Articles Posted in COVID 19

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick provides new insight into the status of green card processing within the United States (adjustment of status) by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A new article published by the Pew Research Center takes note of positive changes that are developing, as the number of new green cards issued by USCIS bounces back to pre-pandemic levels.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


A new research study conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that the issuance of new green cards for those adjusting their status to permanent residence within the United States (using Form I-485) has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, signaling a return to normalcy at least at the USCIS level.

This signals improvement in the social climate, as well as productivity among USCIS to push cases through the pipeline.


What is this new study about?


The Pew Research Center’s report makes comparisons between green card issuance prior, during, and after the pandemic, with results that are extremely positive.

The Center highlights that during the period of July to September 2021, USCIS issued approximately 282,000 new green cards to those seeking adjustment of status within the United States. This figure has been the highest recorded, since the pre-pandemic period of April through June of 2017, and was slightly higher than the quarterly average dating back to October 2015 through March 2020.

In comparison, at the height of the pandemic in mid-2020, only 79,000 new green cards were issued, with the lowest recorded from April to June 2020 at 19,000 new green cards.

As you can see from the graph below, the issuance of green cards was at an all-time low during 2020, and gradually made a rebound each quarter eventually matching average figures at pre-pandemic levels.

This shift is extremely impressive considering that USCIS faced severe backlogs when its offices closed during the pandemic and interviews were not able to be conducted. Over the last year, however, USCIS has tackled the backlog by hiring additional personnel, distributing workloads, and leaning on discretionary policies such as waivers of in-person interviews to better manage caseloads.

Continue reading

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses the current status of the immigrant visa backlog at the National Visa Center and Department of State, as of April 2022. In this video you will learn more about what you can expect over the next few months if you have a pending immigrant visa case waiting to be scheduled for an interview at a Consulate overseas.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


Every month when the National Visa Center releases its Immigrant Visa Backlog report, we take notice and breakdown exactly what the backlog report means for immigrant visa applicants.

In its latest release for the month of April 2022, the National Visa Center has provided information that highlights the dramatic backlogs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, causing delays in the processing of immigrant visa applications.

Since the emergence of the Coronavirus, U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide have struggled to accommodate the growing demand for visa interviews with a very limited number of personnel and resources. Posts have also faced severe limitations including the inability to process a large number of cases due to local country conditions and lockdowns. The reality is that things have not gotten back to normal in many countries, and unfortunately this is causing applicants more headaches.

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, the National Visa Center has provided the total number of immigrant visa applicants still waiting for interview appointments.

These numbers are extremely concerning. Of 453,797 immigrant visa cases that were documentarily complete and ready to be scheduled for interviews as of March 31st, only 32,439 were actually scheduled for interviews in the month of April, leaving a backlog of 421,358 immigrant visa applicants still waiting for an interview.


Number of IV applicants whose cases are documentarily complete at NVC and ready for interview as of March 31 453,797
Number of documentarily complete IV applicants scheduled for April 2022 interview appointments 32,439
Number of eligible IV applicants still pending the scheduling of an interview after April 2022 appointment scheduling was completed 421,358

Sadly, this means that the State Department has not increased the volume of monthly interviews that can be scheduled at posts overseas, leaving the issue of the immigrant visa backlog unresolved.

Unfortunately, the future ahead does not look very promising. When looking at the March and April backlog reports, we see that the immigrant visa backlog decreased by only 3.5%.

Continue reading

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses an important new update to the USCIS Policy Manual clarifying the circumstances under which a USCIS officer may waive the in-person interview requirement for family-based conditional permanent residents filing to remove their conditions on permanent residence on Form I-751 Removal of Conditions. Conditional permanent residents are those who have received a 2-year conditional green card from USCIS and are seeking to remove those conditions to obtain the 10-year permanent resident card.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching!


Overview


As you may be aware, foreign nationals who apply for a green card based on a marriage to a U.S. Citizen that was less than 2 years old at the time of approval, receive a conditional green card valid for a 2-year period. This is done as a fraud prevention mechanism to ensure that the foreign national married the U.S. Citizen for the right reasons, and not solely to obtain an immigrant benefit. Foreign nationals who receive a 2-year conditional green card must file Form I-751 to remove their conditions, within the 90-day window before their conditional green card expires.

To ensure that the foreign national has a bona fide marriage, USCIS requires the conditional green card holder to appear for an in-person interview so that the officer has the opportunity to evaluate whether the marriage was entered on a genuine basis, and not to circumvent U.S. immigration laws.

