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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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Our San Diego immigration attorneys at the Sapochnick Law Firm stand ready to assist foreign nationals admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID 19), the United States has taken several measures to close its borders and ground international flights to keep the public safe. This means that at least some foreign nationals admitted under the VWP have been unable to depart before their periods of admission expired under the VWP. As you may be aware, the VWP allows citizens or nationals of certain participating countries the ability to travel to the United States for a temporary period of 90 days or less without having to obtain a United States visa. One of the downsides to the VWP is that no extensions of stay are allowed.

Thankfully, a little-known provision in the law known as “Satisfactory Departure” provides relief to VWP aliens who have found themselves “stuck” in the United States.


What is Satisfactory Departure? How does it help me?


VWP entrants who were unable to depart the United States, before their period of admission expired, due to the ongoing Coronavirus travel restrictions, may request “Satisfactory Departure,” from either their local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office or from a Deferred Inspection Site with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

These agencies have been authorized to grant these individuals a period of up to 30 days (in excess of the period of VWP admission) in which to depart the United States. As long as the traveler leaves within that 30-day window, he or she will not be considered to have violated U.S. immigration laws by overstaying.

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There can be no doubt that the Trump era has dealt a devastating blow to immigration, but perhaps the most affected individuals have been H-1B visa hopefuls and their employers.

Early on during the President’s administration, the President advocated for and implemented some of the most disastrous immigration policies ever seen—particularly because of the restrictive effect these polices have had in drastically reducing visa approvals for temporary workers.

Across the board, our office witnessed a staggering increase in the issuance of requests for evidence, and a high rate of denials for H-1B visa worker petitions, despite a highly qualified applicant base.

While these petitions were easily approved in past administrations, the reality began to set in that things would be much different under President Trump. Data has shown that from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019, H-1B denial rates for new H-1B petitions increased drastically from 6 percent to 21 percent., while denial rates for H-1B visa extensions increased to 12 percent in fiscal year 2019.

Where did it all begin?

USCIS began to aggressively limit H-1B visa approvals following the passage of the President’s executive order “Buy American and Hire American” signed on April 18, 2017.

With this order, the President single-handedly targeted one of the most sought-after visa programs in the United States—the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled temporary foreign workers. The order specifically directed the Attorney General and Secretaries of State, Labor, and Homeland Security to suggest reforms to ensure that H-1B visas would only be approved for the most-skilled or highest-paid workers.

While the President’s restrictive policies on immigration gained him a loyal following, they ultimately narrowed the playing field significantly for prospective H-1B workers.

Buy American and Hire American effectively gave the Department of Homeland Security—and by extension the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services—a broad range of power to develop and enforce restrictive policies limiting the issuance of H-1B visas.

Thereafter, USCIS went to work producing rule-making, policy memoranda, and implementing operational changes to carry out the President’s agenda with the goal of drastically limiting approvals for H-1B workers.

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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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Credit: EpicTop10.com


UPDATE—The Latest on DACA: Last summer, the United States Supreme Court accepted the Trump administration’s writ of certiorari, agreeing to review several federal court cases challenging the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA. The Supreme Court could, at any moment, decide the fate of DACA, making this an extremely uncertain time for Dreamers. A decision is expected to be handed down by the Supreme Court in early 2020, just before the 2020 presidential election. In the meantime, given that no final decision has yet been made by the Supreme Court, DACA recipients may continue to submit renewal applications pursuant to three U.S. district court orders that remain in effect. As required by these orders, United States Citizenship and immigration Services (USCIS) resumed accepting renewal requests for DACA, however those who have never before been granted deferred action cannot apply.


DACA FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


USCIS Continues to Accept DACA Renewal Requests

In early January of 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs in the case Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security, et al., which challenged the government’s decision to terminate DACA. The preliminary injunction had the effect of temporarily blocking the termination of the DACA program until a final decision is reached on the merits of the case. The injunction applied nationwide and required USCIS to resume accepting DACA renewal applications. Shortly after this court order, USCIS announced that it would resume accepting DACA renewal applications.

The Sapochnick Law Firm has drafted the following answers to your frequently asked questions regarding the current state of DACA, CIS’ announcement informing the public that it will continue accepting DACA requests, and further developments relating to DACA.


WHY YOU SHOULD APPLY FOR YOUR DACA RENEWAL NOW


At this time the fate of the DACA program is extremely uncertain. The United States Supreme Court is set to make a final decision regarding the legality of the DACA program at any time. Given that the liberal justices on the court are outnumbered by 5-4, it is more and more probable that the DACA program will be terminated. Once the Supreme Court casts the final vote, DACA recipients will likely lose the opportunity to apply for renewal of their benefits. Now more than ever DACA holders should take advantage of their ability to apply for a final renewal of their benefits. We hope that the Supreme Court will be on the right side of history, but there can be no guarantees.


1. I have never applied for DACA before, can I still submit an application?

No. The preliminary injunction does not require USCIS to accept DACA applications from first-time applicants. USCIS has made clear that it will not be accepting DACA applications from those who have never before been granted deferred action. The agency will only continue accepting applications to renew a grant of deferred action under DACA.

2. Why did I hear that applications for first-time applicants would be accepted?

In a previous case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, NAACP v. Trump, federal judge John D. Bates ordered the government to submit additional information to justify its decision to terminate DACA—failure to do so meant that USCIS would be required to accept first-time applications for DACA as well as applications from DACA holders for advance parole.

The government did respond within the required period of time, issuing a memorandum outlining the government’s rationale for terminating the DACA program. Having satisfied the court’s requirement to produce the information, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, “stayed” its previous order requiring that the DACA program be fully reinstated. As a result, the portions of the court order that would have allowed first-time applicants to seek DACA and allowed for DACA recipients to apply for advance parole, were stopped.

