Category: Family Based Visas

When should I consider withdrawing my immigration case at USCIS?

Every now and then, people come to see us at the office, and they have a case that is completely messed up. These are usually cases that they have filed pro se, which means they filed them without an attorney, and their case has gotten a bit more complicated, and we have to start considering the option of withdrawing a case.

Now, you never really want to withdraw a case because obviously you’ve paid your filing fees, and when you withdraw the case, you do lose your filing fees. You also might have a lot of time invested in the processing of your case, and you might’ve done a lot of work to get it as far as you did, but in certain circumstances, it is a really good idea to go ahead and withdraw the case.

What are some examples of this? Well, one time somebody came to see us, and after he had filed his citizenship application, he had gotten arrested, and his criminal charges were pending. It looked like we were not going to be able to get the criminal case disposed of before the citizenship interview, so we went ahead and withdrew the case.

We had another situation where a young couple came to see us, and they had gotten their case so complicated, and there were so many bad facts in the case that we decided to withdraw that case as well, and the clients agreed.

What happened in that situation is that the couple had been fighting off and on over time, and there was a family member who was not happy about the marriage. That family member had gone down to immigration and reported them as having these marital problems, and we were worried that if we went ahead with the interview with everything just as it was, it’d really put us in a bad light, and the case would probably be denied because there are things worse than a denial because you can be caught with a fraud or a misrepresentation allegation, and that’s even worse than just having your case denied.
It’s relatively easy to withdraw a case. In most situations, USCIS is glad to close the file and move on to the next case. All you have to do is send a letter with your case numbers on there and reference the fact that you want to withdraw the case. They’re generally pretty willing to do that. They’ll do it all the way up until the interview. What you don’t want to do is make them do all this extra work and then try to withdraw it.

Now, USCIS is not required to allow you to withdraw the case. We have had a few situations where we tried to withdraw a case, and immigration service did not allow us to do that, so it’s a good idea if you’re thinking about withdrawing the case or if you think that there’s something wrong with your case that you want to make sure that you go talk to a competent immigration attorney. You want to see a good immigration lawyer and make sure that everything gets squared away properly and that you’re getting good advice as to whether or not you want to withdraw the case.

It’s not something you’re going to do in every case, but it is an option, and sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. That’s an old expression, and what it means is that sometimes you want to be able to live and fight another day. You want to have another chance, and so in a lot of these cases that we’ve withdrawn, we’ve re-prepared them, we’ve gone over the facts and done things a little bit differently than the people did without an attorney, and we’ve been able to get those cases approved.

If you have any questions about your case or if you’re wondering, “Is there something wrong about my case that would make me want to withdraw it,” feel free to give us a call.

The other thing that this points out is the fact that you really want to have a good representation from the beginning because a lot of these mistakes were things that were done by the couple because they didn’t have an attorney, so this whole problem of having to potentially withdraw a case highlights the fact that it’s really important to have good immigration counsel right from the beginning.

If you have any questions, like I said, give us a call, 314-961-8200, or you can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com.

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Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

What is Extreme Vetting

What is extreme vetting and how is it going to affect my immigration case?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer, practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri.

With the election of President Donald Trump, he threw around the phrase “extreme vetting” in the immigration context. We’ve had a lot of clients ask us what does extreme vetting mean and how is it going to impact my case? We thought we’d shoot this short video to discuss it.

One thing you need to know about the immigration process, I think we can all agree it takes a very long time, that when you’re dealing with agencies like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, Customs and Border Patrol, that there are a lot of steps for the process and no one would ever accuse the Federal Government of moving quickly on immigration cases. This is cases that take place within the United States, like adjustment of status or citizenship and also involves cases overseas where a U.S. citizen or an employer is trying to bring over a foreign national to come to the United States and have to go through the State Department and the Embassy. No one would ever say that these cases go by lickety-split, in fact, they take a very long time. The reason that they take a very is because the government is already doing an extreme amount of vetting.

Just in the last five years, we’ve seen forms balloon in size. For instance, the application to adjust status used to be six pages long. It is currently 20 pages long and growing. The same for citizenship, citizenship used to be just a few pages long, and now it is many, many pages. In the spouse visa context, we use an I-130. That form used to be two pages and now it is not two pages, but it’s much longer. It actually involves two different forms, one for the spouse, who is a U.S. citizen and one for the overseas spouse. The federal government knows how to make things grow and especially when it comes to forms and making things more complex.