The policy manual now clarifies that USCIS officers have the discretionary power to waive the in-person interview requirement for I-751 Removal of Conditions applicants, under certain circumstances.

According to the new guidance, USCIS officers may consider waiving an interview, if, generally, the applicant meets all eligibility requirements for removal of conditions, and the record contains sufficient evidence for approval, and there is no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, criminal bars, or such factors that would require the in-person interview to take place.

In practice this means that the conditional permanent resident must have provided sufficient documentary evidence to establish their eligibility for removal of conditions, including proof of cohabitation, joint ownership and responsibility for assets and liabilities such as joint federal income tax returns and joint checking and savings accounts, photographs of the couple throughout their relationship, children born to the marriage, and any other relevant documentation. The information stated on the I-751 Removal of Conditions application must also be free of any inconsistencies when compared to information provided in the applicant’s initial green card filing. For instance, inconsistencies in residential history or inconsistencies in facts stated can lead to an interview being required. Recent criminal offenses since the filing of the initial green card can also be a reason for an in-person interview to be required.

Continue reading

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick talks about an exciting new announcement released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding new initiatives the agency is taking to reduce the application backlogs, expand premium processing to broader categories of applications, and provide much needed relief to those waiting for their work permits to be processed.


Overview


As of March 29, 2022, USCIS is unveiling a trio of actions that will help improve the processing of applications and petitions currently awaiting adjudication by the agency. As you may know at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS along with other government agencies suspended in-person services at its field offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) nationwide to help slow the spread of the virus. The agency also took precautions to slow its spread by limiting the number of people that could enter federal buildings for immigration interviews. The consequence of these closures has been a backlog of cases across the board that the agency has been working to reduce.

To help ease the number of pending cases at USCIS, the agency has introduced 3 new actions.


What are these new actions all about?


(1) Cycle Time Goals


First, the agency has said that it will be implementing agency-wide goals to reduce the substantial backlogs.

USCIS has established a new system known as “internal cycle time goals,” to process applications that remain pending with USCIS. According to USCIS, these “internal cycle time goals,” are internal metrics that the agency will now be using to help guide the reduction of the current backlog. These cycle times will determine how long it will take USCIS to process immigration benefits going forward.

To accomplish the stated “cycle time goals,” the agency has said that it plans to increase its capacity, adopt technological improvements (such as e-filing systems), train, and hire more staff to ensure that applications are processed within the stated “cycle time goals.” USCIS estimates that these new actions will help the agency reach its stated cycle time goals by the end of fiscal year 2023.

For easy reference, the new USCIS cycle time goals are listed down below.

The new cycle time goals provided by USCIS are as follows:


  • Processing of I-129 premium processing cases – 2 weeks
  • Processing of I-140 premium processing cases –2 weeks
  • Processing of I-129 non-premium processing cases –2 months
  • Processing of I-765, I-131 advance parole, I-539, I-824 applications – 3 months

Other types of applications – 6 months including

Continue reading

Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick provides a brand-new update from the U.S. Department of State regarding the status of E-2 Treaty Investor Visa processing at Consulates and Embassies worldwide. Please note that this information is being provided as of March of 2022.

Want to know more? Keep on watching for all the details.


Overview


In the past few months, E-2 visa processing times have varied significantly due to the suspension of routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates, a move that was announced by the Department of State in July of 2020. This suspension occurred in response to significant worldwide challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Since then, operational capacity has continued to be limited for non-immigrant visas at most U.S. Embassies and Consulates resulting in delays in providing visa interview appointments, including for E-2 visa investors. To make matters worse, the Department of State put the processing of non-immigrant visas on the back-burner, giving priority to immigrant visa petitions including family-based petitions and fiancé(e) visas. In this post, we provide you with the most up to date information regarding current processing times as of March 2022 for E-2 investors to receive an appointment at Consular posts abroad.

Not only has there been a sharp decline in E-2 visa processing at most Consulates and Embassies worldwide, but some posts have refused to accept E-2 visa applications altogether. Such Embassies that have refused to accept E-2 visa applications include U.S. Embassy Ankara, Turkey; U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia; and U.S. Embassy Bridgetown, Barbados.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia for instance has not adjudicated any E-2 visa applications for more than 1 year, according to recent information provided by the U.S. Department of State.

In a recent meeting between the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the U.S. Department of State, the government provided more information regarding E-2 visa processing delays. Here is what they had to say.

