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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post we bring you the latest immigration updates.


Naturalization Ceremonies

Great news for naturalization applicants waiting for an oath ceremony. On July 1, 2020, USCIS issued an announcement notifying the public that it anticipates that it will complete nearly all postponed administrative naturalization ceremonies by the end of July of 2020.

USCIS has been prioritizing the scheduling of oath ceremonies for all naturalization applicants who were approved following their interviews. As we previously reported, USCIS is also exploring options to bypass the formal oath ceremony process in the future, and administer the oath immediately following a successful naturalization applicant’s interview. This will help move cases along quickly during the pandemic and limit further exposure.

USCIS remains committed to being as flexible as possible to welcome new citizens to the United States as fast as possible. We are glad that in the very least, naturalization applicants are being accommodated by the agency during this difficult time.

If you have not yet received your naturalization oath ceremony notice, you should be receiving one very soon. As always, we recommend calling USCIS to expedite the process.


Calls to Extend TPS for Yemen and Somalia due to COVID-19

Dozens of organizations are calling on the government to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for at least 180 days to all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter was issued in early April by interested organizations urging USCIS and DHS to automatically extend work authorization and TPS for all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders, or at the very least extend the re-registration period for TPS holders from Somalia and Yemen for a total of 180 days.

The letter emphasizes the importance of granting relief for Yemeni and Somalia TPS holders stating, “While states across the country are rightfully taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these measures and the subsequent loss of income and freedom of movement establish insurmountable barriers for TPS holders to renew their status before the rapidly approaching re-registration deadline. TPS holders should not have to choose between missing a deadline and violating health directives that keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”

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UPDATE: Today, Monday June 22, 2020, President Trump signed a new executive order entitled, “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak,” extending the April 22nd Presidential Proclamation and adding new restrictions for nonimmigrant workers who “pose a risk of displacing and disadvantaging United States workers during the coronavirus recovery,” including H-1B, H-2B, J, and L nonimmigrant workers.

According to the executive order, the entry of these nonimmigrants “presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans affected by the extraordinary economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.”


When does the order apply?


The order is effective at 12:01 am eastern daylight time on June 24, 2020 and will last through December 31, 2020, suspending the entry of certain immigrant and nonimmigrant aliens as outlined here. Within 30 days of June 24, 2020 (on July 24th), and every 60 days thereafter while the proclamation is in effect, the Secretary of Homeland Security will, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, recommend any modifications to the order.


When does the order terminate?


The proclamation terminates on December 31, 2020 and can be continued by the government as necessary.


Will the April 22nd Proclamation Be Extended?


Yes, the second paragraph of the new executive order states, “In Proclamation 10014 of April 22, 2020, …I determined that …the United States faces a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistently high unemployment if labor supply outpaces labor demand.  Consequently, I suspended, for a period of 60 days, the entry of aliens as immigrants, subject to certain exceptions… Given that 60 days is an insufficient time period for the United States labor market …to rebalance… considerations present in Proclamation 10014 remain.” This means the April 22nd proclamation will continue until at least December 31st and all conditions subject to that proclamation will continue to remain in place.

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UPDATE: Please see our blog post here for the complete details of the newly released order. 

Today, Monday June 22, 2020, President Trump is expected to sign a new executive order that will extend his previous April 22nd order set to expire today, and will extend restrictions to apply to H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J foreign workers to protect American jobs as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 lockdowns nationwide. The new executive order is expected to pause new H-1B visa petitions for foreign workers, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, certain J work and education exchange visitor visas, and L executive transfer visas for managers of multinational corporations. The President confirmed issuance of the order in a recent interview with Fox News.

The executive order is expected to be in effect until at least the end of the year and will not impact those who have already been issued or approved an H, L, or J visa.

Although the executive order has not yet been released to the public, a senior official from the Trump administration has spoken to the media on condition of anonymity confirming the issuance of the order. The official stated that the administration has justified issuance of the new order as a way to eliminate competition with foreign workers and make jobs available to American workers during this pandemic.

To read the April 22nd proclamation click here.


Are there any exemptions?


Yes. The order will include a number of exemptions for food processing workers seeking H-2B visas, H-2A agricultural workers, health care professionals working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, J-1 medical physicians, cases that are deemed in the national interest, as well as all other exemptions originally included in the April 22nd Presidential proclamation which are as follows:

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The Department of State has released the visa bulletin for July 2020 outlining the availability of immigrant visa numbers for the upcoming month.

