The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced late last month a new set of eligible visas and naturalization filings for online applications. With an online account, applicants can now complete and file a Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. Additionally, USCIS announced that N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322 is now available online.
Over the last couple of years, USCIS has continued efforts to move filings, including all paperwork required, online. The director of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna expressed the services major goal to move into the digital age: “One of the major burdens to both benefit seekers and the agency’s adjudicators is the costly, time consuming, and cumbersome process of traditional paper filing.” The new visa classification available for online filing follows seven other visa classifications that have transitioned to online filing. “This addition to our online capabilities is yet another positive advancement toward a more efficient and convenient filing experience for everyone involved.” Other applications available for online filing include: Form I-90, Form N-336, Form N-400, Form N-565, among others.
Applications for Certificates of Citizenship, form N-600, are available to individuals and their minor children if they were born abroad and are claiming United States citizenship at birth through their parents or automatically became a United States citizen after birth, but before they turned 18 years old. This naturalization application is often used by military service people for their children born abroad, however U.S. service members have separate requirements for naturalization. To complete the online filing, eligible applicants must createa USCIS online account. Once applicants create an account, either the applicant or the applicant’s counsel can complete and submit the Form N-600 or N-600K, including additional information and filing fees. Once submitted, applicants can monitor the status of their application, respond to request for evidence, and manage their contact information.
Regardless of the visa application, calculating total fees for filings can be a hassle. But what many don’t realize is that an improperly calculated fee payment would result in rejection of the complete application thereby leading to a longer application process. This tedious process has left many with rejected applications due to citing and submitting the incorrect or incomplete total filing fee. To amend this, USCIS now offers a free Online Fee Calculator to assist those filing their forms through a USCIS agency lockbox facility.
From the Immigrant Petition for Aliens Worker (Form I-140) to Applications for Naturalization (Form N-400), applications and petitions for citizenship and immigration benefits require payments to fund processing costs. While a significant sum, these fees enable USCIS to operate as the service almost entirely relies on application and petition fees. Often these fees change to adjust to changing processing costs and inflation. Through the new online calculator, applicants and petitioners can find out the exact filing and biometric fees required for their particular application. The Online Fee Calculator is up to date, and reflects any recent adjustments to fees. The online calculator matches up-to-date filing fees with the forms selected by the drop down menu found on the website. By selecting your form, the fee calculator will either present you with a flat fee rate, or if you filing fee varies, prompt additional information to determine your category or age group. Those who wish to file concurrent forms can multiple form calculations to receive a total filing amount. However, the tool does not currently offer a feature to calculate fees for multiple individuals. Once users have responded to the questionnaire, the Online Fee Calculator will include biometric fees, if necessary, as well as the total fee amount. This total represents the amount that should be filed with applications and petitions submitted to USCIS.
Each year, USCIS processes millions of applications and petitions. Those which require fees are sometimes submitted with out-of-date and incorrect payments. Those applications are automatically rejected. For those filing at Lockbox facilities, checks, money orders, and credit card payments for applications may include the incorrect fee total. With the new Online Fee Calculator, applicants can rest assured that their fee payment is up-to-date to avoid rejections.
Those who wish to become a citizen, and do not qualify for a test waiver, must complete the Civics Test to finish the naturalization process. Those preparing for the U.S. history and government test focuses on a variety of subjects, including knowledge about representatives. Every couple of years, either due to information or election changes, the answers on the Civics Test change.
Tests Answers Reflect Federal and State Elections
From time to time, answers on the Civics Test for naturalization change to reflect federal and state elections. A new group of officials, elected in the 2018 midterms, were sworn into office early this year, changing several answers on the exam. Questions impacted include:
Who is one of your state’s U.S. senators now?
Name your U.S. representative.
Who is the Governor of your state now?
What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now?
The information for both U.S. senators for your state is updated on the senate website. Information regarding your representative can be found on the House of Representativeswebsite, however you will need your current residential information to find your congressional district. To find information about the current Speaker of the House Representative, USCIS has created a “test updates” page which lists the current speaker. To find information about your state’s current governor, you may visit usa.gov/states-and-territories. Several gubernatorial inaugurations take place well into the new year, so be sure to check regularly to stay updated on the governor of your state on the day of your Civics Test.
