Citizenship

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.

Posted in Citizenship

Tagged with: ,

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.

Posted in Citizenship

Tagged with:

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.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration, Immigration Reform, Visas

Tagged with: , , , ,

Immigrants Seeking Citizenship Facing Increased Wait Times

By Peek & Toland on October 28, 2018

There has been a backlog of immigrants seeking citizenship for years, but since the 2016 election, that wait time has increased dramatically. In the past, it typically took four to six months to process citizenship applications. According to a recent National Public Radio article, however, that wait time now has grown to ten months to one year. Plus, for bigger cities with a larger immigrant population, the wait can be substantially longer. In both New York City and Atlanta, the wait can be as long as 21 or 22 months.

 

Immigrants Seeking Citizenships Facing Increased Wait Times

There are now over 750,000 pending applications for citizenship, a number that has doubled since 2014, and increased almost 20 percent since the 2016 election. Several factors may contribute to this increased backlog. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the average number of citizenship applications has increased by 20% during the last two fiscal years. However, immigration advocates also point out that during the Obama administration, the lengthy of the citizenship application form doubled to 21 pages, and during the Trump administration, the interview process has become far more rigorous and time-consuming. Some advocates are referring to the massive slowdown in the processing of naturalization applications as a “second wall,” meant to suppress minority voters and curtail legal immigration.

These delays are only one indication that legal immigration has slowed down precipitously since the 2016. For example, as of October 1, 2017, a personal interview with USCIS for workers seeking green cards became a requirement; in the past, interviews were requested on a case-by-case basis, and interviews were waived most of the time. The interview requirement, predictably, has slowed down the green card 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 on a daily basis 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 successfully resolve your immigration law case.

Posted in Citizenship

How to File a Waiver when a Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and an Immigrant Ends in Divorce

By Peek & Toland on May 30, 2018

If you have received a two-year conditional permanent resident card based on the condition that you married a U.S. citizen, you must remove the conditions on the green card before the expiration date. If the marriage between a U.S. citizen and an immigrant has ended in divorce, you may seek a waiver.

In order to remove the conditions, you must apply for a Form I-751 Application for Removal of Conditions.

You will usually file this petition jointly with your spouse but you may seek a “waiver” of the requirement to jointly file if you are no longer married to the US Citizen spouse who you obtained conditional permanent residence through.

In cases where immigrants are no longer married to the US Citizen spouse through which they originally gained conditional permanent resident status, it’s more difficult to prove you entered the marriage in good faith.

How you file a waiver

How to file a waiver after a divorce

These applications are known as I-751 Waivers. The applicant must request a waiver of the joint-filing requirement.

It stands to reason that immigration officials will more carefully scrutinize I-751 waiver applications than if they are filed jointly with your spouse. They will look for evidence that the original marriage was not bona fide.

You should not assume your application will be refused. However, it’s imperative to prepare a strong application with numerous documents proving that you entered your marriage in good faith even though it failed.

Relevant documents include photographs with your former spouse, evidence of continuous cohabitation with your former spouse, evidence of joint finances, as well as liabilities and other shared assets.

If you fail to satisfy the immigration officer with the supporting documentation, or you claimed abuse during the marriage, you may be scheduled for an interview.

In the case of I-751 waiver, preparation is vital. A strong application backed with plenty of supporting documentation will help your case. An experienced Austin permanent residency lawyer will help your case by advising you on the appropriate documentation you will need.

The typical processing time for these waiver applications ranges from six months to a year, depending on the complexity of your case. In some cases, I-751 waiver applications may take longer than 12 months to be decided.

For a consultation contact our Austin family immigration lawyers here or call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

Tagged with:

Royal Bride Meghan Markle Faces a Major Tax Bill if She drops U.S. Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on May 28, 2018

Every year thousands of people become U.S. citizens. However, some people seek to relinquish citizenship. It’s a move that can carry a hefty price tag.

The United States is one of the only countries to tax based on citizenship. Even if you are living abroad you must pay taxes.

The issue was recently highlighted in relation to Meghan Markle, an American citizen who is engaged to marry Britain’s Prince Harry.

A CNBC report noted it’s tempting for expats to renounce their U.S. citizenship so as they don’t pay taxes. However, it’s a move that comes at a heavy price.

Americans living abroad must pay U.S. taxes. That can make it tempting for expatriates to renounce their citizenship and skip U.S. tax rules. Doing so comes at a price.

According to Joshua Ashman, a co-founder and partner at Expat Tax Professionals, there are some very complex tax considerations.

Royal Bride to Drop U.S. Citizenship

Royal Bride Faces Tax Bill for Dropping U.S. Citizenship

Ashman provides professional tax services to U.S. expatriates. He pointed out people who want to renounce their citizenship must make an appointment at a U.S. embassy, sign the relevant forms and take the Oath of Renunciation.

They must also pay a hefty $2,350 administrative processing fee. Once an application is approved, a process that can take several months, you receive a Certificate of Loss of Nationality.

