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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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The Department of State has released the visa bulletin for July 2020 outlining the availability of immigrant visa numbers for the upcoming month.

NOTE: Adjustment of Status Filing Charts July 2020

For Family-Sponsored Filings:In the F2A category, there is a cutoff date on the Dates for Filing chart.  However, the category is “current” on the Final Action Dates chart.  This means that applicants in the F2A category may file using the Final Action Dates chart for July 2020.

For all the other family-sponsored preference categories, you must use the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for July 2020.

For Employment-Based Preference Filings:For all employment-based preference categories, you must use the Final Action Dates chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for July 2020.


July Visa Bulletin Cutoff Dates


Employment Based Categories

According to the Department of State’s July Visa Bulletin, the following cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for employment-based categories:

  • EB-1: All countries remain current during the month of July except for China and India. EB-1 China will advance by one week to August 22, 2017, while EB-1 India will advance by 11 months to May 8, 2017.
  • EB-2: All countries except EB-2 China and India remain current. EB-2 China will advance by one week to November 8, 2015, and EB-2 India will advance by just under four weeks to July 8, 2009.
  • EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers: All countries except EB-3 India and China will advance by almost five months to April 15, 2018. Cutoff dates for EB-3 China will advance by one week to June 22, 2016, and for India by two months to June 1, 2009.
  • EB-5: EB-5 India will become current, joining all other countries except for EB-5 China and Vietnam.  China’s cutoff date will advance by one week to July 22, 2015, while Vietnam’s cutoff date will advance by three weeks to May 15, 2017.

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Today is a historic day for Dreamers from all walks of life. By a vote of 5-4, Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer rallied together in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, finding that the Trump administration’s 2017 efforts to dismantle the DACA program were improper. This means that the DACA program will remain in place at least for the foreseeable future. DACA was first created by executive order under former President Barack Obama eight years ago, in response to Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform shielding undocumented young adults from deportation.

The creation of the DACA program prompted fury from Republicans who felt former President Obama was side-stepping Congress to create laws of his own. Perhaps the most infuriated of these Republicans was then Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who promised voters he would dismantle the “illegal,” DACA program once and for all. While in office, President Trump nominated two conservative Justices to the Supreme Court to help him do just that, shifting the composition of the Supreme Court to a conservative one.

Today’s ruling is a stunning rebuke to the President’s agenda and hopes for re-election given that the dismantling of the DACA program has been a lynchpin of his campaign. Although the majority of conservatives on the Court favored dismantling the DACA program, Chief Justice Roberts put the debate to rest siding with the liberals on the court to leave the DACA program in place.

After the decision, President Trump immediately took to twitter condemning the ruling stating, “The recent Supreme Court decisions, not only on DACA, Sanctuary Cities, Censes, and others, tell you one thing, we need NEW JUSTICES of the Supreme Court…the DACA decision, while a highly political one, and seemingly not based on the law, gives the President of the United States far more power than ever anticipated…VOTE 2020!” What Trump failed to mention is that these rulings were handed down by a conservative court of his own making.

In their ruling, the five Justices stated that the Trump administration failed to provide an adequate reason to justify ending the DACA program. Chief Justice Roberts writing for the majority stated, “we do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound polices. The wisdom of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’ We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” In addition, the five justices found that the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to adequately address important factors bearing on the administration’s decision to rescind the program.

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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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New rumors are yet again circling regarding the possibility of a future executive order banning the entry of certain non-immigrants from the United States. An official speaking on condition of anonymity has fueled these rumors divulging information that the Trump administration is getting ready to issue a new executive order that would temporarily suspend the entry of L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and J-1 non-immigrants for a period lasting several months.

A copy of the executive order has allegedly been leaked to the media; however, our office has not been able to find a draft copy of such an order. It is also important to note that even if a version of the executive order has been leaked, the official version of a future executive order banning non-immigrants might look substantially different.


What is being said about the potential executive order?


The order is rumored to suspend the entry of L-1, H-1B, H-2B, and J-1 non-immigrants for a temporary period lasting several months.

Like previous executive orders suspending immigrant and non-immigrant entry, the order will contain numerous exceptions, although these exceptions have not yet been made clear. We believe exceptions will likely apply to essential workers such as health professionals, those working to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, and essential workers in food-related industries.

As it relates to J-1 visas, it is rumored that only summer workers, camp counselors, trainees, and interns will be impacted, not medical physicians.

TAKEAWAY: If you have a valid L-1, H-1B, H-2B, or J-1 non-immigrant visa and you are abroad, you should consider returning to the United States as soon as possible.


Who will the order likely impact?


The order is rumored to impact only those in L, H, and J non-immigrant status outside the United States, however, the Trump administration is considering adding regulatory changes to the order that would impact OPT students and new H-1B applicants in the United States. This includes provisions that would end the STEM OPT program, and provisions tightening H-1B visa requirements to narrow the definition of “specialty occupation,” require higher wages, and increase H-1B filing fees.

TAKEAWAY: STEM OPT applications and extensions should be submitted as early as possible to avoid a negative impact.

