How long to preserve the immigration documents after naturalization?

A lot of immigrants in America end up developing massive folders of documents related to their visas, green card, and finally citizenship.  It is important to understand that till the day you take the oath of citizenship and have the certificate of naturalization in your hands, you can never have too many documents.  In other words, preserve every single document till then.  In fact, many immigrants have found that preserving boarding passes and airline tickets for overseas trips came quite handy.  You have to be the best judge to decide what to save, but if in doubt, just save it.  Keep all your paperwork organized either by type of visa or by year and you will be prepared for the next stage.

What should you do once you are a US citizen?  For almost every citizen, there is no reason to save any document other than the certificate of naturalization, which is the only document you will ever need again to prove that you are an American.  Needless to add that if you have changed your name legally at the time of naturalization, this is another important document.  With these two documents, if you need a passport, you can get it.  No  authority should ask you for any other document.  The old documents can be shredded, though, many immigrants scan digitally or preserve important documents like approval of green card and other visas, just in case (some of these documents might come handy in case of issues related to property ownership, divorce, etc.).  In the worst case scenario, you can get a copy of every single paper submitted to the USCIS by paying a small fee, though, in reality almost all naturalized citizens are not expected to interact with the agency, since it deals primarily with aliens.

What to do with alien documents?  This should be decided on a case-by-case basis and there is no one good answer.  If you are a dual citizen, you will need to decide what to do about the other citizenship.  You must follow the laws and guidelines of the other country you are a national of.  Even if your native country strips you of your citizenship, you should formally renounce the citizenship of that country and save the paperwork.  Other countries insist that you will always be treated as their citizen no matter what.  In that unfortunate situation that you cannot decide your own fate, better save all the relevant paperwork.

Can misdemeanor stop me from becoming US citizen?

Leticia writes, "I have been a good permanent resident except that on one occasion I left a store without paying for some items because the babysitter did not show up and I had to rush home when I got the call in the store.  I did not go to to jail but I did plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge last year.  Can I still be approved for citizenship?  Is there a risk that my green card be revoked?  What should I do?  I have waited patiently for five years to file my N-400 but then this happened.  Please help."

What you did was a huge mistake.  Depending on the state in which you broke the law and what you agreed to in your plea deal means a lot here but it is very likely that an adjudicating officer at the USCIS will most likely deny your naturalization application due to poor moral character.  A safe option would be to wait for another five years from the date of this crime and not break any laws during the meantime, but if you want to pursue your application now, you will need serious legal advice from an excellent lawyer who specializes in citizenship.  He will review your paperwork related to your conviction and advise you.  You can take a chance because you have otherwise been a model permanent resident.  It is unlikely that you GC will be revoked because your crime was not a felony.  So if your application is rejected, you simply lose the fee and all the labor associated with doing the paperwork and attending the fingerprinting and interview.

Importance of unlawful status issues prior to GC for naturalization

Ravindra writes, "I am eligible for naturalization and am otherwise a perfect candidate.  The only minor issue that is bothering me is that before I became a permanent resident, there was a brief period of about six weeks that I did not have a valid H status as I was switching jobs.  Do you think this will be an issue?  Will it come up during the interview?  Since I never voluntarily disclosed this brief gap while my paperwork was being processed, does it mean that I might have provided false information in the past?  Should I hire an attorney to accompany me to the interview?

While the USCIS will look at your complete immigration and criminal history in the United States at the time of reviewing your N-400 application, they also work under the hypothesis that they should instead focus on your life as a permanent resident.  Unless something really stands out, they will typically not dig up past information.  It is generally believed that a thorough examination was already completed at the time of approving your GC.  If this brief lapse was an issue, it would have come up during the adjustment of status process.  Based on the dates that you filed the paperwork, it is probably reasonable to assume that if your file was received prior to expiration of one status, you are under lawful status while a decision is being made.  While you do not need to, but if you think having a lawyer accompany you will give you confidence and peace of mind, it would only be a few hundred dollars and that is so worth it considering what a big difference US citizenship can make.

