What to Expect at Your USCIS Biometrics Appointment

Many applications, petitions, or other requests for immigration benefits require USCIS to collect biometrics to verify your identity. If you miss your scheduled biometrics services appointment, your case could be denied by USCIS so it is important to be prepared for the appointment or to reschedule if you are unable to make the scheduled time on your Form I-797C, Notice of Action.

Your appointment notice will include the date, time, and location for the biometrics services appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC). You will be required to provide your fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature. This is not an interview for any immigration benefit; just a verification of your identity.

What should I bring to my ASC appointment?

You should bring your original appointment notice, as well as your valid photo identification (such as driver’s license, passport, and/or green card). USCIS also suggests saving or printing a copy of your completed application, petition, or request for your records.

Note: Current COVID-19 protocols require that you also bring a blue or black ink pen to your appointment.

What will happen at my ASC appointment?

USCIS will collect your biometrics, or fingerprints, on specialized machines. The process is fast and does not require any ink and paper (unless the machine malfunctions). The office will also take a photo and may ask you to sign affirming your information is correct. USCIS uses your biometrics information to verify your identity and search the FBI database in order to check for criminal records or other violations.

USCIS will not collect blood samples, DNA information, or subject you to any medical tests at a biometrics appointment.

Why does USCIS require a signature again?

For some forms, a digital signature is required to reaffirm the contents of your application, petition, or request, even if you already signed on paper or electronically. By signing, you reaffirm that all submitted materials of yourself (and dependents, if applicable), are complete, true, and correct at the time of filing.

If you are over the age of 14, you must provide a signature. Children under the age of 14 are not required to sign, but they may choose to sign their name if they are capable. A parent or legal guardian may also sign the application, petition, or request on the child’s behalf.

I can’t make my appointment. How do I reschedule?

USCIS requires that you have “good cause” to reschedule your appointment. Be prepared with your explanation when you call USCIS to reschedule.

  • To reschedule your appointment, call the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283 (TTY 800-767-1833). To reschedule your appointment with an asylum office, please follow the instructions in your interview notice.

USCIS states that if you fail to call before your scheduled appointment or fail to establish good cause for the request, USCIS may not reschedule your ASC appointment. If you do not appear for your original appointment, USCIS will “consider your application, petition, or request abandoned and, as a result, it may be denied.”

USCIS does offer mobile biometrics or homebound appointments in limited circumstances if you have a serious ongoing medical condition and cannot leave your home or hospital. Check your biometrics appointment notice for more details on these services.

I’m feeling a little under the weather, but I’ve been waiting for a long time for my biometrics appointment. Is it okay if I still attend?

While routine services have been resumed at USCIS, the agency still has COVID-19 safety protocols in place. USCIS states that you should not visit a USCIS office if you are sick or start to feel symptoms of being sick. This includes a cold or the flu, fever or nausea, headaches or body aches, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, active tuberculosis, mumps, measles, chickenpox, or any other contagious disease.

Additionally, USCIS will not allow entry to facilities if:

  • Have any symptoms of COVID-19, including but not limited to a recently developed cough, fever, difficulty breathing, changes in smell or taste, or fatigue;
  • Have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days;
  • Have been instructed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider, public health authority or government agency within the last 14 days; or
  • Are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Please consider the health and safety of those around you and reschedule your appointment if you are feeling ill or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. If you or someone you are with appears ill or meets the conditions listed above, the USCIS officer may cancel your appointment or interview.

What type of COVID-19 safety protocols are in place at USCIS facilities?

Local conditions may vary, but currently, USCIS states that the following policies are in place:

  • In all areas of the country, all USCIS employees, on-site contractors, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status or level of COVID-19 transmission in your local area, are required to wear a mask inside all DHS and USCIS workspaces and federal buildings. 
  • If your temperature is 38 degrees Celcius or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you must immediately leave the office building.
  • You may not enter more than 15 minutes before your appointment, or 30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies.
  • Hand sanitizer will be provided at entry points.
  • Face coverings that cover the mouth and nose are required inside all USCIS facilities.
    • Neck gaiters, bandanas, and masks with exhaust valves are not considered acceptable face coverings.
  • Markings and physical barriers in the facility will encourage social distancing.
  • You may have to answer health screening questions before entering.
  • You are encouraged to bring your own blue or black ink pens.

Review Your Appointment Notice

Always check your Form I-797C appointment notice for any updated details or requirements from USCIS.

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USCIS Selects Second Round of H-1B Lottery

Petitioners and attorneys: check your USCIS accounts! USCIS announced a second round of selections for the FY 2022 H-1B lottery. Petitioners can file H-1B petitions for the selected registrations beginning on August 2, 2021 and closing on November 3, 2021.

UPDATE 7/29/2021: USCIS is experiencing technical difficulties with attorney accounts, making the attorneys unable to check the status of the H-1B registrations. Some law firms have reported that USCIS accounts are still accessible to employers. If an additional selection was made, the employer would also have received an email notification from USCIS.

From USCIS

In March 2021, USCIS conducted an initial random selection on properly submitted electronic registrations for the fiscal year (FY) 2022 H-1B cap, including for beneficiaries eligible for the advanced degree exemption. Per regulation, we use historical data related to approvals, denials, revocations, and other relevant factors to calculate the number of registrations needed to meet the H-1B cap for a given fiscal year. Only those petitioners with selected registrations for FY 2022 are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions. The initial filing period for those with selected registrations for FY 2022 was from April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021.

