Getting Married? Take $100 off our Green Card Application Package

GREEN CARD BASED ON MARRIAGE WEDDING SEASON SPECIAL

Before getting married, engaged couples should start preparing their application to apply for a Green Card based on marriage to their US citizen spouse so that they can apply as soon as they receive their marriage certificate. Just in time to commemorate the start of wedding season, The Grady Firm is offering $100 off on our “Gold” Green Card Application Package, now through May 20, 2019. Just mention the code, “LOVE”.

We offer several levels of service to fit any budget, beginning with our most economical Bronze package at $1,000. For applicants wanting more hands-on service, or for complicated cases, we have our Gold and Platinum packages.

Our attorneys can help you understand the importance of excellent legal guidance through this critical process, and help you determine which service package is right for you.

Start preparing your application today–after all, what would be better than getting a work permit shortly after your Honeymoon?

ABOUT THE GRADY FIRM P.C.

The Grady Firm, P.C. attorneys help couples achieve a Green Card based on marriage to their US citizen spouse, and guides our clients during this time of uncertainty in immigration.

To learn more, schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with The Grady Firm’s attorneys; call +1 (323) 450-9010; or fill out a Contact Request Form.

*This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. This article does not make any guarantees as to the outcome of a particular matter, as each matter has its own set of circumstances and must be evaluated individually by a licensed attorney.

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USCIS Continues to make Marijuana Activity a “Conditional Bar” to Obtaining U.S. Citizenship Despite Local Decriminalization

Thirty-three US states, The District of Columbia, and at least 26 countries around the world have legalized the production and use of cannabis for medical, and, in some jurisdictions, for recreational use.  This wave of legalization has led to a growing and dynamic industry that employs thousands of individuals and has reduced the levels of criminalization of marijuana-related crimes. Despite this changing landscape however, United States Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) has recently made it clear that virtually any involvement with cannabis, even in jurisdictions where it is now legal, can have serious negative consequences to becoming a United States citizen.

In an April 19 USCIS policy alert, USCIS indicated that it was issuing policy guidance confirming that cannabis-related activity, even when it occurs in a jurisdiction where the activity is legal, creates a conditional bar to demonstrating good moral character for the purposes of naturalization. While USCIS has long treated cannabis-related activity as a basis for withholding immigration benefits, this new pronouncement further highlights the complex and uncertain interaction between state and federal laws, and United States immigration law.

According to the USCIS policy, “marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level,” a USCIS spokesperson said in a statement. “Federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”

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Canadian Citizens Will No Longer Be Permitted To Extend or Renew L-1 Status at the US Border

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently implemented a major policy change to the adjudication process of L-1 Intracompany Transferee petitions filed by Canadian citizens.  Beginning in March of 2019, CBP officers at all ports of entry and pre-clearance facilities ceased adjudicating L-1 petitions for extension or renewal, including L-1A blanket petitions. CBP continues to adjudicate all new L-1 petitions for Canadian citizens and L-1 petitions for intermittent/commuter Canadian citizen employees.

CBP made this policy change after determining that the authority to extend/renew L-1 petitions falls to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), rather than CBP. As a result, all L-1 petitions for extension/renewal must now be filed with USCIS by mail.

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How to Obtain Temporary Training or Employment in the United States as a Foreign Physician

Foreign physicians looking to advance their specialized careers in the United States can gain valuable experience and connections by working a physicians or fellows.

Generally, there are two visa classification options available to foreign physicians seeking temporary employment or training in the United States: (1) the J-1 Exchange Visitor Physician Program, and (2) the H-1B Specialty Occupation classification. Each of these classifications has unique requirements and benefits, but both require that the applicant demonstrate that he or she has obtained the required licenses and training necessary to practice in both the United States and the specific state of intended practice.

  1. J-1 EXCHANGE VISITOR PHYSICIAN PROGRAM

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Physician Program permits foreign physicians and medical graduates to participate in U.S. graduate medical education programs or training at accredited U.S. schools of medicine.  However, the J-1 classification does not permit full employment as a physician in the United States because the program focuses on providing graduate medical education or training in a specialty or sub-specialty occupation. Therefore, the J-1 is best suited to a foreign physician or medical graduate that wishes to gain additional education or clinical training at a United States-based institution.

