Archive for the ‘Processing of Applications & Petitions’ Category.

Advance Parole Rules Need Review

shutterstock_151420769On Friday, I received a difficult phone call many immigration lawyers face on occasion.  While it is fortunately a rare occasion, demographics and statistics assure us that these calls will continue.  My client’s derivative adjustment application has been pending since 2007, she is working based upon an EAD, and her father is dying in India.  The family expects his death will come any moment, certainly within a couple of days.  She didn’t have an advance parole.

My first step was to call the local Field Office Director (FOD) and I immediately found an individual at USCIS with both the compassion to understand the need for the advance parole, and the commitment to help.  The FOD suggested I file the I-131 online, and get her the receipt as soon as possible.  Within an hour, we had electronically filed the application, including the supporting documentation from the doctor, and the FOD spent the rest of Friday afternoon seeking the technical ability and legal authority to issue the travel document.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to issue the document before the weekend notwithstanding what I am certain was a dedicated effort.  After a very long weekend for my client, the FOD returned to work on Monday morning to continue the effort. Fortunately, the advance parole document was issued first thing Monday and my client was able to travel immediately.  Before that could happen, however, our office spent an entire day working with her, and the FOD spent most of the same day working on the effort, as did many other local office and service center staff, and other personnel within USCIS.   A great deal of effort by all parties was required, during which my client spent a few very difficult days with a lot of stress and anxiety concerning her ability to be with family at the time of her father’s death.

This experience led me to think about the rule that requires the issuance of advance parole, and more specifically, the reason that the document must be issued before the applicant departs from the United States.  The regulation imposes the rule that departure before the document is issued constitutes an abandonment of the adjustment application.  8 CFR §245.23(j).  There is no statute that mandates this rule.  The regulation was written when adjustment applications took 30 to 60 days to adjudicate, and the need to travel during this brief interim period was rare.  The predominant theory suggested that an individual applying for adjustment wanted to live permanently in the U.S., had just submitted an application for this benefit, and absent extraordinary circumstances, there should be no immediate need to travel.  By 1992, the processing times were slightly longer, and Associate Commissioner James Puleo issued a memorandum with instructions to grant advance parole upon request unless the need to travel was contrary to law or public policy.  He explained this new standard as follows:

This instruction was clearly meant to accommodate the legitimate travel of persons inconvenienced by visa numbers becoming unavailable after they filed adjustment applications. Construction of the term ‘bona fide business or personal reason’ to require a showing of emergent or extreme need to travel is inappropriate. Accordingly, travel for a bona fide business or personal reason should be considered as travel for any reason which is not contrary to law or public policy. 

Adjudicator’s Field Manual, Chap. 54.3(b), quoting from the 1992 Puleo Memo (emphasis in the original).

In July 2007, at the same time 325,000 adjustment applications were filed, many of which are still pending today, USCIS published a new fee schedule that became effective on July 30, 2007.  This notice increased the filing fee for adjustment applications to $985 (plus $85 for biometrics) but included applications for employment authorization and advance parole for every adjustment applicant, irrespective of the need to travel.  From 1992 to 2007, we moved from a standard that required “emergent or humanitarian considerations” to a new standard that makes the advance parole application a routine part of every adjustment application.

The only reason advance parole is required before travel is because the regulation imposes this requirement.  8 CFR §245.23(j).  But if this is not required by the statute, only by the regulation, what is the policy imperative behind this rule?  I suggest that today, there is no good reason for this rule.  The nature of the adjustment application and the routine advance parole applications that are now a part of every single application, suggest that an applicant’s travel before the document is issued no longer justifies the abandonment of the underlying adjustment application.  By eliminating this rule, clients with an emergent need can travel, and make arrangements to have the approved document sent to them overseas once it has been approved.  This would eliminate the stress, time, money, and attention of the applicants and USCIS personnel to expedite a process that is required only by an obsolete rule.

