USCIS Travel Document (I-131)

The importance and understanding of a USCIS Travel Document (Form I-131)

What is a Travel Document? (I-131)

Depending on what your immigration status in the USA a form I-131 Travel Document may or may not apply to you. However, for certain immigrants who are in this country under certain status such as DACA or a Temporary Protected Stay (TPS), a travel Document is extremely important if you intend to leave the country and return. The way the law is written right now, people with DACA or TPS are not allowed to reenter the country if they leave. So, let’s pretend you have DACA or TPS and you leave the USA to go on vacation. Upon your entry back into the USA it’s very possible that the Department of Homeland Security does not let you enter the country. That is why you need to apply for a Travel Document before you leave.

Applying for a Travel Document (I-131)

To apply for a travel document, you must fill out application with USCIS on form I-131. The purpose of the document is to acquire USCIS approval so that you can leave and then return into the country. You can only get a travel document for the reasons listed by law. The most common one is for humanitarian reasons such as a sick family member or a special event that USCIS deems worthy. Once your travel permit is granted you can leave the country and then upon entry show them your travel permit and they will let you back into the country. If you leave the country without it, you risk not being allowed to enter the country again.

Using the Travel Document as a Legal Entry

However, the travel document also has another function. People who are here under DACA or TPS and have an immediate relative who can petition for their green card, the travel document can be a game changer. Currently the rules state that if you entered the USA legally you can apply to get your green card while being in the USA. However, in the 5th Circuit (Houston), the law doesn’t recognize DACA or TPS as a legal entry. Therefore, if they want to get a green card they must leave the USA. However, now that we know about the travel document it is possible to apply for one and if granted use it as your legal entry. Let’s pretend someone gets a travel document, leaves to Japan and comes back in. The government will allow them entry because of their travel document and now they have a LEGAL entry into the country and can now apply for their green card in the USA.

Therefore, applying for a travel Document for people who have DACA or TPS can be a game-changer when it comes to getting a green card.

Contact Zavala Texas Law

Feel free to contact us to discuss whether you’re eligible for a travel permit and how it can help you get your green card.

Criminal Convictions and Green Cards aka Legal Permanent Residents

Criminal Convictions and Green Cards aka Legal Permanent Residents

Even if you have a green card aka Legal Permanent Residence, the US government can still deny you the residence in the USA if you have certain criminal convictions. There are two sets of rules that apply when it comes to criminal convictions and legal permanent residents. One is called inadmissibility and the other deportation/removability.

Inadmissibility

Admissibility only comes into play if a permanent resident left the USA for whatever reason and upon entry back into the USA was stopped by immigration services. At this point the government will determine if you deserve to be admitted into the United States. They will ask you for your immigrant visa and will look at any criminal convictions you have. The reason they will look at your criminal history is to determine if you have been convicted of any crimes that make you inadmissible. If you are found to have a crime that makes you inadmissible, the immigration officer has the discretion to not let you into the country and will place you in court proceedings.

Deportation or Removability

Now let’s pretend the green card holder never left the USA but instead got arrested and convicted here in the USA. Depending on what the crime was he may or may not have immigration consequences. Let’s assume it’s a crime that carries immigration consequences and the green card holder is placed in immigration proceedings. At this point Immigration Judge has the right to remove his green card and deport them from the country.

Relief for Green Card Holders (Cancellation of Removal)

If a green card holder finds themselves inadmissible at an airport or deportable inside the USA, there is still something that maybe done. Depending on the certain facts of the green card holder, they may be eligible for Cancellation of Removal 42A. If the green card holder can prove everything needed by law the judge could grant their application and they would be allowed to remain within the country.

It is very important to consult with an experienced immigration and criminal attorney to see if they are eligible for Cancellation of Removal. This is a very important application that if granted by the judge can only be done once in a lifetime. Therefore, it’s very important you put a very strong case together and make sure that you will be able to win the case in front of the immigration judge.

Factors to consider before applying with Immigration

Applying for a Green Card or Visa

If you’re trying to obtain a non-immigrant Visa or legal permanent resident status AKA green card, there are two major things you should consider before applying for your visa.

Eligibility

The first step to come to United States is to see if you are eligible for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. There are multiple visas one can apply for ranging from tourism all the way to employment-based. Each type of visa has eligibility standards and if you don’t qualify they will deny your application. Let’s take a very common B2 Visa, this also known as a tourism Visa. Let’s pretend foreign national wants to apply for a B2 tourist visa. However, at his interview, he claims that he wants to go to USA so that he can work and make money. This would be a violation of the visa guidelines because you are not allowed to work on a tourist visa. Therefore, if he intends to work, he will not be eligible for a tourist visa because he has an ulterior motive. On the employment side there are other visas such as an E2 investor visa which requires a foreign national to open and operate a business in the United States. You must prove your eligibility through business plans and documents. It’s important to determine your eligibility for the intended visa you are applying for. Consult with us at Zavala Texas Law, to help you determine your eligibility.

