USCIS Virtual Assistant Is No Substitute For An Immigration Attorney

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services launched a virtual assistant named “Emma” on their website on December 2, 2015. It allows customers to quickly find accurate information to frequently asked questions. Emma answers questions in plain English and navigates users to relevant USCIS web pages.

Just in case you’re wondering, Emma is named after Emma Lazarus, whose famous words are inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Emma was developed in response to a growing interest in self-help tools and to ease pressure on customer service representatives. USCIS call centers receive many of the same questions concerning general information over and over again and so, by giving people a way to get these answers without tying up customer service representatives, it hopefully will relieve some of the customer service representatives and in doing so provide better service to all.

The USCIS admits that Emma has her limitations. Although Emma can currently answer many questions customers commonly ask, Emma’s knowledge base is still growing and thus is a work in progress. It is hoped that as customers ask more questions, Emma gets smarter and can better assist future customers. But remember, Emma is designed to answer basic questions and not go into the nitty-gritty of someone’s case.

You can try Emma by accessing her on your desktop or laptop computer. The USCIS claims that she will be expanding to mobile devices but, with no date.

It is important to note is that Emma only answers the most basic questions. She is no substitute for an experienced immigration attorney who can provide you with answers to your immigration questions specifically tailored to your needs. No machine can do that.

So, if you have an immigration issue – give Emma a try. It’s free and is a good place to start. But, remember, it’s only a machine. To get the job done you’re going to need a human. And, that’s where we fit in. To schedule an appointment with me and give me a chance to ‘pick up” where Emma leaves you – call my office for an appointment. Our number is 616-233-9300.

Robert Mirque is a Grand Rapids, Michigan lawyer specializing in immigration law. For 23 years, he has been providing creative solutions to the immigration goals of businesses and individuals. I invite you to visit me on Facebook at MirqueLaw or check out my website here.


US Citizenship and Immigration Service Now Accepts Credit Cards for Naturalization Applications

In reviewing new changes to policies put out by the United States Citizenship and Naturalization Service (USCIS), I came across a story that caught my interest. In the past, many of our clients sought to file an application for naturalization; however, the $680.00 filing fee meant that some had to save the money before submitting the forms. This often led to months delaying the process. One question that constantly came up was – “Can I pay my application fee with a credit card?” Unfortunately, I had to tell the client “no”.

Well, now the answer is “yes”!

As of November 16, 2015, the USCIS stated that if you are applying for U.S. citizenship, you can now use a credit card to pay the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization fee. Most applicants must pay a $680 fee, which includes the $595 naturalization application fee plus a biometrics fee of $85.

To pay with your credit card, you must file a Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transaction. At this time, you can use the Form G-1450 only to pay for the Form N-400 filing fee. Hopefully, the USCIS will start accepting credit cards for fees associated with other forms.

If you are a lawful permanent resident and thinking about becoming a US citizen, please call my office at 616-233-9300 to set up a consultation to talk about the process of naturalization.

Robert Mirque is a Grand Rapids, Michigan lawyer specializing in immigration law. For 23 years, he has been providing creative solutions to the immigration goals of businesses and individuals. I invite you to visit me on Google+ or check out my website at Mirque Law



The Affidavit of Support – Everything You Need To Know

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about one document that often goes unnoticed in the immigration process – the Affidavit of Support. Because of this recent flood of questions, I’m writing to clear up some questions about it. Make no mistake, the Affidavit of Support is an important document in the immigration process and can be very complex. As always, if you have any questions about the Affidavit of Support or questions about any aspect of your immigration matter. Feel free to contact my office at 616-233-9300.

What is an Affidavit of Support?

An Affidavit of Support is a document an individual signs to accept financial responsibility for another person, usually a relative, who is coming to the United States to live permanently.  The person who signs the affidavit of support becomes the sponsor of the relative (or other individual) coming to live in the United States.  The sponsor is usually the petitioner of an immigrant petition for a family member.

An Affidavit of Support is a legally enforceable contract; the sponsor’s responsibility usually lasts until the family member or other individual either becomes a U.S. citizen, or can be credited with 40 quarters of work (usually 10 years).