Written by Rob Cohen, Vice Chair, AILA’s USCIS Liaison Committee

The Intolerable Delay for Relative Petitions

shutterstock_114417286I recently met with a prospective client.  The facts were not unusual: she was 35 years old, a U.S. citizen who is, and has been, living abroad, and she met somebody she wishes to marry.  With this decision comes a host of other major life decisions: how to introduce her fiancé to her family, when and where to get married, and when and where to begin a family.  These are choices that many, if not most of us, experienced in our 20s and 30s; it is part of the human experience.  But when each half of a soon-to-be-wed couple is from a different country, there are additional considerations of immigration laws and processing that must be taken into account.

We reviewed the options: a fiancé visa if she wishes to be married in the U.S., or a relative petition and an immigrant visa application following a wedding abroad.  For the latter option, there is the legislative provision for a K-3 visa if the processing is going to take a long time.  However, USCIS has eviscerated this provision by insisting on adjudicating the K-3 petition simultaneously with the relative petition.

The discussion naturally turned to processing times.  I had to explain that it was absolutely unknown.  Right now, relative petitions are taking close to — maybe more than — a year.  K-3 petitions may or may not be available.  I still don’t understand the benefit of a K-3 petition since if USCIS is going to adjudicate the K-3 petition, why not simply approve the relative petition?  It appears that USCIS agrees, but rather than approving the relative petition in a timely manner, it doesn’t adjudicate either until an unknowable period of time has passed.

It is, of course, close to impossible to plan a wedding based upon a fiancé petition.  There is a 90-day window for the wedding, and the timing of that window cannot be known in advance.  By the time it is known, there is insufficient time to find a venue, hire a caterer, send invitations, and plan a celebratory wedding.  It is simply not possible.

Then, of course, my client wanted to consider the timing to start a family.  She would like to have a baby in the United States, where she is more comfortable with the medical care, and has the support of family.  But she naturally wants her husband to be a part of that experience.  After all, it will be his child as well.  The biological clock is ticking and family planning issues are a major consideration.

Oh yes, the fiancé lives in an Islamic country.  We don’t discriminate based upon religion, of course — this is America.  Except I am required to advise this client that “administrative processing” might be a phrase in their future.  If so, “administrative processing” based upon the non-discriminatory security checks may delay her husband’s entry to the United States by anywhere from 2 weeks to a year or longer.  This makes it more difficult to plan.  No, let’s be honest, it’s not more difficult, it’s impossible.  Of course, since he has been denied a visitor’s visa based upon section 214(b), there is no hope that he may be able to come to the U.S. temporarily to share in the birth of a child, and then return to his home country to wait for the immigrant visa.

So I find myself discussing the timing of a pregnancy with my client.  Should she wait to get pregnant or get pregnant before getting married if they are going to apply for a fiancé visa? (This was not acceptable to the client.)  She is 35 years old, so the question shifted to what if she has trouble getting pregnant?  Should she start now? If a child does come along, what happens to the process to bring her husband to the U.S.?  Will he miss the first year or more of the child’s life?

Then I get angry.  She should not have to discuss all of this with her immigration lawyer– these are issues best discussed with her obstetrician and family if she chooses.  Yet our dysfunctional immigration system makes it an immigration issue.  It should not be an immigration issue, and to make it an immigration issue is just plain wrong.

USCIS appears to have put immediate relative petitions on hold.  There is a heavy case load, we are told, and yet they still collect a $420 filing fee to adjudicate each petition.  We are told that the fee, which has increased fourfold in the last 20 years (more than 300 percent higher than the cost of living increase[1]) is because the fee pays for the service and permits better service.  Twenty years ago a relative petition took weeks to adjudicate.  Now?  Now it takes years.

It seems that USCIS owes the American citizens it purports to serve an explanation.  And following the explanation, an apology, and a plan to correct this injustice is the least that should be done.  To paraphrase, justice delayed does indeed create injustice.