Other Test Updates
Periodically, other questions on the Civics Test may change. For instance, once a Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court retires, a new justice in named in their place by the President. To receive any updates about questions that may change, visit the USCIS test update page.
In the absence of congressional authorization, the EB-5 foreign investors visa program was set to end on December 21st of 2018. However, following the government shutdown that began on December 20th of 2018 and continues into the 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that the future of the EB-5 program will remain pending until funding legislation passes in Congress. However, the shutdown will not drastically impact other application processes for visa benefits.
Impact on EB-5 Applications Prior to December 21st
USCIS notes that any Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program, will not be accepted as of December 21st. Those Form I-924 applications still pending will remain on hold until funding is either allocated or denied to the EB-5 program. USCIS notes that it will continue to accept regional center-affiliated Form I-526s, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, and Forms I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status submitted before close of business on December 22nd. However, the aforementioned applications will remain on hold until the end of the government shutdown.
Additional Visas Impacted
As reported during the last government shutdown, most vital functions of the United States government will continue while the government is shutdown. In particular, the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will continue to function at ports of entry. Therefore, foreign nationals need not cancel travel plans abroad during the shutdown. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will additionally remain open during the shutdown. Thus, any applications or petitions that include fee processing, will continue to be processed through the shutdown (e.g. adjustment of status, etc.). Visa processing services provided by US consulates, and managed by the Department of State, will also continue while the government is shutdown. The Department of Labor, which received funding in September of 2018, will continue Labor Condition Application processing. Although these essential government agencies will remain open during the shutdown, it is unclear when the shutdown will end, and whether programs like the EB-5 visa program, will continue into 2019.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released a new proposed rule which would outline the ways in which the agency determines a foreign national is inadmissible due to risk of becoming a public charge. Foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. or adjust their immigration status must provide evidence of financial stability, and establish that they will not become a ‘public charge,’ or dependent on government assistance, during their stay. Public charge inadmissibility does not, however, currently apply to naturalization proceedings or other protected classes of nonimmigrants. The new proposal seeks to require foreign nationals seeking extensions of status or adjustment of status “to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits.” The new proposal seeks to more clearly define the term ‘public charge’ for the purpose of determining admissibility.
The proposed rule would change current standards for determining admissibility due to the risk of becoming a future public charge. Additionally, DHS would define the types of public benefits that make a foreign national subject to public charge inadmissibility while including a designated threshold of benefits allowed for all nonimmigrants receiving such benefits. DHS also seeks to make it more difficult for current foreign national public charges to gain approval for a change of status or extension of stay application. The rule would apply to all individuals seeking to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident. However, USCIS notes that “lawful permanent residents who subsequently apply for naturalization would not be subject to inadmissibility determinations, including a public charge inadmissibility determination.”
Those seeking entrance as refugees, asylees, Afghans and Iraqis with special immigrant visas, nonimmigrant trafficking and crime victims, individuals applying under the Violence Against Women Act, and special immigrant juveniles would be excluded from inadmissibility based on likelihood of public charge. Those applicants with “financial assets, resources, and support of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines” or those applicants with an income larger than 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, are more likely to be excluded from inadmissibility on the ground of public charge status.
Last month, a federal suit brought forth new questions surrounding individual property rights at the U.S. border. Two months ago, an American woman filed a federal suit against the Department of Homeland Security after Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents seized her smartphone upon return to the United States and made copies of the data found on the device. Rejhane Lazoja, a Muslim-American woman, asked a federal judge to compel border officials to erase all data copied from her iPhone following the February seizure. On October 30th, Lazoja was granted her request when DHS settled the case by deleting all of Lazoja’s data collected by CBP. However, the lawsuit sheds new light on the continued uncertainty surrounding digital property rights at the border.
