California Immigration Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in USCIS

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When people start to file immigrant petitions with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), they realize that there is a fee for every part in the process. There is a fee for the relative petition paid to USCIS, and a fee for the visa, paid to the Department of State. Now there is a fee to have the green card processed and mailed to you because somehow all of the other fees you paid do not cover that cost.

Beginning in February 2013, USCIS began charging a “USCIS Immigrant Fee.” This fee is required for all persons immigrating to the United States by obtaining a visa at a consulate or embassy abroad, including Canada or Mexico.

The fee is paid online after receiving the visa package from the Department of State and prior to entering into the United States. The fee must come from a U.S. bank so it generally means that the sponsor or a relative in the United States will be paying the fee. The fee is currently $165 and it is per person.

There are a few exceptions of persons with certain statuses who do not have to pay the fee. These exempt statuses include:

  • Children who enter the United States pursuant to the Orphan or Hague Adoption programs
  • Iraq and Afghan special immigrants
  • returning residents (SB-1s)
  • K visas

The USCIS immigrant fee is paid online. You will need the following information to pay:

  • The alien number of the applicant;
  • The Case ID number of the applicant;
  • Your checking account information, or;
  • Your debit or credit card information.

    If you do not pay, you will not receive your green card. It is therefore advisable to pay the fee as soon as you receive the packet from the Department of State.

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I thought I had heard it all but now USCIS has a page on Facebook. Yes, you can now “like” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) on Facebook. To their credit, it is a nice page. It has pictures and posts on a variety of topics such as citizenship, openings of new offices and filing procedures. It also is easy to navigate. It is great to see USCIS reaching out to a place where the public may easily find them.

I am not so sure though that they are going to like what they see. Plenty of the comments are critical. One person responded that TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Syria came too late. Another individual is advertising his services in assisting with immigration. Yet another criticized the opening of the quota for the H-1B program. I suppose USCIS will have to take the bad with the good.

Overall, if it helps people find the information they need, I think the Facebook page is useful. It seems a lot of people are finding it interesting. They already have 4,331 “likes.”

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The issue of applying or having applied for Selective Service comes up a lot when applying for naturalization. Recently I have seen a number of clients at my San Francisco office who have not registered for Selective Service. I will write a couple of blog posts on the issue of Selective Service and naturalization.

Applicants for naturalization need to establish good moral character for the five years prior to the filing of the naturalization application (Form N-400) up to the time the oath of allegiance is taken. Although there is no specific law, USCIS (United States and Citizenship Services) interprets a failure to register for Selective Service as an act that reflects negatively on an applicant’s ability to establish good moral character.

The Selective Service agency is the agency responsible for maintaining a list of men who are eligible the military draft, if we should have one. All men, even if in the United States illegally, between the ages of 18-25, must register for Selective Service. (If you 26 or older, you are too old to register.) A Social Security number is not required to register. The only exception to the registration requirement is for men who are in the United States in valid non-immigrant status (i.e., students on F-1 visas or professionals on H-1B visas). Women are not required to register.

You may register for Selective Service online on their website or you can use the link at the bottom of this page. You may also register at a post office. In addition, you can register if you are applying for a student loan by completing a Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA form). You can check “Register Me” on Box #22 of that form, and the Department of Education will furnish Selective Service with the information to register. Finally, if you are applying for adjustment of status in the United States, you will automatically be registered upon USCIS’ acceptance of your Form I-485. (The last page of the form indicates that you agree to have USCIS transmit your information to Selective Service.)

If you are not sure whether or not you have registered with Selective Service or you want proof that you have registered, you may go to their website and click on the link to check registration.

My next few blog posts will discuss how to obtain a status letter from Selective Service and what to do if you have not registered with Selective Service.

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I recently wrote a post on whether the receipt of health insurance through San Francisco Healthy Families made that person a public charge. I concluded that it did not.

Soon after I wrote that post, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issued some new guidance on the definition of public charge. It is helpful because it lists many programs and specifies what does and not support a public charge definition. For instance, it clarifies that the receipt of unemployment compensation, Title II Social Security benefits and Veteran’s benefits do not make an individual a public charge.

USCIS issued guidance on public charge determinations on October 20, 2009.

