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Articles Posted in Nonimmigrant Visas

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Today, Monday, July 6, 2020, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a news release introducing new modifications taken by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) that will apply to all international students in F-1 and M-1 status taking courses during this upcoming Fall 2020 semester. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be publishing new procedures and responsibilities for F-1 and M-1 students during the upcoming Fall 2020 semester in the Federal Register including changes to current policies for F-1 international students.

Monday’s modifications introduce surprising requirements for F-1 and M-1 students taking online classes due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the fall 2020 semester.


What are these new requirements?

There are three sets of new requirements.

F-1 and M-1 Students Attending Schools with Full Online Instruction During the Upcoming Fall 2020 Semester Must Transfer to In-Person Instruction or Depart the United States

Nonimmigrant F-1 and M-1 students who are attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.

The U.S. Department of State will not issue visas to students enrolled in schools and/or programs that are fully online for the fall 2020 semester nor will U.S. Customs and Border Protection permit these students to enter the United States.

Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status.

If the student fails to transfer to a school with in-person instruction for the fall 2020 semester, the student may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.

F-1 Students Attending Schools With In-Person Instruction Bound to Existing Regulations – Can Take 3 Credits Online

F-1 students who will attend schools operating under “normal” in-person instruction during the Fall 2020 semester (as opposed to online classes) will be bound by existing federal regulations. Eligible F students are permitted to take a maximum of one class or three credit hours online.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post, we bring you the latest immigration news for the week.

K-1 Fiancé Visa Blunders

The news of the June 22nd presidential proclamation has caused great confusion among U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide regarding whether K-1 fiancé visas are subject to the current presidential proclamation suspending the entry of certain immigrants to the United States. We have received information from our readers that Embassies have incorrectly stated in emails that K-1 fiance visas are subject to the presidential proclamation. We would like to make clear that K-1 fiance visas are non-immigrant visas and are therefore exempt from the proclamation altogether, because the proclamation only suspends the entry of those seeking immigrant visas from outside the United States.

We are aware that the Embassy in London has been disseminating emails initially stating that K-1 fiance visas were impacted by the proclamation. The Embassy has now retracted this information and written on their webpage that K visas are not subject to the current presidential proclamation, although fiance visa holders may be prevented from entering the U.S. due to current U.S. travel restrictions against nationals of the Schengen countries during the pandemic.

The Embassy in Manila has also confirmed on its website that K visas are not impacted by the presidential proclamation.

Therefore, the only obstacle for K-1 fiance visa applicants to receive their visas is the Embassy closures occurring because of the pandemic. The only other obstacle to traveling to the United States depends on the fiance’s country of nationality. The entry of some nationals has been restricted due to high rates of Coronavirus in those regions (such as the Schengen countries, China, Iran, Brazil, etc). To find information about these travel restrictions please click here.

If you have received incorrect information from your Embassy or Consulate telling you that K-1 fiance visas are subject to the proclamation, we encourage you to copy the information provided on the Manila and London Embassy webpages confirming that K-1 visas are not impacted. Alternatively, you can email your examples to jacob@h1b.biz and we will reach out to the Consulate/Embassy directly to seek clarification.

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New rumors are yet again circling regarding the possibility of a future executive order banning the entry of certain non-immigrants from the United States. An official speaking on condition of anonymity has fueled these rumors divulging information that the Trump administration is getting ready to issue a new executive order that would temporarily suspend the entry of L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and J-1 non-immigrants for a period lasting several months.

A copy of the executive order has allegedly been leaked to the media; however, our office has not been able to find a draft copy of such an order. It is also important to note that even if a version of the executive order has been leaked, the official version of a future executive order banning non-immigrants might look substantially different.


What is being said about the potential executive order?


The order is rumored to suspend the entry of L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and J-1 non-immigrants for a temporary period lasting several months.

Like previous executive orders suspending immigrant and non-immigrant entry, the order will contain numerous exceptions, although these exceptions have not yet been made clear. We believe exceptions will likely apply to essential workers such as health professionals, those working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, and essential workers in food-related industries.

