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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

3 Mistakes That Can Lead to a Stokes Interview

So recently I’ve represented several clients at Stokes interviews that were scheduled as a direct result of lack of preparation and ignorance of immigration requirements and procedure on the part of the clients. Individuals who apply for a green card (permanent residence) through sponsorship by a U.S. citizen spouse must attend an interview with an immigration officer.  Stokes interviews are secondary green card interviews that are scheduled once an immigration officer has suspicions that a marriage is not legitimate or there is insufficient evidence to support the approval of the application.  At the Stokes interview the green card applicant and their U.S. citizen sponsor are subjected to an in-depth interview and also given an opportunity to provide additional evidence.

Many people chose to prepare their green card application and many commit the same mistakes that result in either an outright denial or a Stokes interview. I wanted to go over three common reasons that applicants end up being scheduled for Stokes interviews although they may have a strong case.  Lack of preparation is the main reason that most green card applications are not immediately approved, the applicant gets scheduled for a Stokes interview or eventually the immigration applications are denied.  Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key to obtaining positive results from the Immigration Service. Here are three common mistakes that green card applicants make that all stem from a failure to prepare:

1. Failure to understand immigration requirements and regulations

Whatever the application you are submitting to the Immigration Service, you must know the legal requirements that need to be met in order to obtain the immigration benefit.  Most applicants that represent themselves are not familiar with the immigration requirements; as such they cannot submit a strong application.  An experienced and qualified immigration attorney will be familiar with the immigration application requirements and laws and be able to easily navigate the immigration system.  If you choose to represent yourself, and many do, be certain that you know the requirements of the application you are submitting.  Be willing and able to put in the time and work necessary to research the requirements.

2. Failure to provide valid and/or sufficient evidence


So now you know what the immigration requirements are, now you need to prove, with evidence, that you satisfy the requirements.   It is not enough to know the rules you must prove to the Immigration Service that you qualify and you must do so clearly with sufficient evidence.  I have had many clients come to my office after receiving a denial letter from the Immigration Service that resulted from their failure to provide sufficient evidence or any evidence at all.  The Immigration Service will not prove your case for you, you have the burden and you must meet that burden by providing strong evidence. Here is where a qualified attorney comes in; they can help you build case with strong evidence using their knowledge of the immigration regulations and experience.

3. Failure to prepare for the interview

Applicants that fail to prepare for their green card interview usually end up with a Stokes interview appointment.  Nerves can create many problems for an applicant at a green card interview.  Being nervous at such an important interview is normal.  However, the way to reduce an applicant’s level of stress is to familiarize them with what to expect at the interview.  I find that after I prepare clients on what to expect at the green card interview, conduct a mock interview, and provide sample interview questions, they are much more comfortable at the interview and are usually successful.  In addition, I attend all of my clients’ green card interviews; as such, I am in the room with my clients which many clients find comforting.

For more information, call our office at 718-978-9000, and make an appointment today.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love, Hip Hop… and Immigration Marriage Fraud?

Online media outlets are buzzing with rumors that reality television star Amina Buddafly was allegedly deported due to immigration marriage fraud. The rumors are likely stemming from the recent storyline on VH1’s popular reality series Love and Hip Hop New York.

Reality television fans are likely very familiar with the popular VH1 series Love and Hip Hop New York. However, for those of you that are not familiar with the show I will give a bit of background. The show features hip hop artists and their love interests, and chronicles their professional and personal lives with high dramatics, and some would argue, pre-scripted content. This season of Love and Hip Hop New York premiered with several new recurring characters, most relevant Amina Buddafly and Peter Gunz. In the early episodes of this season it is revealed that Amina Buddafly and Peter Gunz are in fact married, despite his longtime relationship with the mother of his children. According to Amina Buddafly's VH1 biography, she was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Even more interesting, the biography describes Amina Buddafly’s immigration to the United States saying “In 2002, Black Buddafly took a leap of faith and without a plan, packed their bags and flew to New York City with nothing but $$600 and a dream. Leaving everything behind in Germany, they had no ‘choyce’ but to make it in America.”

