Integrity Legal

Archive for December, 2009

31st December 2009

For those with relatives overseas the immigration process can at times seem interminable. In most cases, the visa process involves multiple US government agencies and can be somewhat confusing as Immigration is an area in which different regulations overlap.

Currently, there is a Bill in Congress that would reform the United States Immigration system. Many practitioners of Immigration law as well as immigrants feel as though the time has come to reform the American Immigration system. On the American Immigration Lawyers Association Leadership blog there has been a recent posting about the current state of the Immigration system, ways it can be fixed, and how all of these issues impact Americans as well immigrants. To quote directly from the blog posting:

“The crises in family and employment immigration are chronic and pressing. The backlog in family and employment waiting lines is gravely dispiriting and undermines the long-held principle of family reunification. Immigrant Visa Numbers Hopelessly Encased In Amber. The situation is deteriorating every day with more detentions, more denials, more delays, more deportations and more defective decisions. ICE has now reported 105 deaths in civil immigration custody since 2003. More Immigrant Deaths in US Detention CommonDreams.org Now is the time to turn the tide of the culture of “No” pervading our immigration system. We need to unite families and we need to keep industry vibrant and competitive.”

At present, the K1 visa process for Thai fiancees takes approximately 6-7 months from K1 visa application submission until final decision at the US Embassy in Bangkok.

The K3 visa process generally takes approximately 8 months from initial I-130 submission until the the visa interview.

It now takes about 11-12 months to process a CR-1 or IR-1 visa if the petition is filed in the United States of America.

There are some who would argue that it takes too long to obtain a US visa for an immediate relative. Others find it rather odd that a fiancee visa takes less time to process than a marriage visa. This could be attributed to the fact the K1 visa does not provide the bearer with long term lawful presence in the United States of America, but instead only provides the visa holder with 90 days status in the USA and the opportunity to adjust status to permanent residence subsequent to marriage.

The upcoming Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill will be an interesting thing to watch as it will likely have a dramatic impact upon future immigrants to the United States as well as some of those currently processing through the Immigration system.

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30th December 2009

This author recently came across another blog post in which the blog’s author was discussing the role of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). The TSA is an agency under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security tasked with providing security to the aviation sector. The following is a direct quote from the Transportation Safety Administration website regarding the Administration’s mission and tactics:

“We use layers of security to ensure the security of the traveling public and the Nation’s transportation system. Because of their visibility to the public, we are most associated with the airport checkpoints that our Transportation Security Officers operate. These checkpoints, however, constitute only one security layer of the many in place to protect aviation. Others include intelligence gathering and analysis, checking passenger manifests against watch lists, random canine team searches at airports, federal air marshals, federal flight deck officers and more security measures both visible and invisible to the public. Each one of these layers alone is capable of stopping a terrorist attack. In combination their security value is multiplied, creating a much stronger, formidable system.  A terrorist who has to overcome multiple security layers in order to carry out an attack is more likely to be pre-empted, deterred, or to fail during the attempt.”

Most Americans agree that security is a major issue and should be dealt with in a serious and professional manner. However some argue that the TSA is not effectively dealing with terrorism and security issues plaguing the United States. To quote the aforementioned blog post:

“The TSA isn’t saving lives. We, the passengers, are saving our own. Since its inception, the TSA has been structured in such a way as to prevent specific terror scenarios, attempting to disrupt a handful of insanely specific tactics, while continuing to disenfranchise and demoralize the citizens who are actually doing the work that a billion-dollar government agency—an agency that received an additional $128 million just this year for new checkpoint explosive screening technology—has failed to do.”

There is little doubt that no government agency can foresee and forestall any and all terror plots, but the effectiveness of the TSA brings up many questions regarding the efficient use of taxpayer funds in prosecuting the “War on Terror.” In many ways, these fundamental questions must continually be asked, if for no other reason than, to provide an opportunity for Americans Citizens and policymakers to periodically reassess the anti-terrorism measures being undertaken by the US government. The debate over the TSA is only just beginning, but hopefully a communal discourse on these issues will provide benefits to all Americans in the form of a safer and more efficient aviation environment.

