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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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The long-awaited Executive Order temporarily suspending the immigration of certain aliens into the United States has been released.


WHO IS IMPACTED BY THE EXECUTIVE ORDER?


The order entitled, “Proclamation Suspending the Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak,” suspends and limits the entry of the following types of aliens (for a 60-day period) beginning 11:59 p.m. eastern daylight time on April 23, 2020.


Your entry is suspended and limited if all of the following are true:

THREE PART TEST


  • You are an alien outside of the United States on the effective date of the Proclamation (April 23rd)
  • You are an alien that does not have an immigrant visa that is valid on the effective date of the Proclamation (April 23rd) and
  • You are an alien that does not have an official travel document other than a visa on the effective date of the proclamation (April 23rd) or issued on any date thereafter that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission
    • Official travel documents include a transportation letter, an appropriate boarding foil, or advance parole document.

ENFORCEMENT


This Proclamation shall be enforced by U.S. Consulates worldwide at their discretion giving them the power to determine whether an immigrant has established his or her eligibility and is otherwise exempted from the Proclamation. The Department of State will implement the proclamation as it applies to immigrant visas, at the discretion of the Secretary of State in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The Department of State governs the immigration process outside of the United States, while the Department of Homeland Security governs the immigration process within the United States and guides the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


WHO IS EXEMPT FROM THE EXECUTIVE ORDER?


The order expressly exempts:

  • Lawful Permanent Residents of the U.S.
  • Aliens who are the spouses of U.S. Citizens
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and any spouse and child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Aliens under 21 years of age who are children of United States Citizens and prospective adoptees
  • Aliens seeking to enter the U.S. on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional
  • Aliens seeking to enter the U.S. to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19
  • Any spouse any unmarried child under 21 years of age of any such alien who is accompanying or following to join the alien
  • Any alien applying for a visa pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program
  • Aliens whose entry furthers important United States law enforcement objectives
  • Any alien seeking entry pursuant to a Special Immigrant Visa in the SI or SQ classification, and any spouse and child of any such individual
    • SI: Certain aliens employed by the U.S. Government in Iraq or Afghanistan as translators or interpreters
    • SQ: Certain Iraqis or Afghans employed by or on behalf of the U.S. Government
  • Any alien whose entry would be in the national interest of the United States (national interest waivers)
  • Aliens seeking entry for asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

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For many small businesses struggling to survive in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, receiving a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan was the only option to stay afloat.

Unfortunately, the $350 billion in aid set aside by the CARES Act has run out. While it is believed that Congress will approve a second round of appropriations to fund the Paycheck Protection Program throughout the pandemic, there is no guarantee that this will occur.


What will happen to those who applied for a loan but did not receive any funds before the money ran out?


Those who submitted a PPP application through their lenders still have a good chance of getting funded as financial institutions continue to process loan applications that were submitted. Many lenders have not gotten around to notifying borrowers that they have been approved and will be funded. Borrowers should contact their lenders to follow up with the process.

Furthermore, according to recent information provided to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) by SBA expert Chris Chan, small business owners should keep the following things in mind when considering their next steps:

  • Businesses that applied up until a few days ago still have a real shot at hearing good news from their banks. Those that have already been approved by their bank should all get money within the 10 days required by law.
  • If the loan has an SBA number attached to it, that means it made it through the initial phase of processing and will likely be part of the loan amount that’s been approved. It doesn’t mean the loan could not be denied for other reasons, but there is hope in this scenario.
  • Other loans submitted under PPP may be declined, which would free up cash under the $349 billion for other loans in the queue to be processed.
  • There is bipartisan support of adding an additional $250 to $300 billion to the program in CARES Act 2. Congress is hung up over other provisions and adaptations that they want in the program, but there was news coverage this weekend that indicated they are close to an agreement.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we cover the latest immigration news of the week.

USCIS Launches Online Form to Report Fraud

On March 3rd USCIS announced the launch of a new online form available on the USCIS website that can be used to report suspected immigration fraud and abuse including asylum/refugee fraud, religious worker visa fraud, employment-based visa fraud, investor visa fraud (EB-5 program), student visa fraud, marriage or fiancé visa fraud, unauthorized practice of law (notarios), and other types of immigration fraud.

This “USCIS tip form” provides space for the form user to describe alleged fraud or abuse in detail. According to USCIS, the tip form was created to make the tip process more effective and efficient, so that the agency can better collect information and make an assessment regarding the credibility of tips sent to the agency.

Previously fraud reporting was done by email, making it difficult for USCIS to respond and investigate tips.

