Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
I’m working in the Bay Area on an H-1B visa and my employer won’t sponsor my green card.
I really want permanent residence, but I never won a Nobel prize; I’m single; and I don’t have a million dollars yet. However, I think I might qualify for an EB-2 NIW green card.
What can you share?
— National in Napa
Wonderful that you’re taking matters into your own hands! This is a complicated process, so the most important advice I can give you is to retain an experienced business immigration attorney to represent you and prepare and file your green card case.
For additional do’s and don’ts in U.S. immigration, please check out the recent podcast that my law firm partner, Anita Koumriqian, and I posted on the commandments of immigration (and especially what to not do when it comes to visas and green cards).
This particular episode focuses on family-based green cards, but these recommendations are timeless and apply to individuals who are self-petitioning for employment-based green cards, such as the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) for exceptional ability and the EB-1A for extraordinary ability. Our top recommendation in that podcast episode is to avoid DIY immigration, so definitely retain legal counsel!
Filing for an EB-2 NIW or any green card requires more than just filling out the appropriate forms. The process needs to be understood, as the law and legal requirements, and the analysis of whether and how you can best qualify is complicated.
With any immigration matter, one needs to have the resources to fully understand the process, the steps for applying, and the timing and deadlines. We want to always make sure that you always maintain legal status (never falling out of status) so that you can remain in the U.S. (and don’t have to leave).
A strong legal team of attorney and paralegal will support you by formulating and executing a sound legal strategy and putting your best foot forward so you can win. They will also support you to mitigate any risks and have solid backup plans in place.
To help you find an immigration attorney who can present the strongest case on your behalf, my team and I have created a list of 64 questions to ask your immigration attorney. People have often told us that they don’t even know what questions to ask an immigration attorney, as it’s often their first time working with a lawyer.
So, for example, one thing to keep in mind is that different law firms have different pricing models. If you go with a law firm that charges on an hourly basis, make sure you’re always organized before any meeting or phone call with the attorney. Most immigration law firms and practitioners charge flat fees. As with anything, look into the service packages for what’s being offered so you can compare apples to apples. It’s also important to know who will be your main point of contact and how much communication will be offered.
It’s also important to get educated about the plethora of immigration options and to make sure that you’re choosing the one that’s right for you. For example, to learn more about the basics of the self-petitioning green card process, you can learn how to qualify for the EB-2 NIW and EB-1A green card and how to submit the strongest petition possible by participating in my Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp.
An experienced attorney will naturally counsel you through this process and support you to evaluate various immigration strategies. They will also support you to understand any risks and how to mitigate them, as well as the probable investment and timeline. If your company is renewing your H-1B, it may be important for your personal immigration attorney to connect with your company immigration attorney.
Down the road, after you file, part of the green card application process often includes an interview by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer. USCIS allows individuals to bring an immigration attorney to their interview and I recommend doing so as a best practice, even if you think you have an “easy” case, just to have support, peace of mind and a trusted advisor at your side who you can be rest assured has your back.
An experienced immigration lawyer can tell you what to expect during the interview based on the particular USCIS office and can make suggestions for how to prepare. At the interview, your lawyer can assist you with answering questions from the interviewing officer.
Here are some additional “commandments” regarding how to most effectively navigate the immigration process:
Tell the truth
Don’t misrepresent yourself or lie about anything. First of all, making representations to government officials is subject to penalty of perjury. That means that lying is a crime. The truth comes out since government agencies are able to tap into records, and misrepresentations can have severe consequences including denial of a green card, deportation and bars from being able to ever return to the United States.
If you have an attorney, you can come clean about your past in private to figure out the best way forward. So it’s important to be candid and truthful with your attorney and tell them everything, from the times you’ve had trouble entering the U.S. to the time you got arrested. An attorney can present the strongest case on your behalf with that knowledge. We are armed with knowledge and experience to determine what must legally be disclosed and how best to do it.
Pay attention to details to ensure accuracy
Mistakes — big and small — can delay or even derail your case. If you make a mistake in immigration, there’s no automatic free pass. Best practices are to make sure there are no unanswered questions; that everything can be backed up with evidence and documentation; and that you’re meeting all timing deadlines.
What’s more, even though more immigration processes are going digital, immigration still remains largely a paper-based process. Make sure you:
- Use the most recent edition of the correct form.
- Sign the correct pages.
- Keep your signature inside the box so it can be scanned.
- Use only blue or black ink.
- Include the correct filing fee amount with your paperwork.
- Send your paperwork to the correct address and track it.
Be realistic about timelines
Obtaining a green card can take months, years or even decades, depending on your country of birth and what green card option you pursue. Because there are annual numerical as well as per-country limits for each green card category, individuals born in India and China face long wait times for EB-2 NIW green cards. It’s important to get clarity at the beginning about what the current processing times are and to empower yourself to figure out how these are changing over time by checking the relevant processing times with USCIS.
Best wishes as you embark on this journey!
Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Also published on Medium.