Articles Posted in October Visa Bulletin

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In this post, we discuss the latest immigration news beginning with the recent Congressional Approval of the Continuing Resolution Act that will allow funding to continue for the EB-5, Conrad 30, and special non-ministerial religious worker programs for fiscal year 2017. With the passage of this Continuing Resolution, these programs will remain afloat at least for the time being. On September 28, 2016 Congress averted a government shutdown by continuing funding for key programs with the passage of the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017. This Act will extend the EB-5 Regional Center Program and EB-4 non-minister special immigrant visa program for religious workers until December 9, 2016. In terms of adjustment of status filing dates for employment-based preference categories, USCIS has announced that for the month of October, foreign nationals seeking to apply for employment-based adjustment of status (EB-1 to EB-4 preference categories) may do so by using the Dates for Filing Applications Chart of the October Visa Bulletin for 2016. EB-5 adjustment of status applicants must use the Final Action Dates chart of the October Visa Bulletin.

What does this mean?

The signing of the Continuing Resolution Act means that this year we will not be facing a government shutdown as in previous years. This is very good news given that the upcoming elections (both for the U.S. president and Congressmen and women) may have been a factor in Congress not being able to meet the deadline to continue government funding for these key programs. EB-5, Conrad, and non-ministerial religious worker programs will continue without interruptions since these programs are part of the CR.

What will happen after December 9, 2016?

On December 9th the government will be facing another deadline that will require Congress to continue funding these very important programs. If Congress does not meet the funding deadline for these programs through the passage of another Continuing Resolution or Omnibus package, the government could face another shutdown. This would take place after the elections, but before the new Congress is in session. If an Omnibus is passed, the possibility of reforms and/or changes to the EB-5, Conrad, or non-ministerial religious worker programs is worth noting. Recent controversies may lead to reforms in the EB-5 program although it is unlikely that major reforms and/or changes to the EB-5 program will pan out before the December 9th deadline.

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On September 21, 2016 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) posted the adjustment of status filing dates for October 2016.

If you are waiting to apply for permanent residence based on an approved family-sponsored petition (I-130) or based on an approved employment-based petition (I-140), USCIS has advised that you refer to the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart on the October Visa Bulletin to determine when to file your application for permanent residence according to your priority date (the date when your relative or employer properly filed your immigrant visa petition with USCIS) and your preference category. Generally, applicants who have filed the immigrant petition and have been approved, must wait in line until an immigrant visa becomes available, before seeking adjustment of status to permanent resident. This is because availability of immigrant visas for certain classes of immigrants are limited. These preference categories appear in the Visa Bulletin, as well as the number of visas available for each preference category.

Note: For employment-based petitions if a labor certification is required to be filed with your immigrant visa petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.

What is the Visa Bulletin and the Dual Chart System?

Every month, the Department of State releases a monthly Visa Bulletin which provides estimates on immigrant visa availability according to family-sponsored and employment-based preference categories. As you may recall, in September of last year, USCIS introduced a new chart called the ‘Dates for Filing Applications’ chart in addition to the ‘Application Final Action Date’ chart. Together this dual chart system governs when applicants may file their applications for permanent residence according to visa availability, the applicant’s preference category, and the date of filing (priority date).

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In this segment, we would like to keep our readers informed on Visa Bulletin projections for the month of October. Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State provides a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin including discussion of current trends and future projections for immigrant preference categories.

Family-Based Categories:

An increase in returned unused visa numbers for the month of July and weak demand for the F-2A and F-4 categories will keep movements in family-based categories steady for the month of October.

F-4 Worldwide has advanced only slightly. All family Worldwide categories have experienced minor advances except F-2B Mexico.

The Department of State plants to comply with the Administration’s Visa Modernization Proposal, an initiative which aims to advance the dates of family-based categories as aggressively as possible during the first three quarters of the fiscal year, with the purpose of maximizing the usage of available numbers, and reducing available numbers for use in the final quarter. This initiative will likely cause similar retrogressions as in the F-4 China and India preference categories.

Employment Categories:

EB-4 and SR (Religious Worker) Preference Categories: For Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) applicants subject to priority date backlogs, it is recommended that applicants and/or their counsel request USCIS to forward their file to the National Benefits Center (NBC), at the conclusion of their I-485 interview. This will allow the applicant’s case to remain in a “pending demand” file, to give the Department of State a sense of the demand for this category, and streamline the approval process of these applications once the priority date has become current. While USCIS adjudicators cannot request a visa number for the applicant if the priority date is not current, the National Benefits Center (NBC) has the ability to request a visa number for the applicant upon receipt of the file.

EB-4 India and Mexico; Final Action Dates El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras: New visa number for FY 2017 are expected to bring the EB-4 India and Mexico categories current in the month of October. The final action date for EB-4 El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will fall somewhere around the summer of 2015 or beyond. There is high applicant demand for El Salvador which may advance the final action date for Guatemala and Honduras.

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The December visa bulletin was recently released by the DOS on November 9, 2015. For the month of December CIS has announced that family based applicants must use the ‘date of filing’ chart to determine when their adjustment of status applications may be filed. This means that for family based preference categories, there are presently immigrant visas available and demand has not yet been met for the fiscal year. Employment based applicants must refer to the ‘final action date’ chart as a basis for applying for adjustment of status. This means that presently there is more demand than immigrant visas available for employment based categories. For the month of December, filing dates have remained unchanged. The impact of the dual chart system will not be felt until CIS requests visa numbers from the DOS in April 2016 for adjustment of status filings based on the October Visa Bulletin. In this post we will discuss new announcements that have appeared on the December visa bulletin and projections for EB-2 India, EB-2 and EB-3 China, F-2A, and F-2B. These projections are based on guidance provided by the Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division, Charles Oppenheim. While they do not guarantee actual immigrant visa availability, these projections are helpful reference points.