Unlike inside the U.S., CBP officers may search and seize property from individuals entering the country without a warrant. This “border doctrine” allows CBP officers to take property, including cellular devices, without approval from a judge. At the border, CBP agents may seize cellphones for an extended period of time, during which data is collected from the electronic device. In the case of Lazoja v. Nielson, the plaintiffs stated that the “seizure, retention, and any sharing of [Rejhane Lazoja’s] property without reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or a warrant have violated Ms. Lazoja’s rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
Although Lazoja received her cellphone 130 days after re-entering the U.S., DHS retained data collected from her device, including confidential correspondence with Lazoja’s attorneys. By retaining the American woman’s property for a period longer than 120 days, without a warrant or reasonable suspicion, the representatives for Ms. Lazoja argued that her Constitutional rights had been violated. Although the case was settled before adjudication, the problem surrounding data seizure, and retention, at the border remains. CBP maintains full discretion to seize and copy data from electronic devices belonging to individuals crossing the border, regardless of their citizenship status. As CBP agents become more strict under the direction of President Trump, there may be a rise in property and data seizures in the coming months.
Recently, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) released a proposed revision to fee waivers offered to lower-income immigrants. For those currently living in the United States seeking to naturalize, this proposed change could place a significant financial burden on struggling families. Filed through the Federal Register, the proposed change is currently open for public comment from affected parties until November 27th.
Currently, the government offers automatic USCIS fee waivers for those individuals receiving means-tested public benefits. Means-tested public benefits include Food Stamps, Medicaid, SSI, TANF, and SCHIP as well as other benefits specific to certain states. Additionally, those within the federal poverty threshold (i.e. those households with an income at or below 150% of the poverty level at the time of filing) and individuals who can prove “financial hardship” can receive a waiver of immigration filing fees.
The proposed change would seek to remove automatic waivers for those with means-tested benefits from the Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. USCIS states that the change comes as measure to remove fee waiver eligibility based on “benefits [that] can vary from state to state, depending on the state’s income level guidelines.” For example, an applicant from California making over $50,000 a year qualifies for means-tested benefits, whereas an applicant from Alabama earning an equivalent income does not.
By restricting fee waivers to those who fall near the federal poverty line standards and financial hardship standards, USCIS hopes to see a rise in fee revenues. In fiscal year 2017 alone, USCIS granted over $367 million dollars word of fee waivers, an increase of over $20 million from last year. Although revenue will increase for USCIS, many individuals with unstable income will now face a significant financial burden. Naturalization filing fees alone can cost nearly over $600, excluding biometric fees. Thus, a struggling family living in California, where the cost of living is the 4thhighest in the U.S., would have to pay thousands of dollars to file naturalization applications if the change to the fee waiver is approved.
In the face of a terrible tragedy, foreign national spouses can face even more hardship after their U.S. citizen husband or wife passes. Typically, foreign nationals who are green card holders through their U.S. citizen spouse have the opportunity to apply for U.S. citizenship following a period of three years in the U.S. Unfortunately, the green card holding widows and widowers of U.S. citizens will face obstacles for future naturalization following the death of their spouse.
Immigration and Nationality Act
Under U.S. immigration law, permanent residents who have lived with their U.S. citizen spouses in the U.S. for at least three years may apply for U.S. citizenship at the end of three years. This allows spouses of U.S. citizens to apply for citizenship two years earlier than required for other permanent residents. Sadly, those individuals who have tragically lost their spouses before applying for or during their application for naturalization may not apply after three years of residence and instead wait the typically five years of residency. According the Immigration and Nationality Act:
A person is ineligible for naturalization as the spouse of a United States citizen under Section 319(a) of the Act if, before or after the filing of the application, the marital union ceases to exist due to death or divorce, or the citizen spouse has expatriated.
Under these restrictions, the surviving spouse may not apply for naturalization as a spouse of a U.S. citizen. Regardless if the application was submitted before the untimely passing of the U.S. citizen sponsor, the application for citizenship becomes invalid at the time death. As such, the INA clarifies that an applicant is ineligible to naturalize as the spouse of a U.S. citizen if their spouse passes away “any time prior to the applicant taking the Oath of Allegiance.” The only exception applies to certain widows or widowers of U.S. citizens who passed away during active-duty status in the U.S. armed forces.
