It is the end of an era. Yesterday, March 23, 2023, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is ending its COVID-19 flexibility policy, giving applicants and petitioners more time to respond to Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Its last extension ended on March 23, 2023. That means that from this point forward, applicants and petitioners must respond to any notices or requests from USCIS, dated after March 23, by the deadlines listed in the notice or request. This includes:
Requests for Evidence;
Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
Notices of Intent to Deny;
Notices of Intent to Revoke;
Notices of Intent to Rescind;
Notices of Intent to Terminate regional centers;
Notices of Intent to Withdraw Temporary Protected Status; and
Motions to Reopen an N-400 Pursuant to 8 CFR 335.5, Receipt of Derogatory Information After Grant.
In this blog post, we give you an update on the status of the proposed rule increasing the filing fees for certain applications and petitions filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
As you may remember, on January 4, 2023, USCIS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register proposing an increase in the filing fees of many types of applications, including but not limited to, the I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, N-400 Application for Naturalization, I-129F petition for alien fiancé(e), Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence, Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker for H, L, and O classifications, Form I-526 Immigrant Petition for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, among many others.
The proposed rule also sought to do the following:
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.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, before the government can implement a proposed rule they must abide by a mandatory notice-and-comment rule-making process. This includes offering a public comment period of at least 60 days from the date of the NPRM’s publication in the Federal Register.
In this blog post, we cover the release of the December Visa Bulletin 2022 and what you can expect for employment based and family preference categories during the upcoming month of December.
The Department of State releases the visa bulletin on a monthly basis, which summarizes the availability of immigrant visa numbers for that particular month. The “Final Action Dates” and “Dates for Filing Applications,” charts indicate when immigrant visa applicants should be notified to assemble and submit the required documentation to the National Visa Center.
Happy Veterans Day! On behalf of our law office, we would like to thank the servicemen and women who have dedicated their lives to protect our country. We are grateful to you for the sacrifices you have made and your service.
We close off the week with a recent update from the U.S. Department of State regarding immigrant visa processing in Havana, Cuba.
According to a new announcement made yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, will fully resume immigrant visa processing beginning January 4, 2023.
This will include processing of immigrant petitions for immediate relatives, other family preference categories, diversity visas, and K fiancé(e) visas.
For its part, the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, will continue processing of Cuban immigrant visa applications for those individuals who were scheduled to attend in-person interviews there through the end of December of this year.
Immigrant visa applicants whose appointments were originally scheduled in Georgetown will complete case processing in Georgetown.
Sadly, case transfers from Georgetown to U.S. Embassy, Havana are not available for applicants who have already been scheduled to attend interviews in Georgetown.
Our readers will be happy to know that the Department of State has released a new update in the month of October on the status of worldwide consular visa operations.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a period of uncertainty and created tremendous backlogs at the Consular level. As most of you will remember, Consular missions around the world suspended routine visa services in March of 2020 to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19. Later, the Department of State announced a phased resumption of routine visa services, however some Consulates and Embassies resumed services faster than others. Since then, things have slowly but surely started to turn around.
To help improve visa processing, the State Department has said that worldwide visa operations are now recovering faster than expected. More U.S. foreign service personnel have been hired to reduce visa interview wait times at Consular posts worldwide. It is expected that this year, the Department of State will reach pre-pandemic processing levels. This is amazing news for immigrants that have been waiting for visa interview appointments for months, or even years.
How did COVID-19 impact Worldwide Visa Operations?
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the agency’s ability to process visa applications in two major ways.
First, restrictions on travel to the United States, social distancing, and local quarantine restrictions made it difficult to accommodate large groups of people inside Consular facilities, such as waiting rooms. This of course reduced the number of people that could be scheduled for in-person visa appointments dramatically, causing a reduction in the number of visa applications that could be processed.
Secondly, due to the suspension of visa services worldwide, the State Department experienced a substantial decrease in funding which led to a declining workforce in 2020 and 2021. This dramatically impacted the number of applications that could be processed.
USCIS previously issued its waiver policy until September 30, 2022 but has decided to extend the waiver until March 31, 2023.
Why the extension?
Due to processing delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has decided that extending this policy is necessary to provide relief to applicants for the delays and difficulties that it takes to complete the green card medical examination.
Moving forward, the waiver will apply to all Form I-693 medical examinations for green card applications that have not been adjudicated, regardless of when the application was submitted to USCIS or when a civil surgeon signed the Form I-693.
USCIS expects this extension to provide much needed relief to Afghan nationals evacuated under Operation Allies Welcome, who completed immigration medical examinations but could not apply for adjustment of status within 60 days of a civil surgeon signing their Form I-693.
For more information about this important update, please click here.
Have you ever wondered: is there an exception to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement mandated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for those undergoing the green card process?
In this blog post, we share with you how our office was able to obtain successful waivers of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, information about what exceptions exist to the vaccine requirement, the criteria that must be proven to obtain a vaccine waiver, and the resulting victories we gained on behalf of our clients.
We also describe how we were able to accomplish vaccine waiver approvals, by presenting an abundance of documentary evidence to help these individuals prove their case.
An Overview: What is the COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement
In response to the rapid rise in Coronavirus cases, the U.S. government announced that starting October 1, 2021, those applying for permanent residency (a green card) within the United States, or an immigrant visa abroad, would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (one or two doses depending on the vaccine taken).