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Cap on H-1B Visas for FY 2020 Reached Within 5 Days

Each year, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants 85,000 H-1B visas to applicants in “specialty occupations”. This cap has not increased since 2004, and has been greatly outweighed by demand over the last few years. Within the first five days of the 2020 fiscal year application filing period, which started on April 1, 2019, the cap was reached, as 201,011 petitions were received by April 5. This marks a 5% increase in petitions from the previous year.

Immigration legal experts at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have lamented that the limitation on the supply of high-skilled foreign workers is detrimental to continued economic growth of the U.S. economy. H-1B visa holders and applicants are filling a critical and ever-growing void in the U.S. economy by providing needed expertise, particularly in the Information Technology (IT) and tech development industries. Without meeting the demand for these talented foreign professionals, future growth and innovation are stifled.

Even as the economy and labor demand has continued to grow in the past several years, the maximum accepted applications has remained steady for the past sixteen years. The number of applicants has surpassed the numerical cap of 85,000 for the past seven years. The next opportunity to apply for an H-1B visa is April 1, 2020, which would have a job start date of October 1, 2020 or later, depicting on when a decision is reached on an applicant’s case.

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Is Your Company Prepared for an I-9 Audit? What to Expect During and After a Visit from ICE or DHS

ICE auditWhile immigration enforcement and oversight have occurred under the purview of all past presidents, the Trump Administration has publicly made them a leading policy priority.  Immigration raids and detentions at the border are the most visible aspects of this policy, but administrative oversight of employment documentation has also increased and will likely have the greatest impact on the majority of employers. One area where this is especially true is with Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s oversight of employer’s I-9 forms.

Worksite immigration enforcement rose drastically in the fiscal year 2018 compared to the previous year, following a commitment made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in late 2017 to step up its worksite enforcement efforts across the country.

All worksite enforcement categories surged by 300 to 750% over the previous fiscal year. Here are some surprising numbers:

• 6,848 worksite investigations in 2018 compared to 1,691 in 2017;
• 5,981 I-9 audits in 2018 compared to 1,360 in 2017;
• 779 criminal arrests compared to 139 in 2017 (including arrests and indictments of managers); and
• 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests compared to 172 in 2017.

What is an I-9 Form?

i-9The I-9 Form is an instrumental part of the new employee on-boarding process, and should be completed within the first 3 days of hire.  This form is used to verify the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States, including both citizens and non-citizens. Failure to maintain proper I-9s can lead to a variety of monetary fines or even criminal penalties if an employer intentionally misrepresents I-9 information.

What Can Go Wrong? During an Audit

On its face, the I-9 form appears to be a fairly simple and straightforward document. However, many employers fail to accurately input all required documentation, fail to obtain proper employee documentation, or fail to properly store and maintain I-9 records. Any of these oversights can lead to potentially costly fines in the event of an audit. Our clients who have been officially audited told us that ICE reviewed every line of an I-9 form for accuracy and will issue fines for every entry that is inaccurate. Therefore, it is vital that employees responsible for handling I-9 documentation be fully trained with respect to I-9 procedures. For a detailed overview of the I-9 process, see our previous article, 6 Tips for Avoiding Costly I-9 Mistakes. Continue reading

The Grady Firm, P.C. Speaks at the 40th Annual California Landscape Contractors Association Landscape Industry Show

ODSC09291n February 7, 2019, Jennifer Grady, Esq. and Anthony Mance, Esq. of the Grady Firm spoke to landscape company owners and operators at the 40th Annual California Landscape Contractors Association Landscape Industry Show in Ontario, California.

Jennifer and Anthony addressed what do to in the event of an immigration-related site visit by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and/or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They discussed real-world examples with the audience, and provided recommendations on how to create a site visit plan and train company staff on how to best respond in the event of a site visit.

