Articles Posted in Consular Processing

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Have you ever wondered: is there an exception to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement mandated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for those undergoing the green card process?

In this blog post, we share with you how our office was able to obtain successful waivers of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, information about what exceptions exist to the vaccine requirement, the criteria that must be proven to obtain a vaccine waiver, and the resulting victories we gained on behalf of our clients.

We also describe how we were able to accomplish vaccine waiver approvals, by presenting an abundance of documentary evidence to help these individuals prove their case.


An Overview: What is the COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement


In response to the rapid rise in Coronavirus cases, the U.S. government announced that starting October 1, 2021, those applying for permanent residency (a green card) within the United States, or an immigrant visa abroad, would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (one or two doses depending on the vaccine taken).


The Medical Examination Form I-693

As part of the green card process, applicants are required to complete a medical examination conducted by a civil surgeon on Form I-693, to establish that they are not inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds. The government made it a matter of policy as of October 1, 2021, to require all those subject to the medical examination requirement to complete the COVID-19 vaccination to prove their admissibility (and therefore) receive approval of their green cards.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced that this policy would apply “prospectively to all Forms I-693 [medical examinations] signed by the civil surgeons” on or after October 1, 2021. The agency also took steps to revise Form I-693 and its instructions to include the new vaccination requirement.

Its policy guidance followed the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) August 17, 2021, update to the Technical Instructions for Civil Surgeons. The CDC update requires applicants subject to the immigration medical examination to “complete the COVID-19 vaccine series [in addition to the other routinely required vaccines] and provide documentation of vaccination to the civil surgeon or panel physician in person before completion of the medical examination.”


Does the COVID-19 vaccination requirement also apply to those seeking immigrant visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad?


Yes. The government made clear that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement applies to those seeking to adjust their immigration status within the United States, as well as applicants applying for immigrant visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. That is because complete vaccination is necessary for a medical examination conducted by a civil surgeon or physician abroad, as part of the green card admissibility process.

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In this blog post, we cover the release of the October Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the upcoming month of October.

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 October 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 October 2022.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:

All applicants, falling under employment-based preference categories, must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for October 2022.

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We kick off the start of a brand-new week with very good news for Cuban nationals.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it will be resuming operations under the Cuban Family Reunification Parole program also known as CFRP starting with pending CFRP applications.

CFRP processing was suspended due to the significant decrease in U.S. government personnel at the U.S. Embassy Havana in 2017 and the closure of the USCIS field office in Havana in 2018.


What is the Cuban Family Reunification Parole?


Cuban Family Reunification Parole is a program that was created in 2007 to allow certain eligible U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to apply for parole for their family members in Cuba. If granted parole, family members can come to the United States without waiting for their immigrant visas to become available. Once in the United States, CFRP Program beneficiaries may apply for work authorization while they wait to apply for lawful permanent resident status.


Who is eligible?


You may be eligible to apply for parole for your relatives in Cuba under the CFRP program if:

  • You are either a U.S. citizen or LPR;
  • You have an approved Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for a Cuban family member;
  • An immigrant visa is not yet available for your relative; and
  • You received an invitation from the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) to participate in the CFRP Program. 

To be eligible, the principal beneficiary must:

  • Be a Cuban national living in Cuba; and
  • Have a petitioner who has been invited to participate in the CFRP Program.

You cannot apply for CFRP until you are invited to do so by the National Visa Center. Additionally, you cannot self-petition for the program.

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In this blog post, we share with you some new updates regarding the employment-based numerical limits for immigrant visas in fiscal year 2022.

As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the suspension of visa services at U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide, approximately 140,000 family-sponsored visa numbers went unused during fiscal year 2021.

This was due to the pent-up demand for in-person visa interviews that could not be accommodated. Fortunately, these visa numbers have trickled down to the employment-based categories, expanding the number of visa numbers available in fiscal year 2022 to nearly double the usual amount.

Sadly, fiscal year 2022 is nearly coming to a close. To provide the public with more transparency regarding the usage of employment-based visa numbers, the U.S. Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its frequently asked questions for employment-based adjustment of status. We breakdown the questions and answers down below.

How many employment-based visas did USCIS and DOS use in FY 2021? How many employment-based visas went unused in FY 2021?


A: The annual limit for employment-based visa use in FY 2021 was 262,288, nearly double the typical annual total. The Department of State (DOS) publishes the official figures for visa use in their Report of the Visa Office.

Overall, the two agencies combined to use 195,507 employment-based immigrant visas in FY 2021.

  • DOS issued 19,779 employment-based immigrant visas, and USCIS used 175,728 employment-based immigrant visas through adjustment of status, more than 52% higher than the average before the pandemic.
  • Despite our best efforts, 66,781 visas went unused at the end of FY 2021.

UPDATED: Can you estimate how many family-sponsored or employment-based immigrant visas USCIS and DOS will use during FY 2022?


A:  DOS has determined that the FY 2022 employment-based annual limit is 281,507 – (slightly more than double the typical annual total) – due to unused family-based visa numbers from FY 2021 being allocated to the current fiscal year’s available employment-based visas.

  • Through July 31, 2022, the two agencies have combined to use 210,593 employment-based immigrant visas (FY2022 data is preliminary and subject to change).
  • USCIS alone approved more than 10,000 employment-based adjustment of status applications in the week ending August 14, 2022, and DOS continues its high rate of visa issuance, as well. USCIS states that it will maximize our use of all available visas by the end of the fiscal year and are well-positioned to use the remaining visas.

