Canadian citizen overstayed in USA

Pierre writes, "I went to the United States by car, drove all over the country, and was having such a good time that I even forgot to return for a while.  It seems that I overstayed but when I went back the Canadian agent asked me a few questions and waved me through.  I do not have any stamps in my passport by either country and I was never clear how long was I allowed to stay.  I know I was there like 7-8 months.  Do you think I have a ban now?  Will I have trouble going back to the US?"



Legally speaking Canadian citizens entering the US are allowed to stay up to six months in a 12-month period.  While no I-94 is issued or the passport stamped, there is a record in the databases when you arrived and left (you only go through Canadian immigration while entering Canada and US immigration when entering the US and the two countries share the data), so that serves as a record of your stay.  The bans for overstaying are imposed manually (you would have been told so when you left the US) and are not automatic (not assigned by a software).  Most likely you do not have a ban but expect some aggressive questioning (probability is low that it would happen but it might depending on the mood of the agent and how soon you visit after your exit) because if the officer suspects that you maybe trying to settle down permanently or work without authorization or engage in some other unlawful activity, you may have to explain that.  As long as you explain what you were doing for 8 months the last time (having some evidence of your travel will help) and describe what you plan to do in this visit, you will be allowed back in (particularly if you have proof of employment and strong ties to Canada).  If there is a ban already or if you are denied entry due to a ban imposed at that time, you can apply USCIS Form I-192 for advance permission to enter as a non-immigrant but you should do so with the help of a law firm.

How does the Government catch fake papers?

All those illegal immigrants who use fraudulent documents (typically green card, Social Security numbers, driver's licenses, etc.) wonder if they will get caught and charged.  Well, the answer is that the United States is so weak on enforcement that nothing every happens and there are instances of people living for decades without a hitch.  Many have even taken out mortgages or have credit card debts using false papers.



So how do some aliens can get caught?  Indeed, when DHS or ICE decide to do their job, this is how it typically works.  Let me highlight by taking the example of Avista Resort in Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.  The offices of ICE, US attorney's office, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were involved in an audit of this employer (unlike in the past that dozens of armed agents will come and surround a business, arrest those without proper documents, with images of people crying and hiding their faces, now the agents might simply show up wearing business suits and will look no different than any other professionals, though, they are armed and have access to more law enforcement with the help of just one call).  These agents have access to government databases on their laptops so that with a few clicks they can check if an individual is legally authorized to work in the United States.  For those of you who are curious I also explained how the IRS finds out about fake Social Security numbers.



The agents order the HR Department to provide their file with I-9 forms (the law mandates an employer to have these forms on file for each employee even after they leave employment).  These are forms which all employees are required to file on their first day of work.  This is the form in which an employee under oath provides information on one's legal status along with documentation that proves that.  The agents simply try to match that information in their databases and false papers are identified in no time.  The undocumented aliens may be arrested on the spot in some cases but mostly they are tried in court (Clara Lopez, Gladys Morazan, and Cesar Esquivel were convicted and deported).  If convicted they are required to serve their time and upon completion they are deported, often with lifetime ban on entering the United States.  Employers of undocumented immigrants who provided no documents are also subject to prosecution but if fake documents were presented then the crime is committed solely by the alien.

Valid GC but expired passport




For those of you who are legal permanent residents in the United States, a good rule of thumb is to always have a valid passport.  Remember that you are a citizen of your native country and a valid passport is evidence of that.  Having a valid passport also enables to travel overseas without any hitch (assuming that you have a visa, if needed, to your destination).  And while your native country may allow you to enter with just a birth certificate or some other national identification document (ID), most likely you will have difficulty getting on a plane to go there in the first place from a US airport (airline staff will insist on seeing a valid passport, and visa, if neede) and it might also be difficult for you to board a plane for the flight back to America.  While the CBP agent at the airport often does not even look at your passport when you present a green card, it is required that you present both a valid passport and a green card.  For other purposes in the United States if you have to prove that you are a legal resident and authorized to work, even if the requirement mentions showing a passport, typically a green card alone does the trick.

How much time to enter USA after green card approval?

Since the green card process is so unpredictable (not only are there delays, there are denials as well), a lot of people go on with their lives, keeping their jobs, signing up employment/lease contracts, having babies, and such.  Many of you have been asking that once the application for permanent residence in the United States is approved, how much time the immigrant has to arrive in the United States.



You see the goal of obtaining permanent resident status in the USA is to live here permanently and establish strong ties to the country.  So it is expected that once you are approved, you will do exactly that, and in order to allow people to uproot themselves from their lives and start a new one in America, they have up to six months to officially enter the country.  While the GC does allow extended travel abroad (up to 6 months) and even stays longer than one year with proper permissions, if the immigration officer suspects that you really do not live in the US, actually live overseas, and lack ties to the US, the green card can be revoked.

ESTA authorization denied after marriage to American

Nigel writes, "I am a citizen of an EU country and have traveled to the United States over the years without a hitch on both business and leisure.  During one of those trips, I met a wonderful American girl and we started a relationship.  During last three years I visited her several times without any problem but during one of those trips we simply went to Las Vegas and got married.  I have an awesome job here in Europe and as much as I love the United States, other than visiting there, I have no intention of relocating there.  My life is here and my lovely wife is planning to relocate to Europe because she loves it here.  What I noticed is that after the wedding, my travel authorization under ESTA has been revoked.  I have no intention of living permanently in the United States so I do not need a green card.  What are my options?"



