Adjustment of Status through Marriage

By Peek & Toland on May 13, 2021

Ah, wedding bells—congratulations! In addition to the toaster, bath towels, and such you receive as congratulatory gifts, as a newlywed, you can apply for a Permanent Resident Card (most commonly referred to as a Green Card).

You’ve taken your vows, made it through the spousal immigration process, and you’re on your way to citizenship, right? Not so fast.

Marriage + Green Card does not automatically = citizenship. If you’re seeking citizenship for your spouse, there are some important steps and caveats you need to know. Let’s take a look.

It’s a common misconception that citizenship is automatically granted to a foreign national who marries a U.S. citizen, but the truth is that it’s only a stepping stone on that pathway. A pathway with many other steps and requirements. I’m sure you’re aware of the various ways to adjust your status, but we’re looking closely at the route to citizenship through marriage.

So, what comes after getting a Green Card?

First, you must know that the initial Green Card you receive is a Conditional Green Card for two years. There are strings attached, that is why it’s called conditional. At the end of the two years, you’re due for a check-up. Now, this is not to be confused with a Visa renewal. We’re talking about the form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. This is essentially an evaluation of your marriage after two years.

You may have taken vows of a lifetime commitment to your spouse, but Immigration needs a bit more than your word to verify the validity of your marriage and ensure you are abiding by the terms of your residency. 

Let’s first take a look at the timeline for this verification process.

As I mentioned, this verification comes at the end of the two years. It’s incredibly important you do not miss that deadline, as failure to meet the deadline has serious consequences for your likelihood of earning permanent residency and much less citizenship. You can begin the filing process as early as 90 days before the end of those two years.

So, better late than never really is not an acceptable sentiment in this process. It’s more of an “early bird gets the worm” type of deal, and you’re so much better off if you start this process as soon as possible.

I-751: More Than Filing a Form

As we mentioned, Immigration will not just accept your original vows or your word on your marriage status. They want evidence. This process is much like re-applying, as you have to provide significant materials to prove the validity of your marriage.

Honestly, it’s quite a lot, and an experienced immigration attorney can help you collect and prepare the necessary evidence to satiate Immigration’s inquires and check all of their boxes.

The good news is while Immigration is processing this form, you’re able to keep accumulating time here. And if you don’t know, after three years of permanent residency and having met all of the immigration requirements to validate your marriage, you can file for naturalization.

So, while it might seem like an arduous process (and, it is), it has the potential to lead to citizenship.

 I Do, then I Don’t—Now What?

Everything we’ve discussed here so far pertains to marriages that remain happily intact, but we all know that not every story has a fairytale ending. So, what if you’re no longer happily married? What if you’re separated or have started divorce proceedings? You still have options, albeit much more complicated ones. If you’ve not met the marital conditions of your permanent residency, you may still potentially keep your residency, but you need to talk to a lawyer.

As always, our experienced immigration attorneys would love to speak with you about your options and help secure your path to citizenship, so reach out to us if any of this applies to you or someone you know. Continue to follow along with us on social media, where we will continue to dissect the aspects of immigration that are important to you.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

DACA and Traveling Abroad: A Pathway to Citizenship?

By Peek & Toland on February 3, 2021

When it comes to immigration issues, and DACA especially, the questions concerning permits and permissions usually surround wanting to stay within the U.S., but what if you are here through the DACA program and want to temporarily leave the U.S.? Can you do so legally and return to the U.S.? There are many reasons someone might need or want to temporarily leave the United States, so let’s take a look at what that means for Dreamers.

You need more than DACA to leave

As mentioned, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program that allows people who came to the United States as children to legally live within the U.S. borders without being a full U.S. citizen. If you’re wanting to venture outside of the U.S., you will need more than your DACA status to do so and safely and legally return here. Attempting to leave the U.S. and return with DACA alone can result in your DACA status being revoked indefinitely. While the short answer is that DACA does not grant access to leave and return to the U.S., there are other options that will allow this.

