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Happy Monday! Welcome back to Visalawyerblog. We begin the start of the new week with some disappointing news regarding premium processing fee increases effective today October 19, 2020.

On October 16, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) quietly announced a substantial increase in filing fees for premium processing requests filed on Form I-907 that became effective today October 19, 2020,  in compliance with H.R.8337 (Public Law No. 116-159) a continuing appropriations bill that became public law on October 1, 2020.

Pursuant to this new bill, starting today USCIS will increase the filing fee for Form I-907 Request for Premium Processing from $1,440 to $2,500, for all filings except those from petitioners filing Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, requesting H-2B or R-1 nonimmigrant worker status.

The premium processing fee for petitioners filing Form I-129 requesting H-2B or R-1 nonimmigrant status is increasing from $1,440 to $1,500.

What is premium processing?

Premium processing provides expedited processing for Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. USCIS guarantees processing within 15 calendar days to those who choose to use this service.

The 15 calendar day period begins when USCIS properly receives the current version of Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, at the correct filing address noted on the form.

Once the I-907 is received, USCIS either issues an approval notice, denial notice, notice of intent to deny, or request for evidence within the 15-calendar day period.

H.R. 8337 will soon expand premium processing service to applications to change or extend nonimmigrant status, applications for employment authorization, and other types of benefit requests.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post, we celebrate a client’s recent success story and share with you how our office was able to expedite our client’s immigrant visa (CR-1) to help him reunite with his U.S Citizen spouse in the United States.

We recognize that these are truly challenging times in the world of immigration and would like our readers to know that they are not alone. For many, there are alternatives and solutions that can be explored by our knowledgeable immigration attorneys to help them reunite with their family members. From our staff members to our attorneys, we are with you every step of the way on your immigration journey.

For a comprehensive consultation to discuss solutions to your immigration issues, you may contact us at 619-819-9204. 

Suspension of Routine Visa Services Continues at Most Consulates Worldwide

As our readers will know, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult for immigrants residing abroad to secure appointments for visa interviews at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies worldwide.

While some Consulates and U.S. Embassies have resumed routine visa services, these are very few and far in between. At the moment, routine visa services are only available on a “post-by-post” basis as individual country conditions permit operations to return to normalcy. For the most part, Consulates and Embassies have not been able to provide specific dates regarding when each post will completely resume routine visa services. This has left many immigrants in a state of uncertainty during what is already a very difficult time in our history. Many family members remain apart for extended periods of time with no end in sight.

Despite these limitations however, Consulates and Embassies are continuing to accommodate emergency and expedite requests for applicants with urgent matters who need to travel immediately. Where an applicant has been documentarily qualified by the National Visa Center, a U.S. Citizen petitioner may submit a request with the NVC to expedite the consular interview based on extreme hardship to the U.S. Citizen. Extreme hardship to a U.S. Citizen spouse can be demonstrated in several ways including where the USC is suffering from a disability or severe medical and/or psychological condition.

Our Client’s Situation

Amid this backdrop, our client came to us in a state of desperation. Our client had petitioned to immigrate her husband to the United States under the CR-1 category. The good? Her husband was already documentarily qualified by the NVC. The problem? Unfortunately the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan refused to grant him an interview due to the general suspension of routine visa services.

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Happy Monday! Welcome back to Visalawyerblog. We kick off the start of a brand new week with very exciting news.

We are happy to report that on October 1, 2020, Congress passed H.R. 8337, an appropriations bill that will expand the availability of premium processing service provided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to a larger pool of applicants for immigration benefits.

The legislation calls for expansion of premium processing to most employment-based immigration applications and potentially all USCIS benefits. This move could prove enormously beneficial especially during the Coronavirus pandemic to help move cases along more quickly than ever before. Applicants who request an employment authorization document (EAD) for example can seek premium processing service along with their applications, allowing for EADs to be issued within 15 calendar days.

During this pandemic, the processing of EAD applications has slowed significantly with most taking at least 7 months or longer to be issued. This new legislation will dramatically improve processing times for those that are willing to pay for premium processing service.

