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  • USCIS Announces Fee Increase for Premium Processing (Form I-907)

    In late December 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced a fee increase for its Premium Processing services (Form I-907). USCIS announced the fee increases to adjust for inflation. The revenue generated by the increase will be used to improve adjudications processes, reduce benefit request processing backlogs, and otherwise fund USCIS adjudication and naturalization services. Effective for all cases filed on or after February 26, 2024, the Premium Process fees will increase as outlined below: If you have any questions about the Premium Processing fee increase or any other inbound U.S. immigration matters, please do not hesitate to contact Blaker & Granet LLP.

  • FY24 H-1B Cap Registration Period Open from March 1, 2023 through March 17, 2023

    The H-1B is a visa category designated for foreign nationals who will be employed in a “specialty occupation,” which is defined as a position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field, or the equivalent experience, in order to perform the duties of the position offered. The H-1B visa category has a maximum duration of six (6) years, with an initial petition duration of up to three (3) years. Unlike some other visa categories, there is a specific timeframe for registering to file initial H-1B visas and a limit to the number of visas available every year. Currently, there is an annual limit of 65,000 new H-1B visas for individuals with bachelor’s degrees and another 20,000 for individuals with advanced degrees, also known as the “H-1B Cap” and the “Master’s Cap,” respectively. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has announced that the initial registration period for the Fiscal Year 2024 H-1B visa lottery will begin at 12PM EST on March 1, 2023. The registration period will remain open through 12PM EST on March 17, 2023. If USCIS receives enough registrations by March 17, 2023, which is highly likely, USCIS will conduct the lottery and send selection notifications. Registrations properly filed within this window will be included in the lottery. If a prospective employee is selected in the H-1B lottery, the employer will then have the option to move forward and file an H-1B petition on behalf of the prospective employee. If the registration is selected and the H-1B petition is filed and subsequently approved, the earliest employment start date in H-1B status will be October 1, 2023, which is the beginning of USCIS’ Fiscal Year.

  • Introducing Yoshiko Asakawa, Senior Paralegal

    Blaker & Granet LLP is pleased to introduce Yoshiko Asakawa, Senior Paralegal. Yoshiko comes to B&G with decades of immigration experience, working at both law firms and Fortune 500 companies. She will be working closely with B&G attorneys to prepare and file the wide variety of cases handled by the firm. Please continue reading to get to know Yoshiko. What is your greatest fear? Anything that crawls. What is the trait you most deplore in others? Always blaming others for everything. What is your current state of mind? Calm, but excited. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Wow.” What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being healthy both physically and emotionally. What is your greatest extravagance? Cycling-related stuff such as the indoor cycling trainer we recently purchased. What or who is the greatest love of your life? My significant other. Which talent would you most like to have? Playing the piano. Who is your favorite writer? Keigo Higashino What are you watching right now? Nothing... I’m “listening to” the audio book, Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Finishing a metric-century ride of 65 miles in 4 hours. What is your most treasured possession? The time I spent with my family and friends. What do you most value in your friends? Trust and respect. What was your first impression of Stephen? Very professional (because I first met him at a work meeting), and serious. What was your first impression of Jacki? Very helpful, organized, and efficient. What is your favorite restaurant in LA? Mako Sushi What is your favorite city to visit? Westlake Village, CA (nice area to ride - I know it is very local). Cities I wish to visit very soon: Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona. What excites you about joining B&G? Being trusted and respected by my bosses; and being able to work as a team (as ONE).

  • What is the Diversity Visa Lottery?

