USCIS Assists Low-Income Naturalization Applicants

February 22nd, 2017 by Romona Paden

USCIS Assists Low-Income Naturalization ApplicantsU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now assists low-income naturalization applicants with a reduced application fee of $320 plus an $85 biometric services fee. The discounted rate applies to qualified applicants with a demonstrated need for the cost reduction.

USCIS offers the fee reduction to immigrants with a documented annual household income that’s greater than 150 percent– but not more than 200 percent– of the Federal Policy Guidelines at the time of filing. To request the fee reduction, immigrants file Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee.

It’s also important to note that Form I-942 is entirely different from Form I-912, Fee Waiver Request. The request for a reduced fee lowers the cost of the application fee. The request for a fee waiver eliminates the cost altogether.

USCIS directs immigrants to determine their eligibility to file Form I-942 by looking at the agency’s page titled Form I-942P, Income Guidelines for Reduced Fees.

Savings for the naturalization application is especially welcome to those in need considering USCIS instituted an increase on most of its filing fees in December. For those who don’t qualify for the fee waiver, the current cost to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization is $640– up from the previous $595– plus $85 for the biometric service fee. The total adds up to $725.  

With the reduced cost, the combined cost of the application fee and the biometric services fee total $405. Total savings over the standard price is $320.

Besides low-income applicants, USCIS also gives savings to older naturalization applicants as well as to certain military applicants. Naturalization applicants who receive savings include:

Applicants who are 75 years old or older save the $85 biometric services fee and only need to pay the $640 filing fee.

Military applicants filing under section 328 or 329 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) aren’t required to pay any fee.

USCIS established the reduced fee process for the naturalization application in October 2016. The agency began accepting the reduced fee applications with the introduction of fee increases in December.

“We recognize that some applicants cannot afford to pay the full filing fee but can pay a reduced fee,” according to a release from the agency.

Fed Weighs in on Economic Benefits of Immigration

February 20th, 2017 by Romona Paden

As the Trump Administration begins implementing policies, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says that immigration restrictions will negatively affect the U.S. economy. Citing the need for labor inflow, Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee immigration is a critical component in sustaining a healthy economy.

Speaking to committee members in February, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada asked the chief central banker to comment on the economic impact of new Trump Administration policies, specifically those policies around immigration.

According to Business Insider, the senator asked Yellen about immigration restriction and immigrant deportation. Citing a Trump executive order calling for deportation of undocumented individuals who commit crimes, Sen. Masto asked Yellen to comment on activity from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to speculate on the economic fallout resulting from an immigration crackdown.

While Yellen pointedly avoiding direct comments on immigration policy, she did offer her personal insights on the important role immigration plays in the U.S. economy.

“Labor force growth has been slowing in the United States. It’s one of several reasons– along with slow productivity growth– for the fact that our economy has been growing at a slow pace.” Continuing the comment, “Immigration has been an important source of labor force growth. So slowing the pace of immigration probably would slow the growth rate of the economy,” she said.

Interestingly, economics professor John McLaren, of the University of Virginia, and Gihoon Hong, of the University of Indiana at South Bend published a study in 2015 that supports Yellen’s assertions. Very simply, McLaren and Hong centered their research on the presumption that an increase in labor supply necessarily creates a corresponding labor demand. In using U.S. Census data from 1980 to 2000, the researchers found each immigrant creates 1.2 local jobs for local workers, with most going to U.S.-born workers employed in service industries, referred to in the study as the non-tradeables sector.

“Immigrants appear to raise local non-tradeables sector wages and to attract native-born workers from elsewhere in the country,” according to the research summary.

Other study insights report that immigrants drive down wages in industries centered on the production of goods. However, the study also found that in service-sector jobs, immigration promotes wage increases.

Other reports say a crackdown on immigration– especially in terms of heavier deportation enforcement– would be particularly damaging to those areas of the economy dependent on low-wage employment, shrinking a tight labor market.

The perspective on immigration presented by Yellen and other economists contrasts to the point of view held by President Trump. As a candidate, a significant part of his platform centered on the notion that undocumented immigrants are a drag on the economy, and they drive down wages.

