Articles Posted in Policy Updates

Welcome back to our blog! In this video, we are excited to cover new updates from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with respect to missing and/or delayed Requests for Evidence also known as “RFEs.”

Did You Know? Where an application or petition is deficient, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may issue a Request for Evidence asking for additional information or documentation to be provided before the adjudicating officer can make a final decision for your case. Requests for Evidence are sent to the applicant’s mailing address and specifically identify the information or documentation needed, as well as the deadline for responding to the Request for Evidence.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


More and more individuals have been reporting their case status change to “Request for Evidence” issued but have not received the request in the mail. In this post, we talk about what you should do in this situation and the latest recommendations from USCIS.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have seen many operational delays at the USCIS level. From interview scheduling delays to the slow issuance of receipt notices, the agency has been struggling to keep up with its workload. In the last year alone, the biggest obstacle has been the slow issuance of Requests for Evidence especially for cases pending at the Texas Service Center (TSC) and the Vermont Service Center (VSC). The agency has said that eventually all Requests for Evidence will be sent by mail. The issue has been that the agency has been experiencing severe mailroom backlogs leading to such delays.

So, what should you do if you have not yet received your Request for Evidence in the mail?

USCIS has acknowledged these delays and has advised applicants to contact USCIS to speak to a customer service representative about the issue by calling 800-375-5283 (TTY 800-767-1833) Monday to Friday 8 am to 8 pm Eastern Standard Time. Applicants should continue to inquire until they have received their Request for Evidence by mail.

Once your Request for Evidence has arrived, if the stated deadline is not sufficient time to respond to the Request, you may still respond to the RFE, and include evidence proving that you received the Request for Evidence very late. This is very easy to prove because your envelope will include a stamp showing the date the Request for Evidence was mailed to you.

Applicants should also note that USCIS has extended its flexibility policy and will accept a response to a Request for Evidence received within 60 calendar days after the due date, so long as the RFE was issued between March 1, 2020, and October 23, 2022. This policy will also apply to late and missing RFEs that are re-issued by USCIS.

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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.

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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

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Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses an exciting new procedure for individuals arriving at the United States border to apply for asylum, specifically with respect to those asylum seekers who are subject to expedited removal.

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


Overview


What is Asylum?

Asylum is a form of protection which allows an individual to remain in the United States instead of being removed to a country of feared persecution. To apply for asylum in the U.S., individuals must file the required application, form I-589, and submit it with the appropriate documentation within one year of arriving to the United States. To be successful, individuals must establish that they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Under current immigration law, individuals applying for defensive asylum at the border (meaning that they do not have a valid visa at the time of entry) are detained by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and become subject to removal proceedings. Once an immigration hearing is scheduled, the asylum seeker is given the opportunity to make his or her case for asylum before an immigration judge.

Currently, the defensive asylum process is taking over 7 years to complete in the United States, including the required scheduling of a hearing before an immigration judge.


New Interim Final Rule


To streamline the defensive asylum application process at the border, the Biden administration recently published a new interim final rule in the federal register entitled, “Procedures for Credible Fear Screening and Consideration of Asylum, Withholding of Removal, and CAT Protection Claims by Asylum Officers.”

Under the new interim final rule, released on March 29, 2022, the Biden administration seeks to overhaul the current defensive asylum system to drastically reduce backlogs in the immigration courts and improve filing procedures.

The final rule proposes sweeping changes to current asylum law including allowing asylum claims to be heard and evaluated by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers instead of immigration judges.

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Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick goes over a brand new and unexpected change in policy being followed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with respect to Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) for green card applicants.

Want to know more about this important change? Just keep on watching!


Overview


This month has brought unexpected news for green card applicants. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that it will be discontinuing its policy of issuing employment authorization documents (EADs) and advance parole travel authorization as a joint “combo” card. Up until recently, green card applicants could send Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-131 Application for Travel Document, along with their I-485 green card applications to apply for a “combo” work/travel authorization card. This “combo” card enabled green card applicants to work and travel while their applications were in process with USCIS.

