Tag Archives: COVID-19

Green Card Backlog: Could choosing consular processing be your solution?

The journey to obtaining your green card can be a long process. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused backlogs for all USCIS petitions but significantly affected those who wish to adjust to permanent residency within the United States. Some adjustments are taking up to two years to process in certain service centers.

In recent months, as the pandemic is seemingly winding down and other countries are beginning to soften their COVID-19 regulations, we have seen a decrease in interview wait times at some foreign consulates. Now the question is: is consular processing going to be the quickest pathway to obtaining your green card?

By analyzing the projected wait times on the USCIS website, it is easy to compare them to the processing times listed on the Department of State’s website, specific to each consulate. Below we have provided two charts that can be used to compare processing times for our clients from the United Kingdom who are filing under the “US citizen filing for spouse, parent, or child category”:

 

Family Based Adjustment of Status within the United States

FORM NAME

DISCRIPTION OF BENEFIT SOUGHT ESTIMATED PROCESSING TIME

Form I-130

Application Alien Relative

13 – 18.5 months

Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status to a Permanent Resident of the United States 12 – 28.5 months
Form I-131 Application for Travel abroad while I-485 is pending with USCIS 11 – 15 months
Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization while I-485 is pending

11.5 – 15 months

 

Consular Processing Green Card Process

PROCESS NAME DISCRIPTION OF BENEFIT SOUGHT ESTIMATED PROCESSING TIME
Form I-130 Application Alien Relative 13 – 18.5 months
Transfer from USCIS to the NVC If a visa is available to you USCIS will send your petition to the National Visa Center 4 – 8 weeks
NVC Case Creation and payment of fees Once the NVC receives your petition they will open up a case for you. This will prompt you to pay the necessary NVC fees. 2 – 6 weeks
Submit DS-260 application and supporting civil documents Once you have submitted all the necessary documents the NVC will again review the application and documents 3 – 4 months

If you have questions about whether choosing consular processing could be a better option for you than filing an I-485 adjustment, reach out to us at info@challalaw.com.

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

Interview Waiver Discretion Expanded by DOS: Additional Drop Box Appointments Available Soon

On December 23, 2021, the Department of State announced that consular officers would be able to waive the in-person interview requirements for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants with approved petitions with USCIS. This potential waiver applies to individuals applying for H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visas who meet certain conditions. The following conditions apply:

  • The individual must be applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence.
  • They must have been previously issued any type of visa.
  • The individual must have never been refused a visa, unless the refusal was overcome or waived.
  • They must have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility (criminal charges, citations, overstays, etc.)

First-time individual petition-based H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) provided they have “no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility and have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)” may also be eligible for an interview waiver.

The Secretary of State also extended previous interview waiver policies for certain students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (F, M, and academic J visa applicants). One change to the previous policy is that applicants eligible for the waiver authority because they are citizens or nationals of a VWP participating country must have previously traveled to the United States using an authorization obtained via ESTA to qualify.  Applicants must apply for a visa in their country of nationality or residence. 

The interview waiver of certain H-2 (A and B) applicants has also been extended through the end of 2022. Applicants renewing any visa within 48 months are eligible for an interview waiver. However, the Department of State notes that it is up to the consular officers’ discretion and applicants could still be required to attend an in-person interview.

Visa Appointments Are Still Limited: India Update

The DOS notes that you should check with your local consular posts for details on interview waiver appointments. There are still backlogs at most posts given the COVID-19 backlogs, limited operating conditions, and staffing challenges.

The visa services division in India has announced additional appointments are to be released:

In the coming days, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India will release more than 20,000 additional interview waiver (dropbox) appointments for Spring 2022 to allow qualified applicants to make use of the new interview waiver authority. Due to reduced staffing and numerous pandemic-related disruptions to our operations since March 2020, appointment demand is high across all visa categories and wait times may be lengthy for most routine nonimmigrant visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy New Delhi and the consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

As a reminder, all travelers must abide by vaccination and testing requirements set forth by the CDC, DHS, DOS, and the airlines.

