Passport stamped no extensions at the airport

A reader writes that his father had previously applied for an extension on his tourist visa, was granted a six month extension without any problem, and while he could have stayed for a total of 12 months, he left after 7 months, but now when he came a year later, they made a note on his passport "no extensions."  What does this mean?  What if he were to apply for an extension?  Will using an attorney help?  Will it jeopardize his visa if he does apply?


 

The Customs and Border Protection Agency suspects that your father is a risk, someone who will simply settle down in the US and never leave, or is already living in the US by spending so much time here, or is illegally working.  You will be wasting your time and money by applying for an extension with or without a lawyer.  The only exception might be if he is genuinely sick and a doctor can issue medical records that he is unfit to travel (depends on how long the trip is -- this might work for a trip to Europe or Asia but will not work if someone needs to fly from Miami to Mexico). If he needs to live here long-term, you might want to consider sponsoring him for a green card

Options for green card holders to marry overseas

A lot of immigrants want to marry someone in their native countries but generally speaking it is a bad idea, particularly if you are from a country for which the processing times for family visas can require waits of years.  So in general, my advice would be to wait for the five year option to naturalize (you can apply for naturalization earlier than that) and if your application is straightforward, you can take your oath within a matter of months.  After that, it is best to sponsor the spouse and then the process is faster and smoother.


 

However, if you still insist on marrying before becoming a US citizen, maybe you want to find a spouse who already has a US tourist visa (that way the spouse can visit you in the US and stay for a few months a year, though, it can not be used as a way to live with you because if she/he is asked at the immigration counter the purpose of her/his visit and the answer is to spend time with the spouse, the officer may deny entry, particularly the second or third time -- and remember that it is a crime to lie to the CBP officer) so that while the green card is being processed, it is possible to be together.

In case, the spouse does not have a US tourist visa before marriage and you still insist on getting married, be prepared for years of separation.  And contrary to what many people think, you cannot come to the United States on a tourist visa and file for green card because that would be a violation of the terms of the visa and the application can be denied.  This will only jeopardize your case and even when eligible, will take unnecessarily long time.

How much time do I have to leave the US after denial?

A lot of people have written to ask how much do they have before they get into trouble for not leaving the country after an immigration petition is denied.  Let me say that while the requirements can vary by your current status and the immigration category you applied for, but first and foremost, read your denial letter carefully to understand your options.  Since this is such an important matter, follow the advice of your attorney.  In case you filed the petition on your own and did not use a lawyer, unless you really cannot afford to, get a good lawyer immediately and decide after a consultation.  While you maybe tempted to find answers on the Internet (on websites like this one), my suggestion is not to follow the advice online at this time.  While it is useful to do some initial research online but you DO NOT want to go by the experience of someone even in your exact same situation.  Also, no one knows if the advice is outdated or written by a legal professional.  In law, each case is unique and is best handled by professionals.



Still, generally speaking, if your petition is denied or somehow you are no longer doing what your visa allowed to do (e.g. if you came on a H visa but got fired or laid off, you really have no legal basis to be in the US even though your visa and I-94 has a date in the future; similarly if you came on a F visa and dropped out of school, you are also out of status).  Generally speaking, it is expected that you will leave as soon as reasonably possible, which typically means several weeks or a few months at the most.  Each day you are out of status, you are accumulating unlawful status and unless you never plan to come to the US again, you may get a ban for a few years (the USCIS will know from your airline departure records when you leave).  In case your kids are in school and you wish to complete the school year or a family member is hospitalized or you have some other genuine reason to stay longer than a few weeks, it is best to apply to the USCIS using Form-539.

Home buying by new immigrant



 
The American society places a lot of emphasis on home ownership and more than the joy of owning your home is the financial benefit you get from paying lower taxes (the property taxes and interest on the home mortgage you pay is deductible for income tax purposes and can save an average middle class homeowner thousands of dollars a year).  When you rent, you get no tax benefit and all the money you pay just disappears (in the mortgage payment each month, you also make a small payment towards the actual loan amount, so you are also saving indirectly).

How can a newly arrived immigrant buy a home?  If you have the cash to pay for it, all you need to do is to ask a real estate agent help you find one and then with the help of an attorney just do the paperwork.  That is why I recommend that if you have just arrived in the US, buy the home that you can pay for in cash, live in it for a few years while building a credit history and getting to know how things work, and then buy a dream home.


