Integrity Legal

Archive for February, 2010

28th February 2010

In a recent posting on this blog we discussed a recent internal rule change at the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC announced that effective February 1, 2010 they will no longer process I-129f petitions for marriage visa benefits if the underlying I-130 petition arrives prior to, or at the same time as, the supplemental I-129f petition. There are those who are wondering what impact this will have upon visa seekers. For those seeking a K-3 visa, the impact of this recent announcement is very important because in many cases, the NVC will require couples to seek immigrant spouse visas such as the IR-1 visa and the CR-1 visa rather than the expedited K3 visa. However, some may be confused about how this new rule will impact those seeking a fiance visa.

In order to obtain a fiance visa, the US Citizen must file an I-129f petition for a K1 visa. If the initial petition is approved, then it will be forwarded to the National Visa Center for a security clearance. After a security clearance, it will be forwarded to the US Embassy or US Consulate with proper jurisdiction. Confusion may arise because some may be placed under the mistaken impression that the I-129f petition will be administratively closed by NVC in a fiance visa case. This is not the truth, as administrative closures of I-129f petitions are only to happen in the context of applications for the K3 visa and not the K1 visa. This recent rule change will likely have no impact upon the K1 visa process as the rule is designed to change the K3 visa process exclusively.

One upshot of this recent development is that the resources that NVC was expending in processing I-129f petitions for K-3 visas may be diverted to processing Immigrant visas or K1 visas. That being said, it is this author’s opinion that the K1 visa process is quite efficient and NVC usually takes very little time to process K1 visa applications. In most cases where the visa application is to be processed by the US Embassy Thailand, there is a two week waiting time between I-129f petition approval by USCIS and the forwarding of the file from NVC to the US Embassy. By most people’s estimate, this is a reasonable period of time to wait. In the case of Immigrant visas, the NVC processing time is considerably longer as the NVC requires more documentation in Immigrant visa matters compared to non-immigrant visa cases.

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27th February 2010

US Citizenship is an aspiration for many of those individuals who opt to immigrate to the United States of America. Naturalization is the legal process that foreign nationals undertake when they wish to become a US Citizen. For many the process is somewhat confusing. The naturalization process can also seem daunting as a foreign national must spend a significant amount of time any money in order to naturalize. Recently the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) stated that funds will be made available to assist in integrating foreign nationals into the American polity, the following is a press release from USCIS promulgated by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today the availability of two different
grants designed to help prepare lawful permanent residents (LPRs) for citizenship and advance integration in the United States. This year’s program will make nearly $7 million available for citizenship education in communities across the country.”

This 7 million dollar grant shows a marked increase in funding for this initiative as this program was not as heavily funded in the past. It could be inferred that USCIS is resolved to promote Citizenship education for foreign nationals:

“’Each aspiring citizen represents a personal story of sacrifice and triumph,” said USCIS Director
Alejandro Mayorkas. “This funding will increase opportunities for English language instruction, promote the rights and responsibilities that define our nation, and provide much-needed support for individuals on the path to citizenship.’”

The funding provided in these grants will help facilitate multiple goals. All of these goals are within the context of Immigration to the United States and Naturalization to American Citizenship:

The first grant will strengthen locally-based citizenship preparation programs. The second grant will
increase the capacity of members or affiliates of national, regional, or statewide organizations to offer
citizenship services in underserved communities. USCIS expects to announce an estimated 50 award
recipients in September 2010.

When comparing this initiative to its counterpart in 2009, the difference in funding becomes glaringly obvious:

During fiscal year (FY) 2009, USCIS awarded $1.2 million in grants to 13 immigrant-serving organizations across the country. These awards are currently expanding services and outreach on U.S. citizenship, educational opportunities, and available resources to nearly 70,000 LPRs in 11 states.

