Articles Posted in DOS

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The newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is quickly mobilizing government resources to increase scrutiny and implement tougher screening procedures for applicants who are applying for a U.S. visa or other immigration benefit at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies abroad. Reuters has reported that Secretary Tillerson has sent a series of internal cables (four in total) to consulates and embassies abroad instructing them of new measures to increase vetting of visa applicants (both immigrant and non-immigrant). These cables are as follows: (1) Cable 23338 entitled “Guidance to Visa-Issuing Posts” issued on March 10, 2017; (2) Cable 24324 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 15, 2017; (3) Cable 24800 entitled “Halt Implementation” of President Trump’s new travel ban due to a temporary restraining order by a federal court, issued on March 16, 2017; and finally (4) Cable 25814 entitled “Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications” issued March 17, 2017.

In these cables, Tillerson has directed U.S. consulates and embassies to specifically identify population risks that warrant “increased scrutiny” and to implement tougher screening procedures for this particular group of people. Applicants who fall into one of the identifiable population groups will be subjected to a higher-level security screening. The cable does not identify whether embassies will be coordinating to provide a uniform standard for identifying populations who pose a security risk. This is a serious cause for concern, since U.S. embassies will likely vary in how they assess which groups pose a security risk. In addition, as part of these measures, the Secretary has ordered a mandatory social media check for all applicants who have ever visited or been present in any territory that is controlled by the Islamic State. Previously, social media screening was not a part of the regular screening process for U.S. visa applicants, however this screening process has always been a discretionary measure.

In addition, the cables provided instructions for the implementation of President Trump’s newly revised executive order on immigration which sought to temporarily bar the admission of foreign nationals from Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Yemen, as well as Syrian refugees, including mandatory enhanced visa screening procedures. Several of these cables were quickly retracted by the Secretary of State after a federal judge from the state of Hawaii issued a Temporary Restraining Order blocking Trump’s embattled executive order from proceeding as planned. The Trump administration had envisioned strict new guidelines for vetting U.S. visa applicants, and this vision was reflected in Tillerson’s cables.

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President Donald Trump is expected to hand down a controversial Executive Order on immigration within the coming days to protect the nation from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals. Although the Trump administration has not made a formal announcement regarding the proposed order yet, a leaked, unsigned copy of the President’s order has been making the rounds. We do not know whether the President has made any modifications to the order since its leak, and we do not know when exactly the order will be issued. One thing is clear, an executive order on immigration is imminent. It is rumored that the executive order will include a temporary ban on refugees, the suspension of issuance of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries, which are rumored to include Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, collectively referred to as “countries of particular concern,” as well as the end of Syrian refugee processing, and the visa interview waiver program.

The passage of such an executive order although extremely controversial and unpopular, would be within the President’s executive power, if his administration determines that limiting refugee admissions temporarily and restricting the issuance of visas to persons from specific countries is of significant public interest to the United States to combat the war on terror. The administration would need to balance our country’s need to secure its borders against terrorism with the need to resolve the global humanitarian crisis we face today. Donald Trump has already passed a series of executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement authorizing the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, withholding federal grant money for sanctuary cities, hiring 5,000 Border Patrol agents, reinstating local and state immigration enforcement partnerships, and ending the “catch-and-release” policy for undocumented immigrants.

The leaked copy of the executive order “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” gives two policy reasons for enacting the executive order. First, the purpose of the order is to protect American citizens from foreign nationals who intend to enter the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Second, the order serves to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to enter the United States to “exploit” the country’s immigration laws for malevolent purposes. The order highlights that following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, hundreds of foreign nationals have successfully entered the United States on an asylum, visitor, student, or employment visa, and have been subsequently convicted or implicated in terrorism related crimes. The order goes on to blame the State Department’s consular officials for their failure to scrutinize the visa applications of the foreign nationals who went on to commit the September 11 attacks, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans.

The main provisions of the leaked order “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” are as follows:

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On December 12, 2016, the Department of State published the Annual Numerical Limits for both family and employment-based visa preference categories for Fiscal Year 2017.