Advance Parole

Advance Parole is a process in U.S. immigration law that allows immigrants to leave the U.S. and then re-enter lawfully. This process was readily open and widely used during the Obama administration. Now that President Biden is in office and has announced applications for Advance Parole will be processed, it’s the perfect opportunity to look at who can travel outside of the U.S. and re-enter through this program and how.

Not all Fun and Games

The Advance Parole permit is quite appealing, and for reasons far greater and more desirable than an extended vacation in the Caribbean. This program can literally be life-changing for qualifying Dreamers, as re-entry into the United States under Advance Parole is considered a lawful entry into the U.S. What’s the significance there? A lawful entry into the U.S. from an approved trip abroad means eligibility to apply for a Green Card, thus creating a clear path to citizenship for Dreamers. Wow, right? Wow, indeed, but why aren’t Dreamers lining up en masse to apply for Advance Parole? Unfortunately, Advance Parole is more limited and has tighter allowances for Dreamers than it is for other immigrants.

Strictly Business

When it comes to telling U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) why you, as a Dreamer, need Advance Parole to leave and re-enter the U.S., your circumstances need to be exceptional and serious, as USCIS does not grant Advanced Parole with DACA for vacations and fun. While you might feel you desperately and urgently need a vacation in Cancun, the generally accepted situations USCIS counts as exceptional are more along the lines of urgent emergencies, important events like somebody’s wedding, a funeral, visiting a sick relative, giving blood, or otherwise helping somebody wind up their affairs or legal matters outside the country. Permissible reasons for travel can also be for business, training, and study abroad programs. Because of the very tight restrictions and scrutiny on Dreamers, it’s very important to have capable counsel advise you on your Advance Parole application.

Why is it important?

Of course, needing to travel out of the country to help a family in need or attend training or an important event is important; but, as I mentioned earlier, the act of legally re-entering the U.S. creates pathways for secured legal status in the U.S. in a few ways: having a passport stamped, being inspected legally for the first time, is a new legal entry which will now open the door for citizenship, which also allows for citizenship for a future spouse. Also, if you were somebody who came in illegally, that could be the difference between being able to get residency here in the United States or having to apply through another process that’s much longer and much more expensive. If you or your family aren’t eligible for those options, there are others.

Parole in Place

Another option for a pathway to citizenship is through a unique program for qualifying undocumented family members of U.S. military personnel, both active and veteran. Parole in Place allows non-citizen family members who are in the U.S. unlawfully to apply for a green card, without having to leave the country. While parole in place is usually for spouses of people in the military, this program is also for children of persons in the military, and even parents of those who are in the military. Qualifying candidates must show in their application the relation they have with this person in the military and that they’re either active or honorably discharged from the military. Once granted, Parole in Place treats you as though you have left and re-entered the U.S., inspected lawfully and legally, though you don’t actually have to leave—hence the in place.

While you may want to leave, may be able to leave, or maybe treated as though you’ve left, there are a few options for changing your status that is very much worth reviewing with one of our qualified and passionate immigration attorneys who have helped many families reunite and get residency through these processes.

Continue to tune into Immigration Wednesdays and keep up with us on social media as we expand the conversation on immigration processes in the coming weeks. We’re very excited about all the updates and changes from this new administration, and we hope we can help you secure your life here through some of these programs.

Posted in Citizenship, Deferred Action, Immigration

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Learn English In Less Than A Year for Citizenship Test

By Peek & Toland on October 28, 2020

Learning a foreign language, like English, is not easy, but it is possible to achieve. Immigration attorney Jeff Peek gives you eight tips that helped him learn Spanish in less than ten months. These tips can be applied to learning any foreign language. Still, it’s especially beneficial for those who want to learn English and are applying for citizenship and have to take the USCIS naturalization test.

  1. Have a base knowledge of the language. 
  2. Immerse yourself in the language and the culture. 
  3. Travel to that foreign-speaking country alone. 
  4. Develop daily habits of practice.
  5. If you can, get a tutor.
  6. Find things to tune your ear, such as listening to music, watching movies, etc.  
  7. Find yourself a close friend or boyfriend/girlfriend who speaks the language.
  8. Continue learning and practicing. 