That being said, USCIS’s efforts to fully integrate foreign nationals into the tapestry of Americana should be applauded as it marks a positive step. There are many who feel that naturalization makes individuals more engaged in the American way of life and provides recent immigrants with an aim and goal to pursue.

For more information about this and other US Immigration issues please see: Fiance Visa Thailand.

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25th February 2010

The K3 Visa was designed as an expedited alternative to Immigrant Marriage visas such as the IR1 Visa and the CR1 Visa. At one time, it could take as long as 3 years to process a marriage visa petition, which is why Congress created the K-3 visa category. However, in recent years the need for the K-3 visa has been less acute when compared to the past as the current processing times for the aforementioned Immigrant marriage visas is about 11-12 months. When comparing this to the K3 visa processing time one can see that the K-3 visa is becoming less of a necessity.

With that in mind, the United States Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) recently made an important announcement with regard to K-3 visas, the following quote is from a State Department publication promulgated by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):

“Important Notice: Effective February 1st, 2010, when both the I-129F petition for a nonimmigrant K visa and the I-130 petition for an IR-1 (or CR-1) spouse of a U.S. citizen visa have been approved by USCIS and sent to the National Visa Center (NVC), the availability as well as the need for a nonimmigrant K-3 visa ends. If the NVC receives both petitions:

The nonimmigrant K visa will be administratively closed.
The application process explained below will not be applicable and cannot be used.

The NVC will contact the petitioner and you with instructions for processing your IR-1 (or CR-1) immigrant visa. For more information on the immigrant visa process review the Immigrant Visa for a Spouse webpage. If the NVC does not receive your I-130 petition and I-129F at the same time, the NVC will process your I-129F petition. Then NVC will send the petition to the embassy or consulate in the country where the marriage took place. If your marriage took place in the U.S., the NVC will send the petition to the embassy or consulate that issues visas in your country of nationality. If your marriage took place in a country that does not have an American embassy, or the embassy does not issue visas, the NVC will send your petition to the embassy or consulate that normally processes visas for citizens of that country. For example, if your marriage took place in Iran where the U.S. does not have an embassy your petition would be sent to Turkey.”

There are some who are likely asking themselves: What does this all mean? USCIS adjudicates all visa petitions and, upon approval, forwards them to the National Visa Center (NVC). NVC processes all K3 visa applications before they go to the Consulate or Embassy abroad (for those applications which are to be processed in Thailand, the NVC handles the application prior to receipt by the US Embassy Bangkok).

In essence, the NVC will no longer process K-3 visa applications if an Immigrant visa application is received by the NVC prior to, or at the same time as, a K3 application. As a practical matter, all K-3 petitions have an Immigrant visa counterpart. It is believed that, most of the time, the NVC receives these applications either in tandem or nearly simultaneously. There may be a few instances where a K-3 application will make it to NVC prior to the Immigrant visa application, but for the most part this is not the case. As a result, it is highly likely that the K-3 visa will no longer be available to those seeking marriage visa benefits because the Immigrant visa application will reach the NVC prior to, or at the same time as, the K-3 application.

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24th February 2010

A common method of land ownership in Thailand is through use of a Thai Limited Company. In many cases, a juristic person is incorporated to hold Thai property on behalf of the principal investors in the company.  Over the past three years the Thailand Real Estate market has been somewhat stagnant, but recently there seems to have been something of an upward trend in Real Estate transactions. This has resulted in the Ministry of the Interior raising the fees for land transactions, particularly with respect to land transactions executed on behalf of a corporation. To quote a Pattaya Times article promulgated on the website

“‘A nationwide increase in land offices fees will go in effect on March 2,’ a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior announced in Bangkok. The fees for purchases and sales involving a Thai company limited which most foreigners use to buy land will go up from one percent to six and a half percent of appraised or contract value, whichever is higher. The head of the Chonburi Land Office, Director Vaiyavuth Surapruik, said, ‘In 2008 the fees were lowered to help the economy. This has stimulated the sale of properties. Since the fees were lowered almost two years ago there has been no slow-down in the number of transactions at the land office in Banglamung which services Pattaya so now fees will go back up in order to increase government revenues.’”

