Articles Posted in Global Immigration

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On behalf of all of us at the Sapochnick Law Firm, we would like to wish you and your family a very safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

We thank you for your trust and support these past years. We take this time to reflect on the stories of our clients. Day in and day out, we draw inspiration from your struggles, and most of all, we recognize the great impact that we have on your lives and those of your loved ones. We are grateful to have a community that supports our mission and pushes us to set the bar even higher. It is a privilege to serve you.

Indeed, we have much to be thankful for. We invite you to share with us what you are grateful for this holiday season.

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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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In this blog post, we share with you the list of countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs next year.

By law, DHS has the authority to update the eligible countries lists at any time by publishing a notice in the Federal Register, if the agency determines that a country fails to meet the requirements for continued designation.

The H-2A and H-2B visa programs enable U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural and nonagricultural jobs, respectively.

USCIS approves H-2A and H-2B petitions only for nationals of countries that the secretary of homeland security has designated as eligible to participate in the programs. However, USCIS may approve H-2A and H-2B petitions, including those that were pending as of the date of publication of the Federal Register Notice, for nationals of countries not on the lists on a case-by-case basis only if doing so is determined to be in the interest of the United States.

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Happy Veterans Day! On behalf of our law office, we would like to thank the servicemen and women who have dedicated their lives to protect our country. We are grateful to you for the sacrifices you have made and your service.

We close off the week with a recent update from the U.S. Department of State regarding immigrant visa processing in Havana, Cuba.

According to a new announcement made yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, will fully resume immigrant visa processing beginning January 4, 2023.

This will include processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives, other family preference categories, diversity visas, and K fiancé(e) visas.

For its part, the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, will continue processing of Cuban immigrant visa applications for those individuals who were scheduled to attend in-person interviews there through the end of December of this year.

Immigrant visa applicants whose appointments were originally scheduled in Georgetown will complete case processing in Georgetown.

Sadly, case transfers from Georgetown to U.S. Embassy, Havana are not available for applicants who have already been scheduled to attend interviews in Georgetown.

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DACA recipients can now breathe a sigh of relief. We are happy to report that the Department of Homeland Security recently published a final rule in the Federal Register, taking a major step to safeguard the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, while the fight to uphold DACA is in litigation.


What does this mean?


The final rule officially took effect on October 31, 2022, to codify existing policy, preserve, and fortify DACA.

This means that effective October 31, 2022, pursuant to the final rule, the U.S. Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept and process renewal DACA requests and accompanying requests for employment authorization (EAD), consistent with court orders and an ongoing partial stay. Currently, valid grants of DACA, related employment authorization, and advance parole will continue to be recognized as valid under the final rule. Those with pending DACA renewal applications, do not need to reapply.

USCIS will also continue to accept and process applications for advance parole for current DACA recipients and will continue to accept but will not process initial (new) DACA requests.

Pursuant to an injunction and partial stay, handed down by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, DHS is prohibited from granting initial (new) DACA requests and related employment authorization under the final rule.

While this is a temporary measure to protect existing DACA benefits, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas stated, “Ultimately, we need Congress to urgently pass legislation that provides Dreamers with the permanent protection they need and deserve.”

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In this blog post, we bring you some unfortunate news. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency.

Sadly, this means that certain F-1 student visa applicants will be impacted by this change, including those undertaking an English language study program. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said that such programs are required to be accredited under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act.

Additionally, this change will impact F-1 students applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension, because government regulations now require use of a degree from an accredited, Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school to receive a STEM OPT extension.

The regulations make clear that the school must be accredited at the time of the application (the date of the designated school official’s (DSO) recommendation on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status).


What happens next?


Students who have been impacted by this change will receive notification letters from SEVP informing them that their schools’ certification has been withdrawn.

USCIS has said that students who are enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school should contact their DSOs immediately to understand how this loss of accreditation will impact their status and/or immigration benefits.

To make matters worse, schools accredited by ACICS will not be able to issue program extensions, and students will only be allowed to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school chooses to voluntarily withdraw its certification or if is withdrawn by SEVP.

