God is Good!

It has been more than a year now since I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. An illness that has caused a change in my lifestyle and outlook in life.

A flash back: It was August 15, 2011, and it was a routine day for me. I started my work day firing off e-mails (with my BlackBerry) in response to queries from clients and visitors on my Blog. I ended the work day preparing and signing some letters to be sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

After completing my work for the day, I took my usual 2-mile run — a routine I’ve been doing for years.

At 8:00 p.m., my wife and I had our usual dinner. But at 11:00 p.m., I started to have a fever — with my temperature soaring at almost 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thus, that day ended — but, in retrospect, it would be the beginning of a radical change in my life’s journey.

The following day, August 16, 2011 –with fever still high — I was rushed to the hospital’s emergency room. Blood works revealed that I have blood cancer.

At the hospital, I went through massive chemotherapy treatments, daily blood works, and seemingly incessant blood and platelet transfusions — with all their accompanying pain and misery. Now, more than a year past, I’m still on chemotherapy treatment and waiting to go through a bone marrow/stem cell transplant.

And due to my on-going treatment, I’ve suspended my law practice and been out of work. I’ve not taken new cases despite many clients’ repeated request to handle their cases.

With my supportive wife and two wonderful boys, I remain physically and spiritually strong, and optimistic that — with God’s help and protection — I’ll surmount this adversity.

But, realistically, it remains to be seen how things would turn out. Whether I live and become cancer free in the days ahead, or I die — I know without iota of doubt that God has been with me every step of the way. God has been my solace and only Him knows what’s in store for me.

I’ve full faith and trust in God’s goodness. And to Him, I leave my fate.

As Don Moen’s song goes: “God Is Good All The Time.”

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

Are you a “DREAMer”?

By the term “DREAMer” — I don’t mean a person who sleeps and goes to fantasy land in his dreams.

I refer specifically to an illegal foreign national in the United States who would have qualified for lawful permanent residency under a proposed law called the DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors). The proposed law, however, failed to pass in the U.S. Congress.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that these illegal foreign nationals who meet specific criteria will be considered for “deferred action” — a temporary reprieve from deportation or removal.

With the deportation or removal of many illegal foreign nationals going “wild,” as mentioned in one news report, the deferred action offered by the DHS is a big relief for many “DREAMers.”

The new policy of the DHS establishes the following criteria for deferred action for these foreign nationals:

1) Have arrived in the U.S. when they were under the age of sixteen;
2) Have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years prior to June 15, 2012 and have been present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012;
3) Currently be in school, have graduated from high school, have a GED, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces;
4) Not have been convicted of a felony offense, a “significant misdemeanor offense,” three or more non-significant misdemeanors, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
5) Have been under thirty-one years old on June 15, 2012.

It remains to be seen as to how the offered deferred action would proceed. But for many “DREAMers,” it’s a good start and a welcome news.

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

Blogging with my BlackBerry

As a lawyer by profession and a writer by avocation, I like to blog. Blogging has been my passion. It has always occupied a place in my busy schedule — day in and day out.

For one, blogging allows me to express my intuitive thoughts on issues dealing with U.S. immigration and tax laws, and Philippine laws — and any other hot issues of the day that may call for a brief comment or rejoinder. And, for many (no doubt, me included), blogging is a form of cerebral exercise.

Technology has also added a new twist to blogging. While normally, blogging requires one to be hooked up to a desktop or laptop to do the work — not anymore. With new gadgets around, such as a BlackBerry smart phone, blogging is a swift. Thus, blogging can be done anytime and anywhere. Indeed, as I started to write this blog with my trusty BlackBerry 9900, I was at the hospital undergoing blood works and transfusion.

So — I say, “Have BlackBerry — Will Blog” — to borrow the title of that old American television series aired in the 1960s, “Have Gun — Will Travel.”

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

Humanitarian Parole

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” is a truism that I’ve learned in my almost three-decade career as a lawyer.

