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US Immigration Advice for Venezuelans

Due to political turmoil and civil unrest, Venezuela has unfortunately become a difficult place to live. For Venezuelans who are fortunate enough to have qualifying family members, the US immigration process can allow them to safely relocate to the United States. However, those who don’t have such family ties have limited options.

Venezuelan businessmen and entrepreneurs who want to live in the US to invest and develop their own companies cannot readily do so due to the fact that the US and Venezuela do not have an existing treaty for an investor’s visa. The EB-5 immigrant investor program is only open to those who have at least $500,000 to spend and even then, the lengthy backlog means that applicants would have to wait at least two years before obtaining an immigrant visa. However, an island in the Caribbean now holds a shorter and easier path for wealthy Venezuelans to live and work in the US.

Since 2014, the government of Grenada has offered citizenship to wealthy foreigners in order to expand its economy and increase investment into real estate and tourism projects. For a mere $200,000 (excluding application fees), a family of four can obtain Grenadian citizenship in as little as three months without ever setting foot on the island. There is no requirement to buy a home or reside in the country and the investment is tax free.

Although Grenada is not the only country that offers a citizenship by investment program, it certainly presents the best deal as one of the most affordable options and one of the few that can lead to a US investor’s visa. The US has a treaty with Grenada for an E-2 investor’s visa, which grants the qualifying applicant up to five years to live and work in the United States. Additional criteria for the E-2 visa include: at least 50% ownership of the US investment enterprise; the applicant must seek to enter the United States solely to develop and direct the business enterprise; and the applicant must have invested, or be actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital into the US enterprise. A substantial amount of investment can be as little as $100,000 for a business enterprise and a potential investor can either purchase an existing business or develop his or her own.

For affluent Venezuelan citizens who want to relocate to the US with an E-2 investor’s visa, Grenada’s Citizenship by Investment program provides a possible alternative to the backlogged EB-5 program. While wait times for EB-5 visas exceed two years, an E-2 visa can be obtained in only a few months. Once in the US, the investor can then work in his business, obtain employment authorization for his or her spouse and enroll their children in US schools. As long as the business operates and continues to fulfill the qualifying criteria, the E-2 investor’s visa can be renewed indefinitely.

With the deteriorating state of affairs in Venezuela, affluent Venezuelans should look to Grenadian citizenship as an attractive opportunity to live and work in the US.

The consequences for treating your green card like a tourist visa

Once you receive your green card, you should familiarize yourself with the requirements for obtaining U.S. citizenship.  One of these requirements is establishing continuous residence.  If you spend too much time out of the U.S., you will hurt your chances of becoming a U.S. citizen.  You must establish 5 years of continuous residence (or 3 years if you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen), and absences of longer than 6 months may disrupt your residence.
If you are planning on being absent for more than 1 year, you should apply for a reentry permit before departing.  But understand that a departure from the U.S. for this length of time is a disruption of continuous residence and will delay your eligibility for U.S. citizenship.
There are even more severe consequences for staying outside of the U.S. for lengthy periods of time.  The government could charge you with abandonment of your residency and initiate removal proceedings.  This often arises when someone is seeking re-entry after a long trip abroad.  It may also come up when you apply for U.S. citizenship.  If the government charges you with abandonment, you will be scheduled for a hearing with an immigration judge.  Be aware that having a re-entry permit does not prevent a finding of abandonment.
In short, plan your trips abroad wisely.  If you have a green card, you should be residing in the U.S.  If you don’t want to live in the U.S., you can submit an I-407 to abandon your residency and then apply for a tourist visa.        

By Patricia Cooper Esq. 

After nineteen years of looking for answers, we ask the right question

We recently had a case which illustrates the rather obscure
way an immigration attorney can be of help. 
We received a young lady who had been to many attorneys asking the same
questions.  She had entered the country
illegally when she was a very young girl. 
Now, nineteen years later, with a husband (a United States Citizen) and their
young child (also a U.S. Citizen), she was being told repeatedly that she had
no recourse.  Conventional wisdom from
the sources she was consulting was that once section 245(i) of the Immigration
and Nationality Act expired on April 30, 2001, she was out of luck.  Immediately upon telling these people that
she had entered illegally, she was essentially ushered out the door; no visa,
no hope.