Written by Rob Cohen, Vice Chair, AILA’s USCIS Liaison Committee


[1] In 1994, the INS increased the filing fee for a relative petition to $80.00.  The Department of Labor, Consumer Price Index, calculates that $80 in 1994 has the same buying power as $126.07 today.  This is an increase of 333% above the increase in the consumer price index.  http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

Ding Dong, DOMA Is Dead

Cheers erupted this morning outside the Supreme Court as the ruling was announced that by a 5-4 decision, Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional.

For over 15 years, because of DOMA, bi-national same-sex couples were often forced to choose between separation or staying together, but living in exile from the U.S.  Our nation was really behind the times on this, since over 30 countries provide immigration benefits for same-sex couples and we have seen firsthand the incredible toll of this unconstitutional discrimination.  Any American would agree that being forced to choose between your homeland and your loved one is a heart-breaking choice, and not one that is worthy of our traditions of liberty and fairness.  And today, in a landmark civil rights decision, the Supreme Court agreed, striking down part of DOMA as unconstitutional.

Under current law, the agencies charged with administering the immigrations laws may only recognize lawfully married couples—and under DOMA’s federally mandated discrimination, that explicitly excluded same-sex couples.

As immigration lawyers, we know that whether a marriage is valid impacts all areas of immigration law:  for example, a lawful union would be required before the CEO of a multinational company could relocate to the US with her partner and a US citizen or resident may only sponsor a spouse or have a stepchild relationship recognized where there is a valid marriage.  Even in something as serious as a potential deportation, an immigration judge is barred from looking at the hardship on US citizen or permanent resident partner for an individual facing deportation—unless there is a marital relationship.

There will certainly still be challenges for same-sex couples in the immigration process.  Only twelve states and Washington, DC (in addition to 15 countries) recognize same-sex marriage.  Civil unions or domestic partnerships—so far—do not appear to be covered by the ruling.  Traditionally, the immigration authorities have recognized family relationships based on where the event was celebrated, rather than where the couple lives.  The continued application of that rule will ensure that a couple that legally married in Iowa, for example, but moved to a state like Colorado (which has a state constitution ban on gay marriage) can still be recognized as spouses under Federal immigration law.

Same-sex bi-national couples will still face more and different hurdles than heterosexual couples in the immigration process.  For example, there may be increased scrutiny as to the bona fides of a same-sex relationship, which—combined with greater challenges to providing evidence of a marital relationship that are traditionally the subject of agency review—may make it harder to prove a real relationship.

Even if DOMA has been struck down, that doesn’t mean that LGBT individuals are suddenly free from prejudice.  Some individuals may not want to disclose their sexual orientation to their employer, friends or family, meaning that a rich source of corroborating evidence may be off limits.  For others, the reality may be that it’s just not safe to openly admit they are gay, much less identify a spouse.  The Supreme Court’s invalidation of DOMA only struck the Federal government’s ban on recognition of marriage.  It did not protect LGBT individuals from discrimination or worse, and it will be critical for all elements of the process—including the Department of State in the workings of its consulates overseas—to be particularly sensitive to this potential harm.

As an extra benefit, allowing our immigration system to recognize same-sex bi-national couples will also make America more attractive to global talent.  According to Immigration Equality, there are an estimated 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples in the United States, and those families include 25,000 children.  AILA believes that LGBT/same-sex families should be included in the definition of the American family and that should be reflected in our immigration laws. The Supreme Court’s ruling today will guarantee all lawfully married couples equal rights in regards to immigration.

Same-sex bi-national couples have fought long and hard for the right to keep their families together.  It’s only fair that if a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is legally married—regardless of sexual orientation—that their lawful marriage be recognized by the federal government when it comes to immigration issues.

Stateside Waivers: Some Families Still Left Out in the Cold

This week, USCIS launched the new I-601A provisional waiver program, allowing certain relatives of American citizens who are in the country illegally to get a decision on their waiver case, before leaving the United States.

The exact numbers are not known, but it is clear that the new rules will impact thousands of US families.  For those who wouldn’t undertake the artificially-imposed, but very real risk of “touching back” to their home country under the old rules, the new regulations mean that it’s finally safe to complete the residency process.  For thousands of others, the goodwill shown by immigration authorities in trying to alleviate the hardship created by the meaningless departure requirement has inspired them to start a process that was unthinkable before the new rules were put into place.

