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Welcome to the start of a new week! In this blog post we discuss an exciting new announcement and a quick reminder regarding upcoming increases in filing fees.

USCIS Announces Extension of Flexibility for RFE, NOID, and Similar Responses

On September 11, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) extended its previous policy granting applicants additional time to respond to requests for evidence, notices of intent to deny, and such similar notices.

Specifically, USCIS has stated that an applicant who has received a request, notice or decision dated between March 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021, may respond to such request or notice within 60 calendar days after the due date/deadline provided in the notice or request.

This flexibility is granted for the following types of notices, so long as the notice or request is dated between March 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021:

  • Requests for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny;
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind and Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers;
  • Motions to Reopen an N-400 Pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant;
  • Filing date requirements for Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the INA); or
  • Filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.

This flexibility has been provided to allow applicants the opportunity to gather important documentation needed to respond to the request or notice, given the extraordinary delays applicants have been facing in obtaining documents during the Coronavirus pandemic.

This policy ensures that USCIS will not take any adverse action on a case without first considering a response to the request or notice issued to the applicant.

USCIS will also consider a Form N-336 and Form I-290B “received” up to 60 calendar days from the date of the decision, before taking any action.

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In this blog post we discuss the highlights of the newly updated Policy Manual guidance released by USCIS which addresses the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule. The Final Rule and guidance is effective as of February 24, 2020 and applies to all applications and petitions postmarked on or after February 24, 2020 (except for in the State of Illinois where the Final Rule remains enjoined by court order).

These highlights are broken down by volume. Volume 2 addresses public charge grounds of inadmissibility for non-immigrants, Volume 8 discusses the public charge ground of inadmissibility in great detail, and Volume 12 discusses how the public charge rule may apply to citizenship and naturalization applications postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Highlights:

Non-Immigrants Seeking Extension of Stay or Change of Status (Volume 2 Chapter 4)

This section of the policy guidance clarifies that although the public charge ground of inadmissibility does not apply to nonimmigrants seeking either an extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) on Forms I-129 or Form I-539, these applicants are generally subject to the “public benefits condition,” unless specifically exempted by law.

What is the public benefits condition?

According to the policy manual, “the public benefits condition requires an applicant seeking EOS or COS on or after February 24, 2020 (postmarked or if applicable, submitted electronically on or after that date) to demonstrate that he or she has not received, since obtaining the nonimmigrant status he or she is seeking to extend or from which he or she seeks to change, one or more public benefits, or more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (where, for instance, receipt of two public benefits in 1 month counts as 2 months).

USCIS only considers public benefits received on or after February 24, 2020 for petitions or applications postmarked (or, if applicable, submitted electronically) on or after that date.”

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In this post, we would like to provide our readers with an important update released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with respect to the public charge rule.

Given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of the government, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that they will begin implementing the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule on February 24, 2020, EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined for the time being by a federal court.

That means that EXCEPT for in the State of Illinois, USCIS will begin to apply the Final Rule to applications and petitions postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after February 24, 2020.

The postmark date for all applications and petitions sent by commercial courier (UPS/FedEx/DHL) is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

The public charge rule will NOT apply to applications or petitions postmarked before February 24, 2020 and petitions that remain pending with USCIS.

Prepare for Changes: USCIS to update all Adjustment of Status Forms

USCIS has announced that the agency will be updating all forms associated with the filing of adjustment of status, its policy manual, and will be providing updated submission instructions on its website this week to give applicants and their legal representatives enough time to review filing procedures and changes that will apply to all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Failure to submit forms with the correct edition dates and/or abide by the new filing procedures will result in the rejection of an application or petition.

The Final Rule provides that adjustment of status applicants subject to the public charge grounds of inadmissibility will be required to file Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency along with Form I-485, as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination to demonstrate they are not likely to become a public charge. Therefore, we expect USCIS to provide instructions regarding the submission of Form I-944 with adjustment of status applications.

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We kick off a brand-new week with breaking news handed down by the United States Supreme Court.

Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration may enforce  the controversial rule entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which expands the scope of public benefits that will render a permanent resident or immigrant visa applicant ineligible for immigration benefits. The public charge rule makes certain individuals inadmissible to receive permanent residence on public charge grounds based on their use of certain government assistance programs.

As we reported, on January 13, 2020 the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to lift a remaining lower court injunction preventing the government from enforcing the public charge rule. Today, the conservatives on the Supreme Court overpowered the four liberal justices on the court, in favor of the Trump administration, ruling that the government may now begin to enforce the public charge rule despite challenges to the rule pending in the lower courts.

Overview: 

Under current immigration law, an individual who, in the opinion of DHS is likely at any time to become a public charge is (1) ineligible for a visa (2) ineligible for admission to the United States and (3) ineligible for adjustment of status (permanent residence).

In determining whether an applicant is or will likely become a public charge USCIS has always considered the receipt of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid, benefits that make an applicant ineligible for permanent residence.

The public charge rule goes further and expands the list of benefits that make a foreign national ineligible to obtain permanent residence or an immigrant visa (in addition to the benefits listed above). These additional benefits include:

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The Trump administration is ready to announce new restrictions that will make it more difficult for foreign nationals to give birth in the United States, striking a blow to the “birth tourism” industry.

