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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post we bring you the latest immigration updates.


Naturalization Ceremonies

Great news for naturalization applicants waiting for an oath ceremony. On July 1, 2020, USCIS issued an announcement notifying the public that it anticipates that it will complete nearly all postponed administrative naturalization ceremonies by the end of July of 2020.

USCIS has been prioritizing the scheduling of oath ceremonies for all naturalization applicants who were approved following their interviews. As we previously reported, USCIS is also exploring options to bypass the formal oath ceremony process in the future, and administer the oath immediately following a successful naturalization applicant’s interview. This will help move cases along quickly during the pandemic and limit further exposure.

USCIS remains committed to being as flexible as possible to welcome new citizens to the United States as fast as possible. We are glad that in the very least, naturalization applicants are being accommodated by the agency during this difficult time.

If you have not yet received your naturalization oath ceremony notice, you should be receiving one very soon. As always, we recommend calling USCIS to expedite the process.


Calls to Extend TPS for Yemen and Somalia due to COVID-19

Dozens of organizations are calling on the government to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for at least 180 days to all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter was issued in early April by interested organizations urging USCIS and DHS to automatically extend work authorization and TPS for all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders, or at the very least extend the re-registration period for TPS holders from Somalia and Yemen for a total of 180 days.

The letter emphasizes the importance of granting relief for Yemeni and Somalia TPS holders stating, “While states across the country are rightfully taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these measures and the subsequent loss of income and freedom of movement establish insurmountable barriers for TPS holders to renew their status before the rapidly approaching re-registration deadline. TPS holders should not have to choose between missing a deadline and violating health directives that keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”

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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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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post we will discuss a few recent updates released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


UPDATE: USCIS Extends Flexibility Policy for RFEs, NOIDs, I-290bs, and more


Due to the ongoing circumstances relating to COVID-19, USCIS will continue to provide flexibility in responding to certain deadline-oriented requests, provided the notice or decision requesting the additional evidence was issued between March 1st and July 1st.


What types of documents will USCIS provide flexibility for?


Flexibility will be provided for the following:

  • Requests for Evidence
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14)
  • Notices of Intent to Deny
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind and Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers and
  • Filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion

To reiterate, flexibility will only be granted for notices or decisions with an issuance date between March 1st and July 1st. Notices issued before March 1st or after July 1st will not receive this leniency.


When can I respond to my notice or decision?


USCIS will accept responses to any of the above notices or decisions if they are received within 60 calendar days after the response deadline set in the initial request or notice.

This will provide relief to individuals who need more time to acquire necessary documents requested by USCIS from offices and agencies that are currently closed due to COVID-19.


Military Personnel and Veterans Eligible to File Form N-400 Online


USCIS recently announced that U.S. service members and veterans can now apply for naturalization on Form N-400 online.

This is an exciting new development because these applicants will not only be able to file their application and documents electronically, they can also check the status of their case and receive notices from USCIS online. In addition, USCIS will be using previously submitted biometrics where available. Where biometrics are not available, a U.S. service member stationed outside the U.S., can submit two properly completed FD-258 fingerprint cards and two passport style photos taken by the military police, officials with DHS, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Please note that aliens currently serving or who have served in the armed forces may be eligible for naturalization under special provisions of immigration law. These individuals would have their application fee waived.

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In this blog post we discuss the highlights of the newly updated Policy Manual guidance released by USCIS which addresses the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule. The Final Rule and guidance is effective as of February 24, 2020 and applies to all applications and petitions postmarked on or after February 24, 2020 (except for in the State of Illinois where the Final Rule remains enjoined by court order).

These highlights are broken down by volume. Volume 2 addresses public charge grounds of inadmissibility for non-immigrants, Volume 8 discusses the public charge ground of inadmissibility in great detail, and Volume 12 discusses how the public charge rule may apply to citizenship and naturalization applications postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

Highlights:

Non-Immigrants Seeking Extension of Stay or Change of Status (Volume 2 Chapter 4)

This section of the policy guidance clarifies that although the public charge ground of inadmissibility does not apply to nonimmigrants seeking either an extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) on Forms I-129 or Form I-539, these applicants are generally subject to the “public benefits condition,” unless specifically exempted by law.

