Integrity Legal

Archive for August, 2009

19th August 2009

Each year the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand processes numerous applications for visas to the United States. In recent years, their caseload has become increasingly large particularly since tourist visa applicants and applicants for other non-immigrant visa categories (student, exchange visitor, etc.) have required interviews at the consular post. With this in mind, the Embassy also must conduct due diligence to ensure that those applying for visas are presenting a bona fide application.

In some cases, applicants attempt to defraud the United States consular officers by presenting a knowingly false application or attempting to acquire immigration benefits based upon a relationship that is not bona fide. Due to increasing demand for access to the United States, there has been an increasing number of instances where fraudulent applications are submitted. In an effort to curtail fraudulent applications, the United States Embassy has a division called the Fraud Prevention Unit.

The Fraud Prevention Unit’s mission is best described using the following excerpt from the website of the United States Embassy in the Dominican Republic:

“Welcome to the Fraud Prevention Unit of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo.  Our principal mission is to safeguard U.S. borders by detecting and stopping fraud in applications for U.S. passports, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas.  We accomplish this critical goal by training Consular Section staff on fraud detection, maintaining close cooperation with U.S. and Dominican law enforcement agencies and deploying our staff of highly trained investigators to conduct interviews and investigations.”

The US Embassy Bangkok also has a Fraud Prevention Unit with a similar, if not identical mandate. The Unit screens applications and applicants for red flags which could denote fraudulent activity. For instance, if an application for a K1 visa does not have a great deal of evidence that shows a bona fide relationship between the petitioner and beneficiary, then the case might be forwarded to the Fraud Prevention Unit for review. Most applications will never be placed under the scrutiny of the Fraud Prevention Unit, and the staff of the United States Embassy in Bangkok is very cooperative with regard to visa applications, but fraud prevention is a legitimate reason to scrutinize applications where the underlying bona fides are questionable.

For couples in a truly bona fide relationship, it is important to produce adequate documentation to show that the relationship is real and the parties are serious about their intentions. Further, lying to the officials at the Embassy or intentionally misrepresenting oneself before the Embassy is a good way of increasing the odds that the Fraud Prevention Unit will be looking over your visa petition and therefore it is not only ethically correct to tell the truth, but a better strategy for achieving one’s immigration goals.

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18th August 2009

As President Obama appears to be retreating from campaign promises for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, there are new reports emerging that Immigration may be a boon to the economy of the United States of America.

The Wall Street Journal’s website from August 18, 2009 is quoted as stating:

“A new study published by the Cato Institute finds that the focus on repelling immigrant labor does more harm than good to the U.S. economy. “Increased enforcement and reduced low-skilled immigration have a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households,” write Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, the study’s authors. “In contrast, legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households.” A program that allowed more low-skilled foreigners to enter the U.S. workforce lawfully would put smugglers and document-forgers out of business, explain the authors. “It would also allow immigrants to have higher productivity and create more openings for Americans in higher-skilled occupations.”

Though somewhat counter intuitive, the tightening of security measures at United States borders may be helping to keep the American economy in the doldrums.

Of further interest in the Wall Street Journal’s article regards Mr. Obama’s backpedaling on the major issues involving American Immigration. To further quote the Wall Street Journal online:

“President Obama continues his quiet retreat from a campaign pledge to make comprehensive immigration reform “a top priority in my first year as President.” Following a summit meeting in Guadalajara last week with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, Mr. Obama said that an immigration overhaul will have to wait until next year.”

In the next Congressional session it is hoped that Comprehensive Immigration Reform will be dealt with and the current problems associated with large numbers of illegal aliens in the United States will finally be put to rest. Of further concern to some immigration equality advocates  is the issue of US family based visas for couples of the same sex. Currently the Defense of Marriage Act bars the Federal government from granting US Immigration benefits based upon a same sex marriage or an intent to enter into a same sex marriage.

However, these issues are resolved the underlying issue is one of decisiveness. The current Presidential Administration needs to begin making some difficult choices with regard to immigration. Many of these choices will not be well received by all segments of the United States population. Nonetheless, definitive action needs to be taken as many people in the United States continue to live in a kind of limbo and many couples remain separated from their loved ones abroad.