According to one online report, in 2011 Amina Buddafly allegedly posted on an immigration forum that she was refused entry into the United States for violating the terms of her entry on the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of designated countries, including Germany, to enter the United States without a visa for a period of 90 days for the purpose of business or pleasure. So given the Love and Hip Hop storyline and Amina Buddafly’s immigrant status, speculation is rampant regarding the reasons behind her marriage to Peter Gunz and whether the marriage was based on Amina Buddafly’s need to obtain a green card in the United States. In an interview with Power 105.1 Peter Gunz denied the allegations and claimed that he married Amina Buddafly for love.

Let’s make two things clear, first, Amina Buddafly’s immigration status has not been revealed; and second, there no confirmation that she has been deported for any reason. Nevertheless, this very salacious tale sheds light on an issue that is widely pervasive in the U.S. immigration - marriage fraud. Many immigrants are desperate to obtain legal immigration status in the United States and some do marry U.S. citizens for the sole purpose of obtaining permanent residence (i.e. a green card). However, there are serious civil and criminal consequences for engaging in immigration marriage fraud. By law persons who have entered into marriages, for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit, face fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

It is also important to note that there are nonimmigrant visa categories that entertainers with demonstrated talent and international recognition can take advantage of, most notably the P-1 and O-1 visas. Moreover, the fact that Amina Buddafly is a talented musician who is a reoccurring cast member of a nationally syndicated television series leads me to question the rumors of her alleged deportation; as she may have been able to obtain legal status by obtaining a valid nonimmigrant visa. Nonetheless it remains to be seen if the rumors will be addressed in the dramatic Love and Hip Hop New York storyline or reunion show.

 


Friday, January 18, 2013

What's Real in the New Age of Social Media?

In the new age of social media, many businesses and public figures are thriving to obtain as many Tweeps/Twitter followers and Facebook Fans as possible.  However, the question becomes how many of the Facebook Fans or Tweeps are real people with legitimate accounts rather than fake accounts created by marketing professionals promising grand and fast results?

According to a report by Barracuda Labs there is a burgeoning business selling followers. In fact, followers can be purchased for as little as $18 per 1,000 followers. Moreover, the problem is so rampant that Twitter filed a lawsuit in federal court last year.  According to the complaint in Twitter Inc. v. Skootle Corp., Twitter argued that defendants violated Twitter's terms-of-service policy, which prohibits "using or promoting third-party sites that claim to generate more followers...".

Again the question remains - what's real in the new age of social media?


Friday, January 18, 2013

Starting a Business?

Starting a business is an exciting time in an entrepreneur's life. However, it can also prove to be a stressful time filled with a series of difficult decisions.  The new business owner needs to decide, among other things, whether to incorporate, and if so, what type of business formation best suits his or her needs.  In addition, depending on the business you are starting various licenses and permits may be necessary to operate your business legally in New York.

Consulting an attorney to discuss some of these issues in the beginning of the process can help you to make the right choices at the outset and avoid common traps that face the unprepared business owner.

We can assist you with obtaining your Employer Identification Number (EIN), incorporating and obtaining the necessary licenses for your new business.

Call us today for more information at (718) 978-9000.

 


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Presidential Election Puts Immigration Reform Back in Play

 

During the debates and throughout the election campaign for the presidency of the United States the big issues were the economy, reducing the deficit and foreign policy.  However, the results of the election illustrated that although all of those issues were major, the ignored issue of immigration proved to be important as well.
 
Throughout the republican primaries and in the presidential debate the republican candidates took a strong anti-immigrant stance.  For instance, in the primaries Mitt Romney advocated enacting tough policies against undocumented immigrants that would encourage “self-deportation” and said that he would not support the DREAM Act.  In the presidential debate when asked “what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?”  Mr. Romney advocated for reforming our broken immigration system but also plainly stated “…I will not grant amnesty to those who’ve come here illegally.”  This tough stance on immigration reform and undocumented immigrants may have garnered support from his conservative base; however, it did not bode well with women and minorities, especially Latinos.  According to a Reuters poll, President Obama won 80% of the vote from African Americans, Latinos and other nonwhites, while Mitt Romney won less than 17 % of that demographic.  Moreover, President Obama also gained approximately 55% of the female voters.
 