Family preference and employment immigrant categories are subject to numerical limitations and are divided by preference systems on the Visa Bulletin and become current based on the immigrant’s priority date. The Visa Bulletin estimates immigrant visa availability for prospective immigrants. Applicants who fall under family preference or employment categories must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available to them, for applicants to proceed with their immigrant visa application. Once the immigrant’s priority date becomes current per the Visa Bulletin, the applicant can proceed with their immigrant visa application. A priority date is generally the date when your relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS. The Visa Bulletin exists due to numerical immigrant visa limitations for family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories established by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Family-sponsored preference categories are limited to a minimum of 226,000 visas per year, while employment-based preference categories are limited to a minimum of 140,000 visas per year. The Visa Bulletin is a useful tool for aliens to determine when a visa will become available to them so that they may apply for permanent residence.

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On November 20, 2016, the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the Department of State, Charles Oppenheim, provided his outlook on recent trends and future projections for employment-based immigrant preference categories of the Visa Bulletin.

December Visa Bulletin Predictions

  • A final action date has been imposed on the EB-4 preference category for the country of Mexico in the month of December
  • The non-minister EB-4 special immigrant category and the I5 and R5 classifications of the immigrant investor pilot program will expire on December 9, 2016.
  • EB-1 China and EB-1 India are expected to be subject to a final action date in the near future
  • A final action cut-off date will be imposed for EB-2 Worldwide, EB-2 Mexico, and EB-2 Philippines by the month of July.

January and February Projections

Regarding movement of EB-4 El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras during the next 12 months

Oppenheim has stated that the State Department does not have any knowledge of the volume of cases adjudicated by USCIS for this preference category. Due to this lack of information, the State Department does not know at what rate USCIS will pre-adjudicate these cases once the final action date is in place. The reason the December cut-off date for Mexico was imposed was because there was a large number of EB-4 Mexico petitions processed with 2015 and 2016 priority dates. A retrogression of the EB-4 final action date for these countries is not expected to occur during this fiscal year, despite high demand. There is currently a very high level of demand in this category that is expected to continue. Typically, when a final action cut-off date is imposed, demand increases, because applicants rush to apply quickly before a retrogression is imminent.

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In this informational post we discuss the I-130 Consular Process for spouses. Consular processing refers to the process by which a U.S. Citizen immigrates their foreign spouse to the United States from abroad. Depending on the foreign spouse’s country of residence, and the volume of applications processed by USCIS, the National Visa Center, and the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where the foreign spouse will have their immigrant visa interview, the process to immigrate a spouse to the United States can take anywhere from 8 to 12 months. Consular processing is a complicated process. It is recommended that applicants obtain the assistance of an experienced attorney to file this type of application.

What is the first step involved in the process?

The first step involves filing the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. This petition establishes that a relationship exists between the U.S. Citizen and intending immigrant. This petition thus is used for family-based immigration to the United States. A separate I-130 must be filed for each eligible relative that will immigrate to the United States including minor children of the foreign spouse. The filing and approval of the I-130 is the first step to immigrate a relative to the United States. Because this petition is filed by the U.S. Citizen petitioner, the foreign spouse does not need to wait until a visa number becomes available before applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate/Embassy abroad. By contrast, if the petitioner is not a U.S. Citizen and is instead a Lawful Permanent Resident, an immigrant visa is not immediately available to the foreign spouse. Due to this, the foreign spouse must wait until their priority date becomes current according to the visa bulletin issued by the Department of State. The I-130 is accompanied by various supporting documents mostly biographical in nature. These documents include the signed forms, the filing fees, passport photographs of the petitioner and beneficiary, the petitioner’s proof of citizenship, a copy of the beneficiary’s passport ID page, copy of their birth certificate with a certified translation, and a copy of the marriage certificate. Once these documents have been compiled, the applicant mails them to USCIS for approval. USCIS takes approximately 4 months to process and approve this application. This time frame will depend on the volume of applications being processed by USCIS at the time of filing.