Yellen’s comments on immigration came as part of her semiannual testimony to Congress on monetary policy. Her testimony largely focused on her view that waiting too long to implement central bank interest rate hikes could cause the economy to go into recession. By adopting a slow but steady pace in raising interest rates, she said, the Federal Open Market Committee can avoid the kinds of market disruptions that come with rapid increases.

Immigrant Puts Pro-Trump Design on Grammys

February 16th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Trump DressA strong political statement at this year’s Grammy Awards came from a Filipino immigrant and naturalized citizen who designed a “Make America Great Again” pro-Trump gown worn by musician Joy Villa. The design is in direct response– and in direct contrast to– other high-profile celebrity statements opposed to President Trump.

As political statements from entertainers seems a contemporary norm, music fans who tuned into the awards show were expecting to see artists creatively exercising First Amendment rights. That one of the most attention-grabbing statements came in the form of a pro-Trump dress is the more surprising part of the equation.

The red, white and blue gown with the Trump “Make America Great Again” slogan emblazoned vertically down the front and “TRUMP” on the train.

The controversial dress was a rare sight at the awards show otherwise marked by several anti-Trump messages and advocacy for liberal causes,” according to a Washington Times report.

The designer of the gown, Andre Soriano, describes himself as a proud American who exhibits the American dream.

“There are a lot of people that are in power that really misconstrued what this country stands for,” Soriano told The Hollywood Reporter about his political perspective on the presidential election.

Many celebrity entertainers are known for their backing of Democratic candidates. Some, like renowned actress Meryl Streep and pop icon Madonna and others, have each made well-publicized anti-Trump statements.

In January, at the motion picture industry’s Golden Globes Awards, Streep criticized the president’s immigration policies. More recently, Streep has contended “armies of brownshirts” have attacked her for her positions. Though these attacks are “terrifying,” Streep vows vigilance in her pursuit of social justice causes.

At the Women’s March, which occurred the day after President Trump’s inauguration in cities across the country, Madonna told a New York crowd that she fantasizes about blowing up the White House. It was a statement that fueled Soriano’s creativity.

“I heard that somebody wanted to bomb the White House,,” Soriano said. The statement served as inspiration with his decision to “make a statement on what is right for our country, of what we believe in, for the Constitution.”

USCIS See Spike in Venezuela Asylum Requests

February 15th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Venezuela Asylum Seek SpikeA gutted economy that’s crushing Venezuela’s middle class is reverberating with reported U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) data showing a 150 percent spike in asylum requests in 2016 over the previous year. The record pace The uptick in the trend began in December 2015 with the political and social unrest fueled by a smash in oil prices for the oil-dependent South American country.

“Venezuela first cracked the top 10 asylum-seeking nations following months of sometimes bloody street protests in early 2014 seeking to oust President Nicolas Maduro,” according to an Associated Press report. “But back then, amid the widespread jailing and harassment of opponents of the socialist administration, fewer than 100 Venezuelans per month sought asylum. That compares with 2,334 requests in December 2016, the last month for which data is available.”

An American Thinker report compares Venezuela to Cuba and holds both countries up as examples of failed states resulting in tangible effects on U.S. immigration.

According to the AP’s reported USCIS numbers, 18,155 Venezuelans submitted requests for asylum last year. Faced with triple-digit inflation that has diminished the value of wages and salaries, along with widespread food and medicine shortages, life for many in the country has simply become unbearable.

While the uptick in asylum requests from Venezuelans is “alarming,” says Julio Henriquez. Henriques, director of the Boston-based nonprofit Refugee Freedom Program, most of those making the requests are middle-class nationals who don’t qualify for refugee status.

Despite this, hardships in the country push increasing numbers of Venezuelans to take advantage of a two-plus-year delay in the processing of asylum applications, according to the Associated Press report. These asylum seekers most likely will eventually face deportation.

Venezuelan citizens in the United States on visitor visas are also among those unwilling to face the harsh realities currently in play. The fiscal year 2015 put Venezuela in the top 10 countries with citizens with visa overstays, according to a reported Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimate.

