Understanding Your Status: Lawful Status, Period of Authorized Stay, & Lawful Presence

A foreign national’s legal status at the time of a change, extension, or adjustment of status can influence the outcome of an immigration matter. An error in maintaining legal status may prevent the foreign national from receiving the desired immigration benefits. It is important to understand your current legal status and how it may determine your chances for change, extension, or adjustment of status.

 Lawful Nonimmigrant Status

Foreign nationals in lawful nonimmigrant status possess an unexpired arrival/ departure form (I-94) issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A valid I-94 by itself does not grant a valid status. Foreign nationals must also maintain lawful status by adhering to guidelines set by their visa classification. For example, H-1B visa holders must maintain employment with their petitioning employer during the period of I-94 validity. Failure to satisfy visa regulations will result in a loss of lawful nonimmigrant status.

Period of Authorized Stay

If an application to request change or extend status is filed on behalf of an foreign national before his/her status expires, the foreign national may be in a “period of stay authorized by the Attorney General.” A good example of this would be where a petition to extend the H-1B is filed on behalf of the foreign national before his/her I-94 expires and the petition remains pending with the USCIS awaiting adjudication, after the expiration of the I-94. 

A nonimmigrant maintains a period of authorized stay as long as the application is still pending a decision even though, under certain circumstances, they may fall out of status. If the USCIS eventually approves the pending application or petition for extension or change of status, the foreign national retroactively transitions into status.

Similarly, those with a pending application for adjustment of status without the underling non-immigrant status are generally in period of authorized stay while the application for adjustment of status is pending with the USCIS.

Out of Status & Unlawful Presence

Foreign nationals not in period of authorized stay or not maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status are considered unlawfully present in the U.S and maybe out of status. A good example of unlawful presence would be a scenario where a foreign national with an expired I-94 card continues to be present in the U.S. Such a foreign national would accrue unlawful presence from the date their I-94 expired, and would be subject to re-entry bar after departing the U.S. Unlawful presence for a period longer than 180 day will result in three-year ban from the U.S. If the person was unlawfully present for a period of one year or more, then the person is banned from the U.S. for a period of ten years. It is important to understand the subtle distinction between out of status and unlawful presence. A person with a valid I-94 who fails to maintain his/her status is out of status through not unlawfully present in the U.S. (hence not accruing the unlawful presence inadmissibility bar). However, it would be hard for them to obtain future immigration or visa benefits.

For foreign nationals with a timely filed application or petition for extension, change, or adjustment of status, the unlawful presence begins on the denial date. Foreign nationals who are out of status or unlawfully present, are subject to removal from the U.S.

Conclusion

 It is imperative to understand your status before applying for extended stay or adjustment of status. The complexities between lawful status, out of status, period of authorized stay, and unlawful presence greatly impact the immigration process. If you have any question regarding your legal status, feel free to contact our office to schedule a consultation.

FOIA Request to Resolve Immigration Issues

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives any person the right to request access to records and documents from government agencies. Individuals with pending immigration cases can make a request under the FOIA for important records held by U.S. Department of State (DOS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and others. Obtaining records through FOIA may assist in providing the necessary documentation to resolve a pending immigration case.

Helpful for Your Case

Over the years, copies of important records and documents are lost or damaged. A FOIA request can help restore lost copies and provide evidence of immigration history, which is necessary for status renewal or adjustment of status. Those seeking records may also benefit from obtaining access to materials of adjudication from previous cases (like notes from USCIS officers). Accessing these materials may aid in expediting pending or future immigration cases.

How to Make a FOIA Request

There are a variety of ways to request documents under FOIA, however the process may be difficult to navigate. Each request for an immigration document is filed through the agency designated to that particular record. For example, one must request an A-file (alien file) through USCIS by submitting a Form G-639, while CBP processes requests for I-94 records. It may take a long time before a request is processed. A high-volume request may take longer to process than a more directed request that require only a few documents, so the timeline of each request varies drastically.

Records NOT Covered Under FOIA

The Freedom of Information/ Privacy Act does not allow for complete access to all documents held by government agencies. FOIA contains 9 exceptions that include protections of individual privacy, national security, and trade secrets. If an immigration case is currently under investigation by a federal agency, like the FBI, the documents and records will not be public under FOIA.