For more on traveling to the USA, please see US Visa Thailand.


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29th December 2009

Thailand can be a difficult business market for some foreign firms to enter due to the many restrictions placed upon foreigners who operate in the Kingdom.The Foreign Business Act precludes foreigners from engaging in many business activities. However, over the past decade there have been repeated attempts to amend the Foreign Business Act. These attempts have been made for a variety of reasons. Some have hoped to liberalize the Thai market while others have tried to make the regulations more restrictive. In either case, these attempts have been just that because very few have been able to push through legislation to modify the law.

Recently the website Thaivisa.com in conjunction with The Nation Newspaper are reporting that changes may be coming for the Thai Foreign Business Act. To quote from Thaivisa.com:

“The planned liberalisation of certain business sectors currently limited to Thai firms will be accompanied by the imposition of more stringent restrictions on foreign-owned businesses operating in the Kingdom if a series of proposals by the Commerce Ministry are accepted by economic ministers. Under the ministry’s proposed amendments to the Foreign Business Act (FBA), voting rights of foreign shareholders will be more tightly controlled…In an effort to boost foreign investment, the government is considering removing some industries from the FBA’s Annex III, which lists industries that are off-limits to non-Thais. Annex III businesses that might be opened up include tour guide operators; trading in agricultural futures; stock trading; derivatives trading; commercial banking; insurance and assurance; pawnshop operators; warehousing; schools; and credit fonciers [sic]. ‘The amendments should create clear regulations for controlling each type of business. It should make the environment friendlier for foreign investors and streamline business regulations. However, it may affect some Thai businesses that are not competitive with foreign firms,” said a senior Commerce Industry source.’”

Although all of the implications of these proposed changes have not yet been deciphered it is clear that these changes will have a dramatic impact upon the foreign business community in Thailand.

This amendment may also come with new restrictions for some types of companies in Thailand:

“The proposed removal of some businesses from Annex III has prompted a concurrent proposal to impose stringent controls on the voting rights of foreign shareholder, which must not be higher than 50 per cent. The amended regulations would only apply to new foreign-owned companies.”

Some corporate structures in Thailand provide disproportionate voting rights for certain shareholders. If approved, this amendment would likely mean the end of disproportionate corporate voting rights. This section of the proposed amendment will probably not be warmly greeted by the foreign business community in Thailand. As it states above, in its current form, this legislation should not affect the operation of a Thai Company that is currently in existence, but the final draft of this legislation could be very different from what is being debated at this time.

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28th December 2009

This author has had the good fortune to witness the many different ways in which Thailand visa applications are adjudicated. Generally, the adjudication of Thai visa applications depends upon the post at which the applicant is applying.

At many of the Thai Consulates and Embassies in Southeast Asia a long term Thai visa can be difficult to obtain (long term meaning those visas issued with a validity of more than 90 days). This is likely due to the fact that many of the posts in Southeastern Asia have become used to so-called “visa runners” who use nearby Thai Consulates to obtain visas to remain in the country long term. At one time, the Royal Thai Consulate in Penang was popular among visa runners. This author recently had the opportunity to visit the Thai Consulate in Burma and was surprised to find an extremely efficient and well run post, but one that does not routinely issue visas with more validity than 90 days.

Unlike the United States, Thailand issues very few, if any, immigrant visas at Consulates and Embassies abroad. Part of this is likely due to the fact that these two Immigration systems are very different. However, another explanation could be the fact that Royal Thai Embassies and Consulates abroad may not have the capacity to handle the adjudication of Immigrant visas like a US Embassy or US Consulate. Also, Royal Thai Immigration is exclusively responsible for the adjudication of Immigrant visas (also known as Thai Permanent Residence) and such visa applications must be approved in Thailand.

Since Thai Embassies and Consulates generally only issue non-immigrant visas the next question that most people ask is: “how long are such visas valid.” This depends upon the category of the Thai visa, but Royal Thai Embassies generally have the discretion to issue visas with as much as 3 years validity. As a practical matter, the Consulate or Embassy will only issue a visa with a maximum validity of 1 year.

