Articles Posted in Immigrant Visas

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Recently, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) requested an update from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding the delayed adjudication of Form I-829 petitions filed by EB-5 investors seeking to remove their conditions on permanent residence.

AILA suggested two alternatives for providing evidence of continued lawful permanent residence which consisted of making simple adjustments to the language of Form I-829 receipt notices.

On January 19, 2024, USCIS responded to these concerns indicating their awareness of the issue and ongoing efforts to reduce the burden on investors.

USCIS pointed out that beginning on January 11, 2023, the agency extended the validity of Permanent Resident Cards (also known as Green Cards) for petitioners who properly filed Form I-829, for 48 months beyond the green card’s expiration date.

This extension was made in consideration of the long processing times USCIS has been experiencing to adjudicate Form I-829, which have increased over the past year.

They also note that USCIS field offices also recently began issuing and mailing the Form I-94 (arrival/departure record) with ADIT (temporary 1-551) stamps as temporary evidence of Legal Permanent Resident status without requiring an in-person appearance at field offices, for investors who have requested evidence of their LPR immigration status from USCIS.

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The March 2024 Visa Bulletin is finally here, and with it we have big advancements in the family sponsored preference categories, and minor advancements in the employment-based categories.


Highlights of the March 2024 Visa Bulletin


Dates for Filing Chart

The Dates for Filing Chart remains unchanged from the previous month, for both the family sponsored and employment-based categories, with the exception of the employment-based fourth preference category, EB-4 which will advance by 4 months to January 1, 2020.


Employment-based categories


Movement in the Final Action Dates

The Final Action Dates Chart shows some modest advancements in some of the employment-based preference categories, specifically:

  • EB-1 China will advance by two weeks to July 15, 2022
  • EB-1 India will advance by 1 month to October 1, 2020
  • EB-2 Worldwide, Mexico, and the Philippines will advance by 1 week to November 22, 2022
  • EB-3 Worldwide, Mexico, and the Philippines will advance by 1 week to September 8, 2022
  • EB-3 Other Workers, Worldwide and Mexico will advance by 1 week to September 8, 2020
  • EB-4 will advance by more than 6.5 months to December 1, 2019

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On January 30, 2024, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a final rule in the Federal Register making significant fee increases for various immigration applications and benefit requests. This fee increase will be the first major adjustment in the filing fees since 2016. The increase is meant to address the agency’s operational and financial challenges to support the timely processing of new applications.

The fee increase will take effect starting April 1, 2024. All applications postmarked after this date will be subject to the fee increases in the final rule.

TIP: To avoid paying the higher fees, USCIS must receive applications before April 1, 2024.


Highlights


  • Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), used to petition for family members, including marriage green cards, will increase by 26% to $675 for paper filing, and $625 for online filers.
  • Form I-129F (Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)), used by U.S. Citizens to petition for their fiancé(e) to enter the U.S., will increase by 26 percent from $535 to $675
  • Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), used by immigrants seeking a green card for permanent residency, will increase by 18% from $1,225 to $1,440. Employment authorization, and advance parole, will now cost an additional $260 and $630, respectively. Previously these applications carried no additional cost when filing them alongside adjustment of status applications

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In this blog post, we provide new insights recently shared by Charlie Oppenheim, the former Chief of Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting at the U.S. Department of State, who oversaw the monthly publication of the Visa Bulletin until his retirement in 2022.

In a recent Chatting with Charlie webinar, he provided his expertise regarding the future movement of the employment based and family preference categories on the Visa Bulletin.

The Dates for Filing for the employment based and family sponsored preference categories have remained the same since the publication of the October Visa Bulletin with no forward movement to be seen.

In the month of February, the Final Action Dates progressed only slightly as follows:

Employment-based

  • EB-2 Worldwide advanced by two weeks to November 15, 2022
  • EB-3 India advanced by one month to July 1, 2012
  • EB-3 all other countries advanced by one month to September 1, 2022 (except China)
  • EB-5 China (Unreserved) advanced by one week to December 15, 2015.

Family-sponsored

  • F2A all categories (except Mexico) advanced by more than 3 months to February 8, 2020
  • F2A Mexico advanced by more than 3 months to February 1, 2020

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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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Newly released data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has shown that thanks to policy guidance released in January 2022, more foreign nationals working in the STEM fields are receiving O-1A visas than ever before.

In just the first year of issuing its revised guidance for example, issuance of O-1A visas soared by 30% to 4,570 and remained steady throughout fiscal year 2023.

USCIS’ clarifying policy guidance also benefitted EB-2 applicants with advanced STEM degrees seeking the National Interest Waiver petition. The number of such visas approved in 2022 increased by 55% over 2021, to 70,240 visas and remained at a high level throughout 2022.

Recent policy clarifications have helped those with advanced degrees in the STEM fields understand whether they meet the qualifying criteria of the O-1A and EB-2 National Interest Waiver petition, because USCIS has been much more transparent in listing examples of the types of evidence that will satisfy the evidentiary criteria, focusing on the highly technical nature of STEM fields and the complexity of evidence typically submitted in these fields.

One of the more interesting updates USCIS provided in its policy guidance, emphasizes that with respect to O-1A petitions, if a particular criterion does not readily apply to the applicant’s field, comparable evidence may be submitted to establish sustained acclaim or recognition, including examples of comparable evidence for those working in the STEM fields, 2 USCIS-PM M.4, Appendices Tab.

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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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