Adjudication Alert: I-765 Photographs

Each form submitted to USCIS has different legal requirements, but we often find that as administrations change, so do adjudication and processing trends. Today’s adjudication alert is related to Form I-765, or the Application for Employment Authorization.

As a reminder, the I-765 instructions state:

You must submit two identical color photographs of yourself taken within 30 days of filing your application. The photos must have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched.

The directions go on to explain that the photos must measure 2” by 2” and be in color, with a full face, frontal view. The photos must also have the applicant’s name and Alien Receipt Number printed in pencil or felt tip pen on the back of the photo.

Why are we addressing such trivial instructions today? Recently, our office was engaged to respond to a Request for Evidence for a client’s recently submitted EAD application. Two passport-style photos, that seemingly met the criteria above, were submitted with the original application. However, in the RFE, USCIS pointed out that the photos were not taken within 30 days of the filing. The RFE stated that when the officer compared the photos with an EAD from two years ago, they noticed the photos were identical. The individuals must now have new photos taken in order to respond to the RFE, further delaying a decision on the EAD application.

This is just one example of the heightened scrutiny we have seen across visa types over the past months. In today’s immigration climate, it is important to have a legal team on your side that is not only aware of adjudication trends, but detail-oriented and responsive to shifting government priorities and processes. At Challa Law Group, we are dedicated to finding the best immigration strategy for our clients. Contact us today for an appointment with one of our attorneys.


International Students: Updates to Unlawful Presence and OPT Third-Party Worksite Placements

International students only make up five percent of current collegiate students, but they are integral to the U.S. economy, both as consumers and as entrepreneurs and leaders. According to the New American Economy, international students contributed almost $33 billion in revenue to the economy and supported over 334,000 jobs in 2015.

While earning a degree at a college or university in the United States (or upon graduation), international students can also elect to participate in OPT, or Optional Practical Training. OPT is a form of work authorization, allowing the student to work in positions related to their field of study as part of a “practical training” program. Students in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) degree program may be eligible for a 24 month STEM OPT extension. STEM OPT allows U.S.-educated individuals to fill positions in fields with critical labor shortages. The New American Economy reports that for every unemployed STEM worker, there were 13 vacant STEM jobs posted in 2016.

Third-Party Placements

A 2015 change to the STEM OPT rule allowed Department of Homeland Security to begin unannounced and announced visits to the employer locations where the STEM OPT students are employed. The change also increased reporting requirements for students and schools and required a formal training plan for the student. Previously, there was no specific prohibition on employers placing OPT recipients at client worksites, as long as the requisite employer-employee relationship was maintained. However, DHS recently clarified these rules by updating the STEM OPT website, stating that because they would not be able to conduct site visits at the location of the employer’s client or customer, those types of third party placements are prohibited. Recent guidance also outlines other types of arrangements that may not be appropriate for STEM OPT extensions, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through “temp” agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that establish a bona fide employer-employee relationship.

As with other recent rule changes, there could be legal challenges looming. Since the change was made to a website, it doesn’t carry the same weight as a Policy Memorandum or a change to the regulation. The administration faced similar legal battles when they announced the International Entrepreneur Rule would be discontinued without issuing a proposed regulation and allowing a period for public comment.

Unlawful Presence

There are approximately 1.2 million international students in either F (academic) or M (vocational) student status, slightly down .5 percent from March 2017. USCIS has changed the way these students begin to accrue unlawful presence, making it extremely important for student visa holders to be aware of the terms of their status and its validity period. Previously, students would only accrue unlawful presence after being notified by USCIS, but under the new rules visa holders immediately begin accruing unlawful presence, even if they are violating their status unintentionally and are unaware of the violation.

The policy memorandum states that students who failed to maintain their status before August 9, 2018, will now accrue unlawful presence on that date or on the date of the earliest of the following events:

  • The day after DHS denied the request for an immigration benefit, if DHS made a formal finding that the individual violated his or her nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit;
  • The day after their I-94 expired; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or in certain cases, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), ordered them excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

After August 9, 2018, the students who fail to maintain their status will accrue unlawful presence on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after they no longer pursue the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after they engage in an unauthorized activity;
  • The day after completing the course of study or program, including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period;
  • The day after the I-94 expires; or
  • The day after an immigration judge, or in certain cases, the BIA, orders them excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

Accruing unlawful presence during a single stay may result in a temporary bar to admission. If students stay 180 days past their validity period and then depart, they may be subject to a three-year or ten-year bar. If individuals accrue a year or more of unlawful presence in a single stay or throughout multiple stays in the U.S., and then attempt to reenter without admittance or parole may be permanently inadmissible.

