Articles Posted in International Students

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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by this change will receive notification letters from SEVP informing them that their schools’ certification has been withdrawn.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finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school chooses to voluntarily withdraw its certification or if is withdrawn by SEVP.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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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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Happy Monday! Welcome back to Visalawyerblog!

In this blog post we share some great news for Russian nationals seeking F, M, and J nonimmigrant visa interviews. On January 21, 2022, the Department of State announced that the agency has now designated several posts overseas to process these nonimmigrant visa applications for persons who are residents of Russia. This change was made to provide relief to such applicants that have not been able to obtain visa interviews due to the severely limited operations currently available at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Under this designation, Russia-based student visa applicants (F and M categories) as well as academic exchange visitors (student, professor, research scholar, short-term scholar, and specialist J visa categories) and participants in U.S. government-funded exchange visitor programs may now apply for their visas and be interviewed at the following posts:


Where do I find more information about the application process?


The Department of State has said that applicants should review the Embassy’s webpage for the latest information on services and appointment availability at that specific post.


What if I am physically present in another country? Can I apply for my F, M, J visa at the Embassy where I reside?


The Department of State has made clear that this designation does not prevent Russia-based F, M, and J applicants from applying at another post where they are physically present.  It also  does not exempt travelers from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) requirement that all air travelers to the United States be vaccinated against COVID-19 with a WHO emergency use listed vaccine.

Information about accepted COVID-19 vaccines and the CDC’s requirements, is available here.

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More immigration news is coming your way. This week important updates have been released for F-1 students seeking post-completion Optional Practical Training in certain STEM-related fields of study.


DHS Issues Advance Copy of STEM Designated Degree Program List for post-completion Optional Practical Training


If you are an international student studying in F-1 visa status in the United States, this update may be of interest to you. Today, January 20, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security released an advance copy of the Federal Notice, “Update to the Department of Homeland Security STEM Designated Degree Program List,” which is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, Friday, January 21, 2022.

With this notice, DHS has indicated that the agency will be adding 22 qualifying fields of study to the STEM Designated Degree Program List. This change is significant because DHS relies on the STEM Degree Program List to determine whether an F-1 international student has obtained a degree in a program of study that qualifies as a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree, to seek employment in the United States following graduation.


What is post-completion OPT?


F-1 students that have earned a degree in a qualifying STEM field, are eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) after completing their studies. Those authorized for post-completion OPT can work part time (20 hours or less per week) or full time.

For those who participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS reduces the amount of time that an individual is eligible to participate in post-completion OPT by deducting from the authorization period. For example, students you participated in 10 months of pre-completion OPT, would only be eligible for up to 2 months of post-completion OPT.


Who is impacted by this notice?


This notice impacts qualifying F-1 nonimmigrant students who seek a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT who have earned a degree in a STEM field of study as designated by the STEM list.


What are the 22 qualifying fields of study being added to the STEM list?


  • Bioenergy (03.0210). A program of study that focuses on the environmental and economic impact of using plants and microbes for the production of bio-based fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Includes instruction in biochemical engineering, bioprocessing, bioseparations, conversion, feedstock, economics, environmental sustainability, hydrology, and natural resource management.

  • Forestry, General (03.0501). A program that generally prepares individuals to manage and develop forest areas for economic, recreational, and ecological purposes. Includes instruction in forest related sciences, mapping, statistics, harvesting and production technology, natural resources management and economics, wildlife sciences, administration, and public relations

  • Forest Resources Production and Management (03.0510). A program that focuses on the application of forestry principles to the production, harvesting, and processing of forest resources and that prepares individuals to perform associated technical and managerial functions. Includes instruction in forest production and utilization, industrial forestry, agroforestry, transplantation, timber harvesting, selection and identification of trees, processing technologies and systems, equipment operations and maintenance, and related management skills.

  • Human-Centered Technology Design (11.0105). A program that focuses on incorporating a human perspective into designing, researching, and creating technological interfaces. Includes instruction in design, human-computer interaction, learning, neuroscience, perception, product design, user centered design, and usability.