On the one hand, the recovery of the Thailand Property market is definitely a positive development, and hopefully a sign of an underlying upsurge in the overall Thai economy. This upswing in Thai property sales may also be indicative of an overall upward trend in the world wide economy. However, for those who are thinking of purchasing Thai property be it land or another form of Thai Real Estate such as a Thai Condo, this development will likely be viewed negatively as it will result in increased fees for the buyer or seller of Thai property.

This fee increase will also have an impact on individuals as the aforementioned article concluded:

“Property transfered between individuals will be charged three percent fees if owned for more than two years by the current owner. If owned less than two years the fee is higher, between five and six and a half percent.” [sic]

Property transfers between individual foreigners is probably as common, if not less common, than property transfer between corporations controlled by foreigners. That being said, under certain conditions a foreigner can own a Thai Condominium in freehold and therefore could be effected by these increased individual transfer fees.

For related information on this blog please see: Thailand Property Law.

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23rd February 2010

As many readers are probably aware, the United States of America and Cuba have had long standing political tensions. Official US policy regarding Cuba has remained largely unchanged over the past 40 years, but recently officials from the American State Department have been conducting meetings with Cuban authorities in order to come to some sort of agreement regarding migration between the two countries. The quotes cited below are from a recently promulgated State Department publication:

“On Friday, February 19, 2010 the United States and Cuba met in Havana to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This was the second such meeting since the decision to renew the Talks in 2009. In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration.”

Many feel that the current state of the US-Cuban relationship has lead to a situation where the security of the United States and Cuba is affected. Also, US officials are seeking to be given access to information about those who are sent back to Cuba. Therefore, an accord with Cuba seems to increasingly be considered a necessity:

“The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues, including: ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of all Cuban nationals who are excludable on criminal grounds…The United States views these talks as an avenue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the Accords and to the safety of citizens of both countries.”

This blog is mostly concerned with American Immigration issues for foreign nationals in Southeast Asia. That being said, we try to provide information about US Immigration generally. Although the above issues do not directly impact US Immigration from Thailand, an accord with Cuba on these Immigration issues would likely mark a watershed moment in Cuban-American relations.

At one time, it was difficult for people from Communist countries to travel to the United States. Since the end of the cold war and the “thawing” of relations between the United States and China, Cuba has remained a country with few official ties to the United States. The above accord, may mark the beginning of friendlier relations between the two countries.

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22nd February 2010

Recently the Royal Thai Immigration Police Department announced a new initiative to sweep up foreign criminals residing in Thailand. This effort is to be made possible through what appears to be the interlinking of various warrant databases. Once Thai Immigration officials link their system to that of countries such as the United States, or international organizations such as the European Union it will be less difficult to track down those in Thailand with a foreign arrest warrant or fugitive warrant.

The Bangkok Post is reporting that the new chief of the Thai Immigration Bureau is taking measures to see that foreign criminals in Thailand are apprehended through an initiative known as the “Three S’s” The Three S’s stand for “Security Standards and Service.”

In the realm of security, new initiatives are to be taken which will provide Royal Thai Immigration Police with access to international criminal warrant databases. These records would provide Thai Immigration officers as well as regular police officers with criminal histories of foreigners present in the Kingdom of Thailand. This information will be used to ascertain the location of such international criminals and facilitate apprehension.

The new campaign will also entail the creation of a new National Criminal Center. This Center seems to be intended as a repository for international criminal records. At the time of this writing, it is the author’s understanding that this Center will coordinate their activities with such foreign agencies as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as other national, state, and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and around the world.