Ashman pointed to a further issue. When you give up your citizenship, you must notify the Internal Revenue Service via Form 8854 that you have expatriated. You may then be liable to pay exit tax. The exit tax looks at the asset’s value and assesses taxes as if it were sold.

The high cost of giving up U.S. Citizenship has not prevented a record number of Americans giving it up, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2016 alone more than 5,400 Americans either gave up citizenship or terminated long-term residency. The figure was a 26 percent increase on 2015.

Although more people are giving up U.S. citizenship, far more immigrants are seeking it.

There are numerous benefits of citizenship. It often makes sense to hire an attorney to help you with the process.

At Peek & Toland , an Austin citizenship attorney can take over the whole complex and bureaucratic process for you and help you embark on a secure life in a new country. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship

Tagged with: ,

Countries Where It’s Easiest for Americans to Get Dual Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on April 19, 2018

It’s no secret that the United States has onerous citizenship rules. People who are seeking citizenship here must be a green card holder for at least five years and go through a 10-step naturalization process. The process is not as difficult in all counties, prompting some Americans to seek dual citizenship.

An article in Business Insider noted how Ireland, for example, has very different citizenship laws than those of the United States.

Ireland considers “jus sanguinis,” or “right of blood” in applications. This means citizenship of the Emerald Isle may be available not just to the children of Irish citizens who were born in Ireland, but also to their grandchildren.

Compared to becoming a U.S. citizen, becoming an Irish citizen is a fairly straightforward process.

Dual citizenship countries

Countries where it’s easy to get dual citizenship

Many Americans have Irish roots and dual citizenship has proved popular to some of them. You need to provide documentation and apply for the Foreign Births Register.

The Business Insider article listed other countries that offer a simplified or brief application process to attract entrepreneurs.

Hungary

You may be able to apply for citizenship of this eastern European country of you can speak Hungarian and prove your Hungarian ancestry. The country has a process called  “simplified naturalization.”

The Consulate General of Hungary states it takes officials in the capital of Budapest about six to nine months to determine whether an applicant qualifies. Hungary’s borders shifted a lot in the 20th Century and there were some caveats based on historical changes.

Israel

Israel has a law of return that makes it fairly straightforward for ethnic and religious Jews, as well as their spouses and grandchildren to gain Israeli citizenship.

You can gain citizenship in a matter of months and have a passport within the year. For more information see the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Peru

You can become a Peruvian citizen in two years if you pay a $25,000 fast-track fee. It takes approximately three months to secure approval for residency.

Once you have lived in Peru for two years, you can apply for citizenship. You must be able to pass tests on Peruvian history and culture and know the Spanish language.

Italy

You can actually inherit Italian citizenship from your great-great-grandfather.

However, as noted on YourItalianPassport.com Italy also has a large number of caveats.

From the outset, you’ll need to find documentation that proves an Italian ancestor lived after Italy’s 1861 unification and did not naturalize elsewhere before July 1, 1912. None of the ascendants in your direct line must have ever renounced Italian citizenship.

If you have Italian ancestors, they can pass on citizenship to children born after January 1, 1948.

There are advantages and disadvantages of dual citizenship. Even if you have a second citizenship and live abroad, the US government expects you to pay taxes.

US citizens living overseas, earning an income and paying to a foreign government are still subject to US income tax, as well as the same onerous tax filing requirements that apply to US citizens resident in the United States.

You can find out more about citizenship by reading the U.S. citizenship resources on our website. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship

Tagged with:

Woman Sues to Remove Religious Language from Citizenship Oath

By Peek & Toland on April 18, 2018

Religious language in the Citizenship Oath is being challenged in a court case by a green card holder who is seeking to become a citizen.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national and green card holder who has lived in Scituate in Massachusetts since 2000 has been trying to become an American citizen for years.

She claims her Citizenship dream has been derailed by the words “So help me God,” in the Citizenship Oath.

Perrier-Bilbo is an atheist. She filed a federal lawsuit claiming the inclusion of the phrase in the oath is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom. She has filed a lawsuit. It states:

“Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting of defending the constitution as the oath demands.”

Challenge over Citizenship Oath

Religious language in Citizenship Oath is challenged

Perrier-Bilbo has brought the lawsuit even though she was offered a modified oath or allowed to attend a private citizenship ceremony, reported masslive.com.

Perrier-Bilbo claims the four words “so help me God” constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of a particular religion. The lawsuit states the alternatives offered to Perrier-Bilbo by the government put an illegal burden on her for her beliefs.

The suit claims the religious statement to which Perrier-Bilbo does not agree with makes her feel less than a new citizen.

There is a long list of cases which test the First Amendment’s clauses regarding freedom of religion.

The amendment says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Many of these cases have gone as far as the U.S. Supreme Court cases, as citizens, states, and the federal government have been pitted against one another.

Initially many of these rulings in the early 20th Century protected people of faith from laws that disadvantage them. However, government agencies were prevented from policies that imposed one religion.

In the 1960s, three rulings outlawed mandatory bible readings and prayers in schools.

In the important 1968 case of Epperson v Arkansas a public school teacher brought an action challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas’ “anti-evolution” statute. That law made it unlawful for a teacher in any state-supported school or university to use or teach from a textbook that covered the theory of evolution.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided the statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which enshrines the First Amendment’s prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion.

If you need help and advice in seeking citizenship, please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

Tagged with:

Sponsoring a Brother or a Sister to Come to the United States

By Peek & Toland on February 9, 2018

If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen you may be able to sponsor your brothers or sisters to come to the United States as permanent residents.

However, U.S. immigration laws don’t permit green card holders to sponsor their brothers or sisters.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to petition your siblings to live in the United States as a green card holder, you must be a U.S. citizen and be at least 21 years old.

To sponsor a sibling, the U.S. citizen must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

sponsoring a sibling

Sponsoring a brother or a sister

Required Documentation to Sponsor a Sibling

  • You must complete Form I-130. You are not required to file a separate Form I-130 for your sibling’s spouse or for unmarried children under 21 years of age.
  • A copy of your own birth certificate as well as a copy of your sibling’s birth certificate proving that you have at least one common parent.
  • Evidence of your U.S. citizenship such as
    • A copy of a valid U.S. passport,
    • A copy of a U.S. birth certificate, or
    • A copy of Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or
    • A copy of your naturalization certificate, or
    • A copy of your certificate of citizenship.

USCIS points out additional documentation is required for siblings who were adopted, have step parents or are half brothers and sisters.

If you and your sibling are related through adoption, you are also required to submit a copy of an adoption decree or decrees that prove the adoption took place before you or your sibling became 16 years old.

If you and your sibling are related via a step-parent, you must also submit:

  • Copies of documentation proving any prior marriages of the natural parent and/or a step-parent were legally terminated. You will also need.
  • A copy of the marriage certificate of the step-parent to the sibling’s natural parent. The age restrictions related to the definition of a stepchild apply.
  • If you and your sibling share a biological father but have different mothers you should submit:
  • Copies of the marriage certificates of the father to each mother.
  • Copies of documentation proving any previous marriages of either your father or mothers were legally terminated.

Brother and sisters of U.S. citizens do not have the right to immigrate immediately like the U.S. citizen’s husband or wife.

Siblings belong the fourth preference category. This means wait times can be extremely long depending on their country of birth. Some siblings have to wait 10 years or more to move to the United States.

The approval of Form I-130 does not confer a right of beneficiary.

The sibling will have to wait until his or her priority date becomes current to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in his or her home country.

If the sibling is in the United States, they will have to wait until their priority date becomes current to apply for adjustment of status.

Only immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can file to adjust their status at the same time as Form I-130 is filed.

Find out more about the green card laws here on our website or call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Visas

Tagged with:

New Americans Avoid Uncertainty Through Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on February 7, 2018

In uncertain times for immigrants, citizenship is becoming increasingly popular. New Americans feel they can finally be safe from deportation when they have attended a naturalization ceremony.

An article in the San Angelo Standard-Times noted fear of deportation is spurring many permanent residents to seek citizenship.

It’s a move that lifts the uncertainty. Green card holders can be deported if they commit a criminal offense.

The Standard-Times spoke to new Americans in the Texas town. They included Jose Luis Santillan, who took the oath at the age of 65. He was one of 32 people who attended a naturalization ceremony in San Angelo over the summer.

New Americans in drive for citizenship

New Americans flock for Citizenship

Santillan from Acuna in Mexico has been in the United States for 45 years. He’s the last member of his family to become a U.S. citizen. He has owned a cabinet-making business in San Angelo for years and had a visa that allowed him to live and work legally in the U.S.

Santillan said he is concerned about the current anti-immigration climate in the United States and wanted citizenship to be able to vote. He said he believes immigrants are being treated badly.

Santillan was angered by President Donald Trump’s recent decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. DACA allowed people who came to the United States as children to work here and protected them from deportation.

The fear of deportation is driving many more people to seek citizenship, according to several of the new Americans.

Those at the citizenship ceremony in San Angelo possessed green cards or visas that allowed them to legally live in the United States. The renewal of these visas is not guaranteed.

One of the new Americans, Maria N. Guerra, said she was nervous at the start of the naturalization ceremony but would not be nervous again.

There are a number of ways to gain U.S. Citizenship, as we explain here on our website.

Typically, naturalization requires the immigrant to be 18 or older, a permanent U.S. resident, a person of good morals, and familiar with basic information related to United States history and government.

Our Austin immigration attorneys can advise and help you with every stage of the process to become a citizen. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

Tagged with:

How Can We Help You?

Our team is standing by to help. Call us at (512) 474-4445 or complete this form to send a message about your legal situation.