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Articles Posted in COVID 19

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We continue to have good news for international students. As you already know, on July 8th Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit to stop the government from enforcing new guidelines on international students that would prohibit them from taking online classes during the Fall semester, despite increasing coronavirus cases nationwide. The new guidelines announced by the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) would refuse visas to students in schools that plan to teach classes fully online this fall and would bar these students from entering the country. Students already in the United States enrolled in schools teaching online classes would need to leave the country or transfer to a school with in-person instruction to keep their visas.

Since the Harvard-MIT lawsuit was filed, Northeastern university has joined the fight. In addition, many other universities across the United States have rallied together in support of their students, including the University of California school system, Princeton, Cornell, John Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania. These institutions have filed amicus briefs supporting the Harvard-MIT lawsuit and/or filed lawsuits of their own in district court.

On July 9th Attorney General Xavier Becerra also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the State of California against the Trump administration to stop the government’s new policies from going into effect.

Like the state of California, many more states are expected to file their own lawsuits in the coming week.

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We have news that may be some relief to international students across the United States.

Today, Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed a lawsuit in District Court in Boston against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), challenging new guidelines that prohibit international students from taking online classes during the upcoming fall semester.

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief to bar the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from enforcing recent federal guidelines just announced on Monday, that prohibit international students from attending U.S. colleges and universities offering only online instruction during the upcoming Fall 2020 semester.

As our loyal followers know, early this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a news release introducing a new set of guidelines for international students who will take courses in the U.S. during the upcoming fall semester.

Among the new guidelines, we learned that F-1 and M-1 students will be prohibited from taking courses entirely online during the fall semester. The announcement stated that the Department of State would not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs operating entirely online, and Customs and Border Protection would not allow such students to enter the United States.

International students in the United States enrolled in schools and/or programs operating entirely online were only given two options (1) depart the United States or (2) take other measures such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.

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Today, Monday, July 6, 2020, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a news release introducing new modifications taken by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that will apply to all international students in F-1 and M-1 status taking courses during this upcoming Fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be publishing new procedures and responsibilities for F-1 and M-1 students during the upcoming Fall 2020 semester in the Federal Register including changes to current policies for F-1 international students.

Monday’s modifications introduce surprising requirements for F-1 and M-1 students taking online classes due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the fall 2020 semester.


What are these new requirements?

There are three sets of new requirements.

F-1 and M-1 Students Attending Schools with Full Online Instruction During the Upcoming Fall 2020 Semester Must Transfer to In-Person Instruction or Depart the United States

Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students who are attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.

The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall 2020 semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.

If the student fails to transfer to a school with in-person instruction for the fall 2020 semester, the student may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.

F-1 Students Attending Schools With In-Person Instruction Bound to Existing Regulations – Can Take 3 Credits Online

F-1 students who will attend schools operating under “normal” in-person instruction during the Fall 2020 semester (as opposed to online classes) will be bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students are permitted to take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post we bring you the latest immigration updates.


Naturalization Ceremonies

Great news for naturalization applicants waiting for an oath ceremony. On July 1, 2020, USCIS issued an announcement notifying the public that it anticipates that it will complete nearly all postponed administrative naturalization ceremonies by the end of July of 2020.

USCIS has been prioritizing the scheduling of oath ceremonies for all naturalization applicants who were approved following their interviews. As we previously reported, USCIS is also exploring options to bypass the formal oath ceremony process in the future, and administer the oath immediately following a successful naturalization applicant’s interview. This will help move cases along quickly during the pandemic and limit further exposure.

USCIS remains committed to being as flexible as possible to welcome new citizens to the United States as fast as possible. We are glad that in the very least, naturalization applicants are being accommodated by the agency during this difficult time.

If you have not yet received your naturalization oath ceremony notice, you should be receiving one very soon. As always, we recommend calling USCIS to expedite the process.


Calls to Extend TPS for Yemen and Somalia due to COVID-19

Dozens of organizations are calling on the government to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for at least 180 days to all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter was issued in early April by interested organizations urging USCIS and DHS to automatically extend work authorization and TPS for all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders, or at the very least extend the re-registration period for TPS holders from Somalia and Yemen for a total of 180 days.