 

Can I borrow money to pay for the house?  Most Americans put down a very small percentage of the home price (the standard is 20% but many of us with decades of excellent credit history can get away with putting down next to nothing, maybe 5%) and then they get the mortgage for the balance amount, and then make a monthly payment.  Unfortunately, for a newly arrived immigrant with no credit history, borrowing is nearly impossible, regardless or how much money you actually have.  That is way responsible use of a credit card to build a credit history is useful in eventually being able to borrow.  The bottom line is that if you cannot pay for the home in full then you should rent for a few years.

Credit card for new immigrant

As you are trying to establish your roots in America, you got your driver's license, and a bank account, you might be tempted to grab a credit card, which is not essential, but extremely useful.  Millions of Americans no longer use credit cards or are unable to due to problems in responsibly using them, but if you are financially savvy and want to live like most middle class Americans live, it is nice to have at least one (most of us have several, because American Express has many benefits but is not accepted everywhere, and that is why we end up getting a MasterCard and/or Visa).


 

The right way for a new immigrant to the United States to get a credit card is to wait a few years.  In the meantime, use your bank account responsibly by keeping all your money there, and if possible getting a secure credit card and using it responsibly.  Generally speaking, you may first apply for a store credit card (so if you shop a lot at Target, you can first get their card, and use it responsibly) after a year or so.  In another year or so, you might start receiving credit card offers in the mail and most likely if you apply, you will be approved, albeit with a smaller credit line, but if you use the card in a responsible manner, your limit will go up.

Bank accounts for new immigrants



 
After receiving your driver's license in the USA, you can start to plant your roots in the country.  An American driver's license makes you like everyone else, because this is the most widely accepted identification document that is used not just for driving but at banks, to buy alcohol, to enter bars/nightclubs, to board airplanes on domestic flights, and anywhere else someone needs to confirm your identity.

Since America is a fairly cashless society (do not be surprised or offended if stores raise eyebrows or even refuse to accept large bills like $50 and $100), it is nice to have a bank account so that you can pay almost all your bills with a personal check (the preferred mode of paying bills by mail).  You will also have an ATM or debit card that will allow you to withdraw cash and pay for your shopping using a keypad.


 

In order to bank without fees, most banks expect you to have a few thousand dollars in your account (or ask your employer to deposit your salary into the account).  Opening an account is fairly easy and you can simply go to any branch with your passport, license, and cash (if you have other forms of money like travelers checks or want to make a bank transfer, the bank may arrange that as well).  Your ATM card and checks will arrive in the mail in a few days.  Many banks also offer a secure credit card (these are the only credit cards you will be eligible for initially because you lack a credit history reported in form of a credit score) and these cards allow you to build a history so that after a few years, you will be able to apply for a real credit card that you can use to actually borrow money.

Driver's license for newly arrived immigrants



 
Whether you have found work on an H1 or L1 visa, or you are a student on F1 or J1 visa coming to study in the USA, or you are lucky recipient of a diversity lottery visa (DV), or you have been approved for a family based green card, or some other immigration benefit like TPS or asylum, unless you are planning to live in the heart of a large city and hoping to rely on public transportation (generally really bad in America even in big cities), you will need to drive a car, not just to work or go to school but also to go on with your everyday life, like buying groceries or eating out.

How to apply for a driver's license?
 


  1. Assuming you already know how to drive and have a valid driver's license in your country, get an international driving permit before leaving.  This will allow you to drive a car while you get a new American license.  Also make sure that your license is valid for a few years (you do not want to come to America with a license that is about to expire).  In some states, you maybe able to skip a test if you already have a valid license.
  2. Most likely you do not have a Social Security number.  To do so, bring along your passport and visa to any Social Security Administration office and complete a simple application to apply for a SSN.  The number arrives in a few days.  This is a unique number that will act as an identifier for you and will be used to file taxes, at banks, to apply for loans, etc.
  3. Figure out your housing situation.  Generally speaking, you will need to provide proof of residence in a state, so having documents like a lease agreement, utility bills, etc. are needed.  If you will be spending some time in hotels or with friends, wait to get a license because it will be nice to have your own address on your document so that you can then use this license to show to to banks, etc.
  4. Check the requirements from your state for a license by visiting the website of the department or registry of motor vehicles (DMV/RMV).  Typically, you will need an identification document like passport, proof of legal status in the US (the visa or whatever else let you enter the US legally), and if your foreign license does not allow you to get a license without a test, you will then need to take a test.  The first test is on a computer and I recommend that you prepare well for it and not rely on what you learned in your country.  If you pass this test, you will need to go with an officer for a road test in a car to be provided by you or your family/friends.  Then a simple eye test, post for a picture, pay the fees, and you get a printout of a license instantly.  A real card arrives in the mail in a few days time.

