Articles Posted in Policy Manuals

couple-g86465ecab_1920USCIS Updates Policy Guidance Highlighting Discretionary Power to Waive In-Person Interviews for I-751 Applicants


On April 7, 2022, the United States Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its Policy Manual on the interview waiver criteria for family-based conditional permanent residents filing to remove the conditions on permanent residence on Form I-751 Removal of Conditions.

Under the law, those who attained their permanent resident status (green card) based on a marriage that was less than 2 years old at the time of approval, receive a conditional green card, also known as “conditional permanent residency.”

This conditional green card is issued for a 2-year period. Prior to the expiration of the 2-year green card, the applicant must file Form I-751 to remove their conditions on permanent residence within the 90-day window before it expires.

The Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates that a conditional permanent resident must appear for an in-person interview as part of the I-751 Removal of Conditions adjudication process, so that the immigration officer can verify the accuracy of the information included in the petition and determine whether the conditions on permanent residence should be removed.

The Act also carves out discretionary powers that allow USCIS officers to authorize waiver of the in-person interview.

The April 2022 updated Policy Guidance clarifies that USCIS officers may consider waiving an interview, if, generally, the applicant meets all eligibility requirements for removal of conditions, and the record contains sufficient evidence for approval, and there is no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, criminal bars, or such factors that would require an interview.

The Guidance also eliminates automatic referrals in cases where a conditional permanent resident obtained status by way of Consular processing.

The language of the pertinent section indicates the following:

Volume 6: Immigrants, Part I, Family-Based Conditional Permanent Residents, Chapter 3, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence [6 USCIS-PM I.3]


CPRs who file a Form I-751 must appear for an interview at a USCIS field office, unless USCIS waives the interview requirement. USCIS officers may consider waiving the interview in cases where:

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In this blog post, we share great news for E and L dependent spouses!

As we previously reported on our blog, pursuant to a new USCIS policy, E and L nonimmigrant dependent spouses are now considered employment authorized “incident to their status.”

This means that upon admission and issuance of a valid I-94 arrival/departure document showing E or L-2 spousal status, E and L nonimmigrant spouses will automatically be authorized to work without the need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Previously, E or L dependent spouses were required to apply for an EAD by filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS.


How does this system work?


Effective January 31, 2022, CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO), in coordination with both USCIS and Department of State, began issuing new classes of admission on the I-94 arrival/departure record for E and L dependent spouses entering the U.S. at a Port of Entry. The new I-94 admission records indicate an “S” designation after the E or L class of admission to indicate that the spouse is authorized to work in the United States. The “S” designation is meant to indicate that the E or L nonimmigrant is a dependent “spouse” of a principal E or L visa holder. Please note that the new designation will not explicitly state that the spouse is “work authorized,” however the “S” designation signals to U.S. employers that the spouse is authorized to work for I-9 employment verification purposes.

Spouses who applied for an extension of their E or L visa status with USCIS, will receive I-94s that carry the new “S” designation at the bottom of their approval notices.


How can I prove that I am authorized to work as an E or L dependent spouse?


If you are an L or E dependent spouse who wishes to work in the United States without having to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you must present an I-94 admission document with the “S” spousal annotation.

CBP has confirmed that the agency has been issuing new I-94’s with the “S” spousal annotation to E and L spouses who gained admission to the United States on or after January 31, 2022.


How does the annotation look?


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E/L Spousal Annotation

The I-94 will be annotated with an “S” next to the E or L-2 status designation, signaling to prospective employers that the individual is authorized to work during the validity period of the I-94. Spouses admitted in E or L-2 status should review their I-94 document immediately upon admission to ensure that it contains the appropriate annotation.


What if I gained admission to the United States prior to January 31, 2022 and I do not have the spousal designation on my I-94?


If you are an E or L dependent spouse who gained admission to the U.S. prior to January 31, 2022, and you do not have the “S” spousal annotation on your I-94, you must contact your closest CBP Deferred Inspection Office to determine whether they may, in their discretion, amend your I-94 arrival/departure record to include the “S” spousal annotation without requiring international travel. CBP may or may not agree to amend your I-94.

In cases where CBP will not amend your I-94 to include the spousal annotation, you may consider discussing with your immigration attorney whether you should depart the United States and re-enter at a U.S. port of entry to secure the new spousal annotated I-94. You must exercise caution before making any international travel plans. An immigration attorney will need to evaluate whether you have the proper documentation to gain re-admission after temporary foreign travel and determine whether your planned travel would result in the issuance of a new annotated I-94. Certain brief international trips may not result in a new I-94 issued by CBP.

Please note that if you are an E or L spouse admitted prior to January 31, 2022, and you have filed an application to extend your L or E status while in the U.S., USCIS is expected to issue the “S” spousal annotation on I-94’s printed at the bottom of USCIS-issued approval notices.

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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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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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Last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its policy manual to clarify acts that may prevent a naturalization applicant from meeting the good moral character requirement.

A successful naturalization applicant must show that they have been, and continue to be a person of good moral character during the statutory period prior to filing the application for naturalization and up until taking the Oath of Allegiance. The statutory period is generally give years for permanent residents of the United States, three years for applicants married to U.S. citizens, and one year for certain applicants applying on the basis of qualifying U.S. military service.

Two or more DUI Convictions

Firstly, the policy manual clarifies that two or more DUI convictions during the statutory period could affect an applicant’s good moral character determination (Matter of Castillo-Perez). However, applicants with two or more DUI convictions may be able to overcome this presumption by presenting evidence that they had good moral character even during the period within which they committed the DUI offenses.

