Integrity Legal

Archive for December, 2009

21st December 2009

The United States Visa Process can be extremely confusing particularly when it come to United States Family Immigration. Below are the processing time estimates promulgated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). We post these processing times on this blog as a courtesy to those thinking about filing an Immigration petition or with a petition currently pending. To learn more visit the USCIS website.

These are the current processing time estimates for the USCIS California Service Center

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 23, 2005
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 May 23, 2002
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister September 09, 2000
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 November 02, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 November 02, 2002
I-131 Application for Travel Document All other applicants for advance parole 3 Months
I-212 Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the U.S. After Deportation or Removal Readmission after deportation or removal 4 Months

These are the processing time estimates for the Vermont Service Center of USCIS:

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 April 16, 2007
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 June 05, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister June 19, 2007
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 June 12, 2006
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 June 05, 2006
I-131 Application for Travel Document All other applicants for advance parole 3 Months
I-212 Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the U.S. After Deportation or Removal Readmission after deportation or removal 4 Months

It should always be remembered that these processing times are merely estimates and cannot be definitively relied upon. Every case is unique and processes in its own time based upon the unique facts of the case. That being said, the above figures fairly accurately reflect the amount of time it takes to obtain a decision from USCIS. For those processing through the US Embassy Bangkok, it should be noted that the above figures do not take into account Consular Processing as the Embassy is under the jurisdiction of the American State Department and not the Department of Homeland Security.

Although the K1 visa remains the fastest family based visa category, it does not confer lawful permanent residence upon entry like the IR1 or CR1 visa. This can also be said for the K3 visa as it is classified as a non-immigrant dual intent visa and therefore requires the alien to adjust status after entering the USA.

For previous figures please see: US visa processing times.

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20th December 2009

In a previous post on this blog this author brought up the fact that the Department of State is raising the fees for non-immigrant visas such as the US Tourist Visa, the Exchange Visitor Visa, and the US Student Visa. However, it was not clear just how this proposed fee increase would effect other types of US visas. The Department of State recently promulgated a press release discussing the impact of the proposed rule change. This author came by this press release thanks to AILA. To quote this press release:

“Under the proposed rule, applicants for all visas that are not petition-based, including B1/B2 tourist and business visitor visas and all student and exchange-visitor visas, would pay a fee of $140.

Applicants for petition-based visas would pay an application fee of $150. These categories include:

H visa for temporary workers and trainees
L visa for intracompany transferees
O visa for aliens with extraordinary ability
P visa for athletes, artists and entertainers
Q visa for international cultural exchange visitors
R visa for religious occupations

The application fee for K visas for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens would be $350. The fee for E visas for treaty-traders and treaty-investors would be $390. The Department will not begin collecting the new proposed fees until it considers
public comments and publishes a final rule.”

This author added the above italics for emphasis because this is a substantial fee increase compared to the current amount that must be paid in connection with K visas. At the time of this writing, the Consular processing fee paid at the US Embassy in Bangkok or the US Consulate in Chiang Mai is $131. The proposed rule would increase this fee to $350. The US State Department has noted that the increase in fees is necessary because the K1 visa and the K3 visa require more diligent adjudication on the part of Consular Officers. This author would generally agree with this statement as it has been his opinion that Consular Officers diligently investigate and judge these petitions in an effort to provide a fair, thorough, and efficient adjudication. That being said, this fee increase will probably have a major impact upon those who have already filed for K1 and K3 visa benefits. Hopefully, these fee increases will come into effect after a grace period whereby those who filed before the fee increase will be able to enjoy the previously lower fee while new applications will have the fee increase phased in. However, the logistics of this proposal may be cost prohibitive as keeping track of previously filed cases could be highly labor intensive.

For more information on this and other US Immigration matters please see: US Visa Thailand.

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19th December 2009

The United States Department of State wishes to amend the current rule regarding the fees to be charged to applicants for non-immigrant visas overseas. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has recently released information regarding the proposed rule change. Below is a direct quote from this announcement:

“This rule amends the Schedule of Fees for Consular Services (Schedule) for nonimmigrant visa application and border crossing card processing fees. The rule raises from $131 to $140 the fee charged for the processing of an application for most non-petition-based nonimmigrant visas…The Department of State is adjusting the fees to ensure that sufficient resources are available to meet the costs of providing consular services in light of an independent cost of service study’s findings that the U.S. Government is not fully covering its costs for the processing of these visas under the current cost structure.”

