We live in a country of immigrants. Since the nation’s founding, the United States has welcomed people from across the globe.
Furthermore, here in the United States, the are various pathways under the United States immigration laws that allow immigrants to become lawful permanent residents and eventually naturalized United State citizens. Some laws are more complicated than others, but in all cases, people must follow the proper legal procedures — regardless of their complexity — to have a successful outcome.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, which tracks data on immigration and naturalization, in January of 2014, it was estimated that 13.2 million lawful permanent residents — commonly known as “green card” holders — resided within the United States. Furthermore, 8.9 million of those residents were eligible for naturalization.
As a United States immigration law firm based in South Florida, we understand that foreign-born individuals are a crucial part of the fabric of this nation. You or someone you care about may be looking to immigrate to the United States, but how can they obtain a green card?
While the green card application forms are relatively standard, the legal requirements and procedures are quite confusing, complex and ever-changing. Unless you are relying on the most up-to-date laws and procedures, it is very easy to make mistakes, which will delay your application process and, depending on the seriousness of the mistake, cause it to be denied. It is extremely important to make sure you pay very close attention to detail throughout the entire process because once you apply, it will always be a part of your immigration file.
With that in mind, we have created the following outline of common immigration filing mistakes. With so much at stake, it is imperative that you or your loved ones do everything possible to ensure the application is filed properly the first time.
Forgetting to Send in All Forms and Paperwork
All too often, applicants fail to send in all their forms and documents. Doing so may seem simple enough, but in reality, immigration applications involve mountains of paperwork. With so many forms and supporting documents, it is easy to forget or misplace a crucial piece of evidence, thus leaving your application incomplete. If incomplete, the application may be rejected, delayed or even denied.
The bulk of your paperwork will not be limited to official forms. In addition to standard forms, you will also be required to submit what is called supporting evidence. This documentation, such as birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates and tax documentation, will be used to prove that you are in fact eligible for the benefit you may be seeking. If you are missing any supporting evidence, it will cause delays. You also need to pay close attention to the form of documentation that is being requested. Typically, copies of supporting evidence will be sufficient. However, in some instances, you will need to submit the original form or a certified copy issued by a government agency.
Sending the Wrong Payment for a Filing Fee
Nearly every form that is submitted to the U.S. Government for an immigration benefit requires the payment of a filing fee. The government will not even begin processing your paperwork unless it has the exact filing fee amount in United States currency made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The filing fees change periodically, so it is very important to know how much the correct filing fee is and attach it to the filing. Without the correct filing fee, the application will be rejected.
Signing and sending checks for a lower (or even higher) amount will not be considered a “down payment.” The application will be rejected, and it will be mailed back to you.
Sending Documents That Are Not Translated
For many immigrants, crucial documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and divorce decrees are likely to be written in a language other than English. All documents, including supporting evidence, must be submitted to the United States government with an English translation. All translations must include a certificate indicating that the person performing the translation is competent to translate from the foreign language into English and certify that the translation of the document is true and accurate to the best of the translator’s ability. The translator should include their name, address and phone number under the signature.
Many individuals feel that a friend or family member with conversational English skills can sufficiently translate documents. However, legal documents often involve words that are uncommon and, thus, may be foreign to even confident conversational English speakers.
It is possible for a family member with the requisite English translation skills to translate a document. However, if that is not possible, there are numerous professional translation services that can accurately translate documentation. It is critical for the translation to be accurate.
Forgetting to Sign Your Application
Unfortunately, forgetting to sign an application in the appropriate place happens.
Considering the length and complicated nature of many of the applications, failing to sign your document properly is easier than you might think. Depending on the application, there may be three or more places where a person must sign their name. On naturalization applications, for example, there is a place for the applicant to sign at the time of filing, a place for a translator to sign, a place for an attorney to sign and places where the applicant will need to sign at the time of the examination.
