Immigration Questions: (954) 382-5378

  POSTING DATE: July 30,  2018
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Immigration News & Updates eNewsletter ©  2011  - 2018 
For questions about U.S. Residency, Green Cards and Immigration Visas, Visit our Website at: or  call our office at: (954) 382-5378
Questions & Answers
This Week's Immigration News 
By Immigration Attorney Caroly Pedersen
Question: My husband is a us citizen and was working in real estate a few years ago and got paid on commission. He didn’t know to put aside for taxes and now he owes thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. Because of this, he hasn’t filed his taxes since 2015. He makes good income now, but is still afraid of the old taxes. I have told him to have the accountant work something out with the irs, but he just keeps putting it off. The problem is that we need to file for my papers since my drivers license expired last year and now with all the bad things going on with immigration im afraid of what might happen if we put it off any longer. My husband says his mom can sponsor me so he doesn’t need to give his tax returns. I am not so sure, I don’t want to risk anything and we really need your help about this. Thank you.
Answer: In most Residency cases, Immigration regulations require that a Sponsor provide a copy of their most recent IRS Tax Return (2017) and the adjusted gross income from the preceding two years IRS tax returns (2016 & 2015). It’s important to understand that there is no requirement that all taxes owed have been paid, only that the returns were legally filed. Contrast this with Naturalization cases, where Residents are required to show not only have all required tax returns been filed, but also that either all outstanding taxes have been paid or an agreement for repayment has been reached with the IRS and all payments due under the agreement have been paid as agreed, even if a balance is still due. 

In most cases in which a U.S. Citizen or Resident is sponsoring a family member, the sponsor is required to file the form I-864 Affidavit of Support and provide proof of tax return filing and previous years’ income, even if the sponsor’s current income does not meet the minimum income requirements. In such cases, a Joint Sponsor can file an Affidavit of Support in addition to the one the main sponsor has filed, showing that they meet the income requirements. The joint sponsor cannot substitute for the sponsor’s affidavit and proof of income, but is instead, in addition to that of the sponsor. U.S. Citizen and Residents who earned enough income to file a tax return are required to show they did so. The bottom line is that the USCIS will not allow a sponsor who failed to file tax returns to use a joint sponsor as a substitute. As a result, sponsor’s who meet the threshold to file tax returns must do so, before sponsoring a foreign family member. 

So in your case, your husband must file his taxes for 2015, 2016 & 2017. He can then enter into an installment agreement with the IRS and pay his tax obligations in monthly installment payments. Once he has done so, we will prepare your case and the affidavit of support for your husband. If his current income meets the minimum affidavit of support (form I-864) income requirements, you will not need a joint sponsor. If his income does not, we will prepare a Joint Sponsor affidavit of support for your mother in law and include all the required documentation to prove her eligibility under the guidelines.
Tips To Help You Keep Updated On Your Immigration Case
Helpful Immigration Tips You Can Use...

  Immigration News & Updates              eNewsletter
Once an immigration case is filed with the USCIS it is vital to not only track the package to ensure delivery, but also to receive confirmation of receipt from the USCIS along with your case number. Then once the USCIS receipt (called the I-797 Notice of Action) is issued, its even more important to stay updated on your case and receive email updates from the USCIS about actions taken on your case. 

For instance if the officer sends you a Request for Evidence, its important to know and followup with the USCIS in case you never receive the request, so it can be resent.
Immigration How To:
How Do I Know If I Should Apply To Extend My Vacation In The U.S.?
 For Most, Filing For Asylum Is A One-Way Ticket To Deportation
Harsh Realities and Consequences of Applying For Asylum

Too often, many Immigrants hear from friends and family that they can apply for Asylum in the U.S., then automatically get a work permit and authorization to stay in America legally. What they often don’t understand until it’s too late, it’s that while Immigrants who apply for asylum are granted work permits and are authorized to stay in the U.S. while waiting for their asylum case to be processed, in the end, more than 74% of all Asylum cases are denied and those who applied, deported. In fact for many, it’s a guaranteed route to deportation, especially National’s of countries which are typically not known for persecution of its citizens, like Caribbean countries, most Latin American countries, Canada, Europe, etc.
The Growing Risk Of Extending Or Changing Status Inside The U.S.

