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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.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, and Happy New Year! We are excited to have you back. We hope you had a wonderful holiday break with your family and are ready to jump back into the latest in immigration news in the new year. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares the latest update regarding the operational status of U.S. Consulates and Embassies worldwide during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


First let’s start with some good news. In October of last year, the Biden administration took some major steps toward opening the United States to international travelers, lifting many of the COVID-19 related geographic travel bans that were put in place by the Trump administration to reduce the rapid spread of COVID-19. To provide relief to visa holders, President Biden later signed a Proclamation allowing fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the United States beginning November 8, 2021, regardless of their country of origin. At the same time the Proclamation, revoked the previous geographic travel bans including Proclamation 9984, Proclamation 9992, Proclamation 10143, and Proclamation 10199 for those fully vaccinated.

Unfortunately, U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been slow to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with many posts still limiting operational capacity based on country conditions and local regulations. Services have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and there is simply no semblance of normalcy at the Consular level. This has been extremely frustrating for visa applicants who have been waiting in the massive visa backlogs for an interview.  According to Department of State statistics, approximately 90% of Consular posts continue to be subject to pandemic related restrictions with some partially open and others providing very limited services.

Because most Embassies and Consulates are not fully operational, many applicants currently in the United States that have filed and received approvals for work visa related petitions with USCIS such as H-1B, O-1, E-2 petition-related approvals, etc. have not been able to leave the United States to return to their home country for visa stamping. This has caused even greater frustration among applicants who are essentially “trapped” in the United States due to their inability to obtain an appointment for visa stamping. That is because applicants encounter greater risks when they choose to leave the United States, due to the uncertain and indefinite amount of time they could be waiting for a visa stamping appointment to become available while overseas. An even greater fear is the risk that the applicant may lose his or her job while waiting for an appointment that may not come for a very long time.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses the latest in immigration reform. Over the past few months, Democrats have been scrambling to pass immigration reform through a series of social spending proposals included in President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, a piece of legislation that would shield Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers, and essential workers from deportation.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


For a third time the Democrats have tried and failed to introduce comprehensive immigration reform proposals in the reconciliation bill known as H.R. 5376 “the Build Back Better Act.”


What happened?


On December 16, 2021, the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rejected the most recent proposal by Democrats in Congress to introduce important protections for undocumented immigrants including Dreamers, TPS visa holders, farm workers, and essential workers. H.R. 5376 also included provisions that would extend work permits, provide temporary relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before January 2011, and other provisions that would exempt certain employment-based and family-based immigrants from the numerical limitations prescribed by the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Senate Parliamentarian quickly shot down the new proposals, stating that Congressional Democrats could not include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in a social spending bill. Further, MacDonough indicated that if passed, the proposal would create a new class of about 6.5 million eligible individuals for permanent residency which was already prohibited in the previous two rejected proposals. She added that the most recent proposal by Democrats was deficient in the same way as the previous proposals stating, “there are substantial policy changes with lasting effects just like those we previously considered and outweigh the budgetary impact.”

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses some exciting news. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has submitted for federal review, a final regulation that if passed would expand premium processing services to additional categories of immigrants. The rule is currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). While the rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register, it has the potential to substantially improve processing times for more categories of immigrants that have been waiting extended periods of time for their applications to be approved during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this post, we break down exactly who may benefit from this new regulation and what fees might apply once the rule becomes final.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


Many have been eagerly awaiting news regarding the expansion of premium processing services and it seems the time has almost come. For those who may be wondering, premium processing service is a special type of fee-based service offered by USCIS that allows for expedited processing of certain Form I-129, Petitions for Nonimmigrant Worker, and Form I-140, Immigrant Petitions for Alien Worker. With this service, applicants can pay an additional fee and submit Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, to guarantee the adjudication of their applications within 15 calendar days.

The current categories of applicants who can request premium processing service and the required filing fees are as follows:

  • $2,500 if you are filing Form I-129 requesting E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-3, L (including blanket L-1), O, P, Q, or TN nonimmigrant classification.
  • $1,500 if you are filing Form I-129 requesting H-2B or R nonimmigrant classification.
  • $2,500 if you are filing Form I-140 requesting EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 immigrant visa classification.

Outside of the above categories of visa applicants, premium processing service has not been made available to other applicants. But this may all be about to change.