Although it is fairly self evident that this proposed rule change will affect non-immigrant visa categories such as the J1 visa, the F1 visa, the B1 visa, and the B2 visa (commonly referred to as the US Tourist Visa) there is some question as to whether or not this rule change will have an impact upon those seeking a K1 visa or a K3 visa. As can be read in the above quotation, the rule should only impact “non-petition based non-immigrant visas…” As K1 visa applications and K3 visa applications are both based upon an underlying visa petition made to USCIS this proposed rule begs the question: how will it impact K visa applicants?

The K1 visa and the K3 visa are non-immigrant dual intent visas. They are non-immigrant in that they do not allow the visa holder to remain in the United States indefinitely upon entry, but they allow for the bearer to apply for adjustment of status at a later date (provided certain prerequisites are met; in the case of the K1, marriage to the original petitioner).

This author believes that is is likely that the final rule will include a provisions raising the fees for the K visas as well as the other non-immigrant visa categories. Immigrant visa fees are in a separate category and for those filing a petition in the USA, these fess are paid directly to the National Visa Center (NVC). Many people are under the mistaken impression that in family visa cases the fees paid initially to USCIS are all-inclusive. This is not the case as the US Embassies and US Consulates are under the jurisdiction of DOS while USCIS is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) therefore, processing fees must be made to each agency at different stages.

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18th December 2009

Thai Work Permit Fees Raised

Posted by : admin

It has come to this author’s attention through the channels of that the Thai work permit fees are going up effective December 21, 2009. There is only a raise of the initial application fee as the approval fee has not be raised as of the time of this writing. To quote’s post about this issue:

“Per written announcement that we received this morning from Bangkok Work Permit Office, the APPLICATION FEE for work permits will increase, effective 21 December 2009 (next Monday) from 100 baht to 600 baht. This increase also applies to applications for changes/modifications of existing work permits. No increase to APPROVAL fees.  I have attached to this posting the Thai-language announcement memo from Bangkok Work Permit Office. I have reported everything that I know about this change.”

A Thai work permit entitles the bearer to legally engage in employment activities within the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Thailand. Many people in Thailand are under the mistaken impression that a Thai business visa entitles the bearer to work authorization in the Kingdom. In point of fact, this is not the case as a business visa is only a travel document and only has an impact upon one’s ability travel to the Kingdom and request admission.

That being said, a Thai business visa can be used as one component of a well-founded work permit application. This is notable because not all Thai visas can be easily used as a basis for submitting a work permit application. Holders of Thai ED visas , for example, hold a Thai visa category that the Ministry of Labour will routinely deny for work authorization. This is due to the fact that this type of visa is not intended for employment purposes and therefore any employment that a foreigner undertakes on this visa must be substantially related to his or her school or University.

Thai O visas can support work permits, but work permit approval is highly dependent upon the reason for O visa issuance. If the O visa is issued because the foreign national is related to a Thai, either by blood or marriage, then work authorization is generally obtained rather easily. Meanwhile, if a foreign national obtains a Thai visa categorized as “O” simply because it is a long term visa, then it may be difficult to obtain work authorization.

Work permit issues are generally not a concern for those present in the Kingdom of Thailand on a Thai retirement visa because retirees are strictly barred from undertaking employment in the Kingdom. Therefore, a raise in work permit fees will probably not have an effect upon those present in the Kingdom for retirement purposes.

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17th December 2009

In a recent announcement posted on one individual renewing his visa in Thailand was taken aback by the fact that a Royal Thai Immigration officer wanted to test his knowledge of Thai before a Thai visa extension would be granted. To quote the posting directly:

“[I]went to pattaya/jomtien immigration today with all my paperwork to extend my ed visa (callen & walen) for the next 3 months. [A]ll ok on desk number 5 then she pass’s my paperwork to a desk behind her and moves me. [T]he lady starts talking to me in [T]hai, then tells me they are now testing applicants from there 2nd renewal onwards , ie after 6 months on a ed visa. [S]he stated my [T]hai was not up to scratch and that if i did not pass on the next renewal [I] would have my application refused next time. [S]he made it very clear they were now cracking down on ed visa applicants, not surprising really [I] guess with all the signs appearing claiming 1-10 year ed visa’s freely available.”