Conclusion

It is crucial to possess required records and documents for your immigration case. FOIA facilitates freedoms of information, but in a complex and convoluted manner. It can be difficult to know which documents you need, and from what federal agencies. Sharma Law Offices can assist you with navigating your FOIA request for records.

 

Steps to Replace Lost Passport with U.S. Visa

Losing a passport with a valid visa, particularly in a foreign country, is always a huge setback especially for those who are on a short vacation and must return to the U.S.  to resume their employment or to attend school.  Irrespective of the care one takes to guard important documents, every year many passports are stolen. If you notice that your passport containing a U.S. visa is either missing or stolen, it is important to follow these steps to obtain new documents.

File a Police Report

As soon as you realize your documents are missing, go to your local police station and report the loss. According to the U.S. Department of State, it is necessary have a copy of the police report detailing the missing or stolen passport to re-apply for a new passport & visa.

Report Missing Passport to Your Native Country

Obtaining a new passport will depend on your country of citizenship. Most countries have websites that assist in the reporting of a lost or stolen passport. You can contact your local embassy or consular section for your country of citizenship for more information regarding replacement of the lost documents.

Report Missing Visa U.S. Embassy Abroad

Contact the consular section of the U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad that issued your visa. Provide the office with as much identifying information as possible (Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, U.S. address, etc.) and indicate whether the visa was lost or stolen. Make sure you include any documentation of your original passport and visa (i.e. Digital scans of original documents). Once you have reported your lost or stolen visa, that visa will no longer be valid for travel to the United States. Even if you later find your misplaced visa, you must apply for a new visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Reapply for U.S. Visa

You cannot replace your lost or stolen visa in the United States. To replace your lost visa, you must apply in person at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad. You will need to have documentation of your lost or stolen visa, including a copy of your police report.  

It is important to keep track of all important travel documents to prevent future issues. It is highly recommended that one should have a copy of one’s passport and visa as it would help the consulate locate the information in a timely manner.

Employment-Based Green Card Applicants to be Interviewed

Starting October 1, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) will require in-person interviews for adjustment of status (AOS) applications (I-485) based on employment (e.g., Form I-140) and refugee/asylee relative petitions. Under the direction of the January executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, USCIS director James W. McCament hopes the interviews will preserve the “integrity” of the nation’s immigration system.

A History of Inefficiency

The required interview is not an altogether new procedure for immigration benefit applications. The USCIS has the power to mandate or waive an in-person interview for AOS applications. Overtime, USCIS officers found that the protocol slowed application turnaround without significantly aiding in fraud investigation. Therefore, AOS applications based on employment and refugee/asylee relative petitions generally received an interview waiver from USCIS officers. However, the current administration’s focus on “extreme vetting” led the USCIS to impose stricter guidelines for even the most transparent applications.

Longer Wait Times

Applicants with an employment based visas, among others, will now have to wait longer to obtain their green cards. In 2015, nearly 122,000 people transitioned from an employment based visa to a green card. For many of these cases, applicants received approval for lawful permanent residency within a period of six months. Soon, the new interview requirement will create backlogs within USCIS that will slow the application review process. USCIS’s increased workload following new “vetting” standards will decrease efficiency, and prevent many from obtaining approval for AOS applications in a timely manner.

Ineffective

Expanding interview requirements will not “improve the detection and prevention of fraud”. Instead, the new guidelines will make it difficult for legitimate applicants to receive green cards. The October implementation of the EO will create gridlock within the USCIS.

If you have questions regarding adjustment of status issues, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.    

Global Entry Enrollment Open for Indian Citizens

Travel to United States just became easier for citizens of India. In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that India would be added to the list of approved Global Entry countries. According to the CBP, the Global Entry program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. For approved travelers entering the U.S., Global Entry means reduced wait times in designated airports.

What are the benefits of Global Entry?

Global Entry is available at major U.S. airports and select international airports. Approved travelers can skip paperwork and long processing lines, and check in directly with a Global Entry kiosk. However, CBP retains the right to further inspect Global Entry travelers when entering the United States. Travelers enrolled in the Global Entry program can also benefit from TSA pre-check, which allows travelers to move quickly through security lines.