While we are still awaiting the rule’s official publication in the Federal Register to study its complete details, we know that the rule will identify additional categories of applicants who can request premium processing service and will provide in detail the processing times, and associated fees for each type of applicant.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses a major new development in immigration law: H.R. 5376, the Build Back Better Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 19, 2021 and will now move to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

In this blog post, we break down all the major immigration provisions of the Build Back Better Act, including the introduction of new fees that will apply to certain categories of immigrants to request a waiver of the numerical limitations under the law.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


What are the major immigration provisions of the Build Back Better Act?


If passed section 60001 of the House bill would amend certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act and open a path to permanent residency for four classes of immigrants allowing them to adjust their status to permanent residence (a green card). To be eligible, applicants would be required to pay a supplemental fee of $1,500, have no criminal background, and have no inadmissibility issues.

Under the bill, the following individuals would be eligible to apply for permanent residency:

  1. Dreamers: young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children before 2007, who have continuously resided in the United States, gone to school, and who otherwise have no criminal record
  2. Essential Workers: The Act would also extend an opportunity to individuals in our workforce who have played an essential role in our society, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, such as health care workers, energy and transportation workers, public works employees, and manufacturing workers, among others.
  3. Temporary Protected Status recipients: recipients of Temporary Protected Status would also be eligible to apply for permanent residency. Temporary Protected Status is a temporary designation given to eligible nationals of designated countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster. The TPS designation allows recipients to live and work in the United States on a lawful temporary basis
  4. Deferred Enforcement Departure applicants: those who have received a grant of Deferred Enforced Departure would also be eligible to apply for permanent residency. Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) (formerly Extended Voluntary Departure) is a form of relief from removal that allows certain individuals from designated countries and regions facing political or civic conflict or natural disaster to live and work in the United States on a lawful basis.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick provides a very exciting new update for E, L, and H-4 dependent spouses. USCIS has issued a new policy memorandum stating that the agency will automatically allow employment authorization for dependent E, L, and certain H-4 spouses of principal visa holders, without requiring spouses to file I-765 application for employment authorization to be eligible to work in the United States.

Keep on watching to find out more!


Overview


USCIS has now changed its policy to allow dependent E, L, and certain H-4 spouses to automatically qualify for employment authorization. The change came about after settlement of a lawsuit known as Shergill v. Mayorkas, No. 21-1296 (W.D. Wash.) filed against the government.

Pursuant to the settlement agreement reached with USCIS, E, L, and certain H-4 spouses will be eligible to work just by having their valid visas, and they will not need to file any separate applications nor need to apply for a separate employment authorization card (work permit) to seek employment in the United States.

Previously, USCIS required spouses of E, L, and H principal visa holders to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) to lawfully work in the United States. Spouses were not granted employment authorization simply by having a valid visa in E, L, or H visa classification and were required to pay an additional filing fee of $410 to file the I-765 application for work authorization and wait for its approval.

Following the onset of the pandemic, USCIS began experiencing extreme delays and could no longer process I-765 applications for employment authorization in a timely fashion, taking in some cases 14 months or longer to issue EAD documents. Sadly, this resulted in job losses for many dependent spouses who were stuck waiting many many months to receive their EAD document to prove to their employers their eligibility to work in the United States.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick tells you everything you need to know about the new Congressional reconciliation bill known as H.R. 5376 “the Build Back Better Act.” How might this piece of legislation impact you in your immigration journey? Want to know what you can expect in terms of potential upcoming changes in the law?

Keep on watching to find out more!


Overview


The Biden administration has released a new bill, the Build Back Better Act, that includes a new immigration framework that if passed would positively benefit employment-based green card applicants. The bill also sets aside $100 billion dollars for immigration purposes to reduce the immigrant visa backlogs and to recapture unused immigrant visas.


New Framework for Immigration Reform


Over the past few months, Congressional Democrats have been working on passing comprehensive immigration reform to modernize the current immigration system and open a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers,” and other groups of individuals including highly skilled immigrants. The Democrats have presented several immigration reform proposals to the Senate Parliamentarian to increase the chances of passing immigration reform without having to receive majority support from the Republican party. Passing reform through a reconciliation bill has been the most effective means of bringing about much needed changes because of opposition for reform in our current immigration climate.