We recently determined that we needed to select additional registrations to reach the FY 2022 numerical allocations. On July 28, we selected previously submitted electronic registrations using a random selection process. The petition filing period based on registrations selected on July 28 will begin on Aug. 2 and close on Nov. 3. Individuals with selected registrations will have their myUSCIS accounts updated to include a selection notice, which includes details of when and where to file.

An H-1B cap-subject petition must be properly filed at the correct service center and within the filing period indicated on the relevant registration selection notice. Online filing is not available for H-1B petitions. Petitioners filing H-1B petitions must do so by paper and must include a printed copy of the applicable registration selection notice with the FY 2022 H-1B cap-subject petition.

Registration selection only indicates that petitioners are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions; it does not indicate that the petition will be approved. Petitioners filing H-1B cap-subject petitions, including those petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must still submit evidence and establish eligibility for petition approval based on existing statutory and regulatory requirements.

For more information, visit the H-1B Cap Season page.

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Call (Don’t Write) To Reschedule Your Biometrics Appointment

USCIS no longer accepts written requests to reschedule biometrics appointments at application support centers (ASCs). Individuals must now call the USCIS Contact Center to reschedule their appointment in advance of the appointment date. As a reminder, you must establish “good cause” or USCIS will not reschedule the appointment. USCIS does not clearly outline the reasons that would be considered good cause, but the agency does note that you should not come to your appointment if you are sick, are starting to have symptoms of an illness, have been instructed to quarantine, or if you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

Attorney Lakshmi Challa hosted a webinar about Navigating the USCIS Contact Center. She shares tips for speaking to a live person and accomplishing your goals on the call.

Please note: missing your scheduled biometrics appointment could result in a denial of your case. You should confirm that your request to reschedule has been successful.

Recent Update from USCIS

We have closed the Biometrics Processing Unit (BPU) in Alexandria, VA and no longer accept written requests to reschedule biometric services appointments at application support centers. You must now call the USCIS Contact Center to reschedule a biometric services appointment. This change reduces paperwork and helps us track requests more efficiently. 

How to Reschedule a Biometric Services Appointment
You must call the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283 (TTY 800-767-1833) before the date and time of your original appointment and establish good cause for rescheduling. If you fail to call before your scheduled appointment or fail to establish good cause, USCIS may not reschedule the appointment. If you fail to appear for your originally scheduled biometric services appointment and the appointment is not rescheduled, we will consider the related application, petition, or request abandoned and, as a result, we may deny it.

For more information, please visit the Preparing for Your Biometric Services Appointment webpage.

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USCIS Eliminates Need for “Bridge” Applications for F-1 Change of Status Applicants

USCIS Eliminates Need for “Bridge” Applications for F-1 Change of Status Applicants

USCIS announced that individuals applying for a change of status (COS) within the U.S. to F-1 student status no longer have to apply to change or extend their nonimmigrant status while their initial F-1 COS application is pending. This eliminates the need to maintain another nonimmigrant status up to 30 days prior to the program start date listed on the student’s Form I-20. Under the previous policy, applicants for student status often had to file an initial COS and subsequent extensions of another nonimmigrant status to ensure there was no gap in status.

The new policy allows USCIS to grant the change of status to F-1 effective on the day the applicant’s I-539 is approved. In order to be eligible for a COS to F-1 student, the individual must be in a valid unexpired nonimmigrant status at the time of filing the initial COS application.

Although the policy is effective immediately, USCIS is still in the process of updating Form I-539 and the form instructions.

Additional Information from USCIS on Changing to Student Status

Changing to F or M Status from Another Nonimmigrant Status

If you are in the United States in valid nonimmigrant status for a purpose other than to attend school and wish to change your nonimmigrant status (PDF) to a student status while remaining in the United States, you must meet the criteria below and submit an application with USCIS to change your status.

In general, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the United States if:

  • You were lawfully admitted to the United States in a nonimmigrant status;
  • Your nonimmigrant status remains valid;
  • You have not violated the conditions of your status; and
  • You have not committed any crimes or engaged in any other actions that would make you ineligible for change of status.

Until you receive notice of approval from USCIS, do not assume the requested status has been approved. Before USCIS may approve your application, you must take the following steps:

Not all nonimmigrant classifications are allowed to change to student status. Read the Form I-539 instructions carefully to ensure that your category is eligible.

What if My Current Status Doesn’t Allow Me to Enroll in Classes?

If you are requesting to change from another nonimmigrant status to F or M student status and your current nonimmigrant status does not permit you to enroll in classes, do not enroll in classes or begin your studies until USCIS has approved your change of status. If USCIS has not adjudicated your change of status at least 15 days before the program start date on your Form I-20, contact the designated school official (DSO) at your new school. If USCIS does not grant your request to change status prior to the start date of classes, you may need to defer attendance and wait until the following term in order to begin your studies at the school in F or M status.

Please note that if you are applying to change status to M status, you must maintain a valid nonimmigrant status while your Form I-539 change of status application is pending.

We encourage all students and prospective students to work closely with their DSO to coordinate the timing of applying for change of status and enrolling in a course of study.

NOTE: If you are an M-1 student, you may not change to F status while you are in the United States.

What if My Change of Status Application to F-1 Nonimmigrant Student is Still Pending Within 30 Days of My F-1 Program Start Date?

Due to processing times, you may have to request that your DSO defer the F-1 program start date to the following academic term or semester because USCIS did not make a decision on your Form I-539 change of status application before your originally intended F-1 program start date. If your COS application is approved, your change of status to F-1 will be effective as of the date of approval. You are not required to obtain status all the way up to the date that is 30 days before your program start date (“bridge the gap”), provided that your nonimmigrant status is unexpired at the time of filing the change of status to F-1 application, and you otherwise remain eligible for a change of status.