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17th August 2009

Thailand Real Estate law is a complex area of jurisprudence. Many people, particularly foreigners, have misconceptions regarding what type of property rights can be accrued by non-Thais living in Thailand. First there is the mistaken belief that foreigners cannot own land. In reality, there is merely a de facto prohibition regarding foreign land ownership. A foreigner can own land in Thailand, but he or she must obtain approval from the Thai Minister of the Interior which can be a difficult proposition.

Another slightly incorrect idea circulating in the Thailand expat community is that one cannot obtain a lifetime right of use in any type of Thai real estate. However, it may be possible to acquire a usufruct which would give the person holding the usufruct the right to use the land or the structures thereon for their lifetime.

A 30 year Thai lease can also be acquired for Thai property, but it must be properly registered with the local land office. Another common misconception is the idea that one can have a 3 year “automatically renewing” lease in Thailand. This mistake would seem to stem from the fact that an unregistered Thai lease is enforceable for up to 3 years, but one needs to continually get a new lease from the land owner in order for the lease to rollover.

Recording a Thai mortgage is one method often employed by foreigners resident in Thailand who finance the purchase of property in a spouse or loved one’s name. If the foreign national ever wishes to retrieve their interest in the equity of the property, then all they need to do is foreclose on the property in order to re-acquire their funds.

There are some issues when it comes to recording these types of property interests where a third party has encumbered the Thai property by recording a mortgage at the land office. Thai banks often provide mortgages on Thai property and in order to obtain some sort of property interest in the encumered real estate one must first obtain permission from the bank. Therefore if one wishes to obtain a 30 year lease or a lifetime usufruct on the encumbered real estate owned by another, then it may be wise to contact the bank which holds the mortgage and inquire as to their position on recording leases on property they have an interest in. Sometimes, retaining the services of a competent Thailand property lawyer can be beneficial in such matters particularly as an experienced Thai real estate attorney can predict the likelihood of bank acquiesence.

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17th August 2009

There appears to be growing frustration among many groups who supported President Barack Obama when he was campaigning for the White House. During his bid for the Presidency, Mr. Obama was quite vocal about the need to reform the current immigration system in the United States of America. However, as Mr. Obama’s Presidency has begun as a very busy administration, Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) has seemed to have been shunted to the “back burner.”

In a recent web posting entitled, “Obama Pushes Immigration Reform to 2010, Jokes About Being Called ‘an Illegal Immigrant’” the author, Diego Graglia,wrote:

“Obama added he can’t get immigration reform passed on his own. “It’s important that people realize that things don’t happen because the President snaps his fingers. I can’t do all this by myself,” he said. He asked that grassroots groups continue to organize and mobilize for reform and that members of Congress face the political risks involved.”

Although it is correct that the President cannot solve all political problems by snapping his fingers, this comment does beg the question: then what can he do? Certainly it takes more than simply snapping one’s fingers, but at the same time the President wields a great deal of hard, soft, indirect legislative, and overt executive power. Certainly, he of all people could at least attempt to bring about some sort of compromise measure that would not require as much political capital.

At the same time, there are those who argue that Obama has too many current problems to deal with and Immigration reform is an issue that should be dealt with when the President has enough time to devote his full attention to this incredibly important issue. With the economy only beginning to show signs of recovery and foreign commitments to sort out, the President has many urgent and pressing problems to deal with. However, many have argued that Immigration reforms are more important as Immigration problems have an impact upon both the domestic economy and foreign policy.

An issue that is increasingly becoming entangled with Comprehensive Immigration Reform is that of US Immigration benefits for same sex couples. There are some who believe that United States Immigration benefits for same sex bi-national couples will likely be dealt with in provisions of CIR legislation. It is too soon to tell, but it seems logical that if Comprehensive Immigration Reform is considered to be a secondary issue, then Immigration benefits for same-sex couples may get short shrift as well, at least for now.

