New USCIS Tool Makes Calculating Fees Easier

Completing forms for U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (USCIS) is difficult enough, but navigating USCIS’s various webpages to make sure you submit the appropriate fees adds another step to this already complicated process. To help streamline the application process and make sure the appropriate fees are submitted, USCIS recently created an online tool that correctly calculates fees in an attempt to avoid incorrect payments and delays in processing. Now, you can find filing fee information in one, centralized location. 

The new fee calculator tool requires users to submit answers to various questions, which are then used to calculate the proper amount the applicant is required to pay. This includes entering your form, age, and application type, to name a few questions. Fees sometimes fluctuate, making it difficult to keep up with the most current fee amount. This tool contains accurate and up-to-date information. This is critical, since incorrect fee payment can be grounds for rejection by USCIS. This could force applicants to spend more time and money resubmitting an application. 

USCIS designed this tool to be convenient and secure for users. The Online Fee Calculator can be used on all browsers on both desktop and mobile devices. Additionally, the tool does not collect user data in order to protect users’ privacy. 

If you have an immigration-related question, please contact Berardi Immigration Law today to speak with an attorney!

Certain Conditional Permanent Residents Eligible for Interview Waiver

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently provided updated guidance for officers regarding waiving the interview requirement for a Petition to Remove Conditions of Residence. 

Conditional permanent residency is granted to qualifying foreign nationals who have been married to their qualifying spouse for less than two years. After a period of two years, a conditional permanent resident must petition to have these conditions removed or face losing their Green Card entirely, as this conditional card cannot be renewed. Generally, in order to complete the process necessary to remove conditions, an officer must interview a conditional permanent resident. However, there are some exceptions, which the recent guidance delves into.  

According to USCIS, officers have some discretion to decide if they can waive the interview requirement. They are required to follow certain criteria to make a judgement of whether the interview should be waived or if it is necessary. A USCIS officer must be satisfied that the following conditions are met:

  • The officer is able to make a decision based on the current record because it contains sufficient evidence regarding the bona fides of the marriage and the marriage was not entered into fraudulently for the purpose of avoiding U.S. immigration laws;
  • USCIS previously interviewed the principle petitioner for these cases that were received on or after December 10, 2018;
  • There is no indication of any fraud or misrepresentation on any forms or supporting documentation; and
  • There are no complex facts or issues that necessitate an interview to clear up any questions or concerns.

Officers are required to go through the above criteria for every instance they are deciding whether or not to grant a waiver for this particular interview. Additionally, all cases that involve any kind of fraud of national security concerns must be referred to the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate. 

If you have questions about this topic or other immigration matters, feel free to contact Berardi Immigration Law today to speak with an attorney!

Zach Ahlstrom Joins Berardi Immigration Law as Associate Attorney

Congratulations to Zach Ahlstrom who was officially sworn in as a licensed New York State attorney yesterday and is now an Associate Attorney with Berardi Immigration Law! 

Zach started with Berardi Immigration Law as a law clerk during his second year of law school in March 2017. He passed the bar exam in October 2018. He focuses on a wide range of petitions, including everything from employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions, to marriage-based green cards and naturalization applications. Beginning on his first day with our firm, it was immediately clear that he was destined to be an immigration attorney. He possesses a unique ability to write and has developed a deep understanding of the complexity and nuance that is natural to U.S. immigration law and regulations. 

Zach graduated summa cum laude from Mercyhurst University in 2014 with a degree in Political Science. He then went on to pursue a law degree from the University at Buffalo School of Law. While attending law school, Zach was a writing fellow for two years. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, baseball and riding his bike — anything to get him outdoors.

Berardi Immigration Law is proud to have Zach as the newest attorney on our team! 

Civics Test Update: Don’t Let the Civics Test Stop You From Becoming a U.S. Citizen

If you are a foreign national seeking to become an American citizen, the naturalization process can be a mixture of stress and excitement. One of the last steps to complete before naturalizing to a citizen is the civics test. Passing the civics test is required to become a citizen. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer will ask a set of up to 10 civics questions. You must answer at least six of these questions correctly. While this may sound difficult, the good news is that USCIS has published all 100 possible civics questions online for review. 

One difficulty that you may face when preparing for this exam is the fact that answers to some of the questions will periodically change based on elections. Questions that vary include identifying U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, the President, the Vice President, the number of justices on the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice, state Governors, the political party of the President, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. USCIS publishes up-to-date material regarding these civics test updates that foreign nationals should use to prepare for the civics exam. 

As a result of the 2018 election, the answers to some questions have or may have changed, depending on where you live. Questions to pay close attention to include identifying U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, state Governors, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives vary by location, so you should be sure to verify your elected officials on the U.S. Senate website and the U.S. House of Representatives website. You can also find out information about the Speaker of the House on the U.S. House of Representatives website. The U.S. government also provides a website identifying the current governor of each state and territory. 

Preparation for the civics exam can go a long way in relieving some stress surrounding the naturalization process. This is one of the last steps before gaining the lifetime benefit of becoming a citizen and gaining the privileges that come with it, and some preparation and keeping up to date with USCIS study materials can ensure this step goes smoothly. If you have an immigration question and would like to discuss it with an attorney, don’t hesitate to contact Berardi Immigration Law today to schedule a consultation!