It appears that in situations like yours, it is best that you apply for a non-immigrant visitor visa to the United States.  You will be able to provide information about your US citizen wife and by applying for a tourist visa (while you are clearly eligible for adjusting status to permanent resident), you will be clearly demonstrating to the embassy staff that you have no intention of staying illegally in the country.  Having a visa (for up to 10 years at a time) will allow you to travel without any hitch.  The ESTA is not a visa and is only allowed under limited circumstances.

USA tourist visa with criminal record

Rashid writes, "When I lived in the USA 10 years ago as a student, I was convicted of a misdemeanor for shoplifting.  I had to do some community service.  Since then I have been a good man in my country, working all this time, and would like to visit extended family and old friends for a week.  Will I be able to get a visitor visa?"



The United States is very strict about granting visas to individuals with criminal records.  It is enough of a problem if you have broken the laws outside the United States (for which the embassies essentially rely on your honesty to provide all the details) and it is a much greater problem if you broke US laws (for which all the records are easily accessible).  It does not mean that you will be definitely denied a visa but the risk persists.  Basically, you will need to declare what happened, provide all the paperwork, and during the interview show contrition.  As long as crimes are not drug related or a person does not have an impressive history of crimes, you are very likely to be approved for a visitor visa.  The decision ultimately depends on the officer who will review your case and each case is handled individually.

Apply for green card after OUI

Several people who have written mention that they have DUI or DWI or OUI on their records because they pleaded guilty to the charges, served the punishment as prescribed and now want to adjust their status either based on employment or marriage.  Are they eligible for adjustment of status to permanent resident?



First of all, driving under the influence of any kind is not looked upon kindly by adjudicating officers at USCIS.  Being drunk while in control of a vehicle is considered irresponsible behavior because if an accident happens, the consequences can be disastrous.  Therefore, you should not try to file USCIS Form I-485 on your own and consult a competent immigration attorney.  The lawyer will review your case thoroughly to see if that was the only problem in your history or if you have also been an illegal immigrant for some time or have been arrested on other charges or convicted of minor offenses like misdemeanors or failed to file taxes in some years.  Only then the attorney will decide what the next steps are for you.  There really is no simple answer because the laws vary by state and each immigrant's total history has to be reviewed to come up with an answer.

Arrested after citizenship interview but before oath

Chen writes, "I have the cleanest record possible and I was cleared for oath without a hitch, but a week after the interview, a man started flirting with my wife while we were at a bar.  When this guy did not stop and became abusive, the cops arrived and I was arrested.  Eventually the charge of battery was dismissed and when I arrived for the oath ceremony I disclosed what happened and provided the paperwork related to the arrest and court disposition.  I was told that I should just wait to hear from the USCIS.  What will happen to me?"



You should simply wait patiently.  Your case is going to be reviewed by an adjudicating officer who will examine the paperwork related to the arrest that you provided and what they can access using official databases.  Most likely you will be approved and rescheduled for another oath ceremony but do not be surprised to be asked to appear for another interview.  Typically, just an arrest without conviction does not trigger any negative outcomes.

Apply for citizenship with felony

Angelo writes, "I was convicted with felony, I did my time, and now I am trying to go on with my life, being a good man, father, and husband.  I would now like to become an American citizen.  Am I allowed to?"

Absolutely not.  Actually, it is surprising that you have not already been deported.  The legal system is not perfect and there are still gaps in information, otherwise, when you were arrested first or at some point in your criminal journey, someone failed to contact ICE and report your situation.  Convicted felons are summarily deported and are definitely not eligible for naturalization.  It also seems that no exceptions can be made even if it causes enormous suffering to your family.  If you want to be together with your family, they have to relocate to your native country.  You may still want to hire a competent immigration attorney to assess if something can be done in your case and in the meantime you should not leave the United States, because when you return your green card will be revoked and you will be sent back forever.

Overseas travel beyond 5 years

Angela writes, "Unlike most other permanent residents who might apply for naturalization fairly quickly after 3 or 5 years, for a variety of personal reasons, I have waited almost 20 years.  During that time, I have traveled extensively on business and leisure and failed to keep detailed travel records.  If I were to start compiling that information, I will go nuts and will probably take me weeks to pull together some estimates of those trips considering that being an EU citizens my passport has no stamps for many trips and I have shredded credit card receipts/trip paperwork and even changed an email address after it was hacked.  What should I do?"



Well, it is absolutely critical that you provide the USCIS with the best possible information for trips taken during last five years since that can determine whether you are even eligible for naturalization.  Beyond that period, you will need to come up with whatever information you can.  USCIS is particularly interested if you took a trip lasting more than one year and so long you do not have such a trip, you are okay.  If you do, you may need a good attorney to fix your situation.  It is generally believed that the agency does have all this information in their database but it is not easy to retrieve for travel in the past.  That is why USCIS puts the onus on you to prove that you have maintained strong ties to the United States since becoming a permanent resident.

Does the USCIS conduct a background check on spouse?

Brian asks, "I am filing my naturalization paperwork based on being a green card holder for 5 years.  I did not receive a family based green card even though my spouse is a native born American.  Why does the government want to know all about my wife, including her SS# and other intimate details about her life?  Will they pull up information about her past as well?"