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In response to the growing rate of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Brazil, on May 24, 2020, the President signed the “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Novel Coronavirus.” This marks the fifth presidential proclamation to limit the entry of foreign nationals to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the United States. The previous proclamations were as follows:


Overview


The May 24th proclamation suspends the entry of immigrants or nonimmigrants to the United States who were physically present within the Federative Republic of Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.


Who is Exempted?


The proclamation specifically exempts:

  • Lawful permanent residents 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;
  • Any alien: seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to one of the following visas: A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), E-1 (as an employee of TECRO or TECO or the employee’s immediate family members), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 (or seeking to enter as a nonimmigrant in one of those NATO categories); or

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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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The Trump administration is setting their sights on a new enemy: students and researchers of the People’s Republic of China. A new presidential proclamation, “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China,” issued on May 29, 2020, will temporarily suspend the entry into the United States of Chinese nationals seeking to enter the United States on an F or J visa to study or conduct research in the United States, except for student seeking to pursue an undergraduate course of study. The proclamation goes into effect at 12:00 pm (ET) today June 1, 2020 and will remain in effect until terminated by the President.  

Specifically, the proclamation limits the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) ability to misuse nonimmigrant F student and J researcher visa programs.


Who will be suspended?


F or J Chinese nationals entering to study or conduct research in the United States and who either

  • Currently “receive funding from or who currently is employed by, studies at, or conducts research at or on behalf of… an entity in the PRC that implements or supports the PRC’s ‘military-civil fusion strategy’,” or
  • In the past “has been employed by, studied at, or conducted research at or on behalf of… an entity in the PRC that implements or supports the PRC’s ‘military-civil fusion strategy'”

The proclamation defines “military-civil fusion strategy” as “actions by or at the behest of the PRC to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities.”

Section 1 exempts F and J undergraduate students from the proclamation. In addition, graduate students and researchers are also exempt from the proclamation if they do not have any of the specific current or past funding, employment, study, or research nexuses with “an entity in the PRC that implements or supports the PRC’s ‘military-civil fusion strategy’.”


Why the Proclamation?


The proclamation was issued to protect the country’s national and economic security from attempts by the People’s Republic of China “to illicitly acquire American technology and intellectual property from our academic institution and research facilities for Chinese military ends.”

According to the Department of State, “[the country’s] concern is with the malign actions of the Chinese Communist Party and specific individuals, not with the Chinese people.” These actions were made as “a direct consequence of PRC government strategies and policies that exploit the access of some of China’s brightest graduate students and researchers, in targeted fields, to divert and steal sensitive technologies and intellectual property from U.S. institutions, taking undue advantage of our [country’s] open and collaborative academic and research environment.”

The U.S. government is particularly concerned that U.S. graduate students and researches will be targeted, co-opted, and exploited by the government of the People’s Republic of China for military gain.

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Great news for our loyal followers! The time has come – today the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that premium processing services will resume.

Beginning June 1, 2020, premium processing services for all Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers will be resumed.

What about other types of petitions?

Premium processing service will be resume for other types of petitions in phases as follows:

-Beginning June 8th USCIS will accept premium processing requests for:

  • H-1B petitions filed before June 8 that are pending adjudication and are cap-exempt (for example, petitions filed by petitioners that are cap-exempt and petitions filed for beneficiaries previously counted toward the numerical allocations).
  • All other Form I-129 petitions (non H-1B petitions) for nonimmigrant classifications eligible for premium processing filed before June 8 that are pending adjudication.

-Beginning June 15th USCIS will resume premium processing for:

  • H-1B petitions requesting premium processing where Form I-907 was filed concurrently with Form I-129 (or request for a petition filed on or after June 8) and the beneficiary is exempt from the cap because:
    • The employer is cap-exempt or because the beneficiary will be employed at a qualifying cap-exempt institution, entity or organization (such as an institution of higher education, a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization); or
    • The beneficiary is cap-exempt based on a Conrad/IGA waiver under INA section 214(l).

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We have very exciting news for our readers. Yesterday, May 27th the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed that it is preparing to reopen some domestic offices and resume services to the public on or after June 4th.

As you know, on March 18th USCIS made the difficult decision to suspend in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASCs) nationwide to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. While offices were closed, USCIS continued to provide emergency in-person services.

From the agency’s announcement it is clear that not all domestic offices will reopen to the public by June 4, but we know that at least some will begin to reopen to provide relief to those that have been waiting to attend their interviews or biometrics appointments.

USCIS will be following all state mandated precautions including reducing the number of appointments and interviews scheduled for the day, enforcing social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, and reducing waiting room occupancy. Members of the public will be required to wear masks covering their nose and mouth. Sanitizer will be provided to the public.

USCIS urges those who are feeling sick to stay home and schedule their appointments once they are feeling better. As a reminder, there is no penalty for rescheduling your appointment if you are sick.

We expect that USCIS will be scheduling far less appointments than usual to reduce the number of people in the facility at any one time. That means that appointment times will be spaced out and there will be a slight delay to reschedule everyone who has been waiting for an appointment. Please be patient and wait to receive a new appointment notice in the mail.

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