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20 July 2016

New American Satyakalyan Seelamneni: ‘America Took Me In as a Son’

(Between June 30 and July 4, we welcomed more than 7,000 new citizens during nearly 100 naturalization ceremonies in honor of Independence Day. We are featuring stories from some of these new Americans to show how immigrants add to the strength and character of our nation.)

Growing up in southern India, Satyakalyan Seelamneni first learned about the United States in high school and college. Through word of mouth and also by researching online, he learned that America was, as he puts it, "a land of opportunities and dreams and freedom." After completing his studies in India, he came to the United States to work. He remembers arriving in the United States in May 2011. Coming out of Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., he distinctly remembers the moment that he stepped outside for the first time. "A huge flag was there in front of the airport, I felt that America was welcoming me with an open heart, and I instantly fell in love with this country at that moment."

A technology engineer for a bank, Seelamneni says that "America took me in as a son and taught me many things every day, including love, honesty, truth, respect, compassion and camaraderie." He remembers how his parents taught him the value of giving back to society, and how those values went hand in hand with making the decision to become a U.S. citizen. "America helped me to become a better person in my personal and professional life, and I wanted to give something back, and help the society in whatever way I could."

When asked about the process of becoming a citizen, he says that once he read about citizenship on the USCIS website, he was able to find what he needed and apply. "The USCIS website gave me all I needed to complete the process, it’s all right there." In addition, he remembers that, despite feeling nervous, the naturalization exam was a very positive experience. The USCIS officer who conducted his exam was, in his words, "professional and courteous," and even shared additional facts about American history with him after the exam had ended.

Above: Seelamneni shares his story at his naturalization ceremony

Finally, this past July 1, the big day arrived. Seelamneni became a U.S. citizen at a special naturalization ceremony at Fort Necessity, a historical battlefield in Pennsylvania from the 18th-century French and Indian War. When asked about the ceremony, he said: "I feel like I am a part of the history. I shared my experiences with other new citizens, we discussed how your future would be if you are honest and work hard, how the sky is the limit."

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13 July 2016

New Citizen Arbina Nayeem: You Can Dream What You Want and Dare to Realize Those Dreams

(Between June 30 and July 4,  we welcomed more than 7,000 new citizens during nearly 100 naturalization ceremonies in honor of Independence Day. We are featuring stories from some of these new U.S. citizens to show how immigrants add to the strength and character of our nation.)

For Arbina Nayeem her July 4th naturalization ceremony was the capstone of a long journey from India to becoming a U. S. citizen. Growing up, her parents dreamed that she and her siblings would have the opportunity to study in the United States.

Nayeem, a trained dentist and now a Captain in the U.S. Army reserves, started her journey 12 years ago when she came to the U.S. on a student visa. "When I got the visa, I was so excited. It was the best day of my life to that point." Her new life in America was anything but easy. "At first, I was homesick, I didn’t expect to be, but I was without my family. But over the years I have been here, I have grown so much."

She remembers the long days of studying and nights of classes as she worked her way through dental school. Entrance exams for dental school were demanding, expensive and competitive, but Nayeem never gave up. She earned both a masters and doctoral degree.

Captain Nayeem in front of the Battleship New Jersey, the site of her July 4th naturalization ceremony

Along the way, she decided to join the U.S. Army. "I have always admired the military lifestyle, and I wanted to give back to the country that gave me so much. I wanted to serve. I am the first military member of my family, and I am very, very proud."

After making America her adopted home, becoming a citizen was an easy choice. "When you leave your country and come to the United States, you want to be a part of the place that you live in, the place that has given you everything. You want to be a responsible citizen."

Nayeem remembers studying for her naturalization test. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is my favorite line now. I learned a lot about the history." She remembers how the test preparation materials helped her answer every question on the test right.

