Articles Posted in Policies

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The fate of nearly 8 million undocumented immigrants now rests in the hands of Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough.

On Friday, September 10, 2021, Democratic Congressmen, and women, met with the Senate staffer in hopes of convincing her to allow a piece of legislation to be introduced in the Democratic party’s upcoming $3.5 trillion spending bill, which would, for the first time in decades set in motion the implementation of comprehensive immigration reform.

The spending bill includes a provision that would carve out a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) that were brought to the United States illegally as children. The bill would also open a door for legalization to recipients of Temporary Protected Status, farmworkers, and certain undocumented workers deemed “essential.” It is estimated that nearly 8 million undocumented immigrants would qualify for permanent residence through this proposal, offering the first big victory for comprehensive immigration reform.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post, we bring you a new update from the U.S. Department of State regarding the status of immigrant visa processing at U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas. Today, the Department of State released an update reminding immigrant visa applicants that consular interview appointments are being scheduled using a four-tiered system that generally triages immigrant visa applications based on a system of priority.

The update adds that where possible, Consular posts and Embassies will attempt to schedule some appointments within all four priority tiers every month. These attempts will be made to help reduce the massive backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and operational constraints. The new update also carves out priority exceptions for certain healthcare workers seeking immigrant visas.

Applicants should keep in mind that public health and safety remain a paramount concern amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consular posts and Embassies are continuing to do the best they can depending on local conditions to schedule interview appointments according to the priority schedule, taking into account restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by host country government.

It is also important to consider that posts overseas must abide by U.S. government guidance on safety in the workplace and are following social distancing protocols and safety measures which have reduced the number of applicants consular sections are able to see in a single day.  Consular sections will only resume routine visa services when it is safe to do so based on the particular geographic location.


The Department of State’s Four-Tiered Prioritization Schedule


The Department of State has said that while all immigrant visa categories are important, during the pandemic, it has been forced to make difficult decisions regarding how it will prioritize immigrant visa applications as they operate at limited capacity and work through the substantial backlogs of immigrant visa cases.

Having considered the difficult circumstances all applicants face, the Department of State has followed a guiding principle for immigrant visa prioritization, with family reunification being a top priority for the U.S. Government. The State Department’s prioritization schedule highlights Congressional objectives calling upon the agency to adopt policies that prioritize immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancées of U.S. citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants.

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In this blog post we share with you some breaking news for green card applicants applying for adjustment of status on Form I-485, as well as those applying for immigrant visas from abroad.

As part of the green card process, USCIS and the Department of State require applicants to undergo a medical examination with a doctor designated as a civil surgeon, to establish that the applicant is not inadmissible to the United States on public health grounds.

According to new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control, beginning October 1, 2021, green card applicants will now be required to establish that they have received a complete COVID-19 vaccine series, in order to be deemed eligible for permanent residence. Following the release of this new guidance, COVID-19 was added to the list of vaccinations required of those seeking U.S. lawful permanent residence.

The new vaccine requirement will apply to routine medical examinations necessary for both adjustment of status applicants applying for green cards in the United States and immigrant visa applicants applying at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.


Who must take the COVID-19 vaccine?


All applicants (1) applying for I-485 adjustment of status (a green card) or (2) those applying for an immigrant visa abroad, who will receive their medical examination from a Civil Surgeon or Panel Physician on or after October 1, 2021, will be subject to this requirement and are encouraged to complete a COVID-19 vaccine series as soon  as possible.

Eligible applicants must complete the COVID-19  vaccine  series if  a  COVID-19  vaccine  listed  for  emergency  use  by  the World  Health  Organization  (WHO)  or  licensed  or  authorized  for  emergency  use  by  the  U.S. Food  and  Drug Administration  (FDA)  is  available  to  the  applicant  in  the  country  where  the  medical  examination  is  conducted.


How can I show that I have met the vaccine requirement?


Applicants must complete the COVID-19 vaccine series and provide documentation of vaccination to the civil surgeon in person before completion of the medical examination.  The COVID-19 vaccination requirement will differ from previous requirements in that the entire vaccine series (1 or 2 doses depending on formulation) must be completed in addition to the other routinely required vaccines.


How long will the COVID-19 vaccine requirement be in place?


These COVID-19 vaccine requirement will be in place until the CDC determines the vaccine is no longer needed to prevent the importation and spread of COVID-19.