Additional Resources

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Travel FAQs & New Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements

DHS Releases Details on Easing Travel Restrictions & Travel FAQs

On Friday, DHS released new details for travelers who plan to enter the U.S. at land ports of entry and ferry terminals. Previously non-citizen travelers were permitted to enter for essential travel, but with the new requirements, non-essential travelers can enter the U.S. provided they are fully vaccinated and can provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination status. DHS also notes that unvaccinated travelers may continue to cross the border for essential travel, including lawful trade, emergency response, and public health purposes.

DHS states that “Starting November 8, when arriving at a U.S. land POE or ferry terminal, non-citizen travelers should be prepared to (1) provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, as outlined on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website; and (2) verbally attest to their reason for travel and COVID-19 vaccination status during a border inspection.”

The requirements are consistent with the Proclamation issued on October 25, 2021, suspending and limiting entry for nonimmmigrants seeking to enter the U.S. by air travel who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Presidential Proclamation and CDC order do not apply to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, U.S. lawful permanent residents and immigrants. Certain air crew members may also be exempt.

Air and Land Travel FAQs

Who is considered fully vaccinated?

You are considered fully vaccinated:

  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your dose of an accepted single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series COVID-19 vaccine; or
  • 2 weeks (14 days) after you received the full series of an “active” (not placebo) COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.-based AstraZeneca or Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • 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*

If you don’t meet these requirements, you are NOT considered fully vaccinated.

Example: If your last dose was given at any time on October 1st, you would be eligible to travel on October 15th or later to meet the 14-day requirement. If your flight departs on October 14th, you will be asked to reschedule after the full 14 days have passed.

What are considered acceptable COVID-19 vaccines?

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 purpose of interpreting vaccination records for travel to the United States, CDC will accept combinations of accepted COVID-19 vaccines.

How can I prove that I have been vaccinated for COVID-19? 

The CDC has provided several options for proving your COVID-19 vaccination status: verifiable records, non-verifiable paper records, and non-verifiable digital records.

  • Verifiable records (digital or paper): could be a vaccination certificate with a QR code (which links to the information confirming the credential was generated from an immunization record in an official database and is protected from tampering) or a digital pass via a smartphone application with a QR code
  • Non-verifiable paper records: printout of COVID-19 vaccination record or vaccination certificate issued at a national or subnational level or by an authorized vaccine provider, such as the CDC vaccination card
  • Non-verifiable digital records: digital photos of vaccination card or records, downloaded vaccine record or certificate from official source (public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider) or a mobile phone application without a QR code

All COVID-19 vaccination records must have:

  • Personal identifiers (at least full name and date of birth) that match the passenger’s passport or other travel documents,
  • Name of official source issuing the record (public health agency, government agency, or other authorized vaccine provider), and
  • Vaccine manufacturer and date(s) of vaccination.

Procedures for Travelers Who Qualify for Exceptions

Categories of noncitizen, nonimmigrants that meet the criteria for an exception under the proclamation and CDC’s order include:

  • Persons on diplomatic or official foreign government travel
  • Children under 18 years of age
  • Persons with documented medical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
    • Must show a letter from a licensed physician on official letterhead with contact information that clearly states the medical condition and the vaccine product
    • Example: immediate or severe allergic reaction after a previous dose or a component of a COVID-19 vaccine or known allergy to a component of the vaccine
    • Check with the airline to determine if a translation of the letter is necessary for their review
  • Participants in certain COVID-19 vaccine trials
  • Persons issued a humanitarian or emergency exception
    • Emergency medical evacuations or other situation where the individual is unable to access or complete the vaccination requirement before travel.
    • Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in or nearest to the country from which they are departing for the United States. The embassy will transmit the information to the CDC for consideration.
    • You can contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate, or call these numbers at the U.S. Department of State headquarters: From the United States and Canada: 888-407-4747; from overseas: 202-501-4444
  • Persons with valid visas [excluding B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourism) visas] who are citizens of a foreign country with limited COVID-19 vaccine availability
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces or their spouses or children (under 18 years of age)
  • Sea crew members traveling pursuant to a C-1 and D nonimmigrant visa
  • Persons whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, Secretary of Transportation, or Secretary of Homeland Security (or their designees)

If you are a noncitizen, nonimmigrant who does not fall under any of these exceptions, you must show proof of being fully vaccinated before boarding a flight to the United States.

