A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Contact: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

US Will Accept Proof of Vaccination and Negative COVID Test Results in lieu of Travel Ban



Yesterday, the White House announced that it plans to cancel the blanket regional travel bans for visitors from China, Iran, the Schengen Area, U.K., Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, and Inida.  Instead, international travellers coming to the United States will be required to present proof of full COVID vaccination and proof of a negative test taken within three days of travel.  The new policy will be effective in early November 2021.

Instead of banning international travel based on countries of origin, the U.S. will focus on individual visitors' health profile under this new policy.

At this point, the White House has not decided which COVID vaccines that it will accept as proof of full vaccination. The CDC will make that decision later on.  

There are some limited exceptions to the vaccination/negative test requirements includng children, COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants and humanitarian exceptions for people "traveling for an important reason and who lack access to vaccination in a timely manner." It is expected that requests for exception will be granted sparingly. 

The U.S. has also extended the masking requirement through January 18, 2022.  At the same time, CDC will also implement more stringent pre-departure and post-arrival testing requirements.  Travellers must be prepared to spend longer time at the airports. 

Additionally, CDC will also issue a Contact Tracing Order.  The Order will require airlines to (1) collect comprehensive contact information for every passenger coming to the United States and (2) to provide that information to CDC upon request, and (3) to follow up with travelers who have been exposed to COVID-19 variants or other pathogens.

Under this new policy, travellers will be required to present proof of vaccination status before boarding a flight bound for the United States.  The specific type of proof has not been determined yet. 

For Americans coming back from foreign travel, they will be requried to provide proof of a negative test result taken within one day of their departure prior to boarding an airplane.  They will also be required to provide proof that they have purchased a viral test to be taken after arrival.

In sum, the new policy will allow more international travellers to travel to the United States for business and personal reasons.


(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.) 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Reconciliation Bill: Recapture of decades of Immigrant Visas / Advance I-485 Filing with Fees



Last week, a House Judiciary Committee approved the language of some immigration provisions to be included in a budget reconciliation bill. These provisions, if passed into law, will provide signficant and far-reaching changes to the current immigration system.  The most important provisions include: 

  • Allows individuals with humanitarian/temporary immigrant status and some undocumented essential workers to obtain permanent resident status ("green card").  Individuals in TPS and DACA ("Dreamers") are covered by these provisions.
  • Provides a path to citizenship after 3 to 5 years for the above individuals.
  • Recaptures of unused immigrant visa numbers from FY 1992 until FY 2021.
  • Allows family-based and employment-based immigrant visa applicants to submit the Form I-485 application to adjust status by paying additional fees ($1500 for the prinicpal applicant and $250 for each dependent) even though their priority dates are not yet current.
  • Allows immigration visa applicants to pay supplemental fees to adjust status to become permanent residents if their priority dates are not current after waiting for at least two years, regardless of the worldwide and per-country visa caps.  The supplemental fees are $2,500 for family-based I-485 applicants; $5,000 for employment-based I-485 applicants (EB-1 to EB-3); and $50,000 for EB-5 employment creation (investment visa) applicants
  • Restores the Diversity Visas for applicants who were selected in the diversity visa lottery but were denied visas due the immigrant travel bans and other disruptions due to COVID-19.


Each of these immigration provisions, even if viewed individually, is profoundly significant and could affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. 

Although the media's attention has been drawn to the provisions regarding legalizing the undocumented and providing them a path to citizenship, the other provisisons affecting legal immigration are equally important. 

For instance, the proposal to recapture unusued visa numbers for the past 19 years or so will speed up the green card application process for countless visa applicants. Just for FY 2021, Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, estimated that 150,000 of family preference visas and 100,000 employment-based visas were unused. 

For many high-tech workers who have been working in the U.S. on the H-1B visas, the provisions allowing them to file for the I-485 adjustment appliants in advance will offer them stability in life and peace of mind.  

However, it is important to note that these immigrantion provisions are still a few steps from becoming reality. 

These immigration-related provisions are squeezed in a budget reconciliation bill, which is designed for tax and spending purposes only.  The bill and its provisions must be reviewed and approved by the  Senate Parliamentarian before it can be presented to the Senate for a vote.  Proponents of the bill are making strong arguments that these provisions will tremedously improve our GDP and tax revenues. Interestly, the current Sentate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, actaully has a strong background in immigration issues. She previously served as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice handling immigration cases in New Jersey. Ms. MacDonough and her staff must review all the provisions of the bill and determine if they meet the requirements of the Senate rules and precedents. 

Assuming the bill is sent to the Senate for a vote, it only requires a simple majority of 51 votes to pass. Stay tuned for further development. 