What if My Change of Status Application to F-1 Nonimmigrant Student is Approved More than 30 Days Before My F-1 Program Start Date?

If we approve an application more than 30 days before your program start date, you must ensure that you do not violate your F-1 status. An example of a violation would be engaging in employment, including on-campus employment and practical training, more than 30 days before the program start date as listed on your Form I-20.

Leaving the United States to Become an F-1 or M-1 Student

You may consider consular processing if you are concerned about maintaining your nonimmigrant status to within 30 days of your M-1 program start date (which may be deferred as described above) or are otherwise not eligible to change status to F-1 or M-1 status in the United States. You will need to do the following:

  • Apply to and receive acceptance from a SEVP-certified school.
  • Receive a new initial Form I-20 from your designated school official (DSO).
  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
  • Apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy for an F-1 or M-1 visa to travel to the United States in order to seek admission as a student.
  • If you are from a country where no visa is required, such as Canada, you may proceed directly to a U.S. port of entry or a U.S. pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station and apply for admission to the United States as an F-1 or M-1 student.
  • Once admitted by an immigration officer in F-1 or M-1 status, you may begin your studies.

For more information about consular processing, please visit the Department of State Travel page. For information about SEVP, please visit the ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program page or the DHS Study in the States page.

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Interfiling Medical Exams for I-485 Filings

Interfiling Medical Exams for I-485 Filings

USCIS requires that certain individuals seeking immigration benefits, such as permanent residence, must “establish that he or she is not inadmissible on health-related grounds.” Form I-693 is used by I-485 applicants to show they “are free from any conditions that would render them inadmissible under the health-related grounds.”

USCIS states that a medical examination, or completed Form I-693, is valid for 60 days after the civil surgeon physician signs the form. Once submitted to USCIS within the 60-day period, the exams will remain valid for up to 2 years while USCIS adjudicates your Form I-485.

What happens if you didn’t submit your medical form with your I-485?

You have a few options for submitting your Form I-693 after your I-485 has already been filed. Most commonly, USCIS will request the medicals when your case is in the final stages of adjudication by issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE). The I-485 applicant can submit the medical exams to the address on the RFE. You can also bring your medical exams with you if you are scheduled for an in-person interview at a USCIS field office.

In recent months, we have seen some employment-based cases approved without an interview at the field office. If you see that USCIS is processing cases near your priority date and your case may be nearing adjudication, you can also choose to “interfile” or mail USCIS your medical exams to have them linked to your case ahead of an RFE.

What are the risks of interfiling my medical exams?

The main risk is that USCIS may not be able to locate your file and attach the medical exams in a timely manner. For example, if the file has been transferred to a field office and you send your medicals to the service center, there could be a delay in connecting the documentation with your case. If your medical exams are lost or not connected within 60 days, you may have to pay the fees to obtain a new set of medical exams and send to USCIS when requested in an RFE or when you are scheduled for an interview.

Tips for Interfiling Medicals

1. Confirm the actual location of your case with USCIS. 

After checking your case status on your USCIS portal, you can also chat with Emma on the USCIS website (an automated tool that could also connect you to an agent for a live chat) or speak with someone at the USCIS Contact Center to ensure the location of your case.

2. Check the mailing address for the location.

If you have not received an RFE requesting the medical exams, you need to check the acceptable mailing addresses for the appropriate service center or field office. The USCIS website has an office locator function, in addition to listing the direct filing addresses for Form I-485.

3. Include your case details and prepare the package for filing. 

Make sure you have your I-485 receipt numbers and medical exams dated within the last 60 days. Include a copy of the G-28 if applicable. Download a sample medicals cover letter.

4. Ship the medicals with a trackable delivery service. 

Use a delivery service that provides tracking numbers so that you can confirm the date and time of arrival. Keep a record of the confirmation delivery with your files.

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USCIS EB-5 Alerts

USCIS EB-5 Alerts

Investment Level Alert

Alert: On June 22, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in Behring Regional Center LLC v. Wolf, 20-cv-09263-JSC, vacated the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization Final Rule (PDF). While USCIS considers this decision, we will apply the EB-5 regulations that were in effect before the rule was finalized on Nov. 21, 2019, including:

  • No priority date retention based on an approved Form I-526;
  • The required standard minimum investment amount of $1 million and the minimum investment amount for investment in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) of $500,000;
  • Permitting state designations of high unemployment TEAs; and
  • Prior USCIS procedures for the removal of conditions on permanent residence.

In other words, we are applying the regulations in effect before Nov. 21, 2019, on this website and in the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 6, Part G, Investors. In addition, we again will accept the April 15, 2019, version of Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, because the Nov. 21, 2019, version of the form reflects updates from the now-vacated rule.

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program Alert

Alert: Statutory authorization related to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program expired at midnight on June 30, 2021. This lapse in authorization does not affect EB-5 petitions filed by investors who are not seeking a visa under the Regional Center Program. Due to the lapse in authorization related to the Regional Center Program, USCIS will reject the following forms received on or after July 1, 2021:

  • Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program, except when the application type indicates that it is an amendment to the regional center’s name, organizational structure, ownership, or administration; and
  • Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor, when it indicates that the petitioner’s investment is associated with an approved regional center.

In general, we will not act on any pending petition or application of these form types that is dependent on the lapsed statutory authority until further notice. If you were issued written correspondence regarding your petition or application on or before June 30, 2021, you should review the written correspondence and respond by the due date (as applicable). Although USCIS is unable to review your response at this time, we will receive and maintain the response for review if circumstances change.

We will continue to accept and review Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, in the normal course, including those filed on or after July 1, 2021.