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15th August 2009

The United States Visa process can be a time consuming proposition. In Thailand, we see many couples seeking fiance visas as well as marriage visas and for both types of visa the phase of the process which takes up the most time seems to be the approval process from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). In previous blogposts we have discussed the K1 visa process and the K3 visa process. After submitting a K3 or K1 visa application, the couple must wait for USCIS approval before the visa interview at the US Embassy in Bangkok.

The California and Vermont Service Centers of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) have recently updated their timing estimates for US family based petitions submitted by Americans seeking Immigration benefits for their Thai loved ones. Of note, is the fact that the estimates for K1 fiance visas seems to have dropped by approximately thirty days.

As a courtesy to all bi-national couples seeking information regarding USCIS approval times we try to post accurate estimates reflecting the current processing times for family based petitions. Below are the most up to date estimates taken from the USCIS website.

California Service Center Processing Dates as of 06/30/2009

I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-1/K-2 – Not yet married – fiance and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-3/K-4 – Already married – spouse and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a spouse, parent, or child under 21 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 January 08, 2004
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 November 01, 2001
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister December 22, 1999
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 January 15, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 May 01, 2002
I-131 Application for Travel Document All other applicants for advance parole 3 Months

Vermont Service Center Processing Dates as of 06/30/2009

I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-1/K-2 – Not yet married – fiance and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) K-3/K-4 – Already married – spouse and/or dependent child 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a spouse, parent, or child under 21 5 Months
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 July 02, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 June 04, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister September 19, 2001
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 January 18, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 June 04, 2006
I-131 Application for Travel Document All other applicants for advance parole 3 Months
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13th August 2009

As mentioned in previous posts on this blog, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service  (USCIS) is the relatively new incarnation of the agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Currently USCIS is headed by a director who reports to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Since the election of President Barack Obama there have been many new appointments to the upper echelons of the United States Federal bureaucracy. This week has seen the appointment of  a new Director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. Through their website, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is reporting information on the appointment:

“Director Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed on August 7, 2009, to lead the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A hearing to consider his nomination was held on June 24, 2009. On July 28, 2009, the Judiciary Committee ordered the nomination reported to the Senate for consideration.”

We here at Integrity Legal wish to congratulate Mr. Mayorkas on his recent appointment and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors as Director of USCIS. Many proposed changes are in store for USCIS in the coming months and years and Mr. Mayorkas will oversee what will likely be great change within the agency.

Until reading this report, I was unaware that USCIS Director’s even needed Senatorial approval before taking office. Many United States Federal appointments must be confirmed by the United States Senate before the appointee will be allowed to take office. I was aware that this process was common for high ranking American officials like cabinet appointees or Supreme Court Justices, but I was under the misperception that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service was headed by a career federal civil servant and was not a political appointment. That being said, it makes a certain degree of sense to have the holder of this office politically appointed. USCIS is charged with bringing immigration policies into practice on behalf of the administration and as a result USCIS wields a tremendous amount of power with regard to how federal immigration law is practically implemented. Therefore, to keep USCIS policy in line with that of the administration it makes sense to politically appoint the head of that agency.

There are career civil servants who work for USCIS as the agency must remain functional during periods in which a director has yet to be confirmed by the US Senate. Career officers are appointed largely based upon merit and politics likely does not factor into their advancement within the agency.

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12th August 2009

Many people get married in Thailand each year. As a result, one of the most common questions received from clients and potential clients involves foreign recognition of a Thai marriage.  Thailand is not a common law system and therefore, the idea of common law marriage is not a concept upheld by courts in the Kingdom of Thailand. That being said, even though Thailand is a civil law system “customary or religious” marriages are still quite commonplace. This is probably due to the fact that marriage registration can be somewhat difficult, particularly for those who have never dealt with the Thai legal system and bureaucracy in the past.

