Articles Posted in COVID Guidance

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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 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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Are you a participant of the Uniting for Ukraine parole program? If so, then you may be interested in learning more about the new COVID-19 vaccination requirements recently implemented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The agency has announced that effective immediately, all beneficiaries aged 6 months and older must have an attestation submitted, verifying that they have received COVID-19 vaccinations both before traveling to the United States and after arrival in the United States, unless they are eligible for an exception. Previously, beneficiaries younger than 5 years old qualified for an exception to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement because the vaccine was not approved or licensed for use in that age group.

Before Traveling to the United States

To receive travel authorization under the Uniting for Ukraine program, all beneficiaries aged 6 months and older must have an attestation submitted verifying that they received at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine approved or authorized by the Food and Drug Administration or a COVID-19 vaccine listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, unless they are eligible for an exception.

After Arrival in the United States

After being paroled into the United States, all beneficiaries aged 6 months and older must have an attestation submitted attesting that they completed or will complete their COVID-19 vaccination series (in other words, they will be fully vaccinated) within 90 days of their arrival or within 90 days of reaching the eligible age for vaccination according to the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, unless they are eligible for an exception.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we bring you the latest news regarding COVID-19-related flexibilities for responses to Requests for Evidence, NOIDs, and such related notices issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.


What do I need to know about these new updates?


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.

Today, Monday, July 25, 2022, USCIS made the announcement that it will continue to grant 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 October 23, 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 October 23, 2022 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;
  • Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers;
  • Notices of Intent to Withdraw Temporary Protected Status; 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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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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We end the week with some new developments for United States Citizens with expired passports.

On June 29, 2022, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Carrier Liaison Program announced the end of a policy that previously allowed U.S. Citizens to re-enter the United States from abroad with expired passports.

You may recall that back in May of 2021, the State Department made the decision to allow stranded U.S. Citizens stuck overseas, to temporarily 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 June 30, 2022.

This temporary form of relief was granted in response to the extensive waiting period to renew a U.S. passport from abroad. Unlike Americans inside the United States, those waiting abroad have faced long waiting periods, due to the limited availability of appointments at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide, caused by the global pandemic.

CBP has announced that as of Thursday, June 30, 2022,U.S. citizens will no longer be allowed to use their expired U.S. passport for direct return to the U. S. after June 30, 2022.

In a press release dated June 29, 2022, CBP advises officials that if a U.S. citizen overseas presents an expired U.S. passport to board a flight into the U.S., they must turn the traveler away and direct them to contact their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for a renewal.

Furthermore, CBP has stated that the Regional Carrier Liaison Group will now be responsible for implementing the scope of these new procedures.

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Today, Americans woke up to the tragic news of Russia’s targeted attack on Ukraine, adding to increased anxieties surrounding the already uncertain global climate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To provide some relief in these unprecedented circumstances, the U.S. government and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have amended their regulations to determine that it is in the national interest to permit the entry of Ukrainian noncitizen nonimmigrants who (1) are traveling with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; (2) were physically present in Ukraine as of February 10, 2022; and (3) possess valid travel documents allowing them to travel to the United States.

For their part, the CDC has announced that, based on a request from the U.S. Department of State and consistent with the determination made by the Secretary of Homeland Security, it will exercise its enforcement discretion regarding certain aspects of its “Amended Order: Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test Result or Recovery from COVID-19 for All Airline Passengers Arriving into the United States,” and its Amended Order Implementing Presidential Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic pdf icon[PDF – 52 pages],” effective immediately.


What does this mean?


The CDC will exercise enforcement discretion effectively immediately for the following groups of individuals, to the extent they were physically present in Ukraine as of February 10, 2022:

U.S. citizens; lawful permanent residents; noncitizens in possession of a valid U.S. immigrant visa; as well as noncitizen nonimmigrants who are traveling with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and possess valid travel documents allowing them to travel to the United States, known as “covered persons.”

Pursuant to this exercise of enforcement discretion, covered persons will not be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result prior to boarding a flight to the United States or to complete the attestation at Section 1 of the Combined Passenger Disclosure and Attestation to the United States of America pdf icon[PDF – 7 pages] form.

CDC is requesting that all air carriers cooperate in this exercise of enforcement discretion. Noncitizen nonimmigrants must continue to complete Section 2 of the Combined Passenger Disclosure and Attestation to the United States of America pdf icon[PDF – 7 pages] form attesting to either being fully vaccinated and providing proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or, if traveling pursuant to an exception, including a national interest exception, that they have made arrangements to receive a COVID-19 test within three to five days of arrival in the United States, to self-quarantine for seven days, to self-isolate in the event of a positive COVID-19 test or the development of COVID-19 symptoms, and to become fully vaccinated for COVID-19 within 60 days of arrival in the United States if intending to stay in the United States for more than 60 days.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! New developments in the world of immigration are happening on a daily basis. In today’s post we cover the status of consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

As you may know, the region has been embroiled in political turmoil with U.S. sanctions on Russia escalating. To protect Americans in the region, the Department of State has announced the departure of all diplomatic employees from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

Beginning February 13th, the Embassy in Kyiv has suspended Consular visa services including interview waiver services. The Department of State has indicated that applicants who had visa appointments in Kyiv can apply for their visas in any other country in which they are physically present, so long as appointments are available. Applicants are advised to contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they wish to apply to inquire about case transfers.

Those with immigrant visas that were pending in Kyiv can request a transfer of their case to another U.S. Embassy by contacting the receiving U.S. Embassy’s country to authorize and initiate the transfer. Each Embassy will have a list of requirements that must be satisfied to initiate the transfer process.

Non-immigrants and immigrant visa holders must continue to abide by the vaccination mandate in order to gain admission to the United States.


Vaccination Mandate


 Effective November 8, all non-citizen, nonimmigrant (not a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, lawful permanent resident, or traveling to the United States on an immigrant visa) airline passengers traveling to the United States, must demonstrate proof of vaccination as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Order prior to boarding a U.S. bound aircraft. More details regarding what constitutes full vaccination are available on this page of the CDC website.

All travelers to the United States, regardless of vaccination status, must show a pre-departure negative COVID-19 viral test taken within one (1) day of travel to the United States prior to boarding. This applies to all travelers – U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and foreign nationals. Additional information may be found on CDC’s website.

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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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