Articles Posted in Embassies

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As previously reported, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2015, was a bill that was signed into law at the end of 2015, which imposed new restrictions on the use of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for certain travelers. In this post, we update our readers regarding new information provided by CBP in their newly updated FAQ page.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of designated countries to apply for admission to the United States as visitors (traveling for holiday, business, or in transit) without having to obtain a non-immigrant B1/B2 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, using a system known as ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

To be eligible to travel to the United States under the visa waiver program, you must be a citizen of one of thirty-eight countries eligible to participate in the program, you must have a valid machine-readable passport issued by the participating country that is valid for at least 6 months before your planned departure, you must apply for and have an approved ESTA before your proposed travel, and you must intend to remain in the United States for 90 days or less.

You may not be eligible to travel under the VWP if you have been denied a U.S. visa in the past, or have an immigration violation. In this case, you must apply for a visitor visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, even if your country participates in the VWP.

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In response to a memorandum issued to United States consulates and embassies around the world by President Trump and his administration on March 6, consular officials at U.S. embassies around the world are now taking tougher measures to enhance security screening of U.S. visa applicants to prevent potential security threats from entering the United States. Enhancing vetting procedures are intended to target individuals from certain “countries of concern” including the six countries of concern listed in the President’s travel ban: Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Iran, as well as others.

Applicants for U.S. visas from “countries of concern” can expect to undergo additional vetting procedures immediately. The U.S. Department of State has been using a supplemental questionnaire called the DS-5535 since May 25, 2017 which asks both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants a series of detailed questions to help consular officials determine whether a visa applicant must go through enhanced vetting to determine whether the individual poses a national security threat, or other potential threat to the United States. The questionnaire has been used as a temporary emergency measure in response to the President’s March memo, which called for enhanced screening of visa applicants, and what he has called “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals admitted to the United States.

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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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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 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 answer 5 of your most frequently asked questions received on our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office to schedule a free first time consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office. For more information on the services we offer please click here.

Fiancé Visa

Q: I am a U.S. Citizen who is planning to marry a Moroccan citizen. I am interested in applying for the K-1 fiancé visa for him. The problem is that we have not met in person and it is hard for me to travel to his country because I am a single parent. I know one of the requirements for this visa is to meet in person. Are there any other visa options available to us since we have not met in person? I have heard of people obtaining waivers due to traveling hardships. Please advise.

A: Thank you for your question. This is a very common fiancé visa question. In order to file the K-1 fiancé visa you must meet the following requirements:

  • You (the petitioner) are a U.S. citizen.
  • You intend to marry within 90 days of your fiancé(e) entering the United States.
  • You and your fiancé(e) are both free to marry and any previous marriages must have been legally terminated by divorce, death, or annulment.
  • You met each other, in person, at least once within 2 years of filing your petition. There are two exceptions that require a waiver:
    If the requirement to meet would violate strict and long-established customs of your or your fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice.

    2. If you prove that the requirement to meet would result in extreme hardship to you.

As indicated above there are only two exceptions that would allow you to seek a waiver of the K-1 visa two-year meeting requirement. The first requires the petitioner to demonstrate that compliance of the two-year meeting requirement would violate strict and long-established customs of either your fiancé’s foreign culture or social practice or of your own foreign culture or social practice. While it is difficult to prove this, it is not impossible, however the couple should be aware that substantial evidence is required to prove that either your or your fiancé’s culture explicitly prohibits you from meeting the two-year requirement. Of course this element is largely at odds with traditional Western norms and practices, therefore it is extremely difficult to explain to an immigration officer why you and your fiancé cannot meet in person before you are to be married.  This waiver should only be considered in very limited circumstances.

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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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In this segment, we answer 4 of your most frequently asked questions received on our social media platforms and our website. Please remember that every case is different and every immigration journey is unique. You should not compare your situation to anyone else’s. We hope that our answers will provide you with further guidance while you embark on your immigration journey. If you have any further questions, please call our office to schedule a free first time consultation. We serve international clients and domestic clients in all 50 states. We thank you for your continued trust in our law office. For more information on the services we offer please click here.

Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and the Affidavit of Support

Q:  I am a US Citizen married to a foreign national. We have a child together. We recently moved to the United States from abroad.  My husband and son entered the United States on a B-2 visa and we are planning to apply for their adjustment of status. My question is regarding the Form I-864 Affidavit of Support. I have just secured employment and will be able to sponsor my family. I want to know what documents are required in support of the Affidavit of Support as proof that I have sufficient income to support my family. At the moment I do not have pay stubs. I plan to start my employment next month.

A: Thank you for your question. If your child was born abroad, your child may acquire U.S. Citizenship by filing for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA, Form FS-240) before your child reaches their 18th birthday. To do so, the U.S. Citizen parent must report the birth of the child at their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Anytime that a child of a U.S. Citizen parent is born abroad, the parent must report the birth to nearest U.S. Consulate as soon as possible. This will allow the Consulate to issue a Consular Report of Birth Abroad as an official record of your child’s claim to U.S. Citizenship. The CRBA may be used as proof of your child’s U.S. Citizenship and allows the child to obtain a U.S. passport. A child with a consular report of birth abroad receives the same privileges as a child born in the United States. It is recommended that you first contact your closest U.S. embassy or Consulate before filing a petition for your son, because it is likely that you will not need to go through the immigration process for your son.

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