Some Consulates require the applicant to physically present themselves, while other allow for visas to be applied for by post. However, one should not assume that simply because the application is sent in by mail that the officer does not scrutinize the application. On the contrary, there are some who would argue that such applications are more heavily scrutinized compared to “walk in” applications.

Generally, Royal Thai Consulates post the general application requirements and it is incumbent upon the applicant to demonstrate that they meet the requirements and should therefore be granted the Thai visa. Thai tourist visas generally require the least expediture of resources on the part of the applicant. However, Thai Business visas, Thai Retirement visas, and Thai O visas can require a great deal of work in order for the applicant to obtain approval.

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27th December 2009

An occasional issue in United States Immigration matters is the termination of one’s lawful permanent residence in the USA (meaning the cancellation of one’s CR1 or IR1 visa). There are some who go to the US with the initial intention of remaining indefinitely, but these peoples’ intentions change and some opt to relinquish their lawful permanent residence. Surrender of one’s lawful permanent residence is facilitated by filing a form called an I-407 (Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status). Relinquishing one’s lawful permanent residence can be somewhat time consuming and the procedure is somewhat confusing. That being said the website of the American Embassy in the United Kingdom quickly sums up the process.

To quote directly from the website of the US Embassy in the UK:

“Once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office receives your completed Form I-407 and your Permanent Resident Card, the appropriate documentation stamps will be placed on the form along with the USCIS officer’s signature. A copy of this form will be returned to you in the stamped, self-address envelope you provide. This copy of the completed I-407 is your receipt and it validates the return of your Permanent Resident Card. You should keep a copy of the completed I-407 with your passport when you travel to the United States.”

This quote begs the question: “In what circumstances would a former permanent resident be allowed to visit the United States after formally renouncing their US Permanent Residence?” There are many cases where a former permanent resident wishes to visit the USA in order to see family, friends, or business associates. In many cases, former permanent resident’s opt to apply for a US tourist visa.

Under normal circumstances a tourist visa would be difficult to obtain if the applicant has family and friends in US because under section 214b of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, Consular Officers at the US Embassy or US Consulate are required to make the presumption that an applicant for a non-immigrant visa such as a tourist visa is an undisclosed immigrant to the USA. This presumption is more easily overcome for those who have relinquished their permanent residence as the act is strong evidence contradicting the presumption of immigrant intent since the applicant has already immigrated once and opted to forfeit his or her immigration benefits.

Generally, US Consular Officers are more prone to issue tourist visas to former permanent residents due to the above analysis. However, this does not mean that the applicant for a tourist visa should not prepare and submit a well founded petition as adjudication of tourist visa applications is highly discretionary.

For more information please see: US Visa Thailand

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26th December 2009

For Thai-American couples the most common method of immigrating to the USA is through use of a K1 visa. The K1 visa is a fiancee visa granting the bearer 90 days of lawful presence in the United States of America with the option to apply for adjustment of status. If an adjustment of status application is submitted and approved then the Thai fiancee will be granted conditional lawful permanent residence for 2 years. After nearly 2 years the couple should submit a petition for a lift of conditions of the Thai spouse’s permanent residence. Should this petition receive approval, the Thai spouse will become an unconditional lawful permanent resident of the United States of America.

There are some travel restrictions placed upon permanent residents of the United States. Namely, they cannot be outside of the USA for more than one year without endangering their resident status in the USA. For those who remain abroad for more than one year it may be necessary to apply for an SB-1 visa. This is a visa specifically meant for returning residents of the USA. For those who plan to be outside of the USA for a substantial period of time there is a way to forestall a finding of residential abandonment: a US reentry permit. This is a travel document that is very similar to advance parole in so far as it preserves the status of the lawful permanent resident while they remain abroad. These travel documents are generally granted with a validity period of 2 years from issuance.

Recently, this author came into contact with an individual who had lawful permanent resident status in the US, but had lost his Resident Alien Card (“Green Card”) and needed to return to the US. This individual still had a valid US reentry permit. After some research, this author discovered that a United States lawful permanent resident may reenter the country without a proper visa provided that they have a valid United States reentry permit.