We will begin rejecting all Forms I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and any associated Forms I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Forms I-131, Application for Travel Document, based on an approved Regional Center Form I-526.

We will provide further guidance to the public if circumstances change or further guidance becomes necessary.

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DOS Announces New Gender Marker & Self-Selection for Passports, CRBAs

The Department of State announced that passport applicants can now self-select their gender, without providing medical documentation if their gender identity doesn’t match their birth certificate or other documents. The DOS also stated that the Department is evaluating how to add an additional “gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons applying for a passport or CRBA” and notes that the “process of adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons to these documents is technologically complex and will take time for extensive systems updates.  The Department will also be working closely with its interagency partners to ensure as smooth a travel experience as possible for the passport holder.”

Department of State Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Selecting Your Gender Marker & Passport Applications

How do I apply for my first passport or replace my full-validity passport?

If you are applying for your first passport, or if you already have a full-validity passport, use Form DS-11 and select “M” or “F” for your gender. You do not need to provide a medical certification or physician’s letter, even if the gender you select on Form DS-11 does not match the gender on your previous passport or other documents. Follow the steps listed on our Apply in Person page. Please note: we are in the process of updating our Form Filler and Form Eligibility Wizard tools to incorporate these changes. Please download your form and complete it by hand in black ink.

How do I replace my limited-validity passport?

Under our previous passport policies, if you were in the process of transitioning to a new gender when you applied for your passport, you may have received alimited-validity passport. We no longer require medical certification or a physician’s letter as evidence of a gender transition. You can now self-select your gender on your passport form, and you are eligible to apply for a full-validity passport.

To replace a limited-validity passport with a full-validity passport, submit Form DS-5504. To use this form, you must apply within two years of your previous passport’s issuance date. You do not have to pay fees unless you are requesting optional expedited service. If your limited-validity passport was issued more than two years ago, please use Form DS-11 and follow the steps on our Apply In Person page.

Please note: we are in the process of updating our form Filler and Form Eligibility Wizard tools to incorporate these changes. Please download your form and complete it by hand in black ink.

Why is the Department of State making this change?

We are committed to promoting the freedom, dignity, and equality of all people – including LGBTQI+ persons.

We are taking further steps toward demonstrating this commitment to better serve all U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender or sex. You can now self-select the binary gender you want printed on your U.S. passport. We are also beginning the process of updating our procedures for the issuance of U.S. passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs) with a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons. We will post updates on this webpage when that gender marker is available. You cannot apply for a passport with a non-binary, intersex, or gender non-conforming gender marker at this time.

What does it mean to self-certify or self-select my gender?

It means you can select the gender you would like us to print on your U.S. passport by simply checking “M” or “F”. You no longer need to provide medical certification or a physician’s letter when applying for a U.S. passport in a gender that does not match the gender on your citizenship evidence or photo ID.

Do I need to have the gender on my birth certificate and/or driver’s license changed before I can get it changed on my passport?

No, the gender on your citizenship evidence and photo ID does not have to match the gender you select on your passport application. However, the photo you submit with your passport application must look similar to the photo on your ID. Learn more about Passport Photos before you apply.

Do I need to apply using Form DS-11?

Yes. The first time you are changing your gender in your U.S. passport, you must use the Form DS-11. When you renew your passport, if the gender you are requesting matches the gender on your previous passport, you can use Form DS-82. Children under age 16 must always apply using Form DS-11 and appear in-person with both parents or legal guardians.

How do I update the gender on a passport for my child?

The requirements to update your child’s gender are the same as the requirements for an adult. Both parents or legal guardians must provide consent when applying for a child under age 16.

Do I have to submit a new photo when applying for a passport?

Yes. Your new photo must look similar to your current appearance and meet our passport photo requirements.

If I have a court order approving a change in my gender, do I need to submit that with my application?

A court order approving a change in gender is no longer a requirement to apply for a U.S. passport. It is not necessary anymore.

I followed the requirements on this page, but I got a letter requesting more information. What do I do now?

Please follow the instructions in the letter. If you have further questions, go to our Respond to a Letter or Email page or contact the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-27781-888-874-7793 (TDD/TTY).

What if I want to change my name in my U.S. passport?

You may change or correct a passport by following the steps provided on our website.

If I identify neither as male nor female, or I have a birth certificate, driver’s license, court order or other documents in a non-binary gender, can I have a passport issued with a non-binary gender marker or no gender marker?

No, not at this time. We are beginning the process of updating our procedures for the issuance of U.S. passports and CRBAs with the goal of offering a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons. The process of adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons to these documents is complex and will take time for extensive updates to our information technology (IT) systems. We cannot provide an exact timeline for when we will begin offering a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons. Applicants should not apply for a passport with a non-binary, intersex, or gender non-conforming gender marker as we cannot issue one to you at this time. Applicants who apply for a passport with a non-binary, intersex, or gender non-conforming gender marker will be given the option to select from currently available markers of “M” for male or “F” for female, or to place their application on hold until we can offer a non-binary, intersex, or gender non-conforming gender marker.

I had a bad customer experience. How can I complain?

To make a complaint, you can call the National Passport Information Center at 1-855-865-7755 or submit a complaint online through our Customer Survey.
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National Interest Exceptions: Multiple Entries Allowed

The Department of State recently extended the validity of National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) for travelers from a single entry, to a multiple entry exception, valid for 12 months from the date of approval. The NIE approval is valid for multiple entries, only if they are used for the purpose under which they were granted.

The extension applies to travelers subject to geographical COVID-19-related travel restrictions under Presidential Proclamations 9984, 9992, 10143, 10199, and any subsequent proclamations related to the spread of COVID-19. The new guidelines apply to individuals who currently have approved NIEs or who were granted NIEs in conjunction with a visa application.

