A very interesting article came out recently by the Press of Atlantic City concerning the makeup of New Jersey's foreign born population. Southern New Jersey, it reported, saw an increase of 40% of its foreign born residents since 2000. That by itself is a remarkable, if not telling, sign that our great state of New Jersey continues to attract a large percentage of immigrants. What is surprising but also encouraging is that many of our newer immigrants are heading towards areas of New Jersey not traditionally associated with immigration such as Hamilton, Galloway, and Egg Harbor, which in particular, saw its foreign born population practically double since 2000.
Just two days ago, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced a major new initiative to raise awareness about US Citizenship. Dubbed "The Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiative," the program will make even more educational, preparational, and training materials available to the general public through its Citizenship Resource Center on its website. According to the press release, the message will be distributed through all types of media from May 30 through September 5, 2011. This is in addition to the naturalization information sessions that USCIS has been hosting nationwide to increase awareness and education about the process of becoming a United States Citizen. As posted earlier on this blog, USCIS has already held a session in Trenton, and another one is coming up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on June 9.
Given the plethora of websites and businesses out there that profess to represent USCIS, it is not surprising that many people are confused as to where the immigration office actually is. In New Jersey, the main USCIS District Office is located at the Peter Rodino Federal Building, 970 Broad Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102. The current District Director is Mr. John Thompson. The Field Office Director is Ms. Kimberly Zanotti. There is also a Sub-District Office that services Southern New Jersey. The Mount Laurel Field Office is located at 530 Fellowship Road, Mount Laurel, NJ 08054. In order to visit either Field Office, it is now necessary to schedule an appointment in advance. This can be done by visiting USCIS.gov and scheduling an "INFOPASS" appointment. The general phone number for USCIS is 1-800-375-5283. Generally speaking, most forms will be filed by mail and not in person. However, some important reasons why one might want to visit the Field Office in New Jersey if one is a New Jersey Resident, include securing evidence of permanent resident status in one's passport; applying for an interim work permit; or making an inquiry into one's case. This is, of course, in addition to reporting to Newark or Mount Laurel for a scheduled interview.
An article in The Economic Times recently reported that higher costs and increased government scrutiny have lowered applications for H-1B visas, which are temporary work visas for skilled professionals.
The Department of Homeland Security really stepped up to the plate by recently re-designating Haiti as a country for TPS, or Temporary Protected Status. Although TPS is not a grant of permanent residence, it does authorize nationals of countries designated by USCIS to stay here and obtain a work permit, due to extraordinary conditions in their home country. In the case of Haiti, many Haitians who were in the United States were obviously displaced due to the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake in January 2010. However, the original regulations required individuals to have been here in the US on January 12, 2010. As a result, those who could not prove physical presence here on or before that date were not eligible for protection. Now with the re-designation, USCIS has signaled that it remains sympathetic to nationals affected by natural disasters. Haitians who already have TPS will have until August of 2011 to re-register. Those who wish to register for the first time must demonstrate that they have been physically present and have continuously resided in the US since January 12, 2011; this class of individuals will have until November 15, 2011. Any individual who feels that he/she qualifies for TPS should contact USCIS or consult with a qualified and licensed immigration attorney, as proof of presence can sometimes be an issue in and of itself.
Every so often, while trying to ascertain what immigration applications a client may have filed in the past, I hear, "immigration approved that case because they gave me a work permit." Unfortunately, things are never that simple. An employment authorization document, otherwise known as a "work permit" or "EAD", is only that: a card which indicates that an individual is authorized to work. It does not necessarily guarantee or confirm that an individual has been approved for permanent residence. The two are entirely different things. Generally speaking, a person will apply for employment authorization on I-765 along with or in association with another application, such as one for permanent residence, asylum, temporary protected status, etc. In the case of an I-765 which is normally filed concurrently with an I-485, Application to Adjust Status, the intent is usually to secure permission to work while the I-485 is pending review. These days, USCIS has been surprisingly expedient in scheduling and adjudicating I-485s. Many marriage based adjustments that our law office has filed have been scheduled within three months, at least in New Jersey. However, not too long ago, cases took much longer to be scheduled. In the interim, applicants would receive their work permits, which they could use to legally work while awaiting disposition of their cases. However, the point is that the grant of work authorization, especially in these types of situations where permanent residence is also being filed for, does not always mean that USCIS has approved a person's case. The merits of an individual's permanent residence case will be decided at a later time, and in fact, if the case is denied, any work authorization previously granted is revoked.
