DOS to begin Reopening Consulates

ea34b40d2ef21c3e81584c04e4444f96fe76e7d610b9114291f6c1_1921.jpgThe Department of State announced yesterday that it would begin a phased reopening of Consulates across the world.  Please note, they will NOT be reopening all consulates at once, and cannot give specific dates as to when certain consulates will open or not.  Each Consulate will announce their plans and re-opening dates on their individual websites.  Please see below for the full press release:

 

Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services

Last Updated: July 14, 2020

Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services

The Department of State suspended routine visa services worldwide in March 2020 due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. As global conditions evolve, U.S. Embassies and Consulates are beginning a phased resumption of routine visa services.

The resumption of routine visa services will occur on a post-by-post basis, in coordination with the Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework for safely returning our workforce to Department facilities. U.S. Embassies and Consulates have continued to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services since March and will continue to do so as they are able. As post-specific conditions improve, our missions will begin providing additional services, culminating eventually in a complete resumption of routine visa services.

We are unable to provide a specific date for when each mission will resume specific visa services, or when each mission will return to processing at pre- Covid workload levels. See each individual U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website for information regarding operating status and which services it is currently offering.

Unfortunately, this is about all the information the Department of State gave.  Please do note that ALL Executive orders regarding immigration that have not yet expired are still in place.  This includes the travel ban, the H-1B, J-1, visa ban as well as the immigrant visa bans as well as any Covid-19 bans.

Please call us with any questions.  And please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

Upcoming Executive Order Regarding Immigration

images-1_FotorAs most, if not all, of you, have heard, our President is preparing an executive order to limit immigration into the United States.  At this time, as the order has not been finalized, we cannot say what the impact will be on individual cases.  Below is a list of what we have heard may, or may not, be included in the order:

  1. The reports are that it will only place limits on immigrant visas (definitely affecting consular processing and, maybe affecting the adjustment of status in the US as well).  It is reported that it will not affect non-immigrant visa issuance.
  2. The reports are that the immigration halt will be in place for 60 days and then will be re-evaluated.
  3. There have been reports that it will only apply to employment-based cases and will not affect family-based cases.
  4. There have been reports that there will be other exceptions as well for essential employees, which could include health care workers, researchers, farmworkers, and, perhaps, others.

So far, the above is all we know, and even that is not certain because there is no actual draft of the order as of yet.  We will update you once the order is finalized and we have more facts.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

Update on USCIS, DOS, SEVP and Covid-19

This is just an update on what is and is not happening with USCIS, DOS and SEVP during the Covid-19 pandemic. First, it is important to remember that things are changing so current USCIS policy may change very soon. To keep updated with current policies, you can go to the USCIS homepage at http://www.uscis.gov.

USCIS

Field Offices:

All USCIS field offices are closed to the public. This means that no biometrics appointments or interviews are being made at this time. This is in force through at least May 3, 2020 (we do not yet know if USCIS will extend this or not).

However, USCIS has made two important concessions during this period. First, they are allowing offices to reuse old biometrics for those who have applied to renew their EAD and AP status (Employment Authorization Documents and Advanced Parole). Second, USCIS has extended the time allowed to respond to Requests for Evidence (RFEs), Notices of Intent to Deny, Notices of Intent to Revoke, as well as the time to appeal decisions (this applies to all such notices with an issuance date listed on the request, notice or decision is between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2020, inclusive.). USCIS policy now states:

Any response to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, or NOIT received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken. Any Form I-290B received up to 60 calendar days from the date of the decision will be considered by USCIS before it takes any action.

Service Centers:

USCIS service centers are open and adjudicating cases. Currently all service centers are open. However, it should be noted that some centers have closed temporarily in the past when a suspected case of Covid-19 has appeared in one of the employees. However, they have reopened the service centers within days.

Any applications that require biometrics appointments or interviews are on hold, however as the field offices are closed to the public (as are the biometrics centers). The only exception are EAD and AP applications for those who have had biometrics in the past. USCIS has issued a policy allowing those applications to go forward based upon the previous biometrics.

As stated above, USCIS has automatically extended the time to respond to requests for evidence, etc. for an additional 60 days after the due date.