In Thailand, marriages are registered at the local Amphur office. This office is kind of a combination of continual census taker and what in the American system is called a “court clerk.” The Amphur keeps records of the vital statistics of those living within that office’s jurisdiction. Therefore, the Amphur will record name changes, marriages, births, and deaths in Thailand. It is possible for two non-Thais to marry in Thailand. That being said, each office has their own internal protocol. Therefore, it may be wise to contact an attorney in order to assist with the Thai marriage registration process.

Once a Thai marriage is registered the question is: will the United States of America recognize the union. Put simply, yes. According to the website of the US Embassy Thailand, in cases involving marriages legalized in the Kingdom, “the United States does recognize the validity of such a marriage.” This is a critical question particularly in the context of USA visas. If a couple’s marriage is not recognized by the United States, then a visa application for a CR1 visa or a K3 marriage visa would likely be rejected because the couple does not meet the marriage requirement for visa issuance. Also, a couple who wishes to apply for a k1 fiance visa may create a situation where the application gets rejected because the couple got married in Thailand thinking it would not be recognized in the USA.  In that scenario, USCIS would be compelled to reject the application because the requirement is “intent to marry,” and not actual marriage.

One interesting side note regarding Thai marriage registration deals with prenuptial agreements. In Thailand, the prenuptial agreement is actually registered with the marriage and in a way is incorporated into the marital agreement at the time of registration at the Amphur. For more on this issue please see Thai prenuptial agreement

To sum up, marriages properly executed in Thailand will be viewed as valid in the United States and for purposes of obtaining a US visa or other Immigration benefits. Therefore, marriage in Thailand is not something that should be taken lightly. When thinking of entering into a marriage in Thailand keep in mind that the marriage will be treated just the same as if it had been conducted in the United States.

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11th August 2009

Thailand is a very large and somewhat polyglot Kingdom. There are many different dialects of Thai as well as many religious and cultural traditions present throughout the Kingdom. Keeping track of the comings and goings of the Thai citizenry can be a difficult task, luckily there are Thai Immigration authorities deal with these concerns. However, a more important concern, particularly for the common Thai person, is keeping track of the vital statistics records for those resident in the Kingdom of Thailand.

A Thai Amphur office (spelled Amphoe or Ampoe) is best described as a civil registry office. The office is tasked with keeping a record of Thai marriage, Thai divorces, births in Thailand, deaths in Thailand, recordation of Thai prenuptial agreements, and in limited circumstances recordation of Thai wills. In a way, the Amphur office is something of a “Jack of all trades,” office. Another accurate name for this office is a “civil registry.”

Even though the Amphur’s legal mandate does not involve registration of Title deeds for Thai property or Real Estate, a really major part of the Amphur’s role in the Thai bureaucracy involves Thai household registration. A Thai household registration booklet, also known in the Thai language as a Tabien Baan (or Tambien Baan), records the place of a household and the head of the household. It further records how many people live in that household and their names and ages.

The Amphur office maintains the database of this information and is the office that must be used in order to change information listed on the Tabien Baan or when adding a new member to the Thai household registry. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for foreign nationals to obtain a tabien baan or be registered on an already existing tabien baan. That being said, the only type of Tabien Baan that a foreigner may be listed on is a yellow tabien baan which is different from the blue tabien baan. A blue tabien baan is reserved for Thai citizens and foreigners with Thai permanent residence. It should be noted that the ease of getting on a yellow tabien baan will likely depend upon the office with jurisdiction over the household because local office procedures can differ and this could result in relative difficulty for the prospective registrant.

Foreigners can get married at a local Amphur office regardless of citizenship. However, the procedure for getting two foreign nationals married depends upon each person’s nationality. A person’s nationality and their Embassy’s protocols can affect the marriage process. It is wise to do research or contact an attorney before beginning the marriage registration process.

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10th August 2009

On August 6, 2009 the American Immigration Lawyers Association is reporting that two people in New York City have been arrested as a result of a fraud investigation targeted at a fraud ring headed by TONG HUI YOU (a/ka KEVIN YOU), 50, and XIAO LING CHEN (a/k/a LINDA CHEN), 36. According to the indictment these two were actively holding themselves out to the public as attorneys even though they had not been licensed as such. Further, the indictment alleges that these defendants were involved in a scheme to defraud by promising immigration benefits that they could not deliver.

