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Articles Posted in Overstays

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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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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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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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On August 8, 2018, DHS issued a policy memorandum directing USCIS to change the way in which the agency counted the days of unlawful presence for F, M, and J status violators.

Under that policy memorandum, F, M, and J nonimmigrants who accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay, and then departed the United States, would trigger either a 3- or 10-year bar to admission depending on the period of unlawful presence accrued in the United States prior to departure. The new policy would begin counting the days of unlawful presence the day after an F, M, or J status violation, unless an exception applied.

These bars would prevent the foreign national from applying for an immigration benefit in the future, without the approval of a waiver of inadmissibility.

This policy was to become effective on August 9, 2018; however, it quickly grew controversial and inspired a slew of lawsuits. Prior to this attempted policy change, USCIS did not begin counting a period of unlawful presence until a USCIS immigration official or immigration judge made a formal finding of a status violation.

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Several months ago, we reported that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) amended its policy regarding the issuance of Notice to Appear (NTA) documents in removal proceedings.

During the month of June, USCIS released a policy memorandum indicating the agency’s intent to revise NTA policy to better align with the President’s Executive Order 13768 “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” NTAs are documents that are issued to alien’s subject to removal from the United States. Issuance of an NTA initiates the process of removing an individual from the United States.

Specifically, the Executive Order 13768 called on DHS to “prioritize the removal of aliens described in INA §§ 212(a)(2), (a)(3), (a)(6)(C), 235, and 237(a)(2) and (a)(4) … who are removable based on criminal or security grounds, fraud or misrepresentation, and aliens subject to expedited removal.”

In addition, the Executive Order called for the removal of individuals who:

  • (a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • (b) Have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • (c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • (d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;
  • (e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • (f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but have not departed; or
  • (g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security

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A new policy memorandum will change the way the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for F, J, and M non-immigrant visa holders, and their dependents, beginning August 9, 2018, and onwards. The accrual of unlawful presence may lead to a bar preventing the foreign national from re-entering the United States.

In 1997 Congress began implementing a policy that governed the admissibility of individuals in F, J, and M non-immigrant visa status. Pursuant to that policy, nonimmigrants who overstayed their visa for more than 180 days could be subject to a 3-year bar, while individuals who overstayed for more than one year could be subject to the 10-year bar, for violating the terms of their visa status.

However, this class of individuals only began to accrue unlawful presence, where an immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed from the United States, or where USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation, while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit, such as adjustment of status. This policy applied to all non-immigrants who were admitted or present in the United States in duration of status (D/S).

New Policy

On August 9, 2018, USCIS released a policy memorandum entitled “Accrual of Unlawful Presence and F, J, and M Nonimmigrants,” superseding the previous 1997 policy, in order to reduce the number of overstays, and implement a new policy regarding how to calculate unlawful presence for F, J, and M non-immigrants and their dependents.

Pursuant to the new policy, from August 9th onwards, “F, J, and M nonimmigrants, and their dependents, admitted or otherwise authorized to be present in the United States in duration of status (D/S) or admitted until a specific date (date certain), start accruing unlawful presence,” as follows:

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In this post, we bring an important reminder to the attention of F-1 Students with Optional Practical Training. F-1 students who transfer to another school or begin their studies at another educational level, such as a master’s degree program after completion of the bachelor’s degree, will have their OPT automatically terminated, as well as the corresponding employment authorization document, also known as a work permit.

F-1 students who transfer schools or begin studying at another educational level, will not be otherwise affected, so long as they comply with all of the requirements necessary to maintain their student status. F-1 students must not work with a terminated/expired EAD. Doing so violates U.S. law, and will result in serious immigration consequences, such as the removal of the foreign national from the United States or barring the foreign national from re-entering the United States, in addition to other serious consequences such as the accrual of unlawful presence.

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released a new policy memorandum that may soon change the way the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for individuals currently in the United States on an F, J, or M non-immigrant visa type, as well as their dependents accompanying them in the United States.