How to sponsor my same sex spouse to immigrate?



 
It has always been a piece of cake for a US citizen (the rules and wait times are somewhat different for permanent residents and holders of other types of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas in the United States but insofar as being able to let their spouse join them in the United States are concerned, going forward it would not matter whether you are married to a person of the same or different gender) to sponsor a foreigner (an alien as the lawyers like to call them) to join them and live legally in the country.  Typically, the spouse gets a conditional green card to make sure that there is no marriage fraud, and after two years of being married (if the marriage ends before that, the alien is no longer eligible to be in the US), the condition is removed and the spouse gets a permanent resident status.  If the alien wishes, after three years of being married, the spouse can file for naturalization and become a US citizen.  If the couple divorces after two years, the spouse gets to keep the permanent resident status, but will need to wait 5 years to naturalize.

Spouse is already in the US legally:  From now on, anyone in the United States who is eligible to sponsor a spouse to immigrate to the United States will be able to do so whether they are gays or lesbians.  The process will be the same as it is for a heterosexual couple.  For instance, if the spouse is already in the US legally, then, it simply means that you file USCIS Form I-130 to establish a marriage (it would, of course, be necessary that you first get married, if you are not legally married, and you can get married in any state that allows gay marriage in case you live in a state that has banned same-sex marriage; while you maybe ineligible for state benefits but as far as immigration is concerned you are all set) and at the same time USCIS Form I-485 to adjust status to permanent resident.


 

Spouse is overseas:  You can file the paperwork to bring your fiance or spouse under the fiance visa so that the wait is very short. Then you do additional paperwork in the US to get a green card.

Spouse is in the US illegally at the time of filing:  If the spouse entered the US legally, the paperwork is not much different than if the applicant were in the US legally, though, expect more scrutiny.  However, the green card can be obtained without leaving the country.  If the spouse entered the US illegally (basically by crossing the border illegally, or as the USCIS likes to call it EWI, entry without inspection), then, the spouse must go back to his or her native country to have an interview at the American consulate.  Thankfully, due to the option to file USCIS Form I601A, the time spent overseas can be reduced to days/weeks and not months.




Different names on passport and green card

Flores writes, "My native country automatically changed my last name on my passport when I applied for renewal (I had to disclose that I got married in the meantime) but I have never intended to change my name and wish to keep my maiden name.  I also thought that if I change my mind the best time would be to do it when I naturalize, but now I have a situation such that my passport and permanent resident cards have different names.  If I leave the US and try to reenter, will there be a problem?"


 

Well, the best situation to be in for airline travel and immigration is that you have consistent names on identification documents (driver's license, passport, frequent flier account, visa, green card, etc.) and accordingly, it would be best if you file USCIS Form I-90 for a new green card so that it has the same last name.  That way you will have peace of mind not only while going through immigration control in the United States but also while checking in at the airport in a foreign location (employees at airline counters may decide to very rigid about it and not let you board a flight to the US because the names do not match).

Can I work as a tutor on F1 visa?

Hiroko writes, "I am a student in the United States and I have an opportunity to teach Japanese to a business executive being sent to Japan to work.  His company plans to pay me and has asked me to provide my Social Security number and complete the I-9 form.  Is it okay for me to do this?"



Actually, no.  It is illegal for an international student on F-1 visa to take employment outside the campus.  You do not have a work permit (authorization for employment) and while I am surprised that you have a SSN, but if you somehow do, it should clearly say that you are not authorized to work without proper DHS permission (it is also possible that the company may try to verify your SS# and will find out that you are not authorized to work).  Accordingly, if you want to follow the law and do the right thing, you should decline this job offer.  By the way, if you are caught, your visa maybe cancelled.