What is the public benefits condition?

According to the policy manual, “the public benefits condition requires an applicant seeking EOS or COS on or after February 24, 2020 (postmarked or if applicable, submitted electronically on or after that date) to demonstrate that he or she has not received, since obtaining the nonimmigrant status he or she is seeking to extend or from which he or she seeks to change, one or more public benefits, or more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (where, for instance, receipt of two public benefits in 1 month counts as 2 months).

USCIS only considers public benefits received on or after February 24, 2020 for petitions or applications postmarked (or, if applicable, submitted electronically) on or after that date.”

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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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Last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its policy manual to clarify acts that may prevent a naturalization applicant from meeting the good moral character requirement.

A successful naturalization applicant must show that they have been, and continue to be a person of good moral character during the statutory period prior to filing the application for naturalization and up until taking the Oath of Allegiance. The statutory period is generally give years for permanent residents of the United States, three years for applicants married to U.S. citizens, and one year for certain applicants applying on the basis of qualifying U.S. military service.

Two or more DUI Convictions

Firstly, the policy manual clarifies that two or more DUI convictions during the statutory period could affect an applicant’s good moral character determination (Matter of Castillo-Perez). However, applicants with two or more DUI convictions may be able to overcome this presumption by presenting evidence that they had good moral character even during the period within which they committed the DUI offenses.

DUI refers to all state and federal impaired-driving offenses, including driving while intoxicated, operating under the influence, and other offenses that make it unlawful for an individual to operate a motor vehicle while impaired.

Post-Sentencing Orders

Secondly, the policy manual clarifies the definition of “term of imprisonment or a sentence” to mean, an alien’s original criminal sentence, without regard to post-sentencing changes. Post-sentencing orders that change a criminal alien’s original sentence are only relevant for immigration purposes if they are based on a procedural or substantive defect in the underlying criminal proceeding.

Furthermore, the policy guidance provides the following as examples of unlawful acts recognized by case law as barring good mood character (this list is not exhaustive):

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New changes are coming to the naturalization examination beginning in December of 2020 to early 2021.

We have learned that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been busy revising the current naturalization test to ensure that the test accurately reflects an applicant’s knowledge of civics and United States history.

Back in December of 2018 a group was formed with the task of updating the test questions that appear on the naturalization exam, as well as implementing changes to the speaking portion of the examination. Prior to its implementation, USCIS will be testing the revision via a pilot program.

Section 312 of the INA requires naturalization applicants to pass an English and civics examination as part of the naturalization process. As part of this examination, applicants must demonstrate “…an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language…” and “…knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States…”

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Today, June 17, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced a new strategy aimed at reducing the processing times for applications for naturalization and adjustment of status. This new strategy will attempt to equalize the processing times for citizenship and adjustment applicants who live in a jurisdiction that has been burdened by higher than normal demand.

USCIS has issued a press release indicating that during fiscal years 2016 and 2017 the agency received a higher than expected volume of applications. Unfortunately, the increase in applications received throughout this period has burdened some field offices more than others, resulting in the disparities we are seeing in processing times across field offices.

To decrease the processing times in hard hit regions, USCIS will now be shifting citizenship and adjustment of status cases between different field offices to better distribute the workload and increase efficiency. This strategy should result in a decrease in processing times in regions that were previously experiencing higher than normal processing times.

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USCIS has issued new policy guidance clarifying good moral character requirements for naturalization.

Naturalization applicants should be aware that a violation of a federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, remains a conditional bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization purposes, even where that conduct would not be found to be an offense under state law.

Although some states have enacted laws which decriminalize the cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana, under federal law such actions are unlawful and may lead to serious immigration consequences. For naturalization purposes, as previously stated such an offense is a conditional bar for applicants wishing to apply for naturalization.

An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may be found to lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.

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