Archive for the ‘Naturalization’ Category

Supreme Court DOMA Decision Affects LGBT Immigrants

July 17, 2013

DOMAThe Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in United States v. Windsor held a key provision, defining marriage as between one man and one woman, in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. Although the decision will be celebrated by LGBT individuals and advocates across the country, the decision will have a particularly significant impact on one subset of LGBT individuals in the United States: binational same-sex couples.

Striking down the definition of marriage in DOMA will affect numerous federal laws and regulations, many of which regulate benefits to married couples.  Before the ruling, immigration benefits received by immigrants married to US citizens or lawful permanent residents were restricted to only marriages between a man and a woman—despite the sanctioning of same-sex marriages in several states.  This often resulted in the denial of residency status and citizenship to noncitizen immigrants in same-sex marriages, who were then forced to choose between living apart from their spouse or remaining in the country in violation of federal law.

As a result of Windsor, federal immigration officials are now required to recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes.  Now, LGBT immigrants married to US citizens will have the opportunity to remain in the country through spousal green cards and eventual US citizenship. The decision has “already helped one binational same-sex couple: an immigration judge halted the deportation of a man married to a U.S. citizen.”

The decision relieves some pressure on House and Senate Democrats in the immigration reform debate by allowing them to skirt at least part of the debate on the issue of whether to include LGBT immigrant rights in the immigration bill.  However, advocates continue to push for greater protections for LGBT immigrant interests in other areas, including amnesty and protections against solitary confinement.

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Traveling to the United States Virgin Islands Without a Visa – The Visa Waiver Pilot Program

August 13, 2012

Every day, hundreds of foreigners legally travel to the United States Virgin Islands without a visa. This travel is made possible through the Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP).

Citizens of thirty-six authorized countries – listed here – are permitted to travel into the U.S. Virgin Islands without a first obtaining a visa through the VWPP. These travelers must arrive on a signatory carrier. Due to this requirement, those who travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands privately do not qualify for the VWPP. These travelers still require a regular visa.

Vessels and aircrafts become signatory carriers through signing an agreement with the United States Immigration and Naturalization service. Through this agreement, the carrier guarantees that they will transport any person back to their original destination should they be found inadmissible or deportable under applicable immigration laws. A list of Signatory Vessels is available through the U.S. Department of State and Foreign Affairs, here.

Travelers arriving on a Signatory Carrier must also be visiting for business or tourism purposes. Business purposes may include participation in business transactions, conventions, conferences, seminars, or research activities. Business visitors may not conduct activities for which they receive salary from a source within the United States. Tourism purposes include visiting, vacationing, seeking medical treatment, and social events. The traveler may be in the United States for a maximum of 90 days.

Utilizing the VWPP is advantageous when travelers wish to make spontaneous travel plans that do not allow time for obtaining a visa. However, travelers taking advantage of this program must ensure that their admission is proper – once a traveler has violated the terms of his admission, he may never again use the VWPP.

What to Expect During the Naturalization Process

August 1, 2012

Through the naturalization process, people who did not acquire/derive United States citizenship automatically at birth retain the opportunity to become a United States citizen. To ensure the process goes smoothly, applicants should develop a thorough under understanding of the naturalization process before beginning their application.

The first step in the naturalization process is to determine whether you are even eligible for naturalization. If you are a qualified spouse of a U.S. Citizen, you must show continuous residence in the United States for three years prior to filing your application. For all other applicants, the requirement is raised to five years. Additionally, if you are a spouse of a qualified U.S. citizen, you must show that you have been physically present in the U.S. for eighteen months within the three years before filing your application. For all other applicants, this requirement is raised to thirty months. The Immigration and Nationality Act offers several exceptions to these requirements, listed at Section 316, ¶ (b), (c), & (f).

The next step is for eligible applicants to complete Form N-400, “Application for Naturalization.” Along with the application, applicants will need two passport-style photographs, a fee (currently $595), and other documents required by Form N-400. For applicants residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the application, fee, and accompanying documents should be sent to the USCIS Lockbox Facility in Dallas, TX.

After completing the initial application, applicants will be fingerprinted and interviewed at a USCIS office. At the interview, applicants are placed under oath and asked a variety of questions about their background, residency, character, attachment to the Constitution, and other evidence concerning their case. The USCIS officers will also administer both an English and a civics test.  During the English test, applicants are asked to read one of three sentences in English, and write one of three sentences in English. For the civics test, applicants must orally answer ten questions about U.S. history and government. Applicants must answer six questions correctly to pass the civics test. All potential questions are available here.

Applicants may be told whether or not they will be granted citizenship at the conclusion of their interview. In some instances, cases will be “continued,” meaning that the case is put on hold. This likely means that the applicant failed one or both tests, or failed to provide all necessary documents Applicants with continued cases may need to return for a second interview or provide additional documents. Applicants who are denied will receive a written notice explaining why. Denial may be appealed by filing Form N-336. The appeal must be filed, along with the applicable fee, within 30 days after the applicant receives his denial letter.

For more information on the naturalization process, read the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s publication, A Guide to Naturalization.