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Immigration Law

Santa Clarita Immigration Lawyers Helping You Navigate the Immigration Maze

U.S. immigration law is complicated, and clients are often confused about their options. At Donahoe Young & Williams LLP, your Santa Clarita immigration lawyers focus on bringing families together, including assistance in obtaining lawful permanent residence status (“green cards”) for parents, children and spouses, and assist clients in a wide variety of employment-related immigration matters throughout Southern California and beyond.

Family-Based Immigration

Family unification is an important principle governing immigration policy. The family-based immigration category allows U.S. citizens and green card holders to bring certain family members to the United States. Family-based immigrants are admitted either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through a family preference system.

Prospective immigrants under the immediate relatives’ category must meet defined eligibility criteria, and petitioners must meet certain age and financial requirements. Immediate relatives are:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens
  • Parents of U.S. citizens
  • Fiancé of a U.S. citizen or their child

A limited number of visas are available every year under the family preference system, but prospective immigrants must meet defined eligibility criteria, and petitioners must meet certain age and financial requirements.

Employment-Based Immigration

Temporary employment-based visas permit employers to hire and petition for foreign nationals for specific jobs for limited periods. Most temporary workers must work for the employer that petitioned for them and have limited ability to change jobs.

In addition, there are special visa categories available for investors from certain countries along with artists, athletes, and other entertainers. Major categories include:

  • E visas for treaty traders and investors
  • O-1 visas for artists and actors with extraordinary ability
  • L-1 visas for intracompany transfers
  • H visas for both highly skilled and lesser-skilled workers
  • P visas for athletes, entertainers, and skilled performers
  • TN visas for professionals from Canada and Mexico

Naturalization

To qualify for U.S. citizenship through naturalization, an individual must generally: (1) have held a green card for at least five years (three years if the green card was obtained through a U.S.-citizen spouse); (2) demonstrate continuous residency; (3) have “good moral character”; (4) pass English, U.S. history, and civics exams (with certain exceptions); and (5) pay an application fee.

There are numerous potential traps for the unwary in the naturalization process. Common problems relate to the residency requirement (for example, immigrants who return to their home country for any extended period). Donahoe Young & Williams LLP can assist individuals who seek naturalization avoid these traps.

“Crimmigration”

This term describes the intersection between criminal law and immigration law. Not all criminal history disqualifies an applicant from receiving a visa or green card. But generally, a potential immigrant can be denied entry, a green card or even naturalization, if they have been convicted of any of the following crimes of “moral turpitude”:

  • Drug crimes
  • Fraud
  • Theft
  • Violent crimes
  • Sex crimes

These same crimes may even be grounds for the removal of immigrants who are lawfully in the U.S. But there are numerous exceptions and some prior convictions may even be excludable from consideration.

Criminal convictions can have serious consequences as to all forms of immigration, whether family-based or employment-based. Collaboration with criminal defense counsel is critical to make sure immigration aspects are considered in any kind of plea arrangements or conviction.

Family-Based Immigration

Family unification is an important principle governing immigration policy. The family-based immigration category allows U.S. citizens and green card holders to bring certain family members to the United States. Family-based immigrants are admitted either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through a family preference system.

Prospective immigrants under the immediate relatives’ category must meet defined eligibility criteria, and petitioners must meet certain age and financial requirements. Immediate relatives are:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Unmarried minor children of U.S. citizens (under 21 years old)
  • Parents of U.S. citizens (petitioner must be at least 21 years old to petition for a parent)
  • Fiancé of a U.S. citizen or their child

Visas for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are available immediately.

A limited number of visas are available every year under the family preference system, but prospective immigrants must meet defined eligibility criteria, and petitioners must meet certain age and financial requirements. The preference system includes:

  • Adult children (married and unmarried) and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (petitioner must be at least 21 years old to petition for a sibling), and
  • Spouses and unmarried children (minor and adult) of lawful permanent residents.

Wait times for family preference visas can take years.

In order to be admitted through the family-based immigration system, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsor must petition for an individual relative, establish the legitimacy of the relationship, meet minimum income requirements, and sign an affidavit of support stating that the sponsor will be financially responsible for the family member(s) upon arrival in the United States or adjustment to lawful permanent resident status within the United States. The applicant relative also must meet certain eligibility requirements that include submitting to a medical exam and obtaining required vaccinations, an analysis of any immigration or criminal history, as well as demonstrating that they will not become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.

If the petitioner’s family member is already in the United States, the green card application process can take the form of an “adjustment of status.” This is often the case for spouses of U.S. citizens who initially came the U.S. to study or work and then marry a U.S. citizen.