Submitting an Affidavit of Support

The following individuals are required by law to submit an Affidavit of Support, completed by the petitioner to obtain an immigrant visa or adjustment of status:

  • All immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (which include parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21, including orphans) and relatives who qualify for immigration to the United States under one of the family based preferences:
    • First Preference: Unmarried, adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens (Adult means 21 years of age or older)
    • Second Preference: Spouses of permanent residents and the unmarried sons and daughters (regardless of age) of permanent residents and their unmarried children
    • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their unmarried minor children
    • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and their unmarried minor children
  • Employment based preference immigrants in cases only when a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative filed the immigrant visa petition, or such relative has a significant ownership interest (5% or more) in the entity that filed the petition.

Note: An individual listed above does not need to submit an affidavit of support if they can show that they EITHER:

  • Already worked 40 qualifying quarters as defined in Title II of the Social Security Act
  • Can be credited with 40 qualifying quarters as defined in Title II of the Social Security Act
  • Are the child of a U.S. citizen and if admitted for permanent residence on or after February 27, 2001, would automatically acquire citizenship under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The following types of people do not need to file an affidavit of support:

When NOT to Submit an Affidavit of Support

  • An individual who has earned or can be credited with 40 qualifying quarters (credits) of work in the United States
  • An individual who has an approved Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, as a Self-Petitioning Widow or Widower
  • An individual who has an approved Form I-360 as a battered spouse or child
  • Orphans adopted by U.S. citizens abroad if a full and formal adoption takes place before the orphan acquires permanent residence and both adoptive parents have seen the child before or during the adoption.

Affidavit of Support For Fiancé(e), Spouse, or Child as a “K” Nonimmigrant

If your relative is either a “K-1” fiancé(e), a “K-3” spouse, or a “K-2” or “K-4” child of fiancé(e) or spouse, you do not need to submit an affidavit of support at the time you file your Form I-129F petition. Instead, you should submit an Affidavit of Support at the time that your fiancé(e), spouse, or child adjusts status to permanent resident after coming to the United States.

Sponsor for Affidavit of Support

If you filed an immigrant visa petition for your relative, you must be the sponsor. You must also be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. You must have a domicile in the United States or a territory or possession of the United States. Usually, this requirement means you must actually live in the United States, or a territory or possession, in order to be a sponsor. If you live abroad, you may still be eligible to be a sponsor if you can show that your residence abroad is temporary, and that you still have your domicile in the United States.

Section 213A of the INA permits both a “joint sponsor” and a “substitute sponsor” in certain cases.

Joint Sponsor

A joint sponsor is someone who is willing to accept legal responsibility for supporting your family member with you. A joint sponsor must meet all the same requirements as you, except the joint sponsor does not need to be related to the immigrant. The joint sponsor (or the joint sponsor and his or her household) must reach the 125% income requirement alone. You cannot combine your income with that of a joint sponsor to meet the income requirement.

Substitute Sponsor

If the visa petitioner has died after approval of the visa petition but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides to let the petition continue, a substitute sponsor must file a Form I-864 in place of the deceased visa petitioner. In order to be a “substitute sponsor,” you must be related to the intending immigrant in one of the following ways:

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Mother-in-law
  • Father-in-law
  • Sibling
  • Child (if at least 18 years of age)
  • Son
  • Daughter
  • Son-in-law
  • Daughter-in-law
  • Sister-in-law
  • Brother-in-law
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Legal guardian of the beneficiary

You must also:

  • Be U.S. citizen or national or a permanent resident
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be domiciled (live) in the United States
  • Meet all of the financial requirements of a sponsor pursuant to INA 213A.

How to File an Affidavit of Support

You, the sponsor, should complete Form I-864 when your relative has been scheduled for an immigrant visa interview with a consular officer overseas or when your relative is about to submit an application for adjustment to permanent resident status with the USCIS or with an Immigration Court in the United States. If you have a joint sponsor, they must also complete Form I-864. If you are using the income of other household members to qualify, then each household member who is accepting legal responsibility for supporting your relative must complete a separate Form I-864A, Contract Between Sponsor and Household Member.

You are required to provide your U.S. federal income tax return for the most recent tax year as well as proof of current employment. If you were not required to file a tax return in any of these years you must provide an explanation. Failure to provide the tax return or evidence establishing that you were not required to file will delay action on your relative’s application for permanent residence. If this information is not provided, this will result in denial of an immigrant visa or adjustment of status.