In addition, they discussed procedures and tips for applying for the highly coveted H-2B temporary non-agricultural visas, which are used for employers who need additional workers on a temporary seasonal or peak-load need over a period of nine months.  These visas are commonly used by landscape contractors, hotels, amusement parks, ski resorts, fishermen, and other industries with a  seasonal or short-term need.

landscape contractorThis was the firm’s second time presenting at this show, and Jennifer and Anthony have provided numerous webinars for the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) over the last few years on immigration and employment law topics. Continue reading

H-2B Visas for Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

landscape contractorThe H-2B visa permits US employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States for the purposes of filling temporary, non-agricultural jobs.  It is commonly used for occupations in the hospitality (hotels, ski resorts), retail, and service industries (landscape contractors).

Congress has set a numerical limit, or “cap” on the number of H-2B visas to be issued on an annual basis, currently set at 66,000 per fiscal year.  The cap is split into two parts: 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 – March 31) and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 – December 31). H-2B visas are valid for a period of 9 months.

Who May Qualify for H-2B Classification?

ski instructorTo qualify for H-2B nonimmigrant classification, the petitioner must establish that:

  • There are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work.
  • Employing H-2B workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
  • Its need for the prospective worker’s services or labor is temporary, regardless of whether the underlying job can be described as temporary.  The employer’s need is considered temporary if it is a(n):
  • Its need for the prospective worker’s services or labor is temporary, regardless of whether the underlying job can be described as temporary.  The employer’s need is considered temporary if it is a(n):

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When Is the Best Time to Apply for an H-1B Employee Visa?

H-1B visaThe most highly anticipated visa of the year begins its application season in Q1 2019. The coveted H-1B visa allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in jobs that are “specialty occupation” positions, which involve the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.  H-1B visa holders often possess STEM degrees, such as jobs in fields such as science, engineering, logistics, and information technology.  To apply for an H-1B visa, the applicant must have a bona fide job offer from a U.S. employer, a Bachelor’s Degree or higher in their specific specialty or its equivalent, and meet the other requirements of the visa.

The H-1B visa is valid for three years, with an optional three-year extension, and provides the employee with the opportunity to apply for a Green Card if sponsored by the employer.  Accordingly, because the H-1B visa can last for 6 years (and even longer under some circumstances), the H-1B visa is one of the most popular ways for foreign professionals obtain a work visa, and ultimately, a Green Card in the United States. 

US FlagAs H-1B applications require a third-party academic credential evaluation of foreign degrees and the processing of a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor before an applicant is eligible to file an H-1B application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), H-1B applications can take 2-4 months to prepare.  Therefore, a prudent applicant will begin his or her application preparation in December or January because it can take several months to get documentation prepared and signed by the employer, obtain important documents from third parties, and have the application prepared by an attorney. Continue reading

Will the H-1B Lottery Change in 2019?

H-1B visaIn an attempt to change the lottery system for H-1B applications, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a rule that would require all H-1B petitioners to pre-register online for the H-1B lottery prior to submitting their H-1B filings. According to the proposed rule, only those H-1B petitions that have been selected in the lottery could then be submitted for the adjudication by USCIS. The rule is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OBM), which is the first step toward implementing such changes.

Other proposed changes would benefit applicants with Master’s Degrees by adding them to the initial round of 65,000 Bachelor’s Degree applicant visa spots lottery.  Then, if there are any Master’s Degree applications left over after the initial lottery round, the remaining Master’s Degree applications will be added to the lottery for the remaining 20,000 Master’s Degree cap. Continue reading

When Do I Need a B-1 Temporary Business Visitor Visa? Can I Just use ESTA to Visit the US?

businessman-in-airport-with-smartphone-800x532If you are coming to the United States to establish a U.S. presence of your foreign business; investigate whether you want to open a business in the U.S.; or attend conferences, look for commercial space, or interview potential investors or employees; you may be eligible for the B-1 Temporary Business Visitor Visa.

I. B-1 Temporary Business Visitor Visa

1.  Real Examples of When to Use the B-1 Visa

For example, if you own a business abroad but want to come to the United States to speak at conferences, meet potential clients, and conduct marketing activities, but have no plans to live or work in the U.S., the B-1 visa would be a good option for you.