Before H.R. 8337, USCIS allowed certain employment-based petitioners to request premium processing service for E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ (blanket L-1), O-1, O-2, P-1, P-2, P-3, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2 applications for a fee of $1,440 with guaranteed processing of applications within 15 calendar days. For immigrant petitions, premium processing was available, with certain exceptions, for the employment-based first, second and third preferences (EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3).


What types of petitions will benefit from the expansion of premium processing service?

The new legislation will now allow premium processing service for:

(A) employment-based nonimmigrant petitions and associated applications for dependents of the beneficiaries of such petitions;

(B) employment-based immigrant petitions filed by or on behalf of aliens described in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) of section 203(b); [the first three employment-based preferences]

(C) applications to change or extend nonimmigrant status;

(D) applications for employment authorization; and

(E) any other immigration benefit type that the Secretary deems appropriate for premium processing.


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In this post we discuss a new proposed rule published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that seeks to amend regulations governing Form, I-864 Affidavit of Support. The I-864 Affidavit of Support is a required form that must be completed by the person petitioning the foreign national, in order for their relative to immigrate to the United States. The petitioner must attest that they meet the income requirement based on their household size to sponsor the foreign national. Petitioners who are unable to meet the income requirement, must obtain a joint sponsor who does meet this requirement.

Essentially, when the petitioner or joint sponsor signs the affidavit of support, he or she is entering into an enforceable contract with the U.S. government, in which they agree to use their financial resources to support the beneficiary named in the affidavit of support. Where the beneficiary seeks public benefits from a government agency, the petitioner or sponsor can be held legally responsible for repaying those costs to the government agency.

The rules and regulations governing the affidavit of support have recently come under fire during the Trump administration. The President has consistently pushed for stricter enforcement of a sponsor’s obligations, requiring government agencies to hold sponsors liable for any benefits paid out to beneficiaries of an affidavit of support.


What is the New Rule About?

On October 2, 2020 DHS announced a proposed rule that (1) clarifies how a sponsor must demonstrate that he or she has the means to maintain income (2) revises documentation that sponsors and household members must meet as evidence of their income (3) modifies when an applicant is required to submit an Affidavit from a joint sponsor and (4) updates reporting and information sharing between government agencies.

Changes to Documentation Required of Sponsors

The proposed rule updates the evidentiary requirements for sponsors submitting an Affidavit, to “better enable immigration officers and immigration judges to determine whether the sponsor has the means to maintain an annual income at or above the applicable threshold, and whether the sponsor can, in fact, provide such support to the intending immigrant and meet all support obligations during the period the Affidavit is in effect.”

Specifically, this proposed rule would require sponsors and household members who execute an Affidavit or Contract to provide Federal income tax returns for 3 years, credit reports, credit scores, and bank account information.

Receipt of Means-Tested Benefits May Disqualify Sponsor

The proposed rule also seeks to change the regulations to specify that a sponsor’s prior receipt of any means-tested public benefits and a sponsor’s failure to meet support obligations on another executed Affidavit, or household member obligations on a previously executed Affidavit of Support, will impact the determination as to whether the sponsor has the means to maintain the required income threshold to support the immigrant.

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On October 1, 2020, federal judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction that prevents the government from enforcing Presidential Proclamation 10052 issued on June 22, 2020, but only against the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit which include the National Association of Manufacturers, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, Technet, and Intrax, Inc. See National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Homeland Security.

The plaintiffs brought the lawsuit before the court to challenge the issuance of Presidential Proclamation 10052, which suspends visa issuance for certain nonimmigrant workers until December 13, 2020, with discretion to be continued “as necessary.” Those impacted by this Proclamation include applicants who were not in the United States on June 24th or in possession of a valid visa as of that date, who seek visas in any of the following categories:

(1) H-1B or H-2B visa nonimmigrant visa applicants, and any alien accompanying or following to join such alien;

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We have important new developments to share with our readers regarding the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) planned increase in filing fees for certain applications and petitions, which was set to go into effect beginning October 2nd 2020.