Another facet of Thai Immigration’s crackdown is the campaign to apprehend and deal with illegal aliens. Based upon the information contained in the above cited Bangkok Post article the new Royal Thai Immigration Chief seems to have expressed an intention to apprehend those foreign nationals who are present in the country illegally. How this will impact long term western tourists and expatriates remains to be seen as overstaying one’s Thai visa has become increasingly common since it is not longer possible to obtain a 30 day visa exemption stamp at Thai land borders.

In a way, these two initiatives are related as it could be easily inferred that those using Thailand as a place to evade foreign criminal warrants could also be Thailand visa violators.

For more information on this issue please see a previous blog post located here: criminal warrant.

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20th February 2010

United States Citizenship is a substantial benefit for many foreign nationals and naturalization is something that many Immigrants in the United States take very seriously. This author recently came upon a publication promulgated by the US Army in which information is provided regarding US Citizenship for Lawful Permanent Residents and Conditional Lawful Permanent Residents who opt to enlist in the Army. The following is a direct quote from that publication.

“Welcome to the United States Army! You are either a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or a Conditional Lawful Permanent Resident (CPR) who has enlisted in the US Army. As a non-US citizen enlisting in wartime, you are eligible to apply for naturalization under Immigration & Nationality Act Section 329 on your first day of active duty, if you so desire. The Army wants you to obtain your U.S. citizenship so that you can use your skills to achieve the Army mission. Obtaining US citizenship will allow you to move into more responsible jobs, open up new career fields, and even allow you to become an officer.”

Although the US Immigration and Nationality Act provides expedited naturalization for those in the military, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is still required to adjudicate Naturalization applications. To quote the aforementioned publication further:

“The Army does not decide, however, whether you can become a US citizen. You must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (citizenship) with United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS must process your application and decide whether it can be approved.”

This being said, all organizations concerned will strive to see that an enlisted lawful permanent resident’s application for naturalization is processed as quickly as possible.

“United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) works with the Army to process citizenship applications during Basic Combat Training (BCT). USCIS and the Army will try to ensure that all non-citizen Soldiers take their oath of citizenship prior to or concurrent with graduation from BCT. USCIS officers are present at each of the five BCT sites on a weekly basis to collect citizenship packets, interview and test Soldiers, and administer oaths. Soldiers should bring a completed citizenship packet to BCT and be prepared to take the citizenship test there. Please note that neither USCIS nor the Army guarantees any Soldier US Citizenship, or that the Soldier will receive citizenship prior to graduation from BCT.”

Although military service does not guarantee United States Citizenship it is admirable that the United States military as well as the USCIS go to great lengths to see that naturalization applications for enlisted personnel are processed in an efficient and timely manner.

For more on American Immigration please see: US Visa Thailand.

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19th February 2010

The US visa process begins with an initial petition which is submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Below are the updated processing times for the two USCIS service centers which handle the vast majority of United States family-based visa petitions. The information below was updated by USCIS on February 17, 2010.

For those who are unfamiliar with the visa process, the I-129f petition is used when filing for K1 visa on behalf of a foreign fiancee. This petition can be used by those seeking K3 Visa benefits as well. The I-130 petition is also utilized by those seeking family visa benefits, but the I-130 is used to petition for Immigrant visa benefits.

Below are the current USCIS processing estimates for the 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 June 02, 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 November 16, 2000
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 March 02, 2007
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 January 02, 2003
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

Below are the current processing time estimates for the Vermont 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 21, 2008
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21 October 01, 2008
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sister December 17, 2008
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for a spouse or child under 21 July 23, 2007
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative Permanent resident filling for an unmarried son or daughter over 21 July 31, 2007
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

Those researching the US visa process for the first time should be aware the USCIS processing is simply the initial phase of the overall process as the petition must be forwarded to the National Visa Center and eventually a US Consulate or Embassy abroad. In the case of Thai nationals seeking US visa benefits, virtually all family based applications are processed by the US Embassy Thailand.