How Do I Get Global Entry Approval?

Besides U.S. citizens and U.S. legal permanent residents, only citizens of Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Mexico, and (as of July) India are eligible for Global Entry. To be approved, you must create a Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account and complete the online application. The application process includes: a non-refundable fee of $100, a thorough background check, and an in person interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Additional requirements apply depending on country of origin. For citizens of India, applicants must:

  • Pay a ₹500 background check fee;
  • Submit additional information to the Passport Seva Portal;
  • Complete an in-person interview at a designate Passport Seva Kendra/Passport Seva Laghu Kendra (PSK/PSLK) location.

Approved Global Entry travelers must have updated passports and authorized visas. If you have any questions, we invite you to contact our office to receive consultation on visa renewal.

Supreme Court Rules Citizenship Cannot be Rescinded Due to False Statements

Can a naturalized citizen have her citizenship revoked for making an immaterial false statement in her naturalization application? On June 22, 2017 the Supreme Court in Maslenjak v. United States decided that to rescind one’s citizenship due to false statement made during the immigration process, the statement has to be material. In other words, “the false statement so altered the naturalization process as to have influenced an award of citizenship.”

Divna Maslenjak sought refugee status in 1998 after a civil war broke out in Bosnia. In her immigration interview, Maslenjak testified that she feared of persecution from the Muslims due to her ethnicity and from the Serbs because her husband evaded service in the Bosnian Serb Army. Years later when Maslenjak applied for citizenship, she swore that she never made a false statement to gain immigration benefit or gain entry into the U.S. After she acquired citizenship in 2007, it was discovered that she did indeed provide false statement to a government official about her husband who had served as an officer in the Bosnian Serb Army during the war years.

In the lawsuit, the parties agreed that it is a crime to commit illegal act in connection with naturalization under 18 U.S.C. 1425(a). §1425(a) states that to secure a conviction, the government must establish that the defendant’s illegal act played a role in her acquisition of citizenship. The dispute lies in the nature of that connection. Maslenjak argues that the relationship must be causal. It is only a crime if the act contributed to her acquiring citizenship. The government argues a chronological relationship in which a crime is found when the act occurred during the naturalization process.

In district court, the jury was instructed to determine conviction based on whether Maslenjak made a false statement even if the statement did not affect the decision to approve her citizenship. The jury found her guilty and Maslenjak was stripped of her citizenship. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the jury instructions and affirmed the district court’s decision.

The Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling vacated the Sixth Circuit’s judgment. The Court determined that statute §1425(a) strips a person of his/her citizenship when that illegal act contributed to his/her naturalization, not when s/he committed a crime during the naturalization process. In such cases, as the Court concluded, the jury should be instructed to decide on whether the false statement influenced the award of citizenship in a single, significant way. The jury must assess how a reasonable government official is influenced in his application of the naturalization law by the set of facts.

The Supreme Court by its decision made it harder to strip naturalized Americans of their citizenship.  The decision in Maslenjak does not give a blank check to applicants to lie on their naturalization applications, but does provide some relief to those who undergo denaturalization by placing the burden on the Government to prove materiality.

Warrantless Searches by CBP at the Border and Port of Entry

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have the broad legal authority to conduct searches at the border and Port of Entry (POE). Unlike police officers who need search warrants, CBP can conduct searches “without individualized suspicion” as stated in CBP’s policy. U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and visitors alike are subjected to CBP searches, including searches of electronic devices and social media accounts.

In light of heightened national security interests and border protection, the Supreme Court has upheld CBP’s right to conduct warrantless searches without any suspicion as “reasonable” and an exception to the 4th Amendment. In this digital age where cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices, contain private information, including photos, contacts, and messages, the warrantless search is rather intrusive, particuarly when it is done without much justification by the CBP agent.

A secondary issue to the warrantless searches is CBP’s access to the individual’s social media accounts. CBP started collecting identifiers (search words) to view one’s public information in 2016. However, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) reported that it has seen instances where CBP agents requested login information so they can view private messages. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said officials were considering a policy that would allow CBP agents to ask refugees and immigrants for their social media login information. 

