The Mazza Law Group, P.C.
2790 W. College Ave., Suite 800
State College, PA 16801 March 10, 2016
(814) 237-6255

H-1B Visa Enforcement under the new administration

Since taking office in January, President Trump and his administration have announced a “targeted approach” in the investigation of employment-based visa fraud.  Therefore, it is important for employers who hire foreign nationals on a temporary basis under the H-1B visa program to comply with the law and regulations of the program.

The H-1B visa program allows employers to temporarily hire highly skilled foreign nationals in specialty fields when there is a shortage of US citizens or lawful permanent residents to fill those positions.   Employers must meet specific requirements, such as filing a labor condition application with the Department of Labor.  This application requires an employer to establish that foreign nationals will be paid in accordance with the actual and prevailing wage, and that working conditions will be equivalent for both American and foreign nationals, to avoid unfair competition that arises when foreign workers are paid less than US citizens or lawful permanent residents for the same positions.

According to a recent press release, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will conduct site visits to employers with a focus on:

  • Cases for which USCIS cannot validate the employer’s basic business information through commercially available data;
  • H-1B-dependent employers (those who have a high ratio of H-1B workers as compared to U.S. workers, as defined by statute); and
  • Employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organization’s location.

If you are an employer of foreign nationals, it is important to remain informed of policy changes and the enforcement priorities under the new administration.  The lawyers at The Mazza Law Group are closely monitoring new developments in the law and policy on a daily basis.  If you need representation in an immigration matter, please call our office to schedule a confidential consultation today!

Immigration Status following Inauguration

What does the change in administration, and potential change in immigration policy mean to my immigration status?

Given that a new President is being Inaugurated, many immigration lawyers have been receiving an increased number of inquiries from individuals concerned about whether the new administration’s immigration policies will affect their status, or their plans to apply for a green card, citizenship, employment authorization, or any other immigration benefit.

Right now, our country’s immigration statute, the INA (Immigration and Naturalization Act) remains in full force and effect.  Any changes to that law would require an act of Congress.

However, there are areas of immigration law that have been shaped by Executive Actions- for example, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (commonly known as DACA) which was enacted in 2012 by President Obama and expanded immigration benefits.  Another example of an Executive Action, which limited immigration benefits, was President Obama’s recent decision to end the policy which allowed Cuban refugees who reached the shores of the United States to have a fast track to permanent residency. The executive branch of our federal government also has the ability to make priorities in terms of enforcement of the immigration laws which are in place.

Right now, there is no way to accurately predict which Executive Actions will be issued, what prosecutorial discretion will be exercised, and how immigration policies will change in the coming months and years.

Now more than ever, it is important to consult an immigration lawyer before filing any immigration applications.  Immigration lawyers will be diligently reviewing any new Executive Actions or changes in the law and policy and can advise you of the best course of action in your case.

If you have a question about becoming a legal permanent resident, citizen, or have any other question about your immigration status or that of a loved one, contact the Immigration Lawyer at the Mazza Law Group.

Citizenship by Naturalization

Back in 1999, my brother and I were fortunate to be present when my father, an immigrant from Croatia, took the oath of citizenship in a naturalization ceremony in Philadelphia.  Although he had been a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) for decades, he was finally sworn in among immigrants from all over the world.  He immediately registered to vote and applied for a US passport, and now enjoys all the privileges of US citizenship.   While my father’s journey to become a lawful permanent resident happened years before I was born, I became interested in becoming an Immigration Lawyer to help others attain legal status and citizenship in the US.

In order to be eligible to naturalize, an individual must be 18 years of age or older (children can often naturalize when their parents become citizens); have been an LPR residing in the United States for at least five years (three years for a spouse of a citizen); have a basic knowledge of US government; be of good moral character; have a period of continuous residence in the United States, and be able to read, write and speak basic English.  There are exceptions to some of these requirements.  An Immigration Lawyer can discuss these with you.

Assuming eligibility, once an individual is an LPR, what are the steps to becoming a citizen?  First, you must file form N-400 with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services).  You must also pay the filing fee of $595, plus biometrics fee of $85, but the application fee will be increasing to $640 as of December 23, 2016.

Once your application is processed, you will be sent an appointment for an interview, where you will talk to an agent, take a civics and an English test, and, depending on your file and results of your test, you may take the oath of citizenship that day!

It may be advisable to speak to a lawyer before applying for citizenship. For example, if you have been charged with a crime, or have any issue with unlawful presence in the country, you should know that your immigration status will be reviewed carefully when you apply for citizenship, and any such issues that come to the attention of immigration officials could lead to removal proceedings.  An Immigration Lawyer can advise you whether you should apply for citizenship.

This is a great time to apply for naturalization before fees increase!  If you have any questions about your eligibility to become a US citizen, contact the Mazza Law Group today!