The proposals in this new bill are interestingly much different from other proposals we have seen so far from Democrats. If passed, the bill would prioritize recapturing immigrant visas in family and employment-based categories for immigrant visa numbers that went unused between Fiscal year 1992 and fiscal year 2021. Such a provision would have the potential of adding more than 220,000 employment-based green cards to the current pool of immigrant visas currently available according to researchers. This would be a groundbreaking new policy because it would have the potential to drastically reduce the current visa backlogs, in both the family and employment-based categories. In some family-based categories, applicants must wait over 20 years for their priority date to become current and a visa to become available. Recapturing new visa numbers and putting them back into the system will be very advantageous for those waiting for a visa.

While the final outcome of this proposal is still uncertain, it is a good preview of what is to come and of its potential for approval in the House and the Senate.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares a new update from the Department of State that was recently provided to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Liaison Committee regarding the movement of family sponsored categories on the Visa Bulletin. This information was not previously shared on the “Chats with Charlie,” monthly broadcast with Charlie Oppenheim, the Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting Division at the Department of State. Additionally, we share new updates regarding employment-based sponsorship, the current retrogressions in the EB-3 category, as well as Diversity Visa lottery updates following recent developments in the judicial system.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching!


Overview


What’s the latest news with respect to immigrant visa numbers?

U.S. immigration laws limit the number of immigrants that can be admitted to the United States each year. The annual numerical immigrant visa limits are based on complex formulas and are subdivided among several preference categories and country “caps.” To illustrate, the annual limit for family-sponsored petitions is 480,000, which includes visas for immediate relatives, while 140,000 visas are allocated for employment-based immigrants. Unused family preference visas from the preceding years are added to employment-based visa numbers to maximize number use.

We have learned that employment-based visa numbers for fiscal year 2022 are expected to be 290,000 – an all-time high. As of today, the pending demand experienced by both the State Department and USCIS in the employment third preference category, for applicants born in India and China, will already exceed the amount of numbers that are available to applicants from those countries throughout fiscal year 2022 in the third preference category. In comparison, in fiscal year 2021, only 9,000 employment-based visas in the third preference category went unused. In fiscal year 2022, there may be close to 85,000 unused employment-based immigrant visas.

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick shares the most up to date information about the current status of U.S. visa services at Consulates and Embassies worldwide. In this post we cover U.S. Embassies and Consular posts that we have not yet touched on and provide an analysis of their operating capacity during the worldwide COVID-19 health crisis. Want to know which Embassies and Consulates are scheduling visa interviews?

Keep on watching to find out more.


Overview


As a preliminary matter, it is important to consider that the majority of U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas continue to have very limited operational capacity due to constraints relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some posts have temporarily suspended all routine visa services and have not provided an estimated time frame as to when they will resume at least partial visa services and appointments. The bulk of Consular posts have entered a phased resumption of visa services and are providing visa services as their resources and local country conditions will allow. The health and safety of employees and the public remains a top concern. Emergency and mission critical visa services continue to be prioritized for those facing life and death emergencies, age-out cases where the applicant will no longer qualify due to their age, immediate relative intercountry adoption, and other special cases. Furthermore, expedite requests and National Interest exceptions continue to be considered by Consular posts and Embassies including for health care professionals working to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.


How are Consular posts and Embassies prioritizing appointments?


The Department of State announced that Consular missions and Embassies are following a four-tier system of prioritization to triage documentarily qualified immigrant visa applications based on the category of immigrant visa as they resume and expand processing. Consular sections are scheduling some appointments within all four priority tiers every month where possible, however the following are the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:

  • Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government), and emergency cases as determined on a case-by-case basis.
  • Tier Two:  Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas
  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas*

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Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick talks about which U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas are scheduling visa interviews during the limited operational capacity resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a bonus, in this video, we will also help you understand the role of the National Visa Center in preparing your case for transfer to a Consular post abroad and interview scheduling.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


What is the role of the National Visa Center in your immigration journey?

The National Visa Center is an extremely important agency that acts as a middleman between USCIS and the Consular post or Embassy where your visa interview will eventually be scheduled.

After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves your immigrant visa petition, USCIS forwards your petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to prepare the case for immigrant visa pre-processing. Once your case is received by the National Visa Center, the agency will contact you to collect your visa application, visa fees, and additional supporting documentation known as civil documents. All visa fees and supporting documentation is submitted online via the Consular Electronic Application Center webpage (CEAC). 

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