To directly quote from the website of the US Embassy in Mumbai:

“Per 8CFR 211.1, an alien in possession of a valid form I-327, Permit to reenter the United states (i.e. reentry permit), does not require a visa to reenter the United States.  Therefore, [one] may travel [to the USA] with [only one's] valid reentry permit.”

In a way, the United States reentry permit is akin to a passport for lawful permanent residents although it is inherently more restrictive than a US passport. For those lawful permanent residents thinking of leaving the USA for a prolonged period of time it may be wise to seriously consider applying for a reentry permit because it provides not only the peace of mind that comes from preserving one’s status, it can also act as a backup travel document in the event one loses their resident alien card.

For related information please see our postings about losing a US passport and obtaining a new one from American Citizen Services at a US Consulate in Thailand.

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25th December 2009

As it is the Holiday season in the United States many families are reunited with their loved ones in order to be together during the festivities. However, there are some families who cannot be reunited in the US due to restrictions imposed by US Immigration law. Most notable among those who probably will not be re-united this Christmas are same-sex bi-national couples. Since the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in the mid-1990′s it has been virtually impossible for bi-national same-sex couples to receive US Immigration benefits even where their marriage was executed in a jurisdiction in the United States of America. In a recent blog post on the website ImmigrationEquality.org the author notes that recently proposed Immigration reform legislation does not address the issues associated with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) Immigration.  To quote directly from the blog:

“Earlier today, Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced an immigration reform proposal in the House of Representatives that does not include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families. We pushed hard for inclusion in this bill, and we are deeply disappointed. However, I want to be clear: this is not the comprehensive immigration reform package which will move through the House. And, there are many reasons to remain optimistic about our inclusion in CIR down the road.

First, it is important to note that Congressman Gutierrez remains a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and the LGBT-inclusive Reuniting Families Act (RFA) in Congress. In the weeks and months leading up to the introduction of the Gutierrez bill, Immigration Equality pushed for inclusion of our families. When it became clear that this was not to be, we asked for the Congressman to continue to work for an end to immigration laws that discriminate against LGBT families, and we have every expectation that he will do so.”

It is this author’s opinion that the same-sex immigration issue will likely be dealt with in the United States Courts as the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate seems reluctant to either overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). However, this author believes that the Defense of Marriage Act is in direct violation of the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution because DOMA overrides state prerogatives regarding what constitutes a valid marriage. From a Constitutional standpoint, this author hopes to soon see the onerous provisions of DOMA either repealed through legislation or struck down by the courts.

For more information please see: US Visa Thailand

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24th December 2009

Many people in Thailand, both foreign and Thai, choose to incorporate Thai businesses. Thailand is one of Southeast Asia’s major trading locales and as a result many individuals and business concerns need a corporate presence in the Kingdom of Thailand. In many cases, companies are incorporated with substantially similar articles of incorporation. That being said, some companies opt to incorporate with unique provisions regarding different types of shareholder rights in the corporate charter. These different types of rights can have a major impact upon the running of the business because these rights can have a collateral impact upon employee compensation, shareholder vote tabulation, and banking issues. Therefore, an understanding of share classification can be helpful to those who are thinking of incorporating a Thai company.

In the articles of association (also known as articles of incorporation) of a Thai limited company, one could denote the rights associated with different share classifications. Therefore, some shares could simply hold an equity interest in the company while not having any voting rights at shareholder meetings. Other types of shares could hold little or no equity in the company, but maintain voting rights regarding the Directors of the company. If a company owns Thai property, there could be specific shares that have certain rights in relation to the Thai property concerned. For example, a Thai company that owns Thai real estate could place special rights in the hands of certain shareholders with regard to said real estate. If a Thai company owns a Thai Condo, then share classification could be used to delineate the rights of individuals with regard to the Condo premises.

For those who are interested in Thai limited companies certified under the US-Thai Amity Treaty, these same principals could apply to an Amity Company. One shareholder could retain a sizable equity holding while another holds certain voting rights. The same could be said about a Thai limited company that has obtained a Foreign Business License. A company such as this could incorporate special shareholder rights in the provisions of the articles of association or incorporation.