Attorney Stolinas admitted | American Immigration Lawyers Assoc.

State College Attorney Helen Stolinas of The Mazza Law Group, PC, has recently been admitted to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

In order to become a member of AILA, an attorney must be admitted to the bar of his or her state, and is subject to approval by the national and local chapters.  Attorney Stolinas was qualified for admission due to her good standing as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar since 1992.

Within the past several months, Ms. Stolinas has consulted with clients and family members of individuals seeking Immigration benefits from Mexico, South Africa, the Philippines, Tanzania, India, China, and Kenya. Regarding her practice, Stolinas states: “Immigration law is extremely complex and ever-changing.  It is important to remain up to date on these changes in law and policy, and the resources provided by AILA help me do that.”

In addition to American Immigration Law, Ms. Stolinas’ practice areas include Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation.  If you have a legal question about your Immigration status or that of a loved one, please contact The Mazza Law Group to schedule an appointment.

 

Immigration Law Update: Removal based Aggravated Felony

Immigration Law Update: In a decision which will impact consequences of criminal convictions and limit immigration benefits, on May 19, 2016, the Supreme Court decided in Luna Torres v. Lynch that certain state, local, and federal offenses are “aggravated felonies”. Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), an alien (non-citizen) convicted of an aggravated felony can be subject to removal (deportation).

George Luna Torres had been a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) in the United States since he was a child.  In 1999, he was convicted of third degree arson in New York State, and was sentenced to one day in jail and five years of probation.  Some seven years later, immigration officials discovered the conviction and placed him in removal proceedings. He applied for a benefit known as “cancellation of removal” which allows an immigration judge some discretion to consider mitigating factors and cancel the deportation proceedings.  The judge found that because his offense was an “aggravated felony” he was unable to grant cancellation of removal, regardless of any mitigating factors on behalf of Mr. Luna Torres.

The court’s decision hinged on whether the third degree arson was described in the list of aggravated felonies- which includes enumerated federal offenses or state, local or foreign offenses that are “described” in the list of federal offenses.  Torres argued that his third degree arson was not “described” in that list because it lacked one element of the federal arson statute- the element requiring a connection to interstate commerce.

The Supreme Court decided that element is jurisdictional in nature, and its absence did not remove the arson from classification as an aggravated felony. Therefore, the ruling denying relief was affirmed.

Any alien facing a criminal charge should consult a lawyer with knowledge and experience in both criminal and immigration law to learn whether the charge is an “aggravated felony” under the INA.  Contact the Mazza Law Group today to talk to an experienced lawyer who can help you if you have an immigration issue relating to a criminal offense, or if you are a non-citizen charged with a crime.

Immigration Law – Student Visa

Student Visa – Immigration Law: Extension of Optional Training Period for certain foreign students extended- new rules take effect May 10, 2016

An immigration benefit for students has recently been expanded.  Certain foreign nationals with student visas who earn degrees from US institutions of higher education in the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) may remain in the country for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completing their studies.  Students with student visas who have been granted permission to remain in the United States for twelve months of OPT may now extend their stay for an additional 24 months, pursuant to rules set forth by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and which go into effect on May 10, 2016. This replaces the prior 17-month extension that was already in effect.  In order to qualify, the OPT must be in same field as the student’s primary area of study.

Along with the additional immigration benefit, regulations and oversight have been put into place along with this extension.  For example, employers must provide a formal training plan, DHS may conduct announced and unannounced site visits, and US full, part-time, permanent or temporary workers may not be replaced by students in OPT programs.  Students and employers will also be required to complete evaluations and report their progress to DHS throughout the period of training. They must also report any changes to the training program or employment status.

These regulations may benefit many current students and recent graduates of Penn State.  If you are a student or an employer and have a question about a student visa or other immigration law matter, call The Mazza Law Group to speak with an immigration lawyer who can explain your rights and the benefits for which you may be eligible.

Deferred Action for Immigrants

Deferred Action: Supreme Court to hear arguments regarding Executive Action to expand DACA  (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for parents of US Citizens and Permanent Residents). On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding President Obama’s executive actions to expand relief under certain programs meant to benefit certain immigrants who arrived as children or who are parents of United States Citizens.

At issue will be whether the executive actions were within the scope of the President’s authority under the Constitution.  Proponents of the programs argue that the President has the authority to direct the activities and enforcement of the federal agencies, while opponents of the program argue that the actions could adversely affect economic conditions in certain states, and that the action exceeded the President’s authority.  It is expected that the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in June.

The attorneys at The Mazza Law Group will be monitoring the Supreme Court’s decision carefully.  Should the expanded relief under DACA and DAPA be upheld, there will be potential immigration benefits to many individuals.

If you have questions about your immigration status and whether you may qualify for an immigration benefit, contact The Mazza Law Group to speak confidentially with a lawyer about your rights.