How Lawfully Tracker works (IV)

Step 7 : Case Prediction

If you scroll down below your “Your Status”, you will see your “Expected Decision Date”; this is a prediction made by Lawfully based on years of immigration data.

This prediction gives you a sense of how long you may have to wait and at what time you are most likely to see your case processed.

 

Step 8 : Case History

At the bottom of your case details, you’ll find your case history; this is is where you can see when you completed the various steps of your immigration case and the result of each step.

 

Lawfully is launching our CaseTracker app

Lawfully is launching our CaseTracker app for Android… and we’re looking for your feedback!

If you’re immigrating to the United States, have a pending case, and use an Android phone, then we’d love to hear from you:

-Download “Lawfully Tracker” on Google Play
-Try out the app using your own immigration case
-Contact us and we’ll send you our app experience survey

 

 

In return for your insights, we’ll send you a $10 Starbucks e-card (to help you stay awake while you work on your case).

If you’re interested in helping Lawfully improve the immigrant experience, e-mail us at ben@lawfully.com and we’ll get you our survey.

Happy immigrating!

How long will my immigration case take? Sorry, not sure.

When I meet clients who want to start their immigration cases, one of the questions I am most frequently asked is: how long it will take for my case to be adjudicated? At this point, my answer is more vague than I would like it to be; the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website provides an estimated time range between 9 months and 21 months for the Adjustment of Status to permanent residence, and 4 to 6 months for work authorization (though I know from personal experience that some cases take longer than 7 months). My client asks again, “I need to make a plan for the future. Will it be 9 months or 21 months? And for a valid work authorization, is it 4 months, 6 months, or longer? I got a job offer and need to let my employer know.”

USCIS processes millions of petitions and applications each year such as temporary and permanent visa classifications, adjustment of status to permanent residence, work authorization, naturalization, and so on. Depending upon the filing type, adjudication may occur at one of more than 100 locations across the country, including the National Benefits Center, 5 service centers, more than 80 field offices, and several other international operations offices. USCIS seems to have more applications coming their way than they can possibly handle in a reasonable time. If USCIS cannot offer an approval based on the received materials, they may send what is called a Request for Additional Evidence, or RFE. Because of this inefficiency, adjudications are backlogged or delayed. It also causes a lack of reliable data provided by USCIS for processing times

Unclear expectations of processing time is more than just inconvenience. Those who file with USCIS or could be affected by the application – employers, individuals and their family members, and attorneys – have a strong interest in knowing the status of their filings and how long it will take to complete the process. Due to inaccurate, outdated, and unreliable data predicting processing times, individuals can lose jobs and various benefits like health care while they wait for the process to unfold. Foreign individuals and their families may face separations and financial hardship. They may be forced to postpone or cancel employment opportunities. They may have to postpone or cancel travel plans and miss important events. They may have to give up any chance to get academic scholarship or may not be able to renew their driver’s licenses. For employers, they may not be able to hire new or retain existing employees, forcing them to use additional resources to hire and train replacements for those who could not continue to work.

In recent years, there have been efforts in private industry to provide more reliable methods for predicting processing times and/or tracking USCIS case status. USCIS has also announced and launched a pilot to test a redesigned processing time estimator and a new way of collecting data and calculating the processing times. Recent technologies have the potential to remove a great deal of uncertainty from the US immigration process; big data and predictive analytics with machine learning and AI are increasingly impacting the way we process legal documents.

Improvements for reliable processing times and the ability to accurately track the status of immigration cases will have very positive effects on foreign workers, their employers, and the US economy. Further, these new technologies will benefit immigration lawyers like me, too.

Changes to Social Security / Government Benefits for Immigrants

In United States immigration law, there is a notion of a “public charge”. A public charge is presently defined as a person who depends on government assistance for survival. If classified as a public charge, a given person can be denied entry into the US or barred from applying for permanent residence. Until recently, immigration agencies have narrowly interpreted “public charge” as those receiving cash relief and long-term institutionalization rather than those receiving general medical benefits, meals, and food stamps.

On January 4, 2018, the State Department began to amend this longstanding definition more broadly defining public charge.  In February, the Trump Administration proposed amendments to the legal definition of public charges. A new bill looks to broaden the scope of what is considered to be “public charge”.  All the health and education aid received for children, US- or foreign-born, can now potentially be treated as government aid. Because of this, immigrant families are anxious about the benefits they receive or have received in the past – will this prevent immigrants from attaining permanent status?