As it relates to J-1 visas, it is rumored that only summer workers, camp counselors, trainees, and interns will be impacted, not medical physicians.

TAKEAWAY: If you have a valid L-1, H-1B, H-2B, or J-1 non-immigrant visa and you are abroad, you should consider returning to the United States as soon as possible.


Who will the order likely impact?


The order is rumored to impact only those in L, H, and J non-immigrant status outside the United States, however, the Trump administration is considering adding regulatory changes to the order that would impact OPT students and new H-1B applicants in the United States. This includes provisions that would end the STEM OPT program, and provisions tightening H-1B visa requirements to narrow the definition of “specialty occupation,” require higher wages, and increase H-1B filing fees.

TAKEAWAY: STEM OPT applications and extensions should be submitted as early as possible to avoid a negative impact.

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In response to the growing rate of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Brazil, on May 24, 2020, the President signed the “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Novel Coronavirus.” This marks the fifth presidential proclamation to limit the entry of foreign nationals to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the United States. The previous proclamations were as follows:


Overview


The May 24th proclamation suspends the entry of immigrants or nonimmigrants to the United States who were physically present within the Federative Republic of Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.


Who is Exempted?


The proclamation specifically exempts:

  • Lawful permanent residents of the United States
  • Any alien who is the spouse of a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Any alien who is the parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • Any alien who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • Any alien who is the child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  • Any alien traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
  • Any alien traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C-1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any alien otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew;
  • Any alien: seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to one of the following visas: A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as an employee of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories); or

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We have received an outpouring of emails, comments, and messages from our loyal followers asking when Consular posts and Embassies worldwide will reopen. We understand the frustration that our readers feel and sympathize with the world situation.

While USCIS has announced that in person appointments will resume on June 4th, the Department of State has not yet released any updates regarding procedures for reopening Consulates and Embassies nationwide. Given that the pandemic is a fluid situation and travel restrictions vary from country to country, each Consulate and Embassy will reopen for in person services at a different pace.

For the moment, emergency consular services continue to be available and appointments can be scheduled for emergency related issues by contacting the US Consulate or Embassy directly. Click here for a complete list of US Consulate and Embassies including their contact information.

Outside of emergency services, the vast majority of consulates and embassies will continue to remain closed for in-person appointments for the time being. Most consulates and embassies have provided the following message on their webpage regarding availability of visa appointments:

We will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. The MRV fee is valid and may be used for a visa application in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment. If you have an urgent matter and need to travel immediately, please follow the guidance provided at https://ais.usvisa-info.com/ to request an emergency appointment or contact AIS by phone by dialing the local number: +374 60 465 986. If calling from the U.S. dial +1-703-520-2525 or contact by email weeac_contactus+gb+info+en@visaops.net to request an emergency appointment.

You can find the local AIS number by clicking on your country on the AIS website then scrolling to the bottom of the website and clicking on “Contact Us” under the “Help” section.

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The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by nearly all sectors of the economy, but perhaps the most unexpected victim has been the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Unlike many other government agencies, USCIS does not depend on government funding to survive. Instead, the agency primarily relies on fees, charged to applicants and petitioners applying for immigration benefits, to remain in operation.

A spokesman for the agency recently revealed that the agency is strapped for cash. Americans nationwide have had to cut back on spending during this coronavirus pandemic, leaving little money to spare on the very expensive filing fees required for various types of immigration benefits, such as citizenship and green card applications. The agency is in such a precarious position that it has now asked the United States government for a $1.2 billion bailout to remain in operation.

USCIS has said that its revenue could plummet by more than 60 percent by the end of the fiscal year which ends on September 30, 2020. If the agency does not receive additional funding from the government, it will run out of money by the summertime.

In anticipation of its decreased revenue, USCIS is preparing to take drastic measures to stay afloat, such as adding a 10 percent “surcharge” to applications, on top of proposed filing fee increases. These additional fees could be imposed within the coming months.