    Every year, certain foreign nationals have the opportunity to apply for one of the 50,000 Diversity Immigrant Visas that are awarded to applicants via random lottery. The spirit of this lottery is to offer an opportunity to individuals from countries with historically low immigration rates. According to the State Department, the U.S. agency that oversees the Diversity Lottery, the diversity visas (DVs) are “distributed among six geographic regions and no single country may receive more than seven percent of the available DVs in any one year.” WHO MAY APPLY FOR THE DIVERSITY VISA LOTTERY? Individuals from the eligible countries* must submit an application during the entry period and must have: a high school education or its equivalent; or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience. *Every year, the State Department advises who may or may not be eligible in the Diversity Visa lottery. For the most recent lottery, those born in the following countries are ineligible to register: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (including Hong Kong SAR), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea (South Korea), United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Please note that those born in Macau SAR or Taiwan are indeed eligible for the Diversity Lottery. In addition, if you are ineligible based on your country of birth, you may be able to qualify through a spouse or parent. HOW TO REGISTER FOR THE DIVERSITY VISA LOTTERY Registration for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Diversity Lottery is now open through November 8, 2022, at 12:00 noon (EST). Those who are eligible and wish to apply should go to the Diversity Lottery website and follow all application steps carefully. In order to do so, you will need a digital photo to upload which conforms to the photo requirements listed here. There is only one entry permitted per person. However, you may include a spouse or child(ren) in your registration. Full instructions are available here, and come arre translated to numerous foreign languages. WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS AFTER SUBMITTING A REGISTRATION? After registering online, applicants will receive a confirmation number, which can be used to check the status of their application online. Typically, results of the random selection Diversity Lottery are announced in May. At that time, applicants should begin using their confirmation number to check the results online here. The State Department will not notify applicants by mail, email, fax, or telephone. The only way to check on the status of a registration is online. If an applicant’s registration is successful, he/she will be assigned a number or “priority date.” Once an applicant’s priority date is current, the successful applicant will need to complete the steps outlined by the State Department here. An individual selected in the lottery should promptly move forward, as there are deadlines to complete the process. If an applicant is selected, he/she may seek assistance with an immigration attorney to complete the process. Check out the State Department’s helpful process chart here. IMPORTANT NOTE: FRAUD CONSIDERATIONS It is vital to note that the Diversity Lottery has traditionally been commonly targeted for immigration scams. Please keep in mind that registering for the Diversity Lottery is free and there is only one place to register, as outlined above. While paying someone to submit your application online is allowed, most applicants choose to submit their application for the lottery themselves because the process is quite simple. Anyone who advises that their services in assisting with the application process will increase the chance of being selected is not telling the truth. Further information about scams and fraud is available on the State Department website here.

  • Updated Employment Authorization Guidance for E and L Dependent Spouses

    Certain visa categories allow a dependent spouse visa holder to obtain work authorization in the U.S. For example, previous to the recent policy change, the spouse of an L-1 visa holder was entitled to apply for an L-2 visa, enter the U.S., and file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization after entering the U.S. to obtain an Employment Authorization Document ("EAD"). After filing Form I-765, the L-2 spouse would only be work authorized if and when such an application were approved and the EAD were issued. This would often present problems as the Form I-765 takes many months for adjudication, leaving spouses without work authorization for extended periods of time. However, as of January 31, 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has begun providing spouses of E and L-1 nonimmigrants with a special designation code upon admission to the United States (i.e. “E-2S” and “L-2S”). This designation alone will authorize a spouse to work in the U.S. Indeed, the newly designated I-94 forms will be acceptable evidence of work authorization as per List C of Form I-9. While the filing of an I-765 application is no longer required to establish work authorization, a spouse granted work authorization incident to status may still apply for an EAD card by filing a Form I-765 if so desired. Spouses with existing I-94s will be required to travel abroad to obtain one of the new I-94 designations. We have seen reports that USCIS is also using the new designation codes on E and L spouse extension approval notices. USCIS has also announced that it will issue a new approval notice to all spouses who received an I-94 via USCIS (i.e. by filing a Form I-539 to extend status) prior to January 30, 2022 beginning on or about April 1, 2022. This notice, along with an unexpired Form I-94 reflecting E-1, E-2, E-3, E-3D, E-3R or L-2 nonimmigrant status will serve as evidence of employment authorization. It is important to always check every immigration document to ensure it is correctly issued. For example, upon every entry, a foreign national should check his/her I-94 information online. If entering as the spouse of an E or L principal, the classification listed on the I-94 must include the special designation mentioned above. In light of this new benefit, we always recommend that any spouse of an L-1 or E nonimmigrant always travel with a copy of their marriage certificate to ensure the spouse will receive the appropriate designation on the spouse’s I-94 upon entry.

  • The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is Back!

    Great news for foreign nationals interested in the EB-5 green card program: it is back! Almost eight (8) months after the EB-5 program lapsed in June 2021 due to lack of authorization by Congress, the EB-5 program has been reauthorized by Congress with some notable changes. What is EB-5? EB-5 is an immigrant visa investment program which allows foreign nationals to invest into the U.S. economy and, in return for their investment, obtain Lawful Permanent Resident (“green card”) status. There are 10,000 EB-5 visas available each Fiscal Year. In order to qualify for the EB-5 program, a foreign national must make a substantial investment, either directly in a job- creating business or through Regional Centers approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to promote economic growth in designated areas. Does the new bill introduce any changes? Yes, the recent bill introduced some notable changes, including increasing the investment amounts for EB-5 participants to $800,000 for investments in Targeted Employment Areas (“TEAs”) and $1,050,000 for non-TEAs. The bill also includes a statutory definition for TEAs, which now include high unemployment areas, rural projects, and infrastructure projects. Understanding this definition is critical because a certain number of EB-5 immigrant visas will be reserved for projects in TEAs and such projects will qualify for the lower investment threshold. Going forward, the Department of Homeland Security has sole authority to designate areas as high unemployment areas where the unemployment rate in a given census tract (or contiguous census tracts) is no less than 150% of the national average unemployment rate. The bill defines rural projects as those that are outside of a metropolitan statistical area or within the boundary of any city or town with a population of 20,000 or more. Infrastructure Projects are defined as a “capital investment project” administered by a “governmental entity” that serves as the “job-creating entity” which receives capital from EB-5 investors, and contracts with a regional center Furthermore, EB-5 applicants may now concurrently file EB-5 petitions with Form I-485 Adjustment of Status applications. This will enable EB-5 applicants to obtain employment and travel authorization while their EB-5 cases are pending. The EB-5 program will now be subject to increased monitoring and enforcement, including regular audits and enhanced record keeping obligations for Regional Centers. What should I do now if I am interested in EB-5? If you are interested in pursuing a green card through the EB-5 program, you should reach out to an immigration attorney to discuss options, fees, timelines, and other pertinent information.

