THE LATEST FROM SRW BORDER BLOG

Copy of USCIS changes filing instructions for Form I-407

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USCIS recently issued a new procedure for filing Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status. As of July 1, 2019, Form I-407 can only be submitted by mail at the USCIS Eastern Forms Center. 

Prior to this change in policy, if an individual decided to voluntarily abandon their status as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), the form could be submitted at an international field office in person or by mail. USCIS noted that processing time at the Eastern Forms Center is anticipated to be 60 days following receipt. In the event that someone needs immediate proof that they have abandoned LPR status, USCIS stressed that “in very rare circumstances” the form will be accepted in person at an international field office, U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate. In other words, be sure to plan ahead if you require proof that you have abandoned your status as an LPR.

As of July 1, 2019, Form I-407 must be sent to USCIS at the following address: USCIS Eastern Forms Center, Attn: I-407 unit, 124 Leroy Road, PO Box 567, Williston, VT 05495. Documents issued by USCIS—including green cards and reentry permits—should be submitted along with the form.  Form I-407 may also still be submitted in person to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. port of entry

More information about filing Form I-407 can be found on the USCIS website.

Updated DS-160 requires visa applicants’ social media information

Do you have a social media presence? If you’re applying for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa, the Department of State wants to know—and they want details.

Completing the DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) is the first step for applying for a nonimmigrant visa through a U.S. consulate or embassy. Applicants are required to fill out the online form on the Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center website. If the DS-160 is not satisfactorily completed and submitted, it is not possible to move forward with any requisite next steps, such as making an appointment for an interview.

On May 31, 2019, a new subsection entitled “Social Media” appeared on the Department of State’s DS-160 online form. The question is, “Do you have a social media presence?” Instructions are provided:

Select from the list below each social media platform you have used within the last five years. In the space next to the platform’s name, enter the username or handle you have used on that platform. Please do not provide your passwords. If you have used more than one platform or more than one username or handle on a single platform, click the ‘Add Another’ button to list each one separately. If you have not used any of the listed social media platforms in the last five years, select ‘None.’”

The drop-down menu that follows includes 20 social media platforms, ranging from ubiquitous to relatively obscure: ASK.FM, Douban, Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, MySpace, Pinterest, Qzone (QQ), Reddit, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo, Tumblr, Twitter, Twoo, Vine, Vkontakte (VK), Youku, and YouTube.

A response is required and the user’s ability to complete and submit the form is disabled until one is provided; there is no way to opt out completely. Should an applicant falsely select “None,” the immigration consequences could be serious, depending on how the Consulate/Embassy classifies the omission.

Some of the social media platforms may sound unfamiliar but are popular with international audiences.  Five of the platforms are widely used in China, including Douban, Qzone (QQ), Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and Youku. Vkontakte (VK) is an online social media and social networking service based in Russia.

A recent announcement was posted on the Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center website letting users know that the DS-160 page would be undergoing maintenance on Thursday, May 30, expected to be completed between 4 and 11pm. Apologies were offered to any visa applicants experiencing technical difficulties with their DS-160 during that time. The question regarding social media was not included on the online form prior to May 30.

Serotte Reich is continuing to monitor any new developments or changes to the nonimmigrant visa process. If you need assistance with your application, please contact our office.

Above is a screenshot of the DS-160 form’s new question about social media accounts.

Above is a screenshot of the DS-160 online form’s new question about social media accounts.

What to know with marijuana becoming legal in Canada next week

SRW Border Lawyers in the News – Zabrina Reich, Managing Partner at Serotte Reich in Buffalo, NY,  recently made an appearance on Buffalo’s Channel 7 evening news to provide insight on the effects of the upcoming legalization of marijuana in Canada.  

Smoke and Mirrors: Marijuana’s Catastrophic Effect on Immigration Status

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Quickly-evolving marijuana laws are making many Americans optimistic that legalization is on the horizon. Just across the border, the legal use of recreational marijuana in Canada may be authorized later this year. Even so, a foreign national’s chances of staying in the states could go up in flames after a marijuana-related offense. Similarly, a foreign national may be denied entry into the U.S. for marijuana use or marijuana-related offenses.

The gradual legalization of marijuana in the U.S. is creating a false sense of security for noncitizens, who might be under the impression that using marijuana in accordance with state law is harmless. Don’t be fooled: although more states are jumping on the bandwagon of decriminalizing marijuana – marijuana is still illegal under federal law and for immigration purposes federal law is all that matters. Violating federal marijuana laws has serious implications for foreign nationals, affecting admissibility to the U.S. and the ability to apply for naturalization just to name a few. Notably, a noncitizen who admits to an immigration official that they possessed marijuana can be found inadmissible, denied entry to the U.S., or have their application for lawful status or even citizenship denied. Depending on the circumstances, admitting to marijuana possession, can make an LPR deportable – even if permitted under state law and/or the individual was never convicted of a crime.