Captain Nayeem with family after the ceremony

The dream of citizenship became a reality during a special Independence Day naturalization ceremony aboard the Battleship New Jersey. "Becoming a naturalized citizen on the fourth of July means so much. It was so nice, people walked up and shook my hand and thanked me for my service. All the struggles, hardships, and sacrifices my family and I dealt with were worth it. It is surreal. It still hasn’t sunk in yet."

To others considering citizenship, Nayeem says "Work hard and focus on your goals. This is a land of opportunity, you can dream what you want and dare to realize those dreams. The sky is the limit here."

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08 July 2016

Remembering Elie Wiesel, an Outstanding American By Choice

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner who died on July 2 at 87, was recognized by USCIS as an Outstanding American by Choice in 2008.

Among other accomplishments, he was founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where just last month, to mark World Refugee Day on June 20, USCIS held a naturalization ceremony for the first time. He was also chairman of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which he and his wife created to fight indifference, intolerance and injustice.

"Going back to when I saw him speak at my college, I have long been inspired by the manner in which Mr. Wiesel's gentle spirit was the vehicle for towering moral clarity and strength," said USCIS Director León Rodríguez.  "Like many of the refugees who we meet at USCIS, Mr. Wiesel took from his suffering a call to repair the world.  May we all be deserving heirs of the invaluable ethical legacy he leaves."

In a statement, President Barack Obama said of Wiesel: "As a writer, a speaker, an activist, and a thinker, he was one of those people who changed the world more as a citizen of the world than those who hold office or traditional positions of power.  His life, and the power of his example, urges us to be better.  In the face of evil, we must summon our capacity for good.  In the face of hate, we must love.  In the face of cruelty, we must live with empathy and compassion.  We must never be bystanders to injustice or indifferent to suffering."

At age 15, the German Nazis deported Wiesel and his family from Romania to Auschwitz in Poland.  His mother and younger sister died in the camp.  He and his father were later moved to Buchenwald, where his father died a few months before it was liberated by the U.S. Army in April 1945.

After the war, Wiesel learned that his two older sisters had survived.  He studied in Paris and became a journalist.  Over the years he authored more than 40 books of fiction and non-fiction, including his account of the camps in "La Nuit" or "Night," which has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Since 1976, he had been the Andrew W. Mellon Professor at Boston University. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him as chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  His numerous other awards included the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

In a statement, Vice President Joe Biden said, "Elie implanted in my soul an unwavering insistence that we must educate every successive generation to exactly what happened, so that we can never forget the horrors of the Shoah. It was Elie's life-long work to make sure each of us carried in our hearts that promise - never again."

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Summary of #AskDACA Twitter Town Hall on June 21