When you have completed the affidavit of support, compiled the necessary documentation, and had the affidavit notarized in the United States or before a U.S. consular or immigration officer, you should provide this packet of information to your relative to submit with his or her application for permanent resident status. If you are given specific instructions to file your affidavit of support directly with the National Visa Center, you should follow those instructions.

Income Requirements

You also must meet certain income requirements (whether you are a sponsor, a joint sponsor, or a substitute sponsor). You must show that your household income is equal to or higher than 125% of the U.S. poverty level for your household size.  (Your household size includes you, your dependents, any relatives living with you, and the immigrants you are sponsoring.)

If you, the sponsor, are on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States, and the immigrant you are sponsoring is your spouse or child, your income only needs to equal 100% of the U.S. poverty level for your household size.

To see if you are above the poverty level, see the “Form I-864P“.

If You Can’t Meet the Minimum Income Requirements

If you cannot meet the minimum income requirements using your earned income, you have various options:

  • You may add the cash value of your assets. This includes money in savings accounts, stocks, bonds, and property. To determine the amount of assets required to qualify, subtract your household income from the minimum income requirement (125% of the poverty level for your family size). You must prove the cash value of your assets is worth five times this difference (the amount left over).
    • Exceptions:
      • If the person being sponsored is a spouse, or son/daughter (who is 18 years or older) of a U.S. citizen: The minimum cash value of assets must be three times the difference between the sponsor’s household income and 125% of the federal poverty guide line for the household.
      • If the person being sponsored is an orphan coming to the United States for adoption: The adoptive parents’ assets need to equal or exceed the difference between the household income and 125% of the federal poverty line for the household size.
  • You may count the income and assets of members of your household who are related to you by birth, marriage, or adoption. To use their income you must have listed them as dependents on your most recent federal tax return or they must have lived with you for the last 6 months. They must also complete a Form I-864A, Contract between Sponsor and Household Member. If the relative you are sponsoring meets these criteria you may include the value of their income and assets, but the immigrant does not need to complete Form I-864A unless he or she has accompanying family members.
  • You may count the assets of the relatives you are sponsoring.

Responsibilities as a Sponsor

When you sign the affidavit of support, you accept legal responsibility for financially supporting the sponsored immigrant(s) generally until they become U.S. citizens or can be credited with 40 quarters of work. Your obligation also ends if you or the individual sponsored dies or if the individual sponsored ceases to be a permanent resident and departs the United States.

Note: Divorce does NOT end the sponsorship obligation.

If the individual you sponsored receives any “means-tested public benefits,” you are responsible for repaying the cost of those benefits to the agency that provided them. If you do not repay the debt, the agency can sue you in court to get the money owed. Any joint sponsors or household members whose income is used to meet the minimum income requirements are also legally responsible for financially supporting the sponsored immigrant.

Change of Address

If you change your address after you become a sponsor, you are required by law to notify the USCIS within 30 days by filing Form I-865, Sponsor’s Notice of Change of Address. If you fail to notify the USCIS of your change of address, you may be fined.


I hope that you have found the topic “The Affidavit of Support – Everything you need to know” helpful. I also hope that after reading this that you would seriously consider my office to represent you in your immigration case. Whether you are in Grand Rapids, Michigan or any other state or country, we represent people and businesses around the world. So, if you have any questions or want to set up an initial consultation by phone or in person, please do not hesitate to call me at 616-233-9300 or email me at
And, please – if you like this kind of information, please share it with your friends. Thanks.
Visit our website at Mirque Law

TPS Extended for Somalia – Grand Rapids Immigration Law Can Help File Extension

The United States Department of Homeland Security has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Somalia (and eligible individuals without nationality who last habitually resided in Somalia) for an additional 18 months, effective Sept. 18, 2015, through March 17, 2017.

It is important to note that current TPS Somalia beneficiaries seeking to extend their TPS must re-register during the 60-day re-registration period which runs from June 1, 2015, through July 31, 2015. The USCIS is encouraging beneficiaries to re-register as soon as possible.

The 18-month extension also allows TPS re-registrants to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Eligible TPS Somalia beneficiaries who re-register during the 60-day period and request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of March, 17, 2017.