The election demographics illustrate that republicans can no longer ignore the issues that are important to the voters in the female and minority demographics, since the white male vote is no longer sufficient to carry a national election. This fact gives me hope that immigration reform may be attainable in the next four years.  Previously the main impediment to passing immigration reform was politics, immigration became a dirty word.  Well immigration no longer a dirty word in politics, it’s the issue that must be dealt with to court the highest growing voter demographic, Latinos.  Since republicans should now see clearly that they need to reach out to Latino voters and helping the president pass immigration reform would be a great start.  As such, since it is now politically positive to now deal with immigration reform Congress may be able to start moving forward on the issue in a substantive way.
 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Romney promises to honor President Obama’s grant of work permits to Dreamers but will not renew them

Many clients that I have met with since President Obama passed his policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were concerned about the possibility of Mitt Romney ending the program were he elected to office.

Well these concerns were recently addressed by the Republican presidential candidate who was quoted in the Denver Post as saying “The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid.”  However, lest we get too excited Mr. Romney later clarified his statement to the Denver Post stating that although he would honor the exemptions already granted he would not be granting new ones should he take office.
 
It’s important to clarify a major mischaracterization in Mr. Romney’s statement.  DACA does not grant a visa or any lawful status to its recipients.  A visa is a nonimmigrant status that allows foreign nationals to remain in the United States, sometimes work (depending on the visa category) and travel in and out of the country. In contrast DACA simply prevents those granted the request from being placed in removal proceedings.  It also grants a work permit that that allows the person to work in the United States.
 

 


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

File for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Starting Now - BUT Beware of Fraudsters

Today the United States Citizenship and immigration Service (USCIS) published the forms necessary to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  As such, eligible individuals are now eligible to submit applications to the USCIS starting immediately.

Deferred action is a discretionary determination to postpone removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion.  Deferred action does not confer lawful status upon an individual.  In addition, although an alien granted deferred action will no be accuring unlawful presence in the United State during the period deferred action is in effect, deferred action does not absolve individuals of any previous or subsequent periods of unlawful presence.   For more information on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals check out our articles 10 Highlights of Obama's New Immigration Policy or Tips on Filing for Deferred Action

Although this is a temporary benefit that does not lead to permanent residence or citizenship, it does provide eligible undocumented persons with comfort knowing that they will not be deported, and that they will be eligible for a work allowing them to work legally.  As such, it is a welcomed policy in the immigrant community.  However, past experience has proven that when a new immigration policy or law comes out, the fraudsters and scam artists, known as "Notarios", follow as well to take advantage of unsuspecting immigrants.  In fact, in its announcement, USCIS has already warned the immigrant community to avoid scams that promise expedited applications or special benefits, and advises immigrants to instead seek the assistance of a licensed attorney or accredited professional.  Specifically, USCIS warns:

Avoiding Scams and Preventing Fraud
 
 
Someone told me if I pay them a fee, they can expedite my deferred action for childhood arrivals request, is this true?
No. There is no expedited processing for deferred action. Dishonest practitioners may promise to provide you with faster services if you pay them a fee. These people are trying to scam you and take your money. Visit our Avoid Scams page to learn how you can protect yourself from immigration scams.
 
Make sure you seek information about requests for consideration of deferred action for childhood arrivals from official government sources such as USCIS or the Department of Homeland Security. If you are seeking legal advice, visit our Find Legal Services page to learn how to choose a licensed attorney or accredited representative.

As such, it is very important that before you pay anyone to prepare your paperwork that you verify their professional credentials.  To see if you qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals visit www.uscis.gov or call our office today for a free consulation.


Monday, May 28, 2012

So you’ve been scheduled for a Stokes interview- What now?

This blog addresses what to do if you are in the unfortunate circumstance of being scheduled for a Stokes interview. First DON’T PANIC!  Being scheduled for a Stokes interview does not mean that your green card application will definitely be denied. It simply means that you will be subject to a second more in-depth interview.  So let’s explore some ways to prepare.