Replacement of Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and New Visa Waiting List

The December visa bulletin has announced that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) used internally by the Department of States will be replaced with 9 FAM-e beginning November 18, 2015. Public release of the new FAM has not yet been announced.

Additionally, a ‘Visa Waiting List’ will be released beginning with the January Visa Bulletin which will provide applicants information on the National Visa Center waiting list starting November 1, 2015.

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Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson

On October 28, 2015 sixteen Democrats from the House of Representatives including —Zoe Lofgren, Michael M. Honda, Judy Chu, Katherine M. Clark, Elijah E. Cummings, Anna G. Eshoo, Tulsi Gabbard, Luis V. Gutierrez, James A. Himes, Ruben Hinojosa, Eddie B. Johnson, James P. McGovern, Frank Pallone Jr., Jared Polis, David E. Price, and Alma S. Adams — issued a letter addressed to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson concerning drastic revisions made to the Visa Bulletin on September 25, 2015.

In the letter, House Democrats argue that the revisions to the Visa Bulletin have compromised the integrity of the immigrant visa process, and resulted in a lose of faith in our immigration system. More over they argue that these revisions have adversely impacted the lives of thousands of immigrants, the American businesses who employ highly skilled workers, and our economy which benefits from retaining highly skilled workers.

As previously reported, the Department of State had published a dual chart system on September 9, 2015 with the addition of a new ‘date of filing chart’ which first appeared on the October Visa Bulletin. This new ‘date of filing’ chart was implemented in an effort to modernize and streamline the immigration process, as part of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform.

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Photograph taken at Ellis Island

Further changes have been made to the November Visa Bulletin published earlier this month by the Department of State. The dual chart system remains in place including the ‘final action date’ chart and ‘date of filing’ chart. So what has changed? USCIS has become more involved in the application process for family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant applications since the introduction of the date of filing chart. A disclaimer has now been added to the November Visa Bulletin above the date of filing chart which instructs applicants to visit the USCIS website for more instructions on how and when the chart is to be used. USCIS has created this new web page to notify applicants whether they can proceed with applications for permanent residence based on the date of filing chart published monthly on the Visa Bulletin. The website will be updated within about a week of the publication of the Visa Bulletin every month. The webpage is intended to provide applicants information in regards to visa availability for family-sponsored and employment-based immigrant visas for each fiscal year, letting applicants know whether the filing date chart is enforceable. So far, USCIS has indicated that the filing date chart for October and November 2015 is enforceable.

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Last week, we reported to our readers that on September 25th the Department of State and USCIS re-issued the October Visa Bulletin and changed the date of filing chart drastically, rolling back the ‘Dates of Filing’ for heavily used visa categories, including employment based and family-sponsored petitions. The American Immigration Lawyers Association, along with policymakers, and immigration advocates, are urging Congress, the White House, USCIS, and Department of State to restore the initial dates of filing that were authorized and released on September 9th 2015 with the October Visa Bulletin.

If you would like to pressure the government to honor the initial dates of filing, released on September 9th, we invite you to sign the White House petition by clicking here. We must hold the government accountable for their actions by advocating for the restoration of the initial dates of filing. With the release of the October Visa Bulletin, the DOS introduced a dual chart system for the first time in history which included a new ‘date of filing’ chart. The new date of filing chart would have allowed thousands of foreign nationals to file their adjustment of status and employment authorization applications, before a visa became available to them. This action was made by the DOS in an effort to modernize and streamline our immigration system as part of President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration announced on November 20th of last year. Due to the recent drastic changes that have been made to the date of filing chart, we encourage you to become involved by signing the petition or writing to your local Congressman/Congresswoman. Thousands of foreign workers and family members of foreign nationals have been impacted by the recent changes, given that the majority of applicants who would have been eligible to file for their green card applications and employment authorization cards, will no longer be able to do so. They must continue to wait until their priority date becomes current on the date of filing chart.

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On September 9th the Department of State and USCIS jointly announced new procedures that will allow family-based and employment-based applicants stuck in immigrant visa backlogs to apply for an immigrant visa (adjustment of status) before their priority date becomes current and an immigrant visa becomes immediately available to them. These new procedures will be implemented beginning October 1, 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration with the purpose of modernizing and streamlining our legal immigration system for the 21st century. These new changes were introduced in the October Visa Bulletin. 

What is the Visa Bulletin?

The Department of State publishes a monthly report of visa availability known as the ‘Visa Bulletin.’ The Visa Bulletin is essentially a guide to be used by applicants and consular officials denoting visa availability for the issuance of visas at consulates and embassies worldwide. USCIS utilizes the Visa Bulletin to determine whether Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, can be accepted for filing and processing. In order to file Form I-485 a prospective immigrant must determine whether a visa is available to them at the time the Form I-485 is filed and at the time Form I-485 is approved. The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security work together to revise the Visa Bulletin on a monthly basis estimating immigrant visa availability for prospective adjustment of status applicants. The DOS allocates available visas by providing visa numbers according to the prospective immigrant’s preference category, country of birth and priority date. This allows distribution of visas for all preference categories. A prospective immigrant’s priority date can be found on Form I-797 Notice of Action or ‘Receipt Notice’ for the petition filed on the applicant’s behalf.

What is a Priority Date?

A priority date is generally defined as the “date when your relative or employer properly filed the immigrant visa petition on your behalf with USCIS.”  For employment-based petitions, “if a labor certification is required to be filed with your immigrant visa petition, the priority date is the date the labor certification application was accepted for processing by the Department of Labor.”

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