Our team of Santa Clarita immigration lawyers has experience working with clients with a variety of family-based immigration issues and can assist you when applying for lawful permanent resident status for members of your family.

Employment-Based Immigration

The United States provides various ways for immigrants with valuable skills to come to the country on either a permanent or a temporary basis for employment purposes.

Temporary employment-based visa classifications permit employers to hire and petition for foreign nationals for specific jobs for limited periods. Most temporary workers must work for the employer that petitioned for them and have limited ability to change jobs.

There are more than 20 types of visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers. The most common visa categories include:

  • E visas for treaty traders and investors
  • O-1 visas for artists and athletes with extraordinary ability
  • L-1 visas for intracompany transfers
  • H visas for both highly skilled and lesser-skilled workers
  • P visas for athletes, entertainers, and skilled performers
  • TN visas for professionals from Canada and Mexico

The visa classifications vary in terms of their eligibility requirements, duration and whether they permit visa holders to bring dependents. In most cases, visa holders must leave the United States if their status expires or if their employment is terminated. It may be possible, depending on the type of job and the foreign national’s qualifications, for an employer to sponsor the worker for permanent employment.

Special Categories of Employment-Related Visas

E Visas for Treaty Traders & Investors

The E-1 and E-2 treaty investor visa program allows foreign nationals from designated countries to obtain temporary but long-term legal status and work authorization in the United States for the purposes of carrying out trade or investment. These authorizations can be renewed at two-year intervals for an unlimited maximum period.

E-1 Treaty Traders

To qualify for an E-1 treaty trader visa, a person must be a foreign national of a country with which the U.S. maintains a trade treaty and must carry on substantial international trade with at least half of its total volume being between the United States and that country. Employees of treaty traders may also qualify if they are of the same nationality as the principal and are working in an executive or supervisory capacity or have other special qualifications. Ancillary visas are also available for spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

E-1 Treaty Trader Example

A UK based shoe design and manufacturing company has been trading its goods to the United States for the last several years. Over 50% of their international trade takes place exclusively between the United States and the United Kingdom. Over the last year their trade has grown significantly and now they wish to move sales staff permanently to the United States to help increase their trade. The UK shoe business could send these employees to the United States using an E-1 treaty trader visa.

E-2 Treaty Investors

To qualify for an E-2 visa, an investor must have invested or plan to invest a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. enterprise. The investor must also be at least a 50 percent owner of the enterprise or must maintain operational control of it. While there is no specific amount that qualifies as substantial capital, it must constitute a substantial portion of the enterprise’s total capital and be sufficient to ensure the investor’s commitment to the enterprise and create a likelihood of the enterprise’s success. Like E-1 visas, E-2 visas are also available to employees of treaty investors and the immediate families of both investors and their employees.

E-2 Treaty Investor Example

A successful German investor and restaurateur recently purchased a 75% stake in a restaurant located in Los Angeles for $500,000. The restaurant operates at a profit and employs over 40 staff, most of whom are American citizens. If all the conditions for the visa are met, the investor could obtain an E-2 treaty investor visa to oversee the restaurant in the United States. In addition, the investor would be able to send over the well qualified head chef to the United States to work in the restaurant along with her immediate family.

E-1 and E-2 visas can be substantially easier to obtain for those who qualify than other types of temporary and permanent work visas and are not subject to an annual numerical limit (“cap”).

Our team of Santa Clarita immigrations attorneys at Donahoe Young & Williams LLP have worked with traders and investors from various treaty countries to help them take advantage of this valuable program.

Artists, Models & Athletes

O-1 nonimmigrant visas are available for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry, and who have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

The O-1 visa is not subject to an annual limit on approvals (no “cap”). In most cases, the O-1 visa requires sponsorship by a U.S. company; however, it can also be used by artists and entertainers (people who are traditionally self-employed) if an agent serves as a sponsor.

The evidence required to support an O-1 visa application is voluminous in most cases and may include itineraries, curriculum vitae, statements from leagues, labor organizations or other international governing bodies, contracts, and other supporting documentation.

The O-1 visa may be granted for an initial 3 year period and can be extended indefinitely in 1 year increments, unless the applicant can prove that they have been engaged for a “new event” which would entitle them to an additional 3 years in O-1 status. There is no legal limit to the amount of time a foreign national can remain in the US in O-1 status, but foreign nationals should be very careful if seeking a green card while on an O-1 visa because the O-1 is strictly a non-immigrant visa.