This new online system for reporting fraud represents the Trump administration’s commitment to crack down and prevent various forms of visa fraud.

Over the years, the Trump administration has signed various directives and executive orders such as “Buy American, Hire American” aimed at rooting out fraudulent H1B, asylum/refugee, and EB-5 investor visas. The Trump administration has also worked to limit or slow down the issuance of these visas by issuing aggressive requests for evidence in the case of H1B visas and increasing the minimum investment amount for EB-5 investors.

Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry of Certain Immigrants and Nonimmigrants who Pose a Risk of Transmitting the Coronavirus

On February 3rd the Department of State issued an important announcement reminding travelers of a Presidential proclamation signed on January 31st barring entry to the United States of immigrants or nonimmigrants who traveled to China within the 14 days immediately prior to arrival in the United States.

The proclamation went into effect on Sunday, February 2.

Travelers should note that the proclamation does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States.  Foreign diplomats traveling to the United States on A or G visas are excepted from this proclamation.  Other exceptions include certain family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, including spouses, children (under the age of 21), parents (provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21), and siblings (provided that both the sibling and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21).  There is also an exception for crew traveling to the United States on C, D or C1/D visas.

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As we approach the end of the year, in this blog post, we look back at the major policy changes implemented by the Trump administration in the year 2019 that have had a profound impact on the way our immigration system functions today.

JANUARY 

Government Shutdown Woes

The start of 2019 began on a very somber note. From December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 Americans experienced the longest government shutdown in American history (lasting a period fo 35 days) largely due to political differences between the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of government funding to build a border wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The government shutdown created a massive backlog for non-detained persons expecting to attend hearings in immigration court. Because of limited availability of federal workers, non-detained persons experienced postponements and were required to wait an indeterminate amount of time for those hearings to be re-scheduled.

To sway public opinion, 17 days into the government shutdown, the President delivered his first primetime address from the Oval office where he called on Democrats to pass a spending bill that would provide $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including the President’s border wall.

With no agreement in sight, on January 19, 2019, the President sought to appease Democrats by offering them a compromise solution. In exchange for funding his border wall and border security, the President announced a plan that would extend temporary protected status of TPS recipients for a three-year period and provide legislative relief to DACA recipients for a three-year period. The President’s proposal however did not provide a pathway to residency for Dreamers, and was quickly rejected by Democrats.

On January 25, 2019, with still no solution and pressure mounting, the President relented and passed a temporary bill reopening the government until February 15, 2019.

Meanwhile, immigration courts across the country were forced to postpone hundreds of immigration hearings, with Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky being the most deeply affected by the shutdown.

Changes to the H1B Visa Program

On January 30, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security announced proposed changes to the H-1B visa program including a mandatory electronic registration requirement for H1B petitioners filing cap-subject petitions beginning fiscal year 2020, and a reversal in the selection process for cap-subject petitions. The government outlined that it would first select H-1B registrations submitted on behalf of all H-1B beneficiaries (including regular cap and advanced degree exemption) and then if necessary select the remaining number of petitions from registrations filed for the advanced degree exemption. Moreover, only those registrations selected during fiscal year 2020 and on, would be eligible to file a paper H1B cap petition.

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In this blog post we highlight the best features of E-2 Treaty Investor Visa program, for individuals seeking to live and work in the United States for a temporary period of time.

First let’s discuss what the E-2 visa is. The E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa type, which means that it is a temporary visa option for individuals who do not wish to immigrate to the United States, but rather are interested in remaining in the United States for a limited period of time.

Secondly, the E-2 visa is a treaty investor visa. This means that in order to qualify for this visa type you must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation. This visa type allows a national of a treaty country to apply for admission to the United States under the E-2 visa category for the purpose of investing a substantial amount of capital in a United States business.

Currently, 89 countries maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. Israel and New Zealand are the most recent countries to enter into a treaty commerce and navigation with the United States, allowing nationals of these countries to participate in the E-2 visa program. For a complete list of the countries with which the U.S. maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, please click here.

The most frequently asked question when it comes to the E-2 visa is, how much money must I invest in order to qualify for this visa type?

The amount of money that must be invested depends on the nature of the business’ operations. USCIS defines the amount of capital to be invested as “a substantial amount of capital” interpreted as:

  • Substantial in relationship to the total cost of either purchasing an established enterprise or establishing a new one
  • Sufficient to ensure the treaty investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise
  • Of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the treaty investor will successfully develop and direct the enterprise.  The lower the cost of the enterprise, the higher, proportionately, the investment must be to be considered substantial.