Update:  Senate parliamentarian rules against inclusion of the immigration provisions in the reconciliation bill late last night.  Hence, these immigration provisions will not be voted on by Senate. 

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.) 



Thursday, September 16, 2021

Visa interviews waived for certain F, M foreign students and J academic exchange visitors


The Biden Administration has further relaxed the visa requirements for international students, researchers, and academic exchange visitors.  On September 14, 2021, the U.S. State Department announced that, through the end of 2021, consular officers are authorized to waive the visa interviews for certain international academic visa applicants such as students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists.  

Visa interviews are waived for the following categories of visa applicants: 

  • F, M, and academic J visa applicants who were previously issued any type of visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, and who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility; 
  • First-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.  
  • Applicants from non VWP countries whose prior visa was issued when they were less than 14 years of age, may need to submit biometric fingerprints, but can still be approved for an interview waiver.  

Previously, the State Department has already found F, M, and academic J visa applicants eligible for National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) under Presidential Proclamations that suspend entry of individuals present in one of the 33 countries ("regional ban"). International stutents therefore are not subject to the regional ban.  

Students seeking to apply for a new F-1 or M-1 visa must still apply through their local U.S. embassy or consulate.  The State Department emphasized that international students who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel.  For J-1 visa applicants, however, they must still contact the nearest embassy or consulate prior to travel to receive an NIE.

In March, the State Department already expanded the general interview waiver requirerment for nonimmigrant visas from 24 to 48 months.  That waiver, which is still in effect, was for applicants who were applying for a new visa in the same category of a previously approved visa. 

The announcement is definitely good news for international students or academic personnel who are trying to enter the U.S. before the new academic year begins in the fall.  However, how fast and how easy for individual applicants to obtain their visas still heavily depend on the resources, policies and response time of their local U.S. embassy or consulate.  For example, some consulates would allow the applicants to apply for a NIE beforehand while other consulates, such as Madrid, are requiring applicants to apply for NIEs at the same time as they apply for their visas. If the NIE request is denied, the underlying visa will also be denied.  Consequently, international visa applicants must find out the specific requirements and procedures of a particular US embassy or consulate before making any concrete plans.   


(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.) 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

October 2021 Visa Bulletin: USCIS will use Dates for Filing Chart

 

October is the first month of the Fiscal Year 2022, which means a new batch of visa numbers has been released. 

As previously predicted, USCIS announced that they are going to use the Dates for Filing chart in both the family-based and employment-based cases, with an exception for the F2A category under family-based petition. F2A applicants can use the Final Action Date chart because final action dates are "current". 

The cut-off dates for family categories stay the same. 

In employment-based categories, the filing date for EB-2 India advances 7 months, but EB-3 India and China filing dates retrogress for a few months. 

AD: Dates for Final Action (Green Card Approval)           
FD: Dates for Filing Applications Only

      Family    
Other Countries
      China
India
Mexico
Philippines
F1
AD
12/01/2014
12/01/2014
12/01/2014
01/15/1999
03/01/2012
FD
05/15/2016
05/15/2016
05/15/2016
08/01/2000
04/22/2015
F2A
AD
      C
      C
      C
      C
      C
FD
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
F2B
AD
09/22/2015
09/22/2015
09/22/2015
03/15/2000
10/22/2011
FD
09/22/2016
09/22/2016
09/22/2016
10/01/2000
10/01/2013
F3
AD
11/22/2008
11/22/2008
11/22/2008
05/15/1997
06/08/2002
FD
08/22/2009
08/22/2009
08/22/2009
09/08/2000
10/01/2003
F4
AD
03/22/2007
03/22/2007
09/15/2005
02/08/1999
08/22/2002
FD
10/01/2007
10/01/2007
01/01/2006
06/01/1999
02/01/2004

1st: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens (about 23,400 per year).
2A: The 2 "A" preference is for Spouses and Children (under 21 & unmarried) of LPR's.
2B: The 2 "B" Preference is for Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 or older) of LPR's.
3rd: Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens (about 23,400 per year)
4th: Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens. (about 65,000 per year)


Employment
Other 
Countries
China 
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
India
Mexico
Philippines


Vietnam
EB1
AD
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
FD
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
EB2
AD
C
07/01/2018
C
09/01/2011
C
C
C
FD
C
09/01/2018
C
07/08/2012
C
C
C
EB3
AD
C
01/08/2019
C
01/01/2014
C
C
C
FD
C
01/15/2019
C
01/08/2014
C
C
C
Other Workers
AD
C
02/01/2010  
C
01/01/2014
C
C
C
FD
C
05/01/2010
C
01/08/2014
C
C
C
EB4
AD
C
C
03/15/2019
C
03/01/2020
C
C
FD
C
C
05/15/2019
C
C
C
C
EB5
AD
C
11/22/2015
C
C
C
C
C
FD
C
12/15/2015
C
C
C
C
C


1st: Priority Workers (Extraordinary ability aliens, multinational companies executives/managers, outstanding prof./researchers)
2nd: Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability.
3rd: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers (Unskilled.)
4th: "Special Immigrants" (Religious & others)    
5th: Employment Creation (Investors) 
 *(IR&R5 are "Unavailable in the October visa bulletin)


(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.) 

