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Ugandan LGBT activist settles in Massachusetts

The timing of a trip to Massachusetts proved fortunate for a prominent Ugandan gay rights advocate. According to reports, the man was visiting the state to spread word about the persecution of the LGBT community in his home country when the Ugandan government passed draconian legislation outlawing homosexuality. While the advocate had not intended to remain in the United States, the new law convinced him to apply for asylum. A gay rights advocacy group later announced in September that his application had been approved by immigration authorities pending a routine background check.

Individuals may be granted asylum in the United States if they have a legitimate fear of persecution in their home countries based factors such as race or religion. There is expected to be a surge in the number of people seeking asylum from countries that have passed anti-homosexuality laws. Approximately 80 nations have adopted such legislation.

Some legal Massachusetts immigrants are unable to work

One issue in the immigration debate that has attracted the attention of many people in Massachusetts is the fact that some legal immigrants are not permitted to work. This situation has become problematic for well-educated spouses of immigrants residing in the country on a work visa. The issue concerns spouses, typically wives, of workers who have an H-1B visa. The spouses have an H-4 visa, which prohibits them from having a Social Security number, having a job or opening a business. Many of the spouses who have these visas are well-educated and willing to work if legally permitted to.

South Asians have 76 percent of the H-4 visas that allow them to reside in the United States because of their spouse's job. Couples in this situation sometimes decide to return to their home countries rather than waiting for green cards. In some cases, the women contemplate moving home without their husbands, a practice discouraged in many Asian cultures.

The requirements for an H-1B visa

Citizens of foreign countries who are interested in living and working in Massachusetts may be interested to learn how they can acquire an H-1B visa allowing them to do so. There are five requirements that must be met before this non-immigrant visa will be issued.

First, the individual seeking a visa must have an employment relationship with a U.S. employer. An employment relationship exists if the employer has the ability to control, pay, direct, hire and fire the individual. Typically, the employer files a petition seeking the H-1B visa on the employee's behalf. The law also requires that the employee work in a specialty occupation that is related to the employee's field of study. Often, a bachelor's degree or foreign equivalent may help satisfy this requirement. Experience and training may in some cases be substituted for a bachelor's degree, as can any state-issued license. Next, the employee must be paid at least the prevailing wage for the position sought in the geographic area where the job is located.

What is an adjustment of immigration status and how do I get one?

Many individuals living in Massachusetts may wonder how they can become an American citizen. An adjustment of immigration status is when a person's status is changed from non-immigrant, or temporary resident, to immigrant, or legal U.S. resident. If the person seeking the adjustment is already in the U.S., they may be able to seek their green card if they meet all of the qualifications. Those who are still in their home country may go through consular processing in order to obtain a visa.

While the process for seeking an adjustment of status appears to be relatively simple, it can be a lengthy process. Someone who wishes to adjust their immigration status must first determine what category they fit into. For example, if immigrants have family members who are U.S. citizens, the family members may file a family-based petition. Immigrant workers may have employment-based petitions filed by their employer on their behalf. Categories for those who sought refugee or asylum status are also available.

Protections for asylum seekers and refugees

Massachusetts residents may not know that the key distinction between individuals seeking asylum and refugees is their location. In general, asylum seekers are already in the United States, while refugees are still in another country. Refugees ask for help from the United Nations while individuals applying for asylum submit a petition for relief to the United States immigration authorities.

Individuals who apply for asylum or refugee status can gain residency status and possibly citizenship if they fulfill specific requirements. An applicant for asylum may also request that immediate family members be included with the application. For individuals to successfully apply for asylum, they must show that they are afraid of persecution in their homeland due to their race, nationality, political opinion, religion or membership in a particular social group. Typically, an individual must apply within a year of his or her arrival in the U.S.. Unlike other types of legal status, applicants for asylum cannot request employment authorization simultaneously with their application for asylum. Instead, they must wait 150 days before the application. Legally, individuals can be detained while they are waiting for their application to be approved. If a person is approved for asylum, he or she can seek permanent residency status a year after obtaining asylum status.

Lawsuits allege immigrants denied rights

While immigrants who arrive in Massachusetts seeking asylum may pass the initial interview at a rate closer to the national average of 63 percent, attorneys for asylum seekers elsewhere in the country argue that a pass rate of only 38 percent at one facility suggests the rights of those immigrants are being violated. At a detention center in New Mexico, officials have been accused of denying due process to asylum seekers. Several immigrant rights groups have now filed a lawsuit.

The groups argue that attorneys traveling to the remote Artesia location are working in law libraries without books and have only limited consultation with their clients. Furthermore, individuals housed at the facilities are permitted phone calls of only five minutes. They are also being made to clean restrooms and discuss violence and rape over closed-circuit television with a judge while their children are present.

Lack of evidence for job skills leads to green card denial

A Massachusetts pizza worker was denied an employment green card after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service received conflicting information about his skills. The pizza restaurant where the man worked had listed showmanship in preparing food including tossing pizza dough as a requirement on its labor certification application, but the business was unable to provide evidence of the individual's qualification in that regard. In fact, the owners and former owners had submitted information stating both that the man could and could not toss pizza dough.

The application was also denied for other reasons. These included a suspicion that the man's marriage was not bona fide, a family relationship between the man and the restaurant's owners suggesting that the job offer was also not bona fide and various problems with the filing including a lack of evidence that the restaurant could pay the man's wages.

ACLU claims government program too restrictive on some immigrants

Massachusetts residents may be interested to hear about the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims that certain Muslim residents are not being granted full citizenship status. According to the suit, the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Process, an alleged secretive government program, is delaying people's naturalization process after they were placed on a watch list.

The government claims that the system is needed to protect national security. However, the ACLU says that the program's definition of a national security threat is too broad and that it uses characteristics like national origin to declare a law-abiding individual as a threat. Moreover, despite the fact these people were not the subject of an investigation, it claims that they are being put on terror watch lists after their names appeared in an FBI file. In some cases, the names were placed there after individuals attended a mosque that was under law enforcement surveillance or voluntarily participated in an FBI interview.

How to apply for asylum while in Massachusetts

Those who are in the United States or plan to enter the United States to escape persecution in their home country must go through a process of applying for asylum. The first step in the application process is to file INS Form I-589 within one year of entering the country. In some cases, exceptions will be made for those who have failed to apply within one year.

The next step is to establishing that an individual is eligible for asylum. To be considered eligible, a person must be considered a refugee as per the Immigration and Nationality Act and establish that he or she cannot go back home due to that person's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. After filing the application, that person will be interviewed by a judge who will rule as to whether or not that person may be eligible.

Investor visa holds promise for immigrants, at-risk areas

A little-known program that has been part of immigration law in the United States for more than 20 years could benefit individuals who have at least $500,000 to invest in areas that are struggling economically. The Immigration Act of 1990 created the EB-5 investor visa, and while it has primarily been used by immigrants from China, there is plenty of room for expansion.

Rural communities as well as depressed urban areas stand to benefit from the program. At least 10 jobs must be created by each new development project in at-risk areas, and investors and their immediate families are permitted to settle in the United States with conditional permanent resident status. After two years, the status is no longer conditional.

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