First, to be prepared you need to know what to expect.  At a Stokes interview the officer will meet with the couple together to explain the process and swear them in.  Then the couple is separated and asked numerous questions while being taped.  The officer then compares the answers given by each spouse to check for consistency and accuracy.  The couple is then given an opportunity to explain discrepancies between their answers.

Second, practice asking each other sample stokes questions; make them up or check online for sample questions. You should be aware that the officer may ask as many as 100 questions and the interview can last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours depending on the number of questions asked.  Officers ask questions under the general categories of your relationship, home, employment and family. Examples of questions asked are listed below:

1. What is your spouse’s date and place of birth?
2. Please spell your spouse’s full name?
3. Does your spouse have siblings? How Many? Have you met them?
4. What are your monthly expenses? And how do you pay them?
5. How many windows are in your bedroom?
6. What type of door does your bathroom have?
7. How many TVs do you have? Where are they located in the home?
8. Where you do you do your laundry? How often?
9. Who does the cooking?
10. Where does your spouse work? How long has he/she worked there?
11. What did your spouse wear to go to sleep last night? What color?
12. How did you get to the interview today?
13. What did you have for breakfast today?

The questions listed above are only a small sample of the questions that you may be asked in a Stokes interview. The best way to prepare is to become very familiar with every detail of your relationship, spouse’s family, employment history and home. The problem with the Stokes questions is not that they are difficult, but that they require us to remember details we may deem insignificant and easily forget.  For instance, why do I need to remember the color of the curtains or my spouse’s pajamas?  Well in the Stokes context these minute details make a difference.  Also, again when you’re nervous you tend to forget many things you may know perfectly well otherwise.

My third piece of advice is to answer the question asked and think before you speak.  Now that may sound simple or obvious.  However, many people race to answer a question quickly and then say the wrong thing, when had they paused and thought about the question, they would have answered correctly.  Also, be concise with your answers, the officer does not want to know extraneous details about your life in the answer.  It may only cause the officer to delve deeper and create unnecessary confusion.

Finally, it may be comforting to know that you do not need to get every single question correct in order to pass your Stokes interview.   As noted above, you will be given the opportunity to clarify discrepancies.  Moreover, the important inquiry will be what questions you got incorrect and how many.  If you forgot what your spouse cooked for dinner the night before, it may not be that significant.  If you cannot remember where you got married or your spouse’s middle/maiden name, you may have an issue.

For more information on the green card application process or Stokes interview, contact our firm.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Three ways to avoid being scheduled for the dreaded Stokes interview

In part II of my Stokes interview blog series we are exploring three ways to avoid the Stokes interview. Now I must note at the outset that the Stokes interview is given at the discretion of the individual officer and you never know why an officer may suspect fraud and schedule the Stokes interview.  However, these are three general ways to avoid the most obvious traps that may cause a Stokes interview.

1. Submit evidence of the bona-fides of the marriage

In my last blog entry I mentioned joint documents necessary to show that the marriage was not entered into for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit.  The idea behind the joint documents requirement is that when a couple starts a life together they share assets, bills, health care etc.   Therefore, the immigration service requires joint documents to show that the relationship is real this is the concept of establishing the bona-fides of the marriage.  In addition to joint documents, the couple can also provide statements from friends and family, pictures of the couple together and with family and friends etc. to further establish that the marriage is legitimate.  Applicants should submit as many forms of evidence available to demonstrate to the officer and the immigration service that their marriage is real.  A lack of evidence of the bona-fides of the marriage will not be viewed favorably and can result in a Stokes interview.

2. Be familiar with the documents filed in support of your application

This is especially true when an attorney prepares your application.  Be sure that you and your spouse review every document filed with the immigration service on your behalf.  For instance, if an affidavit was provided by a friend or family member, review it to ensure it is accurate and make sure that both you and your spouse are familiar with its contents.  Another example would be if a joint sponsor is used for the affidavit of support, ensure that both of you are familiar with the person giving the affidavit even if the joint-sponsor is only a friend of the applicant.  This may seem obvious and insignificant, but should the officer ask a question regarding these documents, and either the sponsor or the applicant is unfamiliar with the contents of the affidavit or the name of the joint sponsor, it can result in a Stokes interview.