NEW: Will my case be processed faster if I file a second Form I-485?


A: Submitting a new adjustment of status application typically does not result in faster adjudication and may have the opposite effect by adding extra burden to the USCIS workload.

  • USCIS is identifying and prioritizing all employment-based adjustment of status applications with available visas and approved underlying petitions, including those received prior to this fiscal year. This includes applications where noncitizens have submitted a transfer of underlying basis requests.

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We close off the week with an immigration roundup summarizing recent news in the world of immigration.

In this week’s post, we have Diversity Visa Program updates. Yesterday, the Department of State provided guidance for Diversity Visa applicants selected for fiscal year 2023. Such applicants are advised to submit to the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) the DS-260 immigrant visa application form for themselves and any accompanying family members.

After submission of the DS-260 immigrant visa application, the Kentucky Consular Center will review it for completeness, and place your application in a queue to be scheduled for an in-person visa interview, provided that your priority date is current on to the Visa Bulletin.

For now, this will be the procedure required of Diversity Visa selectees for fiscal year 2023.

The Kentucky Consular Center warns applicants not to submit any other required supporting documents, other than the completed DS-260 application. This is because, all supporting documentation for DV-2023 selectees will be collected and evaluated at the time of the applicant’s in-person visa interview at the embassy or consulate where the visa application has been made.

Selected candidates should carefully review the Department of State website for the necessary supporting documentation they must bring on the day of their scheduled interview to establish eligibility for an immigrant visa. Those who are unsure of the requirements, should consider working with an experienced attorney for assistance.

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This week in immigration news, we share new developments for Afghan nationals. The Biden administration recently announced its plan to launch a new portal that would facilitate the reunification of Afghans immigrants with their family members.


What is it all about?


The U.S. Department of State run portal would provide a place for Afghans in the United States to search for family members who were separated from them following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

Previously, Afghans needed the help of nonprofit groups such as the United National Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and U.S. Department of State liaisons to help them locate family members left behind. Individuals were required to complete lengthy questionnaires, provide information, and submit documentation that would be independently verified by state department liaisons.

Now, the state-run portal will provide a central location where users can upload information to help locate their family members. Users will be able to enter their own status on the website, and complete forms to enable their relative to gain entry to the United States.

Additionally, the Biden administration is said to be considering waiving the $535 government filing fee associated the filing of Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, which allows a U.S. citizen to petition the entry of their relative to the United States.

According to a Department of State spokesperson, through the resettlement effort known as Operation Allies Welcome, immediate family members of Afghans who relocated to the United States are strongly being considered for parole. Immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens, lawful permanent residents, formerly locally employed staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and certain Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants are also being prioritized to receive parole.

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In this blog post, we cover the release of the September Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the upcoming month of September.

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 September 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 September 2022.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:

All applicants, falling under employment-based preference categories, must use the Final Action Dates chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for September 2022.


September 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 September 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following Final Action 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 remains unchanged at December 1, 2014, and China remains unchanged at April 1, 2019. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India and EB-3 China will remain unchanged from the previous month, at February 15, 2012 and April 22, 2018, respectively. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB3 Other Workers: For this category, the Department of State has established a worldwide cutoff date of May 8, 2019, to avoid exceeding the annual numerical limits. EB-3 India and China will remain unchanged at February 15, 2012 and June 1, 2012, respectively.
  • EB-5: The Department of State has taken corrective action by establishing a Final Action cutoff date which has advanced by one month to December 22, 2015, for the EB-5 China Unreserved Non-Regional Center (C5, T5, I5, and R5) categories. EB-5 Final Action dates will remain current for all countries and for all EB-5 “Set-Aside” categories (Rural, High Unemployment, and Infrastructure).

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In this blog post, we share with you new developments related to immigration law.


Uniting for Ukraine: USCIS Extends Completion of Medical Screening & Attestation Within 90 Days of Arrival to the United States 


Effective immediately, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it will extend the amount of time that beneficiaries paroled into the United States under the “Uniting for Ukraine” program must comply with the medical screening and attestation requirements for required vaccinations such as tuberculosis and COVID-19. Previously, parolees were required to complete the medical screening and attestation requirements within 14 days of their arrival to the United States.

Now, Uniting for Ukraine parolees will be given 90 days from the date of their arrival to the United States to fulfill the attestation requirement, which is one of the conditions of being granted parole. The attestation can be completed in the beneficiary’s USCIS online account. USCIS notes that beneficiaries are responsible for arranging to have their vaccinations and medical screening for tuberculosis, including an Interferon-Gamma Release Assay (IGRA) blood test.

Those who test positive for tuberculosis, may be subject to additional procedures such as undergoing additional screening (a chest radiograph, isolation, and treatment if applicable).

Beneficiaries will also be required to complete the tuberculosis screening attestation for their minor children within 90 days of arrival to the United States, even if the child is under the age of 2 years old and qualifies for an exception to the tuberculosis test screening.

For more information and resources, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Uniting for Ukraine: Information for TB Programs page.

For more information about the Uniting for Ukraine program please click here.

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Welcome back to a brand-new week. We have some interesting news for employment-based adjustment of status applicants.

Today, Monday, June 27, 2022, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a public engagement notice recommending that members of the public submit their Form I-693 sealed medical examinations as soon as possible to ensure efficient processing of employment based green cards.

According to USCIS, the agency is ramping up its efforts to process as many employment-based immigrant visas as possible to avoid wasting visa numbers before the end of fiscal year 2022, which ends on September 30, 2022.

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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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