her American spouse chose Option A as their primary solution, and Option B as their backup plan. Both options require strong documentary evidence, favorable facts, and persuasive legal arguments for an approval to be possible.

During the next three weeks that followed the consultation, I counseled my client and her spouse on the documentary evidence to gather for the request to vacate expedited removal order. The evidence demonstrated the temporary nature of the planned visit, my client’s ongoing ties to her home country, and her and her spouse’s good moral character.

Furthermore, I reviewed the Sworn Statement and Notice and Order of Expedited Removal Order, the agency’s policy manual, and applicable case law to formulate the strongest legal arguments to support the motion.

In the Motion to Expedite Removal Order, I noted that my client had proper travel documents in the form of an unexpired passport and valid visitor visa. I argued she was not inadmissible under INA 212(a)(7)(A)(i)(I) because it was appropriate for her to travel to the U.S. on a valid B1/B2 visa for a temporary visit, even though she was married to a U.S. citizen.

In addition, I explained why the CBP made an error by making a willful misrepresentation charge under INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i). I pointed out that my client did not affirmatively provide the fake leave of absence letter to the CBP officer, who found it during his search of her personal belongings. I added that even if she had misrepresented a material fact, she timely recanted it by admitting the letter contained wrong information and clarifying she was unemployed in her home country.

I pointed out the CBP should have at least given her the opportunity to withdraw her application for admission, rather than issue an expedited removal order that subjected her not only to a 5-year bar, but also to a permanent bar.

The normal processing time for a Motion to Vacate Expedited Removal Order is 6 months. To my pleasant surprise, it took less than 10 days for CBP to review the motion and make a decision in this case.

Four days after the CBP Field Office received the motion, a CBP officer telephoned me to convey they were taking the request into serious consideration.

On November 9th, which was 9 days after receiving the motion, the Watch Commander at the CBP Field Office called to say he would vacate the expedited removal order and treat the case as a withdrawal of application for admission to the U.S. He noted that my client was no longer barred from entering the U.S.

The foreign national no longer has a 5-year bar to reentry due to the removal order or a permanent bar to reentry due to the willful misrepresentation charge. She now readily qualifies for a marriage-based immigrant visa without needing any waivers of inadmissibility.

The rescission of the removal order and dismissal of the section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) charge means my client will not need an I-212 waiver or I-601 waiver to get the immigrant visa. This will make it significantly easier and faster for her to immigrate to the U.S. (because waiver requests often take 6 to 12 months to be adjudicated).

My client, her spouse and I communicated by Skype, telephone and email. They decided to hire me upon completing the initial video consultation, in which I laid out a strategy and action plan to resolve their immigration predicament.

Although we never met in person, we worked together effectively to create a desired and expeditious outcome. I continue to represent them in their I-130 immigrant petition and immigrant visa process.

The speedy approval of the request to vacate expedited removal order and dismissal of the misrepresentation charge is a true success story in 2016 for Dyan Williams Law PLLC.

I enjoy taking on challenging cases in which foreign nationals seek to enter the U.S. lawfully as an immigrant or nonimmigrant, after they have been found inadmissible or issued an expedited removal order. Getting I-212, I-601 and 212(d)(3) waivers are among my top areas of expertise.

Under the new administration – which begins on January 20, 2017,  and is expected to be more hardline on immigration – lawful entries into the U.S. will be more critical than ever.

Cheers,

Dyan Williams

Founder & Principal Attorney
Dyan Williams Law PLLC
(612) 225-9900
dw@dyanwilliamslaw.com

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This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Photo by: Ian D. Keating

Why hire an immigration lawyer when immigration consultants and online immigration services offer lower rates?

The current political climate and 2016 election of Donald Trump for U.S. President have fueled fear among immigrant groups. Amidst the anti-immigrant rhetoric, it’s important to discuss your options in legalizing your status or securing the appropriate visa with an experienced immigration lawyer.

Why hire a lawyer when there is lower-cost help available through immigration consultants and online immigration services? The reasons are many, from ensuring you receive accurate advice to avoiding unnecessary delays.

The main advantages of hiring a reputable and trusted immigration lawyer, instead of depending on an immigration consultant or online immigration service are:

1. You receive guidance on which forms and documents to submit

A lawyer is not required to fill out application forms for immigration benefits. Anyone can complete the forms, which are, along with the instructions, available for free on U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of State’s websites.

