Do ASCs take Walk-in Biometric Screening Appointments?

Sometimes. Although an application support center (ASC) may refuse a walk-in, some applicants for permanent immigration benefits have successfully completed biometric appointments at a local ASC on a date before their scheduled appointment notice. If you decide to walk-in to your nearest ASC, you may have to wait for few hours because the center will prioritize appointments scheduled for that day. Although unlikely, your local ASC maintains the power to refuse to process biometric screenings if the screening occurred on a date other than the date on the appointment notice. Therefore, if you can make your assigned appointment date, it is advised to prioritize that date. In case the beneficiary is travelling or is unable to make it to the appointment, they do have the ability to reschedule the ASC appointment.

Can I go to another ASC, other than my assigned location?

Yes. If you are not able to make it to the center indicated on your appointment form for your biometric processing, some individuals have had success at other ASCs near them. For example, if your scheduled screening is in a location close to your residence, but you are in another town for a business trip, you may be able to visit the closest ASC to you. Like with walk-in appointments, the center will prioritize appointments schedule for that day.

What should I take to my Biometrics Appointment?

Regardless if your biometric appointment occurs at the time or location listed on your notice, you must bring your original ASC appointment notice and a valid photo ID (e.g. green card, passport, or driver’s license). If you do not have a valid form of identification, then the ASC will not be able to complete your biometric screening. Additionally, before your appointment USCIS suggests reading your copy of the completed application, petition, or request. 

What happens after my biometrics appointment?

After the biometrics appointment, your information will be sent for processing at a USCIS service center. Due to increased waiting times, it may be a couple months after your biometrics appointment before you will receive a notice for an interview or the next steps for your interview.

Public Charges Must Go: Changes to FAM

While the debate over immigration continues in Washington, a lot of questions have emerged regarding “public charge” non-citizens. Last week, the White House released proposed guidance for DACA recipients in which “Status is subject to revocation for criminal conduct or public safety and national security concerns, public charge, fraud, etc.” The announcement comes in addition to rumors that legal immigrants, who receive government assistance, could soon be at risk for deportation. The measure signals yet another attempt by the Trump administration to curb legal immigration.

Public Charge Definition

According to USCIS a public charge is “an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” However, there are a few exceptions that exempt recipients of federal aid of public charge status. Until recently, adjudicating officers considered “past or current receipt of public assistance of any type” as grounds for inadmissibility for pending visa applications. Many life events, including recent college graduation, can account for the need for public assistance. In these instances, the INA allows officers to use discretion in adjudication if the applicant appears to have circumstances to overcome public charge status (i.e. recent job offer). Conversely, if an applicant does not have positive circumstances to overcome dependence on public assistance, an adjudicating officer has the liberty to classify the applicant as inadmissible.

Implications

Previously, the public charge grounds for inadmissibility primarily impacted low-wage green card applicants. The updated and reorganized changes to FAM (Foreign Affair Manual) put out via a Policy Memo by the Department of State (DOS), however, instructs consular officers to consider other factors while adjudication applications for immigrants who depend on certain government programs. For example, an applicant’s past receipt of public assistance could be very significant where the applicant’s spouse was the family’s primary income earner, but recently died. In such a case, the applicant’s recent change in family status and likely change in financial status would weigh heavily in considering the totality of the circumstances. Additionally, the revision provides that a “properly filed and sufficient non-fraudulent” Affidavit of Support by itself may not satisfy the public charge requirement. So even though a properly filed and sufficient Affidavit of Support is essential, it does not preclude denial on public charge ground. The consular officers have been instructed to factor in the totality of the applicant’s circumstances by taking into consideration other factors like if the applicant is in very poor health, is unable to work, and is likely to incur significant medical costs.  The change to FAM originates from political distaste for immigrant dependence on public assistance, regardless of the low rate of public assistance for non-citizens. Those who are legally in the US and are beneficiaries of certain public assistance programs are typically in short-term financial stress. These changes could severely impact those living in the US under already dire circumstances.

Government Shutdown: What it means for your visa application

In the early morning of January 20th, officials in Congress and the White House announced that the federal government would shut down. The shutdown came after the Senate failed to pass legislation approving federal spending for the next year. To enable the operations of the federal government, including major bureaucratic agencies like the Department of Labor (DOL), both houses of Congress must agree upon and pass legislation to fund the government for limited period of time. Over the years, Congress has become less efficient in passing funding legislation, passing appropriations on a yearly basis as opposed to long term. Therefore, the recent shutdown occurred due to an ongoing political debate in Congress that inhibited negotiations on annual federal spending.