Those subject to the three-year, 10-year, or permanent unlawful presence bars to admission are generally not eligible to apply for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status to permanent residence unless they are eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or another form of relief.

Do you have questions about your F-1 status or moving to an H-1B or other visa type? Email us at info@challalaw.com and be sure to check out our video on travel guidelines for F-1 students!


Federal Rule Allows DHS to Track Immigrants (and Citizens) Online

On September 18, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security published a new rule in the Federal Register proposing a modification of how individuals are tracked as they move through the immigration process. The new rule will expand the types of information stored in an individual’s file, including “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results.” The rule also allows DHS to “update record source categories to include publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers, and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements.”

The rule outlines that any immigrant would be subject to this information collection, including lawful permanent residents, naturalized U.S. citizens, individuals petitioning for benefits under the INA on behalf of another individual, relatives and associates of any of the individuals listed above who are subject to the INA, and approximately ten other separate categories. Also included in the list of individuals covered under the system are preparers and interpreters assisting an individual seeking immigration benefits and attorneys who are recognized by USCIS or accredited by the BIA. This type of scrutiny could have a chilling effect on those who assist immigrants in navigating the legal system.

Any wide scale collection of information on the listed individuals would not only include “immigrants” but many naturalized and U.S.-born citizens, either as directly collected by the law or as a result of their communications with individuals in the listed categories. The rule also includes “law enforcement officers who certify a benefit requestor’s cooperation in the investigation or prosecution of a criminal activity.” The certification is one requirement for individuals applying for a U visa, which is a nonimmigrant visa reserved for “victims of certain crimes who are currently assisting or have previously assisted law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of a crime, or who are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activities.” Officers may hesitate to provide this certification knowing that they could potentially be subject to additional monitoring, leading to increased distrust between the immigrant community and law enforcement and other unwanted outcomes in communities across the country.

There are a number of federal statutes that this policy may affront, but particularly the rule raises questions in terms of its constitutionality, as it could impact First and Fourth Amendment rights of many U.S. citizens. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution places limits on search and seizure by the government, and this protection often hinges on what is deemed to be “public” and therefore imputing license and consent. Where probable cause or a warrant is needed to enter an individual’s house or vehicle, the Fourth Amendment does not limit the government’s ability to follow people on a public street. Our daily internet activities are increasingly subject to the same types of arguments: does the act of posting from a social media account imply consent by placing the information on a public domain? Alternatively, users can limit who sees posted content by adjusting privacy notifications and designating what is available to the general public. Does this indicate that the information resides in the private domain because an invitation is necessary? These questions will have to be addressed as regulations evolve in our increasingly digital world.

The Federal Register states that “the purpose of this system of records is to facilitate administration of benefits and enforcement of provisions under the INA and related immigration statutes.” However, permanent residents and naturalized citizens have already undergone intense vetting procedures and U.S. citizens are no longer seeking any immigration benefits. Including these individuals (and even natural-born citizens who have never sought immigration benefits), seems contrary to the system’s purpose and could lead to increased costs for data collection and storage.


What Type of Visa Do You Need to Tour the U.S. for a Year?

immigration lawyer Richmond VA Global travel is the dream of many young adults before or during college — and it appeals to retired adults and adults between jobs as well. Backpacking across Europe is a popular excursion, for example. However, the United States is far larger than many other countries and you could justify spending an entire year traveling from state to state exploring the diversity within one nation.

Ask an Expert

The best immigration lawyer Richmond VA area visitors and residents need can work with them regardless of the circumstances of their travel to the U.S. At Challa Law, we also help people currently in the U.S. to get their family members and friends in another country the visas they need to come for a visit or an extended stay.

The B-2 Visa

The B-2 visa is ideal for most people planning an extended trip to the U.S. It’s given for what are considered pleasure trips — vacations to sightsee, visits to friends and family or even for medical trips or community service trips. It can be issued for an entire year, allowing you plenty of time to visit each of your intended destinations.

Requirements

To qualify for the B-2 visa, you must have proof of:

  • Enough funds to finance your trip
  • Your intended return date and a permanent residence to return to in your native country
  • Your trip’s qualification as a “pleasure trip” (if you have business to attend to, you may be better served by the B-1 visa)

A Challa Law attorney would be happy to help you get your application in order to be granted a temporary travel visa that will allow you to make your dream of traversing the United States a reality. Contact us about getting your B-2 visa — or seeing if there is a more appropriate visa for your circumstances — as soon as you start thinking of planning your trip.


Can You Get an Employment-Based Visa If You’re Already in the U.S.?

employment visa statusEmployment-based visas allow you to stay in the United States for specific amounts of time — sometimes permanently — based on the sponsorship of your employer and your continued status as a full-time employee.