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18th February 2010

Naturalization is the process of obtaining American Citizenship for a foreign national. In some cases, the US naturalization process can be very time consuming, but those who marry a United States Citizen and obtain immigrant status based upon that marriage are subjected to fewer requirements when it comes to US naturalization. This could be of interest to those who enter the United States on a K1 visa or K3 visa as either of these travel documents could put the beneficiary on track for eventual US Citizenship.

The US naturalization process can be relatively different for those who are in the United States military. About 2 years prior to the posting of this article, Congress enacted legislation to make the US naturalization process easier for those in the military. To quote a recent publications from the Department of Homeland Security:

“In June 2008, Congress passed the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act to streamline the process for U.S. military service members seeking to become U.S. citizens. The act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to accept fingerprints submitted by military citizenship applicants at the time of their enlistment or from prior submissions to the Department of Homeland Security, expedite the processing of citizenship applications, and implement procedures to ensure rapid electronic transmission of biometric information and safeguarding of privacy.”

Although Congress has enacted the aforementioned legislation, it is incumbent upon the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to implement the new policy. The above quoted DHS publication is an overview of the current status of the ongoing implementation of the Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act. To further quote DHS:

“USCIS has taken actions to meet the act’s requirements. Specifically, USCIS has implemented a process to use previously submitted fingerprints for military naturalizations, and it tracks and reports processing time to ensure that it completes adjudication of applications timely. USCIS has also undertaken several information technology initiatives to improve the military naturalization process. However, USCIS’ information technology systems, such as the application processing system and background check support systems, do not meet all user requirements. As a result, personnel must devote resources to work around system limitations. Further, USCIS had not yet completed a privacy assessment for its process to obtain enlistment fingerprints from partner agencies. Without such an assessment, we were unable to assess whether that process was properly safeguarded.”

A streamlined naturalization process for those serving in the US military is a “win-win” situation for both the newly naturalized Citizen as well as the USA as a whole. Although the above privacy issues must be further investigated hopefully the implementation of this act will prove to be an overall success.

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17th February 2010

United States criminal warrants are a serious matter that should be addressed in a timely fashion. That being said, there are those Americans outside of the USA who have outstanding US warrants. In many cases, the presence of a US warrant on one’s record can cause many travel complications.

In the past, the Thai Immigration database was not equipped to retain information regarding arrest and fugitive warrants for other countries. However, a recently released article promulgated through the website has noted that Royal Thai Immigration Police are implementing new measures in order to apprehend those with outstanding warrants from countries outside of Thailand. To quote directly:

“Thai Immigration officials plan to build an online information network that will collect arrest warrants from around the world in hopes of nabbing criminals hiding out in the Pattaya area…At a meeting at Immigration Division 3, Col. Athiwit Kamolrat, head of the Chonburi Immigration Office, said immigration police are working with the Suppression of Human and Child Trafficking, and Youth and Women’s Protection divisions of the Royal Thai Police to tighten the noose on human traffickers, pedophiles and international fugitives that often use Pattaya as a base or hideout…He said officials are currently closely monitoring Europeans from France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom; Asians from Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea; as well as those from Russia and the United States for whether they have entered Thailand legally, have obeyed the law and are not hiding from authorities at home…To boost their efforts, Athiwit said the Pattaya Immigration Office will take the lead in setting up a “transitional crimes information center” which will collect arrest warrants from around the global as well as extradition requests received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

For those with an outstanding US criminal warrant or fugitive warrant obtaining a new passport can be very difficult as the personnel at the American Citizen Services Section of the US Embassy in Bangkok will likely confiscate the passport of an American with outstanding criminal warrants. The measures being undertaken by the Thai Immigration authorities would seem to denote that the Thai government is increasingly looking to crack down on fugitives who are present in Thailand. How these new rules will ultimately effect the Thai Immigration process and the obtainment of a Thai visa remains to be seen, but it could be inferred that Thailand is taking an increasingly hard line against the presence of foreign fugitives in the Kingdom of Thailand.

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