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

Family-Based Immigration- How long does it take?

One way for a foreign national to become a lawful permanent resident, and eventually a citizen, is through family-based immigration. US Citizens and lawful permanent residents may file a petition with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) known as a “Petition for Alien Relative” (I-130) for certain close relatives. Those include spouse, parent, son or daughter, or sibling.

How long does it take to get to the next step of applying for the visa or green card in family-based immigration?

If the I-130 is approved the length of time to apply for a visa depends on the status of the US relative (citizen or permanent resident). It also depends on their relationship to the intending immigrant and the country that they are coming from.  If the petitioner is an adult US citizen, and the intended immigrant is an “immediate relative” (spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or parent) they may apply for an immigrant visa as soon as the I-130 is approved.

But, if the intending immigrant is not an “immediate relative” for purposes of immigration, they could have a long wait.  That individual must wait for their “priority date” to become current.  The priority date is the date upon which the I-130 is filed with USCIS.  Each month, the Department of State publishes a Visa Bulletin, indicating the priority dates for applications being accepted that month.  In order to be eligible to apply for the visa based on an approved I-130, the priority date must be on or before the date published in the Visa Bulletin.

As an example, in the February 2018 Visa Bulletin, a citizen of the Philippines who has an approved petition that was filed by his US Citizen brother on or before March 1, 1995 is currently eligible to apply for an immigrant visa. That’s a wait of nearly 23 years.

If you are interested in filing a family-based immigration petition for a relative, or in exploring immigration options for yourself, contact the The Mazza Law Group to schedule a consultation with an Immigration Lawyer to review the options available and the time frames involved.

International Student: Immigration Consequences of Criminal Charges

Consider the following scenario:  Jacques is a foreign national and is admitted to a university in the United States.  He goes to the US consulate in his home country to apply for the visa.  After all the paperwork is in order and he is deemed to be admissible to the US, he is granted a visa.  With that visa, he can enter the US, attend school as an international student, and travel home to visit over the holidays, re-entering the US for the next semester at school.

However, let’s assume Jacques is arrested for Driving Under the Influence, or Possession of Marijuana and Paraphernalia.  Not to worry, the police officer tells him, and perhaps even his lawyer tells him, because he is eligible for a first-offender program which places him on probation without a conviction on his record.   He is told to just stay out of trouble and pay the fine, and that will be the end of it.

Unfortunately, many international students learn the hard way that they face the prospect of having their student visas revoked and being deemed “inadmissible” to the United States.  Even though their offenses may be misdemeanors and they receive minimal punishment, immigration laws are strict with regards to alcohol and controlled substance offenses. Some students may get notice that the visa has been revoked, while others may not learn until they attempt to return to the US after visiting home.

A foreign national charged with a crime should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who is well versed in immigration law, or who will consult with an immigration attorney, as soon as possible- even if charges have not yet been filed, because an attorney may be able to engage in helpful negotiations with law enforcement or prosecutors.  After charges are filed- the “crimmigration” attorney can work to help Jacques resolve the charges in a way that minimizes his immigration consequences as a international student and in the future.

If Jacques does receive notice that his visa has been revoked, he should consult with an immigration attorney before traveling outside the United States.  The attorney can help him decide whether he should return home to apply for a new visa, and if he does, how best to present himself during that process.

If you are an international student at Penn State or Lock Haven University and you have had contact with law enforcement, call to schedule an appointment with the immigration and criminal defense attorneys at The Mazza Law Group, PC.

Immigration Temporary Protected Status Ending for Haitians

On November 20, 2017, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will be ending for approximately 59,000 nationals of Haiti who entered the US following the devastating effects of the 2010 earthquake on the island nation, and must either gain a different legal immigration status or leave by July 22, 2019. This follows a decision last month ending similar protections for Nicaraguan and nationals, as well as the termination of temporary protected status for citizens of Sudan (announced September 18, 2017).

These terminations raise additional questions for those impacted by immigration law and policy in the US:  Will the administration continue to terminate these programs which allow individuals to flee war, natural disasters or catastrophes?  Is there anything that can be done for individuals learning that their temporary status will be being terminated?

Because these programs are temporary, they periodically come up for renewal, and over the next two years, the Secretary of Homeland Security will be announcing decisions regarding several nations- whether the TPS should continue, or whether the individuals and their respective countries should prepare for return and reintegration.  Only time will tell as to when TPS will end for foreign nationals of Honduras, El Salvador, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Many of those who have benefitted from temporary protected status have gone to college, been employed, had children (who are American citizens) and have otherwise become part of the communities in which they live in the US.  What should TPS beneficiaries, their employers and families do upon learning that the status will be terminated?  From the recent decisions, it appears that a period of orderly transition is being allowed, during which the foreign national will be able to live and work in the US.  If they wish to remain, there may be forms of relief through family, employment, or student status.  An immigration attorney can review their specific circumstances and provide advice regarding whether they have an option to adjust status and seek a more permanent immigration benefit.

DACA – What to Do While Awaiting Possible Reform?

DACA Recipients and Employers. It has been over a month since the current administration announced that it would be ending President Obama’s executive order known as DACA- or deferred action for childhood arrivals.  President Trump has urged Congress to take action with respect to the “dreamers”- those undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, who have no criminal record and are generally either students or employed.

Unfortunately, the current state of affairs creates a great deal of uncertainty for DACA recipients, their families, and their employers.  A legislative solution is a possibility, but no one can be sure what that will entail and whether it will get through Congress.

In the meanwhile, what should DACA recipients or their employers do to avoid the potentially harsh consequences of losing this form of relief?

First of all, an immigration attorney should be consulted to discuss all potential avenues for relief.  There may be immigration benefits available which would only be discovered after a thorough discussion with an attorney about the individual’s family, how and when they entered the US, their employment and education, whether they are a victim or witness to criminal activity, or may be a victim of abuse or human trafficking.  For example, some individuals may have a claim to citizenship through a parent that was a citizen.  Some may be eligible for relief based on their level of education or outstanding achievement in their field of study or employment.  Still others may be eligible for relief if they have assisted or cooperated with law enforcement in the prosecution of crime.

There have been reports of the potential effects of DACA on employers around the country, who may lose valuable employees and suffer as a reduced labor force.  An employer may be able to assist a DACA recipient by filing an employment-based petition or by helping the employee in finding and retaining an immigration lawyer to explore the potential forms of relief available.

Finally, DACA recipients and their employers must keep abreast of legislative, administrative, and executive changes that affect their status to be prepared to apply for any new forms of relief that become available as soon as possible, and to avoid violating immigration or labor laws.

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.