Speaking to The New York Times, a CBP spokesman reported that CBP agents inspected 4,444 cellphones and 320 other electronic devices in 2015. The number rose to 23,000 in 2016. America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that it has seen an increase in the number of people who said their electronic devices have been searched.

One can refuse to consent to a search, but that does not stop CBP from forcing him/her to unlock the device, detain him/her until s/he consents, arrest the him/her, seize the device and release the person, or for nonimmigrants, refuse their admission into the U.S. There are ways to prepare before traveling. Suggestions from ACLU include:

  • traveling with as little data and as few devices as possible. The less you’re carrying, the less there is to search. Consider using a travel-only smartphone or laptop that doesn’t contain private or sensitive information. You could also ship your devices to yourself in advance. (Be aware that CBP claims the authority to search international packages so it is best to encrypt any devices that you ship.) Keep in mind that a forensic search of your device will unearth deleted items, metadata, and other files.  
  • encrypting devices with strong and unique passwordsand shut them down when crossing the border.  
  • storing sensitive data in a secure cloud-storage account. Don’t keep a copy of the data in your physical possession, and disable any apps that connect to cloud-based accounts where you store sensitive communications or files. (There’s no articulated CBP policy on whether agents may click on apps and search data stored in the cloud. While this kind of warrantless search should be well outside the government’s authority at the border, we don’t know how they view this issue.)  
  • uploading sensitive photos on your camera to your password-protected laptop or a cloud-storage account. Digital cameras don’t offer encrypted storage, so you should consider backing up your photos and deleting them from your camera and reformatting the camera’s memory card.

Rights available to Green Card Holders upon returning to the United States

As a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), also known as a Green Card holder, you are free to travel outside the United States without affecting your permanent resident status. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) screens all travelers returning to the U.S. To determine abandonment, CBP would consider the length of time you were abroad, the frequency with which you travel, and whether abandonment is found based on the belief that you did not intend to make the U.S. your permanent residence. Considering the increase in border security, knowing your rights as a LPR is more vital than ever.

Like all other travelers, LPRs too are subject to inspection by CBP upon return to the U.S. CBP’s screening determines whether you are a “returning resident” or whether you are an “arriving alien” seeking admission to the U.S. CBP shall not regard you as an arriving alien unless you:

  • Have abandoned or renounced your LPR status;
  • Have been absent from the U.S. for more than 180 days in one period;
  • Have engaged in unlawful activity after leaving the U.S.;
  • Have departed the U.S. while under legal proceeding which seeks your removal as an alien from the U.S. (including removal proceedings under the INA and extradition proceedings);
  • Have committed a criminal offense under INA §212(a)(2), unless you were granted relief under INA §212(h) or §240A(a); or
  • Are attempting to enter at a time or place other than the one designated by immigration officers or have not been admitted to the U.S. after inspection and authorization by immigration officers.

If you are a LPR who is deemed to be seeking admission in the U.S., you can be charged as an arriving alien removable from the U.S. As such, your due process rights as a LPR entitles you to a hearing before an immigration judge. It is important to know that the only way you can be stripped of your LPR status is when an order of removal is issued by the immigration judge in which the government proves abandonment of LPR status by clear and convincing evidence. In other words, you cannot lose your LPR status simply because of extensive time spent outside the U.S.

If the CBP officer, at the Port of Entry, determines abandonment, s/he may try to urge you to sign a Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status. However, your refusal to sign the form does not negatively impact your status. Upon your refusal to sign the Form I-407, the only action CBP can take is to issue you a Notice to Appear (NTA) for a hearing in front an immigration judge where the CBP will have to prove that you abandoned your residence due to a long stay outside the U.S.  In the worst-case scenario, even if you have signed the Form I-407, you still retain your right to request a hearing before the immigration judge to prove your intent to maintain permanent residence in the U.S.

In the new age of increased border security, it is important to know your rights as a LPR when traveling abroad. If you have any questions, we invite you to contact our office to receive consultation on traveling abroad.