It is standard for USCIS to seek that information (along with information about children) to make sure that neither of you has engaged in bigamy or polygamy.  It is also generally believed that the Feds want to know if you have criminal or terrorism links through your spouse and family members so by having access to that information they can make sure that none of those people are in their databases.  Chances are that if there is a match, your application will be scrutinized very closely and be prepared for massive delays.  Depending on specifics of the case, your application may even be denied on national security grounds (assuming that your spouse or children are engaged in activities that may fit the profile of a terrorist or someone who is plotting to harm the United States).

Sponsor Eastern European girlfriend to visit USA

Russell writes, "I have met a woman online from Eastern Europe and the relationship has become somewhat serious, well, as serious as an online relationship can get without meeting in person.  I think it is time for us to meet and I would like to invite her to vacation with me here so that we can get to know each other better in person.  I am happy to provide whatever documentation maybe needed to help her get a visa.  By the way, considering that these Eastern Europeans have such an awful reputation that once they come to the US, they never leave, and I have heard horror stories that she may have no intention of actually visiting me, but maybe using me just to get a visa.  If she were to do that, do you think I will get into trouble with the Feds?"



As soon as the US embassy concludes that she is planning to visit her boyfriend in America, it will raise a red flag because the officer is likely to conclude that she has immigrant intent.  That could result in a denial of visa.  Depending on the documentation required by the embassy in that country, if you were to submit an affidavit of support for her, if she were to, say, suddenly get very sick or need some other government assistance, you will be the first person the Feds will try to collect the money from, even if as you suspect that she never even meets you and joins one of the many Russian gangs active all over the country to engage in criminal activity.  It seems that you have the funds and the safest bet for you is to visit her either in her home country.  In fact many Americans have found that as soon as they mention that they are planning to visit, some of these girls stop communicating and their phone numbers go dead because over 80% of them are part of the so-called 'sweetheart scams.'

Enter USA on B1 if H4 in administrative processing

Karan asks, "While the US Embassy approved the renewal of my H1B, they put my wife and children's H-4 visas in administrative processing and she is stuck in India.  They all have valid visitor visas.  Could they all come to the US using those while the H4 is being processed?"



The answer is No.  Actually, they do not have a valid tourist visa because at any given time you can only be under one valid visa category even if your visa shows a date into the future.  When you put your family into the H category they are no longer eligible to enter in the B category unless you specifically withdraw the H petition (at that point if there is still time left on the B visa, it can be used).



In your case it seems that while they maybe able to leave Canada with the B visas (the airline agent will not know that they are under admin processing for H4), they might be denied entry into the US because the H4 is still being processed and the officer may conclude that their intent is definitely not sightseeing.  The record in the USCIS database will prove that it is joining you and continuing their American life.  You should tell them to wait till the decision is made.

Visit USA after receiving Form I-160A

Kurt writes, "Many years ago when I was a permanent resident in Canada, I did not have a visa to the US but I showed up at the border to collect a car that I had purchased from an American seller.  The agent at the US border let me accept the car and cleared the paperwork but handed me the form I160A (refused admission to the United States of America).  Since then I have naturalized as a Canadian citizen and would like to visit the US.  What should I do?  Do I need any waivers?  Do I need to file any paperwork?"



You can simply come as would any other Canadian.  Just show your passport and you will most likely be allowed to enter.  Because you arrived earlier without proper documents you were not allowed to enter but you were not barred from reentry because you broke no laws and were legally asking to enter.  In fact you would not have needed to do any paperwork now even if you were not a Canadian citizen as long as you applied for a visa ahead of time.  It does not mean that you will be definitely allowed entry because each and every entry of a non-US citizen (even with a valid visa) into the country depends on the discretion of the CBP agent (in your case, the record might show that you were refused entry because of lack of visa and the officer may see that now you are authorized to enter) and in case the officer concludes that since you tried to enter without proper documentation before, you are more likely to break other American laws, you maybe refused entry again.  If that were to happen, you should hire an attorney (many of them have offices next to the border and help in such matters including accompanying you for crossings) and they can approach the agency on your behalf.




It does not mean that you will also be able to apply for other types of visas and get them.  Short term visitor entries are routine and are approved by the border agent after making a judgment about your documents and intent.  Other visa applications will specifically ask you if you were ever refused entry into the US and that might trigger an investigation into what happened at the border.  Therefore, I suggest that you should work with an immigration lawyer to apply for a visa.

Green card through marriage but not living together

Angela writes, "I am a US citizen and I want to sponsor my husband for a green card but because he is completing his education, he and I live separately.  We plan to live together once he graduates in a year or so and finds a job.  Would this be a problem for his approval?"



Indeed, it will raise a red flag but as long as your marriage is genuine, there is nothing to fear.  For the interview, you will need to have not just evidence of your wedding, but other evidence like vacations, family reunions, record of phone calls to each other, and things like joint bank accounts/retirement plans/insurance policies, etc.  The USCIS officers are not stupid and they understand that some times couples may be separated for genuine reasons, so what they are looking for is good evidence of a genuine marriage.  You should work with your lawyer to come up with a list of documents that you can present with the application and at the time of interview to prove that there is no marriage fraud.

Can I start a company on H1B visa?