But U.S. government agencies are not your advocates and do not consider your individual situation when providing resources and information to you. Only an immigration lawyer, who truly understands the eligibility requirements, can give you the most reliable advice on which forms and documents to submit to receive immigration benefits.

Legitimate immigration consultants and online immigration processors can certainly help you complete forms and submit the paperwork to USCIS and DOS at a much lower cost than what lawyers charge.

Nevertheless, your knowing which forms and documents to submit is not always clear by just reading instructions or doing your own research. Immigration consultants and online immigration services are prohibited from giving any legal advice concerning your immigration case, including which forms and documents to submit. Rather, you yourself have to make this determination before they then fill out the forms with your answers and prepare the documents you have given them for filing with the appropriate U.S. government agency.

Even qualified immigration consultants and highly-rated online immigration services are just document preparers. While they are distinguishable from shady Notarios who prey on vulnerable immigrant groups and engage in immigration scams, they provide limited service that does not always meet your immigration needs.

Questions on applications forms and questions from immigration or consular officers might seem simple, but often relate to legal issues that can result in denials and setbacks in your case. Immigration consultants and online immigration processors cannot counsel you on how to best answer a question or cross-check or verify your answers on the forms. All they can do is replicate and type out your responses to the questions asked on the forms.

When non-lawyer immigration consultants or online immigration processors advise you on which immigration benefit to apply for and how to prove you qualify for it, they essentially engage in unauthorized practice of law.

In contrast, immigration lawyers advise you on which exact forms and documents to submit for a particular immigration benefit. They will cross check your answers on application forms with your biographic and immigration records to help ensure accuracy and completeness. They will also counsel you on the implications of your answers to questions, as well as the effects of providing or not providing certain documents.

2. You get legal advice on how to best present your case

A good lawyer will counsel you on eligibility standards and evidentiary requirements, including those that are not spelled out in the instructions for forms or are otherwise readily known.

For instance, while an immigration consultant or online immigration service will accept your marriage certificate and divorce decrees for prior marriages as sufficient in an I-130 spousal immigrant petition, a lawyer will counsel you on additional documents to submit to prove your marriage is valid and bona fide.

A lawyer might be unnecessary in very simple cases, where the bare minimum is all that’s required to get the case approved. But in many cases, a high volume of documentary evidence, as well as credible testimony, are needed to achieve a favorable outcome.

One of the fastest growing online immigration processors, RapidVisa, states specifically that it does not give legal advice or representation, but offers a service similar to TurboTax for visa applications. At a low price, they provide online processing of K-1 fiancée visas, spousal visas, parent visas, green cards (adjustment of status), removal of conditions, citizenship (naturalization), joint sponsorship, and deferred action (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, under President Obama).

RapidVisa boasts an approval rate of 99.7% and 4-hour turnaround time. But it’s fair to say that these cases most likely had no complications to require the work of a lawyer, and could have been handled just as well by an applicant who was willing and able to deal with the paperwork alone.

Reputable immigration lawyers, who have the expertise to deal with the worst types of cases, are best equipped to help you present the strongest case possible. They can steer you away from pitfalls that lead to complications in your case, such as USCIS issuing a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny Petition. They are trained to spot issues and weaknesses that can tank your case. Unlike immigration consultants and online immigration processors, they do not merely rely on generic templates and checklists that do not account for unique situations.

3. You obtain verification on whether you actually qualify for the benefit sought

An immigration lawyer will gather facts and review your record to confirm whether you are eligible for the immigration benefit you seek. For example, under current law, you cannot apply for a marriage-based green card within the U.S. if you were not lawfully admitted to the U.S. with inspection, and you do not qualify for 245(i) benefits. If your immigrant petition is not in the immediate relative category, you may not file for adjustment to permanent residence unless you are maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status after entry as an F-1 student, H-1B worker, etc. or certain narrow exceptions apply.

Immigration consultants and online immigration processors are not equipped or authorized to verify your eligibility for a benefit sought. They cannot give advice as to which immigration status you should seek. These are legal issues that requires a lawyer’s guidance, especially when there are complications in your case.