Add to all this, President Trump claiming that he wanted to increase vetting to cause extreme vetting to occur when someone applies for an immigration benefit. We’ve already seen the results of this as these forms are slowly implemented. Things are slowing down at the Immigration Service. Things are slowing down at the State Department. We have cases that use to take four or five months that now take eight or nine months and they’re really being nitpicky and they’re coming up with ways to slow things down. We think that the Trump Administration has brought in experts in Immigration Law and they’ve come up in ways that are pretty devious and pretty creative to really make it harder for you to bring your loved one to the Untied States, to keep your loved one in the United States, to help them get lawful status, to help them get citizenship and we’re really seeing the consequences of this with the delays.

The other thing is that when you have an agency that’s own heightened alert like this and that wants to make things harder for everybody that we’re really seeing that denials are increasing, frustration is increasing. We’re getting a lot of people who come to see us having filed for themselves and they screwed up their case. We do what we can to help them, but this is a new era. The Trump Administration has brought a new sense of scrutiny to the Immigration Service with a harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric. The people that work at the Immigration Office seem to have slowed things down and we’re really seeing clients that are frustrated.

If you need help with this, if you’re wondering how is extreme vetting going to hurt my case or slow down my case? How could I do things to make things better, how can I increase the chances of success? How can I make sure that I do everything possible to speed my case along? You’re probably going to need to talk to an experienced immigration attorney. You’re probably going to need help. It’s a new day. It’s a new time. There’s a new President and he has made immigration one of his focus issues. He has decided to have his Administration do what they can to slow things down, especially for people from particular countries, from the Middle East, from predominantly Muslim countries. These cases are going to take a lot longer, a lot harder.

We see this too in the asylum context, that it’s going to be a lot harder and a lot longer to get asylum. The Immigration Courts are backlogged, everything’s slowing down and that is by design. The Trump Administration wants to slow down immigration to the United States. They want to make it harder for people to come here and stay here. We’ll do what we can to fight for you to help you, to help smooth line the process, to help you not have to worry so much.

We hope you liked this video. Be sure to give us a call if you need some help. (314) 961-8200 or you can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com. If you liked this video, be sure to click “Like” below to share it with your friends and to subscribe to our YouTube and Facebook channels, so that you get updated whenever we shoot a video like this.

Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

Thai National Overcomes Alleged Misrepresentation, Obtains Lawful Permanent Resident Status

In December of 2015, our office was contacted by another immigration lawyer in town.  Her clients had been waiting for a green card for the foreign-born wife for over a year and a half.

The lawyer thought that our office could help.

We met with Frank and Gigi (* not their real names) and they told us their story.

Gigi was born in Thailand and was a widow.  Her husband had died in a motorcycle accident shortly after the birth of their second daughter.

A few years later, Gigi applied for a visit visa to come and visit relatives in the U.S.  Her first request for a visa was denied.  Then she hired a “visa consultant” in Thailand who “helped” Gigi fill out the visa application.

Gigi and the consultant completed the DS-160 and Gigi did her best to answer the questions truthfully and honestly.

But one of the questions asked about Gigi’s marital status.  She indicated on the form that she was “married.”  Gigi thought the question meant had you ever been married so she said yes.

The visa was approved and Gigi came to the United States.

A few months after she arrived, Gigi met a man named Frank.  Frank was a U.S. citizen and a former Marine.  Frank and Gigi decided to get married.

Frank completed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and Gigi applied for adjustment of status.  Wisely, they hired an attorney to help them with the application process.

Frank also filed I-130 Petitions for Gigi’s two daughters back in Thailand.  They were staying with Gigi’s parents.

The St. Louis field office scheduled Gigi and Frank for a green card interview.  They successfully completed the interview but then the case dragged on for months and months.

Frustrated and unable to get any answers from the local USCIS office, the attorney recommended that Gigi and Frank visit our office to see if we could help.

After discussing the situation and learning about the confusion surrounding Gigi’s visa application, we sent a letter to USCIS and threatened to sue them if they did not decide the case quickly.

Instead of issuing a grant or a denial, the Service sent us a new interview notice.  They claimed that Gigi had misrepresented herself at the embassy and wanted to discuss it with us.

