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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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It is that time of the month again! In this blog post, we will cover the release of the February Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the month of February 2022.

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 Filings for those lawfully residing in the United States


In general, if USCIS determines there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, the agency will provide instructions on the www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo webpage that applicants may use the Dates for Filing chart. Otherwise, USCIS will indicate that applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart to determine when they may file their adjustment of status application with USCIS. If a particular immigrant visa category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart or the cutoff date on the Final Action Dates chart is later than the date on the Dates for Filing chart, applicants in that immigrant visa category may file using the Final Action Dates chart during that month.

Information has not yet been posted regarding the adjustment of status filing charts that should be used for green card filings. However, applicants are encouraged to monitor the USCIS webpage mentioned above within the next weeks.


February 2022 Visa Bulletin Final Action Cutoff Dates


Employment Based Categories


FINAL ACTION DATES FOR EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CASES


According to the Department of State’s February 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following final 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: India will advance by nearly 6 months to January 1, 2013, and China will advance by more than 5 weeks to March 1, 2019. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India and China will remain the same as the previous months at January 15, 2012 and March 22, 2018 respectively. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-5: The Non-Regional Center program will be current for all countries, including China. The Regional Center program has expired and is listed as unavailable in the February 2022 Visa Bulletin. If reauthorized, the Regional Center program will mirror the Non-Regional Center final action dates, except China, which would be subject to a November 22, 2015, final action date.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we share with you an exciting new update from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that will provide relief to those who have received a Request for Evidence, Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), or such similar request.


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 and such related requests.

Today, Thursday December 30, 2021, USCIS made the announcement stating it will continue to give 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 March 26, 2022. 

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.


What documents qualify for this flexibility in responding?


Applicants who receive any of the below mentioned documents dated between March 1, 2020 and March 26, 2022 can take advantage of the additional 60 calendar days to respond to the request or notice:

  • Requests for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny;
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind;
  • Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers; and
  • Motions to Reopen an N-400 pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant.

In addition, USCIS will consider a Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion or Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings, if:

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We kick off the start of a brand-new week with some important new updates regarding the new COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all immigrant visa applicants, fiancé(e) visa applicants, and nonimmigrant visa applicants. We also share with you some new information regarding Croatia’s designation as a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program. When can Croatians start to apply for ESTA? Find out here!


COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements for Immigrant Visa Applicants Overseas


The Department of State has issued a brand-new press release informing the public that effective October 1, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Technical Instructions for panel physicians, will now require all immigrant visa applicants, all K fiancé(e) visa applicants, and nonimmigrant visa applicants who are referred to the panel physicians to receive a full COVID-19 vaccine series (1 or 2 doses depending on formulation) as part of their medical exam prior to being issued a visa.  The CDC is requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to be approved through either the World Health Organization (WHO) or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Blanket waivers for the COVID vaccination will be applied in countries where the vaccine is not routinely available or when the vaccine is not age appropriate.  The Department of State is encouraging all immigrant visa applicants and others subject to a medical exam to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible to avoid delays in their visa processing. If any of the below mentioned circumstances apply a blanket waiver may be available to you.


Circumstances in which Blanket Waivers are available for COVID-19 vaccinations:


  • Where it is not age-appropriate to receive the vaccination
    For COVID-19 vaccines, the age for which a particular vaccine can be administered differs by formulation. If the applicant is younger than the lowest age limit for the formulations in use (less than 12 years of age at the time of posting), this blanket waiver should be documented.
  • In cases where a contraindication exists – a condition that serves as a reason not to take a certain medical treatment due to the harm that it would cause the patient.

If an applicant has a contraindication or precaution to the COVID-19 vaccine formulation available, the “Contraindicated” reason should be documented, and the vaccine should not be administered. If the applicant has had a severe reaction to the first dose that is considered a contraindication to receiving a second dose, the first dose should be documented in addition to the blanket waiver.  Please refer to Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States for COVID-19 specific information about contraindications and precautions.

