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29 June 2016

USCIS Supports International Education

USCIS plays a key role in helping the United States remain what the Institute of International Education calls "the destination of choice in higher education." So it was not surprising when more than 1,100 educators crowded into one of the sessions we presented at the recent annual conference of NAFSA: Association of International Educators in Denver.

Above: Amber Vasek and Quintion Eaton staffing USCIS’ booth at the NAFSA conference.
The session, titled “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Current Issues,” provided college administrators and designated school officials with updates on processing times and workload transfers at our service centers. They also got an overview of the new STEM OPT rule and our latest customer service tools.
The speakers included Cheryl Afflerbach, student portfolio manager for Service Center Operations; Bertha Anderson, student portfolio manager for the Customer Service and Public Engagement Directorate; and Quintion Eaton, an analyst from SAVE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements). Another speaker was Allison Posner, chief of casework at the CIS Ombudsman’s Office, which is separate from USCIS.

Above: Amanda Brinlee, Bertha Anderson, Quintion Eaton and Allison Posner during a USCIS session at the conference.

Our colleague Bertha also presented a second session, “IssueNET: Tool for Collaboration,” highlighting areas where USCIS worked with NAFSA to address issues for students holding J-1, F-1 and M-1 visas and who had submitted Form I-765 and Form I-539.

Visitors to our booth at the Colorado Convention Center seemed especially interested in our flash cards for the naturalization test. And speaking of naturalization, we also reminded people about the student provision that allows applicants attending an educational institution away from their home residence to file their Form N-400 where their institution is located. Or they can file it in the state of their home residence, if they are financially dependent upon their parents at the time of filing and during the naturalization process.

To learn more about being an international student in the United States, visit DHS’ Study in the States website and the Department of State’s EducationUSA site.

27 May 2016

Summary of #AskDACA Twitter Town Hall on May 24

We held a Twitter Town Hall featuring #AskDACA on May 24 to answer your questions about DACA and other immigration benefits and services. Below are many common questions and answers we addressed during the hour. Thanks to everyone who tweeted questions.

Q1: @kholeary Are DACA recipients eligible to work for the federal govt as employees or contractors? #AskDACA

A1: @kholeary To qualify for a U.S. federal government career, you must be a U.S. citizen. For contractors, it depends on the job. #AskDACA

Q2: @JQKLawFirm Do you accumulate "Unlawful Presence" for the 3/10 year bars during approved DACA time period? #AskDACA

A2: @JQKLawFirm No. Individual isn’t considered unlawfully present while deferred action is in effect. #AskDACA

Q3: What’s the form to apply for DACA? #AskDACA

A3: You need to complete the Form I-821D, accompanied by Form I-765, and Form I-765WS, Worksheet. #AskDACA

Q4: What’s the filing process for DACA? #AskDACA

A4: You may request DACA if you meet the guidelines. To learn about the process and the guidelines visit #AskDACA

Q5: @MUAHZXOX3_ how can you file a motion to reopen a case after filing after the deadline? #AskDACA

A5: ​@MUAHZXOX3_ There are no motions to reopen for DACA. Check FAQ # 25 for more information. #AskDACA

Q6: When to renew DACA? #AskDACA

A6: Please submit your DACA renewal request between 150 and 120 days before the expiration of your EAD. #AskDACA

Q7: Is there any guidance for DACA employers? #AskDACA

A7: Yes, you can find useful information for employers at #AskDACA

Q8: @Siho8984 Will a DUI automatically bar you from obtaining DACA? Or will you look at totality of the circumstances? #AskDACA

A8: A DUI conviction is a disqualifying significant misdemeanor under DACA. For details see Q60-62 here #AskDACA

Q9: Do you have DACA information in Chinese? #AskDACA

A9: Yes, you can find our DACA FAQs in Chinese at #AskDACA

Q10: How can I receive advance parole? #AskDACA

A10: If DACA is granted, file Form I-131 to travel outside of the U.S. Visit and #AskDACA

Q11: How can I find authorized legal help/advice for DACA? #AskDACA

A11: You can visit our website to find resources and legal services to avoid scams. #AskDACA

Q12: @caramelcamille Is there a way to give an observation/feedback about the person who interviewed me? Thanks in advance. #AskDACA

A12: @caramelcamille Yes. You can contact the interviewing office or send an email with feedback to #AskDACA

Q13: How can I tell if an employer is discriminating against me because I am a DACA recipient? #AskDACA

A13: You can find detailed information by checking Question 82 in our DACA FAQs #AskDACA