Many immigrants receive their job offers or transfers before they come to the U.S., making their visa applications more streamlined. However, others are already in the U.S. and may be considering employment visas as a way to stay or return after a short period back in their native countries.

Finding a Job

The most important factor in qualifying for employment visa status is that you have a job offer in hand so you have an employee sponsor. While you’re considering staying in the U.S., start looking for work. Earning a degree will give you an advantage.

Start the process by meeting with a Challa Law immigration attorney, but make finding a full-time job your number one priority, especially if you’re on a deadline and your student or other temporary visa is about to expire.

Why You’re Here

Why you’re in the U.S. will make a difference in your application process. If you’re here on a student visa that’s about to expire, you may have an advantage because your school can help you find a job after you graduate and you can more easily transition to an employment visa if you secure a position and sponsorship.

If you’re just visiting, you probably won’t have enough time and can apply from outside the country. If you’re about to turn 21 or get married after living with an employed immigrant parent, there may be some leeway to work with.

Changing Jobs

After going through a long process to be approved for an employment visa, you may be hesitant to ever quit your job, even if you’re unhappy. However, if you secure another job offer and meet with an attorney, the transition can go smoothly.

Talk to a Challa Law representative as soon as possible if you’re considering applying for an employment visa and wonder if your current status in the U.S. complicates matters or makes it more expedient. We’ll do everything we can to counsel you and give you the best advantages for getting the visa you need to achieve your dreams.


How to Increase Your Chances of Earning Permanent U.S. Residency Through Employment

immigration lawyers in Richmond VA Whether you’ve studied in the U.S. before or you’re even currently residing there on a student or temporary work visa, or you’ve never lived in the States, if you’re aiming to live in the U.S. as a permanent resident, employment may be the best way to do so. Once you’ve secured permanent residency through a job, you can then bring your immediate family (your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21) as well.

Work with the Right Lawyer

The best immigration lawyers in Richmond VA know exactly how to tailor the permanent residency application process to every individual applying for a green card to make the process go as quickly as possible. If you have a family member in the area who can sponsor your application, it’ll go even more smoothly.

Apply for a Job First

If you have a job waiting for you — whether it’s a transfer from another branch in your company or a job you apply for on your own — you’re more likely to get permanent residency because your employer can sponsor your application. If the job starts fast, you can get temporary residency while you’re in the process of applying for a more permanent solution.

Learn a Trade or Degree

Specialized labor is in greater demand and is more likely to lead to your permanent residency. Professions that are particularly sought after include physicians, professors, researchers, and other professionals with advanced degrees. Even professionals with an undergraduate degree get more priority over those without one.

Permanent residents are even able to sponsor other members of their family, such as adult children who are both married and unmarried, which will make the process far easier for your loved ones to join you in the States. Work with an attorney at Challa Law who can look over your case and provide you with an individualized plan to permanent residency.


Can You Bring Family With You to the U.S. on a Student Visa?

immigration attorney Richmond, VA Coming to the U.S. to earn a degree at an academic institution or a vocational school offers immigrants so many opportunities. They can use that degree to get a better-paying job back home or to increase the likelihood of starting a career in the U.S. and potentially earning permanent residence. Many students are adult learners with families of their own. If you’re worried about your family being able to accompany you to the U.S., speak with an immigration lawyer to learn how your family can accompany you.

Consult With a Lawyer

At Challa Law, we’re happy to act as the immigration attorney Richmond, VA residents or would-be residents need to get their entire families to the States. The sooner you speak with us, the smoother the immigration process will be. As soon as you start thinking about going to school in the U.S., talk to one of our attorneys to see what you need.

Who Qualifies?

Your spouse and any unmarried children — your children or step-children — under the age of 21 can qualify for an F-2 or M-2 Visa, depending on whether you qualify for an F-1 or an M-1 Visa. You must remain a full-time student for your family to retain their F-2 or M-2 status.

Difference Between F-1 and M-1

Students attending an SEVP-approved school qualify for the F-1 student visa; you must have this acceptance in hand before you actually apply for the visa. M-1 visas are issued to foreign students attending vocational schools in the U.S.

It may be because you have a family that you’re eager for better-paying jobs and earning a degree. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll have to part with your family if you come to the U.S. for your education. With the help of the right attorney, you’ll be able to bring your immediate family along.


What Benefits Does a Permanent Visa Offer?

employment visa statusIf you’ve moved to the U.S. on a student or temporary work visa, you’ve gotten to know the culture and may have started thinking of yourself as a long-term resident of the country. You may wonder, though, as long as your temporary visa doesn’t have problems getting renewed, why you should bother upgrading to a permanent visa. If you do plan to stay in the U.S. for more than five years, you absolutely should apply for permanent residency.