As we previously reported on our blog, in early August USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register entitled, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements.” This final rule discussed the agency’s planned increase in filing fees for applications, petitions, or requests filed with USCIS postmarked on or after October 2, 2020.

*For a complete list of the planned increases and petitions affected click here.

According to USCIS, the final rule was intended to ensure that the agency would have enough resources to provide adequate services to applicants and petitioners. The agency stated that after having conducted a review of current fees, the agency determined that they could not cover the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services without a fee increase.

This news was not surprising to say the least. Since the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has been facing an unprecedented financial crisis that has forced the agency to take drastic measures to account for its revenue shortfalls.

Federal Judge Grants Injunction Blocking Increase in Filing Fees

In a surprising turn of events, just days before the final rule was set to go into effect, several organizations filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to stop the government from enforcing the final rule. Immigrant Legal Resource Center, et al., v. Chad F. Wolf.

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, federal judge Jeffrey S. White of the District Court for the Northern District of California, granted the injunction temporarily preventing the government from enforcing the increase in filing fees as planned on October 2nd.

As a result of the court order, USCIS is prohibited from enforcing any part of the final rule while the lawsuit is being litigated in court. While the government is sure to appeal the court’s decision, for now applicants can continue to send their applications and petitions with the current filing fees as posted on the USCIS webpage.

In support of his ruling, judge White reasoned that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in challenging the final rule because both the previous and current acting secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were unlawfully appointed to their posts and therefore were not authorized to issue the final rule. The judge also agreed that the fee hike would put low income immigrants at a severe disadvantage stating, “Plaintiffs persuasively argue that the public interest would be served by enjoining or staying the effective date of the Final Rule because if it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”

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Our office has been eagerly awaiting the release of the October visa bulletin which ushers in the beginning of a brand-new fiscal year. As our readers will know, a lot has been happening in the world of immigration.

Since March of 2020, U.S. Consulates and Embassies nationwide have suspended routine visa services to the public amid the Coronavirus pandemic. To make matters even more complicated, the President issued a series of Presidential Proclamations suspending the issuance of immigrant visas for most family-sponsored preference categories with limited exceptions including spouses and minor children of United States Citizens. In this post we cover the good, the bad, and the ugly of the release of the October 2020 visa bulletin.


THE BAD AND THE UGLY –

Most Family Sponsored Categories Unable to Obtain Immigrant Visas Due to Consular Closures and Presidential Proclamations

For the most part, nearly all family-sponsored categories on the visa bulletin are impacted by the Presidential Proclamations and individuals impacted cannot obtain an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate until the Proclamations terminate on December 31, 2020.

What Family Preference Categories are Impacted?

Presidential Proclamations 10014 and 10052 together suspend the entry of and issuance of visas for the following types of family-sponsored immigrants until December 31, 2020:

  • F2A Spouses and children of green card holders applying at the consulate
  • F-2B Unmarried sons and daughters of green card holders applying at the consulate (21 years of age or older)
  • F-3 Married sons and daughters meaning of US citizens applying at the consulate (children under 21 years old of US citizens are not affected)
  • F-4 Brothers and sisters of US citizens applying at the consulate

As you can see these categories make up the vast majority of the family-sponsored preference categories on the visa bulletin. Only very narrow categories of individuals have been specifically exempted from the Proclamations.

Those exempted include the following:

  • Spouses and children of US citizens applying at the consulate are not affected
  • Sons and daughters under 21 years old of US citizens applying at the consulate are not affected
  • Lawful Permanent Residents of the U.S.
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and any spouse and child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Aliens seeking to enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional
  • Aliens seeking to enter the U.S. to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19
  • Any spouse any unmarried child under 21 years of age of any such alien who is accompanying or following to join the alien
  • Any alien applying for a visa pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program
  • Aliens whose entry furthers important United States law enforcement objectives
  • Any alien seeking entry pursuant to a Special Immigrant Visa in the SI or SQ classification, and any spouse and child of any such individual
    • SI: Certain aliens employed by the U.S. Government in Iraq or Afghanistan as translators or interpreters
    • SQ: Certain Iraqis or Afghans employed by or on behalf of the U.S. Government
  • Any alien whose entry would be in the national interest of the United States (national interest waivers)
  • Aliens seeking entry for asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