In recent years Thai ED visas have become extremely popular amongst those who wish to remain in Thailand for a long period of time without resorting “visa runs.” Many have speculated whether these visas would continue to be promulgated as easily as they have been up until this point. One of the popular reasons for obtaining such visas is based upon the applicant’s enrollment in Thai language classes. Until recently, Thai proficiency examinations were not required in order for foreign nationals to remain in the Kingdom on ED visas, but as the above quotation points out, this is no longer the case as Thai immigration officers seem to increasingly demand that applicants for ED visa renewal show some sort of proficiency in the Thai language.

A Thai visa classified as “ED” can be a useful travel document for a student in Thailand, but they are not particularly useful for those who wish to obtain a Thai work permit. Under current Thai immigration and labor regulations it is very difficult to obtain a Thai work permit if the applicant is present in the Kingdom on an ED visa. In some limited cases it may be possible to obtain a work permit on an ED visa if the work is in connection with the applicant’s school. For those interested in working or owning a business in Thailand it may be wise to apply for a Thai business visa as this document can be used, in conjunction with other documentation, as a basis for submitting a work permit application.

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16th December 2009

The K1 visa was designed to provide a means and method for foreign fiancees to travel to the United States of America in order to be reunited with their US Citizen loved one. It is commonly referred to as a Fiancee visa because that is this visa’s intended use. The major upside of the K1 visa is the fact that it has the fastest processing time when compared to marriage visas such as the K3 visa and CR1 visa. However, the K1 visa does require that the applicant adjust status to lawful permanent residence after entry in the United States. Generally, this process takes approximately 6 months from application submission until final adjustment decision.

An I-601 waiver is necessary for those who have been found inadmissible to the United States based upon one of the legal grounds of inadmissibility found under the provisions of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act. In Thailand, the two most common grounds of inadmissibility are the result of factual findings that the applicant engaged in prostitution within 10 years prior to the application’s submission or a finding that the applicant overstayed in the United States while present on a prior US visa.

Many pose the question: if My Thai fiancee is approved for one of the aforementioned waivers, will she need to ever deal with the issue again? The short answer: no. Once an I-601 waiver application is approved it is binding upon later proceedings. Therefore, if the Office of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in Bangkok approves a waiver application, then that holding based upon those facts will be respected by a local USCIS office adjudicating all later matters that have to do with the alien’s presence in the United States.

An example of how this can play out: a Thai fiancee is denied for a K1 visa based upon a legal grounds of inadmissibility, the case is forwarded to USCIS Bangkok pursuant to an application for an I-601 waiver, the I-601 waiver application is approved, the case is forwarded back to the Consulate at the US Embassy, the US Consulate issues the visa, the applicant travels to the USA, is lawfully admitted, marries the American Citizen fiance, and applies for adjustment of status. In this scenario, the prior waiver would be recognized during the adjustment proceedings and therefore the issue would likely not be re-visited. The major upside to a waiver being approved overseas is the fact that it provides certainty as to how the process will move forward and may also be beneficial because waiver issues will be put to rest outside of the jurisdiction in which the American Citizen resides.

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15th December 2009

When visa applications are submitted they process through the US Immigration system. The process depends upon the type of visa being sought. In situations in which applicants are seeking a K1 visa, K3 visa, CR1 visa, or IR1 visa the process is often routine, but many get through the entire process to find themselves confronted with a 221(g) refusal. AILA recently distributed an article dealing with this issue as it now has an impact upon those who utilize the Visa Waiver program and ESTA (the Electronic System for Travel Authorization) when traveling to the USA. To quote the publication’s section on 221(g) refusals:

“Section 221(g) of the INA provides for a temporary refusal when an otherwise qualified visa applicant is found to be lacking a specific document, or when a consular officer determines that additional security clearance is required. Consular officers beneficially use 221(g) as a way of affording applicants every opportunity to supplement their applications in order to address concerns – such as possible fraud – that arise at the visa interview. Once the deficiency is satisfied, or the concern resolved, 221(g) refusal is “overcome” and the visa may be issued.”