We held a Twitter Town Hall featuring #AskDACA on June 21 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: @hariakkavajhula Can I appear H1B visa interview in Hindi/Telugu as English dates are not available during my vacation? #AskUSCIS
A1: @hariakkavajhula Please contact Department of State to request a visa interview accommodation. https://t.co/jVL9RMP0q4 #AskUSCIS
Q2: @IBRA_SALLAM88 what's Potomac S C cuz I never heard it before so I've a concern about our petition i-130 #AskUSCIS
A2: @IBRA_SALLAM88 Potomac Service Center is a new USCIS office processing some of the petitions. Info: https://t.co/jid2Ccm3Cl #AskUSCIS
Q3: @prashanth_parsi does employer need to re file approved H1B and I 140 if the employer name and FEIN changes? #AskUSCIS
A3: @prashanth_parsi Please see regulations from DOL. The info is under H-1B post approval changes. https://t.co/LiA9LkBRiO #AskUSCIS
Q4: @v_khoshkam Whats solution when u are eligible to apply for citizenship but ur green card is stolen?can u apply only via n-400?#AskUSCIS
A4: @v_khoshkam File I-90 for replacement green card and submit a copy of your receipt notice with N-400. https://t.co/yHrfyr5anW #AskUSCIS
 Q5: @ MATT_PETASATUS As a military member if I request a K1 visa, expedited, is there chance my request could slow the process? #AskUSCIS
A5: @MATT_PETASATUS A request to expedite should not delay the process. Call the military helpline at 1-877-247-4645. #AskUSCIS
Q6: @PSYCHOKAATH Why can't I check my case status online anymore? I always get the "User-defined error"/ "Validation Error" #AskUSCIS
A6: @PSYCHOKAATH We're sorry you're having trouble online. Please email us at myUSCISsupport@uscis.dhs.gov for help. #AskUSCIS
Q7: @GAHMAR3 Is there any way to get H-1B re-stamping in USA? #AskUSCIS
A7: @GAHMAR3 For more details regarding H-1B extensions, please visit our website at https://t.co/jMRbzAfJnH #AskUSCIS
Q8: @olivia98975 #AskUSCIS when a n600 arrives at the local office, how long does it take to finalize it?
A8: @olivia98975 For N-600 processing times by specific office, please visit: https://t.co/38JcYpVzM2 #AskUSCIS
Q9: @SAMANTHAWISE31 Whats the process time for a P1 Athlete visa? Its been 70 days, not the 2 weeks as displayed on the website? #AskUSCIS
A9: @SAMANTHAWISE31 For cases beyond the posted processing time, submit online inquiry here: https://t.co/OxEx4ZzB9l #AskUSCIS
Q10: @HackyMoto Biometrics:does the AOS process pause while waiting on results? What's wait time? how can I find where my case is? #AskUSCIS
A10 (1/2): @HackyMoto Cases can't be completed until biometrics and security checks are cleared. Visit: https://t.co/LJLu5fuAVg #AskUSCIS 
A10 (2/2): @HackyMoto To check your case status online, please visit https://t.co/bGBRhLeDwt #AskUSCIS
Q11: @MeetTheSenator #AskUSCIS When are y'all holding training sessions for citizenship teachers in the NYC area?
A11: @MeetTheSenator Nothing is scheduled for NYC at this time, but check here for upcoming trainings: https://t.co/6YzAOHlLKm #AskUSCIS
Q12: @AK74ABE Does USCIS share info with state DMVs? Some DMVs confused over legal status. #AskUSCIS
A12: @AK74ABE DMVs can verify an applicant's immigration status through the SAVE program. Please see: https://t.co/NQXwvJB9KN #AskUSCIS
Q13: @HIGHLANDSSTRONG #AskUSCIS my husband & I have i485 interview next month, does he need birth certificate or just passport.
A13: @HIGHLANDSSTRONG He'll need to show proof of US citizenship, a valid passport OR birth certificate. https://t.co/AnZ3Za0O7f #AskUSCIS
Q14: @AK74ABE Appreciate USCIS & CBP doing away with paper forms (I94s). Are there new automation efforts in the pipeline?#AskUSCIS
A14: @AK74ABE You will soon be able to file your Application for Naturalization (N-400) online. Visit: https://t.co/Z7OUPreXUY #AskUSCIS
Q15: @BMIAN93 How long NVC takes to complete its process after receiving all documents from applicant, petitioner and agent ? #AskUSCIS
A15: @BMIAM93 The NVC is part of the Dept. of State. Their contact information can be found here: https://t.co/0DTJEOSnsE #AskUSCIS
Q16: @KANTHS Unable to track my H-4 USCIS case for the past 9 months. Can you please help me track the status! #AskUSCIS
A16: (1/2) @KANTHS Please check https://t.co/bGBRhLeDwt or call 1-800-375-5283. #AskUSCIS
A16: (2/2) @KANTHS If your case does not appear in Case Status Online, email myuscissupport@uscis.dhs.gov #AskUSCIS
Q17: @mely1706 #AskUSCIS where is the final rule for the provisional waiver of inadmissibility dated for 06/2016?
A17: @mely1706 Proposed rule published 9/22/15. Comment period closed 9/21/15. Anticipated final rule publication by summer 2016. #AskUSCIS

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07 July 2016

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Jazz Musician’s Special Instant in Time

(Between June 30 and July 4,  we welcomed more than 7,000 new citizens during nearly 100 naturalization ceremonies in honor of Independence Day. We are featuring stories from some of these new U.S. citizens to show how immigrants add to the strength and character of our nation.)

