Citizenship by Naturalization

bigstock-Immigration-Rally-In-Washingto-7293583Becoming a citizen of the United States has many benefits and privileges. As a citizen of the United States, you can vote in elections, run for public office, and sponsor foreign citizen family members for permanent residency. If you are not already a citizen, you can apply for citizenship through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by filing an application for naturalization using USCIS Form N-400. Anyone who meets the conditions of naturalization may apply.

Ways to become a Citizen

There are two ways a person can gain citizenship. The most common is by birth in the United States or a U.S. territory. You are also considered a United States citizen if you are born in a foreign country to parents that are United States citizens. If you were not born in the United States or not born to U.S. parents, you can file the application form N-400 to begin the process of naturalization, assuming that eligibility requirements for naturalization can be met.

Conditions for Becoming a Citizen

You must be considered eligible for naturalization in order to file the application form N-400 for citizenship into the United States. One condition of eligibility is that you must live continuously in the United States for at least five years. There are some exceptions to this rule, like if you were employed in certain overseas jobs or if you were on active military service. You must also prove you are a person of good moral character.

In other words, you can not have a serious criminal record, can not participate in any criminal activity, and must swear to uphold all laws of the United States. Another condition of becoming a citizen of the United States is a basic understanding and ability to communicate in English. You must also understand basic American politics and basic history of the United States. You will be tested on these subjects at the end of your citizenship application process, but some people may be exempt from certain exam requirements.

Steps to Become a United States Citizen

You must first correctly complete and submit your Application for Naturalization Form N-400. During this process you will need to provide documentation that proves you meet residency requirements. You will need to provide two passport photos and pay the required filing fee. Once your Application for Naturalization Form N-40 is filed with all necessary documents and fees you will receive a letter from the USCIS to setup an appointment for fingerprinting.

Once the USCIS is satisfied with the documents you have provided and you have gone through the fingerprinting process you will receive another letter for an interview regarding your request for citizenship. This interview will consist of a series of questions asked by an immigration official to make sure that you are eligible to become a United States Citizen. This will also be the time you will take the naturalization exam.

After successfully going through the interview process and passing the citizenship test, a citizenship ceremony will be held. During this ceremony you will take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States to finalize the process, and you will receive a certificate of naturalization. You will also relinquish your green card during this time, as it will no longer be necessary for you to possess a green card as a citizen.

Seeking Help

Although not required, individuals who are interested in applying for U.S. citizenship by naturalization should speak with an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney will help the person determine whether or not eligibility requirements are met and, if so, can help the person file the necessary forms with the government.

Deportation as Restitution

bigstock-Immigration-Rally-in-Washingto-7293773Many people are under the mistaken belief that deportation is a form of punishment. While it may feel like punishment to the person who has to experience it, deportation is actually a form of restitution, which is a legal term that describes a return to the status quo. If a citizen from another country enters the United States and commits a removable offense (an offense that would warrant a deportation), then an immigration judge may order the foreign citizen removed from the country and back to his or her country of origin. This is considered a form of restitution to any individuals who may have been victimized by an offense committed by a foreign citizen, and to society as a whole, which the courts have a duty to serve.

No Punishment, No Right to Counsel

Because deportation / removal hearings are not considered criminal proceedings where punishments are handed down, but administrative proceedings where the loss of freedom is not a potential consequence, immigrants called to appear for a expulsion hearing are not guaranteed the right to counsel. This is the opposite of the criminal legal system which will assign counsel when the accused cannot afford his or her own, but immigrants in deportation / removal hearings still have the right to retain their own counsel, at personal expense, to represent their interests and fight for a cancellation of deportation orders.

It is important to note that everyone in the United States, whether citizen or immigrant, illegal alien or lawful permanent resident, has the right to legal counsel if accused of a criminal offense, which is generally any offense punishable by time in jail or prison. It is only in expulsion hearings and certain other administrative hearings that the right to counsel is not guaranteed.

