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

Why AILA Liaison Work is Crucial Even in Contentious Times

shutterstock_242847928Liaison work has long been at the heart of AILA member services. Liaison, when effective, is a critical bridge for members who are facing issues in their practices, helping to raise those issues with the various agencies to work toward a solution. However, in recent years, some have begun to question the efficacy of liaison efforts and whether AILA might be better served pursuing other options, such as litigation, to push back on critical issues.

I have long held the belief that AILA’s liaison relationship with government agencies can and should be both respectful and spirited, and that it is through a liaison system built on trust, mutual respect, and solid relationships that we can achieve AILA’s mission of providing robust member service. This kind of liaison relationship does not foreclose the option of litigation, political advocacy, public relations, or other avenues for change, but it does serve as the bedrock for effective engagement with the government. This approach works and will continue to work as we move forward. Take, for example, a recent AILA liaison development that we hope will make a palpable difference in members’ practices.

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What Happened Yesterday

DSC_0673 (Medium)It was early Monday morning in Los Angeles and all along the West Coast of the United States, people were just waking up. Cars were jamming the freeways, lines were forming at coffee shops and TVs were tuned to the morning news. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the five men and three women who currently sit on the U.S. Supreme Court were hearing oral arguments in what is likely to be a seminal case involving immigration policy and more broadly, the president’s executive authority. The case seeks to resolve the controversy around the immigration initiatives President Obama announced in November 2014. For many who anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision, a resolution as to whether the expanded DACA and DAPA initiatives may proceed is a life-changing matter.

United States v. Texas traveled to the Supreme Court on a politically charged highway along which advocates and opponents threw many punches. The road was lengthy, and as the case made its way to the Supreme Court, many speculated as to its fate. Significantly, this past February, the Court lost Justice Antonin Scalia. As one of the most conservative justices on the court, his passing could have an impact on the result of the case.

I had the privilege of sitting in the courtroom and listened first-hand as Solicitor General of the United States Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing the Obama Administration, and Scott A. Keller, Solicitor General of Texas, delivered their arguments. Certain intervenors were permitted to make statements, including Tom Saenz at MALDEF, who forcefully represented the voices of three undocumented mothers, but the crux of the case was presented and argued by the parties’ respective attorneys.

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The H-1B Visa Program: The Dial-up Connection to the High-speed Wireless World

shutterstock_94209850There are far too many moments when the dysfunction of our outdated immigration system becomes crystal clear. One of those moments occurred this week when U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had received a record number of H-1B visa petitions during the five-day filing window for the coming fiscal year. Because our immigration laws are now more than a generation old, our system is simply not equipped for today’s reality – the H-1B program is like a dial-up connection in a high-speed wireless world.

A recent report shows that the presence of high-skilled immigrants improves a wide spectrum of the American economy and benefits U.S. workers. There is a direct correlation between the hiring of high-skilled immigrants and the creation of new jobs and new opportunities for economic growth in communities across the nation. The H-1B visa program is a way for U.S. businesses to hire those high-skilled immigrants.  But, with an artificial limit of 85,000 on the number who can come here, Congress has not made it easy for these essential workers to get here, even with a job offer in hand.

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ICE Fights to Detain and Deport Teenage Girl Despite Stay

FB_IMG_1454041598864Kimberly was just 17 when she went in front of an Atlanta immigration judge and was told she would be deported. There was no legal orientation. No one asked her why she left her native Honduras or whether she was afraid to be sent back there. Even the lawyer her family hired didn’t tell her she could fight her case—and worse, actually asked the judge to order her removed.

Now, after nearly two months in a for-profit immigration jail in Irwin County, Georgia—under conditions that would make you weep—Kimberly is literally fighting for her life. And by the time you read this, she may already be gone.

In 2014, Kimberly fled Honduras with her little sister—gang members had threatened to take her as their sexual property. At best, Kimberly could expect to be passed from man to man, but girls who don’t submit are often kidnapped, gang-raped and murdered, their mutilated bodies left as a warning to others. Honduras was the murder capital of the world in 2013—our own State Department recognizes a host of human rights violations, including killings, weak law enforcement and judiciary systems, and abuse and violence against women. There are few, if any protections from a government that is both corrupted and outgunned by gangs notorious for targeting women and girls. Physicians for Human Rights shared the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women report, which noted “violent deaths of women in Honduras had increased 263.4 percent between 2005 and 2013, and there is a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes.” Knowing there wasn’t anything anyone could do to protect her, Kimberly escaped to the United States.

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How the Years Add Up

shutterstock_384301372Imagine coming to the United States to seek asylum and having to wait four years just for an interview to decide whether you get to move forward with your claim. Four years. In most jurisdictions, asylum applicants are having to do just that: wait years for an interview, when before 2013, asylum applicants were able to obtain a decision on their petitions typically within four months. If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refers asylees’ cases to immigration court, their wait time is likely to extend for an additional two to three years. In the Los Angeles asylum office alone, there may be as many as 30,000 cases in the backlog. Nationally, close to 100,000 cases may be awaiting USCIS adjudications.