China was the second-place country in terms of asylum requests with 17,745 citizens making requests last year.

Green Card Application Fees Vary Based on Immigrant Status

February 13th, 2017 by Romona Paden

The fee immigrants pay to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when applying for a green card– a process that uses Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, varies based on individual factors like age, status, and needs. Total cost immigrants pay for filing Form I-485 and related expenses range from zero to $1,225.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) directs immigrants who seek a green card to begin the process by determining the basis of immigration. While a number of immigrant categories exist, most immigrants who become eligible for green cards do so via a family member’s petition or a petition submitted by an employer. Other categories include refugee or asylum status or other special provisions.

Filing Form I-485 requires visa availability. In cases where an immigrant can obtain a visa immediately,  green card applicants can file Form I-485 along with petitions from family members or employers– referred to as “concurrent filing.” In most cases, however, individuals receive an approved petition from a family member or employer before filing the green card application.

When it’s the appropriate time in terms of petition approval and visa availability, immigrants filing Form I-485 can expect possible additional fees for any necessary biometrics requirements– fingerprinting and other identification features. The biometrics requirement applies to most adults but excludes individuals who are 79 years old or older or 14 years old or younger. USCIS currently charges $85 for the biometrics service requirement, but the agency also makes fee waiver requests available for those who qualify.

USCIS breaks down Form I-485 and related expenses with the following chart:

Applicant Form I-485  Fee Biometric Fee Total Cost
Under 14 and filing with the I-485 

application of at least one parent

$750 $0 $750
Under 14 and not filing with the I-485 

application of at least one parent

$1,140 $0 $1,140
Age 14 – 78 $1,140 $85 $1,225
Age 79 or older $1,140 $0 $1,140
Filing Form I-485 based on having been

admitted to the United States as a refugee

$0 $0 $0
Filing as a refugee under section 209(a) of the INA $0 $0 $0

USCIS implemented the current pricing structure on December 23rd last year. Applicants paying the fees should make checks payable to the Department of Homeland Security.

Complexity Underscores Exec Order Immigration Policy Efforts

February 8th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Complexity Underscores Exec Order Immigration Policy EffortsWith a flurry of executive orders issued in just the first couple of weeks in office, the new president’s efforts on immigration policy are riddled with complexities.

According to reports on yet another immigration executive orders, that track record of complexity could very well continue and become even more entangled.

While President Trump’s efforts have so far focused largely on keeping undocumented immigrants out of the United States, the latest reported proposed executive order targets resident immigrants who receive federal assistance designed to curtail the “intentional abuse of American social service programs,” according to The Washington Post.

The language used in the draft of the order under discussion with administration officials “portrays immigrants generally as a drain on the American taxpayer.” If the president signs the order in its current reported draft form, the bill would require:

  • More stringent efforts in identifying and excluding potential immigrants likely to require certain types of public aid and deporting those already in the United States who receive public help.
  • Reduce fraud by requiring federal officials to limit immigrants to “only the public benefits they are eligible to receive” to bring about an estimated savings to the government of $100 billion
  • Impose reimbursement requirements for those individuals who legally pledged support to particular immigrants who receive public assistance
  • Require social service agencies to report immigrant benefit recipients to federal authorities

“The effort, as described, appears to want to reduce immigrants’ impact on American taxpayers and the workforce,” according to the story in The Washington Post.

One particular sticking point on the proposal to limit immigrant access to public services is that many immigrant families living in the United States are a blend of documented and undocumented individuals.

“It’s philosophy seems to be to smudge out the old distinction that governed conservative immigration policy between those who are here legally and those who are not,” according to a commenting article in The New Yorker. The article’s author goes on to state that under Trump policy, the conservative distinction opens to extending to whether or not individuals were born in the United States– regardless of legal status.

Tanya Broder, a senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, responded to news of the possible new executive order by urging Trump officials to remain cognoscente of the 5.1 million children living in the United States with a parent who is an undocumented immigrant. More than 70 percent of these children are U.S. citizens.