For jazz musician Enrique Haneine, everything seems to be coming together. This past week, he achieved what he calls “the dream and honor” of becoming a U.S. citizen during a special ceremony at the New York Public Library. His music career is also in full bloom. He recently released his latest album, Instants in Time.

Haneine was born in Mexico City to a family with Lebanese roots. His parents emphasized the importance of education. He earned degrees in music and economics in Mexico, and then moved to Boston to pursue a master’s degree in jazz at the Berklee College of Music.

All the while, he felt that his passion and the ideals that jazz embodied were guiding him on a journey: “I love the spontaneity and improvisation of music and jazz, and how it invites all participants, it becomes a universal language. Jazz for me equals freedom, a place of expression, no matter where you are from, it accepts. At the same time, there is a level of mastery and technique you need to have to express and propose your ideas.”

To Haneine, the values that he found in jazz are the same values that he found in the United States. “Jazz brings many cultures and dreams together and creates unity, much like this country. No matter where you are from, you have something to contribute.”

Above: Haneine at the New York Public Library for his naturalization ceremony

His musical journey and the decision to become a citizen flowed naturally from each other. “What I believe in syncs in perfectly, I couldn’t imagine myself being someplace else. What I am doing is serving. Just the fact that I can make someone feel something through my work is fulfilling.”

Haneine (center) takes the Oath of Allegiance with fellow candidates

During his naturalization ceremony, Haneine was particularly impressed by the roll call of nations, a moment when candidates stand as the country of origin of each individual is read aloud. Afterward, the candidates stand together and take the Oath of Allegiance to become citizens of their new nation, the United States.

A Proud New Citizen

Although he has four degrees, Haneine loves that the process of learning is never ending. His journey to citizenship would not have been possible had he not come to the United States as a student. “It is a constant search. The best teachers are eternal students - you never finish learning. You learn every day, there is always something to learn. One has to keep growing.” Now living in New York City, he has found an environment where music and musicians from around the world flourish and intermingle.

"The things I believe in, the process, goes hand-in-hand with the United States. Learning is not about finishing. Things are just starting, and I am so excited about everything beginning and everything that is coming in the future.”

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01 July 2016

Welcoming Communities Embrace and Integrate Immigrants: Sharing Best Practices from the Field

(By Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz and USCIS Director León Rodríguez. This blog post was originally posted on The White House Blog.)

Summary: More than 50 communities across the country have joined the White House's Building Welcoming Communities Campaign to embrace and integrate immigrants.

Immigrants and refugees have always been a source of our Nation's strength. We are rightfully proud of our great diversity; it is among our country’s greatest assets.

And we are rightfully proud that we are a nation of immigrants - it's at the very core of our American values. We are unique on earth for being a place that is united by a set of ideas, especially the notion that, no matter who you are or where you're from, in this place we are equals under the law. We are Americans. President Obama established the White House Task Force on New Americans to build on these essential values:

“We set up a Task Force on New Americans to help immigrants and refugees better integrate into our American communities. And what’s been exciting is how many local communities are taking it upon themselves to welcome our newest Americans into the fold and introduce them to the both the rights and responsibilities, as well as benefits of citizenship.”

Last September, the President called on local governments to commit to creating welcoming environments for immigrants and refugees through the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign. More than 50 cities and counties have answered the call.