The proposed amendment may be finalized by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by July 2018.

If this bill is passed, almost all social security benefits (Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, WIC, traffic vouchers, heating support programs, Head Start, Obama Care Grants, etc.) may become categorized as government relief and may become cause for immigration prohibition or immigration application rejection. Currently, the proposal would not categorize unemployment benefits and emergency/disaster assistance as government aid.

Many wonder if government aids they received in the past can be considered a public charge.  The proposal in its current state does not cover benefits one received before the law becomes enacted.  As well, if a permanent resident received similar benefits, it does not affect their eligibility for naturalization.

As we emphasize the importance of ‘legitimate immigration’, we must recognize that while many foreigners in the United States do their best to maintain legal status, the process of reaching legal permanent residence is an extremely lengthy process (up to a decade). Also, among those who once had legal status but lost it for some minor infraction are placed in queues with those who never had legal status to begin with, making changes to the law overly onerous for those who have made great effort to abide by US immigration laws.

Statistics show that immigrants have lower unemployment, lower incomes, and receive less government relief than US-born nationals. It is widely believed that the definition of government relief as it is now, clearly and narrowly interpreted as cash relief and long-term institutionalization, benefits the American public and society in a productive way that does not warrant dismantling.

What immigration clients want from immigration lawyers

As an immigration lawyer, I always ask my clients how I can best serve them as we begin the immigration process together. I have learned over time that immigrants feel the greatest need for my knowledge of the subtleties of the immigration process, my accuracy in completing complex and confusing forms, my responsiveness to stressful and time-sensitive situations, and my ability to work for an affordable price – in that order of priority.

By understanding how my clients experience the legal side of the immigration process, I began to see how difficult it is for immigrants to have all of their needs met in a single lawyer; too often, immigrants must choose between knowledge, accuracy, or responsiveness if they want to be able to afford a lawyer.

This is because immigration lawyers who are accessible and respond quickly are not necessarily knowledgeable: the most experienced and knowledgeable lawyers tend to have larger practices that keep them away from clients as their time is divided between working on cases and managing their staff.

Further, immigration lawyers who are affordable are not necessarily working the strenuous hours required to ensure the accuracy of their work.

I have come to realize the service my clients deserve often comes at a financial cost that is difficult for them to bear.

 

 

What can I do to provide the best legal service to my clients?

I need to simultaneously be very knowledgeable (through my accumulated experience and by maintaining a large database of case histories), accurate (painstakingly careful in reviewing applications), accessible (by taking fewer cases or hiring more staff), and affordable (by taking more cases at a lower price or hiring fewer staff).

As you can see, it is not easy for immigration lawyers to effectively serve their clients while keeping costs down. Or to reverse the perspective, it is not easy for immigrants to find a lawyer who meets all their needs at a price they can afford. In this moment, a sacrifice needs to be made by someone in order to successfully complete the immigration process.

But why should this be the case? Why can’t we develop technologies to serve both immigrants and the lawyers they rely on?

Lawfully was created to achieve the competing goals of offering best-in-class legal service at a low cost, which is very rare and difficult for a human lawyer to provide without significant personal hardship (working extremely long hours and taking less profit than they could demand).

By leveraging advanced machine learning techniques and applying them to the intricacies of the immigration process, we believe we can take the legwork away from immigration lawyers so that, instead of pouring over minute mechanical details, they can spend their time gaining knowledge and responding to their clients concerns.

The Lawfully Team, by combining our legal technology platform and our expert immigration knowledge, will help to create a more accessible, accurate, and affordable immigration experience for everyone looking to bring their dreams and ambitions to a new country.

Myth or truth? Foreigners take jobs away from native-born doctors…

 

Though there is a shortage of qualified doctors in America, American makes it very difficult for qualified foreign doctors to work. Most foreign doctors, whether trained in the US or abroad, must struggle to work longer than the few years allowed under a J-1 temporary visa: they must obtain a waiver from the two year home residency requirement – a provision attached to the J-1 medical trainee visa – and then apply for a green card. In order to get this residency requirement waived, obtain longer-term stability, and not disrupt the lives of their families or the progress of their careers, they must go through an arduous process.