Continue reading

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses a hot topic in the world of immigration, why is the National Visa Center taking such a long time to process cases? What are some predictions on the status of visa processing in the future? If you are interested in receiving more information about the National Visa Center, or if your case is stuck at the National Visa Center, this is the right video is for you.


Overview


In this video, we will discuss the National Visa Center February backlog report, which contains important statistics and data that has been provided by the Department of State to provide transparency to the public. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused an enormous backlog at Embassies worldwide, which are expected to continue for months to come. Please note that the National Visa Center backlog report changes on a regular basis, and often the information released can become easily outdated as the NVC works to move these cases through the pipeline.

In addition, this data is specific to cases that have been processed by National Visa Center and that have been determined to be “documentarily complete.”  It does not reflect Immigrant Visa cases that have already been transferred to an embassy or consulate for interview, cases that are still with USCIS for petition approval, or cases that are not considered documentarily complete.


First let’s discuss, what is the National Visa Center?


The National Visa Center (NVC) is a government agency that is responsible for the pre-processing of all immigrant visa petitions approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) including family sponsored and employment-based immigrant petitions of foreign nationals residing overseas. The National Visa Center serves as an intermediary between USCIS, where the immigrant visa petition was first approved, and the U.S. Consulate, where the foreign national will eventually undergo their immigrant visa interview.

Once the immigrant visa petition has been approved by USCIS, the application is then forwarded to the National Visa Center located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where it will be pre-processed and retained until the immigrant visa application is ready to be adjudicated at the foreign national’s closest U.S. Consulate or Embassy. It takes approximately 30-60 days for an immigrant visa application to be transferred from USCIS to the National Visa Center. The National Visa Center recommends that an applicant wait at least 90 days from the date of the immigrant petition’s approval before calling to confirm the receipt of an application. Remember that an immigrant visa will not be scheduled for an interview, until the applicant’s priority date becomes current on the Visa Bulletin. Certain categories of immigrants are not subject to numerical limitations, while many others are.


How long will the NVC take to process my case?


After you have submitted all of your required documentation to the National Visa Center, paid the visa fees, and uploaded all of the necessary documents to your Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) portal, it can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months for the National Visa Center to review your documentation and determine that your case is “documentarily complete.”

If you have submitted all documentation as required by the National Visa Center, you will receive an email which states the following:

Continue reading

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick provides a brand-new update from the Department of State granting immigrant visa fee exemptions for certain visa applicants who were previously denied visas under Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching


Overview


As you may be aware, on January 20, 2021, President Biden issued Presidential Proclamation 10141, “Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States,” which immediately rescinded Proclamations 9645 and 9983. These Proclamations had temporarily banned the entry of immigrants from Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Nigeria, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Yemen.

The Department of State has now made changes to its regulations calling for the exemption of immigrant visa (IV) fees for certain applicants who were previously denied an immigrant visa solely based on the temporary travel ban outlined in Proclamations 9645 and 9983.


What changes has the government made?


Effective immediately, all immigrant visa applicants who were previously denied an immigrant visa on or between December 8, 2017, and January 19, 2020, with the sole ground of ineligibility based on Proclamations 9645 or 9983, will be exempted from paying a new immigrant visa application fee or affidavit of support fee if they are reapplying for an immigrant visa.

Applicants will not need to pay a second fee if the following conditions are met:

  1. The immigrant visa applicant was previously denied an immigrant visa on or between December 8, 2017, and January 19, 2020; and
  2. The sole ground of ineligibility was based on Presidential Proclamation. 9645 or P.P. 9983; and
  3. The applicant is reapplying for an immigrant visa.

The Department of State has made clear that this new change in regulation is not retroactive and no refunds will be distributed based on this change.  This new provision will allow for a one-time exemption of the applicable fees per applicant.

Separate from this form of relief, the Department of State regulation 22 C.F.R. 42.81(e) states that an immigrant visa applicant is not required to pay a new application fee when seeking reconsideration of a visa refusal, so long as they (1) apply within one year of the refusal date, and (2) provide additional evidence that overcomes the ineligibility on which the visa was denied.

The Department of State has said that individuals who were refused on or after January 20, 2020, may benefit under that regulation and fee exemption, because they are presumed to have sought reconsideration of their prior refusals on January 20, 2021, when the President issued Proclamation 10141.

Continue reading

Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses the February 2022 Visa Bulletin and what you can expect in terms of movement or retrogression in the employment based and family sponsored preference categories.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


What’s happening in the employment-based categories?

