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Articles Posted in USCIS Field Offices

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On November 13, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced important revisions to the civics examination component of the naturalization test.

Unfortunately, these changes will make it more difficult for at least some immigrants to successfully become U.S. Citizens.

As you may be aware the naturalization test consists of two components. The first is English proficiency – applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency as determined by their ability to read, write, speak and understand English. The second requirement is the civics examination – an oral examination requiring applicants to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government.

As part of the civics examination a USCIS Officer asks the applicant up to 10 of 100 possible civics questions. To successfully pass the examination applicants are required to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.

With the new revisions applying to applications filed on or after December 1, 2020, USCIS will increase the number of civics test questions that will be asked from 10 to 20 and applicants will be required to answer 12 questions (instead of 6) correctly in order to pass.


What exactly do the new changes include?

The USCIS policy alert published on November 13, 2020 entitled “Civics Educational Requirement for Purposes of Naturalization,” outlines the changes that will be made to the naturalization civics examination beginning December 1, 2020.

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We would like to wish our readers a very great start of the week. In this blog post, we will be covering recent and exciting developments in immigration law.


K-1 Visa Applicants

We have great news for K-1 fiancé visa applicants. Today, August 31, 2020, the Department of State issued an important announcement for K visa applicants. Effective August 28, 2020, the Department of State has given Consular sections the authority to grant K visa cases “high priority.” This directive applies to Consulates and Embassies worldwide and gives Consular posts the discretion to prioritize the scheduling of K visa interviews, as country conditions allow during the Coronavirus pandemic.

DOS has encouraged applicants to check the website of their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for updates on what services that post is currently able to offer.

Revalidating the I-129F Petition

DOS has also stated that while the I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) is valid for a period of four months, consular officials have the authority to revalidate the I-129F petition in four-month increments.

In addition, the announcement states that for most cases impacted by the suspension of routine visa services or COVID-19 travel restrictions, it will not be necessary to file a new I-129F petition.


Interview Waiver Eligibility for Certain Non-Immigrant Visa Applicants

The Department of State announced on August 25, 2020, that Consular officials at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad can temporarily waive the in-person interview requirement for individuals applying for a nonimmigrant visa in the same classification.

Previously, interview waiver eligibility was limited to applicants whose nonimmigrant visa expired within 12 months. The new announcement temporarily extends the expiration period to 24 months.

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Congress is moving quickly to avert the financial crisis currently plaguing the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). On Saturday August 22nd the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill aiming to provide much needed emergency funding to help USCIS meet its operational needs.

Earlier this year, USCIS made clear that without additional funding the agency would need to furlough two-thirds of its workforce by the end of August, even after announcing an increase in fees set to go into effect on October 2nd. The agency has been struggling to stay afloat in the wake of the Coronavirus.

While the bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed into law by the President, this is very promising news and a step in the right direction for applicants waiting in line for their applications to be processed on a timely basis.

Should the bill be successful it will stop the agency’s planned furloughs and inject much needed capital to help USCIS deal with the significant backlogs across the board. The Senate is expected to return to chambers in September and will likely take up the issue as soon as possible.

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We have great news for visa applicants regarding the public charge rule. On August 7, 2020, the U.S. Department of State issued an important update explaining that the agency will be complying with the July 29th injunction issued by a federal judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York which temporarily blocks the government from “enforcing, applying, implementing, or treating as effective,” the public charge rule known as “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” which was implemented on February 20, 2020.

As a result, effective June 29th (the date of the Judge’s order) neither Consular officials nor the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can enforce any part of the public charge rule for any period during which there is a declared national health emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and for as long as the injunction remains in place.

In other words, visa applicants applying for both immigrant and non-immigrant visas at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad, can rest assured that Consular officials will not enforce the public charge rule known as “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” in any way pursuant to the Court’s ruling on June 29th.

In their statement the Department of State made clear, “the Department is complying with the court’s order and is in the process of updating its guidance to consular officers on how to proceed under the preliminary injunction. In the interim, visa applications that appear to be ineligible under INA 212(a)(4) will be refused for administrative processing to allow for consultation with the Department, including legal review to ensure compliance with applicable court orders.  Visa applicants are not requested to take any additional steps at this time and should attend their visa interviews as scheduled.  Applicants are not required to complete, nor should they present the DS-5540, Public Charge Questionnaire.”