There is no question that the new rule is an overwhelmingly positive development for American families.  Immigrants and their citizen family members now have some measure of peace, knowing that their loved one will not be stranded in a foreign country for an unknown length of time, potentially risking life and limb, while waiting for a decision on their case.  USCIS’s continued impressive handling of deferred action applications has shown that the agency has the capacity to handle a large volume of applications, and get it done right.  And, promisingly, USCIS has indicated that the provisional waiver process should be extended to qualified relatives in other family categories, as resources allow.

In the context of immigration reform, this “solution” to a problem that never should have existed in the first place this begs the question of why we punish American families (and U.S. employers) by forcing the very immigrants that already have a path to citizenship to undergo separation, financial and emotional hardship, and risk their safety to attend a 10 minute interview abroad, when the same process can be achieved at a local USCIS Field Office.

Unfortunately, for many other equally qualified relatives, the new provisions will do nothing to fix their immigration problems, and they and their family will remain stranded by the unworkable scheme Congress put into place nearly two decades ago.  Moreover, the new processing rules do nothing to fix the draconian “permanent bar” which results in de facto exile of a decade or more for immigrant family members.  As we move forward to try to find real solutions to our broken immigration system, Congress would be wise to consider the real cost to American families and U.S. competitiveness when trying to retain the failed policies or create new penalties which do nothing but harm the very people who already have a path to citizenship.

Regrettably, despite numerous comments from immigrant communities and advocates, the new rules perpetuated some of the absurdities of the process.  Instead of fixing the problems identified by experts in the field, the agencies inserted a glaringly punitive rule, inexplicably excluding individuals who had already started the process and had already paid the required government fees.   The irony is that this change serves only to leave out in the cold those families who were playing by the (old) rules.

As a result, thousands who had bravely begun the very last chapter of the application process have been stranded—ironically, after most put their cases on hold because the agency announced the proposed process over a year ago in draft form.  Under the final rules, those individuals cannot take advantage of the new procedures and must risk waiting outside the US for an indeterminate amount of time, without any sense of whether their case might—or might not be granted.

Not even filing a new consular application will allow a person with an approved petition to benefit from the new procedures.  The only way to have the same protections as other families appears to be withdrawing all applications and starting a case over from the very beginning.  In practical terms, this means that applicants who were nearly at the front of the line after years of processing, are being forced to choose between going forward, with all the uncertainty and risk of the “old” system, or abandoning their applications, getting into the back of the line, waiting years until they might see a new appointment and, to add insult to injury—paying twice for the privilege.

So, is there any reason these families are being singled out and put at risk?  No one involved in the process seems to have an answer, much less a defensible reason for this oversight.  If this feels like being in a long line at the grocery store and being relieved to see a new lane open, only to have the clerk take the guy behind you first, you’re not far off.  Except in this analogy, you not only get stuck at the back of the line, you end up paying for your groceries twice.

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA President

Public Service Announcement: Scammers are lying about immigration reform. Please do your part and share facts and information with your community.

If you are reading this column, it is probably not written for you.  It is written for your friends, relatives or neighbors that may not fully understand what has happened, what has not happened and what may happen this year with immigration reform.  For those reasons, I write this with only one request of you: please spread the word to people that do not fully understand what is going on.  They could be easy victims for scammers who want to take advantage of this confusing and exciting time.

I have personally received calls the past few weeks about the “new law” or “nueva ley” that is in effect in immigration.  Some reports are that people are already charging for services based on a legalization program or “amnesty.” NO SUCH PROGRAM exists at this time.  So, below I separate out fact from fiction to help make sure people are not taken advantage of.  You should know what has occurred and what has not occurred during the past several months and make sure to share this with others.

