Most entries below contain actual legal discussions of events directly related to Filipinos in or immigrating to the United States.
Remember- These writings are provided for general information only and do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. Each person's needs and requirements are different and require a personal evaluation to determine the proper legal course of action.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Value of Good Advice IF TPS-Philippines Happens

This writing supplements the information in the general TPS video posted April 24th prepared by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).  Although written in the context of the possibility of TPS-Philippines, this advice applies equally for any immigration benefit.

An application for TPS is a very serious event that will have a major effect on your U.S. immigration status.  In many cases, filing the application on your own can be a perfectly acceptable way to save some money.  But before you apply for anything with USCIS, you must be sure you fully understand the benefit you are requesting, and are sure that it is YOUR best course of action.

Unfortunately, this means doing something you probably do not want to do -- have a personal talk with an immigration attorney.  Read below to see why this is true.

Before filing, you need someone to answer these THREE BIG QUESTIONS:

1.  is this is really the best thing for you to do, or are there better options?

2.  Do you fully qualify for TPS?

3.  How would TPS effect your current status and your future immigration plans?

These questions cannot be answered UNTIL an attorney has a complete understanding of you and your unique personal situation.  

People don't want to believe this, but everybody's case really is different.  It is the little personal details of your life that determine the best actions for you.  Details such as:

--When and how you entered the US?
--Was your visa application truthful?
--What have you been doing since you came here?
--What is the status of your family relationships?
--What is your employment background?
--How you've been employed? 
--What other benefits you or a relative may be eligible for now, or later, and how the TPS application can harm those benefits or, better yet, how TPS can be used to enhance them?

This important list of potential questions about your history and future plans goes on and on.  Without having this conversation with you, any advice you are given is just someone's guess.

That is why the information you read on the internet (even here!) is often incomplete or overly-simple.  ‘General' advice is merely informational.  Only specific advice is what you act upon.  And the advice given to someone else - even a close relative - may be bad advice for you, no matter how alike your personal circumstances seem to be.

One last caution.  If the Philippines is designated for TPS, many wonderful community groups will offer "clinics" or "workshops" to explain and help prepare the immigration forms.  These organizations also play the very important role in getting the word out to the public that this benefit is available, and serve to encourage people to come forward to apply.  If you feel comfortable with the reputation and knowledge of the sponsoring group, by all means use them.  But if they do not have a qualified person available on-site to spend private time with you and thouroughly discuss your personal situation, and ARE ABLE TO ANSWER THE THREE BIG QUESTIONS above, seek out good advice SOMEWHERE before you drop that form in the mailbox.

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Go to the Most Recent Philippines-US Immigration Topics 

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Monday, April 28, 2014

How We Keep Quality High with Reasonable Fees

I never thought I would have to explain this, but I was just "lectured" by someone who believes people equate higher attorney fees with better legal advice.  I think people are smarter than that, but anyway...

This office was founded for only two purposes, and every attorney and staff member understands this:  We are here to provide for our own families and to help our clients.  It is that simple.

Our fee structure is the result of lower operating costs in the Midwest, and, more importantly, by operating an extremely efficient office capable of routinely handling a high volume of cases without any reduction in quality or personal service.  You can pay more, but that does not mean you will get better immigration advice.  Simply put, we serve a lot of people.  We do not have to charge the higher fees that would be needed to achieve the same income with a smaller client base.

Everyone at Austin & Ferguson, LLC is aware of the importance of the work they do and take personal satisfaction in being able to help our clients achieve their goals.  Often, those goals greatly improve their lives.  This work is rewarding and we wish to help as many people as we can.  We keep our fees reasonable so everyone can have access to good immigration advice.

Go to the Most Recent Philippines-US Immigration Topics 

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Video of Basic TPS Information

First, let me be clear.  

As of Thursday night, a decision has NOT been announced on if the Philippines will be designated for TPS, and the information below should not be taken as an indication of what may happen later.

Today, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), which is composed of over 13,000 immigration attorneys and educators, released a short video discussing basic TPS requirements, some problem areas and suggestions when seeking assistance to register for TPS.  This is just general information.

This video was also added to AILA's "Philippines TPS" resource page, a central location containing various documents relating to the call for TPS-Philippines.  

If your device does not display the embedded video above, the video can be viewed here

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Go to the Most Recent Philippines-US Immigration Topics 

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No, Filipinos Cannot enter the U.S. Without a Visa

A post on the satire news site Adobo Chronicles, reported that the United States is waiving visa requirements for Filipino visitors as a reward for "making the U.S. look really good" in a survey of countries with a favorable view of the United States. 

Of course, the article was written in jest, as are all of the site's articles, such as, "Miley Cirus to Sue Kris Aquino", "Japan Offers to Buy Metro Manila....", and "Weapons of Mass Destruction Discovered on Mars".

However, enough people believed the article to call the U.S. Embassy in Manila, leading the Embassy to post a denial on their website.  It also explains the unusually high hit counts on this blog after the article was posted.