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Exciting news for adjustment of status applicants filing their green card applications! On August 12, 2021, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the agency will be temporarily extending the validity period of medical examination (known as Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record), from two years to now four years due to COVID-19 related delays in processing applications. For those who are unaware, a sealed medical examination signed by a USCIS authorized civil surgeon on Form I-693 is a required component to receive lawful permanent resident status.


Who Will Benefit from this New Policy?


Effective immediately, USCIS will extend your Form I-693 medical examination if all of the following is true:

  • The civil surgeon’s signature on the medical examination (Form I-693) is dated no more than 60 days before the applicant filed Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status;
  • No more than four years have passed since the date of the civil surgeon’s signature on Form I-693; and
  • A decision on the applicant’s Form I-485 is issued on or before Sept. 30, 2021.

Why is the validity of the medical exam being extended?


According to USCIS, this change is being made temporarily due to COVID-19 related processing delay that have affected the ability of many applicants to complete the required immigration medical examination. Previously, USCIS considered a completed Form I-693 to retain its validity for two years after the date the civil surgeon signed, as long as the date of the civil surgeon’s signature was no more than 60 days before the applicant filed for adjustment of status. Now the validity of the medical examination Form I-693 is being extended to four years (see the criteria above).

USCIS also revealed that it will be approving a record number of employment-based adjustment of status applications, with more approvals than it has issued since FY 2005.  The agency has prioritized the processing and adjudication of employment-based adjustment of status applications during this fiscal year. The agency vows to continue to make processing and resource allocation decisions to increase the pace of adjudications and limit the potential for employment-based visa numbers to go unused.

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Exciting news for green card applicants! On August 9, 2021, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a new partnership with the Social Security Administration that will allow most applicants filing for adjustment of status to register lawful permanent residence, to apply for a new Social Security number or replacement Social Security card using the newly updated Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

As many of you know, a foreign national must show evidence of their identity and employment eligibility before they can lawfully work in the United States. An acceptable document showing such employment eligibility is an unrestricted Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration.

Previously, applicants granted lawful permanent resident status were required to attend their local Social Security office and submit documentation in person in order to obtain their Social Security card.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! We are happy to bring you the latest immigration updates recently announced by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


USCIS Guidance Following DACA Permanent Injunction in State of Texas, et al., v. United States of America, et al., 1:18-CV-00068, (S.D. Texas July 16, 2021)


USCIS has announced on its official webpage that consistent with the permanent injunction granted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on July 16, 2021, declaring DACA policy illegal, USCIS is prohibited from granting initial requests for first time DACA applicants, and accompanying requests for employment authorization.

However, USCIS will continue to accept both initial and renewal DACA requests but will not be able to adjudicate requests for first time DACA applicant’s pursuant to the court order.

Renewal filings for those who have received DACA benefits in the past, will continue unaffected by the court order, and USCIS will continue to adjudicate renewal requests, and accompanying renewal requests for employment authorization as before.

What’s next? The Department of Justice will be appealing the District Court’s decision and the Biden administration is urging Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021.

Read Biden’s Statement responding to the Court’s injunction here.


Applicants Filing Change of Status Applications to F-1 No Longer Need to Submit Subsequent Applications to ‘Bridge the Gap’


We are happy to report that USCIS recently ended the “Bridge the Gap” policy. Previously, prospective students with a current nonimmigrant status in the United States, that was set to expire more than 30 days before their F-1 program start date, were required to “Bridge the Gap,” by filing Form I-539 with USCIS to request an extension of their current status, or a change to another status ensuring that they would not have a “gap” in status.

Effective July 20, 2021, USCIS announced that individuals who have applied for a change of status to F-1 student, will no longer need to “Bridge the Gap,” while their initial F-1 change of status application is pending with USCIS.

To prevent a “gap” in status, USCIS has said that it will now grant the change of status to F-1 effective the day the applicant’s Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status is approved. If USCIS approves an application more than 30 days before the student’s program start date, the student must ensure they do not violate their F-1 status during that time (such as engaging in unauthorized employment, more than 30 days before the program start date as listed on the Form I-20.)

These changes have been introduced to decrease current backlogs and USCIS workloads. A revision of the Form I-539 instructions will soon be published to reflect these new policy changes.

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! It is the start of a brand-new week, and we are excited to bring you the latest updates in immigration news.