On September 11, 2018, the United States Customs and Immigration Service will adopt new guidelines for the issuance of Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). Through no change to the laws of legal immigration, these new guidelines present one of the greatest threats to legal immigration in recent history.
Overview of Changes
In a series of policy memorandums, USCIS gave notice of new guidance for adjudicating officers. This guidance allows adjudicators to deny a request for immigration benefits without issuing an RFE or NOID. Previously, USCIS required adjudicators to send notice to applicants who provided insufficient evidence for an application or petition (RFE & NOID). Without a barrier to outright denial, those applying for immigration benefits can now receive denials if adjudicators determine that there is insufficient evidence.
Who is at Risk?
All applicants, from applications for naturalization to applications filed under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), are at risk under these new guidelines. After September 11th, applicants will be at risk of outright denial of their application or petition. With full discretionary power, USCIS adjudicators will be unforgiving of even small errors in applications. Therefore, if a naturalization application is missing a single document of evidence, a USCIS adjudicator can now deny the application without sending a notice for additional information or allowing the applicant to provide an explanation for the missing evidence.
Impact of Denial
If an applicant is denied benefits, then the petitioner or applicant will have to resubmit their application. Meaning, each applicant must repay all immigration fees regardless if their current employment visa was compromised by the denial. However, this is the best case scenario considering further USCIS changes regarding Notices to Appear (NTA). Under this regulation, some applicants who receive outward denials will be required to appear before immigration court to face removal proceedings. The devastating impact of these policies will impact families and highly skilled professionals alike. As September 11thapproaches, all applicants for immigration benefits must be extremely thorough in their applications. If you require assistance with any of your applications, please feel free to schedule a consultation.
As previously reported, the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) started a collaborative effort to find cases of fraud or misrepresentation in applications for naturalization. Already, this joint effort succeeded in denaturalizing several citizens who misrepresented themselves on their applications. Recently, naturalized citizens, who did not misrepresent themselves on their naturalization application but later were convicted of a crime, have been denaturalized on the grounds of citizenship fraud. Although these citizens were not charged of a crime at the time of their application, the DOJ has begun to pursue fraud charges against citizens who are charged of a crime afterthey applied and received citizenship. In Florida, a Miami resident of nearly thirty years, Nora Borgono, received a notice from DOJ indicating intent to denaturalize following a guilty charge that occurred after she became a citizen.
Grounds for Denaturalization
In the case of Borgono, the DOJ claims the 63-year old grandmother “concealed and affirmatively misrepresented [her] criminal conduct” during her naturalization proceedings. While Borgono was a permanent resident, she worked for a gentleman who was responsible for $24 million dollars’ worth of fraudulent loan transactions. Borgono successfully applied for citizenship before the FBI began to investigate the fraudulent transactions. Later, Borgono cooperated with FBI agents to end the fraudulent activities and received a plea deal which resulted in one year of house arrest, five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. Two years after the end of her probationary period, Borgono received a letter of civil denaturalization complaints from the DOJ. According to the DOJ investigators, Borgono is eligible for denaturalization because she concealed criminal activity in her citizenship application, regardless if she was charged after she gained citizenship.
New Initiative from DOJ
In a statement, the DOJ made clear: “Criminals that seek citizenship in the United States and knowingly hide their criminal history have no right to keep their citizenship.” In the application for naturalization, a question states “Have you EVERcommitted, assisted in committing, or attempted to commit, a crime or offense for which you wereNOT arrested?” If a naturalized citizen commits a crime prior to receiving citizenship (regardless of conviction) then that individual is at risk for denaturalization. However, if a citizen commits a crime after they have received citizenship, they are not at risk for denaturalization. Citizens who may have received charges that extend into a period of time before gaining citizenship may now be at risk of denaturalization as the DOJ has a renewed interest in reviewing cases of suspect citizenship fraud.