Commonly, in the past, a foreign national visiting the U.S. on a Tourist/Business Visa, called a B1/B2, could extend his or her stay or change to a new visa like an F-1 Student visa status, by filing an application with the USCIS. Once filed, the applicant could remain in the U.S. legally, while waiting for the application to be processed, typically within several months. An example would be a case involving an international tourist wishing to extend his or her vacation for several months in the U.S. or an individual seeking to become an international student to study English or enroll in an academic program. 
Naturalization Processing Times Increasing At Most Florida USCIS Offices 
It’s no secret that USCIS processing times have drastically increased over the past year. One look at the USCIS processing times website reveals a disturbing picture of government delays in its handling of most immigration cases, showing excessive backlogs at national service centers and local field offices nationwide, including those in South Florida. The reasons for the delays are many and include the Trump administration’s shift of its priorities more to enforcement, which has significantly increased the number of cases in the system. This is the new reality and as such, immigrants embarking on any immigration process should be aware of the lengthy processing times ahead. Here are the approximate times posted for local USCIS field offices in Florida for Naturalization cases:
USCIS Case Status System Technical Issues Persist With No Solution In Sight
The USCIS website includes an option which allows applicants with pending immigration cases to sign up for updates through the USCIS My Case Status program, as well as to check the status of their case by entering the case number (found on the USCIS receipt, called form I-797 Notice of Action). 
Fortunately, the USCIS offers several convenient ways to get updates on newly filed and pending Immigration cases. Immigrants and Sponsors filing Immigration applications with the USCIS can sign-up to receive text messages and email E-notifications confirming application receipt by the USCIS, along with the case receipt number(s). The receipt number allows individuals to track the status of their case online and are issued within 24 hours after the USCIS receives the application. To request e-notification, download and complete form G-1145 and mail along with all Immigration applications. Once you receive your case number, go to the USCIS website and sign up for Email Status updates on your case through the USCIS My Case Status program. After you register and enter your case number(s), the USICS will automatically email you notifications and updates on any actions take on your case so that you are better informed about your case status. 

It’s a great way to stay informed and keep up to date on the status of your case as it moves along in processing.

Click on the links below to visit helpful USCIS online services:
My Case Status
Change of Address Online
Check Processing Times
USCIS Field Office locator
Civil Surgeon Locator (for immigration medical exams)
Office  & Range of Processing Times:

Fort Myers 15 to 20.5 months– the office is currently working on applications it received 11/22/16

Jacksonville6.5 to 14.5 months – the office is currently working on applications it received 5/19/17

Kendall10.5 to 14.5 months – the office is currently working on applications it received 5/22/17

Miami15.5 to 23 months– the office is currently working on applications it received 9/12/16

Oakland Park 14 to 17 months – the office is currently working on applications it received 5/16/17

Orlando10.5 to 17 months– the office is currently working on applications it received 3/9/17

Tampa 10 to 15 months– the office is currently working on applications it received 5/12/17

W P Beach7 to 15.5 months– the office is currently working on applications it received 4/20/17

Check out all USCIS processing times
Generally, for most immigration applications, once the case number is input in the system, the message displayed indicates the date the application was filed, case type and tells the applicant to follow the instructions in the receipt notice. Later, as the case progresses, additional information is provided. 

In the past, the online case system would occasionally fail to recognize a case number due to a likely data entry error. However, since early 2018, a technical glitch in the USCIS system has caused it to fail to recognize thousands of case numbers. As a result, affected users inputting their case number in the system expecting to receive case status, instead receive an error message, similar to the following: Validation Error(s) You must correct the following error(s) before proceeding: User-Defined Error. The USCIS is aware of the issue, but has failed to correct it, and has not provided information regarding efforts to do so. This can be very frustrating and inconvenient for many applicants negatively affected by the system failure, who are unable to check their case(s) online in order to determine the status. In these cases, applicants should call the USCIS at 1 (800) 375-5283 and request case status and the last action taken on the case. Customer Service operators are not USCIS officer and cannot see details of cases, but can usually see if any action was taken on the case since filing. If a representative cannot see the case in the system, callers should request that the call to elevated in order to speak to an actual USCIS officer who is authorized to access more case details. Another option which may or may not resolve the issue is to report the problem via email the USCIS technical support team. 
Report problems with the online case status system:
[email protected]

Question: I have a question about medical marijuana. I live in Colorado and use marijuana for my anxiety. I have a prescription and buy it from a legal dispensary. I have been here on a work visa for a few years and dating my girlfriend who lives in florida. We decided to get married recently and I plan to move down to florida soon. Shes american so we want to file my immigration papers for my green card. My girlfriend says that it is still illegal to use even medical marijuana in florida and I could get in trouble with immigration if I use what I was legally prescribed in Colorado because of that. Can you please clarify this for me?
Answer: It is very important for Immigrants to understand that immigration and Marijuana do not mix! Even legal, prescribed Marijuana is not “legal” for noncitizens. There is no logic here, just the law. Even while medical Marijuana is legal in some states and may be in Florida soon, it is still illegal on the Federal level. The federal government has taken the approach that it will leave it to the states to enforce drug laws and allow states to legalize it for state purposes. It’s still illegal for anyone to possess it or carry it across state lines or on airline travel. But for Immigrants, since their legal status in the U.S. is governed by federal law, the use or possession of even legal Marijuana is illegal, even in a state where Marijuana is legal. Sounds ridiculous! Only natural born and Naturalized U.S. Citizens can legally consume “legal” Marijuana. The use of Marijuana by an Immigrant during the Immigration process can prevent him or her from obtaining Residency (a Green Card) and even result in Removal from the U.S.. When filing for your residency, you are required to undergo a medical exam by a physician authorized by the USCIS. During the exam, the doctor will question you about drugs and if the doctor suspects a history of drug use, additional tests for drugs can be done. If this happens and you test positive, it could result in negative immigration consequences. Given this, it would be wise to completely abstain from marijuana use for a significant period of time before having your required immigration medical exam.

