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Are you a small business owner feeling the pinch of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic? Have no fear, the newly passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) provides emergency financial relief for small to mid-sized businesses in the United States, to help business owners keep employees on their payroll.

This federal relief package allocates nearly $350 billion in emergency aid for businesses through a small business loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program. This program is separate from existing federal loan programs, including existing Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster relief loans which you may also decide to pursue.

Paycheck Protection Program

What is it about? 

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan forgiveness program (available through June 30, 2020) designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep workers on their payroll.

For small business owners who participate, loans obtained through this program will be fully forgiven if (1) all employees are kept on the payroll for 8 weeks and (2) the money is used for payroll costs, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities (at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). As an additional incentive, loan payments will be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required to obtain a loan.

According to the SBA, loan forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness is reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease.

Please note: PPP loans are not grants, instead they are loans—the majority of which can be forgiven if used for payroll costs as outlined above.

Who is Eligible?

Any small business with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors, self-employed persons, private non-profits, and 501(c)(19) veteran’s organizations) affected by the coronavirus pandemic can apply.

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Great news! Today, March 27, 2020, USCIS announced that it has received enough electronic registrations to reach the FY 2021 H-1B cap—just 7 days after the registration period closed on March 20, 2020.

USCIS randomly selected from among registrations that were properly submitted to meet the 65,000/20,000 annual numerical limitations for the regular cap and advanced degree exemption.

Petitioners who have been selected will be notified of their selection no later than March 31, 2020 (4 days). Only petitioners with selected registrations will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition for the beneficiary named in the applicable selected registration.

How will I be notified?

Now that the selection process has been completed, USCIS will send electronic notices to all registrants with selected registrations that are eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition on behalf of the individual named in the notice within the filing period indicated on the notice.

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It has been nearly two weeks since the President of the United States declared a public health emergency for COVID-19, forcing the American economy to come to a screeching halt. Thereafter, states enacted their own measures requiring non-essential businesses across the country to shutter temporarily until the virus has been contained. Although these measures have been undoubtedly necessary to prevent the rapid spread of the virus, the majority of Americans nationwide have lost their livelihoods overnight.

This past week lawmakers have been busy drawing up legislation that would provide emergency financial assistance for individuals, families, and businesses in the United States.

This afternoon Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), and the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature.

Although this legislation is sweeping in scope, this post will specifically discuss financial relief for individuals and families, and more importantly which individuals will qualify to receive financial assistance.

What does the CARES Act do for individuals and their families?

Under the Act, most single individuals earning less than $75,000 can expect to receive a one-time payment of $1,200. Married couples filing jointly (earning less than $150,000), would each receive a check ($2,400) and families would receive $500 per child. For example, a family of four earning less than $150,000 can expect to receive $3,400.

Rebates would begin to phase out at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint taxpayers at 5 percent per dollar of qualified income, or $50 per $1,000 earned. Rebates phase out completely at $99,000 for single taxpayers with no children and $198,000 for joint taxpayers with no children.

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As the impact of COVID-19 grows, we think it is important that you hear directly from us about the mitigation efforts that we the Sapochnick Law Firm have enacted to reduce the risk of infection to our clients, attorneys, and valued staff members.

At this critical juncture, our focus remains providing the highest quality of service to our clients, while at the same time preserving the health, safety, and wellbeing of all those we come in contact with.

To that end, our Firm is hard at work to avoid critical disruptions in service from the COVID-19 outbreak, while at the same time acting responsibly to do what we can to prevent further spread of this virus. We continue to closely monitor and assess this evolving situation and are diligent about communicating with affected clients regarding delays or other issues resulting from this evolving situation. In recognizing the fluidity of this situation, we have engaged our executive staff to meet regularly to monitor activities and amend our policies accordingly.

Our approach to COVID-19

In meeting the needs of our clients while complying with government directives, our Firm has established an Alternate Work Schedule Program that incorporates business continuity for all critical and essential services, especially those in which time is of the essence. In part, our Firm will engage the use of sophisticated and effective remote working software that will allow non-essential employees to work from the comfort of their homes to promote social distancing and reduce transmission. Essential employees in good health will continue to work in office, however every effort will be made to limit client meetings to only those that are essential and cannot be carried out through online platforms.

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In the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, USCIS reminds applicants and petitioners impacted by the pandemic that they can seek certain types of discretionary relief on a case-by-case basis.

Relief for Individuals Seeking Extensions/Change of Status

Special relief is available to individuals who were unable to file an extension or change of status petition before the end of their authorized stay expired, if a special situation prevented the individual’s departure and/or filing.

According to USCIS, “when applying for an extension or change of status due to a special situation that prevented your planned and timely departure,” the agency “may take into consideration how the special situation prevented your departure.”

In addition, if an applicant was not able to apply for an extension or change of status before their authorized period of admission expired, USCIS in their discretion may excuse the delay if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant’s control. An applicant in such a situation should be prepared to provide documentary evidence of those extraordinary circumstances. Depending on the applicant’s situation, the types of evidence that can be provided will vary.

Relief for F-1 Students Based on Severe Economic Hardship Caused by Unforeseen Circumstances

F-1 students who are experiencing severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control (such as those impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic) may request employment authorization to work off-campus (if they meet certain regulatory requirements) by filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization along with Form I-20, and supporting materials. See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9).

The student’s Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by your Designated School Official, certifying your eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control.

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In this post, we will discuss Form DS-5540, a mandatory public charge questionnaire that must be completed by all foreign nationals seeking an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad and some non-immigrant visa applicants.

What is Form DS-5540, Public Charge Questionnaire?