DUI refers to all state and federal impaired-driving offenses, including driving while intoxicated, operating under the influence, and other offenses that make it unlawful for an individual to operate a motor vehicle while impaired.

Post-Sentencing Orders

Secondly, the policy manual clarifies the definition of “term of imprisonment or a sentence” to mean, an alien’s original criminal sentence, without regard to post-sentencing changes. Post-sentencing orders that change a criminal alien’s original sentence are only relevant for immigration purposes if they are based on a procedural or substantive defect in the underlying criminal proceeding.

Furthermore, the policy guidance provides the following as examples of unlawful acts recognized by case law as barring good mood character (this list is not exhaustive):

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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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Return of Unselected H-1B Petitions

H-1B cap-subject petitions that were not selected in the fiscal year 2019 visa lottery have been returned to unlucky applicants. If you filed a petition between April 2 and April 6 and you did not receive a receipt notice for your application, you will be receiving your returned petitions in the mail by August 13. If you do not receive a returned petition by this date, you should contact USCIS.

Updated NTA Policy

On June 28th USCIS issued a policy memorandum providing updated guidance for the referral of cases and issuances of notices to appear (NTAs) in cases involving inadmissible and deportable aliens. The policy memorandum outlines the Department of Homeland Security’s priorities for removal as well as guidelines for referring cases and issuing NTAs.

Under the updated policy the following classes of aliens are prioritized for removal, aliens who are removable based on criminal or security grounds, fraud or misrepresentation, and aliens subject to expedited removal,” as well as alienswho, regardless of the basis for removal:

(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”

Today, USCIS announced that it is postponing implementation of this policy guidance because operational guidance has not yet been provided to immigration officers. The policy memorandum gave USCIS 30 days to implement proper protocols for NTA issuance consistent with the updated policy memorandum. We will notify our readers once we receive information about when the NTA policy will be implemented.

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A new report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) released this month indicates that the number of H-1B denials and Requests for Evidence (RFEs) increased significantly during the fourth quarter of 2017 which began on July 1, 2017, following the implementation of Presidential Executive Order “Buy American, Hire American” in April 2017. Among other things, the Executive Order targeted the H-1B visa program calling on the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to suggest reforms to the H-1B program and “ensure that H-1B visas are awarded the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.” Data obtained from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicates that “the proportion of H-1B petitions denied for foreign-born professionals” applying for H-1B visas, “increased by 41% from the 3rd to the 4th quarter of FY 2017, rising from a denial rate of 15.9% in the 3rd quarter to 22.4% in the 4th quarter.”

The NFAP also discovered that the number of requests for evidence issued during the 4th quarter of fiscal year 2017 “almost equaled the total number issued by USCIS adjudicators for the first three quarters of FY 2017 combined (63,184 vs. 63,599).”

The number of requests for evidence “more than doubled between the 3rd and 4th quarter of FY 2017, rising from 28,711 to 63,184.”

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Indian Nationals

According to the report, “USCIS adjudicators were much more likely to issue a Request for Evidence for applications for Indians than for people from other countries.” For example, “In the 4th quarter of FY 2017, 72% of H-1B cases for Indians received a Request for Evidence, compared to 61% for all other countries.” Data over the years confirms that applications filed by Indian nationals result in higher rates of denials and requests for evidence, not just for H-1B applications but also for L-1 visa applications.

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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released a new policy memorandum that will have wide ranging implications for immigrants. Beginning September 11, 2018, USCIS will use their discretion to deny an application, petition, or request filed with USCIS without first issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), if insufficient evidence is sent with the initial filing of the application or if the evidence provided does not establish the applicant’s eligibility for the benefit requested.

The new policy memorandum “Issuance of Certain RFEs and NOIDs; Revisions to Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) Chapter 10.5(a), Chapter 10.5(b)” supersedes the 2013 policy memorandum titled “Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny” which previously governed an officer’s discretion to deny an application, petition, or request without first issuing a request for evidence. Previously, the 2013 memo required requests for evidence to be issued where the initial evidence was unsatisfactory or did not establish the applicant’s eligibility for the benefit requested.

As of September 11, 2018, USCIS now has the power to deny petitions lacking initial evidence without sending a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny to cure the defect. This is bad news for applicants of immigrant and non-immigrant visa types, because applicants who have not provided sufficient evidence to USCIS to establish that they are eligible for the benefit requested can be denied without having the opportunity to cure the defect.

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The Trump administration has ended an Obama-era policy that required immigration officials to release pregnant women in detention from federal custody. As of at least December, the Trump administration has directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to treat pregnant detainees as they would any other, except for women who have reached their third trimester. The new policy change aligns with the President’s hard line stance on immigration, and executive orders signed into law by the President during the past few months.

Under the new policy, immigration officials must now make a case-by-case determination “taking any special factors into account,” when deciding whether to release pregnant women in federal custody, including whether the alien has an asylum claim based on a credible fear of persecution. Other factors that are taken into account include the woman’s medical condition, potential danger to the public, and potential for flight. Pregnant women who remain in detention will continue to receive necessary medical care and a record of pregnant women in custody must be kept by immigration officials.

Philip Miller, ICE Deputy Executive Associate Director, divulged that 35 pregnant women are currently in federal custody subject to mandatory detention, and that 506 pregnant women have been detained by ICE since December. Miller however would not comment on how many of these women were deported, or released from detention. “In terms of risks to the community, we look at criminal history. Just as there are men who commit violent acts, heinous acts, so too have we had women in custody who have been convicted of committing heinous, violent acts,” Miller commented when discussing the factors that mitigate against release.

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