We attended the interview and explained that there was no fraud or misrepresentation.  We explained that the only problem was that Gigi had misunderstood the question about marriage.  We provided proof of her ex-husband’s death and explained how it was all a misunderstanding.

A few months later, the Service invited us to file an I-601 waiver for the alleged misrepresentation.

Without conceding that Gigi had misrepresented herself, we did go ahead and file for the waiver.  We submitted evidence of how Gigi supported Frank, how she helped take care of Frank’s elderly father and the extreme hardship that would befall Frank if Gigi were not granted the waiver.

While we awaited that decision, the I-130s for the girls back in Thailand had been approved.  Gigi could not leave the country due to her shaky immigration status.  So Frank, the ex-Marine, went back to Thailand on his own to get the girls.

And that he did.

Shortly after Frank and the girls returned to the U.S., Gigi’s waiver and green card were approved.

Now the family is all united in St. Louis.  We ran into them yesterday at the Webster Groves Fourth of July carnival.

Turns out that Gigi is now pregnant.

We couldn’t be happier for this awesome family.

What Happens After My Fiance Arrives in the U.S.

What happens after my fiancé’s case is approved at the embassy and they come to the United States? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We get this question from time to time. A lot of our fiancé clients are nervous and anxious about what’s going to happen when their noncitizen fiancé comes to the United States. Let’s talk through the process.

After the I-129F is approved at USCIS, the case is set temporarily at the National Visa Center while they arrange at the embassy to set the person’s case for an interview. Now, each embassy does things a little bit differently, and it can be a little bit confusing in that time period between when USCIS approves the case and when the case actually makes it to the embassy. Some cases go almost directly to the embassy, some seem to sort of wait at the National Visa Center. You really have to monitor it, and you have to look at each case differently.

What we do is we make sure that we’re following the case as the case is moved along after it’s approved by USCIS. At that point, you’re going to have to file a DS-160. Once that is complete and the case is set for an interview at the embassy, your fiancé is going to go the interview. It’s relatively short. They basically want to make sure that it’s a legitimate relationship, that the two of you have in fact met each other, and that the foreign national does intend to come to United States and marry the US citizen within 90 days.

They’ll take the person’s passport and either they’ll say, “Come back and pick it up from the embassy,” or “We’ll send it to by courier in the next week or two.” Once that happens and the person comes to the United States, then things start rolling. Now, usually after it’s approved at the embassy, you have four months for the foreign national to come to the United States. That visa stamp is usually good for 120 days. That’s the time frame that your fiancé’s going to have to come to the United States in most cases.

Once they arrive and you’re reunited, it’s obviously a very happy time. Then you have to go ahead and get married. The law says that you have to get married within 90 days. From the date of arrival, you have 90 days to get married and to record it civilly with the local government. Then, at that point, you file for adjustment of status based off the approved fiancé visa and the marriage.

You’re going to submit all the same forms you would normally submit with an I-485. The 485 is the application to adjust status. Then you’re going to have to file for the travel document, the work card. That’s how you get that process started. It goes off to USCIS. At that point, it takes about eight or nine months for that process to be approved. You will get that work card and travel card temporarily. While the green card is pending, that’ll come four months after you file. If you do everything correctly, if you get your fingerprints done, and then eventually you’re going to get that green card.

Now, lately we’ve been seeing an uptick in the number of fiancé interviews. There are rules that allow the service center to waive an interview for the fiancé and the US citizen. Then it’s also allowed at the local level, so that you really have two shots of having that interview waived. In other words, there’s a good chance that you might not have an interview, but lately we’ve seeing more and more of these interviews. In those situations, you have to demonstrate again that the person is a good person and deserving of a green card. You have to demonstrate that the relationship is real.

I would say that right now in about 20% of the cases, we’re seeing that there is an interview with the fiancé and the US citizen. I think a little bit of that is random and I think a little bit of profiling. They want to figure out if they see something about the case that they’re worried about or something that they don’t like, then you’re going to see a situation with an interview. I would suggest that if you do do all that and you get an interview notice that you wouldn’t want to go without an attorney. There’s something that they’re looking at in your case, and I think that’s important to keep in mind.

