Missed Deadlines: Technical Requirements Can Have Serious Consequences

Floridian Eustacio Guevara recently became a citizen of the United States of America. Prior to arriving in the United States in 2000, the 61-year-old spent 14 years in Cuban jails as a political prisoner for actions against the Fidel Castro regime. His naturalization ceremony marked a personal achievement for Guevara and also will allow him to have his federal disability income benefits restored.

Guevara received a notice earlier this year that his benefits were about to be terminated for failure to become a U.S. citizen within seven years of arriving in the country. He may now take his naturalization certificate to Social Security Administration and seek permanent restoration of his benefits. Guevara said he did not know he had to become a citizen, nor was he not aware of the deadline. However, he feels happy and grateful, and now fully a part of the country that offered his refuge.

Seven-Year Deadline for SSI Benefits

Guevara was not alone; nearly 4,000 other refugees from Cuba and other nations were scheduled to lose Social Security Insurance (SSI) benefits earlier this year in October. A federal law requires disabled foreign refugees to become citizens within seven years of their arrival in the country in order to continue to receive SSI. The law originally set a five-year limitation, but was a two-year reprieve was granted due to the amount of time it was taking immigration authorities to process applications for naturalization.

J Visa Program Restrictions

The Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa, which allows approved people to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs, provides for two 30-day grace periods, one before and one following the program. While participants are allowed to travel in the grace period following completion of their program, they are no longer in J-visa status; this means participants are subject to the jurisdiction of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) and if they leave the country, they may not be permitted reentry. Exchange visitors may not work or complete exchange activities during the travel grace period. If the exchange visitor withdraws from the program or the sponsor terminates the program, there is no 30-day post-completion grace period.

Exchange visitors must also maintain program status throughout; willful violation of some requirements may result in termination of the J-1 program. Requirements include that participants:

  • Must keep their passports valid
  • Must know the expiration date of their program and use Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) if the program is extended
  • Must obtain a travel signature on Form DS 2019 (if traveling outside the U.S.)
  • May not accept unauthorized employment even if they are still hold authorized employment

Asylum

A recent study of decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) says that one in five refugees seeking protection in the United States is denied asylum for failure to apply within one year of their arrival. The study analyzed 3,472 BIA asylum cases decided in January from 2005 to 2008. The 1996 law requires those seeking asylum either to establish by clear and convincing evidence that their applications were filed within one year of their arrival or that extraordinary circumstances or a change in circumstances delayed their applications. If the applicant cannot meet either of these requirements, they face deportation to the country from which they fled, even if they have legitimate fears of persecution there.

Fraud and Willful Misrepresentation

Fraud or willful misrepresentation on visa or immigration documents can result in inadmissibility. Applicants are subject to permanent refusal of visa or denial of entry based on allegations of fraud or misrepresentations. Permanent residents may face removal proceedings for falsely representing themselves as citizens.

Immigrants and visitors may also be susceptible to fraudulent claims by businesses and should carefully investigate any programs prior to arranging travel.

Whether or not immigrants and visitors speak English, a knowledgeable immigration attorney can offer invaluable advice and counsel. Even mere technicalities or missed deadlines can have serious consequences. Guevara's attorney was able to apply for temporary reinstatement of benefits once he submitted proof that Guevara had filed for naturalization. He now plans on registering to vote and voting in the next election.

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