Q14: @REVA_GUPTA with DACA, can I travel overseas? #AskDACA

A14: @REVA_GUPTA Yes, you can travel with an approved I-131 Advance Parole document. #AskDACA

Q15: ​@nwaab_saab Does an asylum applicant (pending) apply for an advance parole to travel to Canada or other countries? #AskDACA

A15: ​@nwaab_saab Yes, all asylum applicants need advance parole before leaving the U.S. For info, visit: #AskDACA

Q16: I heard you have DACA info in Vietnamese. Is that right? #AskDACA

A16: Yes, here is the link to our DACA FAQs in Vietnamese: #AskDACA

Q17: Can we have the DACA FAQs in Korean? #AskUSCIS

A17: Yes, the information is on the USCIS website at #AskDACA

Q18: @SHARKATTACK101 what happens if a person forgets to renew their DACA and it expires? Can they renew it the same way as usual? #AskDACA

A18: @SHARKATTACK1011 Within year of DACA expiring submit renew request. Over a year, send initial request #AskDACA


23 May 2016

USCIS Awarded for Clear, User-Friendly Web Content

By Kathryn Catania, chief, Plain Language and Content Division, Office of Communications, USCIS

Immigration law can be complex.  That’s why we are working hard to make the world’s biggest immigration system easier to understand.  And step by step we’re making progress. In fact, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) just won our first ClearMark Award from the Center for Plain Language -- for our online naturalization resources.  We shared the award with contractors from 18F. The three judges commented: “It is particularly nice that a government agency takes this initiative and shows that it really is possible to have clear writing, contemporary design, and a very thorough approach to user-involvement in the processes.”

Additionally, USCIS’ redesigned International Immigration Offices web pages received an Award of Distinction in the category of before-and-after, long. It was the only finalist from a government agency in that category. 

For the past nine years, the USCIS Plain Language Program has grown and we have made tremendous strides improving how we communicate with our diverse customers and stakeholders. Many of the people looking for information on our website speak English as a second or third language. By using active voice, headings and common words, defining jargon and abbreviations and keeping the main message up front, we make it easier for our customers to find, understand and use the information we provide. Whether it’s a letter to a specific customer, form instructions or information on, our goal is to improve the experience of the reader through clear and accurate writing and user-focused design.

Winning a ClearMark is a great addition to existing kudos for the Department of Homeland Security. DHS has an A+ for compliance with the Plain Writing Act of 2010 in the Center for Plain Language’s current Federal Plain Language Report Card.

20 May 2016

Building Welcoming Communities Across Michigan

The Task Force on New Americans, which President Obama created in 2014 to promote citizenship and the successful integration of immigrants and refugees into local communities, has been hosting regional convenings to strengthen its connection to good work taking place across the country. Last week in Dearborn, Michigan, the White House hosted the seventh Regional Convening on New Americans.  Read the details on the White House blog.

The article was authored by Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz.

16 May 2016

Young Musical Star Paola Guanche Nuviola Becomes a U.S. Citizen

(By Ana E. Santiago, USCIS Public Affairs Officer)

Paola Guanche Nuviola is no stranger to the stage. Her father, Orlando Guanche, is a well-known Cuban musician. So is her mother - singer Lourdes Nuviola. Her aunt is Aymee Nuviola, a Grammy-nominated singer who can belt out a soft tune or a spirited guaracha with equal ease on stages around the world.

So three years ago, when Paola passed the 13-week audition process for Telemundo’s "La Voz Kids" talent show (a Spanish version of “The Voice”), the 13-year-old was not as nervous as many expected. Six-thousand children auditioned for that show. Paola was one of the six finalists.

The judges declared her the winner after hearing the ease with which she sang "I Will Always Love You," the song made famous by Whitney Houston (watch it here on YouTube). The audience's standing ovation was deafening. Special guest performer Ricky Martin was beside himself, praising the young singer’s talent. Paola had arrived.

"It was a great moment for me," says Paola, who is now 15. "I wanted to prove to my family that I was also an artist, just like them and that was the moment that proved it."

Paola was born in Mexico. Her parents left Cuba during the so-called Special Period, at the height of scarcities on the communist island after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her father says he wanted to have children in a country with freedom -- "LI-BER-TAD!"

So, when the couple had an opportunity to leave the island, they did. That was in 1996.

Last Saturday morning, May 7, Guanche drove Paola to the USCIS Miami Field Office to receive a Certificate of Citizenship. Both were excited and nervous, but feeling very accomplished. Famous aunt Aymee met them there. She too had become a U.S. citizen a few years ago and understood the significance of this moment.