221(g) denials can truly be a boon to both the Consular Officer and the Immigration attorney as it provides a clear indication of what needs to be presented in order to facilitate visa issuance. That being said, Consular Officers can re-issue 221(g) refusals, but this rarely occurs as many officers seem to make a point of ensuring that all other documents are compiled before issuing an initial 221(g).

Many people wish to know information regarding common reasons for 221(g) refusal. AILA provides a brief overview of the common reasons for this type of denial. To further quote the aforementioned publication:

“1. The applicant is asked to provide additional supporting documents, such as proof of local employment;
2. The applicant is employed in a field listed on the Technology Alert List (TAL) and the consular officer requests a Visas Mantis Security Advisory Opinion (“SAO”). (This is one of the most common scenarios in which applicants in India, China and elsewhere are told their applications require “administrative processing.”)
3. The consular officer requests an Advisory Opinion from the Visa Office on the applicability of one of the statutory grounds of inadmissibility.
4. There are no empty visa pages in the applicant’s passport, or the application photograph does not meet quality standards.
5. The applicant’s petition approval is not yet listed in PIMS.”

In many cases, 221(g) refusals are routine and they usually do not have a detrimental impact upon travelers to the USA. However, in recent months it has been announced that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service treats 221g refusals as denials when posing the question “have you ever been denied a visa to the USA” on the ESTA registration form. It would appear that the ESTA system “red flags” those who have been “denied” a prior visa and asks that some of these applicants receive an actual visa (in most cases a US tourist visa) before traveling to the USA which could cause delays to those wishing to enter the country.

Currently, the Kingdom of Thailand does not participate in the American Visa Waiver Program so this issue with CBP will have little impact for Thai nationals traveling to the United States. However, people in Thailand who hold the nationality of a country which participates in the Visa Waiver Program may be effected by this new regulation if they are presented with a 221(G) denial by a Consular Officer at the US Embassy in Bangkok.

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14th December 2009

Thailand has become a major epicenter of trade in Southeast Asia. The Kingdom also remains one of the most important trading partners of the United States of America, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. Many businesspeople who do business in Thailand must deal with restrictions imposed upon foreigners under the Thai Foreign Business Act. American Citizens enjoy some benefits under the provisions of the US-Thai Amity Treaty. This Treaty was promulgated in the mid-60′s. In Thailand, Treaties are considered the “law of the land,” and are considered superior to locally drafted legislation (this notion is similar to many of the ideas codified in the American Constitution, specifically the Supremacy Clause).  As the Amity Treaty is the “law of the land,” it supersedes the Foreign Business Act.

A Thai Limited Company certified under the provisions of the Treaty of Amity is a good vehicle for conducting business in Thailand, but the Treaty does have caveats and Companies conducting certain types of business cannot obtain Treaty Certification. Most importantly for some, Amity Treaty Companies cannot own land. Even though an Amity Company is accorded “National Treatment,” the company is barred from holding property in the form of Thai Real Estate. Although, technically it may be possible for an Amity company to purchase a Condo in Thailand.

Aside from ownership of Thai property, there are other activities which an Amity Company cannot engage in, such as: Inland Transportation, Communications, Fiduciary Functions, and the Practice of Professions. Each of these types of activity are reserved to Thai nationals and/or Thai Companies. Even still, the Amity Treaty provides American Citizens with the opportunity to own virtually 100% of a Thai company. For many types of businesses the Amity Treaty is a perfect solution to the problems imposed upon foreigners by the Foreign Business Act.

Some have postulated regarding the possibility of using American Citizens as nominees in order to obtain Amity Treaty benefits. This is basically impossible as nominee shareholders are illegal under current Thai law. That being said, delineating whether or not an American Company is “American,” could be difficult. The relevant agencies of the Thai Ministry of Commerce adjudicate Amity Treaty Certification applications on a case by case basis and come to a decision based upon the makeup of the corporate shareholders in question.

An Amity Treaty Certificate is somewhat similar to a Foreign Business License. However, the two documents are issued based upon different legal foundations. There are some US Immigration benefits accorded to Thai nationals under the US-Thai Treaty of Amity in the form of E visas, but there is not a direct counterpart found under Thai Immigration law.

