Articles Posted in COVID Guidance

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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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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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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we share with you an exciting new update from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that will provide relief to those who have received a Request for Evidence, Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), or such similar request.


USCIS RFE/NOID Flexibility Continued for Responses to Agency Requests


USCIS has announced that it will continue its flexibility policy giving applicants and petitioners more time to respond to Requests for Evidence during the COVID-19 pandemic and such related requests.

Today, Thursday December 30, 2021, USCIS made the announcement stating it will continue to give applicants who have received a request for evidence, notice of intent to deny, or such a related document, an additional 60 calendar days after the response deadline indicated on the notice or request, to submit a response to a request or notice, provided the request or notice was issued by USCIS between March 1, 2020 through March 26, 2022. 

This is great news because it will allow applicants and petitioners more time to gather documents that are hard to obtain during the COVID-10 pandemic.


What documents qualify for this flexibility in responding?


Applicants who receive any of the below mentioned documents dated between March 1, 2020 and March 26, 2022 can take advantage of the additional 60 calendar 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;
  • Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers; and
  • Motions to Reopen an N-400 pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant.

In addition, USCIS will consider a Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion or Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings, if:

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we continue to share with our readers some important new updates regarding travel to the United States for Americans with expired passports currently overseas.

Our readers may remember in May of 2021, the State Department announced a policy that would enable stranded U.S. Citizens stuck overseas, to use their expired passports to make a direct return to the United States, provided their passports expired on or after January 1, 2020. The policy was to be in effect until December 31, 2021.

This temporary form of relief was granted in response to the extensive waiting period to renew a U.S. passport from outside the United States. Unlike Americans inside the United States, those abroad are required to apply for passport renewal in person at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Due to the limited operational capacity of U.S. Embassies and Consulates during the global pandemic, many Americans were finding themselves stranded abroad.

On December 21, 2021, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Carrier Liaison Program issued a press release informing U.S. Citizens that the State Department is extending this policy through March 31, 2022.


What criteria do I need to meet to use my expired passport for direct travel to the United States from overseas?


If you are overseas and your passport expired on or after January 1, 2020, you may now use your expired passport to return directly to the United States until March 31, 2022.

You qualify for this exception if all the following are true:

  • You are a U.S. citizen.
  • You are currently abroad seeking direct return to the United States.
  • You are flying directly to the United States, a United States territory, or have only short-term transit (“connecting flights”) through a foreign country on your direct return to the United States or to a United States Territory.
  • Your expired passport was originally valid for 10 years. Or, if you were 15 years of age or younger when the passport was issued, your expired passport was valid for 5 years.
  • Your expired passport is undamaged.
  • Your expired passport is unaltered.
  • Your expired passport is in your possession.

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In this blog post we share with you the latest news for medical examinations filed by green card applicants.

Today, December 9, 2021, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it is temporarily waiving the requirement that civil surgeons sign Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, no more than 60 days before an applicant files an application for the underlying immigration benefit (including Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). This temporary policy change will be in effect until September 30, 2022.


Why the change?


USCIS has stated that it is offering this “temporary waiver” to help applicants who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related processing delays brought about by the USCIS office closures that occurred in 2020. Ultimately, all these factors have caused applicants to experience delays in completing the immigration medical examination known as Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record.

The service has said that this new change will allow applicants to submit their underlying application for an immigration benefit (I-485 green card application) with a completed Form I-693, even if the civil surgeon signed the medical examination more than 60 days prior. Such applicants will no longer need to undergo another immigration medical examination provided the completed Form I-693 is otherwise valid.


Who will benefit?


The temporary waiver will benefit all applicants applying for adjustment of status to become lawful permanent residents, including Afghan nationals evacuated under Operation Allies Welcome who have completed immigration medical examinations at government-run facilities who were not able to apply for adjustment of status within 60 days of the completed examination. Form I-693 is a required form to establish that green card applicants are not inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds. The medical examination must be conducted by a designated USCIS civil surgeon. To find a qualified medical office please visit our helpful links below.

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We kick off the start of a brand-new week with some breaking news. On Tuesday, December 2, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its international travel guidance to require all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel to the United States starting today, Monday, December 6, 2021.

The CDC has also published a new webpage that summarizes the international travel requirements and recommendations for U.S. Citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Immigrants. Another webpage also provides information for non-U.S. Citizens, non-U.S. immigrants traveling by air to the United States.


International Air Travel Guidance for non-U.S. Citizens and non-U.S. immigrants


Starting today, Monday December 6, 2021, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel to the United States.

Additionally, non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants (those who are not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, lawful permanent resident, or traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa) must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel to the United States by plane. Only limited exceptions apply.

Travelers are required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 when traveling to the United States by air.

Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth are also required in indoor areas of public transportation (including airplanes) traveling into, within, or out of the United States and indoors in U.S. transportation hubs (including airports).


What if I am not fully vaccinated?


Non-citizens who are nonimmigrants and seeking to enter the United States by air are required to show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States from a foreign country.

If you are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you will NOT be allowed to board a flight to the United States, unless you meet the limited criteria for an exception under the Proclamation and CDC’s Order.

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