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Articles Posted in Consular Processing

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In this post we bring you the latest immigration related COVID-19 updates. During this difficult time, we would like to extend our heartfelt regards to you and your families. We hope you are staying safe and taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The sooner we abide by government measures, the sooner we can overcome this pandemic as a Nation. Additionally, please remember that although our office is closed to the public, we continue to function behind the scenes to file your petitions on a timely basis. If you have any questions regarding your immigration options, or your currently pending case, we would be glad to assist you by telephone, Zoom, or Skype.

President Extends Federal Social Distancing Guidelines to April 30

This past Sunday, March 29, 2020, the President of the United States extended the Nation’s social distancing guidelines for another 30 days, following warnings from health advisers of the serious consequences that could result if Americans were allowed to return to normal life. Pursuant to this order, social time will continue to be limited only to necessary outings such as grocery shopping, medical appointments, etc. until April 30.

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In this post, we will discuss Form DS-5540, a mandatory public charge questionnaire that must be completed by all foreign nationals seeking an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad and some non-immigrant visa applicants.

What is Form DS-5540, Public Charge Questionnaire?

Shortly after the publication of the public charge rule in the Federal Register, the government published a separate rule requiring applicants seeking immigrant visas, including diversity visas, at a Consulate abroad, to complete Form DS-5540, except for certain types of immigrants exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility such as self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Afghan and Iraqi interpreters applying for special immigrant visas.

In addition, the government has given consular officers broad discretion to require nonimmigrant visa applicants to complete DS-5540, if for example the officer determines more information is needed regarding the applicant’s ability to financially support themselves following entry into the United States, without depending on the government’s assistance, or if the consular officer is not satisfied with the information provided by the applicant.

Therefore, consular officers have the power to request nonimmigrant visa applicants to complete DS-5540.

The DS-5540 solicits information that helps consular officers determine whether applicants are subject to the public charge visa ineligibility ground (section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) and will not rely on certain specific public resources upon entering the United States.

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On February 21, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States by a vote of 5-4 stayed the remaining statewide injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which prevented the government from enforcing the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds rule also known as the “public charge” rule in the State of Illinois. A “stay” is a ruling made by a court to stop or suspend a proceeding or trial temporarily.

What this means

The Supreme Court’s ruling means that the government may now enforce the “public charge” rule in the state of Illinois, while it appeals the District Court’s decision.

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In this blog post, we discuss visa bulletin trends and projections for the month of March. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) recently released the March 2020 Visa Bulletin revealing some good and bad news for employment based categories and family preference categories.

Adjustment of Status Filing Charts March 2020:

For Family-Sponsored Filings:
In the F2A category, there is a cutoff date on the Dates for Filing chart.  However, the category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart.  Accordingly, applicants in the F2A category may file using the Final Action Dates chart for March 2020.

For all other family-sponsored preference categories, applicants must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for March 2020.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:
For all employment-based preference categories, applicants must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for March 2020.

Employment-based Categories: The Highlights

China: This month, employment based categories for China experienced varying degrees of forward movement, with EB-3 experiencing the most advancement.

  • EB-1 China advanced ten days to June 1, 2017
  • EB-2 China advanced one month to August 15, 2015
  • EB-3 China advanced nearly three months to March 22, 2016

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In this blog post we answer your frequently asked questions regarding the public charge rule.

Overview:

On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security first published the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which dramatically changes the way in which an individual is determined to be a “public charge.” Although five separate courts issued injunctions to stop the government from implementing the final rule, on January 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the Trump administration, allowing the government to implement the public charge rule, except in the state of Illinois where a state-wide injunction remains in place.

The new regulations will make it more difficult for certain adjustment of status and immigrant visa applicants to prove that they are not likely to become a public charge to the United States government.

The following frequently asked questions have been prepared to better inform our readers and address concerns regarding the effect of the public charge rule.

Q: When will the public charge rule take effect?

A: Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, USCIS formally announced on its website that the public charge rule will affect all applications for adjustment of status (green card applications) postmarked on or after February 24, 2020 (except in the state of Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined by a federal court).

Q: Who does the public charge rule apply to?

A: In general, all applicants for admission to the United States are subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(4) unless specifically exempted.

The following non-citizens are affected by the public charge rule:

  • Applicants for adjustment of status in the United States
  • Applicants for an immigrant visa abroad
  • Applicants for a nonimmigrant visa abroad
  • Applicants for admission at the U.S. border who have been granted an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, and
  • Nonimmigrants applying for an extension or change of status within the United States (new policy under the final rule).

