Articles Posted in Biden administration

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Newly released data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has shown that thanks to policy guidance released in January 2022, more foreign nationals working in the STEM fields are receiving O-1A visas than ever before.

In just the first year of issuing its revised guidance for example, issuance of O-1A visas soared by 30% to 4,570 and remained steady throughout fiscal year 2023.

USCIS’ clarifying policy guidance also benefitted EB-2 applicants with advanced STEM degrees seeking the National Interest Waiver petition. The number of such visas approved in 2022 increased by 55% over 2021, to 70,240 visas and remained at a high level throughout 2022.

Recent policy clarifications have helped those with advanced degrees in the STEM fields understand whether they meet the qualifying criteria of the O-1A and EB-2 National Interest Waiver petition, because USCIS has been much more transparent in listing examples of the types of evidence that will satisfy the evidentiary criteria, focusing on the highly technical nature of STEM fields and the complexity of evidence typically submitted in these fields.

One of the more interesting updates USCIS provided in its policy guidance, emphasizes that with respect to O-1A petitions, if a particular criterion does not readily apply to the applicant’s field, comparable evidence may be submitted to establish sustained acclaim or recognition, including examples of comparable evidence for those working in the STEM fields, 2 USCIS-PM M.4, Appendices Tab.

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The past year saw big victories for worldwide visa operations.

The Department of State recently provided statistics summarizing its visa processing capacity in the year 2023. The recent data shows tremendous advancement in visa processing capacity at Consular posts globally and provides a strong outlook for visa processing in the year 2024.

In the year 2023, the Department of State issued more nonimmigrant visas at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies worldwide than at any other time since 2015.

This included issuing a record of 10.4 million nonimmigrant visas globally, with more than 1 million nonimmigrant visas issued in a single month during March of 2023.

Some of the State Department’s accomplishments include:

  • The reunification of families, with the issuance of 563,000 immigrant visas (IVs) in FY 2023, with 30 of its missions issuing their largest number of immigrant visas ever.  Consular sections worldwide have reduced the overall immigrant visa interview scheduling backlog by nearly half, from nearly 532,000 in July 2021, to just over 275,500.
  • Prioritizing student and academic exchange visitor visa interviews to facilitate study at U.S. universities and colleges. Consular sections issued 830,000 student and exchange visitor visas in FY 2023, more than in any year since FY 2016.  More than 600,000 of those were for students pursuing an education in the United States, many of them from countries sending record numbers of students. Of these numbers, nearly 40,000 visas were issued to African students which set an all-time record.
  • Record numbers of visas were issued for seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural workers to facilitate the legal and orderly flow of labor. A record-breaking 442,000 visas were issued to H-2A and H-2B temporary workers in 2023, with nearly 90 percent of visas issued to workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 
  • A record number of 365,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued to airline and shipping crewmembers (C1/D) which are essential to maintaining international transportation and supply chains that support the U.S. and global economies.

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As the new year approaches, we have some unfortunate news to report for certain employment-based applicants who may wish to file their petitions with premium processing service in 2024, including those filing:

  • Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, as well as
  • Certain applicants filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and
  • I-539 Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.

On December 28, 2023, USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register that will increase the filing fee for Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, to adjust for inflation.

The final rule states that starting February 26, 2024, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will increase the premium processing fees USCIS charges for all eligible forms and categories to reflect the amount of inflation from June 2021 through June 2023 according to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

Please note that not all petitions are eligible to request premium processing service. Applicants may only request premium processing if USCIS has specifically designated your classification as one that is eligible for premium processing service. To determine whether premium processing is available for your benefit request please review the USCIS webpage.

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In the nick of time, on December 21, 2023, the Department of State announced that it will continue its interview waiver policy for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants. The agency’s interview waiver policy was previously set to expire on December 31, 2023. However, its implementation will continue starting on January 1, 2024, and remain in place until further notice.

