Articles Posted in Naturalization

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USCIS Updates Policy Manual Clarifying Physical Presence Requirement for Asylees and Refugees


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently updated its Policy Manual to clarify that BOTH asylees and refugees must have been physically present in the United States for one year at the time the Immigration Officer adjudicates their Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, rather than at the time the individual files their adjustment of status application.

This policy is effective immediately and applies to all Form I-485 Applications to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status and Form N-400, Applications for Naturalization, that are pending on February 2, 2023, and applications filed on or after that date.


What does this mean?


This means that in order to be eligible for adjustment of status (a green card), an asylee or refugee must have been physically present in the United States for at least 1 year after either being granted asylum status or admitted as a refugee.

Additionally, the policy manual:

  • Provides that asylees and refugees are required to accrue 1 year of physical presence by the time of adjudication of the adjustment of status application, rather than by the time they file the application (and that USCIS may request additional information to determine such physical presence in the United States).
  • Clarifies that asylee and refugee adjustment applicants who have held the immigration status of exchange visitor (J-1 or J-2 nonimmigrants) and who are subject to the 2-year foreign residence requirement under INA 212(e) are not required to comply with or obtain a waiver of such requirement in order to adjust status under INA 209.
  • Makes technical updates, including clarifying processing steps for refugees seeking waivers of inadmissibility and removing references to the obsolete Decision on Application for Status as Permanent Resident (Form I-291).
  • Provides that USCIS considers a refugee or asylee who adjusted status to a permanent resident despite filing for adjustment before accruing 1 year of physical presence to have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence for purposes of naturalization if the applicant satisfied the physical presence requirement at the time of approval of the adjustment of status application.

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Welcpuzzle-g75f3e575f_1920ome back to Visalawyerblog! We hope you had a wonderful holiday break and wish you a prosperous new year ahead.

We kick off the new year with some important updates in the world of immigration.

Today, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officially announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will be posted in the Federal Register tomorrow Wednesday, January 4, 2023 that will increase filing fees for certain types of immigration benefits. An unpublished version is already available in the Federal Register.

A 60-day public comment period will follow the publication of the NPRM on January 4, 2023 and will close on March 5, 2023.

Fees will not change until the final rule goes into effect, and only after the public has had the opportunity to comment and USCIS finalizes the fee schedule in response to such public comments. USCIS will host a public engagement session on the proposed fee rule on January 11, 2023.

According to USCIS, the proposed fee increases are necessary to ensure that the agency will have enough resources to provide adequate services to applicants and petitioners moving forward. The agency has said that after having conducted a review of current fees, it has determined that it cannot cover the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services without a fee increase.

The agency cited the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the factors leading the agency to increase its fees. As you may recall, the pandemic caused a dramatic reduction in the filing of new applications, leaving USCIS with a substantial decrease in revenues of 40 percent. This unfortunate drop in applications led USCIS to reduce its workforce accordingly.

With current resources, the agency has said it is incapable of adjudicating applications in a timely manner, when considering that agency caseloads are now returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Among the new proposals included in the NPRM are measures that:

  • Incorporate biometrics costs into the main benefit fee and remove the separate biometric services fee
  • Require separate filing fees for Form I-485 and associated Form I-131 and Form I-765 filings
  • Establish separate fees for Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, by nonimmigrant classification.
  • Revise the premium processing timeframe interpretation from 15 calendar days to 15 business days
  • Create lower fees for certain immigration forms filed online.

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If you are considering applying for U.S. Citizenship in the new year, you may be interested to learn that yesterday December 15, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), published a notice in the Federal Register announcing that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to conduct trial testing of a newly redesigned naturalization examination for N-400 naturalization applicants in the year 2023.

The main purpose of the trial is to test an updated format of the civics component that evaluates an applicant’s knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history, as well as introduce a brand-new English-speaking component that may become the new standard of the N-400 examination.


Why the change?


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has implemented this change in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14012, Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans, which includes a directive to review the naturalization process. To align with the goals of this Executive Order, USCIS has called for a review of the naturalization examination and recommended redesigning the speaking and civics test to improve testing standards.


How will the trial testing occur?


USCIS has said that the trial will be rolled out with the assistance of nationwide volunteer community-based organizations known as CBOs working with immigrant English language learners and lawful permanent residents preparing for naturalization. USCIS will seek approximately 1,500 individuals enrolled in adult education classes to take the trial test. The agency may use the results of the trial to support its proposed changes to the naturalization test.

The trial will test both the standardized English-speaking test as part of the requirement to demonstrate an understanding of the English language, and the civics examination with updated content and format. The trial testing will not include the reading or writing portions of the naturalization examination.

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We start off the week with some exciting news for naturalization applicants filing N-400, Application for Naturalization.