  • Where a vaccine is not routinely available
    If no COVID-19 vaccine is routinely available in the state where the Civil Surgeon practices, the “Not routinely available” reason should be documented.  If vaccine is available to the applicant but due to limited supply, it would cause significant delay for the applicant to receive their vaccination, then this situation would also be considered “Not routinely available.”

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we share with you an overview of the State Department’s October 2021 Q&A answer session with Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, also known as “Chats with Charlie,” broadcasted every month on the State Department’s YouTube channel.

This new series features a monthly Question-and-Answer session with Mr. Charles Oppenheim and a Consular officer, where they answer many of the public’s frequently asked questions and provide a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin. This discussion will provide details regarding what to expect in terms of the movement or retrogression of both family and employment-based preference categories on each month’s Visa Bulletin.

Questions for Charlie can be emailed in advance to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of each monthly session with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the subject line.

Be sure to subscribe to the State Department’s YouTube Channel and turn on your notifications so you do not miss any of these important updates.

Below are the highlights of the visa projections for October 2021.


DOS Q&A Session with Charlie Oppenheim: October 2021 Visa Bulletin Projections & Beyond


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In this blog post we share with you some breaking news for green card applicants applying for adjustment of status on Form I-485, as well as those applying for immigrant visas from abroad.

As part of the green card process, USCIS and the Department of State require applicants to undergo a medical examination with a doctor designated as a civil surgeon, to establish that the applicant is not inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds.

According to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control, beginning October 1, 2021, green card applicants will now be required to establish that they have received a complete COVID-19 vaccine series, in order to be deemed eligible for permanent residence. Following the release of this new guidance, COVID-19 was added to the list of vaccinations required of those seeking U.S. lawful permanent residence.

The new vaccine requirement will apply to routine medical examinations necessary for both adjustment of status applicants applying for green cards in the United States and immigrant visa applicants applying at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.


Who must take the COVID-19 vaccine?


All applicants (1) applying for I-485 adjustment of status (a green card) or (2) those applying for an immigrant visa abroad, who will receive their medical examination from a Civil Surgeon or Panel Physician on or after October 1, 2021, will be subject to this requirement and are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 vaccine series as soon  as possible.

Eligible applicants must complete the COVID-19  vaccine  series if  a  COVID-19  vaccine  listed  for  emergency  use  by  the World  Health  Organization  (WHO)  or  licensed  or  authorized  for  emergency  use  by  the  U.S. Food  and  Drug Administration  (FDA)  is  available  to  the  applicant  in  the  country  where  the  medical  examination  is  conducted.


How can I show that I have met the vaccine requirement?


Applicants must complete the COVID-19 vaccine series and provide documentation of vaccination to the civil surgeon in person before completion of the medical examination.  The COVID-19 vaccination requirement will differ from previous requirements in that the entire vaccine series (1 or 2 doses depending on formulation) must be completed in addition to the other routinely required vaccines.


How long will the COVID-19 vaccine requirement be in place?


These COVID-19 vaccine requirement will be in place until the CDC determines the vaccine is no longer needed to prevent the importation and spread of COVID-19.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post, we celebrate a client’s recent success story and share with you how our office was able to expedite our client’s immigrant visa interview (CR-1) to help reunite the applicant with her spouse in the United States.

We recognize that these are truly challenging times in the world of immigration and would like our readers to know that they are not alone. For many, there are alternatives and solutions that can be explored by our knowledgeable immigration attorneys to help them reunite with their family members. From our staff members to our attorneys, we are with you every step of the way on your immigration journey.

For a comprehensive consultation to discuss solutions to your immigration issues, you may contact us at 619-819-9204. 


Suspension of Routine Visa Services Continues at Most Consulates Worldwide


As our readers will know, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made it extremely difficult for immigrants residing abroad to secure appointments for visa interviews at U.S. Consular posts and Embassies worldwide.

While some Consulates and U.S. Embassies have resumed routine visa services, these are very few and far in between. At the moment, routine visa services are only available on a “post-by-post” basis as individual country conditions permit operations to return to normalcy. For the most part, Consulates and Embassies have not been able to provide specific dates regarding when each post will completely resume routine visa services. This has left many immigrants in a state of uncertainty during what is already a very difficult time in our history. Many family members remain apart for extended periods of time with no end in sight.