Biden Administration Launches Nationwide Initiative to Promote Citizenship


On July 2, 2021, the Biden administration and the Department of Homeland Security announced a joint nationwide initiative to encourage long time permanent residents to take the plunge and become U.S. Citizens. The President’s campaign known as the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization, aims to promote naturalization to all who are eligible, consistent with President Biden’s February 2nd Executive Order 14012 “Restoring Faith in our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.”

Through joint efforts, USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Biden administration will work together to empower permanent residents to pursue their citizenship opportunities, by leading community outreach efforts to the more than 9 million estimated green card holders living in the United States.

The Naturalization Working Group (NWG) is the agency that will be primarily responsible for implementing this initiative. The NWG will be tasked with developing strategies to promote naturalization through citizenship education and awareness by establishing partnerships with the local community. The Group maintains the following goals and outcomes to bring the President’s agenda to fruition:

  • Raising awareness of the importance of citizenship
  • Promoting civic integration and inclusion
  • Providing immigrants with opportunities and tools to become fully engaged citizens
  • Building community capacity to prepare immigrants for citizenship
  • Eliminating sources of fear and other barriers that prevent individuals from accessing available naturalization service and
  • Advancing and ensuring equity through the citizenship and naturalization processes, including on the basis of race, disability, language access, national origin, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, providing support to traditionally underserved communities

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Welcome to the start of a new week! In this blog post we share with you some good news regarding the continuing flexibility policy being followed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for applicants who have received a Request for Evidence, or Notice of Intent to Deny between March 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021, as well as new guidance for FY 2021 H-1B cap-subject petitioners, whose petitions were rejected or administratively closed solely because the requested start date was after Oct. 1, 2020.

 


USCIS RFE/NOID Flexibility Continued for Responses to Agency Requests


On June 24, 2021, USCIS announced that it will continue its flexibility policy and grant applicants who have received a request for evidence, notice of intent to deny, or such a related document, an additional 60 calendar days after the response deadline indicated on the notice or request, to submit a response to a request or notice, provided the request or notice was issued by USCIS between March 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021.

What documents qualify for this flexibility in responding?

Applicants who receive any of the below mentioned documents dated between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021 can take advantage of the additional 60 days to respond to the request or notice:

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Federal District Judge Rules to Reinstate $500,000 Minimum Investment For the EB-5 Visa Program

In this blog post, we share with you a new landmark court decision affecting the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, known as matter of Behring Regional Center LLC V. Chad Wolf et al.

In this case, decided on June 22, 2021, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California vacated the controversial 2019 ‘EB-5 Modernization Rule’ that sought to ‘modernize’ the EB-5 visa program, by increasing the minimum investment amount from $500,000 to $900,000.  In her ruling, Judge Corley concluded that the 2019 Modernization Rule should be vacated because the former acting DHS Security, Kevin McAleenan was not properly appointed in his position under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act when he implemented the Regulations.  Therefore, the officials had no legal authority to make and to announce the changes.

The judge’s new ruling means that the district court’s decision will restore the original rules for the EB-5 program, initially established by the Immigration Act of 1990 as a legal pathway to provide qualified foreign/immigrant investors the opportunity to obtain permanent residency in the U.S. (commonly known as the “green card”). The now-defunct EB-5 Modernization Regulations of 2019 had increased the minimum investment amount from $500,000 to $900,000, but with this new ruling the minimum investment amount has again reverted to $500,000.

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Welcome back to the start of a brand-new week! We are excited to announce brand new developments in the world of immigration specifically for U visa victims of crimes.

On June 14, 2021, the United States Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new policy alert, informing U visa applicants that the agency will now be exercising its discretion to issue four year Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) (also known as work permits),  as well as four-year “deferred action” status to certain U visa applicants, including those who have filed new U visa petitions, and those whose U visa petitions remain pending with USCIS, based on a new discretionary process called a “bona fide determination.”

This is a groundbreaking new development for U visa applicants because victims of crime will now be eligible to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), as well as “deferred action” status, while their U visa applications remain pending with USCIS. With this new policy change, U visa applicants will no longer need to wait 5+ years for their U visa approval, in order to become eligible for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and be protected from deportation.

Previously, only principal U visa applicants whose petitions were approved by USCIS, were authorized to work based on their approved status with immigration. Only those with an approved Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-918) would automatically be issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). All other applicants with pending petitions were forced to wait in the visa queue for a visa to become available due to the mandatory U visa cap. This process on average has taken up to 5 years.

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