As a reminder, students holding F or M visas and travelers with immigrant or fiancé(e) visas have automatically been granted NIEs and do not need to apply to obtain an NIE in advance from a consular section. Students from the countries affected by the ban are eligible for NIEs if their programs begin on or after August 1, 2021.

The Department of State advises:

Travelers should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling if they have not previously been approved for an NIE and have a valid visa in the appropriate class or have a valid ESTA authorization for travel under the Visa Waiver Program and seek to travel for purposes consistent with ESTA authorization. If an NIE is approved, they may travel on either a valid visa or ESTA authorization, as appropriate. Each approved NIE is valid for 12 months from the date of approval and may be used to travel to the United States multiple times for the purpose indicated in the approved NIE.

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DOS Q & A on July Visa Bulletin

This month’s chat with Charlie provided some valuable insight on how the Visa Bulletin will advance throughout the rest of the year. First, we’ll provide the quick highlights, followed by comprehensive notes on the Q & A session.

Highlights

  • Family preference dates will advance through September and overseas processing at consular posts is improving.
  • Employment preference dates will advance, but “slowing the rate of future advancements helps minimize the chances of any potential retrogression further down the road in fiscal 2022.”
  • No retrogressions are expected of employment Final Action Dates in the foreseeable future.
  • EB-5 China Final Action Dates will remain the same, but could move in October or November.
  • The fiscal year 2022 limit is going to be at least 290,000, a second all-time high in a row.
  • If holding multiple I-140s, such as EB-2 and EB-3, applicants are only counted in one category because they would only be reported to the Department of State when documentarily qualified. USCIS requests a visa number from DOS by providing the applicant’s A number, priority date, visa category, and foreign state. DOS will only act to allocate a number to one individual with that A number.

To view the current and upcoming Visa Bulletins, you can visit these links:

Q & A with Charlie Oppenheim

Please note: Questions and answers have been paraphrased in some cases and should not be interpreted as verbatim quotes.

Charlie Oppenheim has been with the State Department since 1978 and has been the Chief of the Immigrant Visa Control and Reporting division in the Office of Domestic Operations since 1998. The division’s main responsibility is the administration of the annual numerical limitations on immigrants, subdivided by preference category and country as provided by the Immigration and Nationality Act. This division then publishes the Visa Bulletin which summarizes the availability of visa numbers for the coming month, as well as providing other visa-related information.

Do you expect that the worldwide family preference dates will continue to advance through September?

Yes, the improving conditions have allowed increased overseas processing, therefore the July dates were advanced at an accelerated rate in most preferences and for most countries, with the movement of the dates through September might be somewhat more limited. The Mexico dates were advanced at a very fast pace for the family categories and that was because number use in recent months has not been as much as anticipated but based on the previous movement of the dates and we wanted to make sure that we maximized number use. The Philippine family dates were basically held with the exception of the fourth preference because there, the previous movement of the Final Action Dates had generated sufficient numbers under the annual limits so therefore we did not need to continue moving any except as I said the fourth preference.

In the July bulletin the worldwide family fourth preference date is listed as February 8, 2007. What does that mean?

Applicants who have submitted all of the required documentation that has been requested of them and have a priority date before February 8, 2007 would be eligible to have their final interviews scheduled either at an overseas post or processed by the USCIS offices here in the states. Whenever you see a priority date listed, it represents the priority date of the first applicant who we could not accommodate for processing during that applicable month. It’s important to remember that not everybody with a priority date earlier than the listed Final Action Date has been processed. Applicants process their cases at their own pace and convenience and therefore fluctuations in demand sometimes impact future movement of the dates, as is evidenced by the Philippine dates basically being held for July.

Do you expect that the employment preference dates will continue to advance through September?

I believe that they will have some advancement through September but at this time I really can’t estimate how fast that will be, but I do not expect there to be any retrogressions of employment Final Action Dates in the foreseeable future and managing and slowing the rate of future advancements helps minimize the chances of any potential retrogression further down the road in fiscal 2022.

Do you expect that any of the family-sponsored or employment-based application filing dates will retrogress during FY 2022?

No, I do not expect that any retrogression of the Application Filing Dates or Final Action Dates will occur in the foreseeable future. Some of the dates will be advanced in the coming months, but at this time, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not possible to really estimate the rate at which they will advance. It’s important to remember that the Application Filing Dates are the dates which I believe the Final Action Dates will reach at some point during Fiscal 2022.

Can you explain what it means when current is listed at in the Visa Bulletin?

If there’s sufficient numbers in a particular category to satisfy all of the reported demand at the time I’m making the determination of the upcoming month’s Final Action Dates, then the category can be considered current. For example, if it if I determine that I have 3,000 numbers that are available for use during the month of July and there’s only demand for 1 000 applicants then I can list the category as being current.

When do you expect the consulates around the world to be fully functional like before the COVID-19 pandemic?

This is the $64,000 question everybody wants to know the answer to and it really is not possible to provide an answer. The overseas posts have been slowly returning to some level of operational status as their local conditions permit, but because of the constantly changing status, the best advice it can offer is for the listeners to monitor the operational status of the post which is going to be responsible for processing their case and you can find that on our travel.state.gov website. That will have typically the latest and greatest information on each post’s status.

Note from consular officer: We’re definitely updating travel.state.gov on a regular basis with any sort of information that’s coming forward regarding policy or visa services.

Why doesn’t the State Department provide estimated wait times before a visa will be available for applicants in the various categories?

