BY NICK ABADJIAN
It’s hardly as easy as “through the woods” for Queens immigrants who want to head home for the holidays. Goverment red tape may tangle one local couple’s trip to Romania, as it does for for many families.
HOLIDAYS ON HOLD
Plans for a young couple living in Forest Hills to visit family in Romania for Christmas are on hold due to a snag in paperwork at the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
Michele and Dan Hulea bought their plane tickets to visit Dan’s family in Romania. Yet they are not sure if Dan,
a Romanian National can leave the country.
The Huleas planned in advance for their trip, but conflicting information from the INS is delaying Dan from getting the proper travel documents on time.
“We have been jerked around one way or another by the INS,” said Michelle Hulea, an American citizen who married Dan a year and half ago.
It’s the only time that Dan, a law student, and Michele, a sales representative at Bridal Gown magazine, can coordinate their hectic schedules to leave for Romania.
Their flight is scheduled for Dec. 23.
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN
“Realistically, it doesn’t seem like were going,” said Dan. “But I still have hope.”
Dan Hulea applied to travel in early October.
Since Dan is waiting on a pending I-485 case, commonly known as a green card, he must apply for “advanced parole,” permission from the government to leave and re-enter the US. The application form is called an I-131, which costs $95 and can take up to 75 days to process.
To expedite matters, the Huleas avoided the INS New York office, which can take up hours of one’s work day.
“They seem reluctant, uninterested and abrupt in giving us information,” said Dan Hulea of the INS office in New York at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan.
Instead they turned to the INS website, to download the I-131 form, and called the hotline to ask simple questions.
“The information on the Internet didn’t seem really helpful,” said Dan. “It was confusing and not conclusive.”
On two separate occasions the Huleas called the national hotline and stated their case clearly. Both times, the person on the hotline told them to file the I-131 form to Nebraska, which they did.
In late October, the I-131 form, was mailed to the Huleas, requesting that they send the form to the New York office.
The Huleas, worried about the 75-day deadline, immediately called INS office who told them to bring the form into the New York office.
After going in to the New York office, “the lady [at the booth] told us this is our fault,” said Michele Hulea. “I was at a loss of words.” The Huleas were then told to mail in the form.
LENDING A HELPING HAND
For assistance the Huleas contacted Councilman Anthony Weiner’s Office. They were turned over to assistant Karine Voperian who immigrated from Armenia eight years ago and is the immigration expert for the Congressman’s office.
“You can call the main office in Nebraska and you might hear another thing from the New York office,” said Voperian. “The New York office is under financed and understaffed.”
On a more positive note, Voperian said that the “INS tries to be cooperative for cases when it involves a honeymoon, a death in the family or someone is sick.”
According to Voperian, many cases like this exist are piling up at the backlogged INS.
She said the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which called for stricter laws, increased the number of cases.
“The INS is over 40,000 cases behind in for I-485 cases,” said Fior Rodriguez of Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office, who has become the immigration expert at the congressman’s office.
Rodriguez said that most of the cases that come through her office deal with immigration.
Voperian recently called the INS and faxed a letter to help push the Huleas case through. But as of press time, all the Huleas could do is wait.
TRAVEL ADVISORY FOR ALIENS WITH PENDING IMMIGRATION APPLICATIONS
The INS urges all aliens with pending applications for adjustment of status or change of nonimmigrant status to consult with an immigration attorney or an immigrant assistance organization accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals before making any foreign travel plans.
Generally, aliens who have applied to adjust status to that of permanent resident or change nonimmigrant status must obtain Advance Parole from the INS before traveling abroad (see questions and answers below). However, due to recent changes to U.S. immigration law, travel outside of the United States may have severe consequences for certain aliens who are in the process of adjusting their status or changing their nonimmigrant status. Such aliens may be found inadmissible, their applications may be denied, or both.
Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, aliens who depart the United States after being unlawfully present in the United States for certain periods can be barred from admission, even if they have obtained Advance Parole. Those aliens unlawfully present in the United States for more than 180 days but less than one year are inadmissible for three years; those who are unlawfully present for a year or more are inadmissible for 10 years.
For more information, call the INS nationwide toll-free information service at 1-800-375-5283. Further information on Advance Parole can also be found on INS’ web site at www.ins.usdoj.gov.
For aliens wanting to travel abroad it’s important to plan well in advance. Since each case is unique travel documents vary. Below are offices that can be of assistance.
· Your local congress member’s or council member’s office
· Immigration and Naturalization Services located at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan. To bypass the office you may call their hotline at (800) 375-5283. They also have a web site at www.ins.usdoj.gov. (Forms from the INS may be downloaded at www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/formsfees/index.htm)
· The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services can be reached by phone at (212) 788-7654, or by logging on to www.ci.nyc.us/html/imm.
IMMIGRATION QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
What is Advance Parole?
Advance Parole is permission for certain aliens, who do not have a valid immigrant visa, to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad. Such aliens must be approved for Advance Parole before leaving the United States. If they have not obtained Advance Parole prior to traveling abroad, they will not be permitted to re-enter the United States upon their return.
Who needs Advance Parole?
Aliens in the United States who have:
· an application for adjustment of status pending;
· been granted benefits under the Family Unity Program;
· been granted Temporary Protected Status;
· an asylum application pending; and/or
· an emergent personal or bona fide reason to travel temporarily abroad.
Who is not eligible for Advance Parole?
Aliens in the United States are not eligible for Advance Parole if they are:
· in the United States without a valid immigration status;
· an exchange alien subject to the foreign residence requirement;
· the beneficiary of a private bill; or
· under removal proceedings.
How does one obtain Advance Parole?
In general, an alien must file INS Form I-131, Application for a Travel Document, complete with supporting documentation, photos and the $95 fee. Since filing procedures vary among INS District Offices, applicants for Advance Parole should contact their local INS office for specific directions.
Information on how to locate and contact your local district office as well as copies of Form I-131 can be found on the INS web site www.ins.usdoj.gov. Forms also can be requested using INS’ toll-free forms request line 1-800-870-3676.
Does Advance Parole or a Refugee Travel Document guarantee admission into the United States?
No, Advance Parole or a Refugee Travel Document does not guarantee admission into the United States. Aliens who have obtained Advance Parole or a Refugee Travel Document are still subject to the INS inspection process at the port of entry.
Can travel abroad still have severe consequences for certain aliens, even if they have obtained Advance Parole?
Yes, due to changes to U.S. immigration law, travel outside of the United States may have severe consequences for certain aliens who are in the process of adjusting their status or changing their nonimmigrant status.
Such aliens may be found inadmissible to the United States upon return and/or their applications for adjustment or change of status may be denied.
Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, aliens who depart the United States after accruing certain periods of unlawful presence in the United States can be barred from admission, even if they have obtained Advance Parole.
Those aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States for 180 days but less than one year become inadmissible for three years; those who are unlawfully present for more than one year become inadmissible for 10 years.
Aliens who have concerns about their admissibility should contact an immigration attorney or an immigrant assistance organization accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals before making foreign travel plans.
— Questions and Answers Courtesy of the Immigration and Naturalization Services.