Aliens currently in the United States are allowed to launch businesses like anyone else but they cannot take paid employment with the firm.  It should not be a problem to work in the business during your free time as long as you are not on the payroll.  However, employees can be hired to perform business functions and any profits generated can be legally yours.  You will simply list those profits on your tax return by claiming them as investment returns.  Since this is a complicated matter, I suggest that you seek the help of an immigration attorney and a competent accountant with experience in taxes.

Can an Indian employer prohibit change of job in the US?

Rohini writes, "I work for an Indian body shop and am currently in the United States.  I used this company merely to find my way to the US and really don't care for them.  Now I want to work for a non-Indian company so that they can stop exploiting me.  While I started working with them, I signed a legal contract that bans me from resigning while in the US.  According to the terms of the contract, I am mandated to return to India, resign, and work there during the 3-month notice period.  What should I do?"



The contract between you and your employer in India is something that is not enforceable in US courts (unless this body shop has American operations and a line in the contract somewhere obligates you to do what they are saying).  Such contracts in the US are generally not looked upon favorably by courts but a competent attorney can review your case and give you advice.



Having said that, you could be sued in India court and even convicted in absentia by an Indian court.  This could become a problem for you because you could be arrested at an Indian airport if you ever visit or the Indian government may refuse to renew your passport.  Convictions anywhere else in the world are not looked upon kindly by USCIS at the time of granting immigration benefits.  Therefore, you must clean up the mess with your current employer before trying to switch to another employer.

Can I take a second job on H1 visa?

Absolutely no.  While on an H1B you can only work for the employer who sponsored you for the visa.  You can volunteer at a church or charitable organization but you cannot legally take paid employment.  The H1 visa is a special category that has been created to import labor from overseas for jobs for which no US citizens or permanent residents can be found (at least in theory, though, it seems the loopholes are being exploited all the time).  Taking even a part time job will be considered as breaking the law.

Process to change from H1B to F1

Rajiv writes, "I have been working with a company for a few years but I am about to be laid off, but I do not want to go back to India, so I am going to try to stick around as a student in the hope that I will find another job after graduation or maybe a bride who can sponsor me.  How do I make the transition without being out-of-status?"



You should apply for change of status using USCIS Form I-539 by providing your I-20 and if you are laid off while the application is pending, you will not be out of status.  However, if you are laid off before you submit your application, you will be out of status.  In that case, you should leave the US and reenter with your F1 visa, which you should acquire overseas.

Steps for name change for permanent resident

Urmila asks, "I am a green card holder and would like to change my name after marriage.  What order should I follow?"

If you have a valid marriage certificate, then you should be able to change it easily on your green card, Social Security card, driver's license, insurance documents, bank, credit card, etc. almost in parallel.  You must also request your country's embassy to issue a new passport to you, or else you will always need to travel with your marriage certificate to explain the inconsistency between the names on green card and passport.

Foreign travel after filing N-400

Jean asks, "My husband is already overseas (he signed the naturalization application before leaving) and I am planning to join him soon, but before that we want to mail our USCIS Form N400.  How do we account for this trips or any other that might happen before the interview?"



The rule of thumb is that any trip that has not yet concluded need not be listed on the application.  At the time of the interview, the officer will always ask if there have been any changes since the application was filed (it is a very important question and is always asked because change of marital status can make some applicants temporarily ineligible for naturalization) and you should have your information ready for submission (rather than trying to speak it out to the officer, it is smart to essentially type the information on a blank sheet of paper in the same format or simply reprint the update application that you must have).  If the trip does change your eligibility in any way, it is only a matter of record.

Lost green card after filing N-400

Chen writes, "In one of the strangest cases, within days of filing my application for naturalization, I seem to have misplaced my green card.  What should I do now?  I feel so stupid that now I have to go through the whole process of replacing it and paying all that money."



In matters of immigration, the officers of USCIS are following a process and any deviation from that simply delays things or leads to undue questioning.  Unless there is a compelling reason for you not to spend the money, I suggest that you file USCIS Form I-90.  Hopefully, your card will arrive before the interview, but if not, at least you will have the paperwork at the time of interview.  Even though the USCIS knows very well that you are a permanent resident, you will be asked to show it at the time of interview.  It is also nice to have it in case you need to take an unexpected trip overseas.  A lot of people think that their naturalization will go smoothly but there are instances when delays do occur.

Incomplete overseas trips information for citizenship

Francois writes, "I did not know this earlier that at the time of naturalization I will be required to furnish complete details of all the trips that I have made.  I did not keep a good record and a lot of time my passport was not even stamped while entering or leaving countries in Europe.  I have a general idea of how many trips I took but I could easily miss a few trips here and there in Europe.  What should I do?"



The intention of the USCIS in asking for travel information is that it wants to make sure that you have lived in the United States for the requisite time period.  It is also believed that USCIS already has access to that information from the databases that it can access but to streamline the evaluation of the application, if the officer does not suspect that you are lying or that yours is a marginal case, that data may never be downloaded.  So if you have spent enough time in the US, try to do your best to come up with destinations and dates.  You can attach an explanation at the end and may mention it during the interview.  It is not something to worry about in most cases.

Should I disclose all my marriages in N-400?

A lot of people write to me wondering if they should disclose marriages that happened decades ago or the ones that ended in their native countries without the US Government being aware of them.  Some people were so upset with their divorces that they destroyed all the files related to the divorce.  Others are trying to forget about their past bad marriages.  Even others have not told their current spouses or friends that they were married before.  The question is if they need not mention this information in their application for naturalization.