Different dates of birth on passport and US visa

Anand writes, "As you might not know but in India, it is common not to have a birth certificate.  That can create a situation in which an individual can have multiple dates of birth and that is how I got a passport as a teenager.  I also got a US visa later but then I found that I needed to fix my date of birth on all documents.  I did that and received a new Indian passport but now while I have a valid American visa the DOB no longer match.  What should I do?"



You will need to apply for a new visa and you will obviously need to disclose that you already have a visa under a different date of birth.  During the interview, you can explain what happened and provide the paperwork that allowed you to rectify the mistake on your passport.  You see as far traveling overseas is concerned, the name, DOB, and place of birth are unique identifying information.  If you are not stopped by the airline agent while checking in, you might be stopped by the exit immigration officer even before you board the plane.  In any case, when the Custom and Border Patrol officer at the US airport will swipe your passport, all your information will be automatically populated on the computer but it will not synchronize with the visa information in the database in the US.  Most likely the officer will flag you for additional scrutiny and might let you in but it is also possible that if fraud is suspected, you might be denied entry and sent back home.  That is why it is best to fix this error once and for all and then have peace of mind.  The reality is that whether now or later (while renewing) you have to fix this error with the US authorities and it is better to do right away.


Reentry permit for green card holder if leaving USA for more than one year

Tito writes, "I have recently been approved for permanent resident status and for personal/family reasons I must return to my native country for more than a year but definitely less than 2 years.  Can I get a re-entry permit and what should I tell them?"

While living abroad as a green card holder is generally a bad idea, if you must, you will be approved as long as you can show a valid reason, like a sick family member you need to attend to.  While you are here you must file USCIS Form I-131 re-entry permit application and clearly state the reasons.  When you arrive at the airport, show your passport, green card, and the re entry permit, and while you maybe questioned about such a long stay, you will be allowed entry into the United States.

Is big age gap between couple a problem for marriage green card?

Sebastian writes, "I am in 50s and my wife is in her early 20s and I want to start the paperwork for her green card so that she can join me in the US.  Do you think this huge age difference will make USCIS suspicious?  What can I do to satisfy their requirements?"

In marriage based permanent resident petitions, the USCIS adjudicating officers are looking for potential for fraud, sham marriages, etc., and while age gap is not a disqualification, but is a red flag.  So expect a more thorough questioning from the officers about the validity of the marriage.  If everything is good and you are a genuine couple, there is nothing to worry. 

Can I change F2 to F1 status?

Natalie writes, "I entered the US on a F2 visa with my husband but after getting bored at home, I decided to pursue a masters degree.  I have already been accepted in a university and have the paperwork.  Can I change my status to F1 within the US or I have to return to my home country?"

If you have been in lawful status (still married to the same man, never with an expired visa), you can file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status before your authorized stay expires and your passport will be affixed with the new visa.

Sponsor someone for green card with 5 year ban

Janet writes, "My mother was detained at the airport about six years ago and refused entry into the United States because the officers suspected that she was illegally working (at the time of leaving a few months ago, she was randomly checked and they found several thousand dollars in cash in her bag and that information was entered in the database).  She was questioned extensively in a separate room, and under pressure she confessed to illegal employment.  In return for not being arrested and prosecuted, she agreed to a voluntary departure and was banned for five years.  Her tourist visa was cancelled on the spot and she was deported on the next flight.  Now I want to sponsor her for permanent residence and I am wondering if this is going to be a straightforward case of a US citizen sponsoring her parent or it is a lot more complicated and I need to do a lot of additional paperwork."


 

The good news is that her ban is over and at this point you simply need to file USCIS Form I-130 and making sure that you disclose all the details of her problems at the airport and the ban.  Also provide copies of her paperwork.  Chances are that if she is otherwise eligible she will be approved but expect her to be questioned about her unlawful employment.  Even if she is denied, the worse that can happen at this point is that you lose just the fee that you pay.  She cannot be arrested or charged with any crime as long as she is overseas.  A denial might also mean that she will not be able to get another B-1 visa either.

Fee waiver for N-400 if my family is on food stamps

Carlos writes, "I live with my parents and they are both on food stamps.  I now want to apply for naturalization and while I am unemployed I am myself not receiving any form of government assistance.  Can I ask for a fee waiver?"