Today, these cities, counties and other communities are implementing innovative approaches to integrating newcomers, recognizing that immigrants and refugees are sources of economic and cultural vitality. These communities are helping permanent residents prepare for citizenship; welcoming students, workers and entrepreneurs who contribute to our economy; and strengthening our national tradition of being a beacon of hope for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

As Task Force co-chairs, we are inspired by what state and local governments as well as business, community, faith, and philanthropic leaders have achieved.

Today, we celebrate the success of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign that brought together more than 850 leaders across the country at ten Regional Convenings on New Americans across the country, including in Los Angeles, CA; Houston, TX, Miami, FL; Atlanta, GA; San José, CA; Boston, MA; Dearborn, MI; Denver, CO; Santa Fe, NM; and Seattle, WA.

We applaud their efforts, creative thinking, and lasting impact on new Americans and their communities. A new report, Bright Spots in Welcoming and Integration, captures so me of the innovative approaches that our Building Welcoming Communities Campaign cities and counties have undertaken to make new Americans feel at home.

Local communities - big and small - will be honored today at the White House for their work in building welcoming communities as well as civic, economic, and linguistic integration. A few of the cities and counties recognized in our Bright Spots in Welcoming and Integration include:
  • The City of Atlanta (GA), which in partnership with Atlanta Information Management, organized the third Atlanta ConnectHome (HUD) event through which 55 families in immigrant-dense neighborhoods received free tablets and internet service for 12 months, along with education on how to use technology to improve their educational outcomes.
  • The City of Boise (ID) Department of Arts and History, which supported a photojournalism project on refugees, entitled Stronger Shines the Light Inside Project. This nationally recognized project by Angie Smith gathered photographs and stories from refugee communities and will be exhibited in downtown Boise in September 2016. The project will give the community the opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion through public art.
  • The City of Boston (MA), which recently formed a Task Force on Foreign-Trained Professionals that is exploring how city government can support residents with skills, credentials, and higher education from outside the country. This task force seeks to maximize the potential of immigrants and refugees with training and education obtained abroad.
  • The City of Los Angeles (CA), which has partnered with over 20 direct service providers, 10 ethnic media partners, and several local elected officials to launch two major citizenship campaigns—Step Forward LA and ¡Protégete!…¡Ciudadanía Ya!—that target Asian American and Pacific Islander and Latino communities locally.
  • The City of Pittsburgh (PA), which launched 30 Neighbors-30 Days, a storytelling campaign to raise awareness of the city’s growing diversity and its positive impact to their communities, and partnered with local groups to hold a Welcoming Bike Ride for immigrant, refugee, and Latino communities.
These communities are rising up to ensure that immigrants and refugees can continue to a source of strength and vitality by welcoming them as new Americans and creating opportunities and offering resources that help them thrive.

President Obama has remarked, "We were all strangers once, until America welcomed us home." We will continue to welcome others home - and make sure they and their neighbors succeed together.

To learn more, read our Bright Spots in Welcoming and Integration and checkout our Building Welcoming Communities Roadmap to Success.

View the report here.

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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. http://go.usa.gov/cJw4B #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. http://go.usa.gov/cJvzh #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 http://go.usa.gov/cJwqV #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. http://go.usa.gov/cJG3Y #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. http://go.usa.gov/cJwx3 #AskDACA

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

A7: Yes, you can find useful information for employers at http://go.usa.gov/cJwaB #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 https://go.usa.gov/SE6Q #AskDACA

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

A9: Yes, you can find our DACA FAQs in Chinese at http://go.usa.gov/cJwC5 #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 http://go.usa.gov/cJwg9 and http://go.usa.gov/cJw4B #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. http://go.usa.gov/cJwTk #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 Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov #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 http://go.usa.gov/cJw4B #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. http://go.usa.gov/cJwg9 #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: https://go.usa.gov/cCx4W #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: http://go.usa.gov/cJwjT #AskDACA

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

A17: Yes, the information is on the USCIS website at http://go.usa.gov/cJwYW #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 http://go.usa.gov/cJw4B #AskDACA

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