Overseas Offices

Currently overseas offices are being closed on an as needed basis. Offices in Rome and Nairobi are currently closed, other offices are open if the Embassy itself is open. However, as most embassies are closed to the Public, so to are the USCIS offices at such embassies. They will continue to work and adjudicate cases as they can as long as in person interviews are not needed.

Department of State

Embassies

The Department of State has suspended routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services at all Embassies and Consulates until further notice (No specific date was given). Here is a copy of their announcement:

A. Suspension of Routine Visa Services.

– In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

– In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

This does not affect the Visa Waiver Program. See https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/faq?focusedTopic=Schengen%20Travel%20Proclamation for more information.

– Although all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are cancelled, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid and may be used for a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.

We are aware of the importance of the H-2 program to the economy and food security of the United States and intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible.  For further information about the H-2 program, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/important-announcement-on-h2-visas.html

– Applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the Embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment. Examples of an urgent matter include air and sea crew, and medical personnel, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

J-1 Program

DOS has extended (automatically) the end date for certain J-1 non-immigrants in the United States. According to their memo DOS:

will now push a two-month extension to program end dates in SEVIS on active records with a program end date between April 1 – May 31, 2020 in order to provide exchange visitors the opportunity to complete either their educational or training programs, or continue to finalize travel plans to return home.”

Please remember this ONLY applies to programs with end dates between April 1 and May 31, 2020.

ICE AND SEVP (F-1 and M-1)

Here is a Link to SEVP policies for students at schools that have closed/moved to online coursework.

In summary, they have loosened rules in this regard to protect the status of those on F-1 and M-1 visas in the US whose schools have closed or are now just offering online classes. SEVP has stated that, under the circumstances outlines in the linked document, the status of such students will remain current and active as long as the procedures are followed. We urge you to review their guidance carefully if you are in such a situation.

As more changes are made we will update you as soon as possible.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

July 2016 Visa Bulletin and Check-In with DOS

Unknown.jpegThe Department of State (DOS) released the July visa bulletin recently and Charlie Oppenheim, the person at the DOS who is in charge of the visa bulletin also updated the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association on what further movement or backlogs can be expected in the near future.

For family based cases, there was not much movement at all.  Below is a table showing the movement.

Family Based All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed China – Mainland Born India Mexico Philippines
F1 2 Months 2 Months 2 Months 2 Weeks 1 month
F2A 1 Week ! Week ! Week None 1 Week
F2B 2 Weeks 2 Weeks 2 Weeks None 1 Month
F3 None None None None 1 Month
F4 1 Month None None None 1 Month

For employment based, there was also not a lot of movement.  Again, the movement and new dates are listed below:

 

Employ.

Based

All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed China – Mainland Born India Mexico Philippines
1st C C C C C
2nd C None (Jan 1, 2010) 1 Month (Nov 1, 2004) C C
3rd 2 Weeks (Mar 1, 2016) None (Jan 1, 2010) I Month (Oct 22, 2004) 1 Month (Oct 22, 2004) 3.5 Months (Feb 15, 2009)

In terms of future movements, we will look at family based categories first.

FB4- China: For China, the FB-4 category just recently retrogressed and will remain at its current date through July, and perhaps through the rest of the fiscal year (it will depend on usage for FB-1 through FB-3).  However it will return to the prior cut off date by November of this year.

FB-4 India:  Similar to FB-4 China, FB-4 India recently tracked the FB-4 Worldwide final action date until it retrogressed in June. However, unlike FB-4 China, the final action date for FB-4 India will definitely remain at January 1, 2001, through September. Mr. Oppenheim predicts that FB-4 India will advance to the former July 2003 cutoff date early in the next fiscal year, but expects that recovery to happen more slowly than for FB-4 China. Mr. Oppenheim anticipates that the FB-4 India date will reach late 2002 for October, and may fully recover to July 2003 by the end of the calendar year.

Moving on to employment based categories:

EB-2 and EB-3 China:   There will be no forward movement in these categories for the rest of this fiscal year (the fiscal year ends on September 30, 2016).  We will have to see what the new fiscal year brings, but hopefully there will be forward movement shortly after the new fiscal year.

EB-2 and EB-3 India:  There may be some moderate movement forward in September, but it depends (see next category)

EB-2 Worldwide:  It is looking increasingly likely that this category will become unavailable in September.  However, since the new fiscal year begins October 1, they will, again, become current on that date.