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The public charge rule is back. On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision that allows the Department of Homeland Security to resume enforcement of the Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility final rule on a nationwide basis, including in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

The court “stayed” or suspended the grant of a preliminary injunction issued on July 29, 2020 by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, meaning that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can now require Form I-944 in all jurisdictions, and continue to enforce the public charge rule nationwide.


Why the ruling?

The appellate court ruling comes after the Department of Homeland Security appealed the July 29th preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement of the public charge rule to residents of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. The government asked the court to “stay” or suspend the preliminary injunction, pending resolution of the appeal before the courts.

A three judge panel ruled in favor of the government finding that they were likely to succeed on the merits of the case and in any event the judges said that it was doubtful that the district court had jurisdiction to issue the preliminary injunction in the first place, given that the court of appeals was considering the issues raised by the public charge rule.

What does this mean for applicants?

Pursuant to the appellate court’s order, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will resume enforcement and implementation of the Public Charge Grounds Final Rule nationwide. The government is no longer prevented from enforcing the rule during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

USCIS has stated on their webpage that they will apply the public charge final rule to all applications and petitions postmarked or submitted electronically on or after Feb. 24, 2020, including pending applications and petitions. For applications or petitions sent by commercial courier (for example, UPS, FedEx, or DHL), USCIS will use the date on the courier receipt as the postmark date.

USCIS will not re-adjudicate any applications and petitions that were approved following the issuance of the July 29, 2020, injunction continuing until the date of the notice (September 22, 2020).

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With the 2020 elections quickly approaching and much at stake in the world of immigration, we remind you of the upcoming events relating to the presidential election, where you can register to vote and secure a mail in ballot, and of who is eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Who Can Vote in the U.S. Presidential Election?

You are eligible to vote in U.S. Federal Elections if you are a United States Citizen, regardless of the manner in which you obtained citizenship. U.S. Citizen’s must meet their state’s residency requirements, be 18 years of age on or before election day and register to vote by your state’s deadline. If you are not yet registered to vote, please do so as soon as possible. Voting is one of the most important ways that Americans can participate in our democracy and protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

As a reminder, lawful permanent residents cannot vote in federal elections. Only United States citizens may do so.

For information on your state’s registration requirements please click here.


Criminal Issues May Impact Your Right to Vote

In some states, you may not be able to vote if you have certain felony convictions. If you have questions about whether you may vote in your state, contact your state county election officials where you wish to register to vote.


How Can You Vote?

You may vote either (1) in person at your designated polling place on election day (2) you may vote early in person at your designated early polling place, or (3) you may request a mail-in/absentee ballot if available and vote by mail.

To find your polling place click here.

For information on how to request a mail-in absentee ballot click here.

For information on how to check your registration status click here.

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We are happy to report that the Department of State has released an important announcement that describes the agency’s compliance with the recent court ruling, Gomez v. Trump, which orders the government to make good-faith efforts to expeditiously schedule, process, and adjudicate DV-2020 diversity visa applications by September 30, 2020, despite issuance of Proclamation 10014.

In accordance with the court’s ruling, DV-2020 applications are being processed at embassies and consulates as local health conditions and resources will allow during this pandemic.

To proceed with visa processing, applicants must be documentarily qualified (meaning the applicant has obtained all documents specified by consular officials sufficient to meet the formal visa application requirements), have paid all requisite application fees, have the ability to obtain the required medical examination conducted by a panel physician, and demonstrate eligible for a visa prior to issuance.

If a post is unable to process cases due to local health conditions and resource constraints, an applicant may request a transfer to another post

The Department expects that, due to resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and country conditions, it will be unable to accommodate all DV applicants before September 30, 2020.

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