If you qualify for an exception, you must attest that you will test for COVID-19 within 3 to 5 days after your arrival in the U.S. unless you have documentation of recovery from COVID-19 from within the past 90 days. You must also self-quarantine for 7 days, even if your COVID-19 viral test is negative and you must self-isolate if the test is positive or if you develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Depending on the category of the exception, the CDC notes that if you plan to stay in the U.S. for longer than 60 days, you may also be required to attest that you will agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and you have arranged to become fully vaccinated within 60 days of your arrival or as soon thereafter as is medically appropriate. Children too young to be vaccinated will not attest to the vaccination requirement, but parents or another authorized person will have to attest on behalf of any passenger who is unable to sign their own attestation on the other requirements.

Please note: there are no exceptions under the Presidential Proclamation and CDC’s Order for religious reasons or other moral convictions.

Additional Travel Considerations

As non-essential travel resumes, DHS expects that travel volumes and wait times will increase at border crossings and other ports of entry.

  • Plan for long lines and increased wait times when scheduling travel.
  • Consider facial biometrics and the CBP mobile app to access CBP services.
  • Keep COVID-19 documentation and valid travel documents readily accessible for all members of your party.
  • Check that COVID-19 documentation is accurate and matches your passport and other travel documents.

If you have any additional questions, please contact us at info@challalaw.com.

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Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET on critical immigration updates

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U.S. Announces Travel Restrictions to Be Lifted

U.S. Announces Travel Restrictions To Be Lifted

White House pandemic coordinator, Jeff Zients, announced a new international air travel system that will allow travelers abroad to enter the U.S. once again. Zients stated that the new system “enhances the safety of international air travel” and would allow COVID-19-based travel bans to end in early November for those who are fully vaccinated against the virus. The existing requirements for COVID-19 tests will remain, even for fully vaccinated travelers. Individuals wishing to travel to the U.S. need to show proof of a negative test within three days of their planned entry to the U.S. Masks will still be required, but quarantine mandates are not expected.

Americans who are abroad will have stricter testing requirements if they remain unvaccinated. The individuals may also be contacted by officials after arrival to see if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce a process for airlines to help implement a contact-tracing system by collecting phone numbers and email addresses of travelers. Zients stated: “This will enable CDC and state and local public health officials to follow up with inbound travelers and those around them as someone has potentially been exposed to COVID-19 or other pathogens.” The CDC will also release the list of vaccinations that will be acceptable before the new policy goes into effect.

Are you currently in a country subject to travel bans? 

If you have an urgent need to travel in the next few weeks, the existing travel restrictions will still be in place. You can request an emergency appointment and National Interest Exception if you qualify. However, the timeline for getting these approvals may be longer than a few weeks and therefore moot after the restrictions are lifted in November.

Check with your medical provider to determine if international travel and the current requirements are recommended for you. Note that some of the most popular vaccines require two doses, several weeks apart. If you wish to travel in November, consider scheduling your vaccination appointments early so that all required doses can be completed. If the vaccines available to you abroad are not currently approved for use in the U.S., you should check the CDC list of approved vaccines after it it is released (expected soon).

The consular posts are still subject to significant backlogs for visa appointments as posts are subject to country-specific operating conditions. Although you may be allowed to enter the U.S., obtaining visa stamping in a timely manner is expected to remain challenging in the coming months.

Resources

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Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET on critical immigration updates

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Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get your case started today.

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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Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET on critical immigration updates

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Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get your case started today.

 

EB-5 Processing Issues During COVID-19

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has a monthly check-in with Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division at the Department of State. During the August exchange, