Citizenship

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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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.

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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.

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