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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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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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It is that time of the month again! In this blog post, we will cover the release of the February Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the month of February 2022.

The Department of State releases the visa bulletin on a monthly basis, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for that particular month. The “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications,” charts indicate when immigrant visa applicants should be notified to assemble and submit the required documentation to the National Visa Center.


Adjustment of Status Filings for those lawfully residing in the United States


In general, if USCIS determines there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, the agency will provide instructions on the www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo webpage that applicants may use the Dates for Filing chart. Otherwise, USCIS will indicate that applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status application with USCIS. If a particular immigrant visa category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart or the cutoff date on the Final Action Dates chart is later than the date on the Dates for Filing chart, applicants in that immigrant visa category may file using the Final Action Dates chart during that month.

Information has not yet been posted regarding the adjustment of status filing charts that should be used for green card filings. However, applicants are encouraged to monitor the USCIS webpage mentioned above within the next weeks.


February 2022 Visa Bulletin Final Action Cutoff Dates


Employment Based Categories


FINAL ACTION DATES FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES


According to the Department of State’s February 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following final cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for employment-based categories:

  • EB-1: All countries, including India and China, will remain current.
  • EB-2: India will advance by nearly 6 months to January 1, 2013, and China will advance by more than 5 weeks to March 1, 2019. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India and China will remain the same as the previous months at January 15, 2012 and March 22, 2018 respectively. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-5: The Non-Regional Center program will be current for all countries, including China. The Regional Center program has expired and is listed as unavailable in the February 2022 Visa Bulletin. If reauthorized, the Regional Center program will mirror the Non-Regional Center final action dates, except China, which would be subject to a November 22, 2015, final action date.

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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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Breaking news! The Department of State has published a final rule in the Federal Register announcing a new temporary final rule that grants consular officers flexibility to waive the personal appearance of certain “replacement” immigrant visa applicants who were approved for an immigrant visa in the same classification and on the same basis as the current application on or after August 4, 2019.

Under this new policy, consular officers will have the discretion to allow this subset of immigrant visa applicants to affirm the accuracy of the contents of their DS-260 application without appearing for an in-person interview before a consular officer. The temporary final rule is effective immediately and will expire after 24 months on December 13, 2023.


Who does the new temporary rule apply to?


This temporary final rule for a discretionary waiver of personal appearance and interview applies to immigrant visa applicants who were issued a U.S. immigrant visa on or after August 4, 2019, and meet the following additional criteria:

  • the applicant must be seeking an immigrant visa in the same classification (or another classification as the result of automatic conversion due to the death or naturalization of the petitioner of the previously issued immigrant visa)
  • the applicant seeks and remains qualified for an immigrant visa pursuant to the same approved petition as their previously approved application, and
  • they must continue to qualify for the immigrant visa sought.

Interview Waivers


Under this temporary final rule, the personal appearance and interview of certain applicants for an immigrant visa may be waived in the discretion of the consular officer, provided that the applicant is willing to affirm under penalty of perjury to the information provided on their Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application, known as Form DS-260.

The consular officer may decide to either (1) communicate with the applicant by telephone or email, (2) request that the applicant provide additional information that the consular officer deems necessary, or (3) may request the applicant to appear in person.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post, we will cover the release of the November Visa Bulletin 2021 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the month of November 2021.

The Department of State releases the visa bulletin on a monthly basis, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for that particular month. The “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications,” charts indicate when immigrant visa applicants should be notified to assemble and submit the required documentation to the National Visa Center.

If you would like to follow along on each month’s progress for the Visa Bulletin please be on the lookout for the “Chats with Charlie” series on the DOS YouTube Channel. 

Chats with Charlie is a monthly series recently launched by the State Department where Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control & Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, answers your frequently asked questions regarding each month’s Visa Bulletin. Questions can be emailed to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of the event with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the subject line.


Adjustment of Status Filings for those lawfully residing in the United States


In general, if USCIS determines there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, the agency will provide instructions on the www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo webpage that applicants may use the Dates for Filing chart. Otherwise, USCIS will indicate that applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status application with USCIS. If a particular immigrant visa category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart or the cutoff date on the Final Action Dates chart is later than the date on the Dates for Filing chart, applicants in that immigrant visa category may file using the Final Action Dates chart during that month.

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We kick off the start of a brand-new week with some important new updates regarding the new COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all immigrant visa applicants, fiancé(e) visa applicants, and nonimmigrant visa applicants. We also share with you some new information regarding Croatia’s designation as a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program. When can Croatians start to apply for ESTA? Find out here!


COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements for Immigrant Visa Applicants Overseas


The Department of State has issued a brand-new press release informing the public that effective October 1, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Technical Instructions for panel physicians, will now require all immigrant visa applicants, all K fiancé(e) visa applicants, and nonimmigrant visa applicants who are referred to the panel physicians to receive a full COVID-19 vaccine series (1 or 2 doses depending on formulation) as part of their medical exam prior to being issued a visa.  The CDC is requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to be approved through either the World Health Organization (WHO) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Blanket waivers for the COVID vaccination will be applied in countries where the vaccine is not routinely available or when the vaccine is not age appropriate.  The Department of State is encouraging all immigrant visa applicants and others subject to a medical exam to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible to avoid delays in their visa processing. If any of the below mentioned circumstances apply a blanket waiver may be available to you.


