Articles Posted in Consular Closures

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We are excited to share some very important news for Afghan nationals. On June 14, 2022, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced new discretionary powers providing relief to certain Afghan nationals, who do not pose national or public safety risks to the United States.

The Secretary of Homeland Security and Secretary of State, have carved out 3 new exemptions which can be applied for on a case-by-case basis, to ensure individuals who would otherwise be eligible for the benefit or protection they are seeking are not automatically denied.

According to the announcement, Afghan nationals will be eligible only if they have undergone rigorous screening and vetting and are individually determined to not pose a risk to national security or public safety. The announcement further states that the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, have exercised their exemption authority over 30 times previously, thus ensuring deserving individuals are not inadvertently subject to terrorism-related bars to admission and are eligible for protection in the United States. These new exemptions are expected to welcome thousands more Afghan nationals in the coming months.


Who may apply under these new exemptions?


There are three categories of applicants who may qualify for immigration benefits under these new exemptions. They are as follows:

  1. Afghans who supported U.S. military interests, specifically Afghan allies who fought or otherwise supported those who fought in the resistance movement against the Taliban and Afghans who took part in the conflict against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
    • This could include individuals who fought alongside, or with assistance from, U.S. government entities, the United Nations, or the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or successor Force. It also includes individuals who supported U.S. interests and participated in the resistance movement to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan between December 24, 1979 and April 28, 1992.
    • This exemption specifically does not include individuals who targeted non-combatants or U.S. interests, committed certain types of human rights abuses or violations, or acted on behalf of a designated terrorist organization.
  2. Individuals employed as civil servants in Afghanistan at any time from September 27, 1996 to December 22, 2001 or after August 15, 2021.
    • This could include teachers, professors, postal workers, doctors, and engineers, among others. Some civil servants held these positions prior to the Taliban announcing their so-called “interim government” and continued in their roles due to pressure, intimidation, or other hardship. In other instances, individuals used their positions to mitigate the repressive actions of the Taliban, often at great personal risk.

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In this blog post, we share with you new immigration updates including major steps being taken by the Biden administration to support the people of Cuba, and the recent suspension of the NVC public inquiry telephone line.


Biden Administration Measures to Support the Cuban People


The Biden administration has taken new measures to provide relief to the people of Cuba as they face a humanitarian crisis. Among the major announcements, the government has said that it will be reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) program to promote family reunification and increase capacity for consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

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It is that time of the month again! In this blog post, we will cover the release of the April Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the month of April 2022.

The Department of State releases the visa bulletin on a monthly basis, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for that particular month. The “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications,” charts indicate when immigrant visa applicants should be notified to assemble and submit the required documentation to the National Visa Center.


Adjustment of Status Filing Chart April 2022


For Family-Sponsored Filings:

Pursuant to guidance released by USCIS, for all family-sponsored preference categories, applicants must use the Dates for Filing Chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for April 2022.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:

All applicants, except EB-5 Regional Center, falling under employment-based preference categories, must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for April 2022.


April 2022 Visa Bulletin Final Action Cutoff Dates


Employment-Based Categories


FINAL ACTION DATES FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES

According to the Department of State’s April 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following final cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for employment-based categories:

  • EB-1: All countries, including India and China, will remain current.
  • EB-2: India will advance by more than 2 months to July 8, 2013, and China will remain at March 1, 2019. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India and China will remain unchanged from the previous month, at January 15, 2012, and March 22, 2018, respectively. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-5: The Non-Regional Center program will be current for all countries, including China. The Regional Center program has been reauthorized by recent legislation but is still listed as Unavailable in the April Visa Bulletin Final Action Date chart, given that certain provisions of the reauthorizing legislation have not yet taken effect.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! New developments in the world of immigration are happening on a daily basis. In today’s post we cover the status of consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

As you may know, the region has been embroiled in political turmoil with U.S. sanctions on Russia escalating. To protect Americans in the region, the Department of State has announced the departure of all diplomatic employees from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

Beginning February 13th, the Embassy in Kyiv has suspended Consular visa services including interview waiver services. The Department of State has indicated that applicants who had visa appointments in Kyiv can apply for their visas in any other country in which they are physically present, so long as appointments are available. Applicants are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they wish to apply to inquire about case transfers.