“The reality is that immigrants and citizens live together, work together and inhabit the same communities and neighborhoods,” says Broder, whose practice focuses on policies surrounding health care, public education and aid.  

Sworn into office on January 20, by the end of the month, President Trump had already signed 19 executive orders. Three of these orders touch on immigrants and immigration– border wall construction, federal defunding of sanctuary cities and travel restrictions for citizens of terror-linked countries where abilities around vetting processes are considered substandard.

Particularly in the case of the order focused on travel restrictions for citizens of the relevant countries in the Middle East and North Africa, chaos and confusion ensued. Most notably, officials’ initial read of the order extended to green card holders from those countries, some of whom had already endured a years-long wait in gaining legal permanent residency— a green card– into the United States.

Trump Set to Introduce Immigration Policy Changes

February 6th, 2017 by Romona Paden

As President Trump begins his first full week in office, changes in immigration policy through the power of executive order are expected to begin with tougher policies. Immigration policy advocates on both sides of the issue expect these new policies to bring in higher deportation rates and possibly a reversal of those rules adopted by the Obama administration to protect undocumented youth brought to the United States as children.

Trump’s use of executive order to implement his administration’s policies includes a touch of irony as President Obama’s executive order legislation was highly criticized as a means of bypassing Congress. President Obama’s executive orders, which he signed as a means of addressing the issue when Congress would not give safe harbor from deportation and also provided for work permits through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA.) President Obama’s attempt to extend the same elements to millions more undocumented immigrants through Deferred Actions for Parents of Americans (DAPA) was halted by a federal lawsuit.

According to a Wall Street Journal story on the awaited Trump immigration moves, the new administration is likely to curb or eliminate the acceptance of refugees from Syria into the United States and other dominantly Muslim nations. Federal funding to sanctuary cities is also likely to be cut.

While a cornerstone of the Trump campaign on immigration policy included promises to end DACA, which extends temporary protections and work permits to around 750,000 young people, President Trump is also under pressure to demonstrate fairness and compassion to those “who are among the most sympathetic undocumented immigrants,” according to WSJ.

President Trump’s defunding of sanctuary cities– those cities that limit local cooperation with federal immigration officials– could serve as potent tinder in the ignition of a political firestorm and a slew of legal wrangling from strongly Democratic mayors, particularly from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The current pending Congressional legislation extends DACA protections, but it’s still unclear whether leadership in the Republican-controlled branch will allow it through the process, or whether Democrats on the Hill would agree to near-certain Republican compromise demands.

While some changes promoted during his campaign will require Congressional votes– like requiring U.S. employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check legal work permissions for potential employees– President Trump still enjoys a wide latitude of possible actions with “broad authority to enforce U.S. immigration laws,” Dan Stein, president of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform told WSJ.

Green Card Renewal Step-by-Step Guide

February 2nd, 2017 by Romona Paden

Steps To Renew Green CardPermanent residents who hold ten-year green cards that have expired or that will expire within the next six months can apply for green card renewal by filing Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. These renewal steps apply to only those immigrants holding Form I-551 green cards and do not apply to those immigrants with conditional residency status.

Step 1: Determine when your green card expires.

Permanent residents can begin the green card renewal process within 6 months of the card’s expiration date. Immigrants who are outside U.S. borders within six months of the Green Card expiration and who return within one year of departure from the United States, before the expiration of the card, should file on return to the country.

Permanent residents who haven’t applied for green card renewal and who are outside the United States when it expires contact the nearest U.S. Consulate, USCIS office, or U.S. port of entry before attempting to file Form I-90 for a renewal green card.  

Step 2: Check the status of your application

Our online tool USCIS Case Status, lets applicants check the status of their applications through any connected device. USCIS makes applicant information available within 72 hours of filing.

Step 3: Know how to move forward if your application is denied.

In cases where USCIS denies a green card renewal application, applicants receive a letter outlining the reasons for denial. While USCIS rules don’t allow for the appeal of negative decisions, the rules do let applicants submit a motion to reopen or to reconsider the case. The motion essentially is a request for USCIS to reexamine or reconsider the negative decision.

