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  • SMS LAW FIRM COVID-19 FAQ

    Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

    At SMS Law Firm we are dedicated to addressing our clients’ concerns.

    Recently, we have had a LOT of questions thrown our way, we will be updating this list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for our client’s convenience. Our valued clients will receive periodic emails with summarized details and links to these FAQs with the latest information. We want to make sure that we provide relevant information across all areas for our clients from South America to Asia. 

    From Asia to South America, please stay safe!

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    COVID-19 has caused a lot of changes for non-immigrants and greencard holders. 

    As a general consequence most of what has happened are delays in processing, interviews, and visas. For some people – this will mean they will overstay, or maybe they carefully calculated out their stay to be able to adjust status.

    Not all changes are bad. On other side, this also means that during this extraordinary time USCIS is implementing measures when issuing temporary visas allowing people to stay provided they timely apply for extensions or changes of status.

    While the Tweet itself has no effect, on April 22, 2020, president Trump issued a Proclamation effectively barring certain categories of incoming immigrants for at least 60 days.

    Impact for incoming immigrants: Those not on the exceptions will be barred from entering for now. However, this does not bar people with green cards already or certain categories. EB-5 clients are considered an exception. 

    Options: Clients seeking a green card right now can still file. Processing green card applicants on average take approximately 6-12 months regardless of visa type. This would simply delay that review process but your application will still be in queue. Clients can also consider filing for B1/B2, a different  work visa (like L-1 or E-2), or renewing their current work visa. 

    A lot of clients are stuck in this situation. The reality is, it is based on your particular situation. 

    Impact: Many people are thinking the same thing right now. To apply or not apply. Applying means you may be caught up in this rush and face delays. However, it should be noted that delays right now inevitable. COVID-19 makes it difficult to gauge the impact. 

    However, it should be noted that you cannot adjust status to a green card unless you have a valid status to adjust from.

    Options: Clients seeking a green card right now can still file.  

    Short answer? Yes. 

    USCIS has been helpful with advising people to file for extensions and changes of status for B1/B2 for non-immigrants. There are also plenty of opportunities to file for other non-immigrant visas – especially for future business owners. 

    Impact: Right now is a good time to apply for extensions and changes of status as a non-immigrant. Generally, ESTA Waiver non-immigrants are not eligible. USCIS has loosened criteria for COVID-19 making it a bit easier. 

    Options: Clients can file an extension of stay (EOS) – if work based or B1/B2; OR change of status (COS) to B1/B2 or other non-immigrant visas.

    USCIS released press indicating that ESTA is unfortunately, generally not eligible for  B1/B2 COS or EOS. 

    Impact: ESTA applicants needing to extend their stay need to apply for “satisfactory departure” which allows for up to 2, 30 day extensions. It is unclear if individuals with exigent circumstances are an exception during this time. 

    Options: USCIS is currently allowing ESTA applicants to do a “satisfactory departure” up to 30 days. Applicants should apply before their time period expire and also contact USCIS which provides:

    If you need to talk to a representative for another reason, and are in the United States or a U.S. territory, you can call the USCIS Contact Center. Dial 800-375-5283 (for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability: TTY 800-767-1833) to access automated information through an interactive menu 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are outside the United States or a U.S. territory, you can call 212-620-3418.

    You can get live help from a USCIS representative Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern except on federal holidays

    We have a lot of clients that want to start their own business and diversify their income. The short answer is YES, you can be an owner of an LLC and buy rental properties – but you must be very careful that you are receiving passive distributions. 

    Immigrant Impact: Right now is a good time to start your business as many of our clients are starting their own entrepreneurial ventures due to more time at home to focus on that project they have been wanting to. As a green card holder, there is no limitation but clients should consider how to properly form and structure their company to maximize tax benefits while minimizing potential liability.

    Non-immigrant impact: Non-Immigrants CAN create their own enterprise or business, whether you are on a visitor visa, h1-b, or other visa. However, non-immigrants should remain cautious about the scope of their visas and what they are permitted to do. As a general rule of thumb, you can receive passive income (distributions, loan repayments, etc.) but you CAN NOT receive active income from your own USA business (as an employee, compensation, or other exchange of payment for services). Non-immigrant workers are exempted from income paid their employer. Some non-immigrant visas available to own and operate your own business is as a L-1 or E-2 visa holder. 

    Options: Green Card holders do not have limitations but should consider how to properly structure their business. Non-immigrants can file and create their own business, online stores, etc. However, they should definitely be cautious about what their status is and what they can do when owning a company.

    USCIS has closed many of their field offices in the interim while COVID-19 responses are ongoing. However, this does not mean that applications have stopped.

    Impact: USCIS has already been preparing an electronic system for faster communication. However, as offices are closed delays are inevitable across the board for any visa or greencard application. As a quick FYI, at SMS Law Firm we are still receiving approvals, RFE’s, and more. 

    Options: Clients can still file their applications but may face some delays for interviews, processing, and visa issuance. Clients can check their case stattus using their case number with HERE

    Short answer. YES. 

