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USCIS Warns on Payment Scams

August 29th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Warning for USCIS Payment ScamsImmigrants working to keep their paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are in the crosshairs of thieves looking to make a quick buck as scammers are targeting the foreign-born population for bogus application fees and sensitive personal information. In response, USCIS is reminding immigrants that the agency only solicits payments from applicants through letters written on official USCIS stationary and sent through the U.S. Postal Service.

The scam, which targets immigrants all around the country, consists of criminals who impersonate government officials through phone calls or e-mail. Scammers tell the target they’ve come across a problem with an application, or that they need additional information in order to continue the immigration process. “They will then ask for personal and sensitive details, and demand payment to fix any problems,” according to the USCIS release warning of the scam.

Scams that target immigrants are nothing new. Unscrupulous attorneys, for instance, have a history of tricking undocumented immigrants into paying them obscene amounts of money for nothing of any value. In other instances, self-declared “notarios” too often separate undocumented immigrants from their money, and even sometimes wind up getting their duped clients deported.

In its Avoiding Scams page, USCIS advises immigrants to exercise self-empowerment with its online educational resources. These include:

USCIS also lists other resources that could be helpful, including:

  • USCIS customer service at 800-375-5283 (TDD for the deaf and hard of hearing: 800-767-1833);
  • The Ask Emma virtual assistant for answers to questions and help in navigating the USCIS site
  • Attending a USCIS outreach event; or
  • Scheduling an appointment online to visit a local USCIS office.

For those who receive a scam email or phone call, USCIS asks immigrants to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at http://1.usa.gov/1suOHSS. For those who receive suspicious emails, USCIS asks recipients to the correspondence to the USCIS Webmaster at uscis.webmaster@uscis.dhs.gov. USCIS reviews these emails and share them with law enforcement agencies as appropriate.

New Citizens, National Parks Celebrate Together

August 24th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

National Parks host New CitizensWith the nation’s centennial celebration of the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) this year plans at least 100 naturalization ceremonies in national parks, allowing immigrants to inaugurate their new citizenship in a venue among the nation’s greatest sources of pride. Sixteen of these naturalization ceremonies are planned for August 25 when 450 new citizens will take the Oath of Allegiance in national parks across the country.

The USCIS / NPS partnership is part of a stepped-up effort between the two agencies to not only promote awareness and understanding of citizenship, but also the glory and treasure of the nation’s beauty. Since the launch of the partnership in 2006, NPS has hosted naturalization ceremonies at sites across the country for thousands of new Americans, including on the rim of the Grand Canyon, on the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg National Military Park, the base of Mount Rushmore, Ellis Island, and at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

The national parks system, adopted in 1916, predominantly hosts white visitors, according to an Associated Press report. With its 100th anniversary, the AP report reads, “the agency is facing some key challenges ahead. Among them is reaching out to minority communities in an increasingly diverse nation and getting them to visit and become invested in preserving the national parks.”

USCIS Director León Rodríguez, who will join National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Gay Vietzke at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., will administer the Oath of Allegiance to 40 new Americans at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. “At USCIS, we believe that being an American means understanding and honoring our history and the places the National Park Service is charged to protect,” Rodriguez said in a USCIS statement. “We look forward to continuing to welcome new U.S. citizens and protecting ‘America’s Best Idea’ for the next 100 years.”

Other naturalization sites on August 25 will include ceremonies at Grand Canyon National Park, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine as well as national preserves in Florida, Arkansas, Texas and West Virginia.

Relief Available to Louisiana Flood Victims

August 22nd, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Immigrant Flood Victims Receive ReliefIn the wake of the recent severe storms and flooding that have already killed 13 people and forced thousands of residents into shelters in Baton Rouge, La., US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reminds customers that the agency offers disaster relief to immigrants who are affected by the circumstances.

Relief measures, which are available on request through the USCIS National Customer Service Center, include:

  • A change of nonimmigrant status or an extension of nonimmigrant stay for individuals who are currently in the United States, even in cases where the request is filed after the authorized period of admission is expired;
  • A re-parole of individuals who been granted parole previously by USCIS;
  • An expedition on the processing of advance parole requests;
  • An expedition of the adjudication of requests for off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students who are experiencing severe economic hardship;
  • An expedition of the adjudication of employment authorization applications in cases where appropriate;
  • A consideration of fee waivers due to an individual’s inability to pay;
  • Some assistance for individuals who’ve received a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny but weren’t able to appear for an interview, submit evidence or respond in a timely manner;
  • A replacement of damaged or lost immigration documents or travel documents issued by USCIS, including things like a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card);
  • A rescheduling of a biometrics appointment.