  • Cloud Computing (11.0902). A program that prepares individuals to design and implement enterprise software systems that rely on distributed computing and service-oriented architecture, including databases, web services, cloud computing, and mobile apps. Includes instruction in data management, distributed and cloud computing, enterprise software architecture, enterprise and cloud security, mobile systems and applications, server administration, and web development.

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We have very exciting news for nonimmigrant visa applicants. Today, December 23rd, the Department of State announced that the agency has granted Consular officers the discretionary power to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain temporary employment nonimmigrant visa applicants, provided such applicants have a petition approved by USCIS.  This new discretionary power will apply to temporary workers applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who are applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.


Interview Waiver Policy for Certain Nonimmigrant Workers


Pursuant to this new policy, Consular officers now have the discretion to waive the visa interview requirement for:

  • individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and that have not had any visa refusal or ineligibility issues in the past OR
  • first-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided that they have no ineligibility issues and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

Interview Waiver Policy for Certain F, M, and academic J visa applicants


At the same time, the Secretary of State has extended a previously approved policy designed to waive the in-person interview requirement for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants) through the end of 2022.

To be eligible for the interview waiver as citizens or nationals of a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program, applicants must (1) have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA and (2) must apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.

Additionally, just like the policy applied to certain non-immigrant workers, Consular officers will also have the discretion to waive the visa interview requirement for:

  • F, M, and academic J visa applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and that have not had any visa refusal or ineligibility issues in the past OR
  • first-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants that are (1) citizens or nationals of a country that participates in VWP and (2) that have previously traveled to the United States via an ESTA authorization, and that have not had any visa ineligibility issues in the past

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We have very exciting news regarding the Biden administration’s plans to rescind the Covid-19 related travel bans that have suspended and restricted entry into the United States, of immigrants and nonimmigrants, physically present within the Schengen Area, Brazil, China, India, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Iran since 2020.

On October 15, 2021, the White House announced that the United States will allow international travelers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter the United States by land or air starting November 8, 2021.

This decision will lift the ban for vaccinated visitors from the affected regions.

On Friday October 15, 2021, a White House Official stated that the “CDC has already informed airlines that all FDA approved and authorized vaccines, as well as all vaccines that have an Emergency Use Listing (EUL) from the World Health Organization (WHO) will be accepted for air travel. We anticipate the same will be true at the land border. These travelers are required to be prepared to attest to vaccination status and to present proof of vaccination to a CBP officer upon request. By January, foreign nationals traveling across the land border for both essential and non-essential reasons will be required to be fully vaccinated.”

While the White House is still ironing out the complete details of the new policy including what exemptions the Biden administrations will grant to the vaccine requirements, we know that only generally applicants who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to enter.

The CDC considers an individual to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19:

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines currently approved or authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, while COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use by the World Health Organization include AstraZeneca/Oxford, Covishield, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.

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In today’s blog post, we are happy to bring our readers some very exciting news.

On April 26, 2021, the Department of State formally announced a new National Interest Determination for certain categories of nonimmigrant visa applicants currently unable to enter the United States due to COVID-19 related Regional Presidential Proclamations issued earlier this year. This new determination will allow certain travelers to obtain their visas and enter the United States, despite the issuance of COVID-19 related Regional Presidential Proclamations, known as Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992, and 10143.

These Proclamations were issued early last year to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 to the United States, specifically from China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

Such Proclamations had the effect of restricting and suspending the entry into the United States, of both immigrants and nonimmigrants, who were physically present within the Schengen Area, Brazil, China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Iran, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. Few categories of individuals were exempted from these Presidential Proclamations, including lawful permanent residents of the United States (green card holders), spouses of U.S. Citizens or lawful permanent residents, and others who were similarly exempted.

Individuals who have not been specifically exempted from the Regional Proclamations and have remained physically present in the impacted regions, have been unable to proceed with visa processing. Consulates worldwide have refused to grant visas to these individuals due to the enforcement of the Proclamations.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We kick off the start of a brand-new week with some important immigration updates.


USCIS Expands Premium Processing Service to E-3 Petitioners


We are happy to report that beginning February 24, 2021, petitioners filing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, who are requesting a change or extension of status to E-3 classification, will be able to take advantage of premium processing service to expedite processing of their petition. The filing fee for premium processing service for E-3 petitions is $2,500.

What is premium processing?