Since my sister/donor’s visa denial (twice in a row) back in December 2011 by a Consular Officer at the US Embassy in Manila, I’ve entertained, at times, the thought that it could be the end of the rope for me — given my life threatening condition and medical prognosis.

My reason for such anguished thought is that, a visa denial cuts off the normal way for a foreign-based donor to come to the United States to donate and assist an ailing person. A scenario that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a needed transplant to push through. It’s no wonder that sad stories abound in New York and elsewhere of ill people not making it, because the donor couldn’t get a visa to travel to the U.S. for the needed transplant procedure. These sad stories, draw the ire of some — and touch a raw nerve of many.

But there’s a remedial measure from a visa denial that could save lives — which is known in U.S. immigration law as Humanitarian Parole.

Humanitarian Parole finds its legal basis in Section 212(d)(5)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under the law, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security may exercise his parole authority to allow a foreign national, who is otherwise inadmissible, to enter the United States temporarily under certain conditions for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit on a case-by-case basis.

Sadly, some may not know about it. Or for some who sought for it couldn’t qualify under the law’s stringent requirements.

For me, you may call it a streak of luck — or, perhaps, a fluke. In March 2012, I obtained a favorable decision on my Humanitarian Parole application from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which allowed my sister/donor to travel to New York for my transplant. My sister/donor arrived last week. I’m now ready for the stem cell/bone marrow transplant in the coming weeks.

A Consul’s Arbitrary Visa Denial

Would you extend a helping hand to an ill person? For sure, many — perhaps, in Greek chorus — would say, Yes. But for a heartless Consul at the US Embassy in Manila, such a humanitarian idea is far-fetched.

Before I go further with my ranting, here’s a brief background:

In August 2011, I was diagnosed with blood cancer. Since then, I’ve been in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy. My medical diagnosis is life threatening. Thus, I urgently needed a stem cell transplant before things get out of hand.

Based on a histocompatibility test, my sister has been found to be my perfect stem cell match. But there’s a problem — the transplant had to be held in abeyance because my sister can’t come to New York; the US Embassy in Manila has denied her a visa.

In December 2011, my sister applied for a visa and twice denied by a lady Consul after asking her a couple of questions. The Consul concluded that my sister didn’t qualify for a visa based on “factual determination.”

But did the Consul really make a “factual determination”? No — she didn’t. The fact that she just asked a couple of questions — one of which was “how much is your monthly salary?” — was arbitrary at best. Moreover, the Consul never read the supporting papers, particularly, the letter from my attending physician that explains my medical condition, prognosis, and the necessity and urgency of the stem cell transplant. The purpose of my sister’s travel to the United States, and its emergent reason never came to light.

True, a Consul is vested with the authority to grant or deny a visa based on his or her “factual determination.” As often said, a Consul’s decision is absolute in accordance with the so-called “doctrine of consular absolutism.”

Yes — a Consul has that absolute authority. But I think of it as an authority untempered by reason.

Soon after I received word of my sister’s visa denial, I filed a request for review of the case with the Visa Office, US Department of State in Washington, DC. But, as I’ve expected, the Visa Office denied my request saying that a visa ineligibility is a “factual determination” made by a consular officer and is not subject to review.

Now, I’m filing for my sister an application for humanitarian parole with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. If it fails, this could be the end of the rope for me.

H-1B and the Pinoy Professionals

In what seems like an annual ritual — beginning April 1, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will once again accept H-1B visa petitions from U.S. employers who want to employ foreign professionals.

An H-1B is a working visa used by foreign professionals to enter the United States and work for U.S. employers.

Recently, a client asked me: “Do Pinoy professionals seek H-1B visas?” Of course, my answer was a resounding, yes. Pinoy professionals — like other professionals from many countries around the world — seek H-1B visas, too.

Then, my client asked: “Is there a huge number of Pinoy professionals who seek H-1B visas?” I replied, “Not many — compared to other nationalities.”

