Citizenship

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Texas Secretary of State Resigns After Wrongfully Questioning Citizenship of Nearly 100,000 Voters, Takes Post in Governor’s Office

By Peek & Toland on August 19, 2019

After the Texas Secretary of State’s office sought to purge more than 100,000 names from the voter rolls based on citizenship, the acting Secretary, David Whitley, resigned. The resignation came just days before a deadline for the Texas Senate to either confirm him or oust him by failing to confirm him. All 12 Democratic Senators had sought to block Whitley’s confirmation.

Whitley initially claimed that his office had found thousands of voters who needed to be removed from voter rolls due to citizenship concerns. His office passed these names on to local election officials to review and purge. A few days later, however, the office retracted its list of voters, finding that the list contained the names of many citizens. Whitley blamed the mistaken actions on office staff’s failure to properly vet the information that they were receiving.

Texas Secretary of State Resigns After Wrongfully Questioning Citizenship of
Nearly 100,000 Voters, Takes Post in Governor’s Office

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Texas referred to the review as “a mess.” As a result, that judge ordered the purge of voter rolls to stop. Ultimately, the lawsuits concerning the matter settled, with the Secretary of State’s office agreeing to pay $450,000 in costs and attorney’s fees.

Despite the apparent missteps, Governor Greg Abbott announced within a few days of the resignation that he would rehire Whitley as a special advisor to work in his office. Whitley now will make more than $200,000, following the slightly lower salary that he received as acting Secretary of State, which was $64,000 higher than his predecessor.

The immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience that you need when you are seeking any relief or benefit under federal immigration laws. We will determine the facts and evidence that are relevant to your case, evaluate your options, and help you decide the best course of action for your situation. We intend to place you in the best position possible to achieve your goals. Contact our Texas immigration attorneys at our office today and learn how we can assist you through this complicated situation.

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Federal Court Enjoins Removal of Voters Based on Lack of Citizenship Due to Faulty Data

By Peek & Toland on May 1, 2019

A federal judge recently blocked the Texas state election officials from removing individuals from the state’s voter rolls based on certain unreliable data regarding citizenship. Although counties can investigate the citizenship of voters, the court ruling prevents them from personally contacting the voters to demand proof of citizenship.

The pending lawsuit stems from acting Secretary of State David Whitley using reports from the Department of Public Safety stating that certain individuals were noncitizens to purge the state’s voter rolls. The Secretary of State’s office announced that 98,000 suspected noncitizens were currently on the state’s voter rolls, 58,000 of whom had voted at some point over the last 22 years. The office sent the names of these suspected noncitizens to county offices and urged them to demand proof of citizenship from the individuals. However, after civil rights groups pointed out that the list of suspected noncitizens likely contained naturalized citizens who became eligible to vote, the Secretary of State’s office quietly withdrew as many as 20,000 voters from its initial list.

Federal Court Enjoins Removal of Voters Based on Lack of Citizenship Due to Faulty Data

Although Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and President Trump quickly jumped to conclusions of widespread voter fraud in Texas, the federal court disagreed. The federal judge issuing the decision pointed to the state’s “well-intentioned”, but inherently “flawed results,” that caused the illegal targeting of naturalized citizens through threatening correspondence demanding proof of citizenship. Following the ruling, Whitley met personally with the plaintiffs, a group of naturalized citizens who claimed they were being unfairly targeted by the Secretary of State’s office.

Acting Secretary Whitley defended the program in his confirmation hearings earlier this year, but he did acknowledge that his office could have presented the program in a better way. Senate Democrats later announced that they had sufficient votes in place to block Whitley’s nomination as Secretary of State. The Peek & Toland immigration lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your situation. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your immigration matter.

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What is the Difference Between U.S. Citizenship Status and Legal Permanent Residency?

By Peek & Toland on April 14, 2019

Legal permanent residents (LPRs) or “green card” holders are non-U.S. citizens who may reside lawfully in the U.S. on a permanent basis. LPRs can engage in any type of employment with no restrictions, receive financial aid at colleges and universities, and even join the U.S. military. LPRs also are eligible to sponsor close family members, i.e. spouses and unmarried children, for green cards.