  • Introducing Jacki Granet, Co-Founder and Partner

    Blaker & Granet believes it is as important for our clients to know us as it is for us to know our clients. Immigration is a time-consuming and deeply personal area of the law; over the course of our careers, we have found that our most successful client relationships are those with the highest level of comfort and familiarity between the two parties. Therefore, we wanted to provide a little insight to who we are as people, beyond immigration attorneys. On that note, please meet Jacki Granet, Co-Founder and Partner at B&G: What is your greatest fear? Birds. What is the trait you most deplore in others? Disorganization. What is your current state of mind? Excited. Nervous. Excited. Nervous. Excited. Excited. Excited...and tired due to a new puppy who wakes up at 5am. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “That tracks.” What or who is the greatest love of your life? My nieces. Which talent would you most like to have? My dream job would be Broadway star so I guess the talent I need for that is acting, dancing, singing…shall I go on? I have none of that so I just write about the industry so other artists can live their dreams in the U.S. What do you consider your greatest achievement? I hope the greatest achievement is still yet to come, but opening my own firm with one of my closest friends is up there! Where would you most like to live? (Unrealistic) dream situation would be tri-coastal (LA, NYC, and London), with a beach house in Santa Barbara, CA of course. What is your most treasured possession? Old photos and cards/letters. When I was a kid growing up in Santa Barbara, my house burned down in one of the big fires and I learned very quickly that material items can be replaced. What do you most value in your friends? Humor…and the kind of love and support where you can talk nonstop for an hour or sit in silence for five hours and be equally as comfortable. What was your first impression of Stephen? I am not even sure there was a first impression because one word into our first conversation, I knew we would be lifelong friends. What is your favorite restaurant in LA? Really hard to pick just one, but some of my favorite meals have been at Sushi Fumi, Craig’s, Bay Cities, SOL, and Mariscos Jalisco. What is your favorite restaurant in NYC? Flex Mussels. Tell Alex I sent you :) What is your favorite city to visit? London. I lived there for a bit after college and I have not stopped talking about it since.

  • Introducing Stephen Blaker, Co-Founder and Partner

    Blaker & Granet believes it is as important for our clients to know us as it is for us to know our clients. Immigration is a time-consuming and deeply personal area of the law; over the course of our careers, we have found that our most successful client relationships are those with the highest level of comfort and familiarity between the two parties. Therefore, we wanted to provide a little insight to who we are as people, beyond immigration attorneys. On that note, please meet Stephen Blaker, Co-Founder and Partner at B&G: What is your idea of perfect happiness? Going for a long swim and getting out of the water to a cold drink (preferably with tequila in it). What is your greatest extravagance? Diptyque candles. I am literally burning money but they are incredible. What is your current state of mind? Excited for B&G (with Red (Taylor's Version) playing in the background). Which talent would you most like to have? I really wish I had even an ounce of musical ability… unfortunately I have none. Zilch. Zero. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Co-founding Blaker & Granet. Jacki and I took a leap of faith but believe in our ability to service clients’ needs in a more effective manner by building the firm from the ground up with modern immigration technology. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? An Australian Cattle Dog living with people who love the outdoors. Who are your favorite writers? Hanya Yanagihara, Michael Gold (The New York Times), Alex Abad-Santos (Vox), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jhumpa Lahiri, among others. What is your motto? Never say never. What is your favorite restaurant in LA? I absolutely love Sushi Fumi on La Cienega but it’s crazy tough to get in so I don’t go as frequently as I would like. What is your favorite restaurant in New York? Dante in the West Village. What is your favorite city to visit? Madrid; I lived there for one year during college and love going back to visit my favorite spots and see friends that I made during my study abroad. I always make sure to visit my host family too and it's always as if no time has passed.

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