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13th December 2009

J-1 visas are meant for those who are entering an exchange visitor program or traveling to the USA for the purpose of doing specific types of work (most notably: Au pair child care). This visa has been in existence for many years and the rules regarding issuance have not be modified in a long while.

Recently the American State Department has proposed making changes to the system whereby foreign nationals obtain the J1 Exchange visitor visa. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has recently promulgated comments on the proposed changes in an effort to provide a different perspective to those who will ultimately pass these rules. In a recent press release AILA stated:

“We commend the United States Department of State (the Department) for acting on its goals to update and improve the Exchange Visitor Program through the first significant proposed rulemaking since 1993. We also recognize and applaud the Department’s efforts to increase overall program oversight, but we urge the Department not to do so at the risk of weakening the very foundation on which the J-1 program rests.”

Not everything in this press release was laudatory as the Association also noted that some of the proposed rule changes might actually undermine the original intent of the J1 visa legislation:

“[W]hile we recognize that the Department [of State] must demand accountability on the part of sponsors of the J-1 program, we fear that it has used the medium of this proposed regulation as a means of eroding the range and number of opportunities for young men and women to learn about our culture and return to share important skills and insights with their compatriots. AILA recognizes the major role that the Fulbright-Hays Act has played for nearly 50 years to instill trust and promote understanding, education, and training among people of dramatically divergent cultures and for the mutual benefit of our people as well as the people of nations struggling to achieve financial and
cultural independence. It is crucial that the full range of these opportunities continues to exist.”

The J-1 visa is an example of a valuable method not only for providing advanced education to foreign nationals, but also for spreading American culture and American ideas to other countries. Undermining this system of cross-cultural exchange would indeed be detrimental. However, the US State Department does have an obligation to investigate candidates and sponsors for J-1 Exchange Visitor visas in an effort to be certain that the visa is being issued for appropriate reasons and to appropriate applicants. Hopefully, the American State Department can find a proper balance whereby the security needs of American Citizens are protected while cross-cultural exchange is still facilitated. As with many non-immigrant visas, both the US Embassy in Bangkok and the US Consulate in Chiang Mai can issue such travel documents to applicants in Thailand.

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12th December 2009

After the tragedy of 9/11 many changes were made with regard to Homeland Security. Specifically, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created and many tasks previously undertaken by other agencies were brought under the jurisdiction of DHS. One example is the United States Customs Service which was reincorporated into the Department of Homeland Security as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Service. This agency is responsible for patrolling the borders and ports of entry to the United States of America. They are also responsible for screening those who enter the United States of America either on a US passport, US visa, or US visa waiver. CBP plays an integral part in the US Immigration process.

Prior to this publication, there has been a rumor circulating that those who wish to enter the United States of America must fist obtain a vaccination for the H1N1 influenza vaccination. As a matter of fact, this is not true. Apparently this rumor is unfounded. AILA has provided a quote from a statement from the Customs and Border Protection Service:

“[United States] Customs and Border Protection would like to address rumors regarding U.S. entry requirements and the H1N1 virus: Travelers do NOT need to present proof that they received the H1N1 flu vaccine in order to enter the United States. No such vaccination requirement exists. Travelers are encouraged to visit the Department of Health and Human Services Flu Web site for current information on seasonal flu prevention, and the “Know Before You Go” section under the Travel tab of the CBP Web site for helpful traveler tips.”

For those seeking entry to the United States a flu vaccination is not required at this time.

In recent years CBP has been granted more and more authority to deal with real time situations. This leads many to wonder just how much authority CBP has. This is an interesting question as they are given major discretionary powers with regard to those seeking entry to the United States. For example, CBP is authorized to place foreign nationals into expedited removal (deportation) proceedings if they deem it necessary. One who has been removed through expedited removal could be barred from reentering the USA for as long as five years. That being said, this only seems to come up in the context of US Family Immigration when the loved one of a US Citizen is improperly using a US tourist visa for undisclosed immigration purposes. In situations such as this, CBP may feel it necessary to use expedited removal to send the subject back to their home country. Therefore it is usually wise to process things correctly and utilize the proper visa for a loved one traveling to the United States.

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