The categorical answer is that if you were married and regardless of the outcome (annulment, death, divorce, etc.), the information should be provided to the United States Government, along with all the details asked for in the application.  The information is pretty standard and stays in the file that is confidential.  The USCIS considers marriages as material information and this is why it insists on having it.  Hiding this information is not only a crime (perjury, since you are submitting your application under oath) but enough reason for denial.  In fact, not disclosing a marriage may even mean that the USCIS can rescind your green card and initiate deportation proceedings for fraud.

Consequences of violating agreement with H1B employer

Suresh writes, "I work for an Indian body shop.  At the time of signing up with them in India, I paid a fee to them, paid all the expenses related to the American visa, and then signed an agreement with them that if I left before the three year period, I will need to pay them $20,000.  Now that I am in the US and have been working with them for about two years, I have found an opportunity to switch employers.  What will happen if I don't pay them the amount in the contract?  Can they hurt with my application for a new H1B visa or green card?"



You have to remember that you are a citizen of your India and covered by laws of that country till you take the oath of naturalization in the United States (assuming you get to that stage because most likely you will be denied a green card if you are charged and convicted in India, because you will need to declare that in your adjustment of status application).  If this company decides to sue you for damages or breach of contract, the Indian law enforcement can also come after you.  Since this is a relatively small amount for the Indian Government to get involved, but if the court issues an arrest warrant, you will be arrested (most likely when you arrive at the airport) if you ever visit India, even as an American passport holder



Since the amount is relatively small, you are better off making a clean start by paying it.  If you have a dispute with the firm, you should settle it in court.  You should also investigate if this firm has a presence in the US because you might be able to sue them in an American court (a lot of time such clauses in employment contracts are declared null and void).  A good attorney will be able to advise you in this matter.  You need to put this issue behind you because it can come to haunt you for years to come.

H1B to green card via family

Amrita writes, "I am currently on a valid H1B visa but my husband's employer has decided to sponsor him for permanent resident status.  Obviously, family sponsorship is automatic in that case, and I am wondering how my situation will change with this change."



You can continue to work as if nothing has changed for you as long as your H1B is valid.  If your green card is not approved prior to this, you will need to make sure that you are always in status by either extending your H1 or getting advanced parole, along with a valid EAD (USCIS I-765).  This will enable you to travel as well while your application is pending.  Once your GC is approved, just let your employer know about the adjustment of your status.

Do green card holders face problems if visits to American enemy countries?

Ahmad writes, "I am a GC and I often travel to Muslim countries, most of them are hostile to the United States.  Will I have any problem when I file for naturalization?"


 

Everyone, when they return to the United States, are subject to questioning by a border agent.  While permanent residents and citizens will definitely be allowed to enter, nonimmigrants maybe even turned away if the officer suspects that their entry into the United States is a threat to national security.  If you have done nothing wrong and are visiting for leisure/family reasons/business, while there maybe more questioning at the time of returning, you have nothing to fear.  When you file for citizenship, it would not be surprising that your background check is very thorough and takes a long time, but if you have nothing criminal in your background, you will be approved.  Unfortunately, individuals whose names are similar to terrorists and criminals can get stuck for years, particularly if they also have travel frequently to American enemy nations.

Do US citizens need to report marriage overseas?

Vasil writes, "I have been a US citizen for over a decade but have decided to return to my native country.  I am also hoping that I will marry there and spend the rest of my life there.  The woman I am likely to marry has no intention of coming to the US or living here permanently.  What are my responsibilities as a US citizen after I get married?"

x
 

There is no specific requirement to report your marriage as such, but after marrying, you will be bound by law to report if you are filing your tax return as single or married (by law if you are a US citizen, regardless of where you live or work, you will need to file a tax return in the US on your worldwide income, even if you plan to never return to America).  At that point you will need to update the IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA) records and that is why it is a good idea to get her an individual tax identification number (ITIN) that she can use to file her return and for this she never has to set foot in the US.  Not only is this the law (while the IRS may not come after you, if your income is small, but will surely do so if your income is huge, and if you do not file your returns and ever try to return to the US, you will be definitely arrested at the airport and prosecuted for tax evasion), you and your wife will be eligible for all the benefits that the United States government provides in retirement and/or during disability.  If for some reason, you and/or your wife really do not care about the US, after paying all your taxes and debts, you should surrender your American citizenship so that you will no longer be bound by American laws.  You will, however, forfeit all your Social Security payments for which you made a contribution while you were working.

What should I tell the agent at the airport?

Thomas writes, "My fiancee is a US citizen and we are going to have a simple wedding in America.  I have no intention of applying for a green card; on the contrary, she will be moving to my country and that is where we plan to live, at least for the foreseeable future.  I plan to enter the US under visa waiver and then return to my home country.  Should I declare to the immigration agent that I am going to get married in America?"



The fact of the matter is that you should tell the truth when asked about it, because even though you are not under oath, it is implied that you shall do so when asked a question by a United States government official.  A simple lie can come to bite you and jeopardize your case.  Therefore, the right approach would be to apply for a fiance visa, which maybe a hassle but will give everyone peace of mind.  The last thing you or your bride want is to be denied entry because you fumbled an answer at the airport.  Most likely, you will go through immigration without an issue but in life it is best to do the right thing.  It will also make life easy for you if you were ever to apply to immigrate to America; just keep your paperwork in a safe place.