In a normal processing year, I tried to provide such updates about every three to five months and I put them in the Visa Bulletins with an item regarding visa availability and that usually covers what will happen in the next three to five months. Like I said earlier, it’s important for people to remember that the applicants become qualified at their own pace and therefore it can have some fluctuations in the dates. I really haven’t provided updates during the last part of fiscal year 2020 or for the fiscal year 2021 because of the constantly changing situation or processing capability at both our overseas post and in the USCIS offices.

When determining number use under the various annual limits, are only the principal applicants counted?

No, there is both the principal applicant and all derivatives – a spouse, any children, are each counted against the numerical annual limits.

The EB-5 China application Filing Date remains the same as it was in October 2020. Do you expect any forward movement in that date prior to the end of the fiscal year?

No, I do not expect any forward movement of the China application date before September. There is likely to be some movement in October but right now we have sufficient demand to utilize all available numbers under what the China limit would be, and unless larger amounts are processed during the summer, we will have a sufficient number moving into fiscal year 2022. Again, we may see some movement of that EB-5 Application Date for China in the month of October or November.

Do you expect that the fiscal year 2021 family, employment, and diversity visa annual limits will be reached?

Based on the impact with the COVID-19 issues we’ve had on the processing of cases, it’s really too early to say what number use might be, but I can say that both the family and employment Final Action Dates and the diversity visa ranked cutoff numbers continue to be established in an attempt to generate sufficient demand to maximize number use under the various annual limits. We’re following the same process in that determination that we would during a “normal” processing year.

Why would either the State Department or USCIS request that an applicant submit or update information if their priority date is not yet eligible for processing?

Well, the State Department uses the Application Filing Dates for our National Visa Center to contact applicants that may become eligible for final action on their case within the next eight to 12 months and they request the applicants to assemble and submit certain required documentation so that the applicant can become what we call documentarily qualified after a review of all the documents. Then that demand is reported to the visa office for consideration in the movement of the upcoming month’s Final Action Dates. The USCIS may request that adjustment of status applicants whose case had previously been processed but not finalized. For example, one of the cases is when the Final Action Date may have retrogressed, the applicant was in some stage of processing when the date retrogressed, so they could not be finalized. So the Immigration Service may when they feel that the applicant is nearing eligibility to be processed once again, they may request the applicant provide certain required information, such as a medical, etc. to update, so that it can be processed when the date does advance.

In both instances having all the required information and current information, for example again, the medicals, can expedite the final processing of the case once a visa number does become available. It’s important for    applicants to remember that they should not wait until their turn has come up because processing can take some time, so they’re better off if they go ahead and provide all the requested information in advance so that their case can be scheduled is in an expeditious manner.

With the slow pace of adjudications in the first two quarters of this fiscal year, do you foresee that the dates in the Filing chart will reach the dates in the Final Action chart by the end of the fiscal year?

I think that most of the Application Filing Dates that were announced and posted in October have already been reached in most instances. Any of the Application Filing Dates that are changing now or in recent months, there should be no reason to expect that they’ll be reached this fiscal year, but eight to twelve months down the road they could be reached. Again, the Application Filing Dates are always where we think the Final Action Dates will be 8 to 12 months after we have originally posted those Application Dates.

Does a case enter the queue for being interviewed after being documentarily qualified, even if their priority date is not current?

Yes, and that’s what I said it’s very important for me to have maximum visibility of potential demand for applicants whom the National Visa Center has contacted, primarily in the family categories, to act in a timely manner, submit all the required documentation, and what happens on a monthly basis, the national visa center reports to my office all of the applicants who have been become documentarily qualified since the last reports were submitted approximately a month earlier. The cases are only reported one time and then we hold that information and use it in the determination of the movement of the Final Action Dates and then once a person’s priority date falls within the Final Action Date, then their case is immediately provided a number and the National Visa Center would be scheduling their case. That’s why I say applicants really need to act on their case in a timely manner when they’ve been requested information, because they may have been contacted say by the National Visa Center in March to assemble documents. If the applicant had done so and been reported to my office and their priority date was reached for the month of July, they could be potentially scheduled for an appointment in July. If they waited until their priority date was reached to begin submitting the documentation, it’s going to take several months before they potentially could be scheduled so it’s very important for people to act in a in a timely manner.

Will EB-2 India reach July 2012 priority in October 2021?

The India the second preference will continue to advance some, but I can’t speculate at this time where it will be in October. I do believe many of the China and India dates will be advancing and they may advance at a rapid pace early in the fiscal year before we start holding back on some of the movements. It’s because at this time we expected the fiscal 2022 employment limit to be at least 290,000, a second all-time high in a row, so we’re trying to make sure that we can generate sufficient demand to utilize all the available numbers.

How are priority dates determined? Is it based on the approved I-140 for that particular year?

It’s based on the amount of documentarily qualified demand which is has been reported to me on a monthly basis. If you think of the numerical control process is your household budget for the year and your employer were to hand you a check for your pay to represent the entire coming 12 months on October 1, so what you want to do is you look you have housing expenses, you have insurance, you have a variety of expenses that you have to budget for, and your goal is to reassess your estimates on a monthly basis to re redistribute the money you may have, to take some money away from one area and can add it to another, or across the board if your estimates on your needs for the previous months have been. Your goal is to use all of the money because at the end of 12 months, although you cannot exceed that amount of money, if you haven’t used it all you have to return any leftover money to your employer, so your attempt is to try to maximize number use.