Did you know that expungements, while generally a good thing for people who have criminal records (whether arrests or convictions) and wish to keep them private, can be potentially detrimental to an application for naturalization/citizenship? Why? The reason has to do with the fact that if a person has even been arrested, he/she will be expected to furnish a certified disposition at the time of the interview. If an applicant has already had his/her records expunged, there will no longer be any "record" of his/her arrest or conviction. Consequently, he or she will not be able to furnish a certified record from the court showing that the matter has been resolved. Another common misconception that many prospective clients in New Jersey seem to be under is that expungements in New Jersey will totally erase one's record. This is not technically true. Arrest records and convictions are still accessible by law enforcement as well as the Department of Homeland Security, so we would certainly not recommend that a person intentionally omit an arrest because it has been "erased." Rule of thumb: if you are applying for permanent residence or naturalization, you might want to hold off on the expungement until after the immigration process is complete or, alternatively, secure certified records and dispositions from the relevant courts before the expungement is finished.
One of the more common misconceptions that we encounter during our daily practice revolves around naturalization and whether an applicant is required to take the test. There seems to be rumor especially among some of the ethnic communities in New Jersey that applicants who are older do not have to take the citizenship test. This is not true at all. The vast majority of applicants who apply to become naturalized as US citizens must take the American civics test, in addition to demonstrating an ability to speak, read, and write English. However, there is a limited exception: applicants who are at least 55 years old and who have been permanent residents for at least 15 years prior to applying, or applicants who are at least 50 years old with at least 20 years of permanent residence, are allowed to take the civics or history test in their native language. Moreover, USCIS will excuse these applicants from taking the reading and writing test. Be aware, however, that immigration officers, especially in Newark and Mount Laurel, New Jersey, apply the guidelines very strictly, and these requirements should be met before actually applying.
In another encouraging piece of news, President Obama spoke again about immigration reform yesterday at the Texas-Mexico border. Calling reform an "economic imperative," the President noted that fixing our immigrations laws will help to eliminate the "massive underground economy" that is undermining our present financial health. President Obama also added that his administration has already taken steps to strengthen our borders and curb illegal immigration, and now it is time to address an overhaul.
Those of you who have been following the plight of foreign students in New Jersey and elsewhere might be interested in knowing that the Department of Education and Department of Justice jointly issued a letter on May 6, 2011, addressing children's rights to elementary and secondary education, regardless of immigration status. Coined a "Dear Colleague Letter," the statement reminds schools that under federal law, state and local agencies are required to provide children with education through secondary school, and that any policies that discourage a child's enrollment due to immigration concerns or issues "contravene" Federal law. Under our federal laws as well as caselaw, the immigration status of a student--or his/her parents(s)--at the elementary and secondary levels is simply irrelevant.
Wharton University reports that there are now 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States, accounting for about 1 out of every 6 residents. The 2010 U.S. Census reports more than half of the nation's population growth was due to Hispanics; the percentage of Hispanics increased in every single state in the nation during the last decade.
Late last month, The Star-Ledger published a scathing rebuke of a recent decision by the County College of Morris to charge undocumented immigrants out-of-state tuition rates to attend the school.
On May 2, 2011, USCIS announced that it will be implementing a new procedure called the Secure Mail Initiative (SMI). Made possible with a partnership with the US Post Office, the SMI will supposedly allow USCIS to confirm delivery of important documents such as green cards through use of Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation and other tracking protocols.
The Huffington Post recently published an informative and interesting article looking at the growing Hindu population in the United States. A third of all Hindus are found in New Jersey, California and New York.
Most people are unaware that USCIS regularly holds "open houses" as well as information sessions for the general public. Considering that the N-400, Application for Naturalization, is the most searched form on USCIS.gov, people might be interested in knowing that there is a free information session coming up this month at the Trenton Public Library on May 25 from 1 to 3pm. There is also another one coming up June 9 in Elizabeth according to USCIS.