E-Verify Expiration: What Employers and Employees Using the System Should Know

Many employers are familiar with the E-Verify system, which allows employers to check the employment eligibility for all of their employees. This system compares information completed on an employee’s Form I-9 with records from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is administered by DHS, which is one of the agencies that remains without government funding. The E-Verify program has expired as a result of a lapse in funding due to the partial government shutdown in the U.S. The program will be unavailable until necessary funding is received. 

There are major implications to the expiration of E-Verify. While the government is shut down, employers will be unable to access the services E-Verify provides. This includes enrolling in the program; accessing E-Verify accounts; creating new cases; viewing or taking action on a case; adding, deleting or editing accounts; changing passwords; editing company information; terminating accounts; or running reports. Importantly, employees will not be able to correct any E-Verify Tentative Non-confirmations (TNCs) while the program is expired.  A TNC occurs when employee information does not match with DHS or SSA records. Nonetheless, employers are still required to complete the steps on their end to verify work eligibility, including completing Form I-9 in a timely manner. 

Despite the major implications of E-Verify’s expiration, employers and employees should not panic. In the meantime, DHS made announcements which would effectively lessen the burden on employers and employees relating to E-Verify while the government is shut down. The three-day rule for creating E-Verify is suspended for all cases that are impacted by the unavailability of the service. Additionally, employees will have more time to resolve TNCs. DHS will provide more information regarding deadlines once funding is secured and operations return to normal. 

If you have any questions about E-Verify or other immigration matters, feel free to call Berardi Immigration Law to set up a consultation with an attorney.

New Bill Could Make E-3 Visas Available to Irish Nationals

Irish nationals interested in relocating and working in the United States might just be in luck. A bill providing Irish nationals with several thousand additional work visas annually is scheduled for a vote in the Senate. Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan holds ancestral and political ties to Ireland and is responsible for pushing this bill. The bill has already passed the House and according to a Republican aide, the bill has a good chance of passing the Senate. 

This bill would provide Irish nationals with access to E-3 visas. Currently, E-3 visas are only available for Australian nationals who have a legitimate offer of employment in the U.S., possess the necessary academic or other qualifying credentials, and will fill a position that qualifies as a specialty occupation. This visa category requires a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. If this bill passes, in addition to Australian nationals, Irish nationals would also be eligible to apply for an E-3 nonimmigrant visa. The E-3 category would still favor Australian petitions, but Irish nationals would be able to access any of the E-3 program’s 10,500 visas not used by Australians. 

This bill would allow for reciprocity, meaning more Americans would be able to be employed in Ireland as well. A goal of the proposed legislation is to foster the flow in workplaces between the two countries. Additionally, the bill would make it significantly easier for qualifying Americans to retire in Ireland and remove many of the hurdles that Americans entering Ireland on “working holiday” visas face. 

It is unclear what President Trump’s stance on this proposed legislation is. If the bill passes the Senate, the support of the president will be necessary to make the bill a law. 

If you are interested in immigrating to the United States and would like to explore your options, contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today!

U.S. Government Shutdown’s Impact on Immigration Services

With the government experiencing a shutdown due to the lapse in annual funding, many are concerned about the consequences in the realm of immigration. Fortunately, the majority of immigration matters are largely unaffected by the current situation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices will remain open despite the shutdown. Individuals should attend scheduled appointments with USCIS. Additionally, USCIS will continue to accept most petitions and applications. 

A large portion of immigration-related processes are already sufficiently funded or fee-based, which is why they are not affected for the time being. There are several USCIS operations that will be affected by the shutdown, as they are expired, suspended or have not been reauthorized. The following programs are based on appropriated funds, and are therefore nonoperational during the shutdown:

  • EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program: While the actual EB-5 immigration category is itself not impacted by the shutdown, the related regional centers are. The EB-5 regional centers are public or private economic units in the U.S. that are involved with promoting economic growth in the country. USCIS designates regional centers for participation in the Immigrant Investor Program. Regardless of the shutdown, however, the EB-5 program will continue to operate. 
  • E-Verify: E-Verify is a government program that allows employers to confirm that their employees are eligible to work in the U.S. The E-Verify program is largely voluntary, but some employers with federal contracts or subcontracts must participate. The program works by allowing employers to check information collected from an employee against Social Security Administration (SSA) records and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records. 
  • Conrad 30 Waiver Program for J-1 Physicians: J-1 physicians are required to return to their home country for a two-year period following the completion of the exchange visitor program. The Conrad 30 Waiver program provides an exception to this requirement and allows J-1 physicians to remain in the U.S. provided they practice in certain authorized locations. The Conrad 30 program is not shut down completely; rather, the expiration affects the date by which a J-1 physician must have entered the U.S. 
  • Non-Minister Religious Workers: During the government shutdown, this special immigrant category will be affected. This category allows non-ministers working in religious vocations and occupations to immigrate to the U.S. or adjust to legal permanent resident (LPR) status. This category requires individuals to perform their religious work full-time in a compensated position. 

If you have an immigration matter, do not hesitate to contact our office to set up a consultation with an attorney today!