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Some Filipinos could stay in US indefinitely due to Yolanda

12092013Yolanda (international name Haiyan) is not only recorded as the strongest typhoon in history. It may also provide an opportunity for numbers of stranded and other Filipinos to remain in the US indefinitely – for the first time in history.

In a November 15 memo, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced some extensions and other assistance for Filipinos who have been affected by super-typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines), according to Program Director Immigration Legal Services Robert Yabes at a free presentation by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County Wednesday.

These included filing extensions for non-green card holders like Filipino visitors and students in the US who have to file a renewal for another six months, expedite requests from those applying for adjustment of status, expedite requests from legal students to process work permits, expedite requests from immigrant petitions for those married to US citizens and advancement (or shortening processes) for certain grants of “parole” for humanitarian reasons.

All require proofs of petitioner’s status and situation. Yabes cautioned the careless and would be opportunists to “still seek the advice of a lawyer,” describing the current situation as a “complex” legal maze.

“Be careful about advancing your parole, you may get three years of stay in the US but later your one year of being out of status may get you a 10-year ban from returning to the US.”

“If you filed your 245i petition (a provision of the Legal Immigration Family Equity or LIFE Act, allowing certain persons, who entered the US without inspection or who violated their status, an immediate immigration visa) after April 30, 2001, you can’t get adjusted.

USCIS also extended help to Filipinos in the Philippines who have lost their green cards due to Haiyan. “They can request a replacement from the US consulate in the Philippines,” said Yabes.  “Among those that can be replaced are: green card, I-94 and Employment Authorization Document (EAD). And if you miss the 87 days required to submit a document, they will usually give you three more months (to comply).” Form I-912 or a written request could waive the fee to a USCIS application for those who can prove their inability to pay was brought about by Haiyan.

But the most talked about relief  aid is the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that several senators, including Barbara Boxer (D-CA), John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and several non-profit organizations are requesting the Obama administration for the Philippines.

TPS is granted to certain countries torn by civil war, epidemic, earthquake or hurricane. Currently, the list includes: Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Syria.

TPS is not a pathway to legal permanent status, let alone citizenship. But those granted TPS cannot be detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or removed from the US. They can also get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and may be granted travel authorization.  Immigration status adjustment or benefits may be available for those eligible.

Yabes said, “Their SS cards are usually marked ‘Authorized by USCIS’.” But frequent travel back home may not always be an option “because you are supposed to have nothing to return to in the first place. Why do you have to go back?”

“If you are an immigrant petitioning your spouse and children, you are not automatically eligible for TPS. But the good thing about TPS, once it’s granted by the US, is that it’s not going to be limited to the Visayas (where Haiyan hit). It could be for all Filipinos in the US. Any Filipino out of status living in the US can apply for TPS.”

“Even if the designation is temporary, don’t be afraid of expiration.  Look at El Salvador. They have TPS for 10 years now or more? They just keep extending (for another two years).”

Yabes also said, “Even if you live in Manila but your relatives and family home is in Tacloban, you can make it a compelling argument. But go to somebody who knows how to make an argument for you. It’s not just an outright application. You have to work out your argument. Saying, ‘I’m a victim of Haiyan’ is not a valid reason to come to the US. Tell this relative not to come to Manila (to apply at the US consulate). Even if you have a strong reason, watch out how it’s worded because (your petition) can still be denied.”

But the Philippines does not have TPS at the time of this writing.

Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County Chief of Communication and Public Affairs Caroline Ocampo said, “I don’t understand what’s holding up the Philippine government from requesting TPS from the US. We need to know which Philippine agency needs to make the formal request.”

Ocampo reacted to the news that TPS will be granted only upon the request of the Philippine government. One report had it that the official Philippine reply was “that the government is focusing on relief efforts.”

Many who criticized the Philippine government’s response to Haiyan dread that the slow response, added to the coming holidays, when government offices close, would mean no relief for the stranded and qualified victims of Haiyan.

Yabes said, “For now, there is no TPS for the Philippines. But keep gathering your documents, especially evidence proving your stay in the US and documents of your nationality – birth certificate, passport (if you don’t have one, apply for it). And stay out of trouble. You need only two misdemeanors to be disqualified.”

“And if TPS doesn’t happen, you’re still looking at Comprehensive Immigration Reform. They say it isn’t a matter of if it will happen but when. Besides, the mid-term election is next year.”

Call USCIS Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283 to send for a service request. You will be issued a reference number for tracking. Or go to USCIS Infopass on the web for an appointment.

 

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