3Prepare for the interview

In my experience with clients, I find that nervousness is a big reason why some applicants end up in a Stokes interview.  Obviously being interviewed by an immigration officer for something as important as a green card can cause nervousness; but one way to combat that is to be prepared. Prior to the interview, first you will ensure that you follow the advice in items one and two.  However, to prepare for the verbal interview, be sure to be familiar with the basic story of how you met your spouse and the evolution of your relationship.  In addition, applicants must be familiar with the basic biographic information about each other and their immediate family.  Think of this as an opportunity to reinforce information you already know about each other and to learn more about your partner.  By arming yourself with knowledge about each other you will feel more comfortable at the interview knowing that you are prepared to answer any question asked. This further helps to avoid getting a scheduled for a Stokes interview by avoiding making mistakes because you are nervous and unprepared.

Our next blog in this three-part series will address how to prepare for a Stokes interview if you are scheduled for one despite your best efforts.

For more information on the green card application process or Stokes interview, contact our firm.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The dreaded Stokes interview- How did we get here?

Recently I attended a Stokes interview with one of my clients and thought it would be an excellent topic for my blog.  So I’ve decided to do a three-part blog series on the topic.  In this blog entry, I will attempt to shed some light on why some green card applicants get scheduled for the dreaded Stokes interview.

Many of you may be familiar with the Stokes interview from movies like “Green Card” with Gérard Depardieu or “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock.  However, I’ll give a brief background to put us all on the same page.  In the family green card process when a U.S. citizen sponsor’s their spouse for a green card while in the U.S., they are required undergo an initial interview to allow the immigration officer to determine if the marriage is bona fide or legitimate.  In New York, if at the initial interview the officer suspects that the marriage is based on fraud for any reason, he/she has the authority to schedule the couple for a more in-depth follow-up interview called a Stokes interview.

Now the burning question is what are the reasons an officer would schedule a couple for a Stokes interview?  First, it’s important to understand that in a marriage-based green card application the sponsor (US citizen spouse) and the beneficiary (foreign national applicant) must prove that they did not enter into the marriage solely for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit. Therefore, the Immigration Service has instituted certain requirements to find fraudulent or “scam” marriages.  For instance, applicants must provide joint documents with their initial application (I.e. joint bank statements, joint utility bills, joint health insurance etc.).  So the reason an officer may schedule a Stokes interview is because either the documents or something said in the interview makes them believe that the marriage is not real.  Specifically, officers may schedule a Stokes interview in cases where one or more of the following circumstances apply:

1.  Couple were married shortly after meeting each other;
2. Couple has not been married for very long before filing the green card application;
3. Cultural or large age difference between sponsor and beneficiary;
4. Couple does not have any or has very few joint documents;
5. Couple is not able to answer basic questions about each other or spouse’s relatives;
6. Couple’s story of how they met and fell in love does not seem real.

These are just a few examples of reasons an officer may schedule a Stokes Interview. This list is in no way exhaustive, it is a very subjective process as it really depends on the impression the interviewing couple makes on the officer.  Further, it’s up to each individual officer to determine whether or not to schedule a Stokes interview or not.  In my next blog I will address how to avoid being scheduled for a Stokes interview.

For more information on the green card application process or Stokes interview, contact our firm.

 


 


Thursday, March 8, 2012

MARCH MADNESS!! 50% OFF LEGAL FEES FOR CITIZENSHIP APPLICATIONS!

In our continued effort to service the community and provide cost effective, but quality, legal services, The Law Office of Renee J Tello, PLLC is offering a 50% discount on the legal fees for the preparation and filing citizenship applications.

Many legal permanent residents may be interested in filing for U.S. citizenship but find that high legal fees prohibit the use of an attorney to prepare and file their application.  So take advantage of this opportunity and apply today.  For more information on reasons to apply for citizenship now click here.

This offer only applies to applications that do not involve complicated issues regarding criminal convictions, moral character or residency etc.  Offer does not apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) filing fees.  Applicants will be required to pay the entire USCIS application filing fee.

For more information, please feel free to contact our office.

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