Indeed, “not many” Pinoy professionals seek H-1B visas. Pinoys comprise a minuscule segment in the H-1B population.

Let’s look at available statistics from the USCIS. According to the USCIS, of the 217,340 H-1B petitions received and approved for fiscal year 2003 (which figures included new and continuing H-1B visa petitions at the time) only 10,432 H-1B beneficiaries were from the Philippines. It represented a mere 4.8% — a picayune figure in the H-1B statistics.

This information comes as a surprise to many observers. Pinoy professionals, despite their competence and proficiency in the English language, lag behind other nationalities in taking advantage of the opportunity to work in the United States through the H-1B program.

Why? I surmise that one reason is the lack of information about the H-1B visa program and how to go about it.

Thus, to disseminate information about the H-1B visa program, I wrote the book “A Guide to U.S. Visas for Filipino Professionals” that was published by GIC Enterprises & Co, Inc. Copies of the book are available at Conanan Bookstore, 2019 C. M. Recto Avenue, Manila, Philippines. Tel. (02) 735-5582.

The book provides the necessary information about the H-1B visa program and other available work visa options for the Pinoy professionals desirous to work in the United States.

The book has been my own little way to help Pinoy professionals know the various legal requirements and the procedures involved in the H-1B visa sponsorship process.

Dual Citizenship: A Question of Allegiance

Since the passage of the Philippine Dual Citizenship Law, formally known as Republic Act 9225, the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003, some of my Filipino clients who are naturalized U.S. citizens have come to embrace this new Philippine law. They have reacquired their Philippine citizenship by the simple act of taking the prescribed oath of allegiance to the Philippine government. And because the prescribed oath doesn’t contain a renunciation of allegiance to the United States, these former Filipinos have reacquired their Philippine citizenship while retaining their United States citizenship; thus, they have become dual citizens. By having dual citizenship, they believe that they now have the best of both worlds.

But unbeknownst to some, dual citizenship presents a complicated and intertwined issue of loyalty and allegiance.

There’s no quibbling that citizenship requires allegiance — and, no doubt, dual citizenship begets dual allegiance. One who is both a Filipino citizen and a U.S. citizen needs to maintain his undivided loyalty and allegiance to the U.S. government and Philippine government — even if the latter’s constitution (Art. IV, Section 5) explicitly declares that “dual allegiance of citizens is inimical to the national interest…”

In the present political climate, loyalty and allegiance don’t pose any problem. But — unlikely it might be — what if, say, years from now, there arises a political crisis, or worse a military confrontation between the United States and the Philippines that would force dual citizens to decide where their loyalties and allegiances lie. Such a scenario — again, unlikely it might be — would put to a serious test the loyalties and allegiances of dual citizens.

The U.S. Supreme Court, speaking through Mr. Justice Douglas, in a 1952 case of Kawakita v. United States, said: “One who has dual nationality will be subject to claims from both nations, claims which may at times be competing or conflicting, and that circumstances may compel one who has a dual nationality to do acts which otherwise would not be compatible with the obligations of American citizenship.”

Similarly, in Tan Cheng v. Secretary of Labor, 79 Phil. 257, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, through Mr. Justice Padilla, said: “Dual nationality is universally described as an undesirable phenomenon. It inevitably results in questionable loyalties and leads to international conflicts. Dual nationality also makes possible the use of citizenship as a badge of convenience than of undivided loyalty. It impairs the singleness of commitment which is the hallmark of citizenship and allegiance. A person should have the right to choose his own nationality and this choice should be honored by all countries. However, he should not be entitled to claim more than one nationality.”

Some critics of dual citizenship say this issue is tied to the “marriage metaphor.” For instance, Columnist Georgie Anne Geyer has asserted that dual nationality dilutes patriotic commitments and “makes citizenship akin to bigamy.”