One important thing about a K-1 visa that sometimes gets neglected is that when you come on a fiancé visa, if a foreign national arrives on a fiancé visa, the only way that they can adjust their status, virtually the only way, is if they marry that US citizen. The K-1 is sort of a strange visa. It’s a non-immigrant visa, but everybody knows you’re coming to stay, which means you’re coming to immigrate to the United States.

The rule says that if you come on a K-1, there’s no other way for you to get your green card and that you have to do it based on that marriage. If you don’t, in most situations you’re going to have to go home. The only way you’d be able to stay is if you got sort of obscure visa based on domestic violence or witnessing a crime or some other really extreme way of staying, perhaps an asylum claim. The K-1 rules are strict, and you’re not going to be able to get a green card unless you do in fact marry that US citizen and that US citizen files to help you get the adjustment.

If you have any questions about the K-1 fiancé visa, about what to do after your fiancé case is approved, make sure to give us a call at 314-961-8200. You can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com. If you like this video, please make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel. We’ve got a good number subscribers. Now we put our content on there on a pretty regular basis. If you can share this on social media, Facebook, or wherever, we’re really appreciate it. Thanks a lot, and have a good day.

How Immigration Interviews Are Like A Concert

 

Jim Hacking: How is an immigration interview like a high school musical concert? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, Immigration Lawyer, practicing law throughout the United States. Today I was meeting with my clients, getting them ready to file their spouse visa application. They’re excited about getting it on file, but they did have some concerns about the interview itself, and so we talked about how the interview goes. About what happens, how you get sworn in, and put under oath, and how they ask for all your identifying documents. How they ask for all your other supporting documents for the application, and this principle that I’m going to talk about today really applies to all kinds of immigration cases. It doesn’t just apply to spouse cases, but in any event, I was trying to explain to them what it’s like for the officer to be receiving all of the evidence, and so obviously, I’ve never been an immigration officer, but I have been in hundreds of interviews.
I’ve had the chance to observe officers, and see their reactions, and how they respond to various answers, and to various evidence that is presented to them, and so I thought I would make this video to explain it to you the way I explain it to my clients. The way I sort of set it out is that in a lot of ways, an immigration interview is like a musical concert, and I have been spending a lot of time at my son’s various year end holiday concerts, and so the metaphor seemed apt, and so in these situations, you always have one of the high school kids. The music is sounding great, and then every now and then, you hear a wrong note, and if there’s a collection of wrong notes, then you’re sort of scratching your head and saying, “What is it about this song? What is it about this band? What’s going on? Who’s making that noise?”
It’s not what the person receiving the information or the music is expecting, so an immigration interview is a lot like that, so when you go in for your interview, you want to hit every note perfectly, and if your notes are off, if you have a combination of notes, if you strike one bad note after another, it’s going to end up with a very bad, messy interview. What do I mean by that? Well, the example we were talking about today in our meeting was driver’s licenses, so sometimes people will go to their interview and the couple may have just recently moved in together, and one or both of them may not have gotten around to updating their address on their driver’s license, so when the officer starts off the interview by reviewing their identifying documents, they look at the driver’s licenses and here you have two people, who say that they’re married, who are asking for an immigration benefit, yet they have two different addresses.

Now there might be logistical or legal reasons for this, but this is a bad note. Another bad note is when you come without all your documents. If you don’t have your original birth certificate with you or if you don’t have the original marriage certificate. These are all notes that cause the officer to pause, and we don’t want our immigration officers pausing. We want them to be going along quickly and as smoothly as possible, because when they pause, they think. When they think, they think of more questions to ask. Our job, as immigration attorneys, is to be the conductor. We want to orchestrate a interview that sounds perfect, that sounds great. Obviously, we’re always telling our clients to tell the truth, but there are really tons of reasons why the way you present yourself, the way you sound with your answers, the answers that you give, the evidence that you bring, all these things contribute to a good concert, a good interview, so make sure that you don’t sing the wrong note. That you don’t hit the wrong note.

Don’t bring in bad evidence. Don’t make it easy for them to deny your case. You want to do everything you can to have your case tracked the way that they’re used to receiving their cases, so you’re going to want to have all of your evidence lined up. You want to know all your dates. You’re not going to have any fumbling around, looking through documents, all that stuff. You really want to put on a show for the officer.