If you are Somalia beneficary on TPS, please call the Grand Rapids immigration law firm, Mirque Law PLLC, and speak with attorney Robert F. Mirque, Jr. about extending both your TPS and employment authorization for 18 months. Remember, there is only a 60 day window of opportunity to re-register. Our number is 616-233-9300.


Supreme Court Decides Immigration Case

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided Mellouli v. Lynch, a case involving the removal from the United States of Moones Mellouli, a lawful permanent resident from Tunisia, based on a Kansas misdemeanor drug paraphernalia conviction for possession of a sock used to hide four tablets of the prescription drug Adderall. In the end, the Court ruled that Mr. Mellouli could not be removed from the United States on the basis of his Kansas conviction for concealing unnamed pills in his sock.

It may seem beyond belief that the United States would deport an individual who’s been living lawfully in this country since 2004 because of a few pills found in a sock. Yet, the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. In this case, Mr. Mellouli was found to have 4 Adderall pills in a sock. He was eventually convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia. More importantly, the charging documents and the plea agreement never mentioned the kind of drug that was involved. This proved to be crucial because there was no evidence on the record as to whether the drug in question was a controlled substance under federal law.

Because this was Mr. Mellouli’s second drug conviction, the United States sought to remove him. Under immigration law,  the deportation/removal statutes require a drug conviction under state law must “relate to a controlled substance (as defined) by” federal law. This requirement is important because some states ban substances in addition to those regulated by federal law. (Kansas, for example, regulates at least nine substances not regulated by federal law.) The charging document and plea agreement in Mellouli’s criminal case failed to identify the specific controlled substance related to the paraphernalia that served as the basis for his conviction and thus did not make it clear that the substance was controlled by federal law. Nonetheless, the immigration court and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), with the approval of the court of appeals, ordered Mellouli deported from the United States.

The court’s opinion went through the maze of immigration statutes and in the end, the court held that the Kansas conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia without mention of the specific controlled substance, cannot serve as a basis for deportation.

While the decision would seem to call out the Immigration authorities and its courts as to their inconsistent, overbroad and careless reasoning in attempting to deport Mr. Mellouli from the United States, the apparent problems cited in this case can be easily overcome in the future. For the government, especially prosecutors, they need only make mention of the type of drug involved in a drug paraphernalia case in order for the immigration courts to determine if the controlled substance in question is on the federal list. For defense attorneys, make certain that if your client is charged with possession of drug paraphernalia that you are absolutely certain what controlled substance is involved in the charge. Some illegal drugs in the state may not be controlled substances on the federal list. In the end, it may make a huge difference to your non-citizen client as to the likelihood of deportation.

If you have a deportation case, call the immigration law firm of Mirque Law, PLLC in Grand Rapids, Michigan at 616-233-9300.



Supreme Court Says That Children Who Turn 21 Must Go to Back of the Visa Line

In a 5-4 decision, the supreme court held that immigrant children who for years waited with their parents to obtain visas must go the back of the line when they turn 21. The justices found that the immigration laws protect only a fraction of children who “age out” of the system.

The case started as a 13 year old Salvadorian boy who was waiting in line with his parents for years. However, when he turned 21, the government informed him that he was now an adult and must go to the back of the line resulting in adding years to his wait.

A group of lawmakers including Sens. McCain (R), Hatch (R), Schummer (D), and Feinstein (D) submitted a brief against the government. In this rare display of bipartisan effort, they felt that the law should not require children who “age out” to go to the back of the line but rather, stay where they’re at.

The government’s position was that if the law was not applied as written, too many young adults would enter the country ahead of others who were waiting in line.

In my humble opinion, I think the Court got it right. If the law states that an “aged out” child must go to the back of the line, then the Court had no choice but to defer to Congress. I suspect that this unlikely consequence was not contemplated by Congress at the time the legislation was passed. It appears from the Senate leadership that they would support an amendment to the law that prevented such a consequence when turning 21 but, such amendments require cooperation from both sides. And, it hardly seems likely that Congress can get together and fix this problem in the near future. Therefore, once again, our government is failing to meet the needs our our young adults.

What do you think?