Apparently, these two would bring victims to their office and, as AILA’s website reports,

“Once inside, the victim met YOU, who stated in substance that he was a lawyer specializing in express immigration. CHEN also told the victim that YOU was a lawyer. YOU represented to the victim that he had special connections in the U.S. immigration agency and in the U.S. Embassy in China. YOU guaranteed that the victim’s petitions for his family members in China would be approved within six months and that his family members in the U.S. would get green cards through a particular program even though they had not applied and did not qualify.” [Emphasis Added]

I placed sections of the above quote in bold and italics in order to underscore some important points. First, this type of scam is far too prevalent in Thailand. Many so called “lawyers,” “attorneys,” and “visa consultants,” cause all kind of problems for victims in Thailand. As if falsely claiming to be an attorney were not enough, these firms also promise many immigration benefits that the applicant is either ineligible to receive or would be improper to obtain based upon the victim’s situation. Another common claim is the “100% Guarantee.”

A variation on this scenario that is often played out in Thailand also involves the “visa company” creating false documentation in order to cover up facts that could be negatively construed. It is never wise to provide documents that attempt to cover up a fact material to the visa application. This authors has personally seen instances where doing so has lead to findings of inadmissibility that would otherwise have not arisen had it not been for the fact that the “visa agent” encouraged the couple to lie on an application.

The actions taken by the authorities in New York are commendable, but more needs to be done in order to eradicate the “visa agent” phenomenon which has become extremely prevalent in Thailand and on the internet. For those who have been adversely affected by an unscrupulous operator purporting to be an attorney or otherwise claiming to be able to assist with US Immigration matters, please see this link which provides information about where to go to complain about an “Immigration Consultant.”

For information on Getting a USA Visa from Thailand please see:

K1 Visa Thailand or K3 visa Thailand

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9th August 2009

On this blog, we often mention, quote, or write about the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA). Some readers have become curious as to what this organization does and what they represent. Further, some people do not understand what membership means.

In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, there exist what are known as registered Migration Consultants or OISC registered immigration advisers. In the United Kingdom, the organizations purposes is well articulated on their homepage which states that the OISC, “is responsible for regulating immigration advisers by ensuring they are fit and competent and act in the best interest of their clients.”

In the United States of America an attorney licensed and in good standing with either the United States Supreme Court or the highest court of at least on state is entitled to practice United States Immigration Law. However, unlike other countries with a history of common law, the United States does not have one singular regulatory body designed to monitor the activities of those who primarily act as a US Immigration lawyer.

In a way, the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association has come in to fill the breach regarding some of the duties inherent to a professional organization. The American Immigration Lawyers Association provides advice and mentoring for new attorneys practicing in the field of American Immigration. AILA also acts as a mechanism for advocacy on Capitol Hill. The American Immigration Lawyers Association disseminates information regarding pending legislation and provides resources regarding where interested parties can go to show their support for upcoming legislative initiatives.

One aspect of AILA that is particularly beneficial to the public at large is their campaign to eradicate so-called “notarios” and “Immigration consultants.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association provides information about where disaffected parties can go in order to lodge complaints against unscrupulous operators who prey on helpless victims who unwittingly retain their services believing they are real attorneys. In the United States this phenomenon is particularly common in the Latino communities. Oftentimes people are adversely affected by the activites of the notarios who offer either purposely malicious or incorrect advice.

It should be noted that membership in AILA is not necessarily indicative of one who can practice immigration law. Any attorney who is licensed and in good standing in at least one state can provide immigration advice. However, regular AILA members must have a license to practice law.  Therefore, AILA membership is indicative of an ability to practice before USCIS.

Some “fly by night” operations in Thailand and throughout the world falsely make claims to membership in AILA. In order to verify if an operator is AILA approved, check the website and search for the attorney in question.

For more on US Immigration from Thailand please see:

K1 fiance visa

K3 marriage visa or,

US tourist visa

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