NOTE: Adjustment of Status Filing Charts July 2020

For Family-Sponsored Filings:In the F2A category, there is a cutoff date on the Dates for Filing chart.  However, the category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart.  This means that applicants in the F2A category may file using the Final Action Dates chart for July 2020.

For all the other family-sponsored preference categories, you must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for July 2020.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:For all employment-based preference categories, you must use the Final Action Dates chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for July 2020.


July Visa Bulletin Cutoff Dates


Employment Based Categories

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

  • EB-1: All countries remain current during the month of July except for China and India. EB-1 China will advance by one week to August 22, 2017, while EB-1 India will advance by 11 months to May 8, 2017.
  • EB-2: All countries except EB-2 China and India remain current. EB-2 China will advance by one week to November 8, 2015, and EB-2 India will advance by just under four weeks to July 8, 2009.
  • EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers: All countries except EB-3 India and China will advance by almost five months to April 15, 2018. Cutoff dates for EB-3 China will advance by one week to June 22, 2016, and for India by two months to June 1, 2009.
  • EB-5: EB-5 India will become current, joining all other countries except for EB-5 China and Vietnam.  China’s cutoff date will advance by one week to July 22, 2015, while Vietnam’s cutoff date will advance by three weeks to May 15, 2017.

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A brand-new bill called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2020 (S. 3770) sponsored by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has recently surfaced. As you might have already guessed, the bill seeks to make changes to the current H-1B and L visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse within the H-1B and L visa programs, provide protections for American workers, and enforce stricter requirements for the recruitment of foreign workers. The H-1B visa program is aggressively targeted in this new piece of legislation.


Proposed Changes to the H-1B visa program


First, as it relates to the H-1B visa worker program, the bill proposes changes to existing wage requirements.

The law would require employers to pay the highest wage from three categories:

1) the locally determined prevailing wage level for the occupational classification in the area of employment

2) the median average wage for all workers in the occupational classification in the area of employment; or

3) the median wage for skill level 2 in the occupational classification found in the most recent OES survey.

Second, the bill would make changes to current law and require U.S. employers seeking to hire H-1B workers to publish job postings on a website established by the Department of Labor. After filing the labor condition application, the employer would be required to post the job on the website for at least 30 calendar days. The job posting would have to include a detailed description of the position, including the wages and other terms and conditions of employment, minimum education, training, experience, and other requirements for the position, as well as the process for applying for the position.

Third, all H-1B employers would be required to prove that they have tried to recruit American workers for jobs offered to H-1B workers. Under current law, only H-1B dependent employers (those with more than 50 full time employees of which at least 15% are H-1B employees) are required to recruit American workers for H-1B positions. This would be a drastic change in the law creating additional burdens for U.S. employers seeking to hire foreign workers with specialized skills.

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The Department of State has released the visa bulletin for June 2020 outlining the availability of immigrant visa numbers for the upcoming month.


NOTE: Adjustment of Status Filing Charts June 2020

For Family-Sponsored Filings:
In the F2A category, there is a cutoff date on the Dates for Filing chart.  However, the category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart.  This means that applicants in the F2A category may file for adjustment applications using the Final Action Dates chart for June 2020.

For all the other family-sponsored preference categories, you must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for June 2020

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:
For all employment-based preference categories, you must use the Final Action Dates chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for June 2020.


June Visa Bulletin Cutoff Dates


Employment Based Categories

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

  • EB-1: All countries remain current during the month of June except for China and India. EB-1 China moved forward by one month to August 15, 2017, while EB-1 India moved forward by more than 10 months to June 8, 2016.
  • EB-2: All countries remain current during the month of June except for China and India. EB-2 China moved forward by one month to November 1, 2015, and India moved forward by 10 days to June 12, 2009.
  • EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers: All countries remain current except for India and China. Except for India and China all countries moved forward by more than ten months to November 8, 2017. Cutoff dates for China and India advanced by one month, with China moving ahead to June 15, 2016, and India moving ahead to April 1, 2009.
  • EB-5: Most countries remain current. EB-5 China moved forward by two weeks to July 15, 2015; EB-5 India moved forward by three months to January 1, 2020; and Vietnam moved forward by three weeks to April 22, 2017.

Cutoff dates in the Dates for Filing Chart for June have remained mostly the same in comparison to the previous month, the only change is for EB-4 El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala which moved forward four and a half months to February 1, 2017.  USCIS will accept adjustment applications based on the Final Action Dates chart for June 2020, the same as last month.

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 Family-Sponsored Categories

According to the Department of State’s June Visa Bulletin, the following cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for family-sponsored categories:

**Note only applicants in the F2A category may file using the Final Action Dates chart for June 2020 to file adjustment applications. All other family-sponsored preference categories must use the Dates for Filing chart.