Of course, an increase in fees is bad news for non-citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Many have blamed President Trump’s restrictive policies on immigration for the decrease in revenue. The President’s most recent proclamations coupled with his restrictive immigration policies have made it more difficult for immigrants and non-immigrants alike to obtain immigration benefits. These policies have been designed to discourage foreign nationals from seeking immigration benefits because of the high rate of visa denials. In addition, the most recent proclamation has kept consular immigration at a standstill.

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The House of Representatives has introduced a new bill called the HEROES Act, (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), that provides short term financial relief during this health crisis. In this post, we discuss who would be covered under the HEROES Act and what type of relief would be provided by the Act.

To become law, the HEROES Act will need to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. The President has openly voiced his opposition for the bill because the bill authorizes federal funds for undocumented immigrants. The bill will likely receive push back in the Republican controlled Senate or at the very least be subject to significant changes. Nonetheless if the bill fails, it will at least provide a foundation upon which Congress can reach a compromise.


What is it?


The HEROES Act is a $3 trillion bill that would provide stimulus checks to individuals who did not previously qualify for stimulus checks under the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security), such as undocumented immigrants.


Relief for Undocumented Individuals


The HEROES Act would provide temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants working in essential fields such as health care workers and allow them to apply for employment authorization throughout the period of the pandemic. In addition, unlike the CARES Act, undocumented immigrants and their families would be eligible to receive stimulus checks. The HEROES Act would allow direct payments to be issued in the amount of – $1,200 for an individual, $2,400 for joint filers, and $1,200 for up to three dependents. The HEROES Act would also authorize undocumented immigrants to be eligible for the first round of stimulus checks sent out in April. The Act also proposes additional health care benefits for immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid and would require immigration authorities to release people from immigration detention where possible.


Low-Risk Detainees


The HEROES Act would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to evaluate the files of detained immigrants and release those who are not subject to mandatory detention, and those who do not pose a risk to national security. In the alternative the HEROES Act would encourage ICE to pursue low-cost alternatives to detention for low-risk immigrants such as requiring detainees to wear ankle bracelet monitors.

The bill would also require detention facilities to provide detainees with free and unlimited soap, as well as phone and video call accessibility to communicate with family and legal representatives.


Expedited Processing for Foreign Medical Workers


The HEROES Act would require expedited visa and green card processing for foreign medical workers seeking to practice medicine, conduct medical research, or pursue education or training to combat COVID-19. Consulates and Embassies worldwide would also be required to prioritize visa interviews for these workers, granting emergency appointments in person or teleconference appointments. Foreign doctors who have completed residency programs in the United States would be eligible to receive permanent residence on an expedited basis. Medical professionals in H-1B status would be eligible to transfer between hospital systems without having to apply for a new visa. In addition, medical students would be eligible to transfer rotations within their host institution and would be compensated for their work throughout the pandemic. In addition, such students could work outside of their approved program so long as their work relates to fighting COVID-19.

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On May 7th just days after the President signed his controversial April 22nd executive order limiting the immigration of certain aliens to the United States for 60 days, Republican senators rallied together to urge the President to pass more immigration restrictions—this time targeting nonimmigrant foreign workers.

Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Josh Hawley of Missouri fired off an impassioned plea to the President asking him to suspend all new guest worker visas for a period of 60 days, and certain categories of new guest worker visas for at least the next year until unemployment levels have returned to normal.

In their letter, the Senators justified their request stating that, “the United States admits more than one million nonimmigrant guest workers every year, and there is no reason to admit most such workers when our unemployment is so high.” The letter continued “given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economic begin to reopen, it defies common sense to admit additional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment.”

The Senators praised the President for passing the April 22nd proclamation but said that more needs to be done because guest worker programs “remain a serious threat to the U.S. labor market’s recovery.”

The Senators said that exceptions to the 60-day suspension should be rare and limited to time-sensitive industries such as agriculture and issued only on a case-by-case basis when the employer can demonstrate that they have been unable to find Americans to take the jobs.

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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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