Warning for H1B extension seekers

Generally speaking, if you file an immigration petition and the USCIS sends you an acknowledgement, during the duration of the processing, you are deemed to not accrue unlawful presence.  This is different from lawful status.  Is your head spinning already?  Okay, lawful status means that you are legally in the United States.  On the other hand, lawful presence means that you are merely present lawfully but have no legal status.  The distinction is very important because it can have a huge impact on adjustment of status and whether or not you are barred from entry into the United States for a specific period of time.

In a very important case, it has now been decided that if you file for H1B extension and in case it is denied, you will be assumed to have been illegally in the United States since the day your original H1B status expired.  Ouch!  The right way to deal with this is to file your paperwork as soon as possible so that you are always in status.  Being out of status is a huge complication that you do not want to have.  However, in case, your application for extension is not approved before your status expires, consult with your attorney as to the next steps.  You maybe better off leaving the country rather than accruing unlawful presence.

Can undocumented aliens sue if they are underpaid?

I have previously discussed that legal immigrants can sue if they are not paid a fair wage.  The situation is a bit tricky for those of you who are in the United States illegally.  Many unauthorized immigrants deliberately take on jobs that do not pay a fair wage because they do not have the relevant work permits or authentic Social Security numbers.  In such jobs it is common for employers to not report these employees on the payroll by paying the wages in cash (also called working under the table in the language of immigrants); thus, they do not pay what they owe to the IRS.  It also accomplishes yet another goal of immigrants: not to pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service either because they hate paying taxes or because they are afraid that following the law will create a paper trail that will come to haunt them (though, it is also widely known in the community of illegal immigrants that by filing a fraudulent tax return with non-existent dependent children, they can actually get child tax credit (which by the way is illegal and can cause a lot of trouble if you ever try to legalize your status).

So what can you do if you are not underpaid or not paid at all for work done?  According to the law, your legal status does not matter as far as getting paid for work.  After all this is America and we are a nation of laws.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows you to ask for at least the minimum hourly wage and overtime.  So if you are in a situation like this one, make sure that you hire an attorney to sue the employer.  Make sure that when you work, you keep a record of your work even if the employer employs you off the books.  Your attorney will advise you if it is a good idea to sue to because by coming forward you are also making yourself vulnerable to being caught for breaking laws like not filing taxes or using stolen SSN.

Leave USA before getting actual green card

Angelica writes, "My son sponsored me for a green card and I have been told by the USCIS that no interview is needed for my husband and I.  The letter added that our alien registration cards will be mailed to us after our applications are processed.  Now, due to an emergency situation in my native country, I must leave the United States.  Since my son is also scheduled to visit his native country, when he travels there he can bring the actual green cards with him and then we can all come back.  Since we were not really expecting to travel out of the US, we did not apply for the advanced parole (AP) and now we do not have enough time to wait for it.  Do you think there will be any problem if we leave the US and then try to enter as green card holder?"

Actually, yes.  Most likely scenario is that you will not be allowed to enter the United States because your green card will not be valid.  By leaving the country (the USCIS will know from the information provided by the airline) prior to your green card being approved (you will either need a I-551 stamp in your passport or actual green card in your possession to really know for sure that you have been approved because Form I797C is not always enough), it will be concluded that you have abandoned your green card application and your adjustment of status was null and void.  When you present your green card to the agent at the airport, it will be repossessed and you will be sent back on the next flight.  The only loophole that exists is if you cross into Mexico by road and then take a flight from there (USA has no exit checks and at the land crossing into Mexico, there is no immigration check of entries from the American side), there will be no evidence that you actually left the United States prior to getting the actual green cards (while the probability is remote that someone will actually check that seriously, but if your passport has stamps of travel to and from other countries that show that you actually were not in the United States on the date of your approval, you will suffer the same fate).  In conclusion, if you value your GC, try to deal with the emergency remotely.