Friday, September 3, 2021

Conditional Green Card Receipts for I-751 and I-829 Extended to 24 Months




Do you have a pending I-751 or I-829 with USCIS?  The processing time of these applications has increased drastiscally over the past year.  As a result, USCIS announced that, starting Sept. 4, 2021, the temporary extension of applicants' conditional resident status will be extended from 18 months to 24 months.  

Two applications are being affected:  

1) Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence:  This application is to remove conditional resident status of applicants who applied for a marriage-based green card.

2) Form I-829, Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status: This application is to remove conditional resident status of EB-5 investors.

Conditional permanent residents who properly file these applications will receive a receipt notice (Form I-797C).  This receipt notice, when presented with the Conditional Green Card, can serve as evidence of continued status for up to 24 months past the expiration date on the Green Card.  

For pending applications that were filed before Sept. 4, USCIS will issue new receipt notices to the applicants. Those receipt notices will similarly serve as temporary evidence of  conditional status for 24 months after the expiration date on their Green Card.

Friday, August 27, 2021

COVID Vaccinations Required for Green Card Applicants Starting 10/1/2021


Starting October 1st, 2021, applicants for U.S. permanent resident status ("green card") within the United States must show proof of their COVID-19 vaccinations. Some limited exceptions apply to this general requirement.  

A foreign national may apply for U.S. green card through the legal process of adjustment of status within the United States.  As part of the application process, the applicant must submit a medical examination report with their Form I-485, Applicant to Adjust Status.  This medical report, entitled "Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record" or Form I-693, must be prepared by a qualified civil surgeon under the guidelines of the CDC.  

Recently, the CDC provided updated guidance for civil surgeons related to COVID-19 vaccine requirements for individuals applying for adjustment of status. The guidance specifies that adjustment applicants who receive their medical exams on or after 10/1/2021 must provide proof of their COVID vaccinations, in addition to other existing required vaccinations.  

This change will only affect an applicant who completes Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, on or after October 1, 2021. If Form I-693 is completed before October 1, 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine will not be required.

Under the revised CDC guidance, the Civil Surgeon must physically inspect and confirm the applicant's documentation that they have received all appropriate doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Examples of such documentation includes a vaccination record card and a copy of the applicant's medical chart.  Self-reported claims of vaccinations without written documentation will not be accepted. The Civil Surgeon must complete the I-693 form and and document the COVID-19 formulation and the number of doses given.

The are several exceptions to this requirement including applicants (1) who are too young to receive the vaccine. (2) who have a valid medical reason not to receive the vaccine, (3) who do not have access to one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines in their countries.  An applicant may also apply for an individual waiver based on religious or moral convictions with USCIS.

Finally, CDC also clarifies that COVID vaccinations can now be given at any time, without regard to the timing of other vaccinations.  CDC has provided example timelines for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccines.  It is unclear if other types of COVID vaccines will be accepted by USCIS at this point.  

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.) 


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Visa Bulletin Predictions for FY2022: No Advancements Expected for Oct/Nov

 


In a recent Chat with Charlie, DOS Visa Office Chief Mr. Charlie Oppenheim once again shared his insights about the movements of the Visa Bulletin, including his predictions for FY 2022. The key items are as follows:

  • No advancements in Final Action Dates are expected in the October and November Visa Bulletins for both employment-based and family-based immigration categories, except for Mexico and Philippines family categories. 
  • The good news is that no retrogression of priority dates is expected for FY 2022 by Charlie.  If it occurs, it will be in the last quarter of the fiscal year.  
  • Unused visa numbers are expected for fiscal year 2021.  Charlie is very concerned about unused immigrant visa numbers and and has attempted to advance the Action Dates many times starting with EB-1 in the April Visa Bulletin.  However, the staffing and resources limitations have crippled the State Department from processing many overseas cases.  USCIS also reported 65% more immigrant visa cases this year than last as we recover from Covid. 
  • EB-3 India Filing Date will contiue its slow advancement, after a phenomenon 5-year advancement in October last year and a one-year pull back in December.  In the September 2021 Visa Bulletin, the Filing Date for EB-3 India is 03/01/2014. 
  • Charlie has stopped posting estimates of cutoff date movements in the visa bulletin because he wants to provide accurate information to the public.  Charlie is only doing it on a quarterly basis. He notes that some others have provided estimates but they don't have all the information.  Other than Covid-related issues, some bills pending before Congress regarding recapturing of immigrant visa numbers may also affect future cutoff date movements. 
  • Immigrant visa petitions are processed on a FIFO basis in general.  However, different processing procedures, protocols, speed, etc.,  at different  government offices and Service Centers may create different overcomes. 
  •  For October, Charlie expects USCIS will use the Filing Date Charts for both family-based and employment-based petitions.
  • Regarding downgrading of cases from EB-2 to EB-3 category, Charlie commented that these applications have "the best of both worlds."  After their EB-2 case was approved, the case was initially counted against the Second Preference visa category until their EB-3 case is approved and current.  At which point, the case will be switched to the EB-3 category. 
  • Charlie does not rule out the possibility that there will be unused visa numbers for FY 2022.  It depends on the development of the Delta variant, staffing situations, resource limiations and demands for visa numbers, etc. 
  • Overseas and NVC Consulate Processing: Applicants will receive email confirmations once their cases have become documentarily qualified.  They may also check their status on the CEAC system. However, documentarily qualified cases currently may still have to wait for months before their consulate interviews can be scheduled.  This is because of the staffing and resources limitations in different consulate lcoations.  Medical offices in some locations are also not available to perform medical examinations.  Charlie also noted that some visa applicants are actually not willing to travel during the pandemic.  Finally, Charlie does not recommend sending unsolicited documents to Kentucky Consular Center (KCC), which handles the Diversity Visa cases.

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.) 





September 2021 Visa Bulletin: EB-2/EB-3 India Advance

 

September visa bulletin is the last visa bulletin of the fiscal year 2021. There are substantial advancements of the Final Action Dates in the employment-based categories, representing the final efforts by the government to use up all available visa numbers before the end of the fiscal year.  No advancements in Final Action Dates are expected in October and November.

EB-2 and EB-3 India advance 3 months and 6 months respectively in September. EB-2 China advances 6 months as well. EB-1  remain current for all countries. 

There are also moderate advancements in the family-based categories. Please see below for details.

AD: Dates for Final Action (Green Card Approval)           FD: Dates for Filing Applications Only

      Family    
Other Countries
      China
India
Mexico
Philippines
F1
AD
12/01/2014
12/01/2014
12/01/2014
01/15/1999
03/01/2012
FD
05/15/2016
05/15/2016
05/15/2016
08/01/2000
04/22/2015
F2A
AD
      C
      C
      C
      C
      C
FD
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
06/01/2021
F2B
AD
09/22/2015
09/22/2015
09/22/2015
03/15/2000
10/22/2011
FD
09/22/2016
09/22/2016
09/22/2016
10/01/2000
10/01/2013
F3
AD
11/22/2008
11/22/2008
11/22/2008
05/15/1997
06/08/2002
FD
08/22/2009
08/22/2009
08/22/2009
09/08/2000
10/01/2003
F4
AD
03/22/2007
03/22/2007
09/15/2005
02/08/1999
08/22/2002
FD
10/01/2007
10/01/2007
01/01/2006
06/01/1999
02/01/2004

1st: Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Citizens (about 23,400 per year).
2A: The 2 "A" preference is for Spouses and Children (under 21 & unmarried) of LPR's.
2B: The 2 "B" Preference is for Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 or older) of LPR's.
3rd: Married Sons and Daughters of Citizens (about 23,400 per year)
4th: Brothers and Sisters of Adult Citizens. (about 65,000 per year)


Employment
Other 
Countries
China 
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
India
Mexico
Philippines


Vietnam
EB1
AD
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
FD
C
C
C
C
C
C
C
EB2
AD
C
07/01/2018
C
09/01/2011
C
C
C
FD
C
09/01/2018
C
12/01/2011
C
C
C
EB3
AD
C
01/08/2019
C
01/01/2014
C
C
C
FD
C
07/01/2019
C
03/01/2014
C
C
C
Other Workers
AD
C
02/01/2010  
C
01/01/2014
C
C
C
FD
C
05/01/2010
C
03/01/2014
C
C
C
EB4
AD
C
C
03/15/2019
C
03/01/2020
C
C
FD
C
C
05/15/2019
C
C
C
C
EB5
AD
C
11/22/2015
C
C
C
C
C
FD
C
12/15/2015
C
C
C
C
C


1st: Priority Workers (Extraordinary ability aliens, multinational companies executives/managers, outstanding prof./researchers)
2nd: Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability.
3rd: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers (Unskilled.)
4th: "Special Immigrants" (Religious & others)    
5th: Employment Creation (Investors) 
 *(IR&R5 are "Unavailable in the September visa bulletin)


(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule legal consultation.)