Applicants seeking lawful permanent resident status (applicants for adjustment of status) based on a family relationship are most affected by the public charge rule.

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In this post, we would like to provide our readers with an important update released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with respect to the public charge rule.

Given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of the government, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that they will begin implementing the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule on February 24, 2020, EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined for the time being by a federal court.

That means that EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, USCIS will begin to apply the Final Rule to applications and petitions postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after February 24, 2020.

The postmark date for all applications and petitions sent by commercial courier (UPS/FedEx/DHL) is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

The public charge rule will NOT apply to applications or petitions postmarked before February 24, 2020 and petitions that remain pending with USCIS.

Prepare for Changes: USCIS to update all Adjustment of Status Forms

USCIS has announced that the agency will be updating all forms associated with the filing of adjustment of status, its policy manual, and will be providing updated submission instructions on its website this week to give applicants and their legal representatives enough time to review filing procedures and changes that will apply to all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Failure to submit forms with the correct edition dates and/or abide by the new filing procedures will result in the rejection of an application or petition.

The Final Rule provides that adjustment of status applicants subject to the public charge grounds of inadmissibility will be required to file Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency along with Form I-485, as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination to demonstrate they are not likely to become a public charge. Therefore, we expect USCIS to provide instructions regarding the submission of Form I-944 with adjustment of status applications.

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On January 23, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced by way of a notice published in the Federal Register that nationals of Iran and their dependents are no longer eligible to change or extend their stay in E-1 or E-2 nonimmigrant status due to the termination of the 1995 Treaty of Economic Relations (also known as the Treaty of Amity) between the United States and Iran.

Under current immigration law, “the existence of a qualifying treaty or authorizing legislation is . . . a threshold requirement for issuing an E visa.” Therefore, the termination of the Treaty of Amity between the United States and Iran no longer provides a basis for Iranian nationals to qualify for the E nonimmigrant visa classification.

When did the Treaty end?

On October 3, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified Iran of the Termination of the Treaty of Amity. On October 23, 2019, the Department of State provided DHS with formal notice of the termination of the treaty. Currently, there are no other qualifying treaties with Iran or any legislation for granting E-1 or E-2 status to Iranian nationals.

What does this mean?

Accordingly, a national of Iran is no longer eligible for an extension of stay in E-1 or E-2 status or a change of status to E-1 or E-2 on the basis of the Treaty of Amity.

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Welcome back to our blog! We kick off the week by bringing you recent developments regarding the government’s controversial rule entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which sought to expand the scope of public benefits that could render a permanent resident or immigrant visa applicant ineligible for immigration benefits.

As you know, in October of 2019, the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” was swiftly blocked by several federal judges shortly before going into effect. By court order, the government cannot implement the final rule anywhere in the United States until a final resolution has been reached in several lawsuits brought against the government challenging the validity of the public charge rule.

On Monday, January 13, 2020, the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the court to lift the remaining lower court injunction, that is currently stopping the government from enforcing the public charge rule.

The government’s request comes just one week after a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, upheld a lower court injunction, preventing the government from implementing the public charge rule on a nationwide basis.

Angered by the decision, the government decided to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision by bringing the matter to the Supreme Court, urging the Court to side with the President and allow the implementation of the rule while a decision in the New York lawsuit is reached on the merits.

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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The U.S. Department of State recently released the December 2019 Visa Bulletin. In this post, we will discuss the current state of the visa bulletin, potential for advancement, retrogression, and predictions.

Family-based Preference Categories

The Final Action Date for F2A has been current and remains current since July 2018 across all countries through December. Low demand in this category has made it “current” and is expected to remain current for the foreseeable future.

Movement for all other family-preference categories remains as before.

F-4 visa demand is increasing which may result in slow movement in this category in the foreseeable future, but not nearly enough to cause a retrogression.

Employment-based preference categories

Overview

For the month of December 2019, EB-2 Worldwide, as well as EB-2 El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Philippines, and Vietnam remain current.

Similarly, EB-3 Worldwide, as well as EB-3 El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Vietnam remain current.

The Visa Bulletin notes that visa availability is likely to slow down for employment-based visa categories due to the steady increase in the level of employment-based demand for adjustment of status cases filed with USCIS. If the current pace of demand continues, a final action date will be implemented for EB-2, EB-3, and EB-3 Other Worker preference categories as early as January.

Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State has reported that if the level of demand subsides, it is possible that these categories will remain current, however there is no evidence that demand will slow down for these categories, therefore visa applicants should be prepared for the implementation of Final Action Dates as early as January 2020.

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