If you do all these tips, you will find that the first two months would be rough, but then about month three, it just starts slowing down. You begin understanding people, and you can express yourself better. The steep curve starts flattening out a bit, and you can switch your brain to the foreign language you are trying to learn.  

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

Two Important Legal Terms that Affect Permanent Residents

By Peek & Toland on August 19, 2020

Attorney Jeff Peek discusses two legal terms that could potentially affect permanent residents who want to apply for U.S. citizenship or have been outside the U.S. for an extended period of time. 

Those two terms are physical presence and continuous residence. When someone wants to apply for citizenship, they have to prove two things: they need to maintain continuous residency in the United States and maintain physical presence in the United States. While both terms sound similar, they are two separate things.

Continuous residence
Continuous residence has to do with where you live, where you establish your domicile or dwelling place. Typically, for a permanent resident applying for citizenship, you have to have five years of continuous residency in the United States. If you are married to a U.S. Citizen, then it’s three years.

Now, what does that mean? If you have been outside of the United States for more than six months, but less than one year, then there is a presumption that you abandoned your continuous residence in the United States. You may overcome that presumption with evidence that you went outside for a job, maintained your house or apartment when you left or had immediate family members that stayed back while you went abroad. It’s a rebuttable presumption, but once you get over a year, you’re not going to rebut that presumption. They will say you are not eligible because you did not maintain your continuous residence here in the United States.

If you’re outside of the United States for more than a year, you can potentially encounter problems when coming back to the United States. When you’re out of the country for more than one year, you probably need to call a lawyer before you try to come back in to see if that’s going to be problematic for you.

Physical Presence
Physical presence is that you have to live here more than half the time, more than 50%. So if your period is five years for applying for U.S. citizenship, you will need to be in the United States for at least two and a half years. If it’s three years, because you’re married to a U.S. citizen, it’s one and a half years. That means you will need to count up every physical day you are outside the United States. You will want to check your passport and make sure that’s not going to be an issue. If you’ve spent over 50% of your time outside the United States, it will disqualify you for citizenship.

Physical presence and continuous residency, terms that can affect your citizenship eligibility, and if not followed, you could potentially lose your residence.

If you are a permanent resident and would like to apply for U.S. citizenship or have any immigration questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 512-474-4445 to book a consultation.

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Posted in Citizenship, Green Cards, Immigration

80,000 Texas Residents Caught in Naturalization Delays

By Peek & Toland on March 12, 2020

A recent Houston Chronicle article details how more than 80,000 prospective Texans are caught up in the immense backlog of U.S. citizenship applications. Cases that formerly took about six months to process now are taking a year and a half or longer to process. As of the end of June 2019, about 80,000 citizenship applications were pending in Texas, which is a considerable increase from the 50,000 pending applications that existed in June 2016.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration continues to enact reforms that some advocates claim are making the citizenship process even more challenging for immigrants. For example, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) have proposed significant increases in citizenship application fees, from $725 to $1,170 for most applicants. USCIS also has proposed eliminating waivers for immigrants who cannot afford to pay the filing fees. About one-third of all immigrants who are eligible for citizenship currently need the waivers. Nonetheless, USCIS maintains that the fee increase is necessary to offset the in-depth screenings that it requires during the naturalization process. USCIS also points out that it naturalized 833,000 new citizens this year, which is the highest number in 11 years.

80,000 Texas Residents Caught in Naturalization Delays

Although the Trump Administration has made some efforts to increase staffing to process these applications, such as having USCIS conduct interviews on Saturdays as well as during weekdays, the measures still fall far short of substantially decreasing the backlog. Some advocates even claim that the backlog is a concerted effort aimed at silencing the number of minority voters in the 2020 election. Significant delays in the naturalization process make it more likely that these individuals will become citizens in time to register and vote.

Backlogs in citizenship applications have grown even more substantially in Texas as opposed to other areas of the country. For instance, earlier this year, when Texas legislators from both parties collaborated in sending a letter to USCIS, wait times ranged from 17 to 21.5 months in Houston, as opposed to 9.5 months in Los Angeles and 10.5 months in Queens, New York.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases every day and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to resolve your immigration law case successfully.