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Welcome back to Visalawyerblog! In this post we bring you the latest immigration updates.


Naturalization Ceremonies

Great news for naturalization applicants waiting for an oath ceremony. On July 1, 2020, USCIS issued an announcement notifying the public that it anticipates that it will complete nearly all postponed administrative naturalization ceremonies by the end of July of 2020.

USCIS has been prioritizing the scheduling of oath ceremonies for all naturalization applicants who were approved following their interviews. As we previously reported, USCIS is also exploring options to bypass the formal oath ceremony process in the future, and administer the oath immediately following a successful naturalization applicant’s interview. This will help move cases along quickly during the pandemic and limit further exposure.

USCIS remains committed to being as flexible as possible to welcome new citizens to the United States as fast as possible. We are glad that in the very least, naturalization applicants are being accommodated by the agency during this difficult time.

If you have not yet received your naturalization oath ceremony notice, you should be receiving one very soon. As always, we recommend calling USCIS to expedite the process.


Calls to Extend TPS for Yemen and Somalia due to COVID-19

Dozens of organizations are calling on the government to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for at least 180 days to all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter was issued in early April by interested organizations urging USCIS and DHS to automatically extend work authorization and TPS for all current Yemen and Somalia TPS holders, or at the very least extend the re-registration period for TPS holders from Somalia and Yemen for a total of 180 days.

The letter emphasizes the importance of granting relief for Yemeni and Somalia TPS holders stating, “While states across the country are rightfully taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these measures and the subsequent loss of income and freedom of movement establish insurmountable barriers for TPS holders to renew their status before the rapidly approaching re-registration deadline. TPS holders should not have to choose between missing a deadline and violating health directives that keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”

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Interviews at the San Diego Field Office

We have great news for our local readers. The USCIS San Diego Field Office is scheduled to resume interviews on July 6, 2020, with priority given to adjustment of status applications filed by doctors and front-line workers fighting to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Under certain circumstances, USCIS will exercise its discretion to waive adjustment of status interviews on a case-by-case basis.


What will be the approach for rescheduling?

The USCIS San Diego Field Office will begin rescheduling all other interviews on a “first-in, first-out,” basis based on receipt date of filing. This will occur as soon as possible.


When will biometrics offices reopen to the public?

Application Support Centers in San Marcos in Chula Vista are scheduled to reopen to the public on July 27, we ask our readers to please be patient while they wait to be rescheduled. Those with cancelled biometrics will be automatically rescheduled and will receive a notice in the mail with a new biometrics appointment.


What about Parole in Place cases?

Parole in place applications continue to be adjudicated, however applicants should expect delays.


What about citizenship applications?

USCIS will continue to prioritize the scheduling of oath ceremonies for naturalization applicants. Those who did not appear at a scheduled oath ceremony will receive a letter by mail. As we previously reported, oath ceremonies in San Diego are being held at the Cabrillo National Monument and the City of El Cajon parking lot adjacent to the police department.

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Our readers and clients have eagerly been asking why the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reported extremely long processing times on their webpage. Others are concerned about when their field offices will reopen and reschedule their interviews. In this post we hope to provide some clarification regarding these very important issues.


Long Processing Times


As some of you may know as a result of the pandemic, USCIS has experienced a significant loss of revenue that has left the agency with no choice but to begin the process of furloughing much needed employees. The agency is no longer able to meet current workloads and has been taking drastic measures to try to cope with the current situation. CIS has requested $1.2 billion in aid from Congress to help keep the agency afloat. Among other things, CIS plans to increase filing fees this summer, and implement additional surcharges on all applications. The agency’s funding crisis has unfortunately resulted in very long processing times for those with pending applications. As many of you have noticed, the processing times listed on the CIS website vary widely depending on the service center processing the application or petition, and the relationship between the applicant and petitioner (for family-based petitions).


What accounts for the different processing times?


First, processing times vary depending on the service center that is processing your application or petition. Each service center has been specifically designated to handle specific types of immigration benefits. The type of center that will process your case depends on a number of different factors including: the type of immigration benefit you are requesting, your immigration category, and also your state of residency.