USCIS offers immigration relief measures that may help people affected by unforeseen circumstances,” according to an August 19 release on the Louisiana-related relief. “We cannot anticipate these events, but will do our best to help you get the benefits for which you qualify,”  a USCIS humanitarian page reads. Individuals can reach the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 (TDD for the deaf and hard of hearing: 800-767-1833.) More information is available at uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations.

President Obama will be visiting the flooded areas of Louisiana on his return from a vacation from Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. His visit comes several days after GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump surveyed the area with VP nominee Mike Pence.

Majority of Hispanics See “Mostly Broken” Immigration System

August 17th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Favor for citizenship for undocumentedA high majority of Hispanics living in the U.S. say the country’s immigration system is “mostly broken” and that undocumented immigrants who are already living in the United States should be given legal status, according to new poll data. Additionally, more of these Hispanics say the U.S. should adopt stricter immigration policies than those who say current policies are already too strict.

The vast majority of Hispanics– 88 percent– surveyed for the Fox News Latino poll said they favor bestowing legal status on those who are already living in the country on an undocumented basis. Only 9 percent of respondents favor deporting undocumented residents. A full 90 percent of respondents said they favor a chance at citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors.

The Fox News Latino study reports 69 percent of respondents say the U.S. immigration system in general is broken and needs to be fixed. Thirty-eight percent of respondents told pollsters the U.S. also needs to adopt tougher immigration laws and that current policies are “not strict enough.” This compares to 26 percent of respondents who say current immigration policies are already “strict enough.” The poll showed 30 percent of Hispanics view current laws as “about right.”

Results of the poll are mirrored in Hispanic support of the presidential candidates. While GOP nominee Donald Trump, who promises to build a wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico, favors a hardline policy around border security and undocumented immigration, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who says she’ll take President Obama’s immigration policies further, touts legal status– and possibly citizenship– for those living in the country without documentation. Unsurprisingly, then, 71 percent of Hispanics polled say Clinton would provide better leadership around immigration than Trump, who received only 19 percent support among Hispanics on the issue.

Survey respondents also told pollsters that immigrants make positive contributions to the United States through their ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants are currently living in the United States.

Results of the Fox News Latino poll are based on an early August survey of 800 registered Hispanic voters.

Continuing Chaos of Central American Immigration

August 15th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Rise in Migration by Central AmericansResponding to violence and desperation in their home countries, undocumented immigrants from Central America continue flowing into the United States– a deep-rooted political crises that only continues to grow. With many migrants choosing a dangerous trek through Mexico in order to escape their native lands, the far-reaching ramifications include migrants facing the unintended consequence of deportation and a situation where officials adjust policy.

For some, like Jaime Hernandez, crossing into the country from the U.S.-Mexico border has resulted in time at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia since December last year. He’s awaiting a deportation hearing.

In 2014– when a surge 60,000 unaccompanied minors during the fiscal year– Hernandez entered the country at the age of 16. At the time, border patrol officers released him because of his status as a minor after issuing him a citation to appear in court where he could contest deportation.

Since then, Hernandez was issued a final deportation warning, according to a report. When he went to the immigration office last December, immigration officials say they detained him.

So far in fiscal year 2016, more than 332,000 have been caught crossing the border without documentation. In July alone, as reported in The Washington Times, nearly 34,000 people were caught on the southwest border, up by 5,000 from July 2015.

For its part, the Obama administration is responding to the crises through a new series of programs. The programs, which are designed to allow children and extended relatives to apply for legal documentation while still living in their native country, are intended to stem the flow of those entering illegally.

“The goal is to pressure them into safer routes, rather than have them make the harrowing journey through Mexico,” the report notes.

As previously reported, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has prioritized Central American immigrants in the immigration court system. New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Denver are said to be among the cities with the hardest-hit courtrooms. In these areas, immigration attorneys say hearing cancellations are becoming commonplace as hearings on work permits, green cards, and other non-Central American immigration cases are pushed to the back of the line.