Above: Paola Guanche Nuviola with her Certificate of Citizenship

"This means so much to me," Paola said minutes before the ceremony began. "This is the country that has allowed my family to be free, to be together, to pursue our art." Then she added, “In this country my family can choose, can be together, grow, seize opportunities, many take those things for granted.”

Paola received her certificate during a special children’s citizenship ceremony. (A citizenship ceremony, rather than a naturalization ceremony, is generally for children who derive their citizenship from their parents' U.S. citizenship.) Surrounded by 44 other children, family members and the press contingent that follows her everywhere, she spoke of her new country and what it means to her and her family. 

As she heard her niece speak to the news media about this special day, Aymee was smiling proudly. "This is a great moment for her, for our family. Becoming an American is a privilege. The United States of America is a great country, where freedom and opportunities are real. Today we honor the rights citizenship grants us, and our patriotic duties." 


05 May 2016

Public Service Recognition Week, Part IV: How ‘I Will Be Right Behind You’ Means Reuniting 12 Years Later for This Budget Analyst

In this series of four blog posts celebrating Public Service Recognition Week, we honor the dedication of USCIS employees who fulfill the USCIS mission of securing America's promise as a nation of immigrants.

By Ben Rubenstein

When Sanh M. was 8 years old, she loosened her fixed grip on her father's hand as he sent her towards a boat that would take her from Vietnam to a refugee camp in Thailand. She says her father told her, "Go…go with your sisters. Your mother, brothers and I will be right behind you."

Sanh (left) and her sisters while living in a Thailand refugee camp from 1986-1988.

Sanh thought they would reunite soon, that the others would be delayed mere days. Until then, Sanh and her three older sisters darted through the forest and marshes, sneaked by soldiers guarding the beach, and found the boat. They reached the refugee camp and throughout their two years there Sanh asked her sisters, "Where’s mom and dad?" There was no way to get in touch. They didn't know what happened to their parents and younger brothers. Their parents and brothers didn't know what happened to them.

Sanh says her parents had sent them away for better education and futures. When they left, before Vietnam's economic reforms, the country was one of the poorest in the world. Per capita income was around $100 with the majority living in extreme poverty. Sanh grew up sleeping in the same bed as all three of her sisters. Even still she has pleasant memories of the friendly, hard-working Vietnamese people, and of fresh fish.

Sanh (left) and her father at her graduation from Virginia Tech in 2001.

While recalling the suffering at the refugee camp in Thailand, Sanh paused at times to cry. "We went to bed hungry. They had food but it wasn't enough to provide for everyone. There were a lot of people there. It was sad. However, knowing there were other kids in the same situation, I was ok. Plus my sisters were around."

Two years later, in 1988, Sanh and her sisters were formally accepted into the United States through Connections, a Roman Catholic-based organization in Richmond, Virginia, and the four girls were placed in foster care. The sisters finally got in touch with their family back in Vietnam.

Sanh (center) and her entire family reunite to celebrate her wedding in 2006.

The sisters separated to different families around Roanoke, Virginia, though Sanh remained with her sister nearest her in age, Sinh. Sanh found it comforting to live with Sinh and see her other sisters when all the foster parents arranged for them to get together.

In Asia, Sanh says everyone had brown eyes and black hair. "I came here and, wow – the environment, food, people of all different nationalities – I felt like I fit in. It was amazing." 

In 1999, about 12 years after letting go of her father's hand, the sisters and their parents reunited once Sanh's oldest sister became a U.S. citizen and could sponsor them. Mullaney became a citizen in 2000. Her brothers and youngest sister came over in 2005 when Sanh's parents were able to sponsor them. 

Now, Sanh's whole family is here, along a 250-mile stretch from Roanoke to Dunkirk, Maryland, where Sanh lives. She says reuniting was "one of those happy moments in life. We went through so much for so long."

Sanh sees her parents every couple months. She even keeps in touch with her foster parents in Blacksburg, Virginia, where she studied accounting at Virginia Tech. She and Sinh see each other often since they live about 33 miles apart. They also each have two daughters. Sanh's daughters Caitlin, 6, and Brianna, 5, like to sing, dance and swim.

Sanh last returned to Vietnam in 2001, before she married and had her daughters. She found it different than how she remembered it, with booming tourism and many Vietnamese people living a decent lifestyle.

First an accountant at KPMG after college, Sanh became a contractor with USCIS in 2003 and converted to a federal employee in 2011. She is a budget analyst with the Office of Information Technology. She says working here is "something I always wanted to do. Just my background and who I am, I want to help make a difference."

Sanh (right), her husband, and her children visit National Harbor.

If Sanh could change her past, would she have stayed in Vietnam and remained with her family? No. "I am truly blessed to be here," she says.