On December 9, 2022, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced new updates to its policy guidance including a new procedure that will allow USCIS to automatically extend the validity of a Permanent Resident Card for a period of 24-months, through the issuance of an N-400 Application for Naturalization, receipt notice. This means that generally Permanent Residents with a pending N-400 Application, will no longer need to file Form I-90 to renew their green cards.

This policy is effective as of today, Monday, December 12, 2022, and applies to all applications filed on or after December 12, 2022.

Lawful permanent residents who filed for N-400 naturalization PRIOR to December 12, 2022, will NOT receive an N-400 receipt notice with the 24-month extension, and will be required to file Form I-90 if their green card expires, or request an appointment to receive an ADIT stamp in their passport to maintain valid evidence of their status as required under the law.


What You Need to Know


Previously, naturalization applicants who did not apply for naturalization at least six months before the expiration date on their green cards needed to file Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, (green card) to maintain proper documentation of their lawful status.

Applicants who applied for naturalization at least six months prior to their green card expiration were eligible to request an appointment to receive an Alien Documentation, Identification, and Telecommunications (ADIT) stamp in their passport, which served as temporary evidence of their LPR status.

This policy is no more.

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USCIS backlogs have become a nightmare for many during the last few years. But now the government is holding the agency accountable for its inadequacies. As part of the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2022, USCIS was required to inform the government regarding how exactly it is planning to ramp up processing of applications in Fiscal Year 2022.

In the Continuing Appropriations Act, Congress has pledged to provide $250 million to USCIS to support application processing. Part of this money must be utilized by the agency to help reduce application processing backlogs at USCIS field offices and service centers nationwide.

For its part, USCIS informed the government that the total number of cases backlogged at the agency as of September 2021 was a whopping 4.4 million cases.

The agency has said that it hopes to focus on backlog reduction for the following types of forms that account for more than half (61%) of its total backlog. These include I-485 adjustment of status applications, I-765 applications for employment authorization, and N-400 applications for citizenship.

USCIS did not provide information regarding reduction of possible backlogs for I-539 change/extension of status applications, which is a big dilemma for those trying to extend their H-4, L-2, and E-2 Dependents visas. These individuals are a high-risk group experiencing employment interruptions as they await the renewal of their nonimmigrant status.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! It is the start of a brand-new week, and we are excited to bring you the latest updates in immigration news.


Biden Administration Launches Nationwide Initiative to Promote Citizenship


On July 2, 2021, the Biden administration and the Department of Homeland Security announced a joint nationwide initiative to encourage long time permanent residents to take the plunge and become U.S. Citizens. The President’s campaign known as the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization, aims to promote naturalization to all who are eligible, consistent with President Biden’s February 2nd Executive Order 14012 “Restoring Faith in our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.”

Through joint efforts, USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Biden administration will work together to empower permanent residents to pursue their citizenship opportunities, by leading community outreach efforts to the more than 9 million estimated green card holders living in the United States.

The Naturalization Working Group (NWG) is the agency that will be primarily responsible for implementing this initiative. The NWG will be tasked with developing strategies to promote naturalization through citizenship education and awareness by establishing partnerships with the local community. The Group maintains the following goals and outcomes to bring the President’s agenda to fruition:

  • Raising awareness of the importance of citizenship
  • Promoting civic integration and inclusion
  • Providing immigrants with opportunities and tools to become fully engaged citizens
  • Building community capacity to prepare immigrants for citizenship
  • Eliminating sources of fear and other barriers that prevent individuals from accessing available naturalization service and
  • Advancing and ensuring equity through the citizenship and naturalization processes, including on the basis of race, disability, language access, national origin, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, providing support to traditionally underserved communities

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we are breaking down Biden’s new immigration reform proposal which was recently introduced before Congress. The new proposal, also known as the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, is groundbreaking because it creates an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States on or before January 1, 2021.

While this piece of legislation is still just a bill, it is opening the door for further dialogue from members of Congress and provides a unique window into what a final bill on immigration reform might look like.


How exactly does one “earn” their citizenship with this bill?


Undocumented immigrants who came to the United States on or before January 1, 2021, who can prove that they do not have a criminal record, and are not otherwise ineligible, would be eligible to secure something called “lawful prospective immigrant status” or “LPI” under this new bill.

Essentially, “LPI” would be a provisional temporary type of status that would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States lawfully for a six-year period of time. This provisional status would act as a “gateway” to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for permanent residence and citizenship in the future.

Under the bill, eligible applicants would be granted “LPI” status for a 6-year period, and within that period of provisional status, immigrants would then be eligible to apply for permanent residence after 5 years. After 3 years of being in green card status, such immigrants would then be eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship.

All applicants would be required to pass background checks and pay taxes under the law.


Would LPI immigrants be able to travel in and out of the country?


Yes. LPI immigrants would be eligible to receive employment authorization and advance parole that would allow them to work and travel in and out of the country.