Rights of alien workers if underpaid

In case you did not know, a recent immigration case highlights many interesting aspects of United States immigration and labor laws and how it helps all workers even if they work for a foreign government.  It appears that in poor countries like India, not only do middle class Indians hire an army of maids and servants, they also exploit, abuse, and mistreat them for low (or no) pay and typically compensate them in form of letting them sleep in a corner in the house, providing food and hand-me-down clothes.  It is clear that many Indian diplomats are so spoiled that they cannot imagine scrubbing floors or doing dishes like almost all Americans do and drag their maids with them to the United States.  The American law allows them to do so under A-3 visa as long as the employee is paid at least the minimum wage for a 40 hour work week and then overtime pay.  What Indian diplomats do is to tell the State Department that they will abide by the law, but then pay the employee either little or no salary (they will sometimes send a small payment in Indian currency to the poor maid's family in India). 

One such diplomat, Devayani Khobragade, not only lied under oath to the State Department on the visa application, she signed a separate contract with the maid (Sangeeta Richard) promising to pay her a lot less than that.  In addition, the maid was forced to work long hours like a slave without breaks and when the woman was fed up and wanted to return home, the diplomat refused to give her passport back.  She also used her connections in India to file false charges against her so that corrupt officials, judges, and cops in India were harassing her family.  Thankfully, the United States came to her help and rescued her family from India, bringing them to the USA as human trafficking victims.  The diplomat was sued for visa fraud and violation of labor laws, but because she was convinced that she would be convicted and jailed for up to 15 years, she (with the help of equally corrupt Indian Government) claimed diplomatic immunity and was forced out of the country.  She now faces felony charges in the United States and will never be allowed to enter the United States unless she surrenders herself to be tried by a court.  Having a US citizen husband and children will not allow her to get a green card either.

So what are your rights if you are an alien employee and are being exploited by your employer who maybe overseas?  Apparently, this is happening even to much more educated software engineers, who are sent to the United States using fraudulent paperwork on business visitor visas but are actually forced to engage in paid work.  Using an excuse that they cannot be paid US wages, these employees are paid only their Indian wages and a small allowance.  If this is the situation you are in (I have cited examples of Indian corporations because of the widespread abuse but it is true for any national in the USA, whether legally or illegally being exploited by an employer whether based here or overseas as long as the work is being done in the US), you should immediately hire an attorney and discuss your options.  You maybe able to report your employer for visa fraud (Infosys paid a huge fine for breaking US immigration laws) and sue them for past wages.  The only downside is that since the Indian government and law enforcement is so corrupt (and will definitely side with a corporation after bribes are padi), you maybe harassed when you are in India, so you will need to plan for that by asking for asylum for you and your family in the United States.  And, if you are an employer reading this, be aware that ALL aliens (except for a miniscule number of diplomats with immunity) are subject to US laws and lying on an immigration application or not paying a fair wage to an employee are serious crimes.  Informal arrangements like paying someone in India for work done here or convincing yourself that the worker here even without fair salary is better off than being in an Indian slum or whatever other junk logic that you may have to exploit vulnerable workers are not going to cut it in front of a jury.

Can I use my wife's income from OPT job to sponsor her for GC?

Andrew writes, "I met my wife on campus and we just got married.  She has since started to work on her optional practical training (OPT) and we are planning to use her monthly income on the affidavit of support.  It is more than enough to take us over the poverty level since I am still studying and have no meaningful income other than occasional part time work that I can get.  Will this make USCIS happy?"

The problem with OPT employment is that it has an end date and if you file the paperwork closer to the end date, the affidavit of support may not be accepted because afterwards she will not be legally authorized to work.  So just to make absolutely sure that your Form I-130 is approved for her to become a permanent resident, ask her to get a letter from her employer that they plan to keep her employed after the end of her OPT (assuming that she is legally authorized to work) and that should do the trick.  Make sure that you also attach her recent paystubs.