Security

When you opt for permanent employment visa status, your future is no longer in doubt. Even if you’ve experienced little to no difficulty renewing a temporary visa in the past, the fact is, a sudden layoff could result in you losing your residency. With permanent residency, you’re free to search for new work, and your residency in the U.S. isn’t dependent on you keeping the same job with which you applied for a visa. This means if you’re unhappy with your job, you’ll feel more secure looking for new work, too.

Sponsorship

If you earn your green card, you can then become a sponsor for other immigrants — including your unmarried adult children — who want to move to the U.S. as well. On temporary visas, you can only elect to bring along your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21.

Dual Intent Doctrine

If you’re already in the U.S. on a temporary visa, applying for a green card may actually be more complicated. However, it’s when you’re in the U.S. that the prospect of having to pack up your life and move back to your home country because your visa isn’t renewed becomes more urgent. An expert attorney can help you avoid issues with what’s called a dual intent doctrine.

Permanent residency is the first step toward applying for U.S. citizenship. If you’re married to an American citizen or you and your family simply love the opportunities you’ve found in the States, it makes sense to secure your future and reap the benefits of earning permanent residency. Contact Challa Law for a consultation to learn how today.


3 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Earning a U.S. Visa

If you’ve hoped to move to the United States for a long time, you know that it’s not easy to get a visa to earn temporary or even permanent residency. However, if you have the drive, it’s possible, especially if you reach out to the experts for assistance. Whether you hope to move as an individual or you want your immediate family to come along, there are ways to increase your chances of getting that visa.

Enroll in School

The best immigration attorney Richmond, VA area immigrants consult with recommends you have an actionable plan before you even apply for a visa. Coming to America to pursue higher education is one such plan. Apply for school and make sure you have enough funds to pay for tuition and living expenses. Upon acceptance, you can apply for a temporary student visa. This applies to both pre-grad and post-grad education.

Secure a Job

If you have a job waiting for you, your chances of qualifying for a visa increase exponentially. Whether you apply for a job at a new company or the current company you work for offers you a transfer to an American location, if you have the job offer in hand and enough funds to get your life in the States started, you can apply for either a temporary or a permanent visa, depending on how long your job is likely to keep you in America.

Start a Business

Opening a business on American soil that can provide jobs for at least 10 local citizens is another way to vastly increase the likelihood you’ll get a visa — and your spouse and children under the age of 21 can get visas as well this way. If you have the funds and investors and a business plan ready to present, you’ll likely be granted entry.

Fill out the Challa Law online form or call us today. Our representatives speak a number of languages if you think you’d have an easier time planning your application speaking in your native language. Our goal is to help make your goals happen and show you the way to get the visa that’s best suited to your needs.


Move Your Family to the U.S. with Our Immigration Attorney in Richmond, VA

Are you thinking about moving with your family to the U.S.? Life in the U.S. offers many benefits, including friendly neighbors, strong communities, many career opportunities, great schools, and, in many towns and cities, plenty of space for growing families. Of course, the best way to move to the U.S. is by getting a permanent residency visa, or “green card,” which would allow you to live and work in the U.S. for the rest of your life.

Do you have questions about getting a green card for yourself or your family? Before you begin the immigration process, you should know as much as possible about U.S. laws and how to immigrate to the U.S. with your family. That’s where an immigration attorney in Richomond, VA, from Challa Law Group comes in.

Challa Law Group is an international law firm dedicated to helping prospective immigrants navigate the often confusing process of moving to the U.S. We feature an immigration attorney in Richmond, VA, who is ready to help you. There are a number of visas available to the spouses, children, and other family members of people who have immigrated to the United States.

Moving with your family to the United States is easiest if you have a relative who is a United States citizen or an immigration attorney in Richmond, VA. United States citizens are able to sponsor their spouses, married and unmarried children, and their parents or siblings. However, if you have a green card yourself, you should be able to sponsor members of your immediate family, including your spouse and unmarried children, to come and live with you in the U.S.

However, many of the visas available to the families of U.S. citizens or those of United States permanent residents do not allow individuals to work inside the U.S. without an additional work permit. You or your family members may need to apply for additional permission to work in the U.S. while waiting for their green cards. The green card confers the right to live and work permanently in the U.S.

If you are planning a move to the U.S. with your family, it’s important to understand U.S. immigration laws and procedures in advance. Contact Challa Law Group to meet with an immigration attorney in Richmond, VA, so your and your family’s new lives can begin.