Given that the government complied with the court order, at this time, USCIS is not accepting DACA applications from first-time applicants, nor applications for advance parole from DACA recipients.

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In this post we would like to address some of our clients frequently asked questions regarding the Payment Protection Program, a loan forgiveness program created by the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the United States government recently passed a bill providing emergency financial relief to individuals, families, and small businesses. As you know, the majority of states nationwide have issued stay-at-home orders requiring the public to avoid all nonessential outings and stay at home as much as possible. Non-essential businesses have also been ordered to close their facilities to the public until further notice. Essential businesses have been allowed to continue to operate such as grocery stores, pharmacies, health care facilities, banking, law enforcement, and other emergency services.

One of the main provisions of the bill, known as the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), allocates billions of dollars in loans to small businesses who are feeling the economic impact of the stay-at-home orders. The CARES Act specifically authorized the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create the Payment Protection Program for the purpose of providing financial assistance to small businesses nationwide that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. SBA lenders began accepting loan applications from small business owners on April 3, 2020. Applications will continue to be accepted until June 30, 2020. It is important for business owners to apply for these loans as soon as possible.

  1. What is the Payment Protection Program?

In a nutshell, the Payment Protection Program is a loan forgiveness program that allows small businesses (of 500 or fewer employees) to apply for loans of (1) $10 million or (2) 2.5x the average total monthly payments of the company’s payroll costs, whichever is less.

Loans under this Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will be 100 percent guaranteed by SBA, and the full principal amount of the loans will qualify for loan forgiveness provided that:

(1) the business was in operation on February 15, 2020 and either had (a) employees for whom you paid salaries and payroll taxes or (b) paid independent contractors as reported on Form 1099;

(2) all employees are kept on the payroll for 8 weeks and;

(3) the money is used for payroll costs, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities (at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! As you all know, USCIS recently announced that it has completed the selection process to meet the 65,000/20,000 annual numerical limitations for H-1B fiscal year 2021.

All accountholders should have been notified of selection via their USCIS online accounts by March 31,2020. We can confirm that our office received all notices of selection before March 31, 2020.

If you were selected, the following status will appear on the petitioner’s USCIS online account:

Selected: Selected to file an FY 2021 H-1B cap-subject petition.

What’s Next?

Now that the selection process has been completed, petitioners who properly registered the beneficiary through the mandatory H-1B electronic registration process and were selected in the lottery are eligible to file a FY 2021 H-1B cap-subject petition with USCIS.

Petitioners who were not selected cannot file a petition with USCIS.

Please note that selection does not mean that an H-1B petition has been approved. The petitioner must still establish eligibility for petition approval at the time of filing and the application must go through adjudication based on existing statutory and regulatory requirements.

When can I file?

H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2021, including those petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may now be filed with USCIS if based on a valid selected registration (as of April 1st). 

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In this post, we summarize all of the major and recent developments taken by USCIS, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These developments directly impact immigration in significant ways that will be discussed in further detail below.

As this situation evolves, we will continue to update this post for your benefit. You may also read all of our COVID-19 related posts here.


USCIS Field Offices, ASCs, and Asylum Offices Temporary Closed to the Public

To combat the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic, on March 18th USCIS announced the temporary closure of field offices, application support centers, and asylum offices, to the public until at least May 3rd.

We suspect that this closure will be further extended given the current public health crisis we are experiencing nationwide.

Applicants who were scheduled to appear for an interview, biometrics, or asylum interview from March 18 to May 3rd will receive a notice in the mail regarding impacted services, as well as a notice rescheduling the appointment.

ASC appointments will be rescheduled once offices are re-opened to the public.

At this time, please continue to be patient and monitor your mail closely.


USCIS Field Office and Service Center Operations Continue

Although USCIS is closing field offices to the public, the agency has stated that office employees will continue to perform mission-essential services that do not require face-to-face contact with the public.

Furthermore, USCIS service centers and facilities continue to operate and will continue to adjudicate petitions filed nationwide.


USCIS Expands RFE/NOID/NOIR/NOIT/I-290B Deadlines

On March 30, 2020, USCIS announced that it will consider any response to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, or NOIT received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice before any action is taken by USCIS.

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A new decision issued by a federal judge in the case Itserve Alliance Inc., et al., v. L. Francis Cissna, will dramatically change the way that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates H-1B petitions for Information Technology companies.

The new ruling invalidates key provisions of the CIS 2010 Guidance Memorandum (also known as the Neufeld Memo) and the CIS 2018 Policy Memorandum (PM-602-0157) for two reasons.

Firstly, the court found that the policies outlined in these memorandums were inconsistent with previous regulations that were lawfully passed by the government through the formal notice-and-comment rule-making process, as required by law.

Secondly, the court found that USCIS violated the law when it abandoned previous regulations and began applying their own policies without first going through the required formal notice-and-rulemaking process. Since these policies were not passed through the formal rule-making process, their application was found to be unlawful and unenforceable.

Background

During the start of the Trump administration, USCIS began adopting a narrow policy designed to limit the number of H-1B petitions that would be approved. Throughout this period, our office saw the highest number of requests for evidence and denial rates ever experienced in over a decade in practice. Other immigration attorneys across the country observed the same trends.

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We would like to provide our readers with a quick update regarding the temporary suspension of in-person services at USCIS field offices nationwide.

As first reported, USCIS made the decision to close all offices and application support centers (ASCs) to the public beginning March 18th. USCIS planned to reopen offices on April 7th however today the agency announced that offices will continue to remain closed to the public until May 3rd.

As previously stated on our blog, all applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments who are impacted by this closure will receive notices in the mail with further information.