The Medical Examination Form I-693
As part of the green card process, applicants are required to complete a medical examination conducted by a civil surgeon on Form I-693, to establish that they are not inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds. The government made it a matter of policy as of October 1, 2021, to require all those subject to the medical examination requirement to complete the COVID-19 vaccination to prove their admissibility (and therefore) receive approval of their green cards.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service announced that this policy would apply “prospectively to all Forms I-693 [medical examinations] signed by the civil surgeons” on or after October 1, 2021. The agency also took steps to revise Form I-693 and its instructions to include the new vaccination requirement.
Its policy guidance followed the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) August 17, 2021, update to the Technical Instructions for Civil Surgeons. The CDC update requires applicants subject to the immigration medical examination to “complete the COVID-19 vaccine series [in addition to the other routinely required vaccines] and provide documentation of vaccination to the civil surgeon or panel physician in person before completion of the medical examination.”
Does the COVID-19 vaccination requirement also apply to those seeking immigrant visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad?
Yes. The government made clear that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement applies to those seeking to adjust their immigration status within the United States, as well as applicants applying for immigrant visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. That is because complete vaccination is necessary for a medical examination conducted by a civil surgeon or physician abroad, as part of the green card admissibility process.
This week in immigration news, we share new developments for Afghan nationals. The Biden administration recently announced its plan to launch a new portal that would facilitate the reunification of Afghans immigrants with their family members.
What is it all about?
The U.S. Department of State run portal would provide a place for Afghans in the United States to search for family members who were separated from them following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.
Previously, Afghans needed the help of nonprofit groups such as the United National Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and U.S. Department of State liaisons to help them locate family members left behind. Individuals were required to complete lengthy questionnaires, provide information, and submit documentation that would be independently verified by state department liaisons.
Now, the state-run portal will provide a central location where users can upload information to help locate their family members. Users will be able to enter their own status on the website, and complete forms to enable their relative to gain entry to the United States.
Additionally, the Biden administration is said to be considering waiving the $535 government filing fee associated the filing of Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, which allows a U.S. citizen to petition the entry of their relative to the United States.
According to a Department of State spokesperson, through the resettlement effort known as Operation Allies Welcome, immediate family members of Afghans who relocated to the United States are strongly being considered for parole. Immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens, lawful permanent residents, formerly locally employed staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and certain Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants are also being prioritized to receive parole.
Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we share with you an overview of the State Department’s September 2021 Q&A answer session with Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, also known as “Chats with Charlie,” broadcasted every month on the State Department’s YouTube channel.
This new series features a monthly Question-and-Answer session with Mr. Charles Oppenheim and a Consular officer, where they answer many of the public’s frequently asked questions and provide a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin. This discussion will provide details regarding what to expect in terms of the movement or retrogression of both family and employment-based preference categories on each month’s Visa Bulletin.
Questions for Charlie can be emailed in advance to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of each monthly session with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the subject line.
Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we share with you an overview of the State Department’s August 2021 Q&A answer session with Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, also known as “Chats with Charlie,” broadcasted every month on the State Department’s YouTube channel.
This new series features a monthly Question-and-Answer session with Mr. Charles Oppnheim and a Consular officer, where they answer many of the public’s frequently asked questions and provide a monthly analysis of each month’s Visa Bulletin. This discussion will provide details regarding what to expect in terms of the movement or retrogression of both family and employment-based preference categories on each month’s Visa Bulletin.
Questions for Charlie can be emailed in advance to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of each monthly session with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the subject line.
Be sure to subscribe to the State Department’s YouTube Channel and turn on your notifications so you do not miss any of these important updates.
Below are the highlights of the trends and visa projections for August 2021 and beyond.
DOS Q&A Session with Charlie Oppenheim: August 2021 Visa Bulletin Projections & Beyond
Charlie Oppenheim advises against sending “mass like” chain emails to the Charlie Chats email address
Before we get into the questions for this session, I wanted to add that I have seen a significant number of questions being received that maybe online chat groups have provided in a suggested “copy this text” approach that were sent to the Charlie Chat email address. I want to say that this is a very unproductive approach to asking questions, since we must open a significant number of messages with the same question, and that diminishes our ability to review the hundreds and hundreds of questions which are coming in each month. Therefore, it’s likely that we may miss important questions which listeners would like addressed. I am happy to see questions come in but this massive number of duplicates is unproductive to the listener group.
The Top 8 Advance Questions Sent in By Listeners
Q: I submitted all my documentation to NVC a long time ago and I confirmed on their website that everything is completed correctly. My priority date became eligible in March, but I have not yet been scheduled for my final visa interview. Why haven’t I been scheduled despite the eligibility and when can I expect to be scheduled?
A: This is a question we have been getting a lot. It’s important to say that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the NVC has continued to schedule appointments and is warehousing cases for Consular sections that have not been able to resume the routine Immigrant Visa processing. Depending on the country’s local restrictions and resources, the Consular sections abroad provide their projected capacity for scheduling to the NVC about 30-60 days in advance.
This allows NVC to begin scheduling those appointments and getting the information out to the applicants early. Other than age-out cases, inter-country adoption cases, and expedite requests, based on certain FAM regulations upon visa availability, the NVC schedules their Immigrant Visa appointments for visa categories in chronological order, based on the date in which the case was deemed “documentarily qualified,” meaning they have been asked to submit certain required documents, all those documents have been received, and have been verified. Then the NVC fills the available appointment slots in a first come, first out manner within each visa class, in accordance with each Consular section’s capacity.
I would advise listeners to refer to the guidance on the NVC Immigrant Visa backlog report website to view the worldwide data count of applicants which have been processed by NVC. Then that will determine how many have become documentarily complete. NVC and the overseas posts are trying to get to all the appointments and applicants as quickly as possible. It’s being done in chronological order and basically, they’re having to catch up on cases that could have been scheduled as far back as March 2020.