Those with immigrant visas that were pending in Kyiv can request a transfer of their case to another U.S. Embassy by contacting the receiving U.S. Embassy’s country to authorize and initiate the transfer. Each Embassy will have a list of requirements that must be satisfied to initiate the transfer process.

Non-immigrants and immigrant visa holders must continue to abide by the vaccination mandate in order to gain admission to the United States.


Vaccination Mandate


 Effective November 8, all non-citizen, nonimmigrant (not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, lawful permanent resident, or traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa) airline passengers traveling to the United States, must demonstrate proof of vaccination as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Order prior to boarding a U.S. bound aircraft. More details regarding what constitutes full vaccination are available on this page of the CDC website.

All travelers to the United States, regardless of vaccination status, must show a pre-departure negative COVID-19 viral test taken within one (1) day of travel to the United States prior to boarding. This applies to all travelers – U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and foreign nationals. Additional information may be found on CDC’s website.

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In today’s blog post, we share some interesting Question and Answer responses recently provided by the Department of State’s Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Consular Affairs (L/CA), in a meeting with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

The responses below provide some important insight into current immigration policies and procedures taking place amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Here, we summarize the most interesting questions covered during the January 20 meeting:


Department of State/AILA Liaison Committee Meeting


January 20, 2022 Q & A Highlights


Q: What role do Consular sections assume when determining whether an individual is exempt from the CDC COVID-19 vaccine requirement to gain entry to the U.S.?

A: Consular sections’ role in the process is to ensure that an individual’s request for a [vaccine] exception is filled out in full, and to transmit those requests to the CDC.


Q: If consular posts are involved in transmitting information in support of a humanitarian exception to CDC, what is the process, if any, for making such a request of a consular post outside the context of a visa interview?

A: Travelers should contact the consular section of the nearest embassy or consulate using the information provided on that embassies or consulate’s website


Q: What is the Department of State doing to alleviate the substantial backlogs created by the slowdown of operations at Consular posts and Embassies worldwide?

A: The Department is planning to hire foreign service officers above attrition in FY 2022. The majority will be assigned to a consular position after initial training. Additionally, the Department continues to recruit Limited Non-career Appointment (LNA) Consular Professionals. With very limited LNA hiring in FY 2020 and a pause on LNA hiring in FY 2021 due to CA’s budgetary constraints, Consular Affairs plans to hire more than 60 LNAs in FY 2022

Consular Affairs is working with State’s office of Global Talent Management to ramp up hiring in FY 2022, but many posts will not see these new officers until the second half of FY 2022 or FY 2023, particularly for officers assigned to positions requiring language training. Increased hiring will not have an immediate effect on reducing current visa wait times. Because local pandemic restrictions continue to impact a significant number of our overseas posts, extra staff alone is not sufficient to combat wait times for interviews.


Q: Can Consular Affairs please advise regarding efforts to resume routine consular services?

A: Consular sections abroad must exercise prudence given COVID’s continuing unpredictability. The emergence of the Omicron variant has prompted countries to reevaluate plans to relax travel bans, thereby leading consular sections abroad to recalibrate plans to resume services. Some posts have already fully resumed routine services. Others, in an abundance of caution and out of concern for the health of both consular staff and clientele, are slowly reintroducing some routine services.

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It is that time of the month again! In this blog post, we will cover the release of the February Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the month of February 2022.

The Department of State releases the visa bulletin on a monthly basis, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for that particular month. The “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications,” charts indicate when immigrant visa applicants should be notified to assemble and submit the required documentation to the National Visa Center.