Our team of Santa Clarita immigration lawyers can help you avoid these problems by complying with the limitations and requirements of the O-1 visa program and can help compile and present the significant amounts of evidence needed when applying for an O-1 visa.

TN Visas for Citizens of Canada and Mexico

NAFTA created special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The TN nonimmigrant classification permits qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to seek temporary entry into the United States to engage in their profession. Effective July 1, 2020, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”) replaced NAFTA -- but the TN visa program has been retained.

The types of professionals who are eligible to seek admission as TN nonimmigrants include accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers. Eligible applicants must:

  • Be citizens of Canada or Mexico
  • Have a prearranged full-time or part-time job with a U.S. employer
  • Be qualified to engage in the relevant profession

Canadian citizens do not need a visa to seek admission to the United States as a TN nonimmigrant. However, Mexican citizens do require a TN visa to seek admission to the United States as a TN nonimmigrant and must apply directly at the nearest US consulate or embassy in Mexico. The criteria for TN admission under the USMCA are the same as under NAFTA.

Your Santa Clarita immigrations lawyers at Donahoe Young & Williams LLP can work with employers who wish to employ qualified professionals from Canada or Mexico.

Naturalization

Permanent U.S. residents (“green card” holders) are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship five years after obtaining permanent resident status (or only three years if the green card holder has been married to a U.S. citizen for three years). Obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization grants the individual all the same protections as every other U.S. citizen, whether born in the U.S. or born outside the U.S. to a U.S. citizen. The general requirements for a green card holder to qualify for U.S. citizenship through naturalization include that the applicant must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be person of “good moral character” -- any criminal violations can cause significant problems for persons seeking U.S. citizenship
  • Have resided in the U.S. for the entire three- or five-year period, as applicable. The green card holder must not have spent 180 (or more) continuous days out of the U.S. at any time during the qualifying three or five years
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the qualifying period (two and one-half years out of the last five years, or one and one-half years out of the last three years)
  • Have resided in the same immigration “district” for the past three months
  • Reside continuously in the U.S. from the time of application until citizenship is granted

An application for naturalization may be submitted no more than three months before the three- or five-year anniversary.

Your Santa Clarita immigration lawyers at Donahoe Young & Williams LLP can provide advice and assistance for any issues that might arise when applying for US citizenship.

Immigrants with Criminal Backgrounds

Not all criminal history disqualifies an applicant from receiving a visa to enter or work in the United States or from receiving a green card. Immigration authorities may deny entry, or may order removal, if you have been convicted of any of the following crimes of “moral turpitude”:

  • Drug crimes
  • Fraud
  • Theft
  • Violent crimes
  • Sex crimes

The treatment of a crime for immigration purposes depends on the underlying criminal statute. For example, the crime of identity theft may or may not be a crime of moral turpitude depending on the state in which a criminal defendant was convicted. A recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case applying California law found that a conviction under California’s identity theft statute did not a constitute a crime involving moral turpitude, but the same court held that conviction under Arizona’s identity theft statute did constitute a crime of moral turpitude because of how the crime was defined in Arizona.

What is a conviction?

A “conviction” for immigration purposes means a formal judgment of guilt entered by the court and also includes findings of guilt upon entry of a guilty plea or plea of no contest (“nolo contendere”), as long as the court ordered some form of punishment, penalty, or imposed a restraint on the alien’s liberty.

  • If the accused is directed to attend a pre-trial diversion or intervention program, where no admission or finding of guilt is required, this may not count as a conviction for immigration purposes
  • Juvenile convictions are generally not considered convictions for immigration purposes
  • Most judgments that have been vacated on constitutional grounds are still considered convictions for immigration purposes
  • Most conviction records that have been expunged are still considered convictions for immigration purposes

Convictions for what immigration law refers to as an “aggravated felony” can also lead to removal, denial of entry or denial of naturalization. These felonies include most violent crimes and sex crimes as well as some fraud and theft crimes.

Look-back period

The applicable period during which an alien must show that he or she has been a person of “good moral character” depends on the corresponding naturalization provision. In general, the statutory period for good moral character for an applicant filing under the general naturalization provision starts five years prior to the date of filing and is three years for spouses of US citizens applying for naturalization three years after receiving their green card.

Your Santa Clarita immigration lawyers at Donahoe Young & Williams LLP understand how to manage these complex cases and the idiosyncrasies of immigration law they often expose. We also assist criminal defense attorneys in understanding immigration issues while representing non-citizen clients.