I found the article humorous, but there are times when these capers can go too far and people object to the content.  I will stay out of that discussion here, but this does give me a chance to acknowledge the contributions of the person who alerted me (and many others) to this story.

Angelita "Boots" Felixberto, a GMA7 news stringer in the Washington DC area, has a blog at where, as a community service, she continually updates a running list of the known Filipino events in the areas of  "DC, MD, VA, New England and continually expanding".

If you do not already send your own group's announcements to Angelita, consider it.  Just seeing so many quality activities listed in a single place speaks highly of the energies within the U.S. Filipino communities.

Go to the Most Recent Philippines-US Immigration Topics 

View Qualifications of Attorney James W. Austin

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Handling H1B Cap Returns

Receipts are arriving from USCIS for the cases accepted under the H-1B cap, but the returns will soon follow.  If you are in the U.S. on a student visa and a company has filed with USCIS to change your status to H-1B, missing out on the cap can be devastating.  No one is happy.

The first thing you must do is schedule time with your attorney to review all of your options.  Advice you read on the internet is always incomplete and overly simplified - even mine.  Often there is no good way out, but do not abandon hope until you are sure nothing has been overlooked. 

Below are just some of the possibilities your attorney may discuss:

---Try to find a position with an institute of higher education before your OPT runs out.  Many educational facilities post-high school are exempt from the cap and can file an H-1B petition anytime for an immediate start dates.

---Return to school and remain in F-1 status, if even to just remain in status until a new H-1B petition can be attempted next April.  Start working towards that Master's degree.  Remember that a U.S. Master's degree, even if not required for the job, will greatly increase your odds of being selected in a future H-1B lottery.

---Consider changing to a different status.  If your spouse is already an H-1B, change to an H-4.  Similarly, although much less desirable, consider you and/or your spouse becoming J-1s/J-2s.  If you have sufficient funds to finance a qualifying small/medium-sized business, the United States has a treaty of commerce treaty with the Philippines that allows the possibility of opening a business and changing your status to E-2.  There is also the possibility of changing your status for a short period to a B-2 visitor, but USCIS has stringent requirements in these circumstances, and the time allowed will may not be worth the cost and effort.

---STEM OPT, not often overlooked, but worth a reminder, that students with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree are often eligible for 17 months of OPT, sometimes in addition to the normal 12 months of OPT.

---Do not forget the grace period in which you can stay in the U.S. after your OPT expires:  60 days for F-1, 30 days for M-1 and J-1.  Although you cannot work during this time, you are still considered to be in lawful status for changing to some other visa category.

These are just some of the most common options.  Your attorney may find other possibilities based on your own individual circumstances.

And lastly, a little straight talk about money.  Obviously, all filing fees are returned to the employer once USCIS returns the checks.  As for professional fees, different attorneys have different contract provisions.  However, it is normal for professional fees to not be refunded as the work under most contracts was completed as long as the petition was properly prepared and filed.  We all know that success is never guaranteed and, with H-1B cap cases, a properly advised employer agrees before filing to accept the risk created by the H-1B cap.  However, at a minimum, many good attorneys will often offer a significant discount on next year's filing if the company wishes to give it another try.

See our US$60 Attorney Consultation Offer

Go to the Most Recent Philippines-US Immigration Topics 

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

DACA Renewal Instructions Released

USCIS has posted its first guidance on DACA renewals, found here, and probably copied to websites all over the internet.  DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, grants employment authorization and protection from removal for those who qualify for the benefit.

Several interesting items to note if you are renewing DACA granted by USCIS (slightly different renewal rules apply if DACA initially granted by ICE):

You MUST use the new form for renewals, and it does not yet exist.  A draft of the new I-821D was released for comments on December 8, 2013.  After review of the comments, a new, modified draft of the form (7 pages) and instructions (14 pages) was issued last week on April 9th.  The final version will not be available until the end of May, 2014.

You cannot file more than 150 days before your current DACA expiration.  My advice is to file as early as possible for the best chance of getting your new work authorization before your old card expires.  USCIS believes it can issue new work authorizations within five months of filing.  Historically, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.  With TPS, a very similar program, USCIS has moved to the practice of automatically extending the current work authorization for an additional six months past the card's expiration date.  But since the DACA renewals will be spread out over a longer time period than allowed for TPS renewals, hopefully USCIS can keep card issuance within the five month window.

Less evidence will be required for renewals then you submitted with the initial application.  This is very useful.  For DACA renewal, NONE of the evidence sent with the original application needs to be resubmitted.  While this may just seem to be common sense, it is not the normal practice of USCIS when renewing some other immigration benefits.

No evidence required of continued enrollment, even if your initial DACA was based on a GED program (or similar) enrollment.  Neither the form or the instructions indicate any evidence of continued enrollment or successful program completion will be required for DACA renewals.  However, there is always a chance this might change when the final instructions are released.

Go to the Most Recent Philippines-US Immigration Topics 

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