Adjustment of Status Filings for those lawfully residing in the United States


In general, if USCIS determines there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, the agency will provide instructions on the www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo webpage that applicants may use the Dates for Filing chart. Otherwise, USCIS will indicate that applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status application with USCIS. If a particular immigrant visa category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart or the cutoff date on the Final Action Dates chart is later than the date on the Dates for Filing chart, applicants in that immigrant visa category may file using the Final Action Dates chart during that month.

Information has not yet been posted regarding the adjustment of status filing charts that should be used for green card filings. However, applicants are encouraged to monitor the USCIS webpage mentioned above within the next weeks.


February 2022 Visa Bulletin Final Action Cutoff Dates


Employment Based Categories


FINAL ACTION DATES FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES


According to the Department of State’s February 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following final cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for employment-based categories:

  • EB-1: All countries, including India and China, will remain current.
  • EB-2: India will advance by nearly 6 months to January 1, 2013, and China will advance by more than 5 weeks to March 1, 2019. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India and China will remain the same as the previous months at January 15, 2012 and March 22, 2018 respectively. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-5: The Non-Regional Center program will be current for all countries, including China. The Regional Center program has expired and is listed as unavailable in the February 2022 Visa Bulletin. If reauthorized, the Regional Center program will mirror the Non-Regional Center final action dates, except China, which would be subject to a November 22, 2015, final action date.

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We are happy for you to join us today. In this blog post we share some new updates in the world of immigration law for Diversity Visa Program selectees.

The Department of State has just released important procedures for Diversity Visa Applicants selected in the 2022 DV program with cases assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul or Baghdad.

The agency is asking all such DV selectees to contact the Embassy in Kabul or Baghdad to request reassignment of their cases to another Embassy or Consulate processing immigrant visa applications abroad. Under the law, cases can be transferred to another Consular post (provided the alternate Consular post will accept them) however applicants must be physically present in the Consular district where the Embassy or Consulate is located at the time of their interview, and have permission to remain in the country by the host government for a period sufficient to complete the processing of their visa application.

Applicants may wish to contact a Congressman for assistance with the transfer of their case. Applicants should also be aware that they should first contact the alternate Embassy to confirm whether their case can be processed there. Each Consular post may have their own rules and regulations governing the DV application process.


What is the procedure for my case to be reassigned?


Under new guidance released by the Department of State, DV 2022 selectees can request reassignment by emailing KCC (Kentucky Consular Center) at KCCDV@state.gov with the subject line “Kabul/Baghdad Reassignment Request.”

To process your request, your email should include the following information:  (1)  full name, (2)  date of birth, (3) case number, and (4) the name of the embassy or consulate where you would like your case to be reassigned.  After KCC reviews your request, you will receive an email confirmation that your reassignment request was successful or, alternatively, requesting more information.  According to KCC, all emails will be reviewed in the order they are received.


When will my reassigned case be scheduled for an immigrant visa interview?


DOS guidance informs DV applicants that reassignment of their case to another embassy or consulate does not mean that it will be automatically scheduled for an immigrant visa interview.  Instead, interviews will be scheduled after the DS-260 immigrant visa application has been fully processed, your case number is current according to the Visa Bulletin, and when the reassigned embassy or consulate has an interview appointment available.

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While the global Coronavirus pandemic rages on, the government is taking careful steps to manage the ongoing health crisis while also opening the country to fully vaccinated international travelers.

Last week, President Biden made the decision to rescind Presidential Proclamation 10315, an order that previously suspended and restricted the entry of foreign nationals, who were physically present within any of the following countries, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry to the United States:

  • Republic of Botswana
  • Kingdom of Eswatini
  • Kingdom of Lesotho
  • Republic of Malawi
  • Republic of Mozambique
  • Republic of Namibia
  • Republic of South Africa, and
  • Republic of Zimbabwe

Accordingly, as of December 31, 2021, Proclamation 10315 has been officially rescinded.


Background


President Biden had previously issued Proclamation 10315 to guard against the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United States. Our readers may recall that on November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) first reported the emergence of Omicron as a variant of concern. Thereafter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that the government restrict the entry of foreign nationals from regions where the variant had been reported. The above countries were identified as regions where the variant was spreading, and the government swiftly issued the Proclamation temporarily barring such travelers from entering.