If you are under 21, then, you simply file form I-912 and you will be approved based on your parents' financial situation.  You simply need to attach paperwork related to their food stamps benefits (SNAP program).  If you over the age of 21, then, you maybe eligible based on your unemployment.  You may also be able to use the fact that your household income is below the 150% level of the federal poverty guidelines.

Green card through employer, married to citizen 3 years, validity an issue?

Arthur received his green card after being sponsored by his employer.  He also married a US citizen around the time his application was being processed and they have been married for more than 3 years and he now also has his green card for more than three years.  He asks, "If I apply for naturalization, will the USCIS question the validity of my marriage and start a new investigation the way they do when granting permanent residence?  My marriage is perfectly ordinary and I have nothing to fear but I wonder if I will be questioned about the color of her toothbrush."


 

The strictest investigation happens when an immigrant receives a green card through marriage because the USCIS wants to make sure that there was no sham marriage and no fraud was involved.  For naturalization purposes in your case, since you are taking advantage of the 3-year early option, the USCIS is not going to be as probing as it is in the case of marriage based green cards because it is clear that if you wait 2 more years, your marriage to a US citizen becomes irrelevant.

You must provide satisfactory evidence of your marriage in form of a certificate and joint taxes.  If possible adding a copy of joint bank accounts and/or mortgage statements will make the case even more convincing.  If these things are in order, then, you can expect only confirmatory questions related to your marriage and spouse (are you still married?  do you both live together?) but unless the officer suspects something, you will not be asked anything more.

Apply for citizenship if registered to vote but never voted



 
Several readers have written that they mistakenly registered to vote either at the Department/Registry of Motor Vehicles or at a drive for voter registrations but never actually cast a vote.  They wonder if they can still apply for naturalization or they risk rejection and/or even their green cards being revoked.

Well, nothing is worse than claiming to be a US citizen, which is what you do when you put your signature on a voter registration form.  If you registered by checking a box by mistake at the DMV, it is somewhat more understandable.  The best thing to do in this case is to get an attorney because it is generally a good reason for the adjudicating offer to reject your application.  If your application is otherwise acceptable, be prepared to be hauled before an immigration judge to explain this.  Most likely you will be be fine if you actually NEVER voted and merely registered due to poor understanding of the law or made a mistake on the form.  What the judge is looking for your is intent if you did not vote.  By the way, if you voted, be prepared for a lengthy court case with no guarantee of a positive outcome.

Apply for naturalization if heavy traveler



 
A reader asks if she should apply for citizenship if she travels extensively on business and leisure even though she maintains a home in the US and calls it her only home.  She says, "This year alone with less than half the year over, I have been out of the country for 120 days."

Well, according to the rules, you need to be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the past 5 years, so if you still cannot satisfy this requirement, you may need to cut back on you travel accordingly before applying.  Alternatively, unless travel with a green card forces you to apply for visas (one of best part of being a US citizen is the ability travel visa free to many countries), then, just enjoy your life and apply for naturalization only when you are ready to retire from travel.

Filing for divorce during naturalization application

I am responding to several questions related to divorce around the same time the application for citizenship is being filed.  Here are the points to remember:
  1. If you have filed your N-400 and your spouse wants to start divorce proceedings and there is no way you can convince her/him to delay the process, there is no reason to panic (you will not be disqualified but from every angle I can think of it is best to deal with one major change at a time), as long as you are not using the 3-year provision for early naturalization.  In that case, you should simply let the USCIS know and you will be allowed to withdraw the application.  When you are eligible for the 5-year provision, you can apply again.
  2. If you are in the midst of a divorce, wait to file your naturalization application, regardless of the 3-year provision being an issue.  It just makes things complicated, though, there is no ban against applying.  Just be prepared to answer questions about the divorce and have copies of your court orders related to the divorce.

Can I travel after filing application for naturalization?

Filing an N-400 application really puts no restrictions on overseas travel as long as you continue to qualify for citizenship.  As I always say, keep a good record of your trips after filing and when you go for the interview, just in case you are not asked about it (most likely the officer will ask about trips or ask a general question if anything has changed -- people get divorced, a spouse dies, jobs change, etc.), you should volunteer the information, preferably typed on a piece of paper following the same format as the application, of course with your name and A#.