What has really happened:

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): This allows some qualified individuals to apply for a work permit based on their physical presence in the United States, age and other factors.  IMPORTANT: There is no deadline for filing for DACA, as some have been hearing.  Also, there is no official processing time being provided by the Department of Homeland Security.  However, many applications are now taking close to six months to process.
  • Provisional (Stateside) Waivers: This is not a legalization program but is instead a process that allows some individuals who are immediate relatives (certain spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens) to apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while they are waiting in the United States.  Currently the regulation only applies to a narrow group of people and does not go into effect until March 4, 2013.  Therefore, if you may think you or a relative qualifies you should do some research now, before going further with any applications.

What has not happened:

  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform: This has not happened yet, and it is going to be months before we have any idea of whether it will happen.  We don’t know what this law, if passed, will look like and who it will help.  No one should pay a deposit for work regarding a law that does not yet and may never exist.  Don’t let someone scam your friends, family, or members of your community.

Whenever there is media interest and talk about some sort of immigration reform there tends to be a lot of confusion about it and the process.  There are also, unfortunately, individuals who are already trying to take advantage of this confusion like scammers, notarios, and others.  So it is very important that you learn more about what is really happening with immigration reform and update your friends, relatives and neighbors who may not fully understand what is going on or have access to a computer.

Make sure to stay updated with any breaking news through websites such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other organizations that provide up-to-date and accurate information.

Written by Maurice Goldman, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee

Six Things You Need to Know about Stateside Processing of I-601A Waivers

Starting March 4, 2013, certain relatives of American citizens who are in the country illegally and need a waiver of unlawful presence before being eligible for a green card can get a decision on their case before leaving the United States.

For those who can take advantage of the new rule, this means peace of mind, knowing that their loved one is likely to successfully complete the immigration process and not be stranded in a foreign country for an unknown length of time.  For some, however, the new rule will do nothing to resolve their immigration issues.

1.      What is the new rule and how can it help my family?

Under current law, many immigrants who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas cannot apply for permanent residence (a “green card”) in the U.S., and instead must finish the immigration process abroad.  Unfortunately, just leaving the country—even to pick up a visa sponsored by a family member—automatically makes the intending immigrant subject to a penalty for their “unlawful presence,” potentially separating them from their family for up to ten years.

For some, but not all, the penalty can be waived.  Before this new rule, immigrants could be stranded outside the country for weeks, months or even years while waiting for a decision on whether they could return to their life in the United States. And all that time, the immigrant was stuck abroad, usually with no legal way to return.  Many families endured the emotional strain, financial hardship and dangerous conditions. Others simply were unwilling to take the risk.

The new rule means that many immigrants will leave the United States, knowing in advance that their case will probably be approved, and they could be back with their families—as a legal resident—in a matter of days.

2.      Who can apply under the new rule?

Only applicants who are an immediate relative of a US citizen (spouses, parents and certain children) can apply at this time, though the rule may later be expanded to other relatives.

The applicant must be physically present in the United States, and not already have a scheduled interview at a U.S. consulate abroad.  Also, the provisional waiver is only available if the sole issue holding up a case is unlawful presence.  Applicants who have criminal issues or other immigration violations cannot use the provisional procedure.

Individuals who are in immigration court or who have an order of removal or voluntary departure may not qualify unless they get special permission from the government and a court order resolving their case.

To be successful, applicants must show that denying the case would be an extreme hardship to their qualifying relative(s); the impact on the immigrant doesn’t count.  Hardship factors can include family separation, economic hardship, medical issues, country conditions abroad, and any other difficulty or harm faced by the qualifying relative(s), if the waiver isn’t granted.

3.      What does it mean that the waiver is “provisional?”

Even if a waiver is granted, the approval is “provisional.”  As a practical matter, this means that the government has reviewed the case and believes that the waiver should be granted, but there is no guarantee that a case will be successful if facts change or new information comes to light.  For example, if an applicant had previous immigration violations or criminal history, the provisional waiver will be revoked.

If any new issues arise, and the applicant is still eligible for a waiver, he or she will be able to re-apply using the existing process, but will have to wait abroad for a decision on their case.