The Long Hand of the Grandfathering Law

But our heroine had one more stop to make.  As she entered our offices, she was understandably
crestfallen, and, to be fair, we initially felt her case was not eligible for
adjustment.  Her entry had been illegal
(what is called Entered Without Inspection—or EWI) and the law that allowed an
illegal entrant to adjust had ended.  It
is then that we asked a routine question regarding the procedural history of
her case:

“Has anyone in your family, other than your husband, ever file
a petition on your behalf?”

Her answer was as nonchalant as it was staggeringly

“Sure.  My mom, but
that was a very long time ago, that doesn’t count anymore.”

And yet it did. 
According to USCIS policy documents, upon expiration of the LIFE Act enacted
at the end of 2000, any person who had a pending immigrant petition or labor
certification would be able to use the part of the law that allowed illegal entrants
to adjust their status–even after it was gone.  In short, that
petition filed by her mother many, many years ago proved to be the link that
would allow her to be grandfathered and use INA 245(i) to legalize her status.

Although skeptical at first, we convinced her that she
needed only to file an Adjustment Application with the special evidence
required by the LIFE Act and she would be adjusted.  After several months of administrative
processing, she received her Green Card two weeks before the New Year.  She also received her Social Security card
and put a down payment on a home.  With
her new credentials, she is now in school and studying while working—the promise
of the American Dream written on her smile.

What We Learned

No matter what people tell you, make sure you always seek
the advice of competent counsel, and DON’T be afraid to ask for a second
opinion; or a third, or a twenty-third. 
Although this person’s case had many unique elements, only a thorough,
honest and exacting history of your case can ensure that your lawyer has the
best chance to pull a residence out of a hat.

The N-648 medical waiver for Naturalizaton applicants

The N-648 medical waiver (formally known as Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions) is used to exempt people who have a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment from the requirement to demonstrate the otherwise required knowledge of English language and US history and civics in the Naturalization process.  The form is to be completed by the applicant’s physician.  It provides instructions to the physician as well as samples of the correct terminology.  The concepts are simple: the physician states a clinical diagnosis and description of the applicant’s disability or impairment, explains the connection between the impairment and the applicant’s inability to learn or demonstrate knowledge of English and history and finally, states their professional opinion that the applicant is unable to comply with the normal requirements of the test because of the disability.  While this sounds simple, physicians often do not have the time or the patience (no pun intended) to properly complete the form.  Gerstein & Gerstein Attorneys, PA has had much success in resolving these cases.  Often, we’re contacted by an applicant or their family member after their application has been denied or they have been rescheduled to present a properly completed application.  We work closely with physicians to properly and fully complete the form so that the applicant’s waiver can be granted.  Proper planning and understanding of the requirements can lead to a very smooth process.  The hiring of an attorney experienced in dealing with these matters goes a long way and, if the attorney is involved from the beginning, fees can often be less than when the attorney has to rectify the situation after the fact.

The nightmare of name check delays appears to be over!

On February 4, 2008, the associate director of the USCIS issued a memorandum which stated that applicants with pending adjustment of status applications and waiver applications could be approved if the FBI name check has been pending for 180 days or more and the case is otherwise approvable.  This does not apply to naturalization applications, though.  He went on to say that if negative information comes to light after the case is approved, that the approval could later be revoked.  This is positive news for thousands of people who have been stuck in limbo for years.  The actual method of identifying these cases has yet to be determined.  As for cases pending at service centers, attorneys have been asked to hold off on inquiring for a couple of months while the USCIS attempts to identify these cases.  As for cases pending at local offices, no method has yet been released as to how they will identify these cases or have them brought to their attention.  Nevertheless, it appears, now, that relief has arrived and these cases will soon be finalized.