In addition, if you have a business abroad and are looking to open an office in the United States, you can come to the US for several months to look for an office or warehouse space, interview potential employees, meet with investors, and do research for the business. Continue reading

Diversity Visa Lottery Now Open Until November 6, 2018 for FY-2019

Lottery-Balls-014.jpgFrom October 3 to November 6, 2018, citizens of certain countries may apply for a Green Card though the Diversity Visa Lottery.  Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants,” from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. A limited number of visas are available each fiscal year, and there is no cost to register for the DV Program.

Applicants who are selected in the program (“selectees”) must meet simple but strict eligibility requirements to qualify for a diversity visa. The Department of State determines selectees through a randomized computer drawing. The Department of State distributes diversity visas among six (6) geographic regions, and no single country may receive more than seven percent (7%) of the available DVs in any one year.

Who is Eligible?

globeFor DV-2019, natives of the following countries are not eligible to apply, because more than 50,000 natives of these countries immigrated to the United States in the previous five years: Continue reading

USCIS Increases Premium Processing Fee by 15% on October 1, 2018

fee-increaseOn August 31, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will adjust the premium processing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, beginning on October 1, 2018, to “more effectively adjudicate petitions and maintain effective service to petitioners. ” These forms are typically used for H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, L-1, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1 or R-1 petitions.

The premium processing fee will increase to $1,410.00, a 14.92 percent increase (after rounding) from the current fee of $1,225.00. This increase, which is done in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, represents the percentage change in inflation since the fee was last increased in 2010 based on the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers. Continue reading

USCIS Temporarily Suspends Premium Processing for Fiscal Year 2019 H-1B Cap Petitions

enter-usa-h1b-visaAs of April 2, 2018, USCIS began accepting H-1B petitions subject to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 cap.  This cap was reached in just four days, by April 6, 2018.
USCIS has temporarily suspended premium processing for all FY 2019 cap-subject petitions, including petitions seeking an exemption for individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher. This suspension is expected to last until Sept. 10, 2018. During this time, USCIS will continue to accept premium processing requests for H-1B petitions that are not subject to the FY 2019 cap.
USCIS will notify the public before resuming premium processing for cap-subject H-1B petitions or making any other premium processing updates.

During this temporary suspension, USCIS will reject any Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, filed with an FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petition. If a petitioner submits one combined check for the fees for Form I-907 and Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, both forms will be rejected.

Once USCIS resumes premium processing, petitioners may file a Form I-907 for FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petitions that remain pending.

Requesting Expedited Processing

While premium processing is suspended, a petitioner may submit a request to expedite an FY 2019 cap-subject H-1B petition if it meets the criteria on the Expedite Criteria webpage. It is the petitioner’s responsibility to demonstrate that they meet at least one of the expedite criteria, and USCIS encourages petitioners to submit documentary evidence to support their expedite request. USCIS reviews all expedite requests on a case-by-case basis and will grant requests at the discretion of its office leadership.

The Reason for Temporary Suspension of Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions

This temporary suspension will help USCIS reduce overall H-1B processing times. By temporarily suspending premium processing, USCIS will:

  • Process long-pending petitions, which it has currently been unable to process due to the high volume of incoming petitions and the significant surge in premium processing requests over the past few years; and
  • Prioritize adjudication of H-1B extension of status cases that are nearing the 240 day mark.

Look for USCIS’ updates on the H-1B FY 2019 Cap Season webpage.

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Clarification of STEM OPT Extension Reporting Responsibilities and Training Obligations

STEM guysCertain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT).  On August 17, 2018, USCIS updated the Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) page of its website to clarify the reporting responsibilities for participation in the STEM OPT program. Students and employers must report material changes to the Designated School Official (DSO) at the earliest opportunity by submitting a modified Form I-983. Employers must report the STEM OPT student’s termination of employment or departure to the DSO within five business days.  As previously indicated on the webpage, students must report certain changes, such as changes to their employer’s name and address, to their DSO within 10 business days. Prompt reporting ensures that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is able to exercise effective oversight of the program.

Additionally, DHS is clarified that STEM OPT participants may engage in a training experience that takes place at a site other than the employer’s principal place of business, as long as all of the training obligations are met, including that the employer has and maintains a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. DHS will review on a cSTEM OPTase-by-case basis whether the student will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan, and verify that the employer that signs the Training Plan is the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience. Continue reading