EB-1 for India and China:  Similar to EB-2 Worldwide, these categories will most likely become unavailable in September but go back to current in October.

If you have any questions leave a comment below or send me an email.  Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

USCIS Updates its Directions for Use of the New Visa Bulletin Tables

AoS_WebGraphic_V5USCIS has updated its directions in terms of when the new “Dates for Filing Visa Applications” chart can be used to determine when you can file your I-485, or if you need to wait for the “Final Action Date” to become current.

To refresh people’s memories, the Department of State, starting with the October Visa Bulletin, changed the way they report priority dates for immigrant visas.  They now have two charts that they present for family based immigrant visas, and two charts for employment based immigrant visas.  The first chart, the ‘Final Action Date” coincides with the old visa bulletin and lists the date at which a final action can be taken on the I-485 case and an immigrant visa can be issued.  The second chart, the “Dates for Filing Visa Applications” coincides with the date that the Department of State uses to let Embassies and Consulates know when to start processing immigrant visa cases that they think will become current in the near future.  USCIS is now also using this second chart to determine when you can file the I-485 application if you are in the US, with one proviso.  Each Month USCIS will determine whether they are following this second chart or not.  If so, you can file your I-485 according to the “Dates for Filing…” chart.  If not, you can only file when your date is current on the “Final Action Date” chart.

We knew all this previously, but USCIS’s decision on whether to use the “Date for Filing…” chart was listed in the Visa Bulletin itself.  However, starting with the November Visa Bulletin, USCIS no longer lists that data in the Visa Bulletin, instead it appears elsewhere on their website.  According to USCIS:

Beginning with the November 2015 Department of State (DOS) Visa Bulletin, if USCIS determines that there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas, we will state on www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo that applicants may use the Dates for Filing Visa Applications chart.  Unless otherwise stated on our website, the Application Final Action Date chart will be used to determine when individuals may file their adjustment of status applications.

We anticipate making this determination each month and posting the relevant chart on our website within one week of DOS’ publication of the Visa Bulletin.

For those who are trying to determine when you can file, the USCIS website is not where you will have to go to ensure you have updated information in this regard.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

I am about to file my I-140, should I file the I-485 concurrently with it or wait to file the I-485 until the I-140 is approved?

imgresMany, many clients have asked us this question, and it is not an easy question to answer. Most importantly, the answer may be different depending on each persons exact situation. First, to explain a little bit, this question is looking at the fact that, under current USCIS rules, you can file the I-485 at the same time you file your I-140 and before you know if the I-140 is approved or not. While filing both applications together certainly saves time (both applications timelines run together), it can cause other issues. For example, if the I-140 is denied, then your I-485 would be denied. If you were relying on that application for your status, then you would be out of status from that point forward (most likely).

Generally, the factors we look at are:

  1. What is your current status? If you are on an H-1B, then there is little risk of filing the I-140 and I-485 together as you can maintain your H-1B status even after filing the I-485. Other statuses are trickier.
  2. When does your current status expire and what is the chance of your employer renewing it?
  3. Do you (or a spouse) need work authorization as soon as possible or can you wait?
  4. Do you need to travel in the near future (and need means need, not want).
  5. What category of I-140 is being filed?

These are just some of the questions we go through with our clients to help them make the determination on whether to file the I-140 and I-485 together, or to wait and see if the I-140 is approved first, then file the I-485.

Clearly, each individual will have to review the facts in their individual case and make a decision for themselves as to which process to use. You can, of course, call with any questions in this regard.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.

Changes to NVC Processing Procedures

The NVC justimgres announced that, as of the 12th of November, they are no longer requiring that original documents (except the affidavit of support documentation) be submitted to their office with Immigrant Visa applications.  Instead, applicants need only submit copies of documents, and, once the NVC reviews the documents and ensures that all copies are present, the case will be sent to the consular post.  The Applicant will then be directed to bring the original documents to the consular post at the time of their interview.

Hopefully this will speed up the process. It will certainly help in those cases where the NVC actually looses documents, instead of having to get all new originals, applicants will now be able to just send in copies.We sincerely hope that this will also soon lead to the possibility of filing documents online as opposed to through mail, but the NVC has made no move in this direction as of yet.  We will update you with anything further as we hear about it from the NVC.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.