03 May 2016

Public Service Recognition Week, Part III: A Refugee Officer's Story: 'Countless Narratives of Suffering and Loss'

In this series of four blog posts celebrating Public Service Recognition Week, we honor the dedication of USCIS employees who fulfill the USCIS mission of securing America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.

By Ben Rubenstein

For six years, USCIS Refugee Officer Slava Madorsky traveled the world interviewing applicants to determine if they were eligible for refugee status, because of persecution or fear of persecution. For three of those years, until she was able to use a laptop during interviews, she handwrote up to 40 pages of notes each day to record their stories. Once, as she interviewed a man in Baghdad, her pen flew from her hand in a bad case of writer’s cramp. The man – who had been describing torture and being shuttled from prison to prison – laughed. Madorsky apologized. “‘It’s just my hand. I’m not actually throwing a pen at you.’ He was the nicest man in the world. He actually felt bad for me, and I was thinking, ‘Why is this person feeling bad for my stupid hand?’”

Madorsky and her father, Vladimir, around 1982 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Madorsky, 38, was born to Jewish parents in the Russian city of St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad during the Soviet era, which ended in 1991). Her father, she says, wanted to emigrate when he was 18, but after college and military service he accepted an engineering job with a security clearance. He knew if he tried leaving the Soviet Union, he would be denied an exit visa and put under surveillance.

When Madorsky was born, her father quit engineering to become a television repairman. He wanted a job that would not hinder him from trying to leave once his clearance expired 10 years later—and he actually made three times as much repairing TVs. “That was the Soviet Union,” she says, “what are you going to do?”

When Madorsky was 11, her family was granted refugee status as members of a persecuted religious group. She didn’t want to leave for the United States, but her parents persuaded her by promising she’d finally have her own bedroom.

She and her parents arrived in New York City on May 12, 1989. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Madorsky got the bedroom. “It really felt like I was living the American dream,” she says, even though, for a while, the room only had a large piece of foam to sleep on.

“Coming from the Soviet Union, I was not used to people treating me well. One of my favorite things about the U.S. is how friendly people are. Some say Americans are fake when they say ‘Hi, how are you?’ and ‘Have a nice day.’ Really? Try having people bark and scowl at you, instead.”

In the Soviet Union, people were not supposed to practice religion. She recalls her parents shushing her the one time she asked what God is. But other people knew the family was Jewish and harassed them. In Brooklyn, on the other hand, Madorsky attended a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish school, and says others looked down on her for not being “Jewish enough.”

Madorsky at the Great Pyramid of Giza in May 2013. She took a side trip to Cairo during a refugee processing detail to Sallum, Egypt, on the Libyan border.

Her mother has blond hair and blue eyes and grew up with a Russian last name. She didn’t experience the kind of prejudice Madorsky had or, more so, her father. When the family returned to Russia for a visit after Madorsky graduated from college in 2001, her mother’s view of Russia changed. While on a bus, when passengers openly degraded Jews, the Madorskys slumped in their seats, and her mother said, “This is not how I remember it,” she says.

Madorsky returned once more while living in Poland in 2003. She says she would go back again, but only if she had “an extremely compelling reason.”
Madorsky joined the USCIS Refugee Affairs Division in 2009. Officers in the USCIS Refugee Corps travel at least 180 days a year. She traveled for six to eight weeks at a time, and sometimes chose longer stints. In 2011 she was away for 10 months including six in Baghdad. She has also traveled to Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Kenya, Ethiopia, Jordan, Bahrain, Romania, Turkey, Egypt and Syria. She was with the last team to enter Syria before that country fell into war.

“Horrific things happen in this job a lot. Sometimes even when you can help people, just listening to their stories is demoralizing because you know these things happen and human beings actually do that to each other.”

One of the things that has motivated her is a deep-seated interest in studying the crime of genocide. She used to teach about the Holocaust in Auschwitz, Poland. “When you stop for a moment and look at the overwhelming history of atrocities perpetrated during the Holocaust against Jews, Gypsies and countless others, you begin to see that it wasn’t just one mass tragedy. It was 11 million individual tragedies.”

Madorsky switched jobs in August 2014 and now trains other officers in how to conduct refugee interviews. She also wants to develop a resilience training program to focus on occupational hazards such as compassion fatigue and burnout. “We don’t live anywhere most of the time. We lose touch with our loved ones and our communities. We have to learn to function without solid ground, while absorbing countless narratives of suffering and loss.”

Celebrating her birthday at her office in Washington, D.C., in September 2015.

She still travels occasionally to do field training and interviews. But after moving 33 times in her life, this is the longest she has lived anywhere besides the Soviet Union as a child.