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Alert Regarding the April 22nd Presidential Proclamation


As you may be aware President Trump’s April 22nd presidential proclamation suspends the issuance of immigrant visas at U.S. Consulates worldwide for certain classes of immigrants until June 22, 2020, assuming the proclamation is not extended beyond this date. As Consulates worldwide begin to reopen, consular officers will enforce the presidential proclamation by refusing immigrant visas to those who were outside of the United States as of 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 23, 2020, have not been issued an immigrant visa or similar U.S. travel document, and are not otherwise exempt from the proclamation. The following types of immigrants have been specifically exempted from the proclamation and are eligible for visa issuance in June:

  • Applicants for EB-5 immigrant visas;
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens;
  • Children under 21 of U.S. citizens and prospective adoptees in the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  • Foreign nationals seeking to enter on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse or other healthcare professional, as well as their spouse and unmarried children under 21;
  • Foreign nationals whose entry would further important U.S. law enforcement objectives;
  • Members of the U.S. armed forces and the spouses and children of such individuals;
  • Foreign nationals seeking to enter as Special Immigrants in the SI or SQ classification, and the spouse and children of such individuals; and
  • Foreign nationals whose entry is in the U.S. national interest.

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The House of Representatives has introduced a new bill called the HEROES Act, (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), that provides short term financial relief during this health crisis. In this post, we discuss who would be covered under the HEROES Act and what type of relief would be provided by the Act.

To become law, the HEROES Act will need to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. The President has openly voiced his opposition for the bill because the bill authorizes federal funds for undocumented immigrants. The bill will likely receive push back in the Republican controlled Senate or at the very least be subject to significant changes. Nonetheless if the bill fails, it will at least provide a foundation upon which Congress can reach a compromise.


What is it?


The HEROES Act is a $3 trillion bill that would provide stimulus checks to individuals who did not previously qualify for stimulus checks under the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security), such as undocumented immigrants.


Relief for Undocumented Individuals


The HEROES Act would provide temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants working in essential fields such as health care workers and allow them to apply for employment authorization throughout the period of the pandemic. In addition, unlike the CARES Act, undocumented immigrants and their families would be eligible to receive stimulus checks. The HEROES Act would allow direct payments to be issued in the amount of – $1,200 for an individual, $2,400 for joint filers, and $1,200 for up to three dependents. The HEROES Act would also authorize undocumented immigrants to be eligible for the first round of stimulus checks sent out in April. The Act also proposes additional health care benefits for immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid and would require immigration authorities to release people from immigration detention where possible.


Low-Risk Detainees


The HEROES Act would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to evaluate the files of detained immigrants and release those who are not subject to mandatory detention, and those who do not pose a risk to national security. In the alternative the HEROES Act would encourage ICE to pursue low-cost alternatives to detention for low-risk immigrants such as requiring detainees to wear ankle bracelet monitors.

The bill would also require detention facilities to provide detainees with free and unlimited soap, as well as phone and video call accessibility to communicate with family and legal representatives.


Expedited Processing for Foreign Medical Workers


The HEROES Act would require expedited visa and green card processing for foreign medical workers seeking to practice medicine, conduct medical research, or pursue education or training to combat COVID-19. Consulates and Embassies worldwide would also be required to prioritize visa interviews for these workers, granting emergency appointments in person or teleconference appointments. Foreign doctors who have completed residency programs in the United States would be eligible to receive permanent residence on an expedited basis. Medical professionals in H-1B status would be eligible to transfer between hospital systems without having to apply for a new visa. In addition, medical students would be eligible to transfer rotations within their host institution and would be compensated for their work throughout the pandemic. In addition, such students could work outside of their approved program so long as their work relates to fighting COVID-19.

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The Department of State has released the visa bulletin for May 2020 outlining the availability of immigrant visa numbers for the upcoming month.


Please note:

Unless otherwise indicated on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website at www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo, individuals seeking to file applications for adjustment of status with USCIS in the Department of Homeland Security must use the “Final Action Dates” charts below for determining when they can file such applications. When USCIS determines that there are more immigrant visas available for the fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, USCIS will state on its website that applicants may instead use the “Dates for Filing Visa Applications” charts in this Bulletin. 