Complications include marriage/divorce complications, visa overstays, unlawful presence, prior removal orders, illegal entries and re-entries to the U.S., immigration fraud or willful misrepresentation, false claims to U.S. citizenship, a criminal record, and being from a high-fraud country.

In June 2016, the State of Colorado passed a law that forced RapidVisa to relocate out of Colorado Springs, Colorado to Las Vegas, Nevada, where regulations related to the document-preparation industry are favorable. Known as Immigration Consultants Deceptive Trade Practice, the Colorado law targets deceptive “notarios”, which are small operations common in Hispanic communities, but it further forbids any person from offering any immigration service, regardless of whether it involves practicing law, unless that person is a lawyer.

In a press release, Ben Ives, President of RapidVisa, stated “this was simply a case of lawyers protecting their income.” He noted, “Petitioning for a family visa is a benefit request, not a legal issue. Do you hire a lawyer to apply for your driver’s license?”

Contrary to Mr. Ives’ claim, applying for an immigration benefit involves many legal issues that determine whether a person can live, study or work in the U.S., and even visit the country. Filing for an immigration benefit has a much more serious and broader impact than applying for a driver’s license.

A U.S. citizen’s decision to bring a fiancée, spouse,  or parent to the U.S. , for example, affects the fate of the family and their reunification.  An applicant’s mistake in filing for an immigration benefit, such as a green card or citizenship, for which he does not qualify can sometimes lead him into removal proceedings and get him deported from the United States.

4. You have comprehensive counseling from start to finish

In the initial evaluation of your case, and during the course of representation, an immigration lawyer can identify your priorities and pinpoint issues to help you achieve your objectives. They can lay out your various options and describe the pros and cons of pursuing each path.

An immigration lawyer can guide you on how to avoid complications or address them as they arise, such as responding to a Request for Evidence, a Notice of Intent to Deny, a Notice of Intent to Revoke, or a denial decision. He or she can intervene on your behalf to resolve problems.

An immigration lawyer can also prepare you for interviews before USCIS and the U.S. Consulates by describing what questions to expect and which issues are likely to arise, and how to best address them. They can appear with you at green card interviews and naturalization interviews to help protect your rights, present documentary information, and ask clarifying questions. They can further prepare and submit a legal brief to stave off concerns and persuade the officer to approve your case.

Lawyers must keep up with changes in the law, the risks (not just the benefits) of applying for immigration relief, and the nuances in the immigration process, and advise you accordingly.

A non-lawyer immigration consultant or online immigration processor cannot perform these vital services.

5. You get legal help from a licensed professional who is held to the highest ethical standards

When an immigration consultant or online immigration processor overlooks critical pieces of information or documents, which results in an avoidable denial or delay, there is generally no recourse. You typically have to rectify the harm through their channels or file a consumer complaint with the state attorney general.

Lawyers, on the other hand, are held to ethical standards set forth in their state rules of professional conduct. They can face disciplinary action, such as a suspension or disbarment, for failing to perform duties owed to clients. As a licensed professional, a lawyer has obligations and responsibilities that go above and beyond those of a non-lawyer immigration service.

Consult an immigration attorney at the very least 

Some states, such as California, Minnesota, and New York regulate the conduct of immigration consultants, instead of forbid them from performing any immigration service. While they may provide document preparation, they cannot offer legal advice in any situation.

Legitimate immigration consultants and online immigration processors can ease the stress that comes with handling the immigration paperwork yourself. But realize they do nothing more than document preparation. A complete reliance on non-lawyer immigration services gives you a false sense of security and could open you up to making mistakes and bungling your immigration matter.

Reliable legal representation may be more affordable than you assume. There are solo practitioners and small firm lawyers who charge reasonable fees for high-quality, comprehensive service. There are also non-profit legal service providers and pro-bono attorneys who will accept your case for sliding scale or reduced fees or no fees.

Almost everyone can gather funds to consult an experienced immigration lawyer at least once, or retain unbundled legal service to address the complicated parts of the case. Before you file for an immigration benefit, talk to a reputable immigration lawyer about the eligibility standards, documentary requirements and filing process. Relying on immigration consultants and online immigration processors can save you money upfront, but cost you a lot more in the long run.

This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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