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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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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we share with you some recent news regarding a new class action lawsuit that has been filed by 49 plaintiffs against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), seeking relief from the extreme processing delays currently taking place for I-765 applications for employment authorization (EADs) filed by individuals seeking adjustment of status (AOS) in the United States, and for I-765 applications filed by E-2 dependent spouses with USCIS.

Currently, USCIS reports that I-765 work permit applications based on a pending I-485 adjustment of status application are taking between 20 to 21.5 months to process at the California Service Center; while it is taking 9 to 9.5 months to process work permit applications at the National Benefits Center; and 9.5 to 10.5 months to process such applications at the Nebraska Service Center.

The new legal challenge against the government has been mounted by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP, Joseph and Hall PC, Kuck Baxter Immigration LLC, and Siskind Susser PC.

The lawsuit seeks to hold the government accountable once and for all for the exorbitant processing times taking place for work permit applications to be adjudicated, especially those at the California Service Center. Under the law, applicants for adjustment of status are afforded the option of applying for temporary employment authorization while their green card applications are pending with USCIS, through what is supposed to be an easy procedure that involves filing a simple I-765 application for employment authorization. In normal circumstances, such employment authorization applications took on average 7 to 9 months to be adjudicated. Since the onset of the pandemic however USCIS has not been able to adjudicate these applications within reasonable timeframes.

Processing times have gotten worse and worse to the point that applicants are receiving their green card interview appointments before even coming close to receiving an approved employment authorization document. This has resulted in applicants being unable to seek employment while waiting for their green card applications to process. This has caused great cause for concern for individuals who have a job offer lined up or who need to work to maintain their households. Further, the American economy is experiencing more and more labor shortages as they struggle to get individuals back to work. The situation at the USCIS level is making it even more difficult for American businesses to find qualified workers.

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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 information for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants residing in regions currently affected by the four geographic Presidential Proclamations still in place, for non-citizens in the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, and India.

The Presidential Proclamations, collectively known as the COVID-19 Geographic Proclamations are as follows:

  • Presidential Proclamation 10143 (Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa)
  • Presidential Proclamation 9984 (China)
  • Presidential Proclamation 9992 (Iran)
  • Presidential Proclamation 10199 (India)

*The Schengen countries include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The COVID-19 Proclamations were issued early on during the pandemic to help contain the rapid spread of the Coronavirus in the United States, by limiting the entry to the United States, of non-citizen travelers who were physically present in any of the impacted regions during the 14-day period, prior to their planned entry or attempted entry to the United States.

To comply with these Proclamations, U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide have been unable to issue nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to those who have been physically present in any of the above mentioned 33 covered countries. But all of that has recently changed thanks to new National Interest Exception designations made by the Secretary of State for certain types of travelers.

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We are excited to share with you some new updates regarding the immigrant visa backlog.

On May 25, 2021, the U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs, hosted a live YouTube Question and Answer session with Neal Vermillion, Division Chief at the U.S. Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, where he discussed how Consular sections have been prioritizing cases during the phased resumption of visa services, and information about the status of the current immigrant visa backlog worldwide.

Neal Vermillion works directly with the Office of Field Operations, which is a government agency that provides guidance to Consular sections including Embassies and Consulates around the world. He has worked with the Department of State since the early 2000’s in various roles and has invaluable expertise on visa operations at Consular sections around the globe.

In this post, we will share with you the highlights of this session which you may find useful to determine the progress of your visa and what you can expect with regard to visa processing in the coming months.


DOS Q&A Session with Neal Vermillion: Immigrant Visa Backlog Q&A



Neal’s Introductory Remarks

I would first like to say a few remarks before we get to that question and the other specific ones. In terms of the history, here we are almost June 2021. Those of you that follow our immigrant visa processing overseas know, we actually shut down due to the pandemic. Visa processing shut down for several months last year at this time, and we really didn’t start the reopening process until July of last year. This is one significant factor that is leading to this backlog discussion that we are having today.

Another point I want to highlight that is another prong of why we are where we are is, you may recall, last spring as well, then President Trump signed Presidential Proclamation 10014, which President Biden rescinded in late February of this year, but that Proclamation prevented the issuance, even when we were open and our Consular sections were processing some visas, that prevented the issuance and travel of many many different types of immigrant visas.

A third prong as we’re talking about Presidential Proclamations, is … some of you may be aware, there are actually still in effect geographic Proclamations, as we call them, which basically are again Presidential Proclamations that have been issued to help protect the homeland, protect health and security.

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In today’s blog post, we are happy to bring our readers some very exciting news.

On April 26, 2021, the Department of State formally announced a new National Interest Determination for certain categories of nonimmigrant visa applicants currently unable to enter the United States due to COVID-19 related Regional Presidential Proclamations issued earlier this year. This new determination will allow certain travelers to obtain their visas and enter the United States, despite the issuance of COVID-19 related Regional Presidential Proclamations, known as Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992, and 10143.

These Proclamations were issued early last year to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 to the United States, specifically from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

Such Proclamations had the effect of restricting and suspending the entry into the United States, of both immigrants and nonimmigrants, who were physically present within the Schengen Area, Brazil, China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Iran, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. Few categories of individuals were exempted from these Presidential Proclamations, including lawful permanent residents of the United States (green card holders), spouses of U.S. Citizens or lawful permanent residents, and others who were similarly exempted.

Individuals who have not been specifically exempted from the Regional Proclamations and have remained physically present in the impacted regions, have been unable to proceed with visa processing. Consulates worldwide have refused to grant visas to these individuals due to the enforcement of the Proclamations.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We kick off the start of the week with some important updates.

For the past few months, our followers have raised concerns regarding substantial delays they have been experiencing waiting for their receipt notices to arrive in the mail for applications and petitions filed at USCIS lockboxes.

On January 8, 2021, USCIS announced that the agency has indeed been overcome with delays caused by the pandemic and other factors, that has resulted in the delayed issuance of receipt notices for at least some applications and petitions filed at USCIS lockbox facilities.

USCIS lockbox facilities are located in Chicago, Phoenix, Lewisville, and Dallas.

For a list of forms processed at USCIS Lockbox Facilities click here.


What is happening?

Several factors including COVID-19 related restrictions, increases in filings, current postal service volume, and other factors, have caused applicants and petitioners to wait 4-6 weeks on average (after properly filing an application or petition with a USCIS lockbox) to receive a receipt notice in the mail.

USCIS has announced that these delays do not affect the date of receipt of your application. Applicants should be aware that delays vary depending on the type of form submitted and the lockbox location. Cases which are most affected by the delays include non-family based Form I-485 Applications to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and Form I-765 Applications for Employment Authorization based on eligibility categories relating to F-1 students.


How is USCIS working to improve these delays?

The agency continues to take all necessary COVID-19 related precautions including social distancing and frequent cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

To help alleviate the workload, USCIS lockbox personnel are working extra hours and redistributing their workload to reduce these delays.

As soon as an application is opened and processed, the agency is printing and mailing receipt notices to the mailing address on file.

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