Premium processing provides expedited processing for Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker and I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. The main benefit of this service is a guaranteed 15-calendar day processing time for all those who take advantage of it.

When does the 15-calendar period begin?

The 15-calendar day period begins when USCIS properly receives the current version of Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, at the correct filing address noted on the form.

Once the I-907 is received, USCIS either issues an approval notice, denial notice, notice of intent to deny, or request for evidence within the 15-calendar day period.

Is premium processing available for other petitions?

At the moment premium processing service is only available for I-129 and I-140 petitions. However, H.R. 8337 proposed expanding premium processing service to other types of applications in the future including applications to change or extend nonimmigrant status, applications for employment authorization, and other types of benefit requests.


USCIS Introduces Flexibilities for Certain Students Filing Form I-765 for OPT


We are happy to report that on February 26, 2021, USCIS announced new flexibility policies for certain foreign students who have not received receipt notices for Form I-765 petitions for OPT as a result of USCIS delays.

USCIS has stated that the agency has been experiencing delays at certain lockboxes and has not been able to issue receipt notices for certain Form I-765 applications for optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 students in a timely manner.

As a result, USCIS will provide the following flexibilities to assist certain applicants for OPT who have been impacted by the delays.

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The H-1B cap season for FY 2022 is almost upon us!

USCIS has announced that the H-1B initial registration period for the FY 2022 cap is scheduled to open at noon ET on March 9, 2021 and will remain open until noon ET on March 25, 2021.

As our readers are aware, USCIS recently implemented a new mandatory H-1B electronic registration system for the H-1B cap.

Under this new electronic registration process, prospective petitioners (also known as registrants), and their authorized representatives, who are seeking authorization to employ H-1B workers subject to the cap, must complete an electronic registration process on the USCIS website that requires basic information about the prospective petitioner and each requested worker.

The H-1B selection process will then be run on properly submitted electronic registrations. Only those with selected registrations will be eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions.

That means that in order to have a chance of being selected, from now on all prospective petitioners and their authorized representatives seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2021, including for beneficiaries eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must first register during the registration period (March 9, 2021 to March 25, 2021) and pay the associated $10 registration fee for each beneficiary.

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In this blog post we share with our readers several new developments in immigration relating to COVID-19.

At a Glance: What’s in This Blog?

  • DOS Announces One-Month Extension for Immigrant Visa Medical Examinations
  • Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services
  • DOS Releases SEVP Online Course Guidance for F and M Students for Fall 2020
  • When will the Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry for the Schengen Countries be Lifted?
  • Are there any National Interest Exceptions for Certain Travelers from the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland?
  • Are there any National Interest Exceptions to Presidential Proclamations (10014 & 10052) Suspending the Entry of Immigrants and Nonimmigrants Presenting a Risk to the United States Labor Market?

DOS Announces One-Month Extension for Immigrant Visa Medical Examinations


We are pleased to report that on July 24, 2020, the Department of State issued an important announcement confirming that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved a one-month extension for medical examinations conducted between January 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020. As many of you know, medical examinations for immigrant visa applicants are valid for a maximum of six months.

The Department of State has advised applicants (1) who were unable to travel on an issued visa, or (2) who obtained a medical examination but did not receive a visa, to contact the Immigrant Visa Unit of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that issued or is adjudicating your visa application to determine whether you may be issued or reissued a visa for one additional month. Applicants who are unable to travel within one additional month, should consider waiting until they are able to travel to obtain a new, full validity medical examination and visa.


Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services

In March 2020 the Department of State suspended routine visa services worldwide in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. On July 14, 2020 the Department of State released information on its webpage notifying the public that resumption of routine visa services will occur on a post-by post basis, in coordination with the Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework to safely return personnel to Department facilities. With that being said, the Department of State cannot provide a specific date for when each Consular post will return to processing at pre-Covid workload levels. Applicants are advised to monitor each individual U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website for information regarding operating status, and updates on which services they are currently offering.

As always, U.S. Embassies and Consulates will continue to provide emergency and critical visa services.

The DOS has also stated that MRV fees are valid and may be used to schedule a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.

  • For more information about this announcement and FAQs please click here.
  • For a list of Embassies and Consular webpages click here.

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