Always Better to Talk to an Attorney

No matter what an immigrant may think of his or her chances of defeating a expulsion / removal order, it is always better for anyone faced with the risk of deportation to secure legal counsel. An experienced immigration attorney can help the immigrant by speaking on his or her behalf throughout deportation proceedings and presenting a competent argument in favor of cancelling the deportation order.

In addition, foreign citizens in the United States should understand that they can always seek legal advice from an immigration attorney, no matter what their legal status in the United States might be. Most immigration attorneys will not ask individuals who are seeking legal advice about their status unless it is absolutely essential to providing legal assistance. It is always better to get information regarding American immigration laws than to make important legal decisions with wrong or misunderstood information.

Since an attorney is not guaranteed in expulsion hearings, immigrants facing expulsion who think that they might not be able to afford legal counsel should still make contact with an experienced attorney. Even if the attorney is unable to provide services, he or she will usually be able to refer interested parties to other attorneys or organizations that can provide the assistance they need. Fortunately, however, many immigration attorneys are willing to work with individual clients on matters of payment.

Getting a Green Card Through Registry

bigstock-Immigration-3151682Foreign citizens who are currently in the United States unlawfully might feel like they have no hope of gaining lawful resident status – but if they meet certain conditions, even those who are here illegally can qualify for a green card and lawful permanent resident status through a section of U.S. immigration law known as registry. The law allows anyone who entered the U.S. before January 1st, 1972, and who has resided in the U.S. continuously since that year, who is of good moral character, who is eligible for naturalization and who is not currently deportable to be granted a green card and all of the rights and benefits that go along with it.

Filing for a Green Card through Registry

To begin the process of getting a green card and lawful permanent resident status, immigrants who meet the qualifications of the registry program described above have to fill out United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Form I-485, which is officially known as an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

In addition to the application form, the USCIS will require two passport sized photos, a copy of a government issued photo ID, a copy of a birth certificate, a copy of the nonimmigrant visa (if applicable), a copy of the passport admission / entry stamp (if applicable), evidence that the immigrant entered the U.S. before January 1st, 1972, evidence that the immigrant maintained continuous residence since that date, USCIS Form I-94 Arrival / Departure Record (if applicable), and a USCIS Form G-325A Biographic Information form if the immigrant is between the ages of 14 and 79. These documents should be attached to the application form and reviewed by an attorney prior to being submitted to USCIS.

If applying for a green card under the registry program, immigrants are not required to undergo a medical examination.

Working Legally Until a Green Card is Approved

Even though they may qualify for a green card under the rules of the registry program, immigrants are not automatically allowed to begin legally working in the United States until the green card is approved or until a work authorization is granted. The work authorization allows immigrants with certain types of immigration applications pending to work legally in the United States while the application is being reviewed and decided.

For best results, immigrants who would like to apply for a green card under the registry program should work with an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney will help the immigrant by explaining the legal process and completing the necessary application forms on the immigrant’s behalf. While it may not seem like a big deal, a single mistake in filling out an application may result in an application denial that is not actually warranted. An attorney will know exactly how to fill out and prepare all of the necessary paperwork for the application process, and can even help immigrants whose applications for a registry green card have been denied in the past. The attorney can review the facts of an initial denial to determine whether or not pursuing an appeal would be a good idea.

Having a Case Reopened or Reconsidered

bigstock-Immigration-Rally-In-Washingto-7293583Notice of an Unfavorable Decision

Applications for visas, green cards, and citizenship are reviewed and approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In the unfortunate event that the USCIS issues a denial to an application or petition, the applicant / petitioner may have the right to appeal the decision, which is to request a review of the decision from a higher legal authority. The notice of denial that advised the applicant / petitioner of the negative decision will contain information on the appeal process, including the forms which will be necessary to file the appeal.

Not All Decisions Can Be Appealed

In some cases, an applicant or petitioner may not have the right to appeal a decision. When this happens, the applicant or petitioner may still file a motion with the court to have the case reopened or reconsidered.

