Articles Posted in Expedite Requests

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If your case remains pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) beyond the posted processing times for your immigration benefit request, you may consider requesting assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office.


What is the USCIS Ombudsman?


The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman (CIS Ombudsman) helps individuals and employers resolve difficulties they are experiencing with USCIS. The Ombudsman functions independently and is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Before an applicant can request for help from the Ombudsman, they must have contacted USCIS within the last 90 days and given the agency at least 60 days to resolve their problem. If a Congressional representative is already assisting you, the Ombudsman’s office cannot help you.

If USCIS does not resolve the issue (via submission of an e-request, or other communication method) the applicant can prepare and submit a case assistance request with the Office of the Ombudsman.

The most common issues the Ombudsman can assist with are:

  • Cases involving an emergency or a hardship that falls under the USCIS expedite criteria
  • Expedite requests approved by USCIS more than 2 months ago
  • Typographical errors
  • Improper rejections
  • Cases involving U.S. military personnel and their families
  • Aging out of eligibility
  • Undelivered USCIS notices or decisions
  • Transfers to the Department of State for approved petitions

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In this blog post, we cover the newly released Immigrant Visa Backlog Report published by the Department of State. April’s report provides the latest data and statistics relating to the processing of immigrant visa applications at the National Visa Center.

This data includes information about the number of documentarily complete immigrant visa cases currently at the National Visa Center waiting for interviews, the number of cases that were scheduled for interviews by the end of the month, and the number of immigrant visa cases still waiting to be scheduled for a visa interview after interview appointment scheduling was completed.


The April Immigrant Visa Backlog Report


According to the National Visa Center’s April Immigrant Visa Backlog Report there has been an increase in the overall immigrant visa (IV) backlog from 326,415 pending cases in the month of March, to 351,624 pending cases still waiting to be scheduled for a visa interview at the end of April. By comparison, in February, there were 338,256 pending cases waiting for interview scheduling.

On the bright side, the Final Action dates in the April and May Visa Bulletin have shown substantial forward movement for nearly all family-sponsored categories. This has enabled more family-based immigrant visa applications to become documentarily complete and receive interview scheduling at U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the employment-based categories, which have remained stagnant with little to no forward movement in recent months.

Additionally, when comparing the March and April Immigrant Visa backlog reports, we can see that the number of immigrant visa applicants whose cases were documentarily complete and therefore ready to be scheduled for an interview at Consulates and Embassies increased from 374,532 (as of February 29, 2024) to 404,459 (as of March 31, 2024). Of these cases, only 52,835 applicants whose cases became documentarily complete were scheduled for interview appointments in April 2024. By comparison, only 48,117 applicants were scheduled for interview in March.

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We kick off the Thanksgiving week with some exciting news.

Recently, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) met with representatives from the Department of State to address some issues of concern relating to several different immigration topics.

We provide a summary of the questions asked and responses from the Department of State down below that was part of a recent roundtable with representatives from Consular Affairs.


Nonimmigrant and Immigrant Visa Applications from Third Country Nationals


Representatives reminded nonimmigrant visa applicants, including students, that they can apply for their visas at any embassy or consulate where they are physically present and obtain a visa appointment.

Additionally, immigrant visa applicants can request to transfer their case to another embassy or consulate if they are unable to travel to the post where their case is assigned.

As to the possibility for virtual visa interviews, the State Department has said immigrant visa applicants are required to appear in person before a consular officer to provide fingerprints, therefore video interviews would be of limited utility.


Interview Waivers


AILA informed the State Department that it appears that some appointment scheduling systems incorrectly identify applicants that are clearly not eligible for interview waivers as eligible and invite them to send in their passports for visa issuance.

In these instances, once the passport is submitted to the post, it is determined that the applicant is not eligible for an interview waiver, the applicant has to be contacted, their passport has to be returned, and they have to then schedule an in-person interview appointment.

The State Department has said it is not aware of this issue happening at posts and recommended that those experiencing issues with applications submitted via interview waiver processes should contact the relevant post for information.


E-2 Treaty Investor Visas  


Question: 9 FAM 402.9-6(A)(a)(4) informs officers that one of the determinations in evaluating E-2 Treaty Investor applications is that the: “Enterprise is a real and operating commercial enterprise,” and is then referred to 9 FAM 402.9-6(C) for further discussion.

The first sentence of 9 FAM 402.9-6(C) states: “The enterprise must be a real and active commercial or entrepreneurial undertaking, producing some service or commodity.” The third sentence of 9 FAM 402.9-6(C) continues the description of the enterprise to state, “It cannot be a paper organization or an idle speculative investment…”Especially in the context of start-up businesses, defining these terms will provide greater clarity and guidance to E-2 visa applicants.

Please confirm: Are the words “operating” at 402.9-6(A)(a)(4) and “active” at 402.9-6(C) used interchangeably?

Answer: Almost. The term “active” at 402.9-6(C) was used to ensure that new enterprises that had not yet begun producing services or commodities, but which were actively taking steps to become operational, could also provide a basis for E visa issuance.

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Our readers will be happy to know that the Department of State has released a new update in the month of October on the status of worldwide consular visa operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a period of uncertainty and created tremendous backlogs at the Consular level. As most of you will remember, Consular missions around the world suspended routine visa services in March of 2020 to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19. Later, the Department of State announced a phased resumption of routine visa services, however some Consulates and Embassies resumed services faster than others. Since then, things have slowly but surely started to turn around.