 

Often times, the only option they have is to commit and practice 5 years in an underserved area with a meager salary and to forego opportunities for advancement; such a decision can affect their financial and professional prospects for the rest of their lives. This is a poor reward for those foreign doctors who wish to provide much-needed healthcare to Americans.

 

Myth or truth? Foreign scientists are industrial and military spies…

 

Jobs in scientific research labs are not highly-sought by young Americans. The pay is low, glamor is rare, and hours are long. Foreign scientists, Ph.D.s, and post-docs are doing a significant amount of American research, yet most university and government labs, as well as research centers, have policies to not sponsor immigrant petitions for these talented scientists to continue their research. The rationale for this unwillingness to help grow the careers of foreign scientists in America, to help them become American, is a stigma that they may be trying to steal research for their country of origin. The work of these scientists, often performed under much suspicion and rewarded with a paycheck barely above the poverty line, is then regularly leveraged by the star principal investigators to publish papers and secure grants and status at research institutions.

While many famous and award-winning American scientists and industrialists are in fact immigrants themselves, or children of immigrants, the increasing difficulty of obtaining visas and green cards for the best and the brightest is causing us to lose our scientific and technological leadership in the world.

 

Can a Nation of Immigrants be a Nation for Immigrants?

Part 1

I am exhausted by the hateful arguments deployed against immigrants in our country – the United States, a place that has been called the Land of Opportunity. While it is true to say that America is a country of immigrants, it requires a short memory to believe that fear and distrust of immigrants are unique to our time: historically, whenever the country has faced hardship, it has always been easier to blame ‘the others’ and than to see the problems in ‘us’. Fortunately, we are in a position today to educate each other on the truth about immigrant contributions to our economy and our culture. Let us examine some of the prevailing myths surrounding immigrants in America.

Myth or truth? Immigrants are taking advantage of American taxpayers…

A country’s future can be seen in the average age of its population. Europe’s global economic influence has faded while Japan’s economy has stagnated. Why? Because as their populations age, these countries are becoming less productive and more burdened by social benefits. American society would be in a similar situation, collapsing under the weight of its own social security system, if not for the ongoing influx of young, vibrant, and hard-working immigrants.

Foreign workers on H-1B visas, who are wrongly blamed for the job loss of native-born Americans, pay social security taxes out of their paychecks, without ever knowing if they will be able to stay more than their initial 3 years of H-1B authorized stay; in many ways, immigrants contribute to American programs they may never benefit from, without the protections afforded to American citizens. They can be fired at the whim of their employers with a minimum grace period to stay while they think over the next steps for their future. When that happens, they are not entitled to unemployment insurance, although they paid for it through taxation, since they have to leave promptly under the law; their house and/or possessions have to be sold, their lease must end abruptly, and their children cannot finish out their school year.

Further, a majority of undocumented immigrants are paying American taxes as well – whether through a false social security card or tax identification number and through everyday purchases and rent. The true beneficiaries of our broken tax system are the rich, who are able take advantage of tax shelters, complex legal loopholes, and government subsidies.

Ultimately, immigrants are an important part of the tax base: they pay for our elderly, our highways, Medicare, our schools, and even for our military.

Myth or truth? Foreign students are a burden on our society…

 

Two of America’s largest industries are Hollywood and, maybe surprisingly, higher education. Many colleges and universities are profitable businesses with significant portions of their revenue being driven by foreign students. Without the tuition and living expenses they pay, many jobs in colleges and college towns, as well as tax revenue generated from student purchases, would be lost. Despite the economic benefits of international students, many are forced to miss portions of their academic experience because of visa delays at the US consulates. Once they arrive in the US, many students fall out of legal status because they do not received adequate support from their college or university to guide them through the maze of legal procedures. Too often, international students must leave the United States without completing their intended course of study, depriving them and America of the benefits of their presence in our education system.

Foreign students do not just study, spend money, and leave. They also learn about American values, our culture, and our people. When they return to their own country, or decide or find a way to stay here, they want to do business with Americans and often open up their connections back home. Globalization is not optional in a contemporary world; it is a fact of economic reality that the rest of the world already has grasped. By subjecting foreign students to hostile treatment at US consulates abroad during the visa application process, it unnecessarily lowers the likelihood of America benefitting from some of the world’s brightest, best-connected young people. In many ways, foreign students are gold nuggets lying in our riverbeds and we should treat them as such.