Unlike an appeal, a motion to reconsider or reopen a case does not send the case to a higher legal authority, but requests that the original authority take a second look at the case. While motions to reconsider may sound similar to motions to reopen, the two are actually very different. A motion to reconsider is an argument against a denial based on legal grounds that must argue why a decision was incorrect based on the evidence in the record at the time of the original proceeding or review. Motions to reopen, however, are arguments against a denial based on factual grounds, like a change in circumstances or the availability of new evidence. This type of decision takes into account the new circumstance or evidence and issues a decision with the new information in mind.

Paper Reviews

In most cases, appeals, motions to reopen, and motions to reconsider, are reviewed on paper. This means that most of the chances of a decision being reversed by an appeal or motion will depend on the writing ability of the person filing the paperwork. An inability to articulate why an error was made or why new information should be considered could result in an affirmation of the original decision. This is why individuals who want to file an appeal or motion against a negative application or petition decision should work with an experienced immigration attorney to have a decision appealed or a motion filed. Immigration attorneys are well versed in helping clients appeal immigration decisions and will generally be much better at explaining a previous error or in explaining the importance and relevance of changed circumstances or new evidence. Since they don’t have many opportunities to appeal a decision, or limitless chances to file a motion to reconsider or reopen, individuals who receive a notice of denial regarding an application or petition are encouraged to rely on the skill and experience of an immigration attorney in dealing with the issue.

Even if the decision following an appeal or motion is to uphold the original determination, which is to make no change to the original decision, the applicant or petitioner may have additional forms of recourse, but this will mostly depend on the specific facts of the case.

Reasons for Naturalization Denials

bigstock-Immigration-Rally-in-Washingto-7293710One can become a citizen of the United States by being born in the U.S. or one of its territories, or through a process known as naturalization. The process of applying for naturalization has several requirements, which an experienced immigration and naturalization attorney can explain to the applicant in further detail. Below are some of the most common reasons why an application for naturalization would be denied by the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that reviews such applications.

Eligibility

Naturalization applicants are required to meet eligibility requirements that, if not met, will result in a naturalization denial. For example, applicants must be at least 18 years old and must generally show continuous residence in the United States for the last five years, and continued presence in the U.S. for at least 30 months within those five years. An applicant who leaves the United States for more than a year at a time may be disqualified for failure to show continuous residence.

English Requirement

Applicants are also generally required to show basic proficiency in reading and writing English. A citizenship interview will test fluency in English. The applicant will be asked a series of simple questions regarding basic United States government knowledge. In some cases, reading and writing requirements may be exempted – an immigration attorney can explain to prospective applicants whether or not they qualify for a reading and writing proficiency exemption.

Moral Character

A showing of good moral character will be necessary for individuals who want to apply for U.S. citizenship by naturalization. To determine moral character, naturalization application officials will look into the applicant’s past to see if the person has been convicted of certain crimes or if the applicant has lied to immigration officials before. A finding of questionable moral character will likely result in a naturalization denial.

Selective Service

All male U.S. citizens and certain non-U.S. citizens age 18 to 25 are required to register for Selective Service. The Selective Service System is an agency of the U.S. government that maintains records on those who may be subject to a military draft. Even though a draft has not happened since the Vietnam War, failure to register for Selective Service can result in the loss of various benefits and privileges, including financial assistance from the federal government and the ability to be approved for naturalization.

Residency

Proof of residency will be very important in determining a person’s eligibility for naturalization. The law requires the foreign citizen applicant to show that the time spent in the United States was spent legally. If USCIS officials discover discrepancies in a person’s residential history, this will most likely result in a denial for naturalization. Anyone who is worried that discrepancies in residential history will result in a denial should consult an immigration attorney for advice before filling out an application. The attorney, in many cases, will be able to advise the applicant on his or her best options and whether or not the discrepancy is anything that they should be worried about. If the attorney thinks that all is well, then the attorney can help the applicant complete and submit the application for naturalization.