If a student’s ACICS-accredited school can provide evidence of a Department of Education recognized accrediting agency or evidence in lieu of accreditation within the allotted timeframe, the student may remain at the school to complete their program of study.


Requests for Evidence Imminent for I-539 Extend/Change of Status


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be issuing requests for evidence (RFEs) to individuals who filed Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after August 19, 2022, requesting a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program.

Once the individual receives the RFE, they will be given the opportunity to provide evidence in response, such as documentation showing that the English language study program they are seeking to enroll in meets the accreditation requirements.

If the student does not submit a new Form I-20 from a school accredited by an entity recognized by the Department of Education, USCIS will deny a change of status or reinstatement request.

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Happy Halloween! In this blog post, we bring you a brand-new immigration update.

On October 21, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the designation of Ethiopia for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for a period of 18 months. This decision marks Ethiopia’s first designation for TPS.

This designation was made based on ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions in Ethiopia that prevent its nationals from safely returning to their country. Concerns relating to conflict-related violence including killings, rape, and gender-based violence prompted the Secretary of Homeland Security to make this decision. Other temporary conditions further complicate the return of Ethiopian nationals including flooding, drought, and disease outbreaks.

In response to the DHS announcement, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas explained, “Ethiopian nationals currently residing in the U.S. who cannot safely return due to conflict-related violence and a humanitarian crisis involving severe food shortages, flooding, drought, and displacement, will be able to remain and work in the United States until conditions in their home country improve.”

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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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We start off the week with the latest news regarding COVID-19-related flexibilities for responses to Requests for Evidence, NOIDs, and such related notices issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.


What do I need to know about these new updates?


USCIS RFE/NOID Flexibility Continued for Responses to Agency Requests


USCIS has announced that it will continue its flexibility policy giving applicants and petitioners more time to respond to Requests for Evidence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, Monday, October 24, 2022, USCIS made the announcement that it will continue to grant applicants who have received a request for evidence, notice of intent to deny, or such a related document, an additional 60 calendar days after the response deadline indicated on the notice or request, to submit a response to a request or notice, provided the request or notice was issued by USCIS between March 1, 2020 through January 24, 2023. This is great news because it will allow applicants and petitioners more time to gather documents that are hard to obtain during the COVID-10 pandemic.

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In this blog post, we cover the release of the November Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the upcoming month of November.

The Department of State releases the visa bulletin on a monthly basis, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for that particular month. The “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications,” charts indicate when immigrant visa applicants should be notified to assemble and submit the required documentation to the National Visa Center.


Adjustment of Status Filing Chart November 2022


For Family-Sponsored Filings:

Pursuant to guidance released by USCIS, for all family-sponsored preference categories, applicants must use the  Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for November 2022.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:

All applicants, falling under employment-based preference categories, must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for November 2022.


November 2022 Visa Bulletin Dates for Filing Cutoff Dates


Employment-Based Categories


DATES FOR FILING FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES


According to the Department of State’s November 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following Dates for Filing cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for employment-based categories:

  • EB-1: All countries, including India and China, will remain current.
  • EB-2: EB-2 China will remain at July 8, 2019 and EB-2 India at May 1, 2012. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India will remain at July 1, 2012, and EB-3 China will remain at July 15, 2018. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB3 Other Workers: EB-3 China will remain at November 1, 2015, and EB-3 India will remain at July 1, 2012. A Date for Filing cut-off date of September 8, 2022, applies to all other countries.
  • EB-4: EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will remain at April 15, 2018, and EB-4 Mexico at October 15, 2020. All other countries remain current
  • EB-5: For the EB-5 Unreserved categories (C5, T5, I5, and R5), the Date for Filing for China will remain at January 1, 2016, India will have a Date for Filing cut-off imposed of December 8, 2019, and all other countries will remain current. For the EB-5 “Set-Aside” categories (Rural, High Unemployment, and Infrastructure), the Date for Filing will remain current for all countries.

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