Name on birth certificate different than green card and passport



 
I have always emphasized the importance of keeping your name consistent on all documents.  If you have identical names on birth certificate (a very importance piece of document if you want to immigrate to America but not important at all for non immigrant visas), green card, and native passport.  I am hearing from many readers who started their American journey with a student or visitor visa, or maybe found a job on H1, and then graduated to a permanent resident card.  It is when they apply for naturalization that they realize that if there is even a minor discrepancy on your current documentation with a document that was issued at birth (which may have been decades ago for some), your application can be jeopardized or even delayed.



So what can you do if you realize that you have an inconsistency?  Well, if you are starting out even with a tourist visa to the US, even though it may not be demanded, make sure that your birth certificate and passport have identical names.  Once your name gets into an American database and assigned an alien number, the history will follow you for life.  If you already made that error, start off by trying to get a new birth certificate that matches your documents in the American system.  After all if your country has issued a passport with a certain name, they should be able to issue a birth certificate in that name as well, and if they cannot, use a court order to do so.  In any case, do not apply for citizenship till you fix this mess.

Corrected tax documents after filing

Ye writes, "After submitting my application for naturalization, I realized that in one of the tax years, we had mistakenly declared ourselves as non-residents, though, we were technically part-year residents (since we moved to the state in the middle of the year).  I have now corrected my return and my state has accepted it.  What should I do?  Should I tell the USCIS about it right away or wait till I go for the interview?  Will it mess up my application?"



It is best that you either wait for a letter (in form of a request for evidence or RFE, something that USCIS does when it finds something is not right or there is a discrepancy) in the mail, and if you do not get it, then, you wait for the interview.  During the interview, you will be asked if there is any change in your application, and at that point you can present the corrected tax form and explain the error.  As far as USCIS is concerned, what they care about is that you do not owe anything to the IRS or to the state before approval.  So as long as you have documents that clearly demonstrate that you have paid all your taxes, you are good.

B1 to AOS in F2A category

Rosalia asks, "I came last week to marry my fiance who is a green card holder, hoping to return home and wait for consular processing of I-130, but I noticed that in the meantime the priority date became current and now I am tempted to stay and apply for adjustment of status here in the US.  Can I do this?"



Indeed, you can, because you were lawfully admitted to the United States.  Since this is not a straightforward case, I strongly suggest that you try not to do the paperwork yourself and get a good immigration attorney.  You see when you entered the United States, you intentionally came for your wedding and generally that is not tourism, the main purpose of the visitor visa.  The USCIS officer reviewing your application is going to be very skeptical, scrutinize your application very carefully, and might even reject it if he is not convinced that this is not a sham marriage.  If you are rejected, you can still apply through consular processing (CP) but if your lawyer files your petition with all the paperwork in perfect condition, you will be able to live with your new husband and not be separated.

What documents to bring to citizenship interview?

When you are asked to appear for an interview, the letter you receive will indicate what you need to bring.  In any case, bring the following:
  1. Passport (including all the old ones)
  2. Green card
  3. Original or copy of the documents that you filed with your N-400 (you want to have everything that you submitted because you are expected to know what you provided and be prepared to answer any questions)



Now, I am assuming that yours is a simple case.  If it is not and you have such issues as arrests or deportations or court cases or other mess in your immigration history, while you may have provided most of the documentation in your application, it is better to have all the files related to these matters in a separate bag (I suggest that you keep the documents in the list above in your hand so that you have them handy when showing them and everything else is a backup in a bag that you will most likely not need to take out but you will be ready; I also suggest that you organize these papers in separate files with markers so that you can pick the right document in one second, for example, mark the papers as Arrest 2004 or Asylum 1999).

Other thing to remember is not to show any thing more than you are asked to show.  The officers are smart people and they know what they are doing.  If they need something they will ask for it.  If they don't, it simply means that they are satisfied with what they have on your record.  If you try to dump documents not asked for on the officer, most likely you will create a situation in which the officer will simply grab the file and decide to review it later (they have appointments scheduled and have a definite amount of time allotted for each interview so they might simply refuse to give you a decision on the spot).

Can I get married while N-400 is pending?

Antonio writes, "I have recently did the paperwork to naturalize and since I am so excited, I also want to propose to my girlfriend, so that within the next few months I can truly embark on my American dream.  I wonder, though, if getting married before I am approved will complicate anything."



Actually, regardless of the immigration status of your girlfriend/fiancee/spouse, your naturalization application is your own.  If you do get married any time before taking oath, you will need to update that information with the USCIS (the best time to provide that is during the interview) or if it happens between the interview and the oath (at the time of checking in for your oath ceremony).  If not, you need not mention your relationship or engagement at all, unless specifically asked (there is no reason that you will be asked unless it comes up somehow).

Can visas be transferred after change of citizenship?

Arvind writes, "I have recently acquired US citizenship but my Indian passport has a visa valid for Argentina for another several years.  Can I use it to travel to Argentina or do I need to pay again for a new visa?"

First of all, when you acquired US citizenship, unless a country has dual citizenship (India does not), you no longer have a valid Indian passport.  If you read the fine print, all visas must be presented with a valid passport for the person to whom it was issued.  In any case, visa requirements vary by nationality.  For example, in the past you would have needed a visa to visit France, but not any more.  Accordingly, you will need to pay again at the Buenos Aires airport to get a visa-on-arrival.

