Lawyer Farah Kamal with Advice for Migrants Affected by COVID-19

The Neighborhood

Lawyer Farah Kamal with Advice for Migrants Affected by COVID-19

"Call them and ask them to work with you." Interview with Farah Kamal of Kamal Law Firm

Being a migrant is not easy. At the best of times there is a steep learning curve we all have to climb to adapt to our new host country.

But being a migrant in the middle of a global pandemic is something that our generation has never been through. In the hopes of helping our community members, we spoke to Farah Kamal of Kamal Law Firm in Houston, Texas. She has a law degree from South Texas College of Law and 10+ years of experience working within immigration and family law, as well as being a migrant herself.

MAJORITY: Given the current COVID-19 situation, how can a legal migrant help an undocumented family member worried about being deported seek medical attention? 

FARAH KAMAL: Unfortunately, the resources and healthcare options are very limited for people that are here undocumented or that have overstayed [their visa]. However, in an event of an emergency if they were to seek medical treatment they will not be turned away from a hospital. In addition, many different immigrant communities offer fee clinics which are available to everyone regardless of their status.

We have many people in the US who have been here for a very long time without lawful residency, however at the moment their options are very limited, and we hope that someday in the future there will be immigration reform.

Oftentimes, people can change their status from their existing one without severe consequences. In addition, a person may have a form of relief that becomes available. However, for them to gain lawful status, they may have to return to their country of origin. 

  M: How can you sponsor your family and what is considered immediate relatives and other relatives?

FK: The spouse, widow(er), unmarried children under 21 of a US citizen and the parent of a US citizen who is 21 or older are considered immediate relatives of a US citizen. Certain relatives of a US citizen or permanent resident who are not considered immediate relatives may have to wait for a visa to become available before they can apply for permanent residency including:

First Preference : Unmarried, adult (21 years of age or older) sons and daughters of US citizens

Second Preference A : Spouses of permanent residents and the unmarried children (under the age of 21) of permanent residents

Second Preference B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or age or older) of permanent residents

Third Preference : Married sons and daughters of US citizens, their spouses and their minor children

Fourth Preference : Brothers and sisters of adult US citizens, their spouses and their minor children

Petitions for immediate family members may take approximately nine months to a year to get processed. For other relatives, it may take several years to obtain permanent US residence.

In the past it would take years before a spousal visa for a permanent resident’s spouse to become available, but for the past few months, it’s been the same as if you were a US citizen sponsoring your spouse to come.

So it’s a really good time to file if you're a legal resident and your spouse is here. Most times people are waiting to adjust their status, but because it’s current right now they can actually do it like the US spouse of a US citizen would. 

 M: What are migrants eligible for in regard to financial relief from the government?

FK: There are several types of migrants, which include US Citizens, people that are lawful permanent residents, people that are here on nonimmigrant visas and undocumented.

US Citizens have basically the same rights as a natural born citizen. Lawful permanent residents also enjoy many of the same benefits. People that are here on a nonimmigrant visa have different benefits according to the type of visa they hold, for example someone here on a student visa has limited options for employment while studying. However, someone here on an employment visa is able to work. Likewise, someone who is present in the US on a business visa is able to work, invest, and file taxes while they may not be eligible for a lawful permanent status. 

Depending on your visa and whether you are an immigrant with a social security number will be important. If you filed a tax return is what will determine if you are entitled to and will be receiving the stimulus payment. This will also include people with H-1 employment and people with DACA.

The amount of payment will depend on the guidelines set out for the income you earn and of course the number of household dependents. 

Most people that are here on nonimmigrant visas who do not have a social security number, most likely did not file taxes. In addition, if you filed taxes with an ITIN number, you will not qualify to receive the payment. 

M: What advice would you give migrants who are having a tough time making ends meet during these difficult times?

FK: These are unprecedented times we are facing as a country.  We’re all in this together. Our futures are very uncertain at the moment. Whether it’s a CEO of a business or a wage earner, everyone is scared.

I have a law practice and I'm wondering what's going to happen. People are struggling. My clients are struggling. You want to help them, but you also need to help yourself at this time.

Reach out to your communities, though you're limited with social distancing and all, but reach out to someone who can help.

Ask for help. If you're falling back on bill payments or your mortgage, pick up the phone and call. It may take you four or five hours to get through, but do it, let them know. They are going to help you out. They’ll give you an extension. Everyone is trying to help.

Pay attention to the rules and executive orders that are coming out. For example, there is an executive order now that has ordered mortgage companies to suspend any foreclosures [and] apartment landlords can’t do any evictions. So if you are falling behind on your rent, they may file an eviction lawsuit, but they won’t be able to move forward on it until this passes.

So the advice I would give is that if you have a mortgage company, call them and ask them to work with you. If you have a landlord and you are going to fall behind, call them and let them know. But try and work with them because maybe your rent is their sole income, so try and understand them.

If you call them and tell them you’re not going to pay your rent because you lost your job, that’s ok, but understand that if that’s their sole income, how are they going to pay their rent and bills?

As far as car notes, same thing. Call the company up. All your utilities whether it’s your gas, your electricity, your water, everybody is giving extensions, so pick up the phone and call them and get those extensions so your credit doesn’t get negatively affected.

And go apply for unemployment. Even if the lines are long, even if it’s taking hours and hours.

M: Would undocumented workers that file taxes be able to receive any financial assistance?

FK: The thing is this, the law, orders, rules, and guidelines are changing on a day-to-day basis. In fact, there are times on the same day where it's like okay, here's an amended guidance. So it may change.

I do know that if, for example, they are a 1099 contractor, they may be able to apply for SBA Loans on their own, however their employer may not be able to, but they will.

If, for example, you have a cleaning service and you work for an office building under a 1099 contract, you will be able to apply for SBA Loans. But then again, I’m not a banker so I don't know the specifics.

M: On that note, what message would you want migrants to know?

FK: Every single person is going through a rough time, whether you are an immigrant, citizen, a student, employee, business owner–this pandemic is affecting all of us. We’re all in this together.

And I'll tell you this, we may not get the help that we're needing, but this will pass and hopefully soon. But just know that everybody's going through it.

Try and prioritize staying indoors and protecting your family, because the last thing you need is to have financial hardships. You don’t want someone in your family getting ill or the breadwinner of the house falling ill.

Utilize this time to spend some extra time with your kiddos and your family and wait for it to pass.

If you are in the Houston area and have more legal questions and require help, you can reach out to Mrs. Kamal at 713-524-4529 or FKAMAL@KAMALLAWFIRM.COM.

As one of our partners, MAJORITY members receive a 25% discount at this locality.

Share

Related articles