Circumstances in which Blanket Waivers are available for COVID-19 vaccinations:


  • Where it is not age-appropriate to receive the vaccination
    For COVID-19 vaccines, the age for which a particular vaccine can be administered differs by formulation. If the applicant is younger than the lowest age limit for the formulations in use (less than 12 years of age at the time of posting), this blanket waiver should be documented.
  • In cases where a contraindication exists – a condition that serves as a reason not to take a certain medical treatment due to the harm that it would cause the patient.

If an applicant has a contraindication or precaution to the COVID-19 vaccine formulation available, the “Contraindicated” reason should be documented, and the vaccine should not be administered. If the applicant has had a severe reaction to the first dose that is considered a contraindication to receiving a second dose, the first dose should be documented in addition to the blanket waiver.  Please refer to Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States for COVID-19 specific information about contraindications and precautions.

  • Where a vaccine is not routinely available
    If no COVID-19 vaccine is routinely available in the state where the Civil Surgeon practices, the “Not routinely available” reason should be documented.  If vaccine is available to the applicant but due to limited supply, it would cause significant delay for the applicant to receive their vaccination, then this situation would also be considered “Not routinely available.”

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we share with you an overview of the State Department’s October 2021 Q&A answer session with Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, also known as “Chats with Charlie,” broadcasted every month on the State Department’s YouTube channel.

This new series features a monthly Question-and-Answer session with Mr. Charles Oppenheim and a Consular officer, where they answer many of the public’s frequently asked questions and provide a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin. This discussion will provide details regarding what to expect in terms of the movement or retrogression of both family and employment-based preference categories on each month’s Visa Bulletin.

Questions for Charlie can be emailed in advance to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of each monthly session with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the subject line.

Be sure to subscribe to the State Department’s YouTube Channel and turn on your notifications so you do not miss any of these important updates.

Below are the highlights of the visa projections for October 2021.


DOS Q&A Session with Charlie Oppenheim: October 2021 Visa Bulletin Projections & Beyond


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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post, we bring you a new update from the U.S. Department of State regarding the status of immigrant visa processing at U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas. Today, the Department of State released an update reminding immigrant visa applicants that consular interview appointments are being scheduled using a four-tiered system that generally triages immigrant visa applications based on a system of priority.

The update adds that where possible, Consular posts and Embassies will attempt to schedule some appointments within all four priority tiers every month. These attempts will be made to help reduce the massive backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and operational constraints. The new update also carves out priority exceptions for certain healthcare workers seeking immigrant visas.

Applicants should keep in mind that public health and safety remain a paramount concern amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consular posts and Embassies are continuing to do the best they can depending on local conditions to schedule interview appointments according to the priority schedule, taking into account restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by host country government.

It is also important to consider that posts overseas must abide by U.S. government guidance on safety in the workplace and are following social distancing protocols and safety measures which have reduced the number of applicants consular sections are able to see in a single day.  Consular sections will only resume routine visa services when it is safe to do so based on the particular geographic location.


The Department of State’s Four-Tiered Prioritization Schedule


The Department of State has said that while all immigrant visa categories are important, during the pandemic, it has been forced to make difficult decisions regarding how it will prioritize immigrant visa applications as they operate at limited capacity and work through the substantial backlogs of immigrant visa cases.

Having considered the difficult circumstances all applicants face, the Department of State has followed a guiding principle for immigrant visa prioritization, with family reunification being a top priority for the U.S. Government. The State Department’s prioritization schedule highlights Congressional objectives calling upon the agency to adopt policies that prioritize immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancées of U.S. citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants.

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In this blog post we share with you some breaking news for green card applicants applying for adjustment of status on Form I-485, as well as those applying for immigrant visas from abroad.

As part of the green card process, USCIS and the Department of State require applicants to undergo a medical examination with a doctor designated as a civil surgeon, to establish that the applicant is not inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds.

According to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control, beginning October 1, 2021, green card applicants will now be required to establish that they have received a complete COVID-19 vaccine series, in order to be deemed eligible for permanent residence. Following the release of this new guidance, COVID-19 was added to the list of vaccinations required of those seeking U.S. lawful permanent residence.

The new vaccine requirement will apply to routine medical examinations necessary for both adjustment of status applicants applying for green cards in the United States and immigrant visa applicants applying at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.


Who must take the COVID-19 vaccine?


All applicants (1) applying for I-485 adjustment of status (a green card) or (2) those applying for an immigrant visa abroad, who will receive their medical examination from a Civil Surgeon or Panel Physician on or after October 1, 2021, will be subject to this requirement and are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 vaccine series as soon  as possible.

Eligible applicants must complete the COVID-19  vaccine  series if  a  COVID-19  vaccine  listed  for  emergency  use  by  the World  Health  Organization  (WHO)  or  licensed  or  authorized  for  emergency  use  by  the  U.S. Food  and  Drug Administration  (FDA)  is  available  to  the  applicant  in  the  country  where  the  medical  examination  is  conducted.


How can I show that I have met the vaccine requirement?


Applicants must complete the COVID-19 vaccine series and provide documentation of vaccination to the civil surgeon in person before completion of the medical examination.  The COVID-19 vaccination requirement will differ from previous requirements in that the entire vaccine series (1 or 2 doses depending on formulation) must be completed in addition to the other routinely required vaccines.


How long will the COVID-19 vaccine requirement be in place?


These COVID-19 vaccine requirement will be in place until the CDC determines the vaccine is no longer needed to prevent the importation and spread of COVID-19.

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