Sham Marriages Do Not Qualify for Visas

bigstock-Passports-31148Only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States are allowed to sponsor foreign citizen spouses for visas. To begin the process of sponsoring the foreign citizen, the lawful resident or U.S. citizen will need to use Form I-130, which is a Petition for Alien Relative. If the foreign citizen spouse already holds a valid American visa and is already in the United States, then the U.S. citizen or lawful resident may file a request to adjust the foreign citizen’s status along with the Petition for Alien Relative.

Qualifying Marriage Relationship

In determining whether or not to issue a visa to a spouse, the United States will verify the status of the petitioner, which is the citizen or permanent resident filing the Form I-130, and establish that the wedding relationship is a qualifying wedding relationship. The validity of a wedding is determined based on the law of the country or jurisdiction where the wedding took place. However, when the wedding that was celebrated in another country offends American public policy, then the marriage may be deemed invalid for immigration purposes.

A Good Faith Requirement

The law also requires that marriages be entered into “in good faith.”  This means that the sole reason for entering into a wedding may not be simply for the purpose of receiving certain immigration benefits. When immigration benefits are the only reason for entering into a marriage, then the wedding is deemed a “sham marriage,” which is another way of saying that it is a fraudulent marriage.

Red Flags

Sometimes, certain facts will trigger red flags for the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), which investigates and approves visa petitions for foreign citizens. While these red flags may not automatically lead to a denial, they will make petition review authorities review the petition with much more scrutiny. Some of those red flags include major differences in age, a communication barrier between the couple, vast cultural and ethnic background differences, when a wedding is arranged, when a wedding is entered into immediately after the foreign citizen was apprehended for reasons which could result in deportation or after a notice of deportation was received, when there are discrepancies in answers to questions which both spouses should be aware of, when the couple has not lived together since the marriage, and when the U.S. citizen or lawful resident has filed petitions on behalf of foreign citizens in the past. Only the federal government is allowed to determine the validity of a marriage for the purposes of immigration.

Penalties for Fraudulent Marriages

In addition to being denied immigration benefits, those who enter into sham marriages also face the risk of several years in prison, fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, or both. The foreign citizen spouse faces deportation and the inability to obtain any immigration benefits from the United States in the future. Additional jail time and imprisonment may be faced if any false documentation is provided with an application or if the petitioner conceals a material fact regarding the marriage.

Generally, a lawful permanent resident must wait five years from the date that he or she became a lawful permanent resident to sponsor a foreign citizen spouse, if the lawful permanent resident status was obtained by wedding to a U.S. citizen or other lawful permanent resident. An exemption to this waiting period can be granted if the petitioner can prove that the original marriage was a good faith marriage, or that the original marriage ended with the death of the other spouse.

The Deportation – Removal Process

bigstock-Immigration-Rally-in-Washingto-7293710Reasons for Removal

Anyone who is considered an immigrant may be removed (which is the official term for a deportation) by the United States if they are in violation of immigration laws. Some reasons for removal may include the following:

  • Violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act
  • Violation of any serious law (like a gross misdemeanor or felony) in the United States
  • Violation of conditions to enter the United States
  • Committing marriage fraud
  • Providing false documents
  • Failing to provide requested documents
  • Unlawful voting

Keep in mind this is only a short list of reasons for removal from the United States. Each of these reasons and many other reasons that are not listed are covered in great detail in the law. Not educating yourself on immigration and deportation laws could cost you much more than you might think. Even people who have remained lawful permanent residents of the United States since they were children may be deported if they commit a removable offense.

Process of Deportation

If you find yourself in the middle of a deportation process you need to know that you are entitled to certain rights. You will go through a legal proceeding and you have the right to challenge the deportation and will have the opportunity to explain and defend your position.

If your presence in the United States is questioned by the government you will receive a Notice to Appear by mail. This document will have general information about the immigrant in question, such as name, address, and country of birth, as well as the reasons the court is seeking deportation.

A hearing will also be scheduled that you must attend. If you do not have an attorney at this initial hearing you will usually be given the opportunity to hire legal counsel and the hearing will be scheduled for a later date.