In a 2015 speech in Orlando, Florida the President told supporters, “the birthright citizenship, the anchor baby …it’s over, not going to happen.” Tomorrow, the President will make good on his promise.

On January 24, 2020, the government will publish a final rule in the Federal Register that will be effective as of that date, amending current B visa regulations to establish a rebuttable presumption that a B nonimmigrant visa applicant, who a consular official has reason to believe will give birth during her stay in the United States, is traveling for the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. Citizenship for the child.

Accordingly, an applicant who fails to overcome the presumption will be denied a B nonimmigrant visa application.

This change in regulation will apply specifically to the B nonimmigrant visa classification for temporary visitors for pleasure.

An advance copy of the government’s final rule has been released which establishes that “travel to the United States with the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States is an impermissible basis for the issuance of a B nonimmigrant visa.”

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In this blog post, we would like to remind our readers that today is the last day to submit a public comment on the USCIS proposed rule increasing immigration fees for certain petitions. Initially USCIS had set a 30-day comment period ending on December 16, 2019, however the comment period was later extended for two more weeks, ending today December 30, 2019.

Once the comment period has closed, USCIS will review all public comments and publish a final rule in the Federal Register which will contain the rule’s effective date of implementation.

The filing fees for the following petitions would increase substantially under the proposed rule:

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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In its latest act of defiance against the judicial branch, the Trump administration has published an Interim Final Rule entitled “Visas: Ineligibility Based on Public Charge Grounds,” designed to give Consular officers wider discretion to deny immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to applicants on public charge grounds based on a variety of factors that could weigh positively or negatively on an applicant.

According to the rule, consular officials will now be able to weigh a variety of factors to determine whether a visa applicant is likely to become a public charge. These factors include the applicant’s age, health, educational background, and financial status. In addition, consular officers will have increased discretion to scrutinize certain applications more closely than others based on the type of visa classification sought by the applicant, as well as the duration of stay.

Applicants who are seeking a long-term visa, for example may be scrutinized more heavily than applicant’s seeking a short-term visa (such as a tourist visa).

How will these factors be weighed by Consular officials?

Age: Consular officers will consider whether the alien’s age makes the alien more likely than not to become a public charge in the totality of the circumstances, such as by impacting the alien’s ability to work. Consular officers will consider an alien’s age between 18 and 62 as a positive factor.

Health: Consular officers will consider whether the alien’s health serves as a positive or negative factor in the totality of the circumstances, including whether the alien has been diagnosed with a medical condition that is likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with the alien’s ability to provide and care for himself or herself, to attend school, or to work (if authorized).

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In this post we bring you the latest immigration news.

Final Rule Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds

The Department of Homeland Security has posted the official version of final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” in the Federal Register.

The Final Rule will become effective at 12:00 a.m. EST on October 15, 2019.

Who does the rule apply to?

The rule will be applied to applications and petitions postmarked (or electronically submitted) on or after October 15, 2019.

The rule will not apply to applications and petitions pending with USCIS prior to October 15, 2019.

To read the official version of the rule please click here.

USCIS Completes Return of Unselected H-1B Petitions

As of August 15, 2019, USCIS has returned all FY2020 H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in the lottery. Unselected petitions contain a rejection notice explaining that the petition was not selected in the lottery.

If you submitted a FY 2020 H-1B cap-subject petition that was delivered to USCIS between April 1 and April 5, 2019, and you do not receive a receipt notice or returned petition by August 29, 2019, contact USCIS for assistance.

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Now is the time to begin preparing for the upcoming H-1B visa lottery. USCIS will begin to accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2020 beginning Monday, April 1, 2019. Please note: employers cannot file an H-1B petition for an employee more than 6 months before the employee’s intended start date. If accepted, H-1B visa workers can begin employment by October 1st. The H-1B visa is issued for up to three years but may be extended for another three years.

By law, a congressionally mandated cap exists which limits the issuance of H-1B visas to 65,000 per year. That is why the H-1B visa is commonly referred to as a ‘lottery’ visa.

Individuals (such as F-1 students) who hold advanced degrees (U.S. master’s or higher) are exempted from the 65,000 visa cap. Such applicant’s must demonstrate that they have obtained an American master’s degree or higher to be exempted from the cap, however only the first 20,000 petitions received by USCIS will benefit from this cap exemption.

In order to qualify for an H-1B visa:

  • a foreign worker must possess both a theoretical or practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge;
  • an employer-employee relationship must exist. Only a U.S. employer can petition the entry of a foreign employee by filing USCIS Form I-129 Petition for Non-immigrant Worker. An employer-employee relationship exists if the U.S. employer has the right to hire, pay, fire, supervise or control the work of the employee;
  • the foreign worker must possess a bachelor’s degree, its foreign equivalent, or relevant work experience. If the foreign worker does not have formal education, but has at least 12 years of relevant work experience related to the specialty occupation, they may still qualify for an H-1B visa;
  • the foreign worker must be employed in a specialty occupation related to their field of study. A specialty occupation is an occupation that requires a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent;
  • the foreign worker must be paid at least the prevailing wage for the specialty occupation in the area of intended employment;

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