Although Senate Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement Monday afternoon to fund the government for the next three weeks, a looming government shutdown remains for February 8th. With government agencies closed, many people with pending visa applications are uncertain about the upcoming spending vote.  Here is what to expect if the government shuts down again in February:

Timeline of DOL Applications Shift

Since the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) is associated with the Department of Labor (DOL), employees are furloughed (or prevented from working) during the shutdown. Prior to the shutdown, OFLC reported an increase in the number of LCAs, therefore a long-term shut down could create a substantial backlog. Any application submitted during a shutdown will be processed at the time that the government reopens. Thus, permanent labor certification applications (PERM) submitted by employers (either through mail or hand delivery) during the shutdown will not process through OFLC until the government reopens. The iCERT website that is used for the online PERM submission also is shut down. Therefore, applications with timely recruitment or prevailing wage determinations may be out of date once the government reopens. Previously in 2013, employers were given an extension for necessary recruitment or prevailing wage determinations if the shutdown delayed submission of PERM.  Applicants should note that OFLC will not have access to email, and therefore will not be able to respond to requests or questions during a shutdown.

USCIS, CBP, & DOS

USCIS is a fee-funded agency with the exception of E-Verify and will remain open during a shutdown, however E-Verify will not be available. Due to national security concerns, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will still operate normally during any shut down. Similarly, Department of State (DOS) which deals with the Visa and passport operations are fee-funded and generally are not impacted by the shutdown but since the embassy operations are not fee-funded so visas can be affected, and the consular posts will generally only handle diplomatic visas and “life or death” emergencies. 

If you have any concern regarding the potential impacts of a shutdown on your application, please feel free to schedule a consultation with our office.

Available Now: Online Filing of Citizenship Applications

USCIS recently announced the availability of N-400 applications for naturalization online. The online account allows for a central location for matters regarding your application for US citizenship. According to USCIS an online account will allow applicants to:

  • Check case status;
  • Receive notifications and case updates;
  • Access tailored case completion date estimates;
  • Respond to RFE;
  • Edit contact information;
  • Change address;
  • Pay filing and biometrics fees.

Although the new online option is extremely useful for those wishing to become US citizens, the online portal is not available to everyone. If an applicant is applying based on military service, applying from outside of the US, or applying for a fee waiver or reduced fee, they may not apply for N-400 online. Additionally, those who do not wish to utilize the online portal may still apply for naturalization through mail.

Through the online portal, applicants maintain the right to an attorney or authorized representative. Therefore, Sharma Law Offices can maintain your online application and provide expert assistance during your filing process.

DOJ and USCIS Joint Effort to Target Inadmissible Subjects Secures First Denaturalization

Last week, a federal judge removed US citizenship from a native of India who was pinpointed in a special investigation targeting inadmissible subjects, Operation Janus. The Justice Department and USCIS continue to assist with the Department of Homeland Security initiative to address naturalization cases with incomplete identification records known as the Operation Targeting Groups of Inadmissible Subjects, or Operation Janus. As reported by the Office of Inspector General in 2016, investigations found that in some 315,000 naturalization cases, fingerprint data was missing from the centralized digital fingerprint repository. Through Operation Janus, the Justice Department seeks to continue naturalization proceedings against those who unlawfully entered the United States through false identities.

The Case

As a January 5th, Baljinder Singh, no longer is a United States citizen. Baljinder, also known as Davinder Singh, allegedly entered the US in 1991 without proper documentation of identity. At the time, he claimed his name was Davinder Singh and was placed in exclusion proceedings for inadequate documentation. According to the DOJ, Singh failed to appear for his immigration court hearing and the court placed orders of deportation in January of 1992. In February of that year, Singh applied for asylum under the name Baljinder Singh. However, he abandoned the asylum application after marrying a US citizen. In 2006, Singh naturalized under the name Baljinder Singh. USCIS, after reviewing evidence uncovered through Operation Janus, matched the fingerprints of Baljinder and Davinder Singh and referred the case for prosecution. The District Court judge of New Jersey found that Singh illegally obtained his naturalized, and immediately revoked his citizenship. The Assistant Attorney General stated ““The defendant exploited our immigration system and unlawfully secured the ultimate immigration benefit of naturalization, which undermines both the nation’s security and our lawful immigration system.” USCIS has reviewed Singh’s case, and thousands more, in compliance with Operation Janus to review fingerprint data. According to the Justice Department, USCIS plans to refer “an additional 1,600 for prosecution.” The Department of Homeland security announced that it would immediately begin removal proceedings in Singh’s case.

OIG Criticizes the USCIS Electronic Immigration System (ELIS)

In a report published last week by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Inspector General provided recommendations to improve the “unsuccessful” automation of naturalization benefits delivery through Electronic Immigration System. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security urged USCIS to suspend all online applications for naturalization through ELIS due to major breaches in national security.

