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Articles Posted in Proposed rule

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In this post we discuss a new proposed rule published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that seeks to amend regulations governing Form, I-864 Affidavit of Support. The I-864 Affidavit of Support is a required form that must be completed by the person petitioning the foreign national, in order for their relative to immigrate to the United States. The petitioner must attest that they meet the income requirement based on their household size to sponsor the foreign national. Petitioners who are unable to meet the income requirement, must obtain a joint sponsor who does meet this requirement.

Essentially, when the petitioner or joint sponsor signs the affidavit of support, he or she is entering into an enforceable contract with the U.S. government, in which they agree to use their financial resources to support the beneficiary named in the affidavit of support. Where the beneficiary seeks public benefits from a government agency, the petitioner or sponsor can be held legally responsible for repaying those costs to the government agency.

The rules and regulations governing the affidavit of support have recently come under fire during the Trump administration. The President has consistently pushed for stricter enforcement of a sponsor’s obligations, requiring government agencies to hold sponsors liable for any benefits paid out to beneficiaries of an affidavit of support.


What is the New Rule About?

On October 2, 2020 DHS announced a proposed rule that (1) clarifies how a sponsor must demonstrate that he or she has the means to maintain income (2) revises documentation that sponsors and household members must meet as evidence of their income (3) modifies when an applicant is required to submit an Affidavit from a joint sponsor and (4) updates reporting and information sharing between government agencies.

Changes to Documentation Required of Sponsors

The proposed rule updates the evidentiary requirements for sponsors submitting an Affidavit, to “better enable immigration officers and immigration judges to determine whether the sponsor has the means to maintain an annual income at or above the applicable threshold, and whether the sponsor can, in fact, provide such support to the intending immigrant and meet all support obligations during the period the Affidavit is in effect.”

Specifically, this proposed rule would require sponsors and household members who execute an Affidavit or Contract to provide Federal income tax returns for 3 years, credit reports, credit scores, and bank account information.

Receipt of Means-Tested Benefits May Disqualify Sponsor

The proposed rule also seeks to change the regulations to specify that a sponsor’s prior receipt of any means-tested public benefits and a sponsor’s failure to meet support obligations on another executed Affidavit, or household member obligations on a previously executed Affidavit of Support, will impact the determination as to whether the sponsor has the means to maintain the required income threshold to support the immigrant.

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We have important new developments to share with our readers regarding the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) planned increase in filing fees for certain applications and petitions, which was set to go into effect beginning October 2nd 2020.

As we previously reported on our blog, in early August USCIS published a final rule in the Federal Register entitled, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements.” This final rule discussed the agency’s planned increase in filing fees for applications, petitions, or requests filed with USCIS postmarked on or after October 2, 2020.

*For a complete list of the planned increases and petitions affected click here.

According to USCIS, the final rule was intended to ensure that the agency would have enough resources to provide adequate services to applicants and petitioners. The agency stated that after having conducted a review of current fees, the agency determined that they could not cover the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services without a fee increase.

This news was not surprising to say the least. Since the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has been facing an unprecedented financial crisis that has forced the agency to take drastic measures to account for its revenue shortfalls.

Federal Judge Grants Injunction Blocking Increase in Filing Fees

In a surprising turn of events, just days before the final rule was set to go into effect, several organizations filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to stop the government from enforcing the final rule. Immigrant Legal Resource Center, et al., v. Chad F. Wolf.

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, federal judge Jeffrey S. White of the District Court for the Northern District of California, granted the injunction temporarily preventing the government from enforcing the increase in filing fees as planned on October 2nd.

As a result of the court order, USCIS is prohibited from enforcing any part of the final rule while the lawsuit is being litigated in court. While the government is sure to appeal the court’s decision, for now applicants can continue to send their applications and petitions with the current filing fees as posted on the USCIS webpage.

In support of his ruling, judge White reasoned that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in challenging the final rule because both the previous and current acting secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were unlawfully appointed to their posts and therefore were not authorized to issue the final rule. The judge also agreed that the fee hike would put low income immigrants at a severe disadvantage stating, “Plaintiffs persuasively argue that the public interest would be served by enjoining or staying the effective date of the Final Rule because if it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”

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In this blog post we answer your frequently asked questions regarding the public charge rule.

Overview:

On October 10, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security first published the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which dramatically changes the way in which an individual is determined to be a “public charge.” Although five separate courts issued injunctions to stop the government from implementing the final rule, on January 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the Trump administration, allowing the government to implement the public charge rule, except in the state of Illinois where a state-wide injunction remains in place.

The new regulations will make it more difficult for certain adjustment of status and immigrant visa applicants to prove that they are not likely to become a public charge to the United States government.

The following frequently asked questions have been prepared to better inform our readers and address concerns regarding the effect of the public charge rule.

Q: When will the public charge rule take effect?

A: Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, USCIS formally announced on its website that the public charge rule will affect all applications for adjustment of status (green card applications) postmarked on or after February 24, 2020 (except in the state of Illinois, where the rule remains enjoined by a federal court).

Q: Who does the public charge rule apply to?

A: In general, all applicants for admission to the United States are subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(4) unless specifically exempted.

The following non-citizens are affected by the public charge rule:

  • Applicants for adjustment of status in the United States
  • Applicants for an immigrant visa abroad
  • Applicants for a nonimmigrant visa abroad
  • Applicants for admission at the U.S. border who have been granted an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, and
  • Nonimmigrants applying for an extension or change of status within the United States (new policy under the final rule).

Applicants seeking lawful permanent resident status (applicants for adjustment of status) based on a family relationship are most affected by the public charge rule.

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Welcome back to our blog! We kick off the week by bringing you recent developments regarding the government’s controversial rule entitled, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” which sought to expand the scope of public benefits that could render a permanent resident or immigrant visa applicant ineligible for immigration benefits.

