Articles Posted in Global Immigration

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The February 2024 Visa Bulletin was recently published by the Department of State.

While the Dates for Filing Chart remains unchanged from the previous month, the Final Action Dates Chart shows some modest advancements in some of the employment-based preference categories, specifically EB-1 worldwide continues to be current, EB-2 Worldwide will advance by two weeks to November 15, 2022, EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers, India will advance by one month to July 1, 2012, and the rest of the world will advance by one month to September 1, 2022. EB-5 India will advance by one week to December 15, 2015, while the rest of the world will remain current.

For family-sponsored categories, the Final Action Dates for F2A Worldwide, F2A China, F2A India, and F2A Philippines will advance by more than 3 months to February 8, 2020, while F2A Mexico will advance to February 1, 2020. The February Dates for Filing remain the same as the previous month.

Whether you are applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate overseas or applying for adjustment of status to permanent residence in the United States, you won’t want to miss these new updates.


Highlights of the February 2024 Visa Bulletin


Employment-based categories

  • The February Dates for Filing remain the same as January 2024

Final Action Dates

  • EB-1 India: The EB-1 India Final Action Date will remain at September 1, 2020.
  • EB-1 China: The EB-1 China Final Action Date will remain at July 1, 2022
  • EB-1 Worldwide: All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-2 India: The EB-2 Final Action Date for India will remain at March 1, 2012
  • EB-2 China: The EB-2 China Final Action Date will remain at January 1, 2020.
  • EB-2 Worldwide: Final Action Dates for the remaining countries in EB-2 will advance by two weeks, to November 15, 2022.
  • EB-3 Professional/Skilled Workers: The EB-3 Professional/Skilled Worker Final Action for China, will remain at September 1, 2020. India will advance by one month to July 1, 2012. Final Action Dates for the remaining countries in the category will advance by one month to September 1, 2022.

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On January 5, 2024, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released updated policy guidance describing how the agency analyzes an employer’s ability to pay the offered wage to prospective employees with employment-based immigrant petitions requiring a job offer, filed with USCIS under the first, second, and third preference categories, also known as EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3.

Specifically, the policy guidance clarifies how an employer’s ability to pay will be demonstrated where a beneficiary of a pending Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, decides to change to a new employer under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC-21).

As a general matter, employers must be able to demonstrate their continuing ability to pay the offered wage to employees with petitions filed under the employment first, second, and third preference categories (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3) starting from the priority date of the underlying I-140 petition, until the beneficiary receives lawful permanent resident status (a green card).

Under the updated guidance, when an employee moves to a new employer under AC-21 while the underlying I-140 petition is still pending, USCIS will determine whether the petitioner meets its ability to pay requirement by only reviewing the facts in existence at the time of filing. This means that, USCIS will only consider initial evidence submitted with the petition (and any responses to Requests for Evidence) to determine if the petitioner has established its ability to pay from the priority date to the date of filing the I-140 petition.

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The past year saw big victories for worldwide visa operations.

The Department of State recently provided statistics summarizing its visa processing capacity in the year 2023. The recent data shows tremendous advancement in visa processing capacity at Consular posts globally and provides a strong outlook for visa processing in the year 2024.

In the year 2023, the Department of State issued more nonimmigrant visas at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies worldwide than at any other time since 2015.

This included issuing a record of 10.4 million nonimmigrant visas globally, with more than 1 million nonimmigrant visas issued in a single month during March of 2023.

Some of the State Department’s accomplishments include:

  • The reunification of families, with the issuance of 563,000 immigrant visas (IVs) in FY 2023, with 30 of its missions issuing their largest number of immigrant visas ever.  Consular sections worldwide have reduced the overall immigrant visa interview scheduling backlog by nearly half, from nearly 532,000 in July 2021, to just over 275,500.
  • Prioritizing student and academic exchange visitor visa interviews to facilitate study at U.S. universities and colleges. Consular sections issued 830,000 student and exchange visitor visas in FY 2023, more than in any year since FY 2016.  More than 600,000 of those were for students pursuing an education in the United States, many of them from countries sending record numbers of students. Of these numbers, nearly 40,000 visas were issued to African students which set an all-time record.
  • Record numbers of visas were issued for seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural workers to facilitate the legal and orderly flow of labor. A record-breaking 442,000 visas were issued to H-2A and H-2B temporary workers in 2023, with nearly 90 percent of visas issued to workers from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 
  • A record number of 365,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued to airline and shipping crewmembers (C1/D) which are essential to maintaining international transportation and supply chains that support the U.S. and global economies.

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As the new year approaches, we have some unfortunate news to report for certain employment-based applicants who may wish to file their petitions with premium processing service in 2024, including those filing:

  • Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, as well as
  • Certain applicants filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and
  • I-539 Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.

On December 28, 2023, USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register that will increase the filing fee for Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, to adjust for inflation.

The final rule states that starting February 26, 2024, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will increase the premium processing fees USCIS charges for all eligible forms and categories to reflect the amount of inflation from June 2021 through June 2023 according to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

Please note that not all petitions are eligible to request premium processing service. Applicants may only request premium processing if USCIS has specifically designated your classification as one that is eligible for premium processing service. To determine whether premium processing is available for your benefit request please review the USCIS webpage.

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In the nick of time, on December 21, 2023, the Department of State announced that it will continue its interview waiver policy for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants. The agency’s interview waiver policy was previously set to expire on December 31, 2023. However, its implementation will continue starting on January 1, 2024, and remain in place until further notice.