According to the Department of State’s February 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following final action cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for employment-based categories:

  • EB-1: All countries, including India and China, will remain current.
  • EB-2: India advanced by nearly 6 months to January 1, 2013, and China advanced by more than 5 weeks to March 1, 2019. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-3 Professionals and Skilled Workers: EB-3 India and China will remain the same as the previous months at January 15, 2012 and March 22, 2018 respectively. All other countries will remain current.
  • EB-4 Certain Religious Workers: All countries, except El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, will remain current. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras remains at March 15, 2019, and Mexico remains at April 1, 2020
  • EB-5: The Non-Regional Center program will be current for all countries, including China. The Regional Center program has expired and is listed as unavailable in the February 2022 Visa Bulletin. If reauthorized, the Regional Center program will mirror the Non-Regional Center final action dates, except China, which would be subject to a November 22, 2015, final action date.

Which filing chart do I use if I want to apply for adjustment of status based on employment within the USA?


All employment-based preference categories, except EB-5 petitions based on the Regional Center Program, may apply for adjustment of status using the Dates for Filing chart in the Department of State Visa Bulletin for February 2022.


What’s happening in the family-sponsored categories?


According to the Department of State’s February 2022 Visa Bulletin, the following final cutoff dates will apply for the issuance of an immigrant visa for family-sponsored categories:

Continue reading

Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! We kick off the start of a brand-new week with even more immigration news.

In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares the following new immigration updates: new vaccination policies and procedures being followed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) following the release of the Proclamation, Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic, new updates for certain B1/B2 tourists visa applicants, tips for U.S. permanent residents stuck overseas, and solutions for those traveling under the Visa Waiver Program that have not been able to leave the United States due to flight cancellations.


Overview


CBP Customs and Border Protection Operations in 2022


In a recent meeting with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provided further clarification regarding admission of non-U.S. Citizens to the United States following the issuance of Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This new Proclamation requires non-citizens to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to gain admission.

CBP has made clear that the agency is not responsible for enforcing the vaccine requirement stipulated in the Presidential Proclamation.

Instead, CBP is merely responsible for enforcing all guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) such as ensuring that all air travelers, 2 years of age or older, present a negative COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status or citizenship) no more than 1 day before planned travel to the United States and proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 as mandated by the CDC. Travelers must show their negative result to the airline before boarding their flight.

Pursuant to CDC regulations, you are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose vaccine
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine (not placebo) in a clinical trial
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received 2 doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of accepted COVID-19 vaccines administered at least 17 days apart*

* CDC has not recommended the use of mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccine primary series. However, such strategies are increasingly common in many countries outside of the United States. Therefore, for the of purpose of interpreting vaccination records for travel to the United States, CDC will accept combinations of accepted COVID-19 vaccines.

Continue reading

Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog! It’s the start of a brand-new year and as always, we at the Law Offices of Jacob J. Sapochnick, are committed to bringing you the latest in immigration news. We are happy for you to join us.

In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares his top predictions for U.S. immigration in the new year. In this blog post we cover the following topics: What will happen to visa processing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Will there be immigration reform in the new year? Will any new changes be made to the H-1B visa program? What about fee increases? Stay tuned to find out more.


Overview


What are some of our key immigration law predictions for the upcoming year?


Increase in Filing Fees for USCIS petitions and DOS Non-Immigrant Visa Fees


Our first prediction for the new year is an increase in filing fees at both the USCIS and Department of State levels, to help increase government resources during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As you might recall, back in October of 2020, USCIS attempted to increase its filing fees to meet its operational costs. Among the petitions that were to be the most impacted were N-400 applications for naturalization, L visa petitions, O visa petitions, and petitions for qualifying family members of U-1 nonimmigrants.

Fortunately, in September of 2020, a federal court struck down the planned USCIS increase in fees arguing that the new fee increases would adversely impact vulnerable and low-income applicants, especially those seeking humanitarian protections.

We believe that early in the new year USCIS will again publish a rule in the Federal Register seeking to increase its fees to help keep the agency afloat. USCIS previously insisted that the additional fees were necessary to increase the number of personnel at its facilities to meet the increasing demand for adjudication of certain types of petitions. It is no secret that USCIS has experienced severe revenue shortfalls since the start of the pandemic as more and more families found it difficult to afford filing fees. Once those details have been made public we will provide more information right here on our blog and on our YouTube channel.

Continue reading