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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

FIRES ILLUSTRATE NEED FOR PLANNING BY IMMIGRANTS

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Two years ago, I was counseling a number of immigrants on how to maintain their legal status in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Jobs were lost, documents destroyed, government offices closed and people were relocated to metro areas far from home. USCIS, the State Department and the Department of Labor did a good job helping people affected, but the lesson many took away from the storms was that it is important to do advance planning for disasters and emergencies and be prepared to also act quickly.



I was reminded of this by a quote I saw in this morning's New York Times in reference to the Southern California fires:

"I saw a live video of our apartment complex burning," said Raj
Panandian, a 26-year-old software engineer. He and several of his
neighbors left the complex at 4 a.m. after receiving a telephone call
from San Diego County Fire Department officials.



"I had just
settled down there six months ago," said Mr. Panandian, an Indian
citizen. "I had bought furniture, and everything. The only thing I
managed to save was my passport and my H-1 work visa. I think
everything else is gone."

One simple action you can take now is to make sure you have a copy of all of your key immigration documents accessible at a remote location in case of a disaster. Consider scanning your documents and storing them electronically off site as well. Not only will you need documents like your I-94 and passport to prove your legal status, but you'll want copies of filings with government agencies in case the government office with your file is closed temporarily or destroyed.



 



Also, following Mr. Panandian's lead is helpful. Have your original documents in a place you can quickly find them and be sure you take them with you when you evacuate.



If you are displaced and forced to move, remember to alert USCIS to your address change. You can download Form AR-11 at www.uscis.gov.



If there is a major disaster in your area, you should check in, if possible, with your immigration lawyer or if you are a student, your foreign student adviser. The American Immigration Lawyers Association and NAFSA, the organization for foreign student advisers, will often have the latest and most detailed information on special procedures and announcements relating to the disaster.



In a large disaster, USCIS may relax visa rules so people who lose their jobs, are no longer enrolled in school, etc. are not facing severe immigration violations. But you should not count on this, particularly if an emergency only affects you or a disaster is small, and you may want to plan on quickly filing for a change to visitor status while you sort things out. I-539 visitor status petitions can be submitted online. You are technically required to file for a change to visitor status while you remain in valid status in another category, but there is a provision in the regulations allowing for late filings when there are extraordinary circumstances. Be sure to present a copy of a police or fire report or a FEMA or insurance adjuster document proving you were affected by the disaster or emergency.



Be sure to file for replacement documents quickly if an original document was lost. The I-90 form to replace a green card can be filed online. You can also download Form I-102 to replace an I-94 at the USCIS web site.



I'm sure readers have other tips to share and I encourage you to mention them in the comments.


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Comments

  1. BharatPremi's Avatar
    Thanks Greg. It is very helpful and informative note.

    Now my comments are regarding traveling outside particularly for Visa revalidation. To go for visa revalidation itself is disasterous and nerve racking some time. While going out for visa revalidation you can not assume that your visa will be revalidated for surely and in that insecure travel in my opinion one should travel with following:

    - All docs and original reqd. for Visa revalidation
    - All bank account and investment information
    - Inform Schools about how unsure your travel is if you have
    kids studying in school and you are traveling out with kids.
    Also discuss about the situation when you may have to extend
    your stay outside for around 4 to 6 months.
    - If You are renting schedule on time rent payments for couple
    of months in advance if your lease not going to be ended
    soon. If lease is going to be ended soon then negotiate with
    landlord, terminate the lease and buy a storage space on
    rent to put the belongings in the storage for couple of
    months.

    Additional comments on this subject as well as on disasterous condition are welcome.

    - BharatPremi
  2. JoeF's Avatar
    Here in SoCal we not only have to deal with fires. There also is the earthquake danger.
    So, besides keeping copies of important documents offsite, having some food and water stored is a good thing.

    For electronic copies, creating a webmail account, and sending the documents there is an efficient storage method. Of course, you may want to zip and/or encrypt sensitive documents.
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