Following consultations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Secretary of State has determined that the following categories of interview waivers are in the national interest.  Based on this directive, Consular Officers now have the authority and discretion to waive the in-person interview for:

  • First time H-2 visa applicants (temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers); and
  • Other nonimmigrant visa applicants applying for any nonimmigrant visa classification who:
      • Were previously issued a nonimmigrant visa in any classification, unless the only prior issued visa was a B visa; and
      • Are applying within 48 months of their most recent nonimmigrant visa’s expiration date.

The Department of State reminds applicants who are renewing a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration date, that they will continue to be eligible for an interview waiver until further notice.

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The rumors are true. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Department of State (DOS) will process domestic visa renewals for certain H-1B visa applicants without requiring them to leave the United States.

This is all part of a new pilot program starting January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024, that will allow 20,000 qualified H-1B nonimmigrant workers the opportunity to renew their visas domestically.

The Department of State hopes the pilot program will reduce heavy backlogs at more than 200 consular sections worldwide by making available an increased number of interview appointments for other visa categories, especially first-time travelers applying for business and tourism visas who require in-person interviews.

At the same time, DOS seeks to alleviate the burden on U.S. companies that employ H-1B workers by streamlining the visa renewal process.

The Department will accept applications for the pilot program starting January 29, 2024 on its webpage.

After the initial application period which ends on April 1st the Department will expand the scope of the program.


What are the Requirements to Participate?


Participation in this pilot will be limited to applicants who(se):

  1. Are seeking to renew an H–1B visa; during the pilot phase, the Department will not process any other visa classifications;
  2. Prior H–1B visa that is being renewed was issued by Mission Canada with an issuance date from January 1, 2020, through April 1, 2023; or by Mission India with an issuance date of February 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021;
  3. Are not subject to a nonimmigrant visa issuance fee (Note: this is commonly referred to as a “reciprocity fee”);
  4. Are eligible for a waiver of the in-person interview requirement;
  5. Have submitted ten fingerprints to the Department in connection with a previous visa application;
  6. Prior visa does not include a “clearance received” annotation;
  7. Do not have a visa ineligibility that would require a waiver prior to visa issuance;
  8. Have an approved and unexpired H–1B petition;
  9. Were most recently admitted to the United States in H–1B status;
  10. Are currently maintaining H–1B status in the United States;
  11. Period of authorized admission in H–1B status has not expired; and
  12. Intend to reenter the United States in H–1B status after a temporary period abroad.

Applicants that fall outside of this scope are not eligible to apply for a visa domestically.

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If you are a family-based conditional permanent resident who was issued a two-year green card based on your marriage to a U.S. Citizen, then you may be interested to know that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently updated its policy guidance for Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence.

The new policy guidance provides new updates for the following individuals:

  • Conditional permanent residents who filed an I-751 petition jointly with their spouse, but are no longer married since their filing (either because of divorce or abuse)
  • Cases where the I-751 petition is being terminated for failure to file the application on time with USCIS or lack of evidence.

Overview


By law, your permanent resident status is conditional if you were married to a U.S. Citizen for less than 2 years on the day you obtained permanent resident status.

This means that at the end of your I-485 adjustment of status (green card) application process, you will receive conditional permanent residence (a 2-year green card) if you were married for less than 2 years at the time of the adjudication of your I-485 adjustment of status application. On the other hand, those who have been married for more than 2 years receive a 10-year green card that is not subject to conditions.

To remove the conditions on permanent resident status, conditional permanent residents must file Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence within the 90-day period before the expiration of their green card status. The I-751 petition must be filed jointly with your U.S. citizen spouse, or you must qualify for a waiver of the joint filing requirement if you are no longer married.

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Yesterday, Wednesday December 13, 2023, the United States Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it will be transitioning the filing location for Form I-907 Requests for Premium Processing Service, when filed for a pending Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, to appropriate USCIS lockboxes starting Friday December 15, 2023.

This is being done to increase efficiency and reduce the workload of service centers. USCIS has also said that this change will allow it to centralize digitization of these forms for electronic adjudication.

Please note that this change in filing location does not apply to those filing Form I-140 concurrently with an associated application (such as Form I-485, I-765, or Form I-131). USCIS will soon announce a filing location change for these forms. For the time being such forms should be filed with the appropriate service center, as listed on the USCIS webpage Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.

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The January 2024 Visa Bulletin is finally here, and with it some big advancements for the employment-based preference categories in the New Year, specifically for India and China, and some promising forward movement in the Final Action Dates for EB-2 Worldwide and EB-3 Professional/Skilled Workers Worldwide.

For family-sponsored categories, the New Year brings big advancements in the Final Action Dates for F2A Mexico, F2 Worldwide, F2B Mexico, F3 Mexico, F3 Worldwide, and modest advancements for F4. The Dates for Filing remain the same as December.

Whether you are applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate overseas or applying for adjustment of status to permanent residence in the United States, you won’t want to miss these new updates.


Highlights of the January 2024 Visa Bulletin


Employment-based categories

  • EB-1 India: The EB-1 India Final Action Date will advance by three years and eight months, to September 1, 2020, and the Date for Filing will advance by a year and a half, to January 1, 2021.
  • EB-1 China: The EB-1 China Final Action Date will advance by four and a half months, to July 1, 2022, and the Date for Filing will advance five months, to January 1, 2023.
  • EB-2: The EB-2 Final Action Date for India will advance by two months, to March 1, 2012, and the EB-2 China Final Action Date will advance by approximately nine weeks, to January 1, 2020. Final Action Dates for the remaining countries in EB-2 will advance by three and a half months, to November 1, 2022.
  • EB-3 Professional/Skilled Workers: The EB-3 Professional/Skilled Worker Final Action Dates will advance by over 7 months for China, to September 1, 2020, and by one month for India, to June 1, 2012. Final Action Dates for the remaining countries in the category will advance by eight months, to August 1, 2022.

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