Change in Authorized PERM Signatory at Audit

The Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) recently reversed a Permanent Employment Certification (PERM) denial involving a change in the PERM application’s signatory at the time of an audit. The facts and legal issues of the case are summarized below based on public records. Please note that Sharma Law Offices, LLC did not represent the employer during any stage of the case. The purpose of this article is to inform our existing and potential clients and should not be taken in any way as legal advice.

An employer filed a Form ETA 9089, otherwise known as PERM application, listing the president of the company as the signatory. During an audit, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) requested an original signed copy of the Form ETA 9089. In response to the audit, the employer modified the Employer’s Declaration section to reflect a new signatory and submitted it with the audit response.

Upon reviewing the audit response, the DOL denied the PERM application concluding that the employer substantially failed to respond to the audit as the person signing the Form ETA 9089 had changed from the initial PERM application.

The employer filed a request for reconsideration of the denial with the DOL, specifying the authorized signatory had changed and that the new signatory had the case-specific knowledge to make the attestations on the PERM application. The DOL certifying officer (CO), however, interpreted the relevant regulation to require that such explanations can only be made at the time of responding to the audit and that the employer’s request for reconsideration and explanations could not be taken into consideration at the time of reconsideration. The employer refused to accept this DOL’s decision and appealed the denial to BALCA.

Upon reviewing the facts of the case, BALCA disagreed with the CO on the exclusion of the employer’s evidence and explanation at the time of request for reconsideration. BALCA held that if the circumstances of an audit do not alert the employer to the potential deficiency, and the evidence is not standard, the CO cannot block admission of evidence at reconsideration. BALCA found that the circumstances of the audit did not alert the employer to the fact that the change in signatory could be viewed as a deficiency and that it is not standard to provide an explanation for such changes. BALCA concluded that there was no reason for the employer to provide a copy of the Form ETA 9089 signed by the signatory listed in the initial PERM application. Accordingly, BALCA reversed the denial of the PERM and remanded it for certification.

Although the PERM application was certified eventually, it was delayed by a simple change of the authorized signatory. There is no “harmless” error in PERM filing. The smallest detail can be crucial in obtaining certification. It is important to have an experienced and dedicated attorney handle your PERM applications.

STEM OPT Rule Found Invalid

On August 12, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision in Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security vacating the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 2008 rule which extends the duration of optional practical training (OPT) for eligible STEM students. However, the court stayed the effect of its ruling until February 12, 2016 – allowing DHS a 6-month window to remedy the defect the court found fatal to the 2008 rule as enacted.

By way of background, in 2008, DHS promulgated the regulation at issue which extended the period of OPT by 17 months for F-1 foreign nationals with a qualifying STEM degree. Prior to the 2008 regulation, a foreign national F-1 student could only be authorized for 12 months of OPT, which had to be completed within 14 months following the student’s completion of h/her course of study. Accordingly, the 2008 rule allowed F-1 STEM students to engage in a maximum 29 months of OPT.

Broadly stated, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (an association representing U.S. STEM workers) challenged the validity of the 2008 rule alleging it impermissibly circumvented H-1B caps by authorizing foreign nationals to work in STEM fields without complying with the labor certification and prevailing wage requirements of the H-1B program.

In addressing this claim, the court found DHS was within its discretionary authority delegated by Congress under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to allow foreign students to engage in employment for practical training purposes. Therefore, the DHS reasonably interpreted the operative provisions of the INA in forming the 2008 OPT STEM rule.

However, in vacating the 2008 rule, the court determined DHS erred in issuing the rule without the requisite notice or public comment period(s) normally required of a federal executive branch agency (unless impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest) before enacting such a regulation.

In so finding, the court found unpersuasive DHS’ argument that it was necessary to issue the rule without the inherent delay of notice and comment in order to forestall a national fiscal emergency occasioned by F-1 students (in expiring OPT status) being forced to leave the U.S. but for the 17 month extension.

Fortunately, the court recognized immediate annulment of the 2008 rule would cause a substantial hardship for foreign students and a major labor disruption for the tech sector. Therefore, the court stayed the effect of its order until February 12, 2016, so that DHS can submit the 2008 rule for proper notice and comment.   

Do not hesitate to contact Sharma Law Offices if you have any questions regarding your status as it relates to STEM OPT and this important decision. We will continue to monitor DHS’ response to the decision in the coming months.