Posts Tagged ‘Naturalization’

USCIS Processing Times Are Getting Longer

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

Longer waits, longer applications, and higher fees are the unfortunate reality for persons and businesses seeking immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Here in Washington State, the USCIS Field Office in Seattle says it is taking 15 to 16.5 months to adjudicte a naturalization application.  The application itself costs $725, has 18 pages of instructions, and 20 pages of application to complete.  USCIS Field Offices appear to be swamped with additional vetting responsibilities, with no additional funding, despite the high application costs.

Similarly, the Service Centers have long waits for many important benefits.  Work authorization documents are taking 4.5 to 6.5 months to issue out of the National Benefits Center.  It used to be that the agency was required to issue a work authorization document within 90 days by regulation, but since that regulation was stricken, wait times have increased. This can be really hard on adjustment application couples, who need their significant other to be earning income to pay the bills.

H-1B applications have really slowed down too, now taking 5.5 to 7.5 months, according to the California Service Center.  We’ve heard of longer adjudications. The agency has noted the issue as well, and has suspended much of its premium processing program in order to try to get a handle on things.  It seems likely that the increase in Requests for Evidence and Denials has added to the agency’s workload.  H-1B applications include thousands of dollars in filing fees, but that doesn’t seem to be relevant.

Last week I participated in a teleconference with Congressional staffers and discussed the issue of delays.  It is a universal concern in immigration law right now, and hopefully something can be done. As part of that call, I put together the following list of published adjudication timeframes:

Timeframes for initial adjudications:

Local Field Offices:

I-485s

(Seattle):             10 to 19.5 months

(Yakima)              9.5 to 21.5 months

(Spokane)           9.5 to 21.5 months

Application fee:                $1225

Form length:                      18 pages; 42 pages of instructions, not including parole and work authorization applications

N-400s

(Seattle):                              15 to 16.5 months

(Yakima)                              3.5 to 5.5 months

(Spokane)                           11.5 to 18 months

Application Fee:               $725

Form length:                      20 pages; 18 pages of instructions.

 

National Benefits Center:

I-765                      4.5 to 6.5 months for adjustments;   5 to 7 months at NBC for all others

I-131                      4.5 to 6.5 months at NBC

 

California Service Center (I-129s)

H-1B:                     5.5 to 7.5 months

Ls:                           4 to 6 months

Rs:                          4 to 7 months

 

Nebraska Service Center (I-140s)

Extraordinary ability (E11)                                         5 Months to 7 Months

Outstanding professor or researcher (E12)                 5 Months to 7 Months

Multinational executive or manager (E13)                  9.5 Months to 12 Months

Advanced degree or exceptional ability (E21)           5 Months to 7 Months

Skilled worker or professional (E31; E32)                  5 Months to 7 Months

Unskilled worker (EW3)                                             7 Months to 9.5 Months

Advanced degree/ (NIW)                                           5 Months to 7 Months

Schedule A Nurses                                                     8 Months to 10 Months

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

California, Legalization, and Immigration

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

On January 1st, California will join Washington State, Colorado, and others in legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Proposition 64 was passed by the voters of California in November, legalizing possession of up to one dry ounce of marijuana. Federal government officials are already saying that they will continue to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, which treats cannabis the same as heroin and LSD. As with other legalized states, the federal/state conflict of laws will persist, uneasily.

One group caught square in the middle are the noncitizens.  Noncitizens include lawful permanent residents, temporary visitors, undocumented aliens and all others who are not U.S. citizens.  Noncitizens routinely have to deal with the Federal Government: immigration court proceedings, applications for immigration benefits (e.g. naturalization, work authorization, permanent residence, green card renewal), seeking entry to the U.S.; CBP checkpoints; visiting national parks; and so on.

Immigration law can be very harsh for the noncitizen when it comes to marijuana. We have seen people denied entry, denied green cards, and denied naturalization, all in relation to legalized marijuana. This year, I wrote extensively on Marijuana and Immigration for the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice magazine.

In a nutshell, the federal government does not need a conviction to find a person inadmissible to the United States. Inadmissibility can be established with an admission to the essential elements of a controlled substance offense; a “reason to believe” a person is engaged in drug trafficking, or a family beneficiary of its proceeds; misrepresentation; a determination that a person is a drug abuser or drug addict; or for being inadmissible at time of entry. Employment in the budding industry can also have unintended consequences. The laws for removability are different but similar. The legalities can get real complicated, fast, but the point is marijuana and immigration do not mix well.

USCIS officers will  sometimes ask questions about the legal use of marijuana, and this may lead to the denial of adjustments of status and naturalization applications. CBP officers will also ask, and deny admission based on admissions. CBP checkpoints are another point of contact where the issue may arise.  Other things will trigger immigration questions, such as finding marijuana on a person or in their car based on a stop on federal land (e.g. National Park), admission to past illegal use, or marijuana involved in a non-removable offense, such as a DUI.  The agencies are inconsistent in their application of the law.

Legalization will be terrific for immigration in some regards. Minor marijuana convictions in the past have created a basis for removability. These prosecutions in state court will not continue, and thus, they will no longer form the basis for removability. This alone could lead to keeping more families together, decreasing court dockets, and increasing government focus on other concerns.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

USCIS Encouraging On-Line Naturalization Applications

Monday, December 11th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is now encouraging individuals to file naturalization applications on-line. The agency has been struggling to modernize on-line application processes for many years now. Applicants should be aware that while filing on-line may provide some advantages, the laws surrounding naturalization have not changed. In fact, the actual process is slowing down administratively, as applications and processing times have gotten longer. Every question on an application form needs to be considered fully, as a simple “Yes” or “No” on the form can have far-reaching consequences in some cases.