Obviously, you’re always telling the truth, and being truthful, and honest, and thorough as you can, but at the same time, there is a little bit of professionalism and good work that you bring when you go to an interview properly, so if you have any questions about this, if you want to know how we can help you sound a better tune at your immigration interview, be sure to give us a call at 314-961-8200 or you can email us at info@hackinglawpractice.com.

If you liked this video, be sure to hit the like button below and subscribe to our YouTube Channel. We’re heading towards 900 subscribers and we’re really excited about that. We want to get as many subscriptions on, so that you guys can find out whenever we update the YouTube Channel. Thanks a lot and have a great day.

 

What if I Flunk my Immigration Drug Test?

What happens if my fiance or spouse fails their drug test at the embassy appointed doctor?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the united States. Every now and then we have a client who has a problem with marijuana and they want to know what happens. Are they going to be able to come to the United States?

Here’s how it comes up. After you file a fiance petition or after you file an I130 spouse petition and the case gets processed by the national visa center, eventually at some point the foreign national, whether it’s a fiance or a spouse is going to have to go to a doctor appointed by the local embassy and that doctor is going to ask the applicant questions about their history of using marijuana. They’re also going to test their blood.

The question comes up what happens if a client fails that drug test or admits to using marijuana at the interview with the doctor? Here’s what we know. Generally, it’s a bad deal. You really, obviously, don’t want to be doing drugs. I don’t even need to go into that. From an immigration standpoint, it presents specific hurdles. What happens is, is if you fail your drug test or if you admit to marijuana drug use then you’re probably going to be kept out of the United States for a while. It’s certainly going to be a red flag for the embassy officials.

The way it works is you go see the doctor shortly before your embassy interview. In our case, our client had to go see the doctor about 3 weeks before his actual embassy interview. The doctor asked him, “Have you ever smoked marijuana.” And he said, “Yes.” And he said, “How recently?” And he said, “About 2 weeks ago.” So it’s going to show up in his blood when they get the lab results back.

First of all, let me say that I’m really glad our client was honest. You can often get in a lot more trouble for lying to embassy officials or embassy doctors or immigration officials. You never want to lie. It is good that our client told the truth, but, it does present a problem. Here’s what’s going to happen. The doctor will complete his medical report. He’ll reflect that the applicant indicated that he’d used marijuana. It’ll probably come back on his drug test and the counselor official is going to have to decide whether or not that renders our client inadmissible.

What we’re going to have to do, which probably going to happen is our overseas client is going to have to go to drug testing and drug classes for about a year. He’s probably not going to be able to come for another year. We’ll see what happens when he goes to the interview. The official may let him pass and may send him to the United States. We think that’s doubtful. What’s much more likely is that our client is going to be in communication with that doctors office over the course of the next 12 months and have to be tested up to 4 times over the course of the year and he’s going to have to attend drug classes and treatment to make sure that he’s clean and sober.

Obviously, our US citizen here, in the United States who’s spouse or fiance is very upset and we understand that. There’s really no way around it. There’s no way to try to reschedule the appointment or to do anything sneaky. You never want to come across as being dishonest or untruthful. It’s good that our client told the truth but it’s going to be a real hurdle for him. He’s probably going to be outside the United States for another 12 months. He’s going to have to spend money on drug testing and he’s going to have to spend money on treatment. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe in the long run, for his own health, that’s a good thing. From an immigration standpoint, it’s obviously a negative. It’s going to slow down our client and her fiance from being together and so we’re sad about that.

If you have any questions about the medical exams that go along with embassy interviews or the interview itself, remember always to tell the truth, but if you have specific questions and are wondering how to handle a situation make sure to give us a call at 314-961-8200 or you can always email us info@hackinglawpractice.com. We hope you like this video. If you did, make sure to click like and also subscribe to our channel so that you can get new updates whenever we shoot a new video. Thanks a lot, have a great day, and stay off that marijuana. See ya.

USCIS Announces Steep Filing Fee Increases

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS has announced an increase to many of the fees associated with filing for immigration benefits in the United States.  This is the first fee increase in six years.

The increase goes into effect on December 23, 2016.

The average fee increase is 21 percent.

The biometric fee for all applicable applications will remain $85.

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Naturalization and Citizenship

The cost to naturalize (N-400) in most cases will increase from $595 to $640 (with the biometrics fee, this amount will be $725).