Additionally, LPI immigrants would be protected from deportation while their applications for LPI would be pending with immigration.


Are there special provisions for DACA recipients, TPS eligible immigrants, and farm workers?


Yes. Under the bill, those with DACA, individuals eligible for TPS, and farm workers with a demonstrated work history would be exempted from the “LPI” provisional status and would be permitted to apply for permanent residence directly without having to wait 5 years to apply for permanent residence, through an expedited “fast track” type of processing.

All others, however, would need to first obtain LPI status and then after 5 years apply for a green card.

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It’s been an exciting week in the world of immigration. As we had been expecting, on Tuesday President Biden signed a fresh batch of executive orders directly impacting our immigration system.

These include (1) Executive Order on, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,” (2) Executive Order entitled, “Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border,” and (3) Executive Order on, “the Establishment of Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families.

In this blog post, we will discuss the major provisions of the Executive Order entitled, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion for New Americans,” and what this order means for you.

*Please note we will discuss the other two orders in separate upcoming blog posts.


EO – Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration System and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion for New Americans


First, we will discuss the President’s initiative to create a new task force that will promote integration and inclusion of foreign born immigrants, dismantle harmful policies arising from the public charge ground of inadmissibility, promote naturalization, and initiative to revoke former President Trump’s memorandum on enforcing the legal responsibilities of sponsors of aliens.

Task Force on New Americans

This executive order was created in order to promote integration and inclusion for immigrant communities including asylees and refugees. In line with this new executive order, the President has ordered his cabinet agencies to coordinate their efforts to pass policies that both welcome and support immigrants to the United States. To that end, the government will convene a Task Force on New Americans to positively impact local immigrant communities.

As discussed in section 3 of the order, the Department of State, the Attorney General, and the Department of Homeland Security will review and revise any existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and agency actions to ensure that they conform with the President’s agenda to welcome and support vulnerable immigrants. As part of this process, the government will be dismantling barriers that make it difficult to receive immigration benefits, including actions taken by the previous administration that do not promote fair access to the legal immigration system – such as potentially rescinding USCIS fee increases, and other such areas of concern.

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On November 13, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced important revisions to the civics examination component of the naturalization test.

Unfortunately, these changes will make it more difficult for at least some immigrants to successfully become U.S. Citizens.

As you may be aware the naturalization test consists of two components. The first is English proficiency – applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency as determined by their ability to read, write, speak and understand English. The second requirement is the civics examination – an oral examination requiring applicants to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government.

As part of the civics examination a USCIS Officer asks the applicant up to 10 of 100 possible civics questions. To successfully pass the examination applicants are required to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.

With the new revisions applying to applications filed on or after December 1, 2020, USCIS will increase the number of civics test questions that will be asked from 10 to 20 and applicants will be required to answer 12 questions (instead of 6) correctly in order to pass.


What exactly do the new changes include?

The USCIS policy alert published on November 13, 2020 entitled “Civics Educational Requirement for Purposes of Naturalization,” outlines the changes that will be made to the naturalization civics examination beginning December 1, 2020.

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We have important new developments to share with our readers regarding the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) planned increase in filing fees for certain applications and petitions, which was set to go into effect beginning October 2nd 2020.

As we previously reported on our blog, in early August USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register entitled, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements.” This final rule discussed the agency’s planned increase in filing fees for applications, petitions, or requests filed with USCIS postmarked on or after October 2, 2020.

*For a complete list of the planned increases and petitions affected click here.

According to USCIS, the final rule was intended to ensure that the agency would have enough resources to provide adequate services to applicants and petitioners. The agency stated that after having conducted a review of current fees, the agency determined that they could not cover the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services without a fee increase.

This news was not surprising to say the least. Since the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has been facing an unprecedented financial crisis that has forced the agency to take drastic measures to account for its revenue shortfalls.

Federal Judge Grants Injunction Blocking Increase in Filing Fees

In a surprising turn of events, just days before the final rule was set to go into effect, several organizations filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to stop the government from enforcing the final rule. Immigrant Legal Resource Center, et al., v. Chad F. Wolf.

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, federal judge Jeffrey S. White of the District Court for the Northern District of California, granted the injunction temporarily preventing the government from enforcing the increase in filing fees as planned on October 2nd.

As a result of the court order, USCIS is prohibited from enforcing any part of the final rule while the lawsuit is being litigated in court. While the government is sure to appeal the court’s decision, for now applicants can continue to send their applications and petitions with the current filing fees as posted on the USCIS webpage.

In support of his ruling, judge White reasoned that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in challenging the final rule because both the previous and current acting secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were unlawfully appointed to their posts and therefore were not authorized to issue the final rule. The judge also agreed that the fee hike would put low income immigrants at a severe disadvantage stating, “Plaintiffs persuasively argue that the public interest would be served by enjoining or staying the effective date of the Final Rule because if it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”

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