TPS-Status Extension and Redesignation for Syria

August 10th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has redesignated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and extended existing TPS for eligible nationals of Syria from Oct. 1, 2016 through March 31, 2018. Syrian nationals– and those without nationality who last habitually resided in Syria– can register or re-register in accordance with the Federal Register notice published August 1.

The extension, announced earlier this month in an August 1 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) release, also allows current TPS Syrian beneficiaries who want to extend their TPS status to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD.) TPS recipients who re-register during the 60-day period and request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of March 31, 2018. Because some re-registrants might not receive their new EADs until after current work permits expire, however, USCIS has also automatically extended current TPS Syrian EADs with a Sept. 30, 2016 expiration date for six months. These existing EADs are now valid through March 31, 2017.

Current Syrian TPS beneficiaries must re-register during the 60-day re-registration period, which runs from August 1 through September 30. Syrian nationals and those who last habitually resided in Syria who do not currently have TPS status can apply for the benefit during the initial six-month registration period from Aug. 1, 2016, through Jan. 30, 2017.

In order for Syrian nationals and prior habitual Syrian residents to be eligible for the program, USCIS requires these individuals to meet both these requirements:

  • Continuously resided in the United States since Aug. 1, 2016, and
  • Been continuously physically present in the United States since Oct. 1, 2016.

USCIS encourages re-registration as soon as possible. In order to re-register, current beneficiaries need to:

Submit Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status (no application is required).

Submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization– even if no EAD is wanted. The Form I-765 application– or fee waiver request– is only required for those who want an EAD.

Submit the biometric services fee (or a fee waiver request) for those who are 14 years old or older.

Those with an initial Syrian-designated TPS application that’s still pending don’t need to submit a new Form I-821. However, those who have a TPS-related EAD and who want a new EAD, should submit the Form I-765 application and application fee, regardless of age as well as a copy of the receipt notice for the initial Form I-821 still pending.

Beneficiaries who submit applications without the required filing fees or properly documented fee-waiver request will be rejected. Beneficiaries who are unable to pay application fees must file Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver or submit a written request. Fee-waiver requests of either variety must be accompanied by supporting documentation.

TPS, a designation bestowed on immigrants coming from countries where conditions make it unsafe to return to the native country, is granted by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Deadline Hits on STEM OPT Extension

August 8th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Extension For Stem StudentsForeign-born science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students who seek to extend their original 17-month STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) periods by an additional seven months can now apply for a 24-month extension.

The window to extend STEM OPT periods for certain students ends in early August as the application period to add seven months to existing 17-month STEM OPT extensions closes. The Aug. 8 deadline comes after the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule in March that replaces the previous 17-month STEM OPT extension with a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

The STEM OPT extension applies to certain STEM students who hold F-1 status and who meet other specified requirements. For those who are eligible, Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization– along with the required fee and signature– must be on file with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on or before Aug. 8, 2016.

STEM-OPT students applying to add seven months to their 17-month OPT periods could do so in cases where:

  • The STEM OPT extension request is based on a 17-month extension
  • The seven-month extension request was made by filing a new Form I-765 between the dates of May 10, 2016 and Aug. 8, 2016. These dates must be within 60 days of the date the designated school official enters the 24-month OPT extension recommendation into the student’s SEVIS record.
  • The applicant has at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining during the current extension.
  • All parties– the student, the designated school official and the employer– meet all the requirements of the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its final rule on the STEM OPT extension changing from 17 months to 24 month in March.

Qualifications for the 24-month extension include:

  • Students must have been granted OPT and in a current period of OPT.
  • Students must have earned a bachelor’s master’s or doctorate degree from a school accredited by an agency of the U.S. Department of Education and certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Additional information on the STEM OPT extension program is available on the USCIS Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) page.

Provisional Waiver Expansion for Some Immigrant Visas

August 2nd, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Expansion for Provisional WaiverIn a move designed to make it easier for certain family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to more easily navigate the immigration system, an expansion of the existing provisional waiver process will go into effect on Aug. 29, 2016. Expansion of the provisional waiver process is intended to promote family unity and to also improve administrative efficiency.