One slight tweak to the filing fee requirement is that applicants with income greater than 150% but not more than 200% of the federal guidelines will pay a reduced fee of $405, including biometrics.

The naturalization fee waiver will remain available to lawful permanent residents who receive public assistance or have incomes under 150% of those poverty guidelines.

The fee for form N-600, the application for a certificate of citizenship, will increase almost 100% – from $600 to $1170.  This form is generally used for lawful permanent residents who became citizens as a matter of law, usually because their custodial parent became a citizen before they turned 18 years old.

Family-Based Immigration

The fee for an I-130 relative petition, which includes spouse petitions, will increase from $420 to $535.

Adjustment of status (I-485) application fees will go up from $985 to $1140.  So with biometrics, the total adjustment of status fee will go from $1140 to $1225.

Applications for a travel document (I-131) will increase a lot – from $360 to $575.

Employment-Based Immigration

Petitions for non-immigrant workers in the H-1b category will increase from $325 to $460 (in addition to the $750/$1500 training fee and $500 fraud prevention and detection fee).

Non-immigrant visas in the L category will also increase to $460 with the $500 fraud prevention and detection fee).

A petition for an immigrant worker for an immigrant visa (green card) – the I-140 – will increase from $580 to $700.

An application for employment authorization (EAD), the I-765, will increase from $380 to $410.

Board of Immigration Appeals Reverses Denied I-130

Our office recently won an appeal at the Board of Immigration Appeals for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”).

We were hired by a U.S. lawful permanent resident after the I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative was denied by USCIS.

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On September 14, 2015, our client filed a Form I-130 on behalf of her husband, a Pakistani national.  She sought to classify her husband as the spouse of a lawful permanent resident under Section 203(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Our client filed the form without an attorney.  She apparently did not provide all of the required evidence that USCIS wanted before approving the application.

So on January 28, 2016, USCIS sent our client a Request for Evidence (RFE).  The RFE directed the U.S. citizen to submit the “Nikah Nama” between our client and her Pakistani husband.

The Nikah Nama is the marriage contract between a bride and groom.  The Nikah Nama is prepared for any Pakistani marriage and we have never filed a case from Pakistan without it.  Apparently, our client did.  The RFE also instructed our client to submit a translation of the Nikah Nama as well.

The petitioner filed her response by herself on February 5, 2016.  She still did not decide to hire an attorney.   According to USCIS, our future client submitted the translation of the Nikah Nama, but not the original Urdu version itself.

The case was accordingly denied.  Ordinarily, USCIS issues a Notice of Intent to Deny.  But this was a case involving a Muslim man from Pakistan so USCIS apparently skipped this procedure.

The U.S. citizen wife found us on YouTube and asked for our help.  We filed a timely appeal and pointed out the fact that – in this case – the Pakistani government officials had provided our clients with an English version only.  But we asked our client to go ahead and get an Urdu copy and they did.  We submitted both on June 28, 2016.  We also submitted additional marriage evidence.

On September 23, 2016, the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed itself and approved the I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative.  Our client is ecstatic and her case is back on track.

Several lessons here.

Once the client received an RFE, she should have hired an attorney.  At that point, her case was in trouble and she needed help.

Also, USCIS denied this case on a super-technical reason.  We do not believe that the client was treated fairly and we believe this unfair treatment was because her husband was from Pakistan and not from France.

Finally, the reason that this result is especially good is that the U.S. lawful permanent resident would have had to start all over if the appeal was denied.  Because there is a cap on the number of spouses of LPRs who are allowed to come to the U.S., it would have added an extra year or more to the time this couple had to spend apart.

We are happy that we won.

Spouse visa or fiance visa – which is better?

Should I marry my significant other and apply for a spouse visa, or file as a fiance without getting married first? Hi, Jim Hacking here, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We get this question from time to time from couples that have been together for a while but have not yet gotten married. They want to know, is it better to come to the United States from overseas as a spouse or a fiance?

The processes are relatively similar but they’re also a little bit different. Let me talk a little bit about if. When a person wants to sponsor their fiance, we have to prove that they’ve been in each other’s physical presence at some point in the last 2 years. Obviously we don’t have to prove they’re married because they’re not married yet, but we are going to have to show that they’ve been together with each other some time in the last 2 years. The way that we do that is with photos, with trip tickets, with documentation of travel, these kinds of things to show that the 2 have been together.