Despite these limitations however, Consulates and Embassies are continuing to accommodate emergency and expedite requests for applicants with urgent matters who need to travel immediately. Where an applicant has been documentarily qualified by the National Visa Center, a U.S. Citizen petitioner may submit a request with the NVC to expedite the consular interview based on extreme hardship to the U.S. Citizen. Extreme hardship to a U.S. Citizen spouse can be demonstrated in several ways including where the USC is suffering from a disability or severe medical and/or psychological condition.

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Happy Friday! We bring you an exciting new update about the public charge rule. On Thursday, March 11, 2021, the Biden administration formally rescinded the Trump era “public charge rule,” which has been responsible for causing great headaches among adjustment of status and immigrant visa applicants.

The public charge rule was first announced by the Department of Homeland Security on October 10, 2018, bringing with it a new set of regulations that made it more difficult for certain adjustment of status applicants to gain permanent residence in the United States.

Specifically, it was announced that the public charge rule would apply to all adjustment of status (green card) applications postmarked on or after February 24, 2020. In addition, the public charge rule of inadmissibility was applied to:

  • Applicants for an immigrant visa abroad
  • Applicants for a nonimmigrant visa abroad
  • Applicants for admission at the U.S. border who have been granted an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, and
  • Nonimmigrants applying for an extension or change of status within the United States

Individuals applying for a green card or immigrant visa based on family sponsorship were most affected by this rule.

Further, a slew of special types of immigrants were allowed to be excluded from the rule including asylees, refugees, VAWA, TPS, DACA, Special Immigrant Juveniles, T nonimmigrants, U nonimmigrants, and such special types of immigrant classifications.

As a result of this rule, USCIS introduced a mandatory form to be submitted with all green card applications, known as Form, I-944 Declaration of Self Sufficiency, to determine whether a green card applicant would likely become a public charge on the United States government.

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Happy Monday! Welcome back to Visalawyerblog. We start off the week with some interesting immigration updates.


USCIS Updates – ASC and Interview Appointments Scheduled on January 19th and 20th will be Rescheduled


In anticipation of the Presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced the temporary suspension of in-person services at all field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASC biometrics offices) on January 19th and January 20th to ensure the safety of employees and individuals with appointments on these dates.

Accordingly, for individuals who had appointments on these dates (either for biometrics or for an interview) USCIS will be rescheduling these appointments and sending notices with the new appointment dates.

Please keep a look out for these notices in the mail within the next few weeks.


Nationals Eligible to Participate in the H-2A and H-2B Visa Program

In other news, last week the Department of Homeland Security released the list of countries eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs in the Federal Register.

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

Typically, 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 the Federal Register notice, for nationals of countries not on the list on a case-by-case basis only if doing so is determined to be in the interest of the United States based on the evidence submitted.

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Interviews at the San Diego Field Office

We have great news for our local readers. The USCIS San Diego Field Office is scheduled to resume interviews on July 6, 2020, with priority given to adjustment of status applications filed by doctors and front-line workers fighting to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Under certain circumstances, USCIS will exercise its discretion to waive adjustment of status interviews on a case-by-case basis.


What will be the approach for rescheduling?

The USCIS San Diego Field Office will begin rescheduling all other interviews on a “first-in, first-out,” basis based on receipt date of filing. This will occur as soon as possible.


When will biometrics offices reopen to the public?

Application Support Centers in San Marcos in Chula Vista are scheduled to reopen to the public on July 27, we ask our readers to please be patient while they wait to be rescheduled. Those with cancelled biometrics will be automatically rescheduled and will receive a notice in the mail with a new biometrics appointment.


What about Parole in Place cases?

Parole in place applications continue to be adjudicated, however applicants should expect delays.


What about citizenship applications?

USCIS will continue to prioritize the scheduling of oath ceremonies for naturalization applicants. Those who did not appear at a scheduled oath ceremony will receive a letter by mail. As we previously reported, oath ceremonies in San Diego are being held at the Cabrillo National Monument and the City of El Cajon parking lot adjacent to the police department.

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