One you have your Green Card and are still in a happy married after 3 years, you can apply for early Naturalization and once you are a Naturalized U.S. Citizen, you are eligible to consume legal Marijuana again. I hope this is helpful to you.

Merely coming from a country like Venezuela, Iraq, Syria where there are political upheavals, food shortages and security issues, does not automatically qualify an Asylum applicant. Nearly everyone in a country like for instance, Venezuela is suffering under the stress of the country’s instability and political uncertainties, but only those who can actually document that they have been personally persecuted or have a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on their (1) political opinion, (2) religion, (3) race, (4) nationality or (5) membership in a particular social group, qualify. It’s important to understand that simply being a citizen of one of these or many other countries around the world, regardless of your political affiliation, religion, race, nationality or group membership does not automatically equal eligibility. For instance, just being a member of the political “opposition” against Maduro in Venezuela does not qualify a Venezuelan for Asylum in the U.S., unless the Venezuelan national is able to prove with documentation that he or she has in fact been personally persecuted as a result of their political opposition to the Maduro regime or that due to documentable circumstances, they can prove a “well-founded fear that they would be persecuted should they return to the country. And without this critical proof, Asylum will likely be denied and deportation procedures begun. In fact, under the Trump Administration, qualifying for Asylum just got more difficult and applying more risky, since he has indicated plans to expedite Asylum processing and deportation.

Every day I get calls from Asylum applicants who want to apply for a work or investment visa, who would otherwise have qualified, if not for having applied for Asylum and letting their I-94 or period of authorized stay in the U.S. expire. It’s very important to understand that applying for Asylum does not preserve legal status and once a person’s period of authorized stay under their visa has expired, they become ineligible to apply for nearly any other type of immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. In fact, one of the only immigration options available to an Asylum applicant is through a real marriage (for love) to a U.S. Citizen.

Asylum should always be the last resort, not the first option, because once an individual files for Asylum, they close the door on nearly every other immigration option and put all their hope on winning a case, where the odds are already against them. Immigrants often see that their friends or family members applied for Asylum in the U.S. and they have been here for many years going through the process. What they don’t often understand is that simply being in the U.S. going through the Asylum process most often does not mean that an individual has been granted Asylum or residency, in fact the longer a person has been in the process may mean that they have waited years for their Asylum interview, been denied, waited another few years for their Deportation hearing, been denied and either appealed or simply ignored the Deportation order.

So with all this said, the most important takeaway is this: 1) Never file for Asylum just because you heard that you could get a work permit, 2) Have an attorney who specializes in Asylum evaluate your case before you file, 3) Remember that just because you can apply for Asylum, does not mean that you should! 4) If you apply for Asylum, then later decide to leave the U.S., your U.S. Tourist visa is automatically cancelled. Good luck!
However, things have gotten much more complicated recently, and due largely to new Trump administration policies, very risky for anyone who wants to change or extend status in the U.S.. There are several reasons, first, foreign nationals should wait for 60 days after the date they entered the U.S. before filing any immigration application with the USCIS, including those to extend or change status. Second, the USCIS processing time has increased so drastically, to 4-9 months, that in most instances, an individual’s “period of authorized stay” in the U.S. will expire while waiting for their application to be processed. Third, as part of Trumps new tough immigration measures, it is more difficult to obtain approvals and foreign applicants must now withstand more scrutiny about their intentions to return to their home country, and risk denial if they are not able to provide documentation which establishes that they own property and continue to maintain a residence in their home country, to which they intend to return once their visa in the U.S. expires. 

Fourth, under another new policy, all applicants to change status to an F-1 student or other visa in the U.S. are first required to file applications to extend status in the U.S.. This is not only confusing, but can lead foreign nationals to believe that once they file the application to extend status, it will automatically be granted and there is no risk, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Taken together, this is a lethal combination for any foreign national who values their U.S. visa, since overstaying an individual’s “period of authorized stay” in the U.S. by even one day, results in immediate cancellation of that person’s B1/B2 visa. And under the present circumstances, it is very easy to overstay, since USCIS processing takes so long and denials are much more common. Another risk that many applicants do not understand is that if they apply to extend status in the U.S. and are approved, once they leave and later try to return again too early, they risk heightened scrutiny about their intentions in the U.S. and in some cases denial of entry or even B1/B2 visa cancellation if the officer believes they are seeking to reenter the U.S. with the intention to change or extend status again. 

Finally, if an individual applies to extend or change status in the U.S., then leaves the U.S. after his or her “period of authorized stay” in the U.S. has expired, before the USCIS has issued a decision on their case, again, it results in immediate cancellation of that person’s B1/B2 visa. Clearly, filing any application to extend or change status in the U.S. is risky and should be very carefully considered before an application is made. In most cases, applying for an F-1 student visa is much safer to do abroad through the U.S. Consulate and much quicker, usually within about 30-90 days.