We also have to demonstrate that the couple intends to get married within 90 days of the non-citizen’s arrival to the United States. Typically we do that with an affidavit from both the US citizen and the non-citizen saying that the plan is that once the non-citizen arrives in the United States, that they will go either to the courthouse or the chapel or somewhere and get married, and then apply for adjustment of status that way.

On the spouse visa side, obviously at this point the couple’s already married, so typically the US citizen has gone overseas, they’ve either met in the home country of the non-citizen or they’ve met in some third country and gotten married. They’ve gotten a marriage certificate, and they’re going to apply through the I-130 process. As things stand now, right now in 2016, spouse visas are going a lot slower than fiance visa.

We see this from time to time. Sometimes the processing time to get a fiance here is relatively similar to a spouse, but lately, for the last year or so, fiances have been coming to the United States a lot faster than spouses. If the couple has not yet gotten married we often encourage them to go the fiance route, especially if we can demonstrate that they’ve been in each other’s physical presence.

This leads to some people to come to us and they want to say, “Well, Jim we may have had a marriage ceremony but we’re not really married.” That can be tricky. Obviously you can never tell a lie to the immigration service, you don’t ever want to submit fraudulent documents, but if you haven’t recorded the marriage, if it’s just been a religious ceremony or an engagement, then you can go the fiance route, but you really have to play it straight. You can’t lie or pretend that your fiances when you’re actually married.

Speed is definitely one of the issues to think about when considering whether to come as a fiance or a spouse. Let’s talk about strength of case and likelihood to get it approved. Sometimes if there are things in the relationship between the fiance and the US citizen, things like maybe big age differences, or racial differences, that stand from people being from different countries and that they think that the couple isn’t really legitimate, they don’t speak the same language, they have very few similarities, these kinds of things.

When the couples are different, when they’re fundamentally different and worry that some racist immigration officer at the state department is going to give us trouble, if we’re worried that they’re going to say, “This couple is too different. We don’t really believe that this is a valid engagement.” Then we may encourage the couple to go ahead and get married and apply as a spouse. We believe that some cases are fundamentally stronger when filed as a spouse, as opposed to as a fiance.

In other words, state department officials often look at fiance cases and sometimes like I said if there’s too many of those differences that we think that people are going to nitpick about or take advantage of or use to deny the case, then we may encourage the couple to go ahead and get married because that demonstrates another level of commitment, a seriousness, an intention of purpose, that the couple is in fact married, sometimes goes a long way towards carrying the day and getting the case approved.

These are complicated issues. We do not encourage you to do these on your own. We think that if you want to come and bring you loved one here, that it’s an important issue, that you want to spend time thinking about and doing it correctly. We want to make sure that we put your case in a position as strong as possible. We understand that it’s difficult to be separated from your loved one, and we understand that you want to get them here as fast as possible, but sometimes you really need to consider the strength of the case and getting getting approved, as opposed to just getting them here as quickly as possible.

One other concern that you have sometimes is that when you come as a fiance you may be headed towards a Green Card interview here in the United States. After the couple gets married and they file for adjustment of status for the fiance to change their status to that of lawful permanent resident, sometimes there are interviews involved at the immigration office in your local town. If we think that there’s going to be trouble from the local immigration office, then we might also encourage you to go the marriage route.

These are the kinds of things that we think about. This the kind of thing that we talk to our clients about, and we spend a lot of time thinking it through, talking it through, to make sure that we make the best decisions because we want to get the case approved. We want your spouse or your fiance to be here, to be in the United States safely. We want to do everything we can to protect you.

If you have any questions about whether or not your case is a good fiance case or a good spouse case, or if you need some help evaluating that, feel free to give us a call at 314-961-8200, or you can email us at jim@hackinglawpractice.com. We hope you liked this video. If you did please subscribe to us on YouTube. We try to update the videos every week. If you have any topics of issues that you’d like us to cover, just email us and we’ll try to shoot a video about it. Thanks a lot, have a great day.

What do I need to know about sponsoring my brother or sister for a green card?

I was on the phone with a client yesterday. He just became a US citizen. He was wondering what does it take to bring his brother or sister to the United States.

