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Great news. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that the agency is preparing to reopen in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASC) to the public on or after June 4.

As we have previously reported on our blog, USCIS first announced the temporary closure of these offices on March 18th to protect to public and its employees from the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Although USCIS is currently closed, USCIS is providing limited emergency in-person services. Those with emergency situations should contact the USCIS Contact Center for assistance. This includes Visa Waiver Entrants who need to request Satisfactory Departure.


Interview Cancellations


USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by the extended temporary closure.

USCIS asylum offices will send interview cancellation notices and automatically reschedule asylum interviews.

When the interview is rescheduled, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date and location of the interview.

When USCIS again resumes operations for in-person services, USCIS will automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the temporary office closure.

Individuals will receive a new appointment letter in the mail.

Those who had InfoPass or other appointments must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center once field offices are open to the public again. Please check to see if the respective office has been reopened before calling the Contact Center.

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The Department of State has released the visa bulletin for May 2020 outlining the availability of immigrant visa numbers for the upcoming month.


Please note:

Unless otherwise indicated on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website at www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo, individuals seeking to file applications for adjustment of status with USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security must use the “Final Action Dates” charts below for determining when they can file such applications. When USCIS determines that there are more immigrant visas available for the fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, USCIS will state on its website that applicants may instead use the “Dates for Filing Visa Applications” charts in this Bulletin. 


May Visa Bulletin Cutoff Dates


According to the Department of State’s May Visa Bulletin, the following cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa:

  • EB-1: All countries except for China and India will become current on May 1. China will advance by five weeks to July 15, 2017, while India will advance by three months to August 1, 2015.
  • EB-2: China will advance by one month to October 1, 2015, and India will advance by one week to June 2, 2009. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers: All countries except India and China will remain retrogressed at January 1, 2017. Cutoff dates for China and India will advance, with China moving ahead by one month to May 15, 2016, and India moving ahead by more than five weeks to March 1, 2009.
  • EB-5: Most countries will remain current. China will advance by more than six weeks to July 1, 2015; India will advance by nine months to October 1, 2019; and Vietnam will advance by just under two months to April 1, 2017.

Employment-Based Priority Cut-off Dates for May 2020


USCIS recently announced that it will honor Final Action dates for adjustment of status filings in May. In order to file an employment-based adjustment of status application next month, employer-sponsored foreign nationals must have a priority date that is earlier than the date listed below for their preference category and country. This is the second consecutive month that USCIS has chosen the Final Action Dates chart, after several months of honoring the Dates for Filing chart.

The May Final Action Dates chart is current for EB-1 countries worldwide, after several months of retrogression.


How will the President’s Executive Order affect immigrant visas?


The President’s executive order will temporarily suspend and limit the entry of foreign nationals seeking an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Although the order will apply for the next 60 days, the order will have little practical effect on immigration, given that U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide have suspending the issuance of all visas until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

If U.S. Consulates and Embassies resume operations within the next 60 days, the executive order will prevent foreign nationals from obtaining immigrant visas at U.S. Consulates worldwide. The suspension will apply to individuals who, as of Wednesday, were outside of the United States, do not have an immigrant visa, do not have official travel documents other than visas, and have not been exempted by the executive order.

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The long-awaited Executive Order temporarily suspending the immigration of certain aliens into the United States has been released.


WHO IS IMPACTED BY THE EXECUTIVE ORDER?


The order entitled, “Proclamation Suspending the Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak,” suspends and limits the entry of the following types of aliens (for a 60-day period) beginning 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on April 23, 2020.


Your entry is suspended and limited if all of the following are true:

THREE PART TEST


  • You are an alien outside of the United States on the effective date of the Proclamation (April 23rd)
  • You are an alien that does not have an immigrant visa that is valid on the effective date of the Proclamation (April 23rd) and
  • You are an alien that does not have an official travel document other than a visa on the effective date of the proclamation (April 23rd) or issued on any date thereafter that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission
    • Official travel documents include a transportation letter, an appropriate boarding foil, or advance parole document.