4.      When can I apply?

The new rule goes into effect on March 4, 2013, and no filings will be accepted before that date. You can only apply for a provisional waiver after an immigrant petition has been approved.  If you haven’t filed yet or you’re still waiting for a decision on a pending petition, you can’t apply for the provisional waiver—yet.

5.      What else do I need to know about provisional waivers?

A provisional waiver is not a legal status, and even an approved waiver doesn’t provide work authorization, a social security number or a driver’s license. Having a provisional waiver will not protect you from deportation or any other consequences of being in the country illegally.

If an application for a provisional waiver is denied, there is no appeal.  If you have more or better evidence to prove your case, you can re-file, with a new filing fee. Remember, not everyone can be sponsored or qualify for a waiver, and just as importantly, not everyone needs a waiver.

6.      Do I need to work with an attorney?

The immigration process can take months, even years, and government filing fees and other expenses are significant—it’s best to know your options before investing time and money.  A thorough legal consultation should look at all aspects of your immigration history to find the best solution for your family, not just evaluate eligibility for a provisional waiver.

Always work with a licensed immigration attorney.  Never trust legal advice from an unregulated consultant or notario. Consider consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer before starting the process to make sure that you qualify, and that stateside waiver processing is the best solution for your immigration case.

Additional Resources

Always turn to reputable sources for immigration advice and information about new developments. Finding an AILA lawyer is a good place to start. Members listed on www.ailalawyer.com meet legal education and malpractice insurance requirements, and have been AILA members for at least two years.

AILA Immigration Lawyer Referral Service

AILA Resources for Stateside Waivers

USCIS Resources on Provisional Waivers

Consumer Protection for Victims of Immigration or Notario Fraud

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA President

AILA Takes Manhattan

The holiday season was in full swing in New York when AILA President-Elect Doug Stump and I “invaded” the city last week. No stealth maneuvers here, this was a planned, coordinated campaign – we were there to talk to the press.

Most of the reporters were people AILA Communications has been working with for a good long while. These journalists turn to AILA for expertise on immigration topics ranging from detainers to waivers, from DACA to H-1Bs. So, while juggling the schedule was a challenge, each reporter gave us a generous amount of time to share our views, to answer questions, and to see where we can be of most help in the future.

Did you ever wonder how we have been so successful at getting our members’ voices heard? Look no further than AILA’s crackerjack Communications Department! Kudos to Senior Director of Communications George Tzamaras and Manager of Communications Belle Woods not only for a successful tour, but for making it their mission that people turn to AILA as the reliable resource for immigration expertise.

The tour included meetings with The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, the New York Daily News, CNN, the Associated Press, and the New York Times. Discussions ranged widely but here are some of the topics we covered:

• At every meeting, Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) was the first topic that came up, and always led to a lively discussion about what did we think about the prospects for next year, and what did AILA think real reform might look like.

• We talked about what DACA means to our clients and their families and what we think we’ll see in terms of applications next year. We also highlighted how complicated a “simple” application can be, and how critical it is to have good legal advice in the process.

• We talked about the many ways our current immigration system is broken, and how the current mess is the inevitable result of multiple barriers to legal immigration that are literally written into the law or just part of the adjudications process, as well as illustrated how they affect businesses and families, alike.

• Producers and reporters wanted facts. And boy did we give them facts: facts about how difficult it is to navigate our current system; how unwieldy, unforgiving, and unfair the process can be; how much our nation needs its immigrant communities; and the high cost of letting politics instead of common sense dominate the discussion. And thanks, IPC, for making us look so smart!

• We talked about notario fraud and AILA’s efforts to educate the public about the danger these scammers pose to immigrant communities. We introduced them to resources on UPL, including AILA’s consumer protection website, http://stopnotariofraud.org (now in four languages).

• We also highlighted our Chapters’ and individual members’ extraordinary efforts to educate their communities about the risks and potential rewards of deferred action, the value of working with an immigration lawyer and how for many, getting good legal advice can mean the difference between a bright future and deportation.