Also, in an adjustment of the status package for a green card, there are certain forms that are only signed by the Petitioner, only signed by the Beneficiary and only signed by a joint sponsor for the affidavit of support. An improper signature can cause major delays, and even result in the denial of a case. While you may sign on all the dotted lines, there is still a chance you are placing the wrong signature on that line.
Depending on your confidence, you can avoid this issue by double and triple checking your application materials. However, if you are worried about making a mistake, retaining a lawyer who is intimately familiar with the process can end up saving you time and money in the long run.
Missing Your Window to Renew
Many people wrongly assume that as long as their application is in progress, they do not have to renew their current non-immigrant immigration status. However, if your immigration status expires, it could cause eligibility issues for the green card. You may not be eligible to adjust your status in the United States.
Also, work permits and advance parole documents are usually only valid for one year. It is wise to apply to renew the work permit and advance parole four months before they expire. Re-entry permits are valid for up to two years, and sometimes only one year.
Additionally, green cards — unless they are conditional lawful permanent resident cards that are valid for only two years — are valid for 10 years. You should begin renewing your green card six months before its expiration. Processing times vary for the renewal of these documents, so it is important to file it as far in advance as possible.
Not Knowing Your Criminal History
Regardless of the thoroughness of your documentation, USCIS will be running a background check as a part of your application process. All applicants must assume that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will know and find out about any criminal history an applicant may have. If you are not sure of your criminal history because it was so long ago or there are too many arrests to count, then an experienced immigration attorney can conduct a background check, request all records and provide you with a legal opinion on the criminal records’ potential immigration consequences.
If, after consulting with an immigration attorney, an application is filed, its success will be contingent on answering certain questions perfectly and providing the necessary documentation. An immigration attorney’s advice will be invaluable.
Accidentally Giving False Information
Even if you have a near perfect memory, it is still possible to accidentally get crucial information wrong on your application. Unfortunately, the USCIS does not easily accept “oops” as a defense.
Considering the high stakes involved in immigration and naturalization applications, it is all too common for individuals who provide incorrect information to try and pass it off as an honest mistake. Because of that, USCIS is extremely suspicious of any information that proves to be inaccurate or misrepresentative of the applicant.\
As mentioned above, a missing criminal record will likely be seen as intentionally hiding potentially damaging information. Incorrect dates or missing historical details will likewise be seen as evidence of someone purposefully misleading government officials.
That is why you need to double and triple check all the information included on your application and within your supporting evidence. If you arrived in the United States at the end of June and you list the beginning of July as your arrival date, that can potentially derail your application.
Not Getting the Right Help
Immigration applications are incredibly complicated. It is easy to make a small mistake on an immigration application that ends up delaying the process.
That is why you need to work with people who know what they are doing and who are committed to working with you as a partner.
Unfortunately, an immigration application is not a learning experience where mistakes can become teachable moments. A misfiled or inaccurate application can have long-lasting consequences for you and your family.
While professional help may seem costly at first, the cost — both in time lost and additional fees — of misfiling an application can quickly exceed the cost of doing it right in the first place.
Additionally, there are scammers out there who are eager to take advantage of people desperate to become American citizens. They take advantage of those with language barriers and a lack of familiarity with the American government and its processes.
If someone is demanding payment upfront without a consultation or discussion of the specifics of your case, it is likely they are looking to take your money and run.
Contact Shane & Shane in Fort Lauderdale, FL for All of Your Immigration Needs
Here in Florida, immigration is common. In fact, according to the Migration Policy Institute, there were around four million foreign-born Floridians in 2015, which accounted for 20% of the state’s population.
Luckily, there are those who have both the experience and passion for getting the application process done right the first time.
Here at Shane & Shane in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we are passionate about partnering with the many wonderful Floridians looking to continue living their lives in this great country. We know that the application process is complicated, and we are empathetic to the needs of Florida’s incredible immigrant community. We have the experience needed to get your application done right the first time, saving you both time and money. And we do it all with compassion, as we know that naturalization and green card applications can take an emotional toll as well as a financial one.
If you are ready to start filing your green card or naturalization application here in Florida, contact us today and get the immigration law help you need!