Inadmissibility

When the United States reviews your current visa or green card application, they will also decide whether you are inadmissible.  The term inadmissible means based on the rules of the Immigration and Nationality Act, you are a person who the USA cannot admit into the country. In my experience most all inadmissibility ground usually come from criminal backgrounds, prior illegal entries, being associated with a criminal organization.

A common example would be if you entered the country illegally or if you overstayed a visa. Both of those examples could find you inadmissible. Depending on the inadmissibility reason, you may be eligible for a discretionary waiver. A waiver is essentially a pardon by immigration. Therefore, if you get your waiver approved cancels out your inadmissibility and you are now admissible into the country.

If you have more questions regarding obtaining a Visa or green card, please feel free to contact us we are here at your disposal.

USCIS: I-797C Explained

What is an I-797C Receipt?

Anytime you file applications with USCIS they will send you what’s called an I-797C receipt. This is a confirmation that USCIS received your application and it is currently being processed . I-797C  receipt is called that because on the upper right hand corner it says I-797C. No matter what application you submitted you will receive an I-797C receipt once USCIS receives your application.

Receiving a receipt does not mean that your application has been approved nor has been denied, all it means is that USCIS has received it and it’s currently processing. Each I-797C document will give you current case updates or will notify you if you were approved or denied.

On the  I-797C receipt it is customary to have a receipt number so that you can track your case with USCIS. When you hire an experienced immigration lawyer, they will receive the majority of the paperwork USCIS sends you. They will keep you informed on your case status and let you know of anything that is needed.

Travel Considerations for Immigrants

Travel considerations for immigrants

If you are here on an immigrant visa or green card, there are a few things you should consider before traveling out of the United States. If you plan on entering the USA again you will be inspected by Department of Homeland Security upon your entrance. They will check if you have a valid immigrant visa and if you have a criminal record that would make you inadmissible.

Valid Immigrant Visa

Make sure you have a valid immigrant visa that will not expire while you are out of the country. When you enter the country, DHS will look to make sure you have a valid visa that allows you to be in the country and hasn’t expired.

If you have an immigrant visa that will it be expiring soon please consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure there will be no complications upon your arrival back into the country.

Criminal Background

If you have been convicted of a crime or have pending criminal charges, it is very important you consult with an immigration lawyer before you travel outside the country. The reason why is because when you try to enter USA they will look at your criminal background. If you have a criminal record they may not let you back in the country. There are many crimes that can make you inadmissible and ultimately will result in your denial into the country.

The criminal consequences vary depending whether you have a green card or an immigrant visa.

Pending USCIS application

If you are currently in the process of getting an immigrant visa or getting your green card, you should speak with an immigration attorney before you leave the country. The reason why is you don’t want to cause any delays in your green card or visa if you leave the country. They may also schedule interviews while you are out of the country. There are some instances where if you leave the country during your application they will deem it abandoned. Therefore you may have to ask for a travel document to let you leave the country and come back in.

Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing? Whats a boy to do?

Obtaining Legal Permanent Residence for your Spouse aka Green Card

Everyone knows that being married to a United Citizen can carry with it immigration benefits. What benefits exactly though? When an immigrant marries a citizen, they are now eligible to become a green card holder aka legal permanent resident. There are two ways to apply to become a resident. One is through adjustment of status and the other is consular processing.

First Step in obtaining Legal Residence

Before you can receive a green card, your United States Citizen spouse must first petition for you. You will need to do the I-130 application process and make sure that gets approved. You will be required to fill out various documents and to supply evidence/proof of certain information. Once USCIS approves this petition you can now move onto the next step through either adjustment of status or consular processing.

Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing?

After you have your I-130 Petition approved you have two ways to get your green card. The option you chose will depend on whether the immigrant is currently in the country or not. If they are in the country legally or entered legally and have overstayed, they are eligible to apply through adjustment of status. That means they will be allowed to apply and remain in the USA while their application is being processed. However, if they leave the country during the process they may run into some problems. Always consult with an experienced immigration attorney to help you.

Let’s assume that your spouse is still in their foreign country. In that case they can still acquire their green card but will have to do it with the United States Consulate in their home country. They will have to do the application process with the Department of State abroad. The process is similar, applications and evidence will need to be submitted. Usually an interview is required before they approve it.

Approval Date

So once you get approved its just a matter of logistics now. If you were approved via consular processing, now all you need to do is come to the USA and show Customs Border Patrol at the international airport your approval. If you applied via adjustment of status, you now just need to wait on your residency card to be mailed to you.

Exceptions to the rule

Above I mentioned the straight forward process of obtaining a green card through marriage to a citizen. Not every situation can be this straight forward though. Some of the things to consider are going to be criminal record, prior immigration problems and prior marriages. If you have history it would be best to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss your options and to see what the best options are for your current situation.

Voluntary Departure Explained

What is Voluntary Departure with the Immigration Court?