How many citizenships can I have after naturalization in USA?

Lev asks, "I am a citizen by birth of a European country but because my mother is Asian, I also automatically became a citizen of that country.  Now, I am ready to file for naturalization in the United States, and am wondering what will happen to my two other nationalities.  Will the United States force me to renounce these nationalities?  Is there an upper limit to number of nationalities that I can have after becoming a US citizen?  Will the US Government contact authorities in these country and let them know about my naturalization in the US?"

Assuming that you meet all the requirements of US citizenship and are approved, the United States Government does not care what other nationalities you have.  While the country does not have an official policy, it does recommend that aliens who become US citizens do not pursue citizenship in other countries.  What will happen to your citizenship in other countries will be determined by them.  For instance, Japan will let a Japanese citizen retain her citizenship.  However, Indian law says that you lose your Indian citizenship as soon as you take the oath of citizenship of another country, though, if you plan to travel to India after naturalizing, the process requires you to officially renounce your citizenship (no paperwork is needed if you have no plans to ever travel to India, though, it is always a good idea to let your native country know that you are no longer their citizen). 

The main point to remember is that while having multiple passports has some privileges (visa free entry in some cases or be able to own property, etc.), all rights come with responsibilities.  You may have to pay taxes in that country or be prepared to join the military during a war or be bound by their laws when present in that country (which may be harsher for their citizens, for example, many countries insist that their citizens receive exit visas to leave the country).  While many countries will never let you renounce their citizenship and insist that you even use their passport to visit them, it is best to keep things simple if possible by having just one nationality. 

Do I need to mention fishing citation on N400 application?

Tunc writes, "Where I come from, if you feel like fishing or hunting, you just go and do it wherever you want.  So when I came to America, that is what I decided to do in a lake around my home.  Unfortunately, when I was asked to show a fishing license, I had no idea what the cop was talking about, so was issued a citation.  Since there was no license in my name, I had no choice but to plead guilty, and paid the fine, but now I am worried that this will hurt my chances of naturalization.  Please help."

Well, the first thing to do is that in case you did not have an attorney when you went to court, you need one now.  Ask the lawyer to review your case and interpret the law (how serious this crime is depends on the state) for your state to figure out what sort of a crime it is.  Your attorney can then advise you if it needs to be listed on the USCIS N-400 form, though, generally speaking it is better to disclose it than to hide it.  Chances are that casual fishing without a license will not be considered as a moral character issue (you were essentially careless rather than had malicious intent because you were not planning to run a business based on fish caught) and you will be approved.

Implications of owing taxes in native country on naturalization in USA

The way in which civil lawsuits in a permanent resident's native country (or any other country) do not affect naturalization, tax problems have no bearing on naturalization in the United States.  It is important to remember, though, that if you have civil or criminal charges pending against you in a country and visit it (or a country with which this country has an extradition treaty), the United States Government will be unable to help if you are arrested and prosecuted.  The most the State Department can do is to help you find an attorney or arrange fund transfers from your family.  So it is best to deal with these legal problems even if you can naturalize in the US, unless of course you never plan to leave the USA.

Do parking tickets need to be mentioned on N400?

Rosalina writes, "I have never received a speeding ticket nor have been caught driving under the influence of alcohol.  Actually, I am mostly a model permanent resident except that I have several parking tickets around the country.  I have also received tickets for not renewing my car registration on time.  Do I need to list these?  Will these be discussed during the interview?  Do these casual mistakes mean that I have poor moral character?  Can they deny me citizenship?"

Since none of these are moving violations (meaning the vehicle was in motion when you broke the law), you do not need to list them nor mention them during the interview on your own.  If everything else in your background is clean, you have nothing to fear because as long as you paid your parking and other violations, you will be approved since this is not considered to be a character issue.  Imagine if they would go after immigrants who did not pay their cell phone or credit card bill on time!