Following consultations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Secretary of State has determined that the following categories of interview waivers are in the national interest.  Based on this directive, Consular Officers now have the authority and discretion to waive the in-person interview for:

  • First time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers); and
  • Other nonimmigrant visa applicants applying for any nonimmigrant visa classification who:
      • Were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless the only prior issued visa was a B visa; and
      • Are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa’s expiration date.

The Department of State reminds applicants who are renewing a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration date, that they will continue to be eligible for an interview waiver until further notice.

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The rumors are true. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Department of State (DOS) will process domestic visa renewals for certain H-1B visa applicants without requiring them to leave the United States.

This is all part of a new pilot program starting January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024, that will allow 20,000 qualified H-1B nonimmigrant workers the opportunity to renew their visas domestically.

The Department of State hopes the pilot program will reduce heavy backlogs at more than 200 consular sections worldwide by making available an increased number of interview appointments for other visa categories, especially first-time travelers applying for business and tourism visas who require in-person interviews.

At the same time, DOS seeks to alleviate the burden on U.S. companies that employ H-1B workers by streamlining the visa renewal process.

The Department will accept applications for the pilot program starting January 29, 2024 on its webpage.

After the initial application period which ends on April 1st the Department will expand the scope of the program.


What are the Requirements to Participate?


Participation in this pilot will be limited to applicants who(se):

  1. Are seeking to renew an H–1B visa; during the pilot phase, the Department will not process any other visa classifications;
  2. Prior H–1B visa that is being renewed was issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
  3. Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (Note: this is commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”);
  4. Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
  5. Have submitted ten fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
  6. Prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
  7. Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
  8. Have an approved and unexpired H–1B petition;
  9. Were most recently admitted to the United States in H–1B status;
  10. Are currently maintaining H–1B status in the United States;
  11. Period of authorized admission in H–1B status has not expired; and
  12. Intend to reenter the United States in H–1B status after a temporary period abroad.

Applicants that fall outside of this scope are not eligible to apply for a visa domestically.

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Yesterday, Wednesday December 13, 2023, the United States Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will be transitioning the filing location for Form I-907 Requests for Premium Processing Service, when filed for a pending Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, to appropriate USCIS lockboxes starting Friday December 15, 2023.

This is being done to increase efficiency and reduce the workload of service centers. USCIS has also said that this change will allow it to centralize digitization of these forms for electronic adjudication.

Please note that this change in filing location does not apply to those filing Form I-140 concurrently with an associated application (such as Form I-485, I-765, or Form I-131). USCIS will soon announce a filing location change for these forms. For the time being such forms should be filed with the appropriate service center, as listed on the USCIS webpage Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.

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The January 2024 Visa Bulletin is finally here, and with it some big advancements for the employment-based preference categories in the New Year, specifically for India and China, and some promising forward movement in the Final Action Dates for EB-2 Worldwide and EB-3 Professional/Skilled Workers Worldwide.

For family-sponsored categories, the New Year brings big advancements in the Final Action Dates for F2A Mexico, F2 Worldwide, F2B Mexico, F3 Mexico, F3 Worldwide, and modest advancements for F4. The Dates for Filing remain the same as December.

Whether you are applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate overseas or applying for adjustment of status to permanent residence in the United States, you won’t want to miss these new updates.


Highlights of the January 2024 Visa Bulletin


Employment-based categories

  • EB-1 India: The EB-1 India Final Action Date will advance by three years and eight months, to September 1, 2020, and the Date for Filing will advance by a year and a half, to January 1, 2021.
  • EB-1 China: The EB-1 China Final Action Date will advance by four and a half months, to July 1, 2022, and the Date for Filing will advance five months, to January 1, 2023.
  • EB-2: The EB-2 Final Action Date for India will advance by two months, to March 1, 2012, and the EB-2 China Final Action Date will advance by approximately nine weeks, to January 1, 2020. Final Action Dates for the remaining countries in EB-2 will advance by three and a half months, to November 1, 2022.
  • EB-3 Professional/Skilled Workers: The EB-3 Professional/Skilled Worker Final Action Dates will advance by over 7 months for China, to September 1, 2020, and by one month for India, to June 1, 2012. Final Action Dates for the remaining countries in the category will advance by eight months, to August 1, 2022.