ENFORCEMENT


This Proclamation shall be enforced by U.S. Consulates worldwide at their discretion giving them the power to determine whether an immigrant has established his or her eligibility and is otherwise exempted from the Proclamation. The Department of State will implement the proclamation as it applies to immigrant visas, at the discretion of the Secretary of State in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Department of State governs the immigration process outside of the United States, while the Department of Homeland Security governs the immigration process within the United States and guides the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


WHO IS EXEMPT FROM THE EXECUTIVE ORDER?


The order expressly exempts:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents of the U.S.
  • Aliens who are the spouses of U.S. Citizens
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and any spouse and child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Aliens under 21 years of age who are children of United States Citizens and prospective adoptees
  • 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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In this post, we bring you a late-breaking update regarding the President’s recent tweet announcing the temporary suspension of immigration into the United States by executive order.

While the President has not yet signed the executive order suspending immigration, in a press briefing held today, reporters had the opportunity to ask President Trump who will be most affected by his suspension.

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Yesterday evening, President Donald Trump made an unusual announcement via twitter stating, “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy [COVID-19], as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporary suspend immigration into the United States!”

Since that tweet, no executive order has been released by the White House and no details have been provided relating to what that executive order might include, who might be affected, and how long the temporary suspension might last.

According to NPR, an official from the Department of Justice reported that the draft executive order is currently under review by the Office of Legal Counsel.

Is it worth noting that at present United States Consulates and Embassies abroad have already suspended routine visa processing and are not taking appointments for visa interviews until further notice. USCIS is still accepting and adjudicating petitions for immigration benefits as usual, however USCIS field offices, ASC offices, and asylum offices are closed to the public until May 3rd.

Responding to the President’s tweet, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said today in a statement that the President, “is committed to protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented time,” she continued, “As President Trump has said, ‘Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African American and Latino workers. At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary.”

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For many small businesses struggling to survive in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan was the only option to stay afloat.

Unfortunately, the $350 billion in aid set aside by the CARES Act has run out. While it is believed that Congress will approve a second round of appropriations to fund the Paycheck Protection Program throughout the pandemic, there is no guarantee that this will occur.


What will happen to those who applied for a loan but did not receive any funds before the money ran out?


Those who submitted a PPP application through their lenders still have a good chance of getting funded as financial institutions continue to process loan applications that were submitted. Many lenders have not gotten around to notifying borrowers that they have been approved and will be funded. Borrowers should contact their lenders to follow up with the process.

Furthermore, according to recent information provided to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) by SBA expert Chris Chan, small business owners should keep the following things in mind when considering their next steps:

  • Businesses that applied up until a few days ago still have a real shot at hearing good news from their banks. Those that have already been approved by their bank should all get money within the 10 days required by law.
  • If the loan has an SBA number attached to it, that means it made it through the initial phase of processing and will likely be part of the loan amount that’s been approved. It doesn’t mean the loan could not be denied for other reasons, but there is hope in this scenario.
  • Other loans submitted under PPP may be declined, which would free up cash under the $349 billion for other loans in the queue to be processed.
  • There is bipartisan support of adding an additional $250 to $300 billion to the program in CARES Act 2. Congress is hung up over other provisions and adaptations that they want in the program, but there was news coverage this weekend that indicated they are close to an agreement.

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Our San Diego immigration attorneys at the Sapochnick Law Firm stand ready to assist foreign nationals admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID 19), the United States has taken several measures to close its borders and ground international flights to keep the public safe. This means that at least some foreign nationals admitted under the VWP have been unable to depart before their periods of admission expired under the VWP. As you may be aware, the VWP allows citizens or nationals of certain participating countries the ability to travel to the United States for a temporary period of 90 days or less without having to obtain a United States visa. One of the downsides to the VWP is that no extensions of stay are allowed.

Thankfully, a little-known provision in the law known as “Satisfactory Departure” provides relief to VWP aliens who have found themselves “stuck” in the United States.


What is Satisfactory Departure? How does it help me?


VWP entrants who were unable to depart the United States, before their period of admission expired, due to the ongoing Coronavirus travel restrictions, may request “Satisfactory Departure,” from either their local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office or from a Deferred Inspection Site with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

These agencies have been authorized to grant these individuals a period of up to 30 days (in excess of the period of VWP admission) in which to depart the United States. As long as the traveler leaves within that 30-day window, he or she will not be considered to have violated U.S. immigration laws by overstaying.