That’s what I do I look at the annual limits: I establish targets of how many numbers I want to utilize on a monthly basis by preference category and within the preference categories often for particular countries under their country limit and I weight the allocations typically higher and heavier during the first eight to nine months so that we can kind of ease into the end of the fiscal year without having to have a surge in movement of the date and heavier number use. You will see during the eight first night eight to nine months the dates will move faster, then typically July through September they will kind of slow down or hold, or as somebody asked earlier about retrogressions, retrogressions would typically occur in August or September when we’re nearing the limit and are running out of numbers. We always try to limit retrogressions to the last month or two of the fiscal year because we know that is a tremendous inconvenience to applicants to have their cases in some form of processing, so our attempt is to minimize any inconvenience and then do a full recovery if whenever possible for the month of October.

So in that analogy, the money that you’re budgeting is analogous to the visa cases, correct?

Right, and for example, if we had 12,000 numbers and my target was to use a thousand each month, if I was using more or less then I would have to adjust how many numbers I was giving out in subsequent months.

Will USCIS start to adjudicate more EB I-485s in the last two quarters and also, how much movement can we expect in EB-2 and EB-3 in the upcoming months? So the USCIS question, perhaps we can’t answer, but on the movement of EB-2 and EB-3?

Yes, the EB-2 and EB-3 dates will continue to move somewhat. I’m not sure in terms of how much in the third preference. The third preference category has been reported to me by USCIS as the one category which they had the highest rate of new filings last fall, so they have a huge amount of cases in that category that they’re going through. I can say that the USCIS offices across the country are maximizing their processing capacity. They’re doing their best and every effort is being made to fully utilize all the enough numbers. It’s important to remember that this fiscal year 2021 employment annual limit is approximately 262,000. In a typical year, the employment limit would be in the 140,000 to 155,000 range average, so this is a huge increase, you know well over a hundred thousand extra numbers that they have for potential processing with limited staff. They didn’t suddenly get an influx of staff just because we had more numbers available this year. That’s a very important thing to remember that even before the pandemic hit, most of our overseas State Department offices and USCIS offices in the states were pretty much processing at peak capacity.

Consular officer note: Right, and bringing on more staff takes time because of all the security clearances and whatnot that need to happen in that process.

Does documentarily qualified include medical Form I-693 also?

The medicals are typically done roughly at time of interview. If an applicant that is being processed for adjustment of status, had been interviewed earlier and then could not be finalized because of the retrogression of the employment date, the medical that they provided at that time may have expired. That’s why we tried to limit requesting the medicals until very close to the appointment time, because they are somewhat time sensitive. In those cases, the USCIS office may request that the applicant provide an updated medical because they think the movement of the dates is likely to allow that applicant to be processed, in July or August, so they want to have the case ready to go so that they can be processed quickly.

How much will the visa wastage be for EB? Is it tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands?

At this time, I could not even speculate how many numbers will not be used under the various annual limits. The best I can say, is I would expect the amounts to be very large given the constraints that have been imposed on processing in the states and overseas because of the COVID situation. It would be somewhat unrealistic to expect that all the numbers could be used based on the limited processing ability posts and USCIS offices have had because of the COVID-19 issues limiting, you know going into work, having people come in, and actually for example, if an applicant is required to get a medical or an updated medical, all the current COVID-19 issues may be limiting the ability for them to get medicals and that would also prevent the processing of the case.

For downgrading an application in India EB-2 to EB-3, is the applicant counted in both the lanes while pending, since EB-2 is also still valid?

The applicant’s case, if it has been reported to me, is only counted in the original category they filed. So if they originally filed as in India’s second preference but they’re now attempting to have their case downgraded because the EB-3 date is more advantageous, I don’t really know of the that demand until the downgrade has been approved. At that point it would be removed from the India second preference information that I’m seeing about potential applicants, and at that time it would be reported in the India EB-3 potential applicants. Basically, I have limited visibility of the numbers during the downgrade grade process and basically I don’t care about it too much because that downgrade could take you know a month, six months, whatever, so I would not want to tie up, for example, tie up numbers in the third preference on the assumption that I was going to get downgrades and they not materialize and as quickly, and therefore not be able to utilize other numbers by moving the date.

If USCIS does not process EB green cards at the rate to reflect movement of the Final Action Dates, what’s the real significance of your department’s work? It doesn’t seem to have any impact.

The immigration service is very good about providing me at the beginning of each month a report of how much demand that they have that are in various stages of processing, so I can take that information into consideration when I am advancing the various Final Action Dates. That has been a long-standing process. The COVID-19 issues may be preventing some of those applicants from being processed. The demand is still being reported to me and I’m moving the Final Action Dates to reflect the amount of demand in an attempt to fully maximize number use under the limits.

How much movement should we expect in the CR-1 interview letters in embassies in the coming months?

That I couldn’t comment on post-specific issues. Again, monitor the post website: they will provide the most up-to-date information of how they’re processing among the various categories.

Consular officer note: It’s important to monitor the website of the embassy or consulate at which you’re applying for your visa and you can find all of the embassy websites if you go to usembassy.gov again that’s usembassy.gov and just type in the embassy at which you’re applying and you can find the website through that portal.

Is there a way for the applicant to know if they are documentarily eligible?