May Visa Bulletin Cutoff Dates


According to the Department of State’s May Visa Bulletin, the following cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa:

  • EB-1: All countries except for China and India will become current on May 1. China will advance by five weeks to July 15, 2017, while India will advance by three months to August 1, 2015.
  • EB-2: China will advance by one month to October 1, 2015, and India will advance by one week to June 2, 2009. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers: All countries except India and China will remain retrogressed at January 1, 2017. Cutoff dates for China and India will advance, with China moving ahead by one month to May 15, 2016, and India moving ahead by more than five weeks to March 1, 2009.
  • EB-5: Most countries will remain current. China will advance by more than six weeks to July 1, 2015; India will advance by nine months to October 1, 2019; and Vietnam will advance by just under two months to April 1, 2017.

Employment-Based Priority Cut-off Dates for May 2020


USCIS recently announced that it will honor Final Action dates for adjustment of status filings in May. In order to file an employment-based adjustment of status application next month, employer-sponsored foreign nationals must have a priority date that is earlier than the date listed below for their preference category and country. This is the second consecutive month that USCIS has chosen the Final Action Dates chart, after several months of honoring the Dates for Filing chart.

The May Final Action Dates chart is current for EB-1 countries worldwide, after several months of retrogression.


How will the President’s Executive Order affect immigrant visas?


The President’s executive order will temporarily suspend and limit the entry of foreign nationals seeking an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Although the order will apply for the next 60 days, the order will have little practical effect on immigration, given that U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide have suspending the issuance of all visas until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

If U.S. Consulates and Embassies resume operations within the next 60 days, the executive order will prevent foreign nationals from obtaining immigrant visas at U.S. Consulates worldwide. The suspension will apply to individuals who, as of Wednesday, were outside of the United States, do not have an immigrant visa, do not have official travel documents other than visas, and have not been exempted by the executive order.

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A new decision issued by a federal judge in the case Itserve Alliance Inc., et al., v. L. Francis Cissna, will dramatically change the way that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates H-1B petitions for Information Technology companies.

The new ruling invalidates key provisions of the CIS 2010 Guidance Memorandum (also known as the Neufeld Memo) and the CIS 2018 Policy Memorandum (PM-602-0157) for two reasons.

Firstly, the court found that the policies outlined in these memorandums were inconsistent with previous regulations that were lawfully passed by the government through the formal notice-and-comment rule-making process, as required by law.

Secondly, the court found that USCIS violated the law when it abandoned previous regulations and began applying their own policies without first going through the required formal notice-and-rulemaking process. Since these policies were not passed through the formal rule-making process, their application was found to be unlawful and unenforceable.

Background

During the start of the Trump administration, USCIS began adopting a narrow policy designed to limit the number of H-1B petitions that would be approved. Throughout this period, our office saw the highest number of requests for evidence and denial rates ever experienced in over a decade in practice. Other immigration attorneys across the country observed the same trends.

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Great news for FY 2021 H-1B registrants! USCIS has published step-by-step video instructions showing you how you can submit an electronic registration on the USCIS website without the use of an attorney or representative. It is not too late to register. The registration period closes noon ET on March 20, 2020.

USCIS Adds FAQs to Website

USCIS has also included a helpful and detailed FAQ section about the H-1B electronic registration process on its website addressing various topics regarding the H-1B registration process and filing process itself.

We have included these FAQs in this post for your convenience. Questions marked in red are those that we consider to be of most interest to petitioners.

For further information about the H-1B electronic registration process please click here.

Q: What happens if the prospective beneficiary does not have a last name? What do you enter into the system?

  • A: If there is only one name for a beneficiary, it should be entered as the last name. The first and middle name fields will have check boxes that indicate “Beneficiary does not have a first name” or “Beneficiary does not have a middle name.” These boxes should be checked in these instances. Do not enter placeholders, such as “FNU”, “LNU”, “Unknown”, or “No Name Given.

Q: Is there an appeal process for registrations determined to be invalid duplicates?

  • A: Registrations that are determined to be duplicates will be invalid. A registrant who submits duplicate registrations will not be able to appeal the invalidation.

Q: If you are registering for the master’s cap based on the expectation that the beneficiary will earn a qualifying advanced degree, and you are actually selected under the master’s cap, but, the beneficiary does not obtain their qualifying advanced degree, is there a risk that the cap-subject H-1B petition for that beneficiary will be denied?

  • A: If a registration is submitted requesting consideration under the INA 214(g)(5)(C) advanced degree exemption because the beneficiary has earned, or will earn prior to the filing of the petition, a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education, and the registration is selected under the advanced degree exemption, the beneficiary must be eligible for the advanced degree exemption at the time of filing the I-129 petition. If the beneficiary is selected under the advance degree cap and has not earned a qualifying master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education at the time the petition is filed, the petition will be denied or rejected.

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