According to the Biden administration, the government has now learned more about the Omicron variant and has taken appropriate mitigation efforts to combat its spread. The CDC has recommended that the government lift the travel restrictions previously imposed by Order 10315, because scientists have determined that vaccination against COVID-19 provides adequate protection against the new variant.

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Breaking news! The Department of State has published a final rule in the Federal Register announcing a new temporary final rule that grants consular officers flexibility to waive the personal appearance of certain “replacement” immigrant visa applicants who were approved for an immigrant visa in the same classification and on the same basis as the current application on or after August 4, 2019.

Under this new policy, consular officers will have the discretion to allow this subset of immigrant visa applicants to affirm the accuracy of the contents of their DS-260 application without appearing for an in-person interview before a consular officer. The temporary final rule is effective immediately and will expire after 24 months on December 13, 2023.


Who does the new temporary rule apply to?


This temporary final rule for a discretionary waiver of personal appearance and interview applies to immigrant visa applicants who were issued a U.S. immigrant visa on or after August 4, 2019, and meet the following additional criteria:

  • the applicant must be seeking an immigrant visa in the same classification (or another classification as the result of automatic conversion due to the death or naturalization of the petitioner of the previously issued immigrant visa)
  • the applicant seeks and remains qualified for an immigrant visa pursuant to the same approved petition as their previously approved application, and
  • they must continue to qualify for the immigrant visa sought.

Interview Waivers


Under this temporary final rule, the personal appearance and interview of certain applicants for an immigrant visa may be waived in the discretion of the consular officer, provided that the applicant is willing to affirm under penalty of perjury to the information provided on their Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, known as Form DS-260.

The consular officer may decide to either (1) communicate with the applicant by telephone or email, (2) request that the applicant provide additional information that the consular officer deems necessary, or (3) may request the applicant to appear in person.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We hope that you had a restful Thanksgiving holiday break with your friends and family members.

In this blog post, we share with you some unfortunate new developments relating to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic that will restrict the entry of foreign nationals from certain countries to the United States.

Just as the United States was beginning to ease restrictions on international air travel for the fully vaccinated starting November 8th, the world has once again been thrown into turmoil as a new Coronavirus variant known as “omicron” has been revealed with new cases emerging throughout Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the Netherlands.


President Biden Signs New Travel Ban Proclamation Amid Omicron Variant impacting South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi


President Biden and his Chief Medical Adviser were briefed on the unfolding situation, and on Friday, November 26, 2021, President Biden signed Presidential Proclamation, “A Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019,” that restricts the entry of non- U.S. Citizens who were physically present within the Republic of South Africa, Republic of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Republic of Namibia, Kingdom of Lesotho, Kingdom of Eswatini, the Republic of Mozambique, and Republic of Malawi, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry to the United States.

The new travel ban becomes effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time on Monday, November 29, 2021, as part of a global effort to reduce the spread of the omicron variant to the United States. The Proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 12:01 am eastern standard time on November 29th.

While no confirmed cases of the variant have yet been announced in the United States, the Chief Medical Adviser has explained that its eventual spread will be inevitable. The new travel ban indicates that the Republic of South Africa informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the new Omicron variant on November 24, 2021, and two days thereafter the WHO announced the new “Omicron” variant as a cause for concern that has been increasing in almost all provinces in the Republic of South Africa. Based on this information, and the lack of genomic sequencing throughout Southern Arica, the government has imposed the new travel restrictions from the named regions.


How long will the travel ban last?


At this time, we do not know how long the bans will remain in place, however it is very likely that they will remain until the Biden administration believes it is safe to rescind the travel bans. As has occurred with the previous COVID-19 geographic travel bans, it is highly likely that the new travel ban will remain in place until it is determined that current vaccinations approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are effective against the emerging Omicron variant. The Proclamation indicates that it will remain in effect until terminated by the President. Within 30 days, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must recommend whether the President should continue, modify, or terminate the Proclamation.

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