Shortly after the publication of the public charge rule in the Federal Register, the government published a separate rule requiring applicants seeking immigrant visas, including diversity visas, at a Consulate abroad, to complete Form DS-5540, except for certain types of immigrants exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility such as self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Afghan and Iraqi interpreters applying for special immigrant visas.

In addition, the government has given consular officers broad discretion to require nonimmigrant visa applicants to complete DS-5540, if for example the officer determines more information is needed regarding the applicant’s ability to financially support themselves following entry into the United States, without depending on the government’s assistance, or if the consular officer is not satisfied with the information provided by the applicant.

Therefore, consular officers have the power to request nonimmigrant visa applicants to complete DS-5540.

The DS-5540 solicits information that helps consular officers determine whether applicants are subject to the public charge visa ineligibility ground (section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act) and will not rely on certain specific public resources upon entering the United States.

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In light of the global Coronavirus pandemic, on March 11, 2020, the President signed a presidential proclamation suspending and limiting the entry of immigrants and nonimmigrants who were physically present within the Schengen Area (most EU states) during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States, effective 11:59 eastern time Friday, March 13, 2020.

The proclamation will remain in effect until terminated by the President at his discretion based on recommendations by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 11:59 eastern time on March 13, 2020.

Who is exempted from the Proclamation?

The proclamation will not apply to the following categories of people:

  • lawful permanent resident of the United States;
  • any alien who is the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
  • any alien who is the parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • any alien who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • any alien who is the child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  • any alien traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
  • any alien traveling as a nonimmigrant pursuant to a C-1, D, or C-1/D nonimmigrant visa as a crewmember or any alien otherwise traveling to the United States as air or sea crew;

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this blog post we cover the latest immigration news of the week.

USCIS Launches Online Form to Report Fraud

On March 3rd USCIS announced the launch of a new online form available on the USCIS website that can be used to report suspected immigration fraud and abuse including asylum/refugee fraud, religious worker visa fraud, employment-based visa fraud, investor visa fraud (EB-5 program), student visa fraud, marriage or fiancé visa fraud, unauthorized practice of law (notarios), and other types of immigration fraud.

This “USCIS tip form” provides space for the form user to describe alleged fraud or abuse in detail. According to USCIS, the tip form was created to make the tip process more effective and efficient, so that the agency can better collect information and make an assessment regarding the credibility of tips sent to the agency.

Previously fraud reporting was done by email, making it difficult for USCIS to respond and investigate tips.

This new online system for reporting fraud represents the Trump administration’s commitment to crack down and prevent various forms of visa fraud.

Over the years, the Trump administration has signed various directives and executive orders such as “Buy American, Hire American” aimed at rooting out fraudulent H1B, asylum/refugee, and EB-5 investor visas. The Trump administration has also worked to limit or slow down the issuance of these visas by issuing aggressive requests for evidence in the case of H1B visas and increasing the minimum investment amount for EB-5 investors.

Presidential Proclamation Suspending Entry of Certain Immigrants and Nonimmigrants who Pose a Risk of Transmitting the Coronavirus

On February 3rd the Department of State issued an important announcement reminding travelers of a Presidential proclamation signed on January 31st barring entry to the United States of immigrants or nonimmigrants who traveled to China within the 14 days immediately prior to arrival in the United States.

The proclamation went into effect on Sunday, February 2.

Travelers should note that the proclamation does not apply to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States.  Foreign diplomats traveling to the United States on A or G visas are excepted from this proclamation.  Other exceptions include certain family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, including spouses, children (under the age of 21), parents (provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21), and siblings (provided that both the sibling and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident are unmarried and under the age of 21).  There is also an exception for crew traveling to the United States on C, D or C1/D visas.

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H-1B season has officially kicked off!

The new mandatory H-1B electronic registration system for fiscal year 2021 opened yesterday at noon ET on March 1, 2020 and will remain open until noon ET on March 20, 2020.

In order to have a chance of being selected, from now on all prospective petitioners and their authorized representatives seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2021, including for beneficiaries eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must first register during the registration period (March 1, 2020 to March 20, 2020) and pay the associated $10 registration fee for each beneficiary.

Only petitioners with a selected registration may participate in the H-1B filing process.

Registering is Easy

Petitioners and their authorized representatives must create a myUSCIS online account and submit registrations for each beneficiary via their online account during the registration period.

Per USCIS:

Prospective H-1B cap-subject petitioners or their representatives are required to use a myUSCIS online account to: 1) register each beneficiary electronically for the selection process and 2) pay the associated $10 H-1B registration fee for each registration submitted on behalf of each beneficiary. Prospective petitioners or their representatives will be able to submit registrations for multiple beneficiaries in a single online session. Through the account, they will be able to prepare, edit and store draft registrations prior to final payment and submission of each registration.

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Applying for adjustment of status just became a lot more difficult.

After announcing the nationwide implementation of the final rule “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” on February 24, 2020, USCIS unveiled a brand-new form (Form I-944) that must be filed with all applications for adjustment of status postmarked on or after February 24, 2020.

What is Form I-944?

This new Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency, will be used by USCIS to determine whether an applicant is likely to become a public charge at any time in the future based on several factors including receipt of public benefits, as well as the applicant’s age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills, prospective immigration status and period of stay, and the petitioner’s Form I-864 Affidavit of Support.

In general, a person is inadmissible based on public charge grounds if he or she is more likely than not at any time in the future to receive one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.

Who is Exempt from Filing this Form?

Certain special classes of immigrants are not required to file the new Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency with an adjustment of status application such as: VAWA self-petitioners, special immigrant juveniles, certain Afghani or Iraqi nationals, asylees, refugees, victims of qualifying criminal activity (U Nonimmigrants), victims of human trafficking (T nonimmigrants), applicants applying under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Haitian Refugee Fairness Act, certain Parolees, Nicaraguans and other Central Americans of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), and other special classes of immigrants.

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