Posted in Citizenship

USCIS Implements Electronic Registration System for H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on December 12, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it would debut its electronic registration system in time for the next H-1B lottery. After completing a successful pilot testing phase, USCIS will require all employers seeking to file H-1B cap-subject visa petitions for the fiscal year 2021 to first register electronically and pay a $10 registration fee. According to USCIS, the move will streamline the process substantially in cutting down on the flow of paperwork and data between USCIS and the employers. USCIS also lauds the move as a step toward modernizing and transforming USCIS from a paper-based process to an online filing system.

Traditionally, employers seeking H-1B workers subject to the cap filed their full petitions and accompanying documents with USCIS to participate in the lottery process. In contrast, the electronic registration system will require employers only to submit basic information about their business and each requested worker. USCIS then will use these electronic registrations to conduct the lottery process. Only the employers with registrations chosen in the lottery will qualify to submit H-1B cap-subject visa petitions to USCIS. Therefore, employers not selected in the lottery no longer will have to go through the time-consuming and costly process of preparing and mailing a full petition to USCIS.

Applying for an Immigration visa.

The initial registration period for the 2021 H-1B cap selection process will occur from March 1 to March 20, 2020. As it grows closer to the open registration period, USCIS will post additional instructions, dates, and timelines for participants. USCIS also may extend or reopen the registration period if it does not initially receive the number of registrations needed to reach the allowable number of visa petitions. Whether an employer registers during the initial registration period, a subsequent period, or a period before another H-1B lottery in the future, the employer will have to pay the required $10 fee.

The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your individual or business immigration matter. We will be taking appointments to discuss your options and how to reserve your place on our client list in the coming weeks. If you are interested in the H-1B process, it’s important to make a reservation early with an immigration attorney so you have counsel should you receive a lottery slot. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration case.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration, Latest News

USCIS Makes it Harder for Immigrants to Become Naturalized Citizens

By Peek & Toland on December 6, 2019

USCIS recently announced that it had taken steps to revise Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. Immigrants can use this form to request a waiver of the regular fees that they must pay to file various petitions and undergo biometric services. Previously, the request for fee waiver utilized means-tested public benefits programs as a factor in determining whether immigrants were entitled to a waiver of these fees. Means-tested benefits are available at the federal, state, and local government levels, and includes programs like Medical, SNAP or food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income or SSI.

The newly revised form removes references to these means-tested programs. Instead, the form allows anyone whose income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to apply for a waiver of the required fees. Additionally, immigrants who demonstrate financial hardship also may qualify for a waiver of these fees. Immigrants must submit the newly revised form along with supporting documentation, including their federal income tax transcripts. The revised form will be required in any filings after December 2, 2019.

USCIS Makes it Harder for Immigrants to Become Naturalized Citizens

USCIS decided that it should no longer use means-tested benefits programs as a factor for consideration because the income levels necessary to qualify for these benefits vary significantly from one state to another. Therefore, individuals who might be eligible for one program in one state might not be eligible for those same benefits in another state, even if they have the same income.

USCIS relies heavily on fees for revenue to fund its budget. More than 95% of its budget reportedly is based on fees. In the fiscal year 2018, USCIS granted about $293.5 million in fee waivers for immigration filing fees and other services. The changes to the waiver request form do not alter the types of fees that USCIS has the authority to waive.

An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and present your options. Finally, we can help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

Posted in Citizenship

U.S. Citizenship Applications Backlogged

By Peek & Toland on November 4, 2019

According to a recent study on naturalization in the United States, the backlog for receiving citizenship has increased drastically over the past three years, with wait times almost doubling during that period. After individuals have spent over a decade legally living in the U.S., the increased wait time is only further delaying their ability to vote and gain the other rights that citizens enjoy.