While not a media meeting, another highlight of the trip was meeting with the Partnership for a New American Economy (out of Mayor Bloomberg’s Office), which was a great opportunity to talk potential partnerships/collaboration with AILA in the coming year. It was also a chance to learn from each other. For instance, PNAE has been involved in a micro loan program to help qualified DACA applicants borrow enough for government filing fees. The program has been in effect for a few months, and PNAE has promised to let us know how that progresses, as the $465 fee has been a roadblock for many young immigrants.

By the end of the second day of meetings, we felt like we’d definitely made an impact. While not everyone can get to NYC and blitz through meetings as we did, we want to emphasize that working with your local press outlets is something that AILA members around the country can and should do. Take a look at these notes, think about what the various outlets were most interested in, and pitch a story tailored to your local news outlet. Want some help crafting your message? Run a pitch by AILA Communications—George and Belle are more than happy to help.

So, let’s take a well-deserved break over the holidays and then come back in the New Year ready to take on the immense task of restructuring our nation’s broken immigration system.

Waivers and AILA’s Fall Conference in Montreal

The AILA fall conference in Montreal this September is not just about foreign travel and Canadian/French food and wine. Those are important of course, but only a part of the equation.  In fact, the fall conference is going to offer something unique, something AILA has never before undertaken. The conference – in its entirety – covers waivers. As you may already be aware, stateside processing and provisional waivers are coming to waiver adjudication, and as a result many questions have arisen about what it means and how clients and attorneys will be affected.  Among the confirmed speakers are representatives from the US Consulate in Montreal and Toronto.

Montreal

Montreal – site of the 2012 AILA Fall CLE Conference on “Waivers of Inadmissibility”.

This conference will delve into medical waivers in a more sophisticated and in-depth way than previous AILA conferences, offering valuable information for more seasoned practitioners. Among the sessions will be a litigation panel strategizing how to respond to waiver denials and move forward in court. Additionally, the entire 212(a)(6)(C) venue will be explored with an in-depth analysis assessing whether in fact a material misrepresentation occurred and potential next steps after such a finding. There will also be a NIV waiver panel with government representatives examining process and law around consular and border applications for Canadians and non-Canadians alike.

While the Annual Conference is without equal, I think that the smaller conferences like this one extend an incredible opportunity to engage in a substantive area of law with a smaller group of people in a collegial atmosphere. I always leave these conferences with insights and ideas that I didn’t have at the outset. Those who attend, I believe will be well rewarded. Those who can’t will have to purchase the recording. Hope to see everyone in Montreal. Bon voyage!

Written by: Heather N. Segal B.A., LL.B, LL.M, Program Chair, AILA Board of Governors

Why saying “I do” still receives unequal treatment under Federal Immigration Laws

Last month, as I read Justice Scalia’s scathing dissent in Arizona v United States, I wondered what he’ll be thinking when he hears oral argument in the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The premise of Scalia’s dissent was that states have the right to control their borders. It seems logical then that Scalia, and those who claim to cherish state sovereignty, would likewise conclude that the regulation of marriage is also a matter appropriately left to the states. Why then is it that when it comes to immigration benefits for same-sex couples, state laws which recognize same-sex marriage are resoundingly trumped by the federal law which does not?

The answer is DOMA and its infamous limitation of marriage to unions between “one man and one woman” which puts family-based immigration benefits – such as green card sponsorship – beyond the reach of same-sex couples.

To be sure, the Obama Administration has made clear its support of same-sex marriage. This past May the President gave his public endorsement, explaining that he “had hesitated on gay marriage in part because [he] thought that civil unions would be sufficient.” His views continued to evolve, he said, because marriage “invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

Yet despite the Administration’s evolution toward support for same-sex marriage, including Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to defend DOMA in litigation, American families in same-sex marriages continue to receive unequal treatment under our archaic immigration laws causing needless suffering and fear of separation.