Mirque Law PLLC is a value driven immigration law firm helping individuals, families, and employees obtain legal status in the United States. If you have an immigration matter, please give us a call at 616-233-9300 to set up a Immigration Status Strategy Session.


How Not To Obtain Permanent Residency

Four Kenyan nationals residing in Houston were sentenced last week for marriage fraud, visa fraud, and conspiracy to commit marriage fraud. According to the evidence at trial, these guys conspired to recruit and pay US citizens to enter into fraudulent marriages for the purpose of receiving lawful permanent resident status. Each of the defendants applied for a student visa to enter the United States. Once in the US, they recruited US citizens to marry. Each recruited citizen was paid $5000 for participation in the sham marriage. One guy who had his application for a student visa denied, recruited a female US citizen to fly to Kenya to conduct a sham wedding ceremony.

The scheme was uncovered after two of the recruited women were detained at the US Passport Office in Houston on suspicion of committing passport fraud. Upon questioning, they admitted they were recruited to travel to Africa to marry the recruiters’ family members.

The moral of the story here – there’s a right way and a wrong way to enter the United States. This is an example of the wrong way. A very, very wrong way. The right way begins with good legal counsel.

If you have questions about obtaining legal status in the United States the right way, call my office at 616-233-9300 or fill out the contact form for a legal status strategy meeting.


The New Look

For my regular readers, you will notice a completely new appearance to my blog. For my new readers, welcome!

I’ve always believe that my role here has been to get information to you. Not dazzle you with pictures of courthouses or the flag or the scales of justice. Come on, everyone has seen those websites. Instead, I have tried and I am committed to simply getting to you what I hope is valuable information about immigration law. I hope you agree with me that my website does just that. So, why the change?  [Read more…]


Finding the Right Immigration Lawyer in Grand Rapids – Part 3

This is my last installment on the topic of finding the right immigration lawyer in Grand Rapids. Part 1 dealt with some general principles of why not only having an immigration lawyer is important to giving you the best chance of success for your immigration case but also, the importance of finding the right immigration lawyer. Part 1 also gave you some things (homework) that you need to do before hiring the right immigration lawyer that greatly improves your chances of making a knowledgeable decision and having the confidence your chose the right lawyer.

Part 2 discussed the various factors in evaluating an immigration lawyer. These items are what I consider “must knows” in order for you to make the right choice. You cannot not be shy when seeking these answers. Remember, you are interviewing the lawyer for the job as much as the lawyer is interviewing your case. Do not ever hold back from asking the lawyer – your potential lawyer – a question that is important to you. No matter what the question. Part of the interview process should include your observations as to how the lawyer answers your questions. Does he seem bothered by them? Does he dismiss your question as foolish? Does the lawyer answer the question to your satisfaction? A good lawyer should welcome all questions. The lawyer should never seem bothered to answer any and all of your questions. The lawyer should answer the question completely to your satisfaction. The lawyer should ask if the answer does satisfy you. Finally, the lawyer should ask if the answer gives rise to new questions. The bottom line is that you are hiring a lawyer to help YOU. The lawyer is YOUR resource for information. If the lawyer is acting as if his job is simply fill out your forms and the less he hears from you is best — run! That lawyer is only interested in making a buck.
In Part 3, I want to wrap up and talk about the initial consultation and what to expect. Finally, I want to address the question, what do you do if you find the “right” immigration lawyer but, can’t afford him or her.

[Read more…]


Finding the Right Immigration Lawyer in Grand Rapids – Part 2

In Part 1 of my series on how to find the right immigration lawyer in Grand Rapids, I gave an overview of why you need to hire an immigration lawyer and some basic considerations of what a good immigration lawyer should be able to do for you. I also told you to do your homework! A client needs to have completed some basic steps before deciding on the right immigration lawyer.

In Part 2, I provide you some detailed factors to consider when choosing an immigration lawyer. This list does not cover each and every factor that could exist but, it does give you some good ideas on what you need to think about in order to make the best possible choice.
In the end, you are the customer and the customer is always right. If you remember two things as a customer, you can lower the risk of picking a lawyer that is not a good fit: 1) a knowledgeable customer rarely makes a bad choice; and 2) don’t settle for anything less than you are willing to accept.

[Read more…]

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