Friday, January 23, 2009

Beware of fake immigration lawyers

The New York Times has posted an article about a Bronx man who had posed as an immigration lawyer for over 15 years, without having any law license. The man is charged with three counts of defrauding clients and faces up to 7 years in jail.

The article reminded me of a case I handled very early in my immigration career, in about 1997. A family came to my then law firm after paying thousands of dollars to a "notario" who promised to help them get permanent residence. The family had no legal basis for permanent residence, however the notario filed bogus asylum claims for them. These asylum applications had no foundation, so they were not surprisingly denied and the family ended up in deportation (as it was called then) proceedings instead.

This was a wonderful extended family, hard-working, involved in the community, active in their church and in volunteer work, and not wealthy. They had spent a lot of their savings on this notario, only to end up in a far worse situation than before they ever met her.

Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon. In some Latin American countries, "notarios" are licensed lawyers, so many people mistakenly believe that someone calling themselves a "notario" in the US is also a lawyer. As the American Bar Association states:
“Notarios” or “Immigration Consultants” have become an increasingly serious problem in immigrant communities. Notarios operate throughout the U.S. and use false advertising and fraudulent contracts for services which cannot be provided. Notarios present themselves as qualified to help immigrants obtain lawful immigration status, and may charge a lot of money for help that they never provide. Often, immigrants’ permanently lose opportunities to pursue immigration relief because a notario has damaged their case.
Various organizations actively advocate against notarios, and there are procedures in each state to register a complaint against a notario. This link contains information about the complaint procedure. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has published information leaflets for each state. Attached is a sample for Texas. Please contact us for information on other states.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Revised naturalization test explained

On October 1, 2008, USCIS started administering a new naturalization test to applicants for US citizenship. Anybody who filed their N-400 (the form used to apply for naturalization) after that date must take the new test. Anyone who applied before that date and is interviewed before 10/1/09 can take the old test if they prefer. Anyone who is interviewed after 10/1/09, regardless of when they filed the N-400, must take the new test.

The USCIS website states that:
The content of the new civics test has been completely revised. The content now follows a basic U.S. history and government curriculum and focuses on fundamental principles within three categories: American government, American history, and integrated civics. The test is still administered orally and an applicant must still answer six out of 10 questions correctly to pass the civics test.
Full details of the new test, including extensive study materials, are here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How do I get US citizenship?

In general, you can apply for US citizenship after 5 continuous years as a permanent resident (PR) or 3 years as a PR if you were married to a US citizen for the 3 years.

In addition to being a permanent resident for the prescribed periods, there are very specific residence requirements you must meet before getting citizenship. Generally, you must have been physically present in the US for half of the 5/3 years before applying for citizenship. You must also have resided for at least 3 months in the state where you are filing. Limited exceptions exist to the residence rules, and it is important that you have not done anything to break the period of residence. Please contact your attorney if you’d like specific advice about your situation.

In addition to the residence and physical presence requirements, an applicant for naturalization must show the following:

  • Good moral character
  • Attachment to the principles of the US constitution
  • Willingness to "bear arms" or perform other work on behalf of the US if required
  • Ability to speak, read and write English (unless eligible for a waiver of this requirement)
  • Knowledge of history and government of the US (unless eligible for a waiver)
There are special rules for people serving in the US Armed Forces, who can get a waiver of the usual residence and physical presence requirements, and do not need to pay filing fees. In addition, a person may be able to apply for citizenship before becoming a PR if the application is filed while on active duty, or within 6 months of leaving service. A person who served in the armed forces during hostilities and was honorably discharged or still serves, can also apply for citizenship without being a PR.

Information on naturalization generally is here. Information on naturalization for military personnel is here.