The new policy proposes that F, J, and M nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status before August 9, 2018, will begin accruing unlawful presence on that day.

Generally, F, J, and M nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status on or after August 9, 2018, will begin to accrue unlawful presence the day after they abandon their course of study or authorized activity, or engage in an unauthorized activity.

Current Policy

Since 1997, it has been USCIS policy to begin calculating the accrual of unlawful presence, for a F or J nonimmigrant admitted to the United States in duration of status (D/S), one day after finding the nonimmigrant in violation of their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit (such as a change of status petition) or on the day after an immigration judge has ordered the exclusion, removal, or deportation of the nonimmigrant, whichever comes first.

F, J, and M nonimmigrants admitted for a specified date (not D/S) began to accrue unlawful presence on the day their Form I-94 expired, on the day after finding the nonimmigrant in violation of their nonimmigrant status while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit (such as a change of status petition) or on the day after an immigration judge has ordered the exclusion, removal, or deportation of the nonimmigrant, whichever comes first.

DHS recently conducted a study to determine the number of nonimmigrants in F, J, or M status who have overstayed. For FY 2016, DHS calculated that out of a total of 1,456,556 aliens in F, J, and M nonimmigrant status expected to change status or depart the United States, 6.19% of F nonimmigrants, 3.80% of J nonimmigrants, and 11.60% of M nonimmigrants actually overstayed their status.

This minuscule percentage has caused USCIS to revise its policy and change how the accrual of unlawful presence is calculated for this demographic.

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On Sunday night, a group of Republican Senators met to draft the Republican party’s version of the President’s immigration framework, in preparation for a floor debate that will take place Monday night on immigration. The Republican bill is one of many proposals that will be considered by the Senate as part of the ongoing immigration debate. The proposed bill, known as the Secure and Succeed Act of 2018, drafted by Republican Senators Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, James Lankford, Thom Tillis, David Perdue, Tom Cotton, and Joni Ernst, mirrors the Trump administration’s immigration framework.

Over the next few weeks Senators will vigorously debate and amend proposals on immigration with the goal of coming up with a piece of legislation that can garner at least 60 votes in the Senate to advance to the House of Representatives. The process will involve a free-for-all debate on the Senate floor that will allow Senators to propose amendments, with the goal of coming up with a bipartisan solution to shield Dreamers from deportation.

The GOP currently has a 51-49 majority in the Senate, making it necessary for Republicans to obtain support from Democratic Senators to reach the 60-vote threshold. Republicans have a large enough majority in the House of Representatives that they do not need a single Democratic vote to pass desired legislation.

Path to Citizenship for Dreamers

The Republican proposal focuses on providing a 12-year path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million people including DACA eligible recipients. Undocumented immigrants currently enrolled in DACA would receive a 2-year credit allowing them to obtain citizenship within 10 years. The criteria to obtain citizenship would require an individual to have:

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This week the President of the United States delivered his much-anticipated State of the Union to unite the Democratic and Republican parties on a range of contentious issues still unresolved in Congress. One of those hot-button issues has been immigration. As you may recall the President has given Congress until March 5, 2018 to pass legislation protecting Dreamers from deportation.

Ahead of the President’s speech the White House unveiled an immigration framework thought to gain support from Democrats in Congress, however the Democratic response in the room to the President’s remarks on immigration was somber.

While the President’s speech focused largely on improving the economy and helping small American businesses, the President also touched on immigration. President Trump opened his remarks on immigration by calling for immigration policies that will put American workers and their families first.

To highlight the importance of border security and implementing tougher immigration policies the President recounted the tragic story of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two close friends that were brutally murdered by adolescent gang members of MS-13, who the President said took advantage of the country’s loopholes to gain entrance into the country as unaccompanied minors. The parents of Kayla and Nisa Mickens stood tearfully to receive applause from members of Congress in the room.  The President called on members of Congress to “close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminals” to enter into the country. The President touted that his administration has proposed new legislation to fix the country’s immigration laws and support ICE and Border Patrol Agents in their efforts to apprehend dangerous criminals.

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