The National Visa Center Stage

Once the I-130 petition has been approved, USCIS will mail the petitioner a receipt notice known as the I-797 Notice of Action. This Notice of Action serves as proof that the I-130 petition has been approved, and more importantly indicates that the petition will be forwarded to the Department of State’s National Visa Center within 30 days. The National Visa Center is a government agency that conducts pre-processing of all immigrant visa petitions that require consular action. The National Visa Center requires the applicant to send various documents, before the application can be sent to the United States Consular unit where the foreign spouse will attend their immigrant visa interview. The NVC determines which consular post will be most appropriate according to the foreign spouse’s place of residence abroad, as indicated on the I-130 petition. Once the NVC has received all documents necessary to complete pre-processing of the immigrant application, the case is mailed to the consular unit abroad. From the date the I-130 has been approved, it takes approximately 30-45 days for the National Visa Center to receive the application from USCIS and begin pre-processing.

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On September 28, 2016 the Obama Administration published the presidential determination for refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017. For the upcoming fiscal year, the Department of State will authorize admission of up to 110,000 refugees in accordance with section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act 8 U.S.C. 1157. The numbers of available refugee admissions will be allocated on a regional basis to the following countries: Africa, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East, and South Asia. The president stated in his memorandum that the number of refugee admissions has increased from previous years, due to national interest concerns and the need of humanitarian relief in these regions. Numbers are specifically allocated to refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Fourteen-thousand of the one-hundred ten thousand refugee admissions will go toward an ‘unallocated reserve’ authorizing Congress to distribute unallocated admission numbers to regions where the need is necessary based upon humanitarian concerns. Any unused refugee admission numbers may be transferred between regions, if there is increased need for admission in that region or region(s).

The numbers for refugee admission by region are as follows:

Africa ……………………………………………………. 35,000

East Asia…………………………………………………. 12,000

Europe and Central………………………………………. 4,000

Latin America and the Caribbean …………………………5,000

Near East and South Asia…………………………………40,000

Unallocated reserve………………………………………. 14,000

In accordance with 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42) Congress is authorized to grant refugee admissions to the following persons, based on their country of nationality or habitual residence. Such persons are not subject to a numerical limit in order to qualify for refugee admission to the United States: persons in Cuba, Eurasia, the Baltics, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and persons identified by a United States Embassy in exceptional circumstances.

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On September 21, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted the adjustment of status filing dates for October 2016.

If you are waiting to apply for permanent residence based on an approved family-sponsored petition (I-130) or based on an approved employment-based petition (I-140), USCIS has advised that you refer to the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart on the October Visa Bulletin to determine when to file your application for permanent residence according to your priority date (the date when your relative or employer properly filed your immigrant visa petition with USCIS) and your preference category. Generally, applicants who have filed the immigrant petition and have been approved, must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available, before seeking adjustment of status to permanent resident. This is because availability of immigrant visas for certain classes of immigrants are limited. These preference categories appear in the Visa Bulletin, as well as the number of visas available for each preference category.

Note: For employment-based petitions if a labor certification is required to be filed with your immigrant visa petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.

What is the Visa Bulletin and the Dual Chart System?

Every month, the Department of State releases a monthly Visa Bulletin which provides estimates on immigrant visa availability according to family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories. As you may recall, in September of last year, USCIS introduced a new chart called the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart in addition to the ‘Application Final Action Date’ chart. Together this dual chart system governs when applicants may file their applications for permanent residence according to visa availability, the applicant’s preference category, and the date of filing (priority date).

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In this post we bring you exciting news about the 2018 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program also known as the “green card lottery” for eligible foreign nationals. Participants in the Diversity Immigration Visa Program will have a chance to win one of 50,000 available visas to immigrate to the United States. Winning entries will be selected at random via a computer-generated drawing. Only foreign nationals of countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States may apply for the program; please see the list of eligible countries below. The entry period for the 2018 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV-2018) will open between Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4), Tuesday, October 4, 2016, and noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-5), Monday, November 7, 2016. Entries must be submitted electronically on the Department of State website for the DV-2018 fiscal year. 

Only one entry may be submitted for each person during this registration period. Individuals who have submitted more than one entry per fiscal year will be disqualified. Once the registration period has ended the Department of State will use their computer software technology to detect multiple entries in the system. Applicants who have submitted multiple entries will be disqualified. There is no cost to register for the program and submit an entry for the diversity visa program. However, if accepted applicants will incur any visa expenses if residing abroad, and the filing fee for the green card application (currently $1,070). Once you have registered and submitted your entry for 2018-DV Program, you must check the status of your entry by visiting the Department of State website. The U.S. government will NOT notify you directly if you have been selected for the 2018-DV Immigrant Visa Program. It is your responsibility to check whether you have been selected.

