About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

Dispelling Misleading Info About Same-Sex Marriage and U.S. Immigration

ringsWith every state that legalizes gay marriage, it gets a little easier for binational couples across the U.S. to marry and obtain a green card on that basis.

But let’s get one thing clear: It’s not critical that the state where the couple live have legalized same-sex marriage, nor that they get married there in order to claim immigration benefits. Ever since last year’s Windsor decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, a same-sex marriage in ANY STATE OR COUNTRY WHERE IT’S LEGAL has been enough to support the non-citizen’s application for a green card. (See Nolo’s article, “Same-Sex Marriage Now a Basis for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence (a Green Card)” for more on this.)

This simple truth makes it downright puzzling to see an article like “Worries lessen for Virginia gay immigrants, who can now marry” in the Washington Post, by Pamela Constable. If I didn’t already know better, I would have come away from the article thinking that the Virginia-based binational couples profiled were in an absolute trap until Virginia legalized same-sex marriage – that they were unable to get the foreign-born person a green card (lawful permanent residence) based on their relationship.

The article describes the situation of a Richmond couple, for example, one member of whom is from Paraguay, as follows: “because . . . the two men could not marry without starting over and moving to another state, they faced constant financial, legal, and emotional strains.”

But, but, but . . . they could’ve traveled to another state or country that allows same-sex marriage months ago, and held a wedding without doing anything close to “starting over!”

States vary in what they require of couples who want to marry there, of course. Nevertheless, in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and most of the other states where same-sex marriage is legal, you can get married with no residency requirement and minimal or no waiting period, immediately after receiving your marriage license. (See Nolo’s “Chart: State Marriage License and Blood Test Requirements” for more information, as well as “Where Can We Marry?” by the organization Immigration Equality.)

Constable quotes a member of another binational couple profiled in the article as saying, “This news came just in the nick of time,” before the non-citizen’s work visa ran out. Guys, Virginia is a quick trip away from Maryland as well as Washington, DC. Neither impose any residency requirements before marrying, and their waiting requirements are a mere few days after getting the marriage license. I’ll bet they’ve got many lovely wedding venues, too!

The article does mention that some binational couples in Virginia have already married in DC or Maryland, but you’ve got to read pretty far down to catch that. And I get it that having to travel far from one’s home base and bring friends along, too, would be a royal pain. So the news from Virginia is definitely good for binational couples there – it’s just not as monumental as it sounds.

Diversity Visa Lottery Officially Open!

enter to winHave you entered the 2014 visa lottery yet? (Officially called DV-2016, based on the year in which visas will actually be awarded.) It’s one of the best opportunities that people with no previous ties to the United States (such as a family member or a job offer) have to get a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence).

Registration just began, on October 1, 2014. It’s open to the same group of countries as last year — which means most of the countries in the world — with the exception of citizens of the following, who are already considered to be over-represented in U.S. immigration numbers (based on recent entry statistics) and are therefore NOT ELIGIBLE:

  • BANGLADESH
  • BRAZIL
  • CANADA
  • CHINA (mainland-born)
  • COLOMBIA
  • DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
  • ECUADOR
  • EL SALVADOR
  • HAITI,
  • INDIA
  • JAMAICA
  • MEXICO
  • NIGERIA
  • PAKISTAN
  • PERU
  • PHILIPPINES
  • SOUTH KOREA
  • UNITED KINGDOM (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and
  • VIETNAM.

You must, however, meet certain educational and other requirements in order to apply. See the State Department’s instructions for details.  Also realize that “winning” the lottery — that is, having your name selected — does not guarantee you a U.S. green card. In fact, the U.S. government always selects more names than it can actually grant green cards to, and only the applicants who can move through the system quickly and efficiently will succeed. See the “Diversity Visa Lottery Green Cards” page of Nolo’s website for details. And good luck!