Can USCIS deny green card for spouse due to low income?

Amanda writes, "I have lived in The Philippines for years and work as an English teacher, but in US Dollars my income is well below the poverty line there.  Now my Filipino husband and I would like to relocate to Arizona and start a new life there.  Do you think the agents at the USCIS will have a heart attack and deny my application to bring my spouse to USA just because I made so little money during last three years?"

Absolutely.  The idea behind checking the income of a citizen is to make sure that the alien spouse does not become a liability on American taxpayers.  If a foreigner has not made enough contribution to American society in form of work and/or taxes, it would be unfair to US taxpayers to be burdened with providing welfare to this individual.  Assuming that you both would find work on arrival and be able to support yourself, the only way to get around this is to find a joint sponsor, who can use income and/or assets to meet the requirements.

Can I stop working during green card process?

Julie writes, "I am currently on H1B visa.  After I married my US citizen husband, he is sponsoring me for a green card.  For personal reasons, I would like to quit my job for a year or two.  Will this be a problem for the green card approval?  Will I have issues traveling overseas?"

Since yours is a family based petition, employment is not a requirement.  So after your husband files the paperwork and you receive an acknowledgement of the application, you can stop working and will still be in legal status till your case is decided.  In fact, if you have applied for a work permit, you can use that to find another employment prior to approval of permanent resident application.  With advanced parole, you can also travel overseas

While not the case for you, for the benefit of other applicants, let me provide the information.  For permanent resident application, you need to work for the sponsoring employer after the approval.  So as long as you not out of status, you do not have to work for approval of a green card application even if it is based on employment.

Can immigrants consume marijuana sold legally?

The fact that some states like Colorado and Washington allow anyone who can prove that they are over 21 to consume marijuana has created a very complicated legal situation.  Indeed, it is legal to do so, but everyone (including citizens and permanent residents) is breaking Federal laws (under which it is illegal to buy, sell, or possess controlled substances).  While the Obama Administration is looking the other way while this is happening, it does not mean that these individuals are immune from prosecution.  In fact, citizens who consume these drugs legally in these states maybe jeopardizing their chances when it comes to working for the Federal Government.

So what are the implications for legal and illegal immigrants?  The simplest advice is unless you take the oath as a US citizen, don't even go anywhere close to illegal drugs (this applies even to medical marijuana in states like Massachusetts where it is legally sold to anyone with a prescription).  All immigrants are covered by Federal laws because it is the Feds who enforce immigration laws.  The last thing you want is your name popping up in a database search as someone who enjoys smoking joints in Colorado or Washington.  The Feds will be within their rights not only to deny you an immigration benefit (e.g. naturalization to a permanent resident, or green card to anyone legally present, etc.) but to even invalidate your current legal status and deport you for breaking United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  In case you didn't know, CBP agents routinely deny tourist visas and entry at the border to anyone suspected of using drugs even in their native countries.

Options for undocumented immigrants to practice law in the US

In order to work as an attorney in the United States, not only should an individual receive the requisite education but also be admitted to the bar.  Typically, the thinking is that only law-abiding individuals with impeccable character should be admitted to the bar because if someone has broken the law, he or she cannot be trusted to not help others in breaking the law.  Since an alien who is illegally in the United States continues to break US laws every single day, using this logic, this individual should not be allowed membership into the bar.  Well, that is now changing, at least in the State of California.

In California, undocumented aliens who have completed their education and other requirements for being accepted into the bar, will now be allowed to practice law, though, they cannot legally work.  In other words, acceptance into the bar has only symbolic value because if they accept fees from clients, they will be working without authorization, and breaking many other laws (such individuals might be able to accept payments under the table or by using fraudulent Social Security numbers like other illegal immigrants).  It also turns out that the so-called DREAMers with DACA status also may not be eligible to enter the bar in most states except California because while these aliens have permits to work for a fixed period of time, their legal status in the United States is still illegal.