What is ELIS?

The USCIS Electronic Immigration System is an online, account based system that centralize, and serves to automate, some immigration benefits processes. The system allows applicants to access notifications of decision and receive “real-time” case status updates. Although the online program was intended to modernized the immigration application process, widespread issues and challenges with the online system prompted Homeland Security’s OIG to investigate the effectiveness of automated naturalization applications through ELIS.

Report Findings

The report discovered many issues with the ELIS system for online applications for naturalization (N-400). The program, re-launched in April of 2016, aimed at assisting the processing of the tens of thousands of naturalization requests received by USCIS each month. As with previous ELIS naturalization releases, the application had “significant unresolved functional and technical issues surrounding ELIS.” The delays associated with the ELIS technical issues created a significant backlog (approximately a 60% increase) for USCIS naturalization applications. Even more damaging, the report found that the ELIS errors approved citizenship for at least 200 individuals who had not completed required background checks. The report outlines several ELIS user complaints, from issues with printing certificates of naturalization to issues with editing country of origin on naturalization forms.

The Department of Homeland security made several recommendations to improve both the security and functionality of the ELIS system for naturalization. However, this report follows numerous criticisms of the USCIS Electronic Immigration System. It is unclear how USCIS will move forward to provide modern alternatives to benefit applications while ensuring privacy and safety.

TSA to Enforce Real-ID Standards

If you have traveled domestically in recent months, you probably noticed signs posted by the Transportation and Security Agency (TSA). The posting notifies passengers of new regulations for acceptable state identification requirements for travel within the US. Due to the REAL-ID Act (2005), TSA security agents will no longer accept IDs, or driver’s licenses from certain states. Since airlines are federally regulated agencies, Congress can create new standards to ensure traveler safety. The federal act creates minimum security standards for obtaining state identification, rejecting some state’s loose policies for obtaining driver’s licenses. Starting January 22nd of next year, TSA agents will require an additional form of identification if an adult passenger 18 or over possess a driver’s license or state issued ID from the following states:

  • Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington

What if I have a Permanent Resident Card?

If you reside in one of the above states, then your state driver’s license will not be adequate to pass through airport security for a domestic flight. If you are traveling within the US, a permanent resident card is an acceptable form of ID. Additionally, if you possess a government issued foreign passport, DHS trusted travelers card (e.g. Global Entry Card), or a USCIS employment authorization card you may use those forms of identification to fly within the US. According to DHS, “Aliens lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence, aliens with conditional permanent resident status, aliens with an approved application for asylum, and aliens who have entered the United States as refugees are eligible for a full-term REAL ID license or identification card.” It may be beneficial to carry more than one form of ID to avoid any inconvenience while passing through security.

The Real-ID standard may still affect residents of states not included in the above list. Many states not included in the list do not meet the minimum requirements under the law, but the federal government has granted limited extensions for certain states. Once you have made your travel arrangements, it is important to stay updated on the current list of unqualified state IDs.

Avoiding USCIS Scams

Around the world, foreign nationals are being targeted by immigration scams. The threat is so prevalent and expansive that the www.uscis.gov reserves an entire section of the website for immigration scam protection and prevention. USCIS requires monetary payments from visa applicants for a variety of filing fees and other expenses. Those who are awaiting decisions on their pending application can be especially vulnerable to USCIS scams. Here are a few things to look out for in potential scammers:

  1. The caller informs you of an issue with your application, but requires payment over the phone

USCIS will never request payment through the phone or via email. If the scammer is impersonating a USCIS officer, they will attempt to persuade you of the immediate necessity of funds for your eligibility approval. However, genuine USCIS requests for payment (if any to begin with) will always be relayed through a letter via USPS on official USCIS stationary.

  1. Award of Lottery Visa or Green Card by U.S. State Department Email

According to USCIS, if you are selected by the green card lottery program (also known as Diversity Visa) you will not receive an email. Instead, you will be notified through the Electronic Diversity Visa  website.

  1. Scam USCIS Websites

There are several scam website that promote false opportunities for employment or expedited visa approval opportunities. Similarly, there are websites that falsely claim to be affiliated with USCIS and other U.S. departments. Each official government website ends with a .GOV (e.g. uscis.gov). Additionally, USCIS will never ask for an applicant to pay to download a USCIS form. If you are asked to provide money for access for an immigration form or any supplemental information, you may be on a fake website impersonating to be a USCIS website.

If you are unsure of the validity of a certain form, you can contact your local USCIS office for verification or can call USCIS customer service at 800-375-5282.

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.