Last week Jane DeLeon, an immigrant from the Philippines, challenged the constitutionality of DOMA as applied to deny immigration family benefits. In 2008 DeLeon married her long time US citizen partner. She is eligible for an employment-based immigrant visa, but requires a waiver due to a previous immigration violation. The waiver is available to immigrants such as DeLeon where the denial of her lawful permanent residency would cause extreme hardship to her US citizen spouse. In DeLeon’s case the waiver was denied solely because she is married to a woman even though, under state law, the woman is her wife.

Due to our broken immigration system a same-sex marriage recognized under state law means nothing. Same-sex couples remain at the mercy of an antiquated and functionally mean spirited statute and they will so remain at least until the Supreme Court addresses the constitutionality of DOMA.

On the Spanish program “Aqui y Ahora” recently, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “There is nothing more critical than keeping families together.” Yet how many more American families will be torn apart before the sanctity of same-sex marriage is no longer sullied by DOMA and its impact on our immigration laws?

Senator Grassley: Out of Touch with Economic Realities

Against a backdrop of recent press reports detailing the beating that the U.S. is taking in the international battle for brains and foreign investment, and calling for improvements to our laws governing high skilled immigration, along comes another letter of concern from Senator Grassley, this time addressed to the Government Accounting Office, asking for yet another investigation   What is the Senator concerned about this time?  Vague and unspecified “reports” of abuses of Optional Practical Training, the program under which foreign students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities may work in the U.S. in their fields for a period during or after completion of their degree programs. The Senator would have perfect comic timing, if his efforts weren’t dead serious.  To those of us not inclined to view the health of the U.S. economy as a laughing matter, Senator Grassley’s most recent anti-business immigration salvo shows how dangerously out of step he is with respect to the current thinking about the connection between the economy and high skilled and business immigration.

In the past year, there have been at least nine different legislative proposals that aim to improve our country’s attractiveness to the highly educated, especially in fields in which there are documented skill shortages among the U.S. born population, such as the hard sciences and the quantitative fields, and to enable those with innovative business ideas to stay and nurture those ideas to fruition here. Why has there been such a high level of legislative activity with respect to this aspect of our immigration laws?  It is a recognition by legislators that the part of our immigration laws that deals with the needs of U.S. employers and the ability of the highly skilled to remain in the U.S. has remained virtually untouched for over 20 years, and is sorely in need of a massive update to bring it into the 21st century. Moreover, it is a response to the wealth of research published in recent years with respect to the contribution of foreign nationals to our economic well-being, clearly showing that we stop drawing on the diaspora of international talent at our peril as a nation.

A recent study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation indicated that over half of Silicon Valley start-ups founded from 1995 to 2005 had one or more immigrants as key founder. Moreover, more than half of the foreign-born founders of U.S. technology and engineering businesses initially came to the U.S. to study. Seventy-five percent of the highest degrees among immigrant entrepreneurs were in STEM fields. Recent press reports have also pointed to the fact that our competitor countries see our outdated immigration system as a major weakness and are targeting it directly. Canada recently announced changes in its business immigration system designed to make it easier for entrepreneurs to immigrate, and in particular, to run small businesses in Canada. And perhaps the clearest symbol of the level of frustration with our unworkable system is the Blueseed project—the proposed “pirate entrepreneur” ship that will be docked off the coast of Silicon Valley and will provide development space for those who cannot obtain visas to launch a business in the U.S.—including many talented and creative graduates of U.S. business schools and other graduate programs.

Much of the animosity that comes out of Senator Grassley’s office toward high skilled immigration programs seems to be premised upon a perception that fraud and abuse lurk around every corner of those programs. One could certainly take issue with that, given the fact that according to USCIS’s own statistics, the incidence of fraud is relatively low. But the Senator’s most recent targeting of the OPT program—with no apparent factual basis whatsoever—really shows him to be out there on the fringe of the current national dialogue on how a smart immigration system can stimulate economic growth, particularly compared to his own colleagues in Congress. It lends credence to the conclusion that Mr. Grassley is simply out to wage a holy war on any and all improvements to our high skilled immigration system.

Now is the time for us to expand –not restrict–all possible opportunities to keep brainpower and dollars within our borders.