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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Immigration As Usual? Moving Forward in Times of Uncertainty

by Anthony Mance, Esq. and Jennifer Grady, Esq.

Recent announcements by the Trump Administration declaring enhanced vetting of current immigration cases; talks in Congress about major proposed changes to the immigration laws; and constant media discourse regarding the future of DACA, the Travel Ban, employment-based visas, and increased waiting times, may have the effect of chilling immigration applications.  However, with the right information, and a plan that takes these changes into account, it is still possible to submit a successful immigration application.  We discuss the latest updates, and our recommended responses, below.

I. “Enhanced Vetting”

TRUMPOne of the major elements of President Trump’s Presidential Campaign was the promise that he would take a hard line on immigration.  Since he has become President of the United States, this promise has materialized into a policy that enforces existing immigration laws by applying stricter review of immigration applications. Commonly referred to as “enhanced” or “extreme” vetting, the practice requires that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) spend more time reviewing immigration applications, conducting additional background security checks, adding in-person interviews. Continue reading

L-1B Intracompany Transferee Visa for Employees With Specialized Knowledge

international-movers-and-packersThe L-1B visa permits a U.S. employer to transfer a professional employee with specialized knowledge from one of its foreign offices to one of its U.S. offices.  There is also the option for a foreign company that does not yet have an office in the U.S. to send an employee with specialized knowledge to the states to help establish a U.S. office.  Both the employer and employee must meet certain qualification requirements:

1. To qualify for L-1B classification in this category, the EMPLOYER must:

  • Have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate, collectively referred to as qualifying organizations); and
  • Currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organization for the duration of the beneficiary’s stay in the United States as an L-1.  While the business must be viable, there is no requirement that it be engaged in international trade.

Doing business means the regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods and/or services by a qualifying organization and does not include the mere presence of an agent or office of the qualifying organization in the United States and abroad. Continue reading

Now is the Time to Start Preparing Your H-1B Visa Application

enter-usa-h1b-visaThe H-1B visa is one of the most popular ways for foreign professionals in specialty occupations to obtain a work visa, and even a Green Card in the United States.  A successful H-1B application requires sponsorship by the professional’s employer, and can be granted for three years, with one additional three-year renewal. The H-1B allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, and requires a Bachelor’s Degree or its equivalent.

Although USCIS will not begin accepting H-1B applications until April 1, 2017, it is critical
to start preparing your application now, as the competition for this coveted visa is fierce.  The H-1B visa has an annual numerical limit, or cap, of 65,000 visas each fiscal year. However, the first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.  In 2016, USCIS received 236,000 H-1B visa applications within the first five days of the application period. Once USCIS receives enough applications to satisfy the 65,000 quota, it implements a lottery.  The applications that are not selected in the lottery are returned to the sender, along with their filing fees.  In 2016, there was a 25% chance of an application making it through the lottery with a Bachelor’s Degree, and a one third chance with a Master’s Degree.  Continue reading

Take Action on Your Immigration Application Before Fees Increase 12/23 and a New Administration Takes Office in January

trumpIf you are planning to file an application for a visa, Green Card, or naturalization, we highly recommend you do so before the end of the year.  Filing fees will increase by an average of 21% on December 23, 2016.  In addition, due to the uncertainty of the transition to a new President and GOP-majority Congress, we recommend filing your application now so that it will be in the queue in the event programs are taken away, modified, or application wait times increase.

Fee Increase

money-bagsFor the first time in six years, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be increasing its filing fees to help cover the increasing costs of providing its services.  Some increases will be substantial, others less so, and overall, fees will increase by a weighted average of 21%.  Some more common and popular applications that will be affected include the following forms,  which are used for Green Card, work permit, and citizenship applications: I-90, I-130, I-140, I-485, I-765, and N-400, to name a few.  For more detailed information on each of these changes, and all other fee increases, check out our recent blog post here. Continue reading

USCIS To Increase Filing Fees on December 23, 2016

uscis

For the first time in six years, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has increased its filing fees by a weighted average of 21% for numerous immigration applications and petitions.  USCIS announced the increase in a final rule published in the Federal Register, noting that the increase will go into effect on December 23, 2016.  The department explained that because USCIS is primarily funded by these fees, an increase was necessary in order to fully cover the costs of providing its services.

fee-increaseOne of the steepest increases is the fee for EB-5 applications, especially Form I-526 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Entrepreneur), which will increase from $1,500 to $3,675 – an almost 145% increase.  Furthermore, USCIS also added a $3,035 fee for the I-924A – Annual Certification of Regional Center, an essential form for EB-5 applicants applying through regional centers.

Other popular forms that will also increase include the popular I-90, I-130, I-140, I-485, I-765, N-400, which are used for Green Card, work permit, and citizenship applications.

For more information about these fee increases view the official USCIS announcement here.  If you plan on filing any of these forms within the next few months, you can save money on filing fees by filing before costs increase on December 23,2016.  Due to the uncertainty that will follow the recent political elections, we recommend filing your application before new officials take office in January 2017.

Below is a chart highlighting and comparing these major fee changes: Continue reading