Once USCIS grants asylum status, if the immediate family of the asylee is overseas, he/she may file a petition so that the family may follow and join him/her in the United States. Currently this process may take up to six months. In theory then, it may take up to eight years for a separated family to be reunified. For gay applicants, the situation is even worse.

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Frustrations with H-1B Processing Delays Exacerbated by USCIS Stonewalling

shutterstock_154341992AILA members and their clients are well aware of the lengthening processing times for several product lines at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service centers.  However, most pronounced is the extraordinary expansion of processing times for H-1B extensions at both the California and Vermont Service Centers.  AILA has brought concerns regarding the delays in processing to the attention of USCIS in several different forums over the past several months.

We pointed out that according to the posted processing times, on September 30, 2015, the California Service Center was processing routine H-1B extensions that were filed on or before June 2, 2015.  Several months later, the November 30, 2015, report indicated that the processing date moved only 11 days – to June 13, 2015. Those who have tried to inquire with the National Customer Service Center regarding cases pending beyond the normal processing times have learned that the date has not moved significantly beyond June 13, 2015, in the 2 months since November 30, 2015.

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DHS Rule For Highly Skilled Immigrants: Helpful, But Timid

shutterstock_204239854Yesterday morning began with a panicked message from a software engineer employed by one of my corporate clients.  The engineer had “ported” his green card application, joining my client after having been sponsored by a prior employer for permanent residence.  The company was happy he had joined, since he brought needed skills to help upgrade the company’s infrastructure.  The engineer’s message related to his green card application: nine years after his immigrant visa petition had been approved, while he was waiting in the interminable backlog for high-skilled workers from India, USCIS decided to question its approval of the immigrant visa petition filed by the prior employer.  The engineer was now second-guessing his decision to have taken the position with my client, wondering if his immigration future might be more secure if he went back to the work he had been doing previously.

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Protecting the Survivors

shutterstock_242098315Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we wanted to take this opportunity to draw attention to the need for AILA member expertise to help survivors, the challenges involved, and also highlight some ways that immigration attorneys can make a huge difference by getting involved and offering assistance.

Immigration benefits for the survivors of domestic violence come in many forms, including Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, I-751 domestic violence-based waivers, U and T visas, and asylum cases. Whatever the benefit, immigrant survivors face numerous systemic, linguistic, and cultural barriers in accessing the legal protections designed to assist them. The lack of legal immigration status is commonly used as a weapon by abusers to maintain power and control within their relationships. Some common examples of this include threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on victims, withdrawing immigration papers, or telling victims that if they were to call the police, they would be the ones arrested for their lack of status.

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I-140 Employment Card Rule Could Be a Winner for Both American and Immigrant Workers

shutterstock_320637917It’s no secret that the U.S. has shortages of workers in a variety of fields. Our immigration system seemingly provides a solution to the problem. If an employer is willing to undertake a complicated recruiting process where the position is advertised in a variety of places and the employer is willing to pay the going wage rate in the community, and if the employer can show that there are no available, qualified U.S. workers, the employer can file a visa petition to sponsor an immigrant to fill the position. That would work, except that there are quota rules that mean many, if not most of those immigrants end up waiting decades in line to receive their green cards. Indian nationals in the EB-3 category for workers with bachelor’s degrees, for example, face backlogs that at least one study estimates may be as long as 70 years.

Many of these immigrants are already in the U.S. on temporary work visas and can work while awaiting a green card. But this is a small comfort. If an immigrant worker tries to change employers, the first employer could withdraw the visa petition and the immigrant could have to start the whole process all over again. The same is true if the employer goes out of business. And because the immigrant visa petition is for a specific position at a specific salary in a specific geographic location, job mobility for these employees is extremely limited. Any sort of move, such as a promotion to a higher paid position or a transfer to another location, could jeopardize the green card process. So people wait. And wait. And wait.

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Indian Independence Day

shutterstock_134525195“Progress is implied in independence. Without self-government neither industrial progress is possible, nor the educational scheme will be useful to the nation…” – Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

When you think of the phrase “Independence Day,” naturally you think of July 4th and wonderful images of BBQs, apple pie and fireworks come to mind. August 15th is Indian Independence Day, which is relatively recent, having begun in 1947. It certainly feels recent to me since my father was ten years old at the time. Of course he later moved to Britain, where I was born, making me a British Citizen, therefore setting me up for a lifetime of combined pride and self-loathing. In the U.S., Indian Independence Day on August 15th is celebrated in numerous cities, and with a number of parades and parties.

India has come a long way. Just shy of one quarter of the world’s population and the world’s largest democracy, it is amazing to see the progress over the last decade. Modern cities and developments have sprung up all over India. The economy is booming and India is creating many different items for export. Perhaps its largest and most valuable export though, is people, in particular, highly educated people.

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