We’re All Affected by Cutoff of Investor Visas for Chinese Nationals

iStock_000004626357SmallAs described in Nolo’s update, “EB-5 Visas for Chinese Nationals Become Temporarily Unavailable for the First Time,” investors from China used up their 7% share of the 10,000 visas allotted in the investor-visa category in 2014, and the State Department is apparently ending its policy of letting them take the extra visas left over from other countries.

That’s a problem if you’re a national of China who was hoping to obtain a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) by making a minimum $500,000 investment in a U.S. company (category EB-5).

But as explained by attorney Jim Butler in his article in the San Francisco Daily Journal, “Immigrant investor visas threatened,” the fact that China hit the limit this year could also be a problem for the U.S. economy.

EB-5 visa applicants don’t typically start their own little businesses. Instead, they look to streamline the process by going through agents and middlemen who arrange investments in large projects, most commonly real-estate developments. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs, and senior living facilities in the U.S. have all been major recipients of Chinese investment money. The last Marriott or Hilton you stayed in may have been the result of a Chinese citizen’s wish to obtain a U.S. green card.

Will other countries take up the slack? Not much, if they haven’t so far. Butler says, “China is where the program is best understood, where a sophisticated system of marketing agents is available to help American developers find investors, and where the population has the largest interest in U.S. immigration and the willingness to pay for it.”

So, the next Marriott or Hilton you were hoping to stay in may just be a hole in the ground until and unless someone takes steps to fix this! And why shouldn’t they fix it, given the shot in the economic arm such investments provide? But the State Department’s policy reversal seems to indicate that someone up there is thinking more about the letter of the law than economic common sense.

Need to Find Relative Arrested by Immigration? See Online Detainee Locator

usmexicoSometimes what’s going in in the headlines becomes all too personal. That’s what happened for me recently, when a friend called to say that her cleaning woman from El Salvador was in a panic, having received word that her sisters had been arrested by immigration authorities after crossing the border into Texas. They’re apparently part of the flood of young people fleeing countries beset by violence, attempting to cross the Mexican border into the United States.

The first question then becomes, “Where are they?”

Back when I was actively practicing immigration law, this question could take days of calling detention centers and desperately begging information out of disinterested guards and officials. But now there’s an “Online Detainee Locator” provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Would it work?

At first, no. (Probably not too surprising — data entry may not be the first thing on the to-do list after an immigrant is arrested.) But within about 15 hours, voila — we entered a name and birth date and received the name of the detention facility where one sister was being held, as well as a phone number for reaching that facility. The U.S.-based sister was able to call the facility and get more information about the status of her sister’s case.

Whether the online system is always this workable, I can’t say. It’s easy to imagine situations where the name might be misspelled, or a birth date taken down inaccurately, leading to a complete info void.

And an even more difficult aspect of the system is that it’s mostly in English. Yes, you can choose other languages from a dropdown menu when you first perform the search, but as far as I could tell, this doesn’t lead to any different screens when it’s time for the results.

Still, it was immensely satisfying to see the name pop up and know that, as alarming as the news of the arrest was, the sister hadn’t just disappeared into the system. Now, if Congress would only come up with an intelligent and humane way to deal with this influx.

Want to Know Who’s Actually Getting DACA Approval?

Graduation-5502U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) just published its first-ever report summarizing the “Characteristics of Individuals Requesting and Approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).”

The report supplies demographic information about people who requested DACA between August 2012 to September 2013 and were approved by January 2014, in these categories:

  •  age range
  • gender
  • country of birth
  • marital status
  • state of residence

Citizens of Mexico are, to no one’s surprise, the largest pool of applicants by far, followed by El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But plenty of other countries’ citizens applied, as well. Even the bottom four countries on the list Poland,  Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Guyana, had over 1,000 applicants each.

As for age, the majority are 19 and under, followed closely by the 20 to 24 age group. This isn’t too surprising either, given the age-related requirements for DACA (see Nolo’s article on, “Who Qualifies for Deferred Action as an Immigrant Student or Graduate (DACA).”) There was no clear winner between number of male and female applicants and DACA recipients.

And you get no points for guessing which state most applicants applied from: California, of course! Texas a close second.

 

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