These issues bleed into the realm of Thai Immigration because the shareholder in a Thai company could apply for a Thai business visa. The basis for such an application could be an impending shareholder’s meeting that the foreign national must attend. The approval of such an application would depend upon the Thai Embassy or Consulate concerned. If present in the Kingdom on another type of visa, an O visa, for example, it may be possible for the shareholder to attend a meeting in order to vote his or her shares.

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23rd December 2009

For those who have been married to an alien spouse for less than 2 years, the only immigrant visa category that the couple may apply for is a CR1 visa. For those who have been married for more than 2 years at the time of application an IR1 visa may be available. Usually, when the alien spouse travels to the United States of America on a CR1 visa he or she will be admitted with conditional lawful permanent residence. However, there is a question on the lips of many couples: what if we were married less than two years when we filed a visa application, but more than two years when we obtained the visa? The answer: the alien spouse’s status at entry may depend upon the duration of the marriage at the time of his or her admission to the United States of America.

For aliens with conditional lawful permanent residence, it is necessary to file for a lift of conditions before the alien will be granted unconditional lawful permanent residence.

When an alien is admitted to the United States, they must pass through a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint, this is commonly referred to as a port of entry. It is a common misconception that a US visa gives the visa holder the “right,” to enter the USA. In reality, a visa only provides the bearer with the right to travel to a US port of entry and ask for admission. When a CR1 visa holder travels to the USA they are admitted in lawful permanent residence, but the conditionality of that residence is determined by the Customs and Border Protection Officer admitting the alien. For couples who have had their two year anniversary before the alien spouse’s first trip to the USA, Customs and Border Protection will likely admit the alien spouse to unconditional permanent residence because conditionality is determined at the time of entry.

In some cases where a couple fails to meet the two year marriage requirement, but their second anniversary is in the very near future, it may be prudent for them to simply wait until after their second anniversary before the alien spouse asks for permission to enter the US for the first time. This way, the couple would not need to apply for a lift of conditions after the alien spouse enters the USA because the alien spouse will likely be granted unconditional permanent residence upon arrival in the United States.

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22nd December 2009

In a recent blog posting the former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Mr. Charles Kuck, praised Congressman Luis Gutierrez for proposing an Immigration Reform Bill in the United States House of Representatives. Currently, some members of AILA feel that the American Immigration system is highly flawed and, to quote Mr. Kuck’s blog posting:

“The results are tragically similar, children separated from their parents, husbands separated from their wives, businesses unable to secure their future because of a lack of talent and skilled employment, and an economy unable to nimbly shift from the 19th and 20th century into the 21st century. As a country, we can no longer tolerate what has become a human disaster.

The human perspective of United States Immigration policy is an aspect that some lawmakers fail to consider, but one that they probably should not overlook because America is a nation founded by immigrants and it is our immigrant heritage that makes America a vibrant and innovative nation. The most disturbing facet of the current United States Immigration infrastructure is the fact that it does have a tendency to keep family members separated for, what can turn out to be, a substantially long period of time. For those couple who follow the proper immigration procedures it could still take longer than one year to re-unite a couple.

Of further importance is the need to rectify the US Immigration apparatus with regard to same-sex couples. Unfortunately, due to provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act, it is not possible for same-sex married couples to obtain US Immigration benefits based upon a lawfully executed marriage. There are advocates in the House of Representatives and Senate who wish to change this unfortunate state of affairs, but it seems that they have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Another critical aspect of US Immigration that is desperately in need of an overhaul is the area of employment based visas. Although America is only slowly coming out of “The Great Recession” and is still reluctant to allow more foreign workers into the American labor force, this is a necessity as foreign highly-skilled workers keep the US economy on the cutting edge of both innovation and technology. The United States does itself a disservice by prohibiting foreign skilled workers from entering the country. Hopefully Congressman Gutierrez will be able to get this much needed bill passed and usher in a modern era in US Immigration.

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