2015 July

Watch out for Diversity Visa Scams

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Every year the Department of State conducts a “Diversity Visa Lottery,” where people from all over the world who wish to become lawful permanent residents of the United States enter their information online, and several thousand are selected.  The only “real” requirement is that the applicant have a high school diploma (and not be a criminal, etc., etc.).  Every year, the Department of State database gets hacked (surprise, surprise).  And every year, many people are taken in by scams, believe they have been selected, and send money to the hackers.  Finally, every year, we hear from at least one victim, telling us they have paid the fee, and now need our help to proceed.  PLEASE don’t fall victim to this scam.  As of today, there are no “slots” left in this fiscal year’s lottery, which ends October 1, 2015.  That is, if you have not heard from the Department of State by now, you were not selected.  If you get an email that you think is “legit” for the 2015-2016 lottery, you are welcome to contact our firm.  We do not charge to check whether you have been scammed or not.

For those who are trying for the 2015-2016 lottery, good luck, but be careful!

Suman’s Surprise – An EB-1 Outstanding Researcher Success

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Suman

I don’t know “Suman” very well, as I have mostly worked with her husband, “Karan.” Suman was born in India, but spent a part of her adult life living in other parts of Asia as she followed Karan’s career around the world. Besides continuing to work full time, Suman was the primary caretaker for the couple’s child. She has been living in the United States for about a year and loves it here!

Karan is an outstanding researcher in the field of Biotechnology. His arduous research at a major US university is helping to improve the environment both in the United States and overseas. He is also helping to develop crops that will not only grow more efficiently, but will taste better to consumers.

As citizens of India, it was quite difficult for Karan, Suman and their daughter to obtain permanent residence in the United States. There is an annual quota for each category of permanent residence. Each country can only use 7% of the quota each year, so certain categories are oversubscribed, and that country’s citizens must wait years to “move to the head of the line” with respect to the quota.

In Karan’s case, there were two ways he could get permanent residence. The easier way would be to prove that his work is in the national interest (we all want a better environment and better tasting crops, I think), that it would have nationwide benefits (ditto) and that his work is exceptional among his peers. However, this particular category is so oversubscribed among citizens of India that the family’s wait for permanent residence would have been close to ten years. During this time, it would have been very difficult, or maybe impossible, for Suman to work legally in the United States. The family would have to survive on one postdoctoral researcher’s income. Sadly, in spite of the importance of Karan’s work, this pay is not enough for a family of three.

So we tried a different category; “outstanding” researcher, or category EB-1. This category has a much higher standard, but it is not oversubscribed. The family could become permanent residents within about 90 days of the immigration officer’s finding that Karan’s work is “outstanding.” Suman would be able to keep working. (She had a temporary work authorization that she would not have been able to renew after the end of August, 2015).

It was getting close to August. The family was facing the loss of Suman’s income, which would have led to very difficult times. So Karan turned to me for help.

I reviewed Karan’s cv with him, and told him that I thought his work was outstanding, but that I was not the one who would decide his case. I could only prepare an application package and submit it to USCIS. I worked intensely with Karan over a six-week period to gather reference letters from his peers, along with about 80 other supporting documents. Karan paid the government an additional $1,225 “premium processing” fee, over and above the normal $2,720 government filing fee, to insure that the government would make a decision about whether or not his work was “outstanding” within 15 days. Quite a gamble when the government’s standard of review is often prohibitive in these cases. Karan, who was aware of the risk, was willing to take it to ensure his family’s future.

Sure enough, within about a week, we received a preliminary approval notice, and I expect the family to become permanent residents before the end of the year.

So why is this blog post called “Suman’s Surprise?” Because Karan decided to surprise Suman with the approval. In fact, he didn’t even tell her he was submitting the preliminary application package. When it was approved, Karan took his family out to Maggiano’s for a great Italian dinner. He first handed his phone to a friend to take a video. Then he told Suman he was giving her an early birthday present, and handed her an envelope with the preliminary approval notice inside. There were several other associated documents, and Suman took a few minutes to leaf through them, trying to understand the significance.

Finally, she “got it.” Watching the video of her face move from confusion to exuberance was one of the most rewarding moments of my career. Suman gradually realized that her family would be able to remain in the United States indefinitely, that she would be able to continue working, and that their child would be a “normal” part of the American fabric. Her smile grew bigger as she figured out each implication of the pieces of paper in her hands. As she got up to hug Karan, he told the camera, “I didn’t tell her.” The couple’s daughter caught the mood and began hugging both parents, running from one side of the table to the other.

I hope that I get to meet Suman, Karan and their daughter one day. They live far from Chicago so they will have to plan a family “road trip.” But whether I ever meet them or not, I am glad that the United States will continue to benefit from their presence here.

The inadequacy of the In-Country Refugee/Parole Program for Central American Minors (CAM)

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On December 1, 2014, a new program was announced by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in response to the “surge” of immigrant minors at the border during the summer of 2014. The program implemented by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is now called CAM which stands for the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program. It is specifically designed to help minors living in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who have parents lawfully residing in the United States to escape the violence and turmoil in their native country.  It is dubbed “a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States.” Information on who is eligible to apply for the program and a description of the process can be found at the following link: http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees/country-refugeeparole-processing-minors-honduras-el-salvador-and-guatemala-central-american-minors-cam

As of April 23, 2015 the program has only received 461 applications, none of which have been adjudicated. The estimated processing time for an application is 9 months to a year. In the mean time there are no protections offered to the children awaiting adjudication. The “safe, legal, and orderly alternative” characterization of the program belies its true nature.  The reality is that these children do not have time to wait 9 to 12 months, and even to a casual observer this seems absurd. Essentially the U.S. government is saying, “You say you fear for your life because you have already been persecuted or you have a well-founded fear of future persecution? That’s nice. Please return to your scary life for 9 to 12 months while we look into that. And I’m sorry, even though speaking to U.S. government officials could expose you to even more danger, we have no protection to offer you. But thanks for applying!”

And let’s further discuss that 461 figure mentioned above. That number seems awfully low compared to the surge of thousands who came in the summer of 2014 and are still coming to our southern borders seeking refuge. It might be said that the program is inadequately publicized but the experience in our office has been that plenty of people in the Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan community are aware of the program and its benefits.

The issue comes from the lack of funding provided to the local designated resettlement agencies here in the United States who are supposed to be helping the parents here in the United States to submit their applications.  During a recent teleconference hosted by USCIS on March 31, 2015, several callers were directors or employees of these resettlement agencies stating that they cannot meet the burden placed upon them to fill out the initial application because they have no budget to support this program. We have heard this complaint from some of our own clients who state that they called 3 or 4 resettlement agencies here in the Washington, D.C. area and none of them were able to assist in filling out this application. How is this program supposed to provide the necessary relief when clients can’t even get basic access to submit their applications?

Furthermore this program has been designed to cut attorneys out of the loop so that the parents who want legal representation during the process do not have that option. The application form can only be accessed and completed with the assistance of a designated resettlement agency, which has no funding to staff someone to assist you with filling out the application. As attorneys all we can do is advise our clients on the potential strength of their children’s claim but at this point there seems to be no other avenue for us to intervene or assist.

At best this program is a loose band-aid for the current crisis at the southern border. At its worst it puts the lives of the refugees at risk because it provides no protection for those who speak to U.S. government officials in connection with these applications. We hope that Congress will heed the appeals of the immigrant advocates who recently testified before them regarding this program and will take active steps to improve it. To view the hearing please click on the following link: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/eroding-the-law-and-diverting-taxpayer-resources-an-examination-of-the-administrations-central-american-minors-refugee/parole-program