Expansion of the provisional waiver process builds on rules established in 2013, which were designed to support family unity. With the expansion, eligible individuals will see an expedition of processing time for provisional waivers and a reduction in the length of time the family is separated as immigration processing is completed from abroad.

Implementation of the final rule, which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced in a late July release, applies to certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and LPRs. Under the current process, eligible individuals can apply for waivers of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility based on “extreme hardship” that would be incurred by their U.S. citizen spouse or parents if the waiver weren’t granted.  With the expansion, the waiver process extends eligibility of the provisional waiver to all individuals who are “statutorily eligible for the waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility,” according to the release.

The immigration agency is expected to provide updated guidance on how officials determine “extreme guidance” in the coming weeks. USCIS will publish the updated information in its Policy Manual.

Previously, only the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens had been eligible to seek such provisional waivers before departing from the United States for the processing of their immigrant waivers. The expanded rule applies not only to those eligible for the provisional waiver process under the 2013 rule, but also to all individuals who are eligible for the waiver under the statute.

The final rule also implements changes to Form I-601A, Application for Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver. Changes to the form will go into effect simultaneously with the final rule in late August.

USCIS advises potential applicants not to submit a provisional waiver request under the expanded guidelines until the final rule takes effect on August 29. USCIS could deny applicants who apply under the expanded guidelines before the effective date.

DACA Processing Continues Moving Forward

August 1st, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Initial DACA not affected by supreme court decisionU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a statement in July to remind relevant audiences that the policies adopted in 2012 regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are still valid despite the Supreme Court’s 4-4 stalemated United States v. Texas decision earlier in the summer. However, the justices’ tie decision also means the court injunction that prohibited the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program from implementation remains in effect.

For those who meet the requirements laid out in the 2012 DACA guidelines can still move forward in the process and file either an initial request or a renewal request. The guidelines, by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on June 15, 2012, explains that certain people who came to the United States as children and who meet other requirements can request DACA. The deferred action, which refers to the use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against undocumented immigrants, offers a reprieve of two years and can be renewed by those enrolled in the program.

DACA requirements include:

  • Under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Entered the United States prior turning age 16
  • Continuous residency in the United States since June 15, 2007 and at the time of requesting DACA consideration with USCIS
  • No lawful status on June 15, 2012
  • Currently in school, a graduate of certification completion from high school or obtained a general education development (GED) certificate; or honorably discharged Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States veteran
  • No felony convictions, significant misdemeanors or three or more misdemeanors and no threat to national security or public safety.

DACA applicants must be at least 15 years old or older to request acceptance in the program. DACA isn’t granted to those who are currently in removal proceedings or who have a final removal or voluntary departure order.

President Obama announced the DAPA program as an executive order in November 2014. In February, an appeals court issued an injunction to block the executive action based on a suit brought by the state of Texas and a number of other states.

Central American Refugee Immigration Efforts Expand

July 27th, 2016 by Jennifer Rico

Increase in help for central american migrantsAs those fleeing threats in some Central American countries continue to cross the U.S. southern border without documentation, the Obama administration is stepping up efforts to expand legal immigration to families and children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The expansion effort is intended to assist in the relocation efforts and to stem the tide of undocumented immigration.

In another expansion, the administration is also broadening efforts of a two-year-old program that allows some children from the Central American countries to reunite with parents who already live in the United States legally, according to an Associated Press report. With the expansion, the program now allows some unmarried siblings, in-country parents and other caregivers to come into the United States with a child who is approved for the program.

Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said more than 600 children have moved to the United States since 2014 and that approval for the program has been granted to 2,884 children. Mayorkas said more than 9,500 applications are pending.

White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope said expansion of Central American refugee programs is because “current efforts to date haven’t been sufficient,” according to the AP story. With the new programs, she said, immigration to the U.S. will be safer and more orderly and will also increase border security.

While the programs are designed to counter the waves of undocumented crossings into the country, it remains unclear how quickly the expanded programs will impact the number of undocumented crossings. Although the number of undocumented crossings dropped significantly in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, a steady rise in these numbers is reported since the start of fiscal year 2016 in October. According to the AP report, more than 51,000 people traveling as families and more than 43,000 unaccompanied children have been caught crossing into the U.S. from Mexico without documentation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began pre-screening potential refugee families in January. Under the expanded programs, U.S. officials will now handle more of the in-country processing required for candidate families.

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