Yes, at least for if they’re processing the case and overseas posts. Cases that have been initiated in recent years, they can monitor the status of their case on the National Visa Center website. They’re provided with information of that when they’re contacted to just begin submitting documentation and they can monitor where the various documents are in the various stages of processing at our National Visa Center all along. They can see if something is missing or not and the National Visa Center would contact them. If they had been asked to provide a certain document, say a birth or marriage certificate, and they had submitted everything but that, the National Visa Center will be in contact with them to say you know we still need your birth certificate or we need the marriage certificate, and only once that’s received can you be considered to be documentarily qualified and reported to the visa office for potential consideration of a future visa. I can’t comment on the process used by USCIS, I’m really not familiar with that, but again State Department side, we’re trying to do that and it’s kind of a self-serving process because the National Visa Center was having a large volume of calls coming in: can you check on my case, can you tell me where I stand, and having to answer those types of questions prevent them from dedicating staff to other types of processing. Allowing the applicant to go online and check it out themselves is best for both parties and it’s a faster turnaround time, because if say the National Visa Center had to contact me and say, Charlie, you’re missing your birth certificate, well it takes time for that notification to get to me and it takes time for me to get it back if I can just go on and list, oh this is the document I forgot, it’s an expedited process. When the National Visa Center contacts the applicants, they give them a list of what’s required of them to submit and so there should really be no question, did I submit all the documents. If they give you a list and say, you need eight documents, if you send it all eight in, you can assume your case, unless you’re being contacted, that things are okay, that they have all the required information. If you’ve only sent in seven or six of the eight, then your cases can’t go anywhere till you submit the remaining documents.

For concurrent I-485 and I-140 applications, what happens if the I-140 application is still pending, but the priority date becomes current?

That is a USCIS processing issue and I’m I would not feel comfortable commenting on that definitely.

Any age relief for age-out applicants?

The Child Status Protection Act does provide some relief for applicants who turn, for example, turn 21 while their case is still pending. That is a very complicated calculation which I luckily do not have to be concerned with or extremely familiar. I believe that on the travel.state.gov website, there is some information if somebody is interested to determine if they are eligible and how it would apply to their case. So again, the travel.state.gov has a wealth of information to everybody that they can access and hopefully provide answers to most of their questions.

Can we get employment-based I-485 inventory monthly based on country? It’s missing from USCIS and also from the State Department website.

We don’t publish it because it changes on a regular basis. I’m not sure exactly what the USCIS is publishing. I rely on the reports that they submit directly to me based on my specific needs, so I don’t really monitor what they’re posting too closely. That would be again a question best channeled through the USCIS.

If a person has two or three I-140s filed through different employers when they switched jobs, even though the filing date would remain the same, is the case counted as a single case or would it be two or three different cases?

It would probably be reported as one. Again, this is a specific issue for USCIS. Applicants at USCIS are assigned A numbers and whenever the USCIS requests a visa number from our visa office, they do so providing the applicant’s A number, their priority date, their visa category, and their foreign state. We will only act on one number, so if in that example, if they had A number 123, we would only allocate one number, authorize it for use by applicant with an A number 123.

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How to Apply for a National Interest Exception to India Travel Ban

How to Apply for a National Interest Exception to India Travel Ban

On May 4, 2021, India was added to a list of countries with restrictions on entry to the United States because of an increase in COVID-19 cases. The ban prohibited most travelers physically present in the country during the 14 days prior to their planned or attempted U.S. entry from entering the U.S. The sudden announcement left numerous individuals stranded in India, even while their family members were in the U.S. As cases escalated, the consulates shut down, even temporarily halting emergency appointments as the country managed the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Consular operations remain limited worldwide, with many posts only accepting emergency appointments. Emergency appointments are only being scheduled if an individual can provide evidence that he or she is not subject to the travel ban. U.S. citizens and permanent residents are exempt from the bans, as are a number of categories including individuals supporting critical infrastructure. Find out if you are exempt from the ban: Are You Subject to the Travel Ban? India Travel Restrictions & Resources

I don’t have a valid visa, but I am eligible for a National Interest Exception and need to travel to the U.S. 

If you have an urgent need for travel but do not have a valid visa, you must first qualify for an emergency appointment. Reasons for emergency appointments include medical needs, funeral/death, urgent business travel, and students or exchange visitors. Find out more about the criteria in our article: How to Request an Expedited Consular Appointment  The Department of State also expanded eligibility for an interview waiver or “drop box” appointment to 48 months (if you previously held the same visa class that has expired within the 48-month time frame). Review our Interview Waiver Checklist: Are you Eligible for a Drop Box Appointment?

In order to secure an expedited or emergency appointment, the consulates are also asking that you provide proof that you qualify for a National Interest Exception (NIE) at the same time. Please contact an immigration attorney if you have questions about your eligibility.

I have a valid visa and I am eligible for a National Interest Exception. How do I travel to the U.S.? 

How to Apply for a National Interest Exception (NIE) – With Valid Visa (No Stamping Appointment Required)

1. Prepare your evidence of NIE eligibility.

2. Send an email to the consulate or embassy with your evidence and the below information.

Visa holders with definite plans to travel who can demonstrate qualification for a National Interest Exception may contact the Embassy or Consulate that issued their visa to request a national interest exception prior to travel:

The email must include the following information for all travelers seeking an exception, as it appears on the visa:

Last name
First name
Date of birth, in DDMMMYYY format (ie – 01JAN2021)
Gender (M/F)
Country of birth
Country of citizenship
Passport number
Visa Number and Category (The visa number, also known as the visa foil number, is located on the lower right of the visa.)
Issuing Post Name (upper left corner of visa)
Travel dates
Travel purpose and national interest category, including a clear justification for receipt of an NIE

3. Wait for a response (between 2 weeks and 30 days in most cases.)

The Department of State has noted that each request will be considered as resources and operating capacity allow. You are encouraged to send your email in English for the fastest response times. While the consular posts strive to answer all requests with an approval or denial of the NIE within 2 weeks, the process could take longer.

Please note that national interest exceptions, when granted, are valid for a single entry within 30 days of approval. Subsequent requests after an expired NIE may have greater challenges to approval if it appears your travel was not actually urgent.


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