By far, this issue of dual citizenship vis-à-vis dual allegiance isn’t over. It remains to be seen how it will play out in the years to come as the dual citizenship trend continues in an era of growing global migration.

“Don’t Leave Home Without It”

The often-heard slogan “Don’t Leave Home Without It” isn’t only a good reminder for American Express card holders. It has become also a good reminder for every lawful immigrant (as well as for every person who is on a lawful status in the United States) who intends to travel to Arizona.

You might ask, why? Arizona recently passed a state law (S.B. 1070) that makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork. It also requires police officers, if they form a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is an illegal alien, to determine the person’s immigration status.

For that reason, there’s likelihood that trouble awaits any person who may be stopped by an Arizona police officer on “reasonable suspicion” that he is an illegal alien.

Thus, prudence dictates that a lawful immigrant should always carry with him a Green Card, or US passport, or Naturalization Certificate. Ditto for an individual who is on a temporary lawful status in the United States. He must bring with him the valid Form I-94 or any valid immigration document, so he could present it when demanded by an Arizona police officer.

And so remember the slogan: “Don’t Leave Home Without It.”

New Law on Family-based Immigration

I’ve been deluged with queries about the new development in U.S. immigration law that relates to the family-based sponsorship.

Two significant changes in the area of family-based immigration were signed into law by President Obama last Oct. 28 — as part of the 2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

First, a new law eliminates the so-called widow penalty. It allows surviving spouses to self-petition for their Green Card even though their marriage to the deceased U.S. citizen lasted for less than two years.

Second, a new law allows surviving family members to process their permanent residence applications to completion, notwithstanding the death of their petitioners. The surviving family members can do so provided they were residing in the United States at the time of the death of the petitioners and that they continue to reside in the U.S.

The latter law provides a relief to the all-too common unfortunate situation faced by many aliens who had been petitioned by their U.S. citizen or permanent resident relatives. Those alien beneficiaries waited years for their petitions in the hope of getting their Green Card. But the untimely demise of their petitioning relatives dashed all their hopes and dreams.

To illustrate, let’s consider the following scenario:

Mang Kulas, a United States citizen parent, (as petitioner), filed an immigrant visa petition for his son, Procopio, (as beneficiary), who lives in New York. The petition was approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2000. Despite the petition’s approval, the case has remained pending for years because there is no visa number available. Meanwhile, Mang Kulas dies.

Prior to this new law, the immigration rule was, the death of the petitioning relative had the effect of revoking the immigrant petition for the beneficiary. In some cases, the revocation took place when the beneficiary, who was petitioned years ago, was just months shy of getting the visa number at the time of the petitioner’s death.

Indeed, the new law is a welcome change. It comes as a humanitarian relief to many aliens caught in that unfortunate situation. They are now allowed to process their permanent residence applications to completion, despite the death of their petitioning relatives.

Priority Date

An email query that I always receive from many readers of my blog pertains to the often-heard term — priority date.

They want to know what it is, how it is assigned, and why it is important.

So, what’s a priority date?

Simply put, it’s the date assigned to every approved preference immigrant petition that determines the order of  availability of visas. It provides a preferential order for aliens who are subject to the visa numerical limitations.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), employment-based preference immigrants and family-based preference immigrants are subject to the visa numerical limitations.

How’s a priority date assigned?

For employment-based immigration, a priority date is:

(1) The date the labor certification is filed; or

(2) If no labor certification is needed, then the date the petition is filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

On the other hand, for family-based immigration, it is the date the preference petition is filed with the USCIS.

What’s the importance of a priority date?

An immigrant visa can only be issued to an applicant when a visa number is available to his approved petition. The availability of the visa number is determined by the priority date assigned to his petition. Every month, the United States Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs publishes a Visa Bulletin that shows the priority dates of approved petitions whose visa numbers are available. Only applicants who have priority dates that are earlier than the cut-off date may be allotted a number.

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