What is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is administered by the United States Department of State each fiscal year, and is a program that was made possible by Congress with the passage of section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 203(c) of the INA designates visas for a special class of immigrants referred to as “diversity immigrants.” These immigrants will have the unique opportunity to immigrate to the United States on the basis of this special program. For fiscal year 2018, 50,000 visas will be allocated toward the diversity immigrant visa program. If you are residing abroad at the time you are selected for the diversity immigrant visa program, you will be able to immigrate to the United States through consular processing. This process requires you to submit a DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application and schedule an interview appointment at a U.S. consulate near you. There you will be able to obtain issuance of your immigrant visa. If you are residing in the United States legally (on a temporary nonimmigrant visa type) at the time of your selection, you may submit your adjustment of status application to USCIS within the United States.

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In this segment, we would like to keep our readers informed on Visa Bulletin projections for the month of October. Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State provides a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin including discussion of current trends and future projections for immigrant preference categories.

Family-Based Categories:

An increase in returned unused visa numbers for the month of July and weak demand for the F-2A and F-4 categories will keep movements in family-based categories steady for the month of October.

F-4 Worldwide has advanced only slightly. All family Worldwide categories have experienced minor advances except F-2B Mexico.

The Department of State plants to comply with the Administration’s Visa Modernization Proposal, an initiative which aims to advance the dates of family-based categories as aggressively as possible during the first three quarters of the fiscal year, with the purpose of maximizing the usage of available numbers, and reducing available numbers for use in the final quarter. This initiative will likely cause similar retrogressions as in the F-4 China and India preference categories.

Employment Categories:

EB-4 and SR (Religious Worker) Preference Categories: For Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) applicants subject to priority date backlogs, it is recommended that applicants and/or their counsel request USCIS to forward their file to the National Benefits Center (NBC), at the conclusion of their I-485 interview. This will allow the applicant’s case to remain in a “pending demand” file, to give the Department of State a sense of the demand for this category, and streamline the approval process of these applications once the priority date has become current. While USCIS adjudicators cannot request a visa number for the applicant if the priority date is not current, the National Benefits Center (NBC) has the ability to request a visa number for the applicant upon receipt of the file.

EB-4 India and Mexico; Final Action Dates El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras: New visa number for FY 2017 are expected to bring the EB-4 India and Mexico categories current in the month of October. The final action date for EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will fall somewhere around the summer of 2015 or beyond. There is high applicant demand for El Salvador which may advance the final action date for Guatemala and Honduras.

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The U.S. Department of State (DOS) recently released the June Visa Bulletin. The Chief of Visa Control and Reporting Division, Charles Oppenheim has provided new insights and developments pertaining to the June 2016 Visa Bulletin. Cutoff dates listed below form part of the final action (FA) chart of the Visa Bulletin. Currently, USCIS has advised adjustment of status family-sponsored and employment-based applicants to refer to cutoff dates that appear on the final action chart for the month of June, and not the date of filing chart.

Employment-Based, First Preference (EB-1)

Demand for the EB-1 category remains at a very high level. DOS has said that should demand continue to remain at the same rate, some form of “corrective action” would be necessary before the close of the fiscal year to regulate worldwide visa numbers. This may require the establishment of a cutoff date or other form of regulation.

India Employment-Based, Second Preference (EB-2)

Demand for the EB-2 category is also very high. Due to increasing demand, there will no longer be unused numbers available in excess of the normal EB-2 per-country limit. EB-2 Worldwide and EB-2 India demand is expected to increase. The high level of demand for visa numbers in the EB-2 India Category and lack of excess numbers from EB-2 worldwide has caused the EB-2 India final action date to retrogress to October 1, 2004 for the month of June.The DOS expects that the EB-2 India cutoff date will advance slowly for the rest of the fiscal year, at a pace similar to the EB-3 advancement.

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