To help improve visa processing, the State Department has said that worldwide visa operations are now recovering faster than expected. More U.S. foreign service personnel have been hired to reduce visa interview wait times at Consular posts worldwide. It is expected that this year, the Department of State will reach pre-pandemic processing levels. This is amazing news for immigrants that have been waiting for visa interview appointments for months, or even years.


How did COVID-19 impact Worldwide Visa Operations?


The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the agency’s ability to process visa applications in two major ways.

First, restrictions on travel to the United States, social distancing, and local quarantine restrictions made it difficult to accommodate large groups of people inside Consular facilities, such as waiting rooms. This of course reduced the number of people that could be scheduled for in-person visa appointments dramatically, causing a reduction in the number of visa applications that could be processed.

Secondly, due to the suspension of visa services worldwide, the State Department experienced a substantial decrease in funding which led to a declining workforce in 2020 and 2021. This dramatically impacted the number of applications that could be processed.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog. We kick off the start of a brand-new week with unfortunate news for asylum-based applicants for I-765 employment authorization.

New data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicates that the agency has been woefully inadequate at processing work permits, failing to meet the 30-day required processing time for employment authorization cards, also known as EADs, filed by asylum seekers.

By law, USCIS must process work permits (EADs) within 30 days of receipt of an asylum seekers I-765 application for employment authorization. However new data shows that USCIS has not been meeting this required timeline throughout 2022, and processing has been declining to a record low.

Data released by USCIS, as part of ongoing litigation, shows that during the last three weeks of February 2022, 93 percent of I-765 applications had been pending for at least 30 days. In March 2022, this figure plummeted to just 68 percent of I-765’s being processed within the 30 days.  Sadly, in recent months, the data shows that processing of EADs has been getting worse and worse on a monthly basis. For instance, in April of this year, this figure dropped to 41 percent of I-765 applications being processed within 30 days. In May the drop continued to just 21 percent, and in June to just 6 percent. Finally, this past month of July, the agency processed less than 5 percent of EAD applications within the required 30-day window. This trend puts on full display the asylum visa processing crisis with no end in sight.

The drop in EAD processing coincides directly with a court ruling handed down in February. USCIS appears to be clearing out the backlog by first processing work permit applications pending the longest, creating substantial delays for more recent applications for employment authorization.

The data indicates that the vast majority of applications USCIS processed over the past three months had been pending for more than 120 days (nearly 4 months).

Due to the EAD processing crisis, USCIS now faces a backlog of more than 77,000 pending work permit requests received by the agency within the past three months alone.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We hope you had a restful and memorable Memorial Day weekend with your loved ones. In this blog post, we provide some interesting new updates from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In light of recent mass shootings taking place across the nation, USCIS has provided important information for the public including immigration assistance that can provide relief to individuals affected by these unfortunate tragedies, and related special situations.

On May 27, 2022, the agency issued a news alert notifying members of the public that the following measures are available to provide relief to those facing special situations and are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Special situation requests involving:

  • Changing a nonimmigrant status or extending a nonimmigrant stay for an individual currently in the United States.
    • Individuals who failed to apply for an extension or change of status on Form I-539, before expiration of their authorized period of admission in the U.S., may request for USCIS to excuse the filing delay, if it can be demonstrated that the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control (i.e. a special circumstance);
  • Re-parole of individuals previously granted parole by USCIS;
  • Expedited processing of advance parole requests;
  • Expedited adjudication of requests for off-campus employment authorization for F-1 students experiencing severe economic hardship;
  • Expedited adjudication of petitions or applications, including employment authorization applications, when appropriate;
  • Consideration of fee waiver requests due to an inability to pay;
  • Flexibility for those who received a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny but were unable to submit evidence or otherwise respond in a timely manner;
  • Flexibility for were unable to appear for a scheduled interview with USCIS;
  • Expedited replacement of lost or damaged immigration or travel documents issued by USCIS, such as a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card), Employment Authorization Document, or Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record; and
  • Rescheduling a biometric services appointment.

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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 share with you the latest immigration news from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


New USCIS Policies to Improve the Immigration System


We bring you some exciting news regarding new policies adopted by USCIS that have been designed to remove the barriers to immigration and help improve the current immigration system. The following are among the new changes being implemented by USCIS:

Expedited Processing

Under a newly updated expedite criteria policy, USCIS has now expanded the types of expedite criteria or circumstances under which the adjudication of a benefit request can be expedited, including where a request is made by a nonprofit organization whose request is in the furtherance of cultural and social interests of the United States.

According to the new change:

USCIS may consider an expedite request if it meets one or more of the following criteria or circumstance:

  • Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
    1. Timely file the benefit request , or
    2. Timely respond to any requests for additional evidence;
  • Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons;
  • Nonprofit organization (as designated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States;
  • U.S. government interests (such as urgent cases for federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Labor, DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
  • Clear USCIS error.

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In its continued efforts to improve communications with the public regarding the status of visa operations worldwide, the Department of State recently provided new insights regarding Immigrant Visa Prioritization at Consular posts overseas.

To reduce the immigrant visa backlog, the Department has announced the adoption of a new four-tiered approach that is designed to triage the processing of immigrant visa applications according to prioritization standards set by U.S. Congress. Such standards will ensure prioritized visa processing for certain categories of immigrant visa applicants, while posts prepare to resume and expand visa processing as local conditions improve.

Prioritization of immigrant visas will begin with a first tier including prioritization of immigrant visas for immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government).

The second tier will include prioritization of immigrant visas for immediate relatives, fiancé(e) visas, and returning resident visas.

While the third tier will prioritize immigrant visas for family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad.

Finally, the fourth tier will prioritize immigrant visa processing for all other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas.

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