Despite these benefits, LPRs still do not receive all the same advantages as U.S. citizens. Only U.S. citizens have the right to vote in local, state, and federal elections or hold elected offices. Likewise, LPRs may not serve on juries in federal court cases. Only U.S. citizens are eligible for some public benefits, like Social Security disability insurance and Medicare.

What is the Difference Between U.S. Citizenship Status and Legal Permanent Residency?

One of the biggest benefits of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is the immigration benefits. As a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor immediate family members for their green cards, including parents, children, spouses, and siblings. Furthermore, if you have children who were born outside the country, they are likely to be able to obtain citizenship when you become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

If LPRs meet certain requirements, they also can apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Those LPRs who are 18 years of age or older, legally obtained their green cards, and have continually lived in the U.S. for five years may apply for naturalization beginning 90 days prior to their five-year residence period. LPRs who are married to U.S. citizens only have a three-year waiting period, and some members of the military may be able to become citizens after waiting as little as one year. It is also important to note that naturalized citizens can maintain dual citizenship, in that they remain citizens of their native countries even after they become citizens.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal representation of countless individuals facing various immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf in order to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys today.

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Proposed Changes to the H-1B Legal Landscape are Coming. Are You Ready?

By Peek & Toland on December 18, 2018

H-1B Cap season is quickly approaching; the visas are capped at 85,000 issued per year (65,000 initially allocated and 20,000 cap exempt advanced degree numbers). The Department of Homeland Security has proposed rule changes that may affect you.

In 2017 the Trump Administration issued the “Buy American Hire American” executive order, which greatly changed the immigration landscape. As a result, employment-based immigration processes have encountered increased scrutiny. For example, one section of the order instructed The Department of Homeland Security to, “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest paid petition beneficiaries.” The recently proposed order strives to do that.

The proposed change comes in two parts:

  • An online registration system would be put into place. H-1B Petitioners would create an online account prior to filing the petitions and only those selected accounts would submit petitions to USCIS.
  • The “cap” process would be reversed. In an attempt to increase the number of advanced applicants, all applicants (including those marked as “Masters Cap Exempt”) would compete for the initial 65,000 H-1B’s. Once all initial numbers are used, then the remaining advanced degree holders would compete for the remaining 20,000 slots.

The first change would require petitioning companies and applicants to provide basic information (i.e. employer name, address, EIN, etc. as well as beneficiary name, country of citizenship, degree held, etc.). It would also require employers to confirm their intent to file an H-1B application for that specific beneficiary. A separate registration would need to be filed for each beneficiary. Government spokespersons have said this would save companies money by ensuring they did not have to pay filing fees until the petition was selected. The secondary change, per USCIS Spokesman Michael Bars, “would help ensure more of the best and brightest workers from around the world come to America under the H-1B program”.

The proposed order is similar to a hotly contested proposed order under the Obama Administration. In 2011 when this similar order was considered the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) responded to The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services raising their concerns. The general concerns of the association, consisting of over 11,000 immigration attorneys, were:

  • The registration system would create a rush of registrations, creating a false H-1B Demand;
  • The Cost to Benefit assessment was flawed; and
  • This would add an unnecessary layer to an already complicated process.

The government has posted the currently proposed changes on the Federal Register, and is taking comments until January 2, 2019. USCIS has informed the public that they would like to enact this change prior to the FY2020 H-1B Cap season, beginning April 1, 2019.

What does this mean for you as an employer?

While it is unlikely that these changes will be enacted in 2019 due to regulatory requirements, H-1B visas will still be limited to 85,000 and employers will need to be prepared to file as early as possible.

Peek & Toland has a strong team of immigration attorneys, including Partner Jeff Peek and Senior Corporate Immigration Attorney, Maria Pilar Llusá. With over seventeen (17) years of Employment Immigration experience, they are prepared to tackle any issues your company may have with regards to their immigration needs.

Looking for legal help for your H-1B applications?

To help employers get a jump start and be prepared for a successful cap season, our firm will be offering free 30 minute consults to companies with new H-1B cap season needs starting January 3, 2019.

It is important you be prepared and informed of the requirements for the H-1B Cap season. Please contact our offices to schedule your consult today. We look forward to working with you and serving all your immigration needs.

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