As you know, in October of 2019, the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” was swiftly blocked by several federal judges shortly before going into effect. By court order, the government cannot implement the final rule anywhere in the United States until a final resolution has been reached in several lawsuits brought against the government challenging the validity of the public charge rule.

On Monday, January 13, 2020, the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the court to lift the remaining lower court injunction, that is currently stopping the government from enforcing the public charge rule.

The government’s request comes just one week after a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, upheld a lower court injunction, preventing the government from implementing the public charge rule on a nationwide basis.

Angered by the decision, the government decided to appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals decision by bringing the matter to the Supreme Court, urging the Court to side with the President and allow the implementation of the rule while a decision in the New York lawsuit is reached on the merits.

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In this blog post, we would like to remind our readers that today is the last day to submit a public comment on the USCIS proposed rule increasing immigration fees for certain petitions. Initially USCIS had set a 30-day comment period ending on December 16, 2019, however the comment period was later extended for two more weeks, ending today December 30, 2019.

Once the comment period has closed, USCIS will review all public comments and publish a final rule in the Federal Register which will contain the rule’s effective date of implementation.

The filing fees for the following petitions would increase substantially under the proposed rule:

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In its latest attempt to limit the entry of asylum seekers to the United States, the Trump administration has published a new proposal in the Federal Register entitled, “Procedures for Asylum and Bars to Asylum Eligibility,” adding minor crimes to the list of offenses that would bar individuals from obtaining asylum.

The proposal primarily seeks to establish additional bars on eligibility for asylum seekers who have committed certain offenses in the United States after entering the country, including minor offenses. Offenses which have been committed in a foreign country will not be counted. Therefore, the proposal targets asylum seekers who were once present in the United States, now returning to the United States seeking asylum protection, or asylum seekers waiting for a decision on a pending asylum case in the United States who have committed an offense after entering the country.

Under this new proposal, the ineligibility bar would apply to the following individuals:

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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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In its latest act of defiance against the judicial branch, the Trump administration has published an Interim Final Rule entitled “Visas: Ineligibility Based on Public Charge Grounds,” designed to give Consular officers wider discretion to deny immigrant and nonimmigrant visas to applicants on public charge grounds based on a variety of factors that could weigh positively or negatively on an applicant.

According to the rule, consular officials will now be able to weigh a variety of factors to determine whether a visa applicant is likely to become a public charge. These factors include the applicant’s age, health, educational background, and financial status. In addition, consular officers will have increased discretion to scrutinize certain applications more closely than others based on the type of visa classification sought by the applicant, as well as the duration of stay.

Applicants who are seeking a long-term visa, for example may be scrutinized more heavily than applicant’s seeking a short-term visa (such as a tourist visa).

How will these factors be weighed by Consular officials?

Age: Consular officers will consider whether the alien’s age makes the alien more likely than not to become a public charge in the totality of the circumstances, such as by impacting the alien’s ability to work. Consular officers will consider an alien’s age between 18 and 62 as a positive factor.

Health: Consular officers will consider whether the alien’s health serves as a positive or negative factor in the totality of the circumstances, including whether the alien has been diagnosed with a medical condition that is likely to require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with the alien’s ability to provide and care for himself or herself, to attend school, or to work (if authorized).

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On Friday October 11, 2019, three Federal courts in California, New York, and Washington issued three temporary injunctions blocking the Trump administration from enforcing the Public Charge rule on a nationwide basis, which was set to go into effect on October 15, 2019.

The decision to block the government from enforcing the Public Charge rule is sure to set off a contentious legal battle that is just beginning to unfold.

California’s Injunction

In California, the City of San Francisco, State of California, and La Clinica de La Raza, a health care provider, joined together as plaintiffs to sue the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the President of the United States to prevent the Public Charge rule from going forward.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton granted the Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction bringing a temporary stop to the government’s plans to enforce the rule, in states falling under the purview of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Hamilton wrote that in seeking to enforce the final rule, the government failed to consider the impact the rule would have on local and state governments when immigrants chose to leave public health benefit program, “[DHS] made no attempt, whatsoever, to investigate the type or magnitude of harm that would flow from the reality which it admittedly recognized would result—fewer people would be vaccinated,”

Washington’s Injunction

Similarly in a separate but related lawsuit, the States of Washington, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island joined together as Plaintiffs to sue the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the heads of these agencies, and the President of the United States.

The Washington injunction was more sweeping in scope in that the Federal Judge in that case, Rosanna Malouf Peterson, ordered a nationwide injunction forcing the government to refrain from implementing or enforcing the rule on a temporary but nationwide basis. In her decision Judge Peterson wrote, “the Court declines to limit the injunction to apply only in those states within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”

As a result, the broad scope of the injunction prevents the government from enforcing the Public Charge rule on a nationwide basis.

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On September 9, 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register aimed at (1) removing a regulatory provision which states that USCIS has 30 days from the date an asylum applicant files the initial Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (EAD), to grant or deny the initial employment authorization application and (2) removing a provision that requires an asylum applicant to submit an I-765 Renewal of Employment Authorization to USCIS 90 days prior to the expiration of the employment authorization document’s validity.

Why the Change?

Initial applications for employment authorization from pending asylum applicants are the only category of employment authorization applications adjudicated by USCIS that have a required processing timeline attached to them.

Because of this, the agency must frequently divert resources away from other legal immigration application processing categories in order to meet the 30-day deadline for asylum seekers. These categories include family members of certain high skilled employees and those seeking adjustment of status in the United States, among others.

The proposed regulation is meant to improve the process for granting or denying an initial application for employment authorization documents (EADs) by reforming the current 30-day timeline pertaining to pending asylum applicants.

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