The letter emphasizes the importance of granting relief for Yemeni and Somalia TPS holders stating, “While states across the country are rightfully taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these measures and the subsequent loss of income and freedom of movement establish insurmountable barriers for TPS holders to renew their status before the rapidly approaching re-registration deadline. TPS holders should not have to choose between missing a deadline and violating health directives that keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”

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We have great news for applicants who are issued a request for evidence, notice of intent to deny, or a related document, between March 1st and September 11th.

On July 1, 2020, USCIS announced that it will extend its flexibility policy and will continue to grant applicants an additional 60 calendar days after the response deadline indicated on the notice or request, to submit a response to the request or notice, provided the request or notice was issued by USCIS between March 1 and September 11.


What documents qualify for this flexibility in responding?

Applicants who received any of the below mentioned documents dated between March 1 and September 11th can take advantage of the additional 60 days to respond to the request or notice:

  • Requests for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny;
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind and Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers;
  • Filing date requirements for Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the INA); or
  • Filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.

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Interviews at the San Diego Field Office

We have great news for our local readers. The USCIS San Diego Field Office is scheduled to resume interviews on July 6, 2020, with priority given to adjustment of status applications filed by doctors and front-line workers fighting to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Under certain circumstances, USCIS will exercise its discretion to waive adjustment of status interviews on a case-by-case basis.


What will be the approach for rescheduling?

The USCIS San Diego Field Office will begin rescheduling all other interviews on a “first-in, first-out,” basis based on receipt date of filing. This will occur as soon as possible.


When will biometrics offices reopen to the public?

Application Support Centers in San Marcos in Chula Vista are scheduled to reopen to the public on July 27, we ask our readers to please be patient while they wait to be rescheduled. Those with cancelled biometrics will be automatically rescheduled and will receive a notice in the mail with a new biometrics appointment.


What about Parole in Place cases?

Parole in place applications continue to be adjudicated, however applicants should expect delays.


What about citizenship applications?

USCIS will continue to prioritize the scheduling of oath ceremonies for naturalization applicants. Those who did not appear at a scheduled oath ceremony will receive a letter by mail. As we previously reported, oath ceremonies in San Diego are being held at the Cabrillo National Monument and the City of El Cajon parking lot adjacent to the police department.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we bring you the latest immigration news for the week.

K-1 Fiancé Visa Blunders

The news of the June 22nd presidential proclamation has caused great confusion among U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide regarding whether K-1 fiancé visas are subject to the current presidential proclamation suspending the entry of certain immigrants to the United States. We have received information from our readers that Embassies have incorrectly stated in emails that K-1 fiance visas are subject to the presidential proclamation. We would like to make clear that K-1 fiance visas are non-immigrant visas and are therefore exempt from the proclamation altogether, because the proclamation only suspends the entry of those seeking immigrant visas from outside the United States.

We are aware that the Embassy in London has been disseminating emails initially stating that K-1 fiance visas were impacted by the proclamation. The Embassy has now retracted this information and written on their webpage that K visas are not subject to the current presidential proclamation, although fiance visa holders may be prevented from entering the U.S. due to current U.S. travel restrictions against nationals of the Schengen countries during the pandemic.

The Embassy in Manila has also confirmed on its website that K visas are not impacted by the presidential proclamation.

Therefore, the only obstacle for K-1 fiance visa applicants to receive their visas is the Embassy closures occurring because of the pandemic. The only other obstacle to traveling to the United States depends on the fiance’s country of nationality. The entry of some nationals has been restricted due to high rates of Coronavirus in those regions (such as the Schengen countries, China, Iran, Brazil, etc). To find information about these travel restrictions please click here.

If you have received incorrect information from your Embassy or Consulate telling you that K-1 fiance visas are subject to the proclamation, we encourage you to copy the information provided on the Manila and London Embassy webpages confirming that K-1 visas are not impacted. Alternatively, you can email your examples to jacob@h1b.biz and we will reach out to the Consulate/Embassy directly to seek clarification.