Thirdly, to qualify for the E-2 visa the investment must be in a bona fide business enterprise that is real, active, and operating and is producing either services or goods for profit. Passive investments are not allowed.

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House Passes CR Bill to Fund EB-5 through November 21st 

Great news! On September 19, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4378, a continuing resolution bill that will fund the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program through November 21, 2019.

H.R. 4378 has now passed on to the Senate where it will be considered and voted on. The bill is expected to clear the Senate and be signed into law by the President prior to September 30, 2019, the fiscal year deadline.

If the Senate is unable to pass the bill by that date, a government shutdown will likely occur until Congress is able to pass the continuing resolution bill to keep the government open and federal programs afloat.

Performance Data Form I-829 and Form I-526

Just days before the House passed H.R. 4378, USCIS published its third quarterly report for FY 2019 providing insight on performance data for petitions filed by entrepreneurs to remove conditions (Form I-829) and performance data for Immigrant Petitions filed by Alien Entrepreneurs (Form I-526).

What does the Quarterly Report reveal?

  • First off, USCIS is approving dramatically fewer I-526 than ever before:
    • Completion rates for I-526 have fallen 63%, comparing FY2019 with FY2018 year-to-date.
    • In FY2019 Q3, USCIS processed fewer I-526 than ever before in its history – only 579 completions for the whole quarter, as compared with 3,000-4,400 completions per quarter last year.
    • In FY2019 Q3, a record number of I-526 decisions were denials — 42%. The average I-526 denial rate is 20% in FY2019 YTD, as compared with 9% in FY2018 YTD.
  • Secondly, USCIS is processing dramatically fewer forms in total than ever before:
    • Completion rates across EB-5 forms (I-526, I-829, I-924) have collectively fallen 59%, comparing FY2019 with FY2018 year-to-date.
    • In FY2019 Q3, IPO processed more I-829 than in the previous quarter, but still a low volume – lower than average 2017/2018 performance for I-829.
  • Overall this data reflects reduced performance combined with backlogs causing extremely long processing times (The Current Processing Times report indicates that an I-924 is only considered “outside normal” processing after 90 months)

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The Trump administration is bringing about more changes to the world of immigration, this time targeting the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

USCIS has just announced that it is planning to revise regulations governing the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.

Tomorrow, the agency will be publishing a final rule in the federal register outlining these changes. The final rule becomes effective on November 21, 2019.

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New Zealand Now Eligible to Apply for E-1 and E-2 Investor Visas

Beginning June 10, 2019, New Zealand nationals can apply for the E visa categories thanks to the President’s enactment of the Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors (KIWI) Act. Applicants who are already in the United States on a valid non-immigrant visa may now apply for a change of status to an E visa.

The E visa does not provide a direct path to permanent residency, but it is a great option for individuals who wish to live and work in the United States with their families for a temporary period of time. There is no set limit on the maximum amount of time an individual may remain on the E visa, but applicants must intend to depart at the end of their period of authorized stay in the United States.

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We are pleased to announce very exciting news for our Israeli clients. The U.S. Embassy in Israel has announced the implementation of the U.S. E-2 Investor Visa Program for Israeli nationals, beginning May 1st.

Our Israeli clients have been waiting for this opportunity for years and we are very happy to tell you that you will now have the opportunity to apply for the E-2 visa as an Israeli national, beginning May 1st.

The E-2 investor visa is a non-immigrant temporary visa that allows foreign nationals from participating countries to invest in the creation of a new business, or in an existing business. The E-2 visa applicant can apply for the E-2 visa to develop, direct, or provide their specialized skills to the company they are investing in.

To qualify for a Treaty Investor (E-2) visa:  

  • The investment must be substantial and sufficient to ensure the successful operation of the enterprise;
  • The business must be a real operating enterprise;
  • The investor must be traveling to the U.S. to develop and direct the enterprise;
  • If the applicant is not the investor, he or she must be employed in a supervisory, executive, or highly specialized skill capacity.

Requirements

  • The investor, either a person, partnership or corporate entity, must be a citizen of a treaty trade/investment country, and be involved in international trade.
  • If the investor is a company, at least 50% of the owners in the qualifying company must maintain the nationality of a treaty trader country if they are not lawful permanent residents of the U.S. If these owners are in the U.S., they must be in E-1 or E-2 status.
  • The investment funds and the applicant must come from the same Treaty Country.
  • The business in which investment is being made must provide job opportunities or make a significant economic impact tin the United States. The business should not be established solely for the purpose of earning a living for the applicant and his or her family.

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