The agency has now confirmed that it will be separating the issuance of the employment authorization document (EAD card) and advance parole (AP) document and will no longer be issuing these “combo cards.” USCIS has said that this new policy change has been implemented to reduce EAD processing times. Effective immediately, the agency will now be issuing EAD and AP documents separately.

Applicants with EAD cards that do not have the notation “Serves as I-512 Advance Parole” will only be able to use their EAD card for employment purposes, and not for travel. A separate Advance Parole document must be issued by USCIS in order for the applicant to engage in international travel. Traveling without a valid Advance Parole document will result in the abandonment of the applicant’s green card.


Why the change?


USCIS has been experiencing abnormally high processing times for I-765 Applications for Employment Authorization, causing serious delays during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the Nebraska Service Center is currently reporting processing times of between 11.5 to 13.5 months for an EAD to be issued based on a pending adjustment of status application. While the California Service Center is currently reporting a wait period of between 20 months to 21.5 months.

While USCIS has been doing its best to reduce the EAD backlogs, many applicants have faced employment interruptions during what is already a difficult economic climate.

USCIS has said that it is working through the EAD backlog and is prioritizing EAD adjudication as it seeks to avoid applicants experiencing a lapse or prolonged lapse in employment authorization. At present, there is no additional information available on the scope or duration of this procedural change


Can I Expedite an EAD Card?


The answer is it depends. USCIS has established clear guidelines explaining when an EAD card may be expedited. In general, USCIS considers an expedite request if it meets one or more of the following criteria or circumstances:

  • Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
    • Timely file the benefit request, or
    • Timely respond to any requests for additional evidence;

Job loss may be sufficient to establish severe financial loss for a person, depending on the individual circumstances. For example, the inability to travel for work that would result in job loss might warrant expedited treatment. The need to obtain employment authorization by itself, without evidence of other compelling factors, does not warrant expedited treatment. In addition, severe financial loss may also be established where failure to expedite would result in a loss of critical public benefits or services.

  • Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons;

In the context of an expedite request, humanitarian reasons are those related to human welfare. Examples may include, but are not limited to, illness, disability, extreme living conditions, death in the family, or a critical need to travel to obtain medical treatment in a limited amount of time. An emergency may include an urgent need to expedite employment authorization for healthcare workers during a national emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, an expedite request may be considered under this criterion in instances where a vulnerable person’s safety may be compromised due to a breach of confidentiality if there is a delay in processing the benefit application. A benefit requestor’s desire to travel for vacation does not, in general, meet the definition of an emergency.

  • Nonprofit organization (as designated by the Internal Revenue Service) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural or social interests of the United States;

A nonprofit organization seeking to expedite a beneficiary’s benefit request must demonstrate an urgent need to expedite the case based on the beneficiary’s specific role within the nonprofit in furthering cultural or social interests (as opposed to the organization’s role in furthering social or cultural interests). Examples may include a medical professional urgently needed for medical research related to a specific social U.S. interest (such as the COVID-19 pandemic or other socially impactful research or project) or a university professor urgently needed to participate in a specific and imminent cultural program. Another example is a religious organization that urgently needs a beneficiary’s specific services and skill set to continue a vital social outreach program. In such instances, the religious organization must articulate why the respective beneficiary is specifically needed, as opposed to pointing to a general shortage alone.

  • U.S. government interests (such cases identified as urgent by federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Labor, National Labor Relations Board, Equal Opportunity Commission, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or other public safety or national security interests); or

U.S. government interests may include, but are not limited to, cases identified as urgent by other government agencies, including labor and employment agencies, and public safety or national security interests.

For expedite requests made by a federal agency, involving other public safety or national security interests, the national interest need must be immediate and substantive. If the need for the action is not immediate, expedited processing is not warranted. A substantive need does not mean that a delay would pose existential or irreversible consequences to the national interests but rather that the case at hand is of a scale or a uniqueness that requires immediate action to prevent real and serious harm to U.S. interests.