Now you’re probably aware that there’s a long, long wait for brothers and sister of US citizens to come to the United States. The reason for this is that Congress has placed a cap on the number of these visas that are available every year. Depending on your country of origin the wait can be as short as 13 years or as long as 20 years based on current numbers at the State Department that they issue through the visa bulletin.

The first thing you need to know is that you have to be a US citizen to sponsor your brother or sister. If you’re in the United States on a green card and you’re thinking about sponsoring your brother or sister, you’re not going to be able to do it until you become a US citizen.

The next thing you need to know is that long wait. It’s a long, long wait and the process works like this. Once you become a US citizen you file what’s called an I-130. It’s a petition for an alien relative and that goes to USCIS. Now because of the long delay on visas being available because that line for a green card to come to the United States is so long, USCIS doesn’t place a high priority on adjudicating and deciding these I-130s. When you file your I-130 you’ll get a receipt notice and then you won’t hear from immigration for quite some time. Lately we’ve been seeing people get their decisions about 4 or 5 years after their file.

One thing to really keep in mind is that you have to keep your address up to date with USCIS because if you move and they can’t forward the mail to you, you might miss a deadline to reply to a question from the Immigration Service or you might miss the approval altogether. You really want to make sure that if you have any kind of pending I-130 for your brother or sister that you’re updating USCIS with your address.

Another thing we’ve been noticing is that we’ve been getting a lot of push-back from USCIS on birth certificates and on documents related to the brother or sister relationship. What do I mean? Well one thing is, a lot of people that we work with come from countries where birth certificates were not so prevalent back in the home country when the US citizens sponsor or the foreign beneficiary were born. Let’s say people were born back in India in 1956. Well back in India there might not have been birth certificates as readily available as there are now.

Now most countries have adopted a birth certificate generation system and are issuing birth certificates now, even for people born way back when but the problem is USCIS is taking a position that these late filed birth certificates, these ones that are generated years and years later when the people are adults are not as compelling evidence as USCIS would like. I think this is generally ridiculous but I can see their point. They want to make sure that there is a brother/sister relationship and the birth certificate is an important way to do that.

You might be forced to document the relationship between your brother and your sister and you in a fashion more than just submitting the birth certificates. This means you might have to submit a lot of secondary evidence that shows that you’re in fact brother and sister. This can include affidavits from older siblings or relatives, school records, family records, any kind of documents that you see that demonstrate that you are together; photographs of the two of you, school pictures. These are the kinds of things that really work.

One problem in particular is that when the parents of the brother and sister who are applying have passed away, it prevents us from being able to get DNA which is the silver bullet in establishing the brother-sister relationship. USCIS and the State Department won’t except a match just between a brother and sister. You have to go up to the parents and get their DNA and then establish with the help of a DNA lab that the brother and sister are in fact related. This can be difficult, time consuming and expensive.

You really want to think this through when you’re getting the process started because what you don’t want is to file your I-130 which is a relatively straightforward process and then the case languishes for 4 or 5 years and then all of a sudden you get a request for evidence from USCIS giving you 60 days to basically prove that your brother is your brother or your sister is your sister and you’re scrambling over those 60 days to either do DNA lab work or find old documents. Very, very stressful and we’ve seen more than one case get denied because the family was not able to get their documents together. These are cases where the people filed on their own and came to us after the request for evidence was issued.

One other thing to keep in mind, when we do the I-130 here at our office, we sort of split up the legal fee and the processing fee into 2 parts. One is the I-130 part with USCIS and the other is the State Department part with the NVC and the Embassy.

Right now we are getting started on a brother of a US citizen I-130 and so we basically only charge half our legal fee for that because nobody knows where we are all going to be 13 years from now. You might want to use a different attorney or I might never be around or whatever, you might not be around so we don’t charge the whole thing upfront, we do it split 50-50 and then on the backend right now it’s pretty exciting. We are getting to help someone who had filed for her brother from Bosnia 13 years ago and now we are going through the second part of the process with the National Visa Center and the Embassy because his visa number finally became available and he’s in line now to get his green card and come to the United states.

If you have any questions about this crazy system we have of sponsoring brothers and sisters to the United States to get them a green card, give us a call (314) 961-8200 or you can email us jim@hackinglawpractice.com. Thanks a lot.