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UPDATE: Green card interviews are being waived for at least some applicants during COVID-19


Unprecedented times call for unusual measures. Recently USCIS announced the closure of field offices nationwide—until May 3rd–to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

This announcement was immediately concerning given that green card applicants (family and employment-based) must attend in-person interviews at USCIS field offices to establish green card eligibility before their green cards can be approved.

USCIS indicated in their announcement that all impacted interviews would be rescheduled at a future time when offices re-open to the public. Of course, the decision to reschedule interviews at a future time would create a backlog, delaying the adjudication of thousands of green cards.

As it appears, to avoid a drastic backlog, USCIS is relaxing the green card interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is no official policy or memorandum waiving the interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants, USCIS has been doing just that.

We can report that certain employment-based green card applicants who had their interviews canceled as a result of the COVID-19 office closures, have seen their green card “case status” change to “approved” and have received their green cards in the mail shortly thereafter.

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In this post we would like to address some of our clients frequently asked questions regarding the Payment Protection Program, a loan forgiveness program created by the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the United States government recently passed a bill providing emergency financial relief to individuals, families, and small businesses. As you know, the majority of states nationwide have issued stay-at-home orders requiring the public to avoid all nonessential outings and stay at home as much as possible. Non-essential businesses have also been ordered to close their facilities to the public until further notice. Essential businesses have been allowed to continue to operate such as grocery stores, pharmacies, health care facilities, banking, law enforcement, and other emergency services.

One of the main provisions of the bill, known as the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), allocates billions of dollars in loans to small businesses who are feeling the economic impact of the stay-at-home orders. The CARES Act specifically authorized the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create the Payment Protection Program for the purpose of providing financial assistance to small businesses nationwide that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. SBA lenders began accepting loan applications from small business owners on April 3, 2020. Applications will continue to be accepted until June 30, 2020. It is important for business owners to apply for these loans as soon as possible.

  1. What is the Payment Protection Program?

In a nutshell, the Payment Protection Program is a loan forgiveness program that allows small businesses (of 500 or fewer employees) to apply for loans of (1) $10 million or (2) 2.5x the average total monthly payments of the company’s payroll costs, whichever is less.

Loans under this Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will be 100 percent guaranteed by SBA, and the full principal amount of the loans will qualify for loan forgiveness provided that:

(1) the business was in operation on February 15, 2020 and either had (a) employees for whom you paid salaries and payroll taxes or (b) paid independent contractors as reported on Form 1099;

(2) all employees are kept on the payroll for 8 weeks and;

(3) the money is used for payroll costs, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities (at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).

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In this post, we summarize all of the major and recent developments taken by USCIS, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These developments directly impact immigration in significant ways that will be discussed in further detail below.

As this situation evolves, we will continue to update this post for your benefit. You may also read all of our COVID-19 related posts here.


USCIS Field Offices, ASCs, and Asylum Offices Temporary Closed to the Public

To combat the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic, on March 18th USCIS announced the temporary closure of field offices, application support centers, and asylum offices, to the public until at least May 3rd.

We suspect that this closure will be further extended given the current public health crisis we are experiencing nationwide.

Applicants who were scheduled to appear for an interview, biometrics, or asylum interview from March 18 to May 3rd will receive a notice in the mail regarding impacted services, as well as a notice rescheduling the appointment.

ASC appointments will be rescheduled once offices are re-opened to the public.

At this time, please continue to be patient and monitor your mail closely.


USCIS Field Office and Service Center Operations Continue

Although USCIS is closing field offices to the public, the agency has stated that office employees will continue to perform mission-essential services that do not require face-to-face contact with the public.

Furthermore, USCIS service centers and facilities continue to operate and will continue to adjudicate petitions filed nationwide.


USCIS Expands RFE/NOID/NOIR/NOIT/I-290B Deadlines

On March 30, 2020, USCIS announced that it will consider any response to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, or NOIT received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice before any action is taken by USCIS.

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