Documents for tourist visa if staying with family or friends

Julio writes, "I will staying with extended family members in the US when I visit for 15 days and really do not expect to spend any significant amount of money.  What type of financial documentation do I need to submit in that case?"

Let us assume that you simply do not have the funds available to you and someone else is paying for everything, then, it is best to ask whoever that is in the United States to submit an affidavit of support for you.  That should satisfy the officers that you will have enough funds for your trip.

What should do I if US embassy cancelled my B1 visa?

Narendra writes, "To be honest, I am an Indian software engineer who works for one of those fraudulent body shops in America run by people with roots in India.  They get contracts from greedy American corporations looking for cheap labor and then find people like me in India who are happy to go work in the US to pad up our wallets and resumes but violating all sorts of laws.  And that is what I did.  I went on a B2 visa to the US and when the officer stamped 6 months on visa, I returned five and a half month later.  My NRI (non resident Indian) employers even bribed an immigrant doctor to write a few prescriptions exaggerating my seasonal allergy as a major illness that made it impossible for me to travel.  Well, I was getting ready for my next assignment to a client site when the American embassy in Mumbai sent me a formal letter asking me to appear for an interview with my passport.  I was asked what I was doing in the United States for so long and when I mentioned my illness, they still revoked my visa.  When I applied again for a B visa, during the interview, the issue came up again and I tried to explain but no one would listen to me.  I was denied a visa.  Now, I am unemployed and my employer in the United States is not interested in helping me.  What should I do?"


 

It seems that you were caught violating the terms of your visitor visa.  At this point, you are out of luck.  It is highly unlikely that you will ever get any type of visa to the United States (even though there is no formal ban on your entry, your history will remain in the files forever).  It is also safe to assume that your so-called employer in the United States might even stop answering your emails/calls, if they have not already done so.  They have no use for people like you, at least not for projects that require presence in the US.  I expect them to send someone else with a valid visa and hope that her/his visa will not be cancelled.  I do not know what kinds of documents you may have signed when you worked for them but only an attorney in the United States can figure out if you have a case against them.   In order to succeed, though, you will need to be here.  If you are really feel victimized by your employer, remember that you willingly participated in activities that criminal under US law.  Now that your hopes of ever visiting the US and Canada are over (Canadian authorities may have access to your files as well) you can focus on getting back at your employer by writing to the US embassy and letting them know all the laws this company has broken so that if prosecutors open a case against them your testimony can be used against them.

Change B1 to F1 status

Arpad asks, "I already have a visitor visa to the United States and I want to go there next fall.  Then I want to join a university and apply for change of status to student visa.  Is it possible?"

Yes, USCIS does allow an alien to change status from B1 to F1 (or M1 in case of vocational studies) but you must do the paperwork and be approved before starting classes.  If you join classes before your approval, you maybe accused of violating the terms of your status, your application rejected, and you might be put in deportation proceedings.  Also, because you entered the country with tourism intent and did not disclose that you actually planned to study, the agents will examine your application more carefully and reject it if they suspect that you have no intention of leaving the country on graduation.  However, those people who came to America just for sightseeing and after spending a few months realized that they would love to actually study here may have a better chance of getting approved without a hitch.  A rejection, however, does not mean that you cannot go return your country and apply again.

Apply for Canadian tourist visa in USA while on B1

Bianca writes, "I am a citizen of Honduras and have a multiple entry visitors visa to the USA.  I am currently in the US on vacation.  Only after I arrived, my US citizen sister has invited me to drive to Montreal with her family for a few days, but I do not have a temporary resident visitor visa to Canada.  Can I get a visa here in USA?  It will be terrible for me to miss this trip as we are going to celebrate her husband's birthday."




Anyone who has been legally admitted to the United States (as you are) and is still in lawful status is eligible to apply for Canadian visa.  The only difference is that the Canadian authorities might do more critical examination of your application to make sure that you are not up to something fishy and not trying to bypass the more convoluted process prevalent in Latin American countries because most countries typically like to issue visas in the native countries of the applicants (the exceptions are made when you live in a foreign country on long term visas, like student or work visas).  The broad idea is that when you planned your trip to the USA as a visitor that is where you intended to visit but if you can prove strong ties to your home country, if you have a perfect record of entering/leaving the US, and do not raise any other suspicions, you should be approved.



So you can apply the same way anyone else in America will apply on the website of Canadian Immigration Services and be prepared to upload scanned copies of all the documents and pay the fees with a credit card -- in the US the process is a bit different for the application.  Explain in the application that the program to visit Canada materialized after you had already left Honduras; you can provide details on the road trip and hotels based on your sister's schedule.  Most likely you will be approved.

Can I start a company on F1 visa?

Lee writes, "I am currently a PhD student and the field that I am studying is so promising that I would like to launch a startup right away.  Once it is established, I plan to sponsor myself for a work visa.  Is this possible?"

There is no restriction on international students launching startups or investing in businesses, but they cannot work, not even in their own companies.  Hence, you will not be able to sponsor yourself if you are also the only employee and employer.  It does not mean that all doors are closed for you.  Depending on what the potential of your business is and how fast it can grow, you may want to seek venture capital so that a company can be formed with other executives, and then the firm can sponsor you as an employee.  This is going to be a very complex immigration case and you will need good attorneys to guide you and do the enormous paperwork.

Can I work in my own business while visiting the US?

