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Several criminal acts and convictions could put an immigrant in danger of being deportable. Many chose to go through a process called “expungement,” which would allow them to clean their record, essentially deleting their history of criminal convictions. If a court agrees to seal or expunge a person’s criminal record, they are considered to never have committed a crime at all. However, this is a complicated process and many times does not have the desired effect for immigration purposes.

Even if an individual’s criminal records are expunged or sealed, prior criminal convictions could still cause issues on an immigration case. Expungements and sealment of records do not prevent the government from being aware of the record for immigration purposes. The record will always exist. However, you may still want to consider going through this process for other purposes, such as finding employment.

Each case is unique and should be closely evaluated, but individuals may request to have their arrests, court supervisions, and some probation sentences deleted from their record. Each state has its own rules, but generally the petition should be filed with the court having jurisdiction and after a certain number of years have passed since the conviction.

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This is another effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools have found it necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. At least for the upcoming fall semester, many colleges are saying goodbye to in-person classes and shifting to virtual classrooms. This seems like a convenient way to keep students on track for graduation and avoid the temporary shut down of classes, but the new setting does not seem to be favored by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On July 6, 2020, ICE announced that those students holding F1 and M1 visas and who are scheduled to only take online classes would not be able to keep their status. These students are welcomed to take online classes for the upcoming fall 2020 semester, but they will not be granted a visa to the United States nor allowed into the country for these purposes. In addition, according to the new directive, those F1 and M1 students presently in the United States should leave if their classes are going to be fully online.

What should students do? Each case is different, but at least some students may be able to find alternatives that would allow them to remain in the United States. Here are a few:

  • You may register for in-person classes – Requirements vary between colleges, but you may be able to register for in-person classes at your school or another institution. If your program accepts it, you could remain here under the F1 or M1 visa.
  • Transfer colleges to attend in-person classes – This could also be an option. Be sure to check with your advisor and potential new college to make sure your credits are transferable.
  • Consider changing your status – Some students may be able to request a change of status if they qualify for some form of immigration relief. For instance, those who with a credible fear to return to their home countries or who have a relative able to petition for them and can apply for their status within the United States may be able to take online classes while they wait for their immigration case to be adjudicated.
If the only available option for the student is to take online classes, they will not be able to lawfully remain in the United States. If they do, they risk accruing unlawful presence and the government initiating removal proceedings against them.
Regardless of which option you choose, figuring out how to proceed can be quite burdensome. You should not waste any time and consult a reputable and experienced immigration attorney to evaluate your case.

Who would have thought that you could become a U.S. citizen from the comfort of your car? With thousands of Naturalization Oath Ceremonies cancelled throughout the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS had to adapt and started scheduling drive-through ceremonies to swear in immigrants as American citizens.

With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling in-person services at USCIS for months, those who had already passed their Naturalization interviews saw their ceremonies cancelled. For many immigrants, this was more than a mere inconvenience. For most, their naturalization ceremony is a symbol of the much awaited end of a long and difficult journey, but it is also a requirement to vote in U.S. elections, request a U.S. passport, serve in a jury, and petition certain family members. So most were surely thrilled when some USCIS offices finally started to reschedule oath ceremonies and modified their set up to prevent the spread of the virus. Immigrants pull into the assigned parking lot at the scheduled day and time, provide their identification to a USCIS officer wearing personal protective equipment, and get sworn in through their car window.

This modified process is only one example of how USCIS has had to adapt to cope with the pandemic, but we hope it’s not the last and, as we move forward, other accommodations are provided to prevent unnecessary delays for applicants.

Days are usually hectic at our office, but we rarely get a case that makes us stop in our tracks and refocus our work as much as one of these. It usually starts with a phone call from the beneficiary. They often sound nervous and scared, but the facts are usually similar. They met who they thought it was a loving and supporting partner (who happened to be a U.S. citizen), they married this person, and they filed the petition and adjustment application based on the marriage. However, now things have changed and the spouse refuses to go to the marriage interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Both the beneficiary and petitioner are required to attend the marriage-based interview with an immigration officer. If your spouse refuses to go, this could be a problem and put your whole process at risk. Now, sometimes the beneficiary qualifies for another kind of petition, such as a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petition. At times the refusal to attend the interview is part of a pattern of abuse and control by the petitioner. For instance, if the petitioner has ever been abusive against the applicant, either physically harming, insulting, belittling, manipulating, threatening, or taking advantage financially of the beneficiary, among other situations, VAWA could be an option.

This was the case of a recent caller at our office. This gentleman called us and explained his situation. His wife had violently assaulted him several times, insulted him with degrading and humiliating terms, manipulated him into giving her full control of his finances (but refusing to let him spend money), and now she was threatening not to attend the marriage interview and file for divorce. He was afraid to contact the police or request a restraining order, fearing this would only enrage his wife even more.

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Divorces are difficult. If you add to that the stress of going through an immigration process, this can be quite taxing. Generally, if your green card has been granted for 10 years, a divorce should not affect your immigration status. However, if you were married for less than 2 years at the time of your green card approval and you received the benefit for being the spouse of a green card holder or U.S. citizen, you green card would be considered “conditional” and only issued for 2 years.

In order to remove the conditions of your green card and receive your permanent status, you will need to submit an application to USCIS. Typically, these applications are submitted within 90 days of your conditional green card expiration date. Couples who are still together need to submit a joint application, evidence of the bona fides of their marriage, and likely attend an additional interview before USCIS issues a decision. Now, the process varies greatly if you are no longer with your spouse, but it’s still viable for most applicants through a waiver. Here are potential options:

  • Your marriage has ended through divorce – Your divorce should be finalized by the time you submit your application. If it’s not, you should be prepared to submit an explanation with your application and describe the reasons why the divorce has not been finalized. In addition, it is likely that USCIS will request the final divorce decree through a Request for Evidence, generally only giving you up to 87 days to respond.
  • You suffered battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of your spouse – This is perhaps the most common option applicants pursue. USCIS will consider any evidence of domestic abuse, including physical violence, threats, verbal, emotional, and financial abuse. A restraining order or reporting violent incidents to the police are not mandatory elements for this option. Also, even if you are still residing with your spouse, you could still qualify for this option as long as you have sufficient evidence to argue your case.
  • My spouse has died – and his or her passing took place after I was granted a conditional green card.
  • Ending my status and being deported would cause me extreme hardship – This is maybe the most difficult category under which you could qualify. You would need to show that the situation in your home country would pose a hardship to you if you had to go back, for instance if you would be targeted by your government due to your political activism.

You can apply under more than one of the above grounds if that is your case. In addition, you can submit a waiver under the above grounds even if you have already submitted your joint application with your spouse. Regardless of which option fits your case, for most situations you will still need to demonstrate that you entered the marriage in good faith. This means showing that you and your spouse intended to form a life together when you got married. This could be demonstrated with evidence of joint bank accounts, tax returns, correspondence to the same address, pictures, affidavits from friends and family members, among others. The evidence should cover the period of time from the granting of the conditional green card and until the time of filing for the removal of conditions and, if needed, up to the time of their interview.

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