Generally, federal law considers 180 days or six months a reasonable time for U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process applications. Federal government agencies typically start referring to “backlogs” when the wait for processing applications exceeds six months. As of September 17, 2019, however, the backlog of applications for naturalization numbered more than 700,000. The average wait time for processing of naturalization applications now stands at ten to 18 months, depending on which field office has the applications for processing.

U.S. Citizenship Applications Backlogged

Some variables also appear to affect both the length of the waiting periods and the outcome of the applications. For instance, noncitizens serving in the military have longer wait times and higher denial rates. If USCIS flags applications for national security, they may pend indefinitely. During these extensive waiting periods, applicants and their attorneys cannot typically obtain any information about the status of their applications or their estimated remaining waiting time.

In response to this massive backlog, which exists not only concerning naturalization applications, but also other types of applications, USCIS intends to add more offices and increase staff numbers. However, a spokesperson stated that expediting applications any further would compromise the accuracy of the approval process.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases every day and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to resolve your immigration law case successfully.

Posted in Citizenship

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SCOTUS Blocks Citizenship Question on Census for Now

By Peek & Toland on September 7, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court recently delivered a setback to the Trump administration’s bid to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The high Court questioned the reasoning behind the administration’s desire to add the question and remanded the case to a lower court for reconsideration.

In the Court’s decision, Chief Justice John Roberts described the Commerce Secretary’s explanation for adding the citizenship question as “contrived.” The Court referred to the agency’s reasoning as a distraction rather than a reasonable explanation for adding the question. The other conservative members of the Court slammed the decision. They characterized the decision as an unprecedented departure from the deference traditionally given to discretionary agency decisions and would drastically change administrative law.

SCOTUS Blocks Citizenship Question on Census for Now

According to the Census Bureau, the census forms had a printing deadline of July 1, 2019, so if the Trump administration ultimately prevails, the issue still may be moot. However, another government witness stated that the printing deadline could run as late as October 31, 2019. After the Court issued the decision, Trump tweeted his intention to consider delaying the Census altogether. Whether Trump can do so is another legal question, as the U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census every ten years.

The impact of a census can last a decade, as the federal government uses its results to allocate billions in federal funding for various purpose. Census results also impact representation from states in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

Critics who opposed the census point to research showing that communities with large immigrant populations would be less likely to participate in the census. This lack of participation could lead to gross underrepresentation for some communities. The census containing a citizenship question could lead to as many as 6.5 million fewer responses. As a result, several states could risk losing a seat in the House. Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today at and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

Posted in Citizenship

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Despite Immigration Crackdown, More Immigrants Obtained Citizenship Last Year Than Ever Before

By Peek & Toland on August 25, 2019

As American immigration policies have become harsher, more and more individuals appear to be seeking citizenship. Historically, naturalization number peaked in 1996 and 2008, according to data provided by the Department of Homeland Security. During the first three quarters of 2018, however, 544,000 immigrants became naturalized citizens, which was a 15% increase over the numbers from the same time in 2017. Some of the growth may be attributable to immigrants who now find citizenship to be a more urgent matter or at least one that they should not further postpone. Some immigrants also cited the desire to vote in last year’s elections as the reason that finally prompted them to seek citizenship.

Despite Immigration Crackdown, More Immigrants Obtained Citizenship
Last Year Than Ever Before

The most recent estimates available from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) showed that in 2015, there were about 13.2 million legal permanent residents (LPRs) in the U.S. Nearly nine million of these LPRs would be eligible for naturalization, which typically occurs after individuals have maintained LRP status for five years or have been married to a U.S. citizen for three years. Naturalization also requires paying a $725 fee and passing a citizenship exam.

The Trump administration also recently announced that it would be making changes to the citizenship test that naturalized citizens must pass. As of March 2019, the pass rate is 90%. USCIS reportedly is focusing on making changes to the civics portion of the test, although it may make changes to the English part, as well. The test features 100 civics questions; prospective naturalized citizens must be prepared to answer at least six out of ten questions that they are asked. Nonetheless, some are questioning whether the new test will be in line with the Trump administration’s hardline stance on all forms of immigration, including those that are legal.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your immigration problems. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Citizenship

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