After you have hired an attorney, you will be questioned, under oath, by the judge regarding the reasons for deportation outlined in the original notice to appear. During this time the judge will allow you to apply for relief from deportation by filing the appropriate forms, if you are eligible. If you are not eligible under any forms of relief, the judge will order deportation. If you are eligible to apply for relief, another hearing will be scheduled.

During the individual hearing you will have the opportunity to testify on your own behalf as well as the chance to have witnesses testify in your defense. After testimony is heard by the judge, the judge can make a ruling during the hearing or you will be notified at a later date on the judge’s decision after further investigation of the matter at hand. Even if the judge decides that you should be deported, all hope is not lost. You then have the right to file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals, and, if necessary, the United States Court of Appeals.  The case can even be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but it is the Supreme Court’s prerogative whether or not it will hear the case.

Legal Help

In order to make sure that you understand the deportation process, you will need to contact an attorney that specializes in immigration law to help protect and understand your legal rights when dealing with matters of immigration.

Visas Just for Foreign Investors

bigstock-Passport-Gavel-5802855One option which is available to foreign citizens who want the right to live and work in the United States is a special type of visa intended solely for investors who invest a substantial amount of capital into the U.S.

Along with being a nation of immigrants, the United States is also a nation of entrepreneurs. By encouraging foreign investors to invest a substantial amount of capital into the U.S. economy, the U.S. not only gets a quick infusion of cash, but new or expanded jobs that can help get American citizens back to work.

Basic Requirements

Unlike other types of visas, the foreign investor visa does not require the foreign investor to be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The investment of capital into the U.S. economy will qualify the foreign investor for this type of visa, not the investor’s relationship to a citizen or lawful resident. As for the amount of capital that must be invested in order for an investor to qualify under the program, the amount has to be at least $1,000,000 – but this amount requirement is lowered to $500,000 if the investment is made into a government designated industry. The government designates industries which would qualify for the reduced investment amount as a way to encourage investment in American sectors that could use it the most.

Another requirement of the program, which is what provides the United States with the most benefit, is that the capital invested into the U.S. economy must be invested into a legitimate business venture and create at least 10 new jobs. If the investment is made into a company or business that already exists, then the job creation requirement is changed slightly, and the investment must instead expand the business’ current employee work force or net worth by 40%.

Why an Investment Has to Work

While no investment is without risk, foreign investors who are granted a U.S. investor’s visa are only granted the visa for an initial period of two years and risk losing the visa if an investment fails. If the investment is unable to create the number of jobs or expand the business by the percentage rate required under the program’s requirements, then the government can revoke the investor’s visa. While extensions to visa deadlines can be granted on a case by case basis, they can’t be issued indefinitely. If the investor wants to maintain his or her investor visa, then the investment made which qualified the person for the visa in the first place will have to be a success under the conditions of the program.

Whether they are thinking of applying for an investor’s visa, in the process of finding a suitable venture into which to invest, or approaching a deadline before all conditions under the investor visa program have been met, individuals with questions about the investor visa program should not hesitate to contact an experienced E1 & E2 investor visa attorney. An attorney can review all of the relevant facts of a foreign investor’s case and help the investor deal with any legal issues relating to the investor visa that may come up.

What Work Visa Do I Qualify For?

bigstock-Business-people-shaking-hands--13871435-1A work visa is a temporary privilege that grants foreign nationals, a person who is a citizen of any country other than the United States, to be employed inside the United States. There are several types of work visas available, and there are many factors to determine whether or not you qualify. The United States has a variety of endorse categories and strict conditions that foreign workers must meet in order to be granted a legal work status.