When a person aka respondent is in removal proceedings, it is the job of the immigration lawyer to identify possible relief for the respondent. Relief is the term given to the options the person has to remain in the country if any at all. Once you identify relief and fight the case to the immigration court, it is still possible that the judge finds the person deportable. Along with deportation the judge also places a 10 year ban on the person from entering the USA again. That means that the person is ineligible to enter the USA legally for another 10 years. If you enter illegally within those 10 years, you now face the permanent lifetime ban.

Voluntary Departure is a way of being deported but NOT having that 10 year ban added as a penalty. It’s essentially a deportation without the harsh 10 year punishment.

Why is Voluntary Departure important?

Let us assume that an order of deportation is placed on you and you cannot come back into the USA for 10 years. If you are currently or eventually marry a US citizen you cannot apply for a green card until those 10 years expire. This can be a huge setback for many families and future plans.

However, remember that if the judge grants you voluntary departure, you do not have that 10 year ban. Therefore your spouse can petition for you immediately after you leave the USA. This can save time, effort and save families.

Who is eligible for Voluntary Departure?

I always tell my clients that voluntary departure is discretionary. The judge has sole discretion on whether to grant voluntary departure or not. Often the judge will consider various aspects when considering voluntary departure. The judge will consider the person’s criminal record, personal history and family ties. Some criminal convictions can make you ineligible to apply for voluntary departure. Consult with us if you have criminal convictions in your past.

When is Voluntary Departure worth it?

It depends. An experienced immigration lawyer will be able to identify what the best solution is. I have had situations where a client has potential relief in the USA but in all honesty fighting for voluntary departure gave them the best chance at obtaining what they wanted.

Let me show you an example with our fictional immigrant, groundskeeper “Willy”.

Lets pretend Willy came to the USA illegally from Scotland. He got a job at Springfield elementary and was working for a few years. Along the way, Willy falls in love with Ms. Vanhouten. They get married and enjoy being together. Unfortunately Willy gets picked up by ICE agents and is now in deportation proceedings. Ms. Vanhouten, who is a citizen,wants to help Willy get his green card. Unfortunately she cannot just petition a green card for Willy because he entered illegally. During immigration court, Willy’s lawyer tells him that if he gets deported he will have a 10 year ban and his wife cannot help him for another 10 years. Willy’s lawyer also tells him that if he requests voluntary departure and the judge grants it, then he can start his green card process the moment he is back in his country of Scotland.

Since Willy’s lawyer is a good experienced immigration attorney at Zavala Texas Law, they fight for voluntary departure and the judge grants it. Thus, Willy is sent back to Scotland but the moment he arrives, he and his wife can now start the green card process and in about 1 years time, Willy can be back in the USA with a green card.

Contact us if you have any questions.

When someone you know is in immigration proceedings having an experienced immigration lawyer can make a big difference. They will walk you through the process and establish what your best options are. If you are seeking an experienced immigration lawyer in Houston, please feel free to contact us.

Green Card Process

Green Card Process

Becoming a United States Citizen begins with first acquiring Legal Permanent Status aka Green Card status. To do this you must be eligible through either work or a family based petition. In this article I will explain eligibility and the timeline in applying for a green card.

For this article let’s pretend you are a current green card holder and you are trying to bring your daughter from your home country.

The first step is to figure out which category your daughter fits in. You are currently a Permanent Resident and depending if your daughter is over 21 or under 21 will affect her wait time. Let say she is currently under 21  and unmarried then she will fall under F2A category. If she is over 21 or married she will be F2B. Also if you ever decide to become a US citizen then she will become F1.

Green Card – FAMILY-SPONSORED PREFERENCES

First: (F1) Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens:  23,400 plus any numbers not required for fourth preference.

Second: Spouses and Children, and Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Permanent Residents:  114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused first preference numbers:

  1. (F2A) Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents:  77% of the overall second preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit;
  2. (F2B) Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents:  23% of the overall second preference limitation.

Once you know which category you are you just need to look at the Visa bulletin. This is a bulletin that is updated every month with expected wait times therefore you should check the current visa bulletin to get accurate wait times. Unless you are one of those specific countries listed you can just look at the dates under “All chargeability area”.

Find the category your daughter would fit it and look at the date. That is the date they are currently honoring/awarding green cards to. So for example, if your daughter is under 21 and unmarried, she is F2A. Which means had you applied for her on October 22, 2015 then it is ready to be issued. Unfortunately if you do decide to become a citizen she would jump to F1 and the wait would be much longer.

Green Card Monthly Bulletin (October 2017)

Family-

Sponsored

All Chargeability

Areas Except

Those Listed

CHINA-mainland

born

INDIA MEXICO PHILIPPINES
F1 22DEC10 22DEC10 22DEC10 01MAR96 01JAN07
F2A 22OCT15 22OCT15 22OCT15 15OCT15 22OCT15
F2B 08NOV10 08NOV10 08NOV10 15JUL96 01JAN07
F3 22JUL05 22JUL05 22JUL05 22APR95 22FEB95
F4 08MAY04 08MAY04 01OCT03 01OCT97 01JUN94

Now that you know if you are eligible and the approximate wait times you can begin your green card process. Please contact us if you have any questions or if you want to start your application.