As of January 2018, the use of medical marijuana is legal in 29 states as well as the District of Columbia. Recreational use has been legalized in the District Columbia and nine states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. While these state laws legalizing marijuana provide valuable benefits, they have proven to be a trap for unsuspecting immigrants. For example, foreign nationals living in one of these states may readily admit to immigration officials that they have used or possessed marijuana under the assumption that it is safe to do so.

According to a report by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) (as well as our experience), in some states including Washington State “ICE, CIS and CBP agents are aggressively asking noncitizens if they ever have possessed marijuana, in an attempt to hold people in admissible.” Accordingly, before crossing the border and potentially being interviewed by CBP, it is imperative that noncitizens are aware that immigration law treats any marijuana-related activity as a crime, with harsh penalties, even if it is permitted under state law.

Understanding Federal Marijuana Laws

Possessing, giving away, selling, cultivating, importing or exporting marijuana are all considered federal offenses. Working in the marijuana industry – even if it’s a state-licensed operation – counts as drug trafficking. Offenses are applicable to both recreational and medical marijuana because there are no exceptions under federal law for medical or other use. (A medical marijuana card is not a “get out of jail free” card.)

Using or being under the influence of marijuana, as well as possessing paraphernalia, are not federal offenses. Even so, committing one of the aforementioned transgressions will cause problems for noncitizens trying to cross the border. Notably, noncitizens who admit to using recreational or medical marijuana in accordance to state law can be found inadmissible to the U.S. under immigration law.

Consequences of Marijuana for Noncitizens

Potential consequences of marijuana for noncitizens include inadmissibility, removability and ineligibility for naturalization. Specifically:

  • A criminal conviction for a state or federal marijuana offense can make a noncitizen both deportable and inadmissible. (For reference deportability refers to a noncitizen being removable from the U.S. whereas inadmissibility refers to a noncitizen being ineligible to enter the U.S.)

  • Admitting to the commission of a state or federal marijuana offense can render a noncitizen inadmissible to the U.S. even without a conviction. The state laws legalizing marijuana have led to noncitizens mistakenly believing that it is okay to admit to marijuana use or possession when questioned by immigration officials causing irreparable harm to their ability to freely enter the U.S.

  • Noncitizens may be found inadmissible to the U.S. if immigration officials have “reason to believe” the individual participated in drug trafficking – this can include working legally in the marijuana industry. A noncitizen may also be found inadmissible if within the last five years, he or she has benefited from such trafficking by an inadmissible spouse or parent.

  • Admitting to the use of marijuana – even without a conviction – may render a noncitizen inadmissible or deportable for being an addict or abuser pursuant to U.S. immigration law.

  • Committing a marijuana-related offense or admitting to marijuana use may result in a U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) being temporarily or permanently ineligible for naturalization. Specifically, an applicant must establish “good moral character” in order to become a citizen and committing a marijuana-related offense does not constitute “good moral character.” Inadmissibility resulting from an offense will count against an LPR. In some cases, it may bar an LPR from applying naturalization for a specified period of time or indefinitely.

As long as federal marijuana laws reign supreme, foreign nationals must remain vigilant and exercise extreme caution with marijuana including disclosing marijuana use – even if permissible under state law – at ports of entry, before USCIS in applications or interviews, to consular officials, at consular visa medical appointments or in removal proceedings.

Some practical advice for noncitizens and marijuana:

  • Simply put: stay away from marijuana if you are not a U.S. citizen.

  • Any photos or text related to marijuana need to be removed from your phone and social media accounts.

  • Do not carry or display any materials that refer to marijuana (for example, a bumper sticker or a T-shirt) when traveling to the U.S.

  • If you have ever used marijuana or worked in the industry do not depart the U.S. or apply for U.S. immigration status or naturalization without first speaking with an experienced immigration attorney.

  • Before obtaining a medical marijuana card speak with an experienced immigration attorney.

  • If you have a medical marijuana card, do not have it on you while traveling to the U.S.

  • This should be a given, but should be emphasized: don’t bring marijuana with you when traveling to the U.S.

  • Don’t discuss any conduct involving marijuana with immigration, border or law enforcement authorities. (The only exception is if your immigration attorney has advised that this is safe.)

Generally speaking, those who have possessed, used, or worked in the marijuana industry should not travel outside of the United States. This applies to anyone who is in the U.S. and is not a citizen – permanent residents included. Departing the U.S. and subsequently returning can put the noncitizen in a compromising position if a CBP officer questions them about marijuana. If questioned, the best option is to decline to answer, then contact an attorney.

If you need legal advice regarding marijuana and its effect on your immigration status, contact us at Serotte Reich: 716-854-7525 or www.srwborderlawyers.com/contact to schedule a consulation.