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UPDATE: Today, Monday June 22, 2020, President Trump signed a new executive order entitled, “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak,” extending the April 22nd Presidential Proclamation and adding new restrictions for nonimmigrant workers who “pose a risk of displacing and disadvantaging United States workers during the coronavirus recovery,” including H-1B, H-2B, J, and L nonimmigrant workers.

According to the executive order, the entry of these nonimmigrants “presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans affected by the extraordinary economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.”


When does the order apply?


The order is effective at 12:01 am eastern daylight time on June 24, 2020 and will last through December 31, 2020, suspending the entry of certain immigrant and nonimmigrant aliens as outlined here. Within 30 days of June 24, 2020 (on July 24th), and every 60 days thereafter while the proclamation is in effect, the Secretary of Homeland Security will, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend any modifications to the order.


When does the order terminate?


The proclamation terminates on December 31, 2020 and can be continued by the government as necessary.


Will the April 22nd Proclamation Be Extended?


Yes, the second paragraph of the new executive order states, “In Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020, …I determined that …the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand.  Consequently, I suspended, for a period of 60 days, the entry of aliens as immigrants, subject to certain exceptions… Given that 60 days is an insufficient time period for the United States labor market …to rebalance… considerations present in Proclamation 10014 remain.” This means the April 22nd proclamation will continue until at least December 31st and all conditions subject to that proclamation will continue to remain in place.

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UPDATE: Please see our blog post here for the complete details of the newly released order. 

Today, Monday June 22, 2020, President Trump is expected to sign a new executive order that will extend his previous April 22nd order set to expire today, and will extend restrictions to apply to H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J foreign workers to protect American jobs as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 lockdowns nationwide. The new executive order is expected to pause new H-1B visa petitions for foreign workers, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, certain J work and education exchange visitor visas, and L executive transfer visas for managers of multinational corporations. The President confirmed issuance of the order in a recent interview with Fox News.

The executive order is expected to be in effect until at least the end of the year and will not impact those who have already been issued or approved an H, L, or J visa.

Although the executive order has not yet been released to the public, a senior official from the Trump administration has spoken to the media on condition of anonymity confirming the issuance of the order. The official stated that the administration has justified issuance of the new order as a way to eliminate competition with foreign workers and make jobs available to American workers during this pandemic.

To read the April 22nd proclamation click here.


Are there any exemptions?


Yes. The order will include a number of exemptions for food processing workers seeking H-2B visas, H-2A agricultural workers, health care professionals working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, J-1 medical physicians, cases that are deemed in the national interest, as well as all other exemptions originally included in the April 22nd Presidential proclamation which are as follows:

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Our readers and clients have eagerly been asking why the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reported extremely long processing times on their webpage. Others are concerned about when their field offices will reopen and reschedule their interviews. In this post we hope to provide some clarification regarding these very important issues.


Long Processing Times


As some of you may know as a result of the pandemic, USCIS has experienced a significant loss of revenue that has left the agency with no choice but to begin the process of furloughing much needed employees. The agency is no longer able to meet current workloads and has been taking drastic measures to try to cope with the current situation. CIS has requested $1.2 billion in aid from Congress to help keep the agency afloat. Among other things, CIS plans to increase filing fees this summer, and implement additional surcharges on all applications. The agency’s funding crisis has unfortunately resulted in very long processing times for those with pending applications. As many of you have noticed, the processing times listed on the CIS website vary widely depending on the service center processing the application or petition, and the relationship between the applicant and petitioner (for family-based petitions).


What accounts for the different processing times?


First, processing times vary depending on the service center that is processing your application or petition. Each service center has been specifically designated to handle specific types of immigration benefits. The type of center that will process your case depends on a number of different factors including: the type of immigration benefit you are requesting, your immigration category, and also your state of residency.

Since some types of immigration benefits are in great demand, such as permanent residency, service centers handling these types of applications generally have a heavier workload than others. Unfortunately, this means that processing times for service centers with heavier workloads will be longer than others. USCIS has tried to balance the workload by transferring some petitions to other service centers that do not have such a heavy workload. These efforts have been made to try to speed up the adjudication process.

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