Expedite requests from government agencies (federal, state, or local) must be made by a senior-level official of that agency. If the request relates to employment authorization, the request must demonstrate that the need for a person to be employment-authorized is mission-critical and goes beyond a general need to retain a particular worker or person. Examples include, but are not limited to, a noncitizen victim or witness cooperating with a federal, state, or local agency who is in need of employment authorization because the respective agency is seeking back pay or reinstatement in court proceedings.

  • Clear USCIS error.

Not every circumstance that fits in one of these categories will result in expedited processing.


What You Can Expect Going Forward


It is too early to say how effective this new policy will be at reducing the backlogs. Therefore, it is important for applicants to file their applications well in advance of their anticipated employment and planned travel to avoid facing any dilemmas.

Applicants should continue to monitor their pending EAD applications closely and avoid making any travel plans while the applications are pending. We are hopeful that this new policy change will be a welcome improvement, however no estimates can be made with respect to how long it might take USCIS to issue these stand-alone employment authorization and advance parole documents going forward.

The Law Offices of Jacob Sapochnick will continue to monitor these new developments and will report on any new updates right here on our blog.


Questions? If you would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.


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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.

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Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! Are you an entrepreneur wishing to work in the United States temporarily? In this video, Jacob Sapochnick discusses how you can live and work in the United States as an entrepreneur on an O-1A visa.

Want to find out more? Just keep on watching.


Overview


As you know there is no clear pathway in U.S. immigration law for entrepreneurs to obtain a U.S. visa to work in the United States. While many had hoped that comprehensive immigration reform would bring about much needed changes in our current immigration system to afford entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their businesses in the U.S., no “start-up” visa has yet been legislated. However, entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to the O-1A visa as an alternative.


What is the O-1A visa?


The O-1A nonimmigrant visa is suitable for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures, or television industry which is known as the O-1B visa).

To be eligible, applicants must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming to the United States temporarily to continue work in an area of extraordinary ability. Extraordinary ability under U.S. immigration law means that you are one of a small percentage who has arisen to the very top of your field.

One of the main drawbacks of the O-1A visa is that you cannot self-petition for an O-1A. You must have a contract with a U.S. employer to establish a valid employer-employee relationship. As an entrepreneur, however, you may form a company in the U.S. which can petition you for an O-1A, so long as a valid employer-employee relationship has been created.

A valid employer-employee relationship exists where other individuals in the business entity can hire, fire, pay, or control your work. At all times, the company (petitioning entity) must be in control of the work conditions. If it is impossible to fire the employee, then no valid employer-employee relationship can be said to exist.

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Welcome back to Immigration Lawyer Blog! We kick off the start of a brand-new week with new White House initiatives expanding the post-completion Optional Practical Training program for STEM international students, as well as other government initiatives to attract entrepreneurs and highly skilled professionals to the United States seeking O-1 visas and National Interest Waivers.

Want to know more? Just keep on watching!


Overview


White House Releases Initiative Expanding STEM OPT


We are excited to share that just last week, the White House announced a series of policy changes designed to attract and retain the knowledge and training of international students working toward science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields in the United States. Among these new initiatives, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has announced the expansion of the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, with the addition of 22 new fields of study to the STEM Degree Program List, including economics, computer science, mathematical economics, data science, business and financial analytics.

Currently, the F-1 STEM optional practical training (OPT) extension program grants F-1 students with a qualifying STEM degree, the ability to work in the United States with OPT work authorization for a period of up to 36 months. This expansion of the program will now increase the pool of candidates eligible to receive employment authorization.

Some of the newly added fields of study include: Bioenergy; Forestry, General; Forest Resources Production and Management; Human Centered Technology Design; Cloud Computing; Anthrozoology; Climate Science; Earth Systems Science; Economics and Computer Science; Environmental Geosciences; Geobiology; Geography and Environmental Studies; Mathematical Economics; Mathematics and Atmospheric/Oceanic Science; Data Science, General; Data Analytics, General; Business Analytics; Data Visualization; Financial Analytics; Data Analytics, Other; Industrial and Organizational Psychology; Social Sciences, Research Methodology and Quantitative Methods. To view a complete list of qualifying fields, please click here to view the Federal Register notice. 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.

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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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