According to a recent United Nations report, global migration increased by 41% since 2000, reaching 244 million in 2015, with 20 million of those refugees fleeing countries experiencing civil strife, such as Syria and Central America. The United States took in the largest portion of the world’s migrants with 47 million (1/5th of the total), followed by Germany and Russia with about 12 million each, Saudi Arabia (10 million), Great Britain (9 million) and United Arab Emirates (8 million).
Also last year, we saw other immigration developments such as the multiple extensions of the EB-5 regional center program, Texas’s challenge to the Obama administration’s expanded deferred action program for undocumented immigrants (the Supreme Court will hear the case), the release of the Annual Immigrant Visa Waiting List by the Department of State (over 4.5 million on the wait list for an immigrant visa), and the passage of several key immigration provisions in the Omnibus Spending Bill, which will likely affect the lives of immigrants and foreign visitors to the United States.
With the immigration sphere in flux, here are some pointers to help you navigate your way this 2016 and avoid unnecessary headaches when you travel to the U.S. or apply for an immigration benefit:
- Get a valid, unexpired, machine-readable passport. Beginning April 1, 2016, travelers particularly on Visa Waiver Program, must present an electronic, fraud-resistant passport at the port of entry.
- If you are a national of Iran, Sudan, Syria or traveled to one of these countries, which are designated by the Secretary of State as a state sponsor of terrorism, as of March 2011, you are barred from traveling on Visa Waiver Program or ESTA, and must appear for a personal interview and obtain a visa before traveling to the United States for business or tourism. Make sure that all your travel documentation is in order to help make the consular process easier. You should consult with a lawyer prior to scheduling your interview as it is unclear how the Consulates will respond to these changes.
- Check your electronic I-94 each time you enter the United States. Regardless of the end date of the visa petition, the expiration date on your most recent Form I-94 (record of your arrival to and departure from the U.S.) marks the end of your lawful admission. You can find your I-94 form online here. To learn more about the difference between “visa” and “visa status,” read our related blog post here.
- Make sure that you are current with your tax filings if you are a resident of the U.S. for tax purposes, unless you are an exempt individual. Failure to file tax returns or pay taxes may preclude an applicant for adjustment of status or citizenship from establishing good moral character. Obtain a copy of your tax filings by requesting copies of your tax transcripts, so you can review your record for accuracy before you file any immigration petitions.
- Obtain a copy of your criminal record if you have ever been arrested, cited, charged or convicted of an offense, especially if you plan to apply for any immigration benefit. Take these documents to your lawyer so you can discuss if there are any issues. You can request your FBI background check here. It is also advisable to obtain your records from your state or local agency and get a Certificate of Conduct to show that you have no outstanding warrants or cases. For New York City residents, you can obtain this document at One Police Plaza. If you have a serious misdemeanor, it is also recommended that you obtain a Certificate of Relief From Disabilities, which can help reduce legal barriers to employment, voting and housing, as well as show proof of rehabilitation for immigration purposes. There are nonprofit organizations that help low-income individuals obtain these certificates. In New York, the Legal Action Center is an excellent resource for individuals with a criminal record.
- Make sure you have documentation of family relationships containing accurate and complete information. With the possibility of deferred action for parents of United States Citizens (DAPA) in the horizon, it is important to get accurate and complete documentation of your familial relationship (e.g. birth certificates, marriage certificates). These civil documents will be essential in future immigration petitions and any errors or inaccurate information can make or break your application. Click here to find out more about correcting a birth certificate in New York City.
- Consult with an immigration attorney before you travel or apply for any immigration benefit. This is especially crucial if you have a criminal history or prior contact with immigration or border officials. Obtain your immigration record by requesting a FOIA request with USCIS.
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