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I recently had a client inquire as to whether her enrollment in San Francisco’s “Healthy Families” health insurance plan would endanger her green card application because she might be considered a “public charge.” I originally thought it would be a problem but it turned out not to be.

San Francisco has a health insurance program called “Healthy Families.” It is for uninsured children and low income individuals living in San Francisco. Members pay a small monthly fee and the program is partly funded by the government.

Under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust status to that of an individual lawfully admitted for permanent residence (green card) is inadmissible if the individual, “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.”

An individual becomes a “public charge” when he or she 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.

USCIS has a very extensive article on their website that discusses what type of benefits, if received, would and would not be relevant in a determination concerning public charge. Non-cash benefits (other than institutionalization for long-term care) are generally not taken into account for purposes of a public charge determination. Specifically regarding San Francisco Healthy Families, USCIS states that Healthy Families benefits “are not considered for public charge purposes.”

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In an interview with the New York Times, about comprehensive immigration reform, the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Alejandro Mayorkas, indicated that the agency was making plans to accommodate the filing of more visa applications although no new laws have been passed. He stated that the goal was to be able to rapidly process a large increase in applications if some kind of comprehensive immigration reform bill is passed by Congress.

He told the paper that USCIS is currently able to handle applications for about six million applicants a year. Under some legalization proposals, the agency may receive that number of applications in a few weeks.

There are no serious legalization proposals currently pending before Congress. It is heartwarming to me though that USCIS thinks there might be and is actively planning on how to be prepared for it.

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Applying for citizenship can be a daunting task because your entire immigration history is reviewed at the time you apply for citizenship. It can also be an expensive one because the filing fee with the biometrics is quite expensive at $675.00.

If you are looking for legal assistance with your citizenship application, you are low income and you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you may wish to consider contacting the legal department of Jewish Family and Children’s Services (“JFCS”). The agency provides legal assistance with a variety of family based immigration petitions and applications. The staff also assists people with applying for citizenship and disability waivers (Form N-648). They do an outstanding job and as recognition of their work in the community, United States and Citizenship Services (“USCIS”) just awarded them a grantfor the purpose of citizenship assistance and education.

For legal immigration assistance, you may check out their citizenship services websiste or call the emigre department of JFCS at (415) 449-2900.

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I previously wrote a post on the Department of State’s Social networking site promoting cultural exchange. Now the Department of Homeland Security is following with their social networking site called, “Our Border.” The purpose of the site is to facilitate conversation between people and groups interested in issues surrounding the southwest border. Groups that are established on the site include: Citizenship and Immigration Services (“CIS”), Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It is interesting that on the DHS social networking site, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform group has the most members.

Every day the site will feature a video from the DHS’ Youtube channel. (Look how far DHS has come!) Users can also post their own videos or posts. There are currently over 290 members of the networking site.

As a San Francisco bay area immigration attorney, I was kind of skeptical at first about a social networking site on border issues, but at looking at the posts, I have changed my mind. There appears to be some interesting discussion from a variety of people about border issues. There are also some good links to news stories on immigration topics. I joined the site and hope that it really will be a tool for open discussion. I will report back.

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I usually spend some time every day at my San Francisco Bay Area immigration law office making inquires on pending cases. It is a frustrating process because I rarely receive answers and when I do, they usually are not helpful.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has recently released guidance on how to make inquiries at their Service Centers. They provide a three step process. The first step is to call their National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. If the issue is not resolved in 30 days, you proceed on to the next step which is to email the USCIS Service Center where your case is pending. The email addresses are:

California Service Center csc-ncsc-followup@dhs.gov
Vermont Service Center vsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov
Nebraska Service Center ncscfollowup.nsc@dhs.gov
Texas Service Center tsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov

If there is no response to the email, you proceed to the last step which is to notify the USCIS Headquarters office of Service Center Operations by email at SCOPSSCATA@dhs.gov. The notice indicates that you will receive a response from this email within ten days.

It remains to be seen whether this system actually works. I will try it out in a few cases and will report back what happens.

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The employment verification form (Form I-9) is a form used to document the eligibility of a new employee to work in the United States. The current version of the form states on the top that it expires on 06/03/09. You may still continue to use this form despite its expiration date. USCIS recently issued an update on its website which indicates that the current form remains valid. USCIS has filed for permission to extend the validity of this form with the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). While that extension is pending, employers may use the current version of Form I-9.