James writes, "I am employed in my country and will be visiting the United States for sightseeing for about 2-3 months.  Unfortunately, my employer is allowing me to take time off but insists that I stay in touch by email/Skype a few times a week and even guide my team members when they need help.  I might also need to review some documents and get some things done.  I expect that it will be several hours of work each week.  Is it legal for me to do so?"

It seems that as long as you are doing this work for your foreign employer and getting paid for it by them, it does not violate American laws.  While visiting on tourist visa, you cannot work for an American employer and get paid.  This appears to be no different than time that you could be spending chatting with your family on phone/Skype or updating your personal travel blog.  It is quite understood these days that tourists will be in touch with their employment.

H1B visa for a startup with no revenue

Ashok asks, "My friend in Silicon Valley is the CEO of a tech startup and he has indicated that my skills are so badly needed by him.  Since the company is still in early stages and they have venture capital just enough to pay for rent and equipment, he can only offer me stocks in the company if they go to next stage of funding.  Can they sponsor me for H1?"

Absolutely not.  In order to file a H1B petition for you, the firm needs to present financial statements to prove that they are a viable business and will be able to pay you a fair wage for the duration of your stay.  Clearly, this firm is incapable of doing that.  The US Government cannot allow you to enter the country under these circumstances because without a proper pay package you might become a liability on US taxpayers.

Tourist visa after 10 year ban completed

Hector writes, "Because I was arrested for a crime in the US, I was convicted, and due to my unlawful status in America, I was also deported with a ten-year ban.  Now it has already been more than ten years and I would like to apply for a visitor's visa to visit old friends.  What should I do?"


 

Receiving a visa to the United States is a privilege and depends entirely at the discretion of the officer handling your application.  Since you broke the law and were also living in the country illegally, while the ban was only 10 years, chances are that the officer will suspect that you are likely to not depart after your period of stay is over and/or commit more crimes.  Having said that, if you have the money to pay the fees, you should apply for a visa, and see what happens.  If you are in a country where visas require interviews, you will have an opportunity to explain why you are a different man.  For example, you can bring evidence of education that you have completed or jobs that you have held, and maybe a police report indicating that you have not committed in any crimes in your country to prove that you are now a good man and regret your mistakes from the past.  The worst that can happen is that your application will be denied.

Can someone report an illegal immigrant to ICE?

Vivian writes, "My husband is a so-called undocumented alien and it seems that some people who hate him have threatened to report him to the authorities.  Can the cops come to my house, take him away and deport him to Mexico?"

Legally speaking, the job of the ICE is to actually deport anyone who is not authorized to be in the USA.  However, because there are more than 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, it is not possible to catch them, so they leave them alone.  Unless you husband breaks any other law, chances are that they will leave him alone, even if someone calls to report him.  In any case, since you are presumably legal, you should hire an immigration attorney to fix his papers because there is no point in living under fear.

Sponsor sibling for green card while on tourist visa

Rosanna is wondering if she as a US citizen can sponsor her brother to immigrate legally to the United States and grant him permanent resident status.  She says that she realizes that his brother is already in the US visiting her as a legal tourist and if she files USCIS forms I-130 and I-485 they will be able to adjust their status whenever their turn comes and in the meantime they will get work permits to work in the US.


 

Indeed, this is a common misconception that arises because of somewhat confusing language in the law that if the relative is already in the United States legally, she or he can adjust status after the petition is approved.  The actual story is a lot more complex.  You see when someone enters the United States as a tourist, the understanding is that they really plan to engage in activities common with a visitor, like visiting friends or family, or sightseeing.  Trying to settle down in America shows bad intent and gives perfect reason for the USCIS officer to deny the application.  This denial can even happen if the tourist and US citizen get married.  For siblings, the denial is almost guaranteed, particularly on a B1 visa.


 

There are genuine cases, of course.  A tourist who has been in the US for months happens to meet the right person and they decide to get married.  They have a chance for approval but the questioning will be aggressive.  For siblings or parents, adjustment of status from a tourist visa or other non-immigrant visas (like F1) are nearly impossible to execute.  Actually, it is best to secure visitor visas for these family members prior to applying for an immigrant petition and establish a good record of timely departures.  A visitor with a valid visa who has a pending immigrant petition can be denied entry at airport and the visa cancelled if the officer suspects that the visitor is unlikely to leave on time.  If these people are already in the US on other valid nonimmigrant visas like F1 or H1, they can generally stay without any problem.

Naturalization with Class A misdemeanor in Texas

Carlos writes, "I was arrested for burglary and convicted but my lawyer was able to bring down my charge to a Class A misdemeanor.  I served no jail time except for the night I spent after the crime itself.  I now want to file for naturalization and I am wondering if I am eligible or not and if I do file, will I get into trouble?"


 

You see, for immigration purposes, particularly for naturalization, the interpretation is a lot different.  While this might seem like a minor crime considering that it is a misdemeanor, most likely USCIS will consider this as an aggravated felony.  It seems that your immigration status did not become an issue during your trial, because otherwise they would have notified ICE and started deportation proceedings against you.


 

There is a distinct probability that your N-400 application will trigger that response from ICE, so that not only will you be denied American citizenship, but also your green card will be invalidated and you will be deported with a permanent bar on entry into the United States.  You need an excellent immigration attorney to get more detailed advice and in the meantime you should not file your application on your own.