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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



The Top 9 Advance Questions Sent in By Listeners


Q: Last month, when describing the National Visa Center’s processing of cases, you mentioned a change in terminology from “documentarily qualified” to “documentarily complete.” Why the change and what’s the difference?

A: Well, the terminology means exactly the same thing. It’s my understanding that in changing it to “complete,” the National Visa Center was trying to make it very clear to the applicant that they had submitted all the required documents, that all those documents have been reviewed by the National Visa Center, and the case is considered to be “complete” and ready for the potential processing at an overseas post when an interview can be scheduled.

Q: In the September Visa Bulletin, the application dates for filing which are listed for China and India EB-3 were July 1, 2019, and March 1, 2014, respectively. But in the October Visa Bulletin, the dates for filing for China and India EB-3 were moved back to January 15, 2019, and January 8, 2014, respectively. Why did you move these two application dates backwards?

A: Each month before I’m making the determination of the final action dates and the application dates, I consult with USCIS officials and their inventory projections show that on October 1, 2021, coming up, the pending demand which both the State Department and USCIS has in the employment third preference category for applicants born in India and China will already exceed the amount of numbers that are available to applicants from those countries throughout fiscal year 2022 in the third preference category. Therefore, for that reason we made the decision to retrogress those application dates for filing to limit new applications, which we did not at the time anticipate could be processed during fiscal year 2022. But it is important to remember that as with the final action dates, we always continue to monitor the situation very carefully and that allows us to determine what if any future action will be required.

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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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Our readers and clients have eagerly been asking why the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reported extremely long processing times on their webpage. Others are concerned about when their field offices will reopen and reschedule their interviews. In this post we hope to provide some clarification regarding these very important issues.


Long Processing Times


As some of you may know as a result of the pandemic, USCIS has experienced a significant loss of revenue that has left the agency with no choice but to begin the process of furloughing much needed employees. The agency is no longer able to meet current workloads and has been taking drastic measures to try to cope with the current situation. CIS has requested $1.2 billion in aid from Congress to help keep the agency afloat. Among other things, CIS plans to increase filing fees this summer, and implement additional surcharges on all applications. The agency’s funding crisis has unfortunately resulted in very long processing times for those with pending applications. As many of you have noticed, the processing times listed on the CIS website vary widely depending on the service center processing the application or petition, and the relationship between the applicant and petitioner (for family-based petitions).


What accounts for the different processing times?


First, processing times vary depending on the service center that is processing your application or petition. Each service center has been specifically designated to handle specific types of immigration benefits. The type of center that will process your case depends on a number of different factors including: the type of immigration benefit you are requesting, your immigration category, and also your state of residency.

Since some types of immigration benefits are in great demand, such as permanent residency, service centers handling these types of applications generally have a heavier workload than others. Unfortunately, this means that processing times for service centers with heavier workloads will be longer than others. USCIS has tried to balance the workload by transferring some petitions to other service centers that do not have such a heavy workload. These efforts have been made to try to speed up the adjudication process.

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We have very exciting news for our readers. Yesterday, May 27th the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed that it is preparing to reopen some domestic offices and resume services to the public on or after June 4th.

As you know, on March 18th USCIS made the difficult decision to suspend in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASCs) nationwide to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. While offices were closed, USCIS continued to provide emergency in-person services.

From the agency’s announcement it is clear that not all domestic offices will reopen to the public by June 4, but we know that at least some will begin to reopen to provide relief to those that have been waiting to attend their interviews or biometrics appointments.

USCIS will be following all state mandated precautions including reducing the number of appointments and interviews scheduled for the day, enforcing social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, and reducing waiting room occupancy. Members of the public will be required to wear masks covering their nose and mouth. Sanitizer will be provided to the public.

USCIS urges those who are feeling sick to stay home and schedule their appointments once they are feeling better. As a reminder, there is no penalty for rescheduling your appointment if you are sick.

We expect that USCIS will be scheduling far less appointments than usual to reduce the number of people in the facility at any one time. That means that appointment times will be spaced out and there will be a slight delay to reschedule everyone who has been waiting for an appointment. Please be patient and wait to receive a new appointment notice in the mail.

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UPDATE: Green card interviews are being waived for at least some applicants during COVID-19


Unprecedented times call for unusual measures. Recently USCIS announced the closure of field offices nationwide—until May 3rd–to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

This announcement was immediately concerning given that green card applicants (family and employment-based) must attend in-person interviews at USCIS field offices to establish green card eligibility before their green cards can be approved.

USCIS indicated in their announcement that all impacted interviews would be rescheduled at a future time when offices re-open to the public. Of course, the decision to reschedule interviews at a future time would create a backlog, delaying the adjudication of thousands of green cards.

As it appears, to avoid a drastic backlog, USCIS is relaxing the green card interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is no official policy or memorandum waiving the interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants, USCIS has been doing just that.

We can report that certain employment-based green card applicants who had their interviews canceled as a result of the COVID-19 office closures, have seen their green card “case status” change to “approved” and have received their green cards in the mail shortly thereafter.

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