    Many of our clients regularly update their wills and trusts every year to ensure their assets go to their loved ones as best practices.

    Trusts vs Wills 

    Living Trust (revocable): A document which takes effect immediately. Bypasses probate, no court supervision is provided (or needed) should benefits be challenged or disputes arise. All defers to your successor trustee. You continue to manage the assets in your trust as long as you are alive and of a sound mind. Should you lose the mental or physical ability to manage your trust, you name a “successor” to do so for you. 

    Primary benefit: Avoids probate costs for anything properly inside the trust.  

    Wills: In simple terms, a document which tells the probate court how to manage your assets. Select who your assets go to, who will actually make sure it happens it, and have a court supervise that.

    Primary Benefit: If there is a challenge by a beneficiary, it will go through probate and have additional costs. However, it will allow for proper distribution of your assets according your will. 

    Immigrant Impact: Most countries provide a law allowing for wills. The United States allows for both wills and trusts.

    Non-Immigrant Impact: Can also do a will or trust. If you have USA assets, these will be distributed via your will or trust. If you have foreign assets it depends on what country those assets are in. If that country recognizes trusts – you can move those properties and have everything fall under a trust. If that country does not recognize trusts, then form a Will.

    Options: Clients can create their own will, trust, or both. We generally provide for our clients a living, revocable trust with a pour-over will. The trust will cover everything eligible to be qualified for trust laws and the will cover anything missing. 

    If your assets are in a non-trust jurisdiction, we would suggest having a trust for your eligible assets and a Will in addition for non-recognized assets.  

    USCIS has released a notice about applicants requesting updates on their I-526. More information can be found here on how USCIS calculates when a case is “outside the normal scope of case processing” which would make a formal inquiry appropriate.  

    Impact: To determine whether your case falls “outside normal processing time” and that you are eligible to make a case inquiry, you may take the following steps:


    1. Go to https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/
    2. On the form dropdown window, select “I-526”
    3. For Field office, select “Immigrant Investor Program Office”.
    4. Click “get processing time”.
    5. On the new screen, scroll down until you see “Receipt date for a case inquiry”.


    6. Match this date with your I-797 receipt notice date.
    7. If your receipt notice date is earlier than the receipt date shown on the webpage, Please contact our offices so we may assist you in an inquiry.
    8. If your receipt notice date is later than the receipt date shown on the webpage, please wait and periodically check for updates.

    SAN DIEGO SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

    We have continued to provide uninterrupted services to our clients. Clients can continue to contact us through their normal preferred method of contact including Zoom, Whatsapp, Wechat, Line, Email, or by Phone.

    Our physical offices are generally unavailable to the public unless by appointment and in line with local, state, federal and mandated requirements.

    Our physical offices are available as follows:

    San Diego, USA – Appointment Only. 

    Shanghai, China – Open

    Taipei, Taiwan – Open

    Belo Horizonte, Brazil – Closed

    Tijuana, Mexico – Closed

    Yes, our offices remain available in San Diego by appointment only. 

    Clients are required to wear masks, will be provided disposable pens, and be required to answer questions about recent travel. We are following all CDC guidelines and implementing some that we feel are in the best interests to protect our clients and staff. 

    At the current time the Superior Court of San Diego is closed through May 22, 2020. 

    However, emergency hearings can still be filed and requested in specific circumstances. For more information – please visit the San Diego Superior Court website

    Yes, we can still file with courts in specific circumstances. For more information and whether we can file a specific item for you – please contact our offices. 

    We are checking with the state and local ordinances and ensuring that we open up timely and efficiently to better serve our clients. 

    In the interim, we encourage our valued clients and new clients to connect with us via Zoom or other video chat!

    Absolutely! We are still checking our office mail daily and can both receive and send mail. 

    Our mailing address is 2221 Camino Del Rio South, Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92116. 

    Absolutely, we are still able to properly record your documents with the county recorder’s office to effectuate property transfers into trust, among other services!

    Have more questions? Contact Us.

    Disclaimer - Informational Purposes Only

    The information on this site and particularly of this FAQ is for general informational purposes only.  The information presented in this site is not legal advice or a legal opinion, and it may not necessarily reflect the most current legal developments.  You should seek the advice of legal counsel of your choice before acting upon any of the information in this site.

    Contacting us by telephone, email or other means, or transmitting information to us, will not establish an attorney-client relationship.  The attorney-client relationship can only be established after we have determined that we are able and willing to accept the engagement and we have entered into a written engagement agreement.  Until then, do not send any confidential information to us unless we specifically request it.  Information communicated without such authorization may not be treated as confidential, secret or otherwise be protected from disclosure, and SMS Law Firm will not be precluded from representing parties adverse to the sender of such information in any matter.

    SMS Law Firm has endeavored to comply with all known legal and ethical requirements that apply to this site.  SMS Law Firm does not seek to represent anyone based solely on a visit to this site or upon receiving advertising from us, where to do so would not comply with applicable law and rules of ethics.  This website is a communication providing public information about our firm’s availability for professional employment.


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