Types of Work Visas

  • H-1B Visa – If you are a professional, and you are sponsored by an employer in the United States, you may qualify for this type of visa. An H-1B type of visa can be valid for a period of six years. Initially this ratification is valid for three years and with a request for extension can be valid for an additional three years.
  • L-1A Visa – If you have worked at least one year within the last three years with a company as a manager or at the executive level you may qualify for this type of ratification if your company wishes to transfer you to one of it’s locations inside the United States. This type of ratification is initially granted for a period of three years and can be extended for a maximum of seven years.
  • L-1B Visa – In order to qualify for this type of ratification you must have specialized knowledge and or experience that the employer cannot reasonably replace. This type of Visa is granted for three years and can be extended for up to a five year maximum.
  • E1 and E2 Visa – If you are from a country that has a treaty with the United States government you may qualify for this type of visa. Some conditions for qualification are that you conduct substantial trade between your country and the United States, or that you direct and develop the operations for United States based enterprises that you have invested a substantial amount of capital in.
  • TN Visa – If you are a professional Mexican or Canadian national employed in the United States and meet qualifications under the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement you may qualify for this type of Visa. This type of Visa is usually valid for one year and can be extended by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service one year at a time with no limitations on the number of extensions you request.

Seeking Help

These are only a few types of work visas that you can apply for to gain the right to legally work in the United States. Each type of ratification requires strict guidelines that must be followed, with few exceptions granted. Every type of visa is limited in the time that it may be granted for and it is up to the person issued the ratification to provide all necessary documents and file for extensions when necessary to avoid having the visa expire. The only way to be absolutely sure that you are applying for the best type of work ratification for your circumstances is to seek the advice of a L-1A visa attorney. You will need to choose a L-1A visa lawyer that you are comfortable with, who is competent, and who possesses experience with United States immigration laws and policies.

President Obama Speaks out against Arizona’s Immigration Law and in Favor of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

bigstock-American-Flag-504715On May 5, 2010, President Obama held a Cinco de Mayo Reception to celebrate Latino culture in America. He used the opportunity to voice his concerns regarding Arizona’s recently enacted immigration law and, more generally, to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. In his remarks, the President signaled the need for comprehensive migration reform and his desire to begin work on such reforms this year. According to our immigration lawyers, he also made his disapproval of Arizona immigration law clear, stating “the answer isn’t to undermine fundamental principles that define us as a nation. We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens — and law-abiding immigrants — into subjects of suspicion and abuse.” The President is undoubtedly sensitive to the racial profiling and discrimination that will inevitably stem from the enforcement of Arizona’s new law.

Though it may comfort some to know the Administration will be closely monitoring Arizona’s law, and evaluating the civil rights and other implications it may have, the only solution in the end will be comprehensive migration reform. Comprehensive migration reform, as noted by President Obama, will be difficult, especially because it will require bipartisan support which has not been easy to come by as of late. Regardless, it is the only solution that will “close the door on [the] kind of misconceived action” that we recently witnessed in Arizona.

In his speech, President Obama called for “common-sense, comprehensive migration reform.” He did not provide many details regarding his vision for comprehensive immigration reform, but what he did say was enlightening nonetheless. The President predictably spoke out in favor of securing our borders and holding businesses accountable for “undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers.” The most interesting comment, though, was what the President said regarding illegal immigration. Specifically, the President stated that people who are living illegally in the U.S. should “admit that they broke the law, and pay taxes, and pay a penalty, and learn English, and get right before the law — and then get in line and earn their citizenship.”

In one very carefully crafted yet informative sentence, the President laid out his proposal for how to handle the current population of people living in the United States illegally. Though he never used the word amnesty, the President appears to be endorsing a program that would ultimately allow undocumented foreign nationals to earn U.S. citizenship. The problem of illegal migration is one of the greatest challenges facing comprehensive immigration reform and it is encouraging to know the President has a realistic and constructive solution to the problem. Before comprehensive migration reform can be debated in Congress, however, a proposal must first be put forth. No bill has been introduced, but the Senate Democrats have developed a conceptual proposal for migration reform. The introduction of the Senate Democrats’ immigration reform plan is the first measure in what will surely become the next hotly debated issue of the Obama Administration and, needless to say, the world and our immigration attorneys will be watching closely as the debate unfolds.