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In continuance of the information provided in our blog post concerning additional visa allocations for the H-2B cap, we share new updates recently from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

On November 9, 2023, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Department of State (DOS), published a Notice in the Federal Register identifying the list of foreign countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B Nonimmigrant Worker Programs next year.

Effective November 9, 2023, nationals of the following countries are eligible to receive H-2A and H-2B visas:

Andorra The Kingdom of Eswatini Madagascar Saint Lucia
Argentina Fiji Malta San Marino
Australia Finland Mauritius Serbia
Austria France Mexico Singapore
Barbados Germany Monaco Slovakia
Belgium Greece Mongolia* Slovenia
Bolivia Grenada Montenegro Solomon Islands
Bosnia and Herzegovina Guatemala Mozambique South Africa
Brazil Haiti Nauru South Korea
Brunei Honduras The Netherlands Spain
Bulgaria Hungary New Zealand St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Canada Iceland Nicaragua Sweden
Chile Ireland North Macedonia Switzerland
Colombia Israel Norway Taiwan***
Costa Rica Italy Panama Thailand
Croatia Jamaica Papua New Guinea Timor-Leste
Republic of Cyprus Japan Paraguay** Turkey
Czech Republic Kiribati Peru Tuvalu
Denmark Latvia The Philippines* Ukraine
Dominican Republic Liechtenstein Poland United Kingdom
Ecuador Lithuania Portugal Uruguay
El Salvador Luxembourg Romania Vanuatu
Estonia

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It’s a brand-new week full of important updates from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This time for employment authorization documents (EADs).

Recently, USCIS announced that certain applicants who have filed to renew their employment authorization cards (EADs) on Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, may qualify for an automatic extension of their expiring employment authorization and/or employment authorization documents (EADs) while their renewal applications are pending with USCIS.

Beginning October 27, 2023, those who are eligible will receive 180-day automatic extensions of their EADs, including those who have applied for or have received Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or asylum.

Previously, USCIS had passed a regulation that increased the automatic extension period for certain EAD applicants from 180 days to 540 days. This announcement will not impact EADs that were already issued for up to the 540-day period. Those extensions will remain in place. For such individuals, the increased automatic extension will end when they receive a final decision on their renewal application or when the “up to 540-day period” expires (counted from the expiration date of the employment authorization and/or their EAD), whichever comes earlier.

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In this blog post, we share with you an important update from the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

If you have a pending nonimmigrant or immigrant visa application awaiting an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem or U.S. Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, you should be aware that visa services have been temporarily suspended at these missions due to the ongoing conflict in the region.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel will be focusing its resources to plan the evacuation and departure of U.S. Citizens from the region.

Starting October 13th, the government arranged charter flights to assist U.S. Citizens and their immediate family members to depart Israel.

U.S. citizens in need of assistance must complete the crisis intake form here.


Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa at a Neighboring U.S. Consulate or Embassy


If you have an urgent need to travel to the United States and do not currently have a nonimmigrant visa, you may apply for your visa at another U.S. Embassy or Consulate other than Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

You must contact the nonimmigrant visa unit at the neighboring Embassy or Consulate to determine whether they will accept your application as a third-country national.

The U.S. Consulates in Canada allow third-country nationals to apply for visas including Israelis. Alternatively, please check with the specific Consulate regarding their instructions for requesting expedited interview appointments for emergency travel. In most cases, once you have submitted your DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application and paid the necessary visa fees on the U.S. Department of State Visa Appointment Services webpage, you may request an expedited appointment. More information about expedites can be found on the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ portion of each country webpage by navigating to the bottom of the DOS Visa Appointment Service and selecting “Answers to Common Questions.”

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