Madorsky still writes, both for personal enjoyment and her job, but on the computer now. I asked how her hand is. With more than a hint of Russian stoicism, she replied: “I can’t write too much, but it’s fine.”

Public Service Recognition Week, Part II: Texas Officer: How a Small Gesture Translated Into a New Career

In this series of four blog posts celebrating Public Service Recognition Week, we honor the dedication of USCIS employees who fulfill the USCIS mission of securing America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.

By Ben Rubenstein

"Growing up, I never knew that life existed outside of the 48-mile radius of Eldorado, Texas," says Maribel (Mary) Gonzalez, an immigration services officer at the Texas Service Center in Dallas.

In fact, the city of Eldorado itself, the county seat of Schleicher County in southwest Texas, fills just a tiny part of that radius. Her 1982 graduating class had been the largest in her high school’s history – 48 students. Her mother worked at the Eldorado Woolen Mill, which was the oldest mill in the southwest U.S. before it shut down. Her grandmother canned her own vegetables and made her own jam and candy.

Gonzalez with her daughter Marina and son Isaiah. Gonzalez says they “are the reason I still continue to do my best.”

In a population of barely 2,000, Gonzalez knew everyone, and everyone knew her and her parents and six siblings. “I always found that environment appealing,” she says. “I got a lot of benefits growing up in a small town.” 

She still goes home – Eldorado is a five-hour drive from Dallas – for the annual World Championship Goat Cook Off in nearby Brady, Texas. "A lot of people, when they don’t know how to describe goat, will say it tastes like chicken. No, it doesn’t. It has its own distinct flavor."

Gonzalez (left) with friend Joe at the World Championship Goat Cook Off on Sept. 6, 2015. More than 200 teams seasoned and smoked the goat meat and competed for trophies, cash and bragging rights. The event also featured art vendors, a street dance, and the Goat Gallop, a fun run and walk – and a healthy sense of humor, according to Gonzalez.

She tried to make sure her two children, a 21-year-old daughter named Marina and a 23-year-old son named Isaiah, connected with small-town life. They appreciate southwest Texas, she says, but prefer Big D.

After high school, Gonzalez enrolled in a commercial college in nearby San Angelo, Texas. She recalls the admissions employee asking to see her Green Card. Gonzalez, born in Texas, had no idea what that was, so she responded, "I don't have an American Express card, I’m paying with a check."

Her friend displayed her Green Card, but Gonzalez still had no idea what it meant.

Gonzalez later joined the Army. That's when she saw that life existed outside of the 48-mile radius of Eldorado. For starters, she got to see Dallas for the first time (and still remembers how congested it looked by comparison.)

Gonzalez (right) with private first class Campbell while working with the Pershing missile system in Germany in 1987.

She scored well on the military aptitude test. The recruiter from San Angelo asked if she wanted to work on computers. "Yes," she said, figuring she’d learn skills that would be useful later in civilian life. The recruiter, she adds, didn't mention that the computers were part of the Pershing missile system.

Gonzalez served as an electronic material specialist in Germany for almost six years. When the Cold War ended, the military needed fewer missile operators, so she became an accounting specialist for the next four years in Fort Benning, Georgia.

After her military service, Gonzalez visited the Texas Workforce Commission to learn about employment opportunities. While in the waiting room, she overheard a woman who was also there looking for work and struggling to communicate in English. The woman looked to her for help. Gonzalez – better at speaking Spanish than translating it – did her best.

Gonzalez in a cotton field in Eldorado in October 2013, teasing her boyfriend that his home state of Missouri may have corn but hers has cotton and football.

A contractor whose company worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (an agency that existed before the Department of Homeland Security was created) overheard the woman asking Gonzalez to translate, and then asked if she would consider applying for his company. Gonzalez did and received an offer a few months later. A year after that, she became a federal employee.

Including her time in the military, Gonzalez recently reached 30 years of serving her country.

She’s held many positions at USCIS. Of course, she now knows what a Green Card is. She says she also understands why so many people want to come here and live the American dream. 

From left, sisters Geral, Christy, Gonzalez and Georgie in May 2015 on the one-year anniversary of their mother’s death, at the small cemetery where their family members are buried. Gonzalez says that’s where she wants her ashes spread. “Everything I knew and wanted was within 48 miles of  Eldorado, and even though I came from a family of humble means, I had everything.”

"I am living that dream," she says. "I fell into this career by chance and it has been a blessing. When I helped that lady that day I had no idea what that gesture would mean in my life and the opportunities it would lead to. I never saw that lady again. I’m hoping she got the job I helped her with."