The naturalization process is perhaps my favorite part of immigration law. Naturalization is a big deal for anyone. It represents the culmination of the lengthy and often-trying immigration process. It’s also the step where the government takes one last look at the immigrant, and so a certain measure of caution is prudent.

Here’s USCIS’s announcement sent out today regarding on-line applications:

Dear Stakeholder,

Applicants can file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization online through their USCIS online account. When they use the interactive Form N-400, applicants will see questions, alerts, and notifications specific to the answers they provide while completing the form. Applicants will also see prompts and reminders to upload required evidence. This means each person follows a personalized path for completing the form based on the information that they provide.

By using the online account, applicants will be able to:
• Update personal information online,
• Answer optional questions in the Naturalization Eligibility Tool to help determine their eligibility for naturalization,
• Create, edit, save, or delete a draft application,
• Upload evidence,
• Pay any fees and submit the application,
• View real-time case information and the history of their interactions with USCIS, and,
• Securely and directly communicate with USCIS about their case.
Currently, individuals can create a unique, online account and file their Form N-400 online, with only three exceptions. At this time, applicants must submit a paper Form N-400 if:
• They are applying for citizenship based on having served in the U.S armed forces or based on their current service,
• They want to apply from outside of the United States, or,
• They are requesting a fee waiver or reduced fee.

The Form N-400 online application was built based on input we received from community-based organizations and past applicants. Stakeholders from across the United States informed our development process by testing portions of the online form and providing feedback.

USCIS is also introducing an online naturalization eligibility tool that helps intending applicants determine if they may be eligible to apply for naturalization. This optional tool provides information about the most common eligibility requirements for naturalization.

We encourage you to share this option for an online and interactive filing experience with your clients who are ready to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Kind regards,

USCIS Public Engagement Division

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

Military Naturalizations Halted

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 by W. Scott Railton

Our colleague Margaret Stock is the leading authority on military and immigration. Unfortunately, she reports that the Department of Defense has put a hold on all military naturalizations. Here is her practice alert she sent out to the immigration bar:

Practice Alert!

On Friday, October 13, 2017, the US Department of Defense halted ALL military naturalizations for all currently serving members of the US Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and their Reserve Components, including the National Guard). More details to follow. It is not clear when naturalizations will resume since every immigrant seeking to naturalize now needs the signature of a Service Secretary on Form N426 in order to file an N400. There is no procedure in place to get that signature.

https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/1342317/

Please warn your clients seeking to enlist in the US Armed Forces that such enlistment will NOT allow them to naturalize for several years (estimated time for DOD to follow the new procedures). If they are a green card holder and they enlist, they will not be able to naturalize under the civilian statutes once they enlist, because they can’t naturalize while the new DOD background checks are pending.

 

COPYRIGHT Cascadia Cross-Border Law, 2017. All rights reserved.

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USCIS Doubles the Length of its N-400 Naturalization Form

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 by W. Scott Railton

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today released a new 21 page N-400 form that must be completed to naturalize as a U.S. citizen. The old form was only 10 pages. This is the most significant change to the format in a long, long time.

The Government’s official statement on the revision says:

The revised Form N-400 contains:
• Clearer and more comprehensive instructions which highlight general eligibility requirements and specific instructions on how to complete the application;
• 2D barcode technology used for each page on the revised Form N-400, which will enhance our ability to quickly and accurately process the application; and
• New questions based on legal requirements related to national security and good moral character.

Although USCIS revised the Form N-400, it is important to note that:

• The naturalization eligibility requirements have not changed; and
• The filing fee remains the same where applicable.

USCIS will continue to accept previous versions of Form N-400 for a period of 90 days until May 5, 2014. After May 5, USCIS will only accept the revised version of the Form N-400.

A brief comparison of the old and new forms shows many differences:

• The new form calls out the legal basis for requesting exemption from the English Language Test.
• A more detailed personal contact information section, separate from the residence section.
• A new, full section on parentage, presumably for better examination of existing claims to citizenship.
• More exhaustive questioning about past employment, education, and residences in the new form. Gathering the information will provide headaches on occasion, I’m sure.
• The new form also goes to greater lengths to investigate marital and children history. For example, the new form specifically calls out the need to list all children, including children alive, missing, deceased; born in and outside the U.S.; married and unmarried; living with you or not; current stepchildren; legally adopted children; and children born out of wedlock. The old form did not get into this level of detail in explaining information needed.
• Additional new questions regarding hereditary titles and orders of nobility.
• “Have you ever called yourself a “non-U.S. resident” on a Federal, State or local tax return since you became a Permanent Resident?” is a new question.
• The new form seeks more information about any Group an applicant has been a member of, including the “Purpose of the Group” and the “Dates of Membership.”
• Many, many more questions with specificity regarding being involved or attached to terrorist activities and human rights violations (e.g. “Were you ever involved in any way with any of the following: “badly hurting, or trying to hurt, a person on purpose?”
• The new form requests more information concerning arrests, and specifically asks for a year/month/day count on served jail or prison time.
• Other new questions on the new form include, “Have you ever married someone in order to obtain an immigration benefit?”; “Have you ever made any misrepresentation to obtain any public benefit in the U.S.?”; and “Have you ever given any U.S. Government official(s) any information or documentation that was false, fraudulent or misleading?”
• The new form adds and modifies questions regarding U.S. armed service.

On the one hand, the new form provide adjudicators more information about each applicant. On the other, I expect it will take longer to prepare and adjudicate, and there will most certainly be some questions that end up creating issues of interpretation.  The current fee to naturalize is $680 for most applicants. I hope that USCIS is not creating a basis for asking even higher fees to adjudicate the same form, as a raised fee would make it all the tougher for long-time residents to apply.

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