Applicants who motion to reopen a renewal application must state any new facts they would provide if USCIS decides to take another look at the application. The motion must also include any appropriate evidence in support of these new facts.

The motion for reconsideration of the renewal application is must establish that the USCIS decision to deny the original application was based on incorrect application of law or immigration policy and also further establish that the incorrect decision was based on the evidence in the file at the time.

Find more information on the appeal process on the USCIS  “How Do I Appeal the Denial of Petition or Application?” page.

Trump Threatens Sanctuary Cities

February 1st, 2017 by Romona Paden

As Donald Trump’s fast-out-of-the-gate start in his presidential tenure begins with major moves on immigration, advocates prepare for battle on issues like sanctuary cities. Taking a whirlwind pace in adopting policies designed to tighten immigration and border controls, the social and political fallout from the moves are still taking shape.

The varied dynamics at play means immigration will remain center stage as nuances and implications around Trump administration policies play out. At the crux of Trump’s immigration position is the need to keep undocumented immigrants out of the country. To this, immigration advocates say the personal biographies of many undocumented immigrants residing in the country means their situations are more complex than simply determining legal status.

Along the same lines, President Trump has also called out sanctuary cities– municipalities where officials charged with governance, enforcement, and services don’t take legal status into account. Although sanctuary cities existed long before he came on the political scene, President Trump has also expressed a desire to eliminate federal funds going to these cities’ coffers.

Sanctuary city advocates are already getting their backs up as they prepare lawsuits designed to limit the scope and reach of the president’s executive actions, which orders a withholding of funds to cities with institutional policies to withhold information about undocumented immigrants.

Sanctuary cities already have plenty of tools for resistance, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The court has ruled that the U.S. Constitution bars the federal government from commandeering state officials or using federal funds to ‘coerce’ states into doing the bidding of Washington.”

In a 2012 ruling centered on federal funding, the court ruled that the federal government can’t expel states from the Medicaid program in cases where state officials refused to expand the program.

Legal reasons the federal government is allowed to withhold grant money from a city or state revolve around the purpose of a grant, according to WSJ. While federal officials are within their rights to withhold monies from state or local governments, their reasons for doing so must relate directly to the purposes specified around the purpose of the grant.The federal government can’t withhold funds from highway grants, for instance, even if the road travels through a sanctuary city.

DACA Questions Persist in Aftermath of Immigration Blitz

January 30th, 2017 by Romona Paden

Questions On DACA Following President Trump’s first executive orders around immigration, part of which centers on beefing up border patrol and expanding enforcement officer authority, young undocumented immigrants who are protected from deportation await the new administration’s next moves. While his first moves have been to tighten the country’s immigration processes and practices, the new president hasn’t yet issued any orders around those who gained protected status under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order.

For some DACA advocates, the delay signals reason to be hopeful in how President Trump moves forward in balancing the rhetoric of his campaign with the actions he takes that affect millions of lives around the country and the world. The immigration executive orders, signed after only his first week in office, could “amount to a vast expansion of authority for individual immigration officers and a dramatic increase in efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants,” according to a CNN report that outlines targeted enforcement toward those who’ve committed crimes.

Trump’s early actions on immigration have gotten the attention of Hispanics across the country, says Mark Gonzales, president of the Hispanic Action Network. Gonzales told Associated Press reporters the orders have “definitely shaken up our Hispanic community and the immigrant community in particular.”

At the same time, Gonzales also isn’t reading panic into the tea leaves. “He’s making clear that even though they’re going to repeal DAPA and DACA, the Dreamers are not the ones they’re going to come after.” Essentially, Gonzales says, he’s looking for the president to “find a way to deal with Dreamers in the way that is not deportation. That’s good news to our ears.”

According to reports, Trump is currently working with Republican Congressional leaders to work out details on a plan to address those 750,000 immigrants holding DACA status.

“They shouldn’t be very worried,” Trump said in his first interview as president. “I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody. Where you have great people that are here that have done a good job, they should be far less worried.”

Reports say Trump’s plan around DACA will be ready for announcement by the end of February.

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