Since some types of immigration benefits are in great demand, such as permanent residency, service centers handling these types of applications generally have a heavier workload than others. Unfortunately, this means that processing times for service centers with heavier workloads will be longer than others. USCIS has tried to balance the workload by transferring some petitions to other service centers that do not have such a heavy workload. These efforts have been made to try to speed up the adjudication process.

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elijah-o-donnell-t8T_yUgCKSM-unsplash-scaledA new media report has provided information revealing that the Trump administration is planning to put a temporary “hold” on green card applications filed from the United States.


What is this all about?


As you know earlier this year, the President signed “Proclamation Suspending the Entry of Immigrants Who Present Risk to the U.S. Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak,” limiting the immigration of aliens outside of the U.S., without an immigrant visa, or official travel document as of April 23rd.

Recent information has surfaced suggesting that the Trump administration seeks to temporarily suspend adjustment of status requests to permanent residence from those living in the United States.

According to a source speaking on condition of anonymity, USCIS has internally told employees that the agency will be temporarily suspending the processing of adjustment of status petitions filed for individuals in the United States, with some exceptions.


What are the exceptions?


Those who fall within the following exceptions will not be impacted by this temporary suspension:

  • Cases already given to the adjudicator (the immigration officer in charging of issuing a decision in your case)
  1. Example: If you had an interview scheduled in April or March and that interview was cancelled because of COVID-19, the suspension does not apply to you
  • Continuations – people who have had their cases continued
  1. Example: Cases that were paused because of COVID, interview rescheduling, etc.
  • Applications filed by medical workers and/or providers
  1. Example: If you are an essential worker fighting COVID-19 you are exempted from the order
  • Cases at the National Benefits Center will not be impacted
  • Very old cases that are currently pending a decision
  • Adjustment of status applications filed on the basis of the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF)
  • Identified National Security Concerns

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In this post we will share with our readers what we know is happening locally with the scheduling of interviews at the San Diego Field Office and oath ceremonies. Please keep in mind that we do not have information about other Field Offices at this time.

Oath Ceremonies

The San Diego Field office will prioritize the scheduling of oath ceremonies in the month of June. These ceremonies will be “drive thru” ceremonies to ensure the health and safety of participants. These ceremonies will take place at two locations that are offsite from the San Diego field office at the Cabrillo National Monument and the City of El Cajon parking lot adjacent to the police department. El Cajon will schedule ceremonies more frequently. Start and end times have not yet been provided for these ceremonies.

We have received information that judges will be present at both oath ceremony locations to address name change issues for participants.

When will the San Diego Field Office open to the public?

The San Diego Field Office will not officially open to the public for interviews until June 21st. However, we have received information that the office is more likely to open to the public in July for interviews. The San Diego Field Office will continue to be open for urgent cases and emergency appointments.

How will the procedure change once offices reopen?

Social distancing procedures will be put in place including installation of plexiglass to separate the interviewing officer from applicants, lines demarcating social distancing, and face mask coverings required to enter the building. The amount of people allowed in the facility will be reduced to comply with social distancing requirements. The San Diego Field Office is exploring extending work hours to allow more interviews to take place. Interviews will take place in person; no remote interviews will be allowed.

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Our San Diego immigration attorneys at the Sapochnick Law Firm stand ready to assist foreign nationals admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID 19), the United States has taken several measures to close its borders and ground international flights to keep the public safe. This means that at least some foreign nationals admitted under the VWP have been unable to depart before their periods of admission expired under the VWP. As you may be aware, the VWP allows citizens or nationals of certain participating countries the ability to travel to the United States for a temporary period of 90 days or less without having to obtain a United States visa. One of the downsides to the VWP is that no extensions of stay are allowed.

Thankfully, a little-known provision in the law known as “Satisfactory Departure” provides relief to VWP aliens who have found themselves “stuck” in the United States.


What is Satisfactory Departure? How does it help me?


VWP entrants who were unable to depart the United States, before their period of admission expired, due to the ongoing Coronavirus travel restrictions, may request “Satisfactory Departure,” from either their local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office or from a Deferred Inspection Site with Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

These agencies have been authorized to grant these individuals a period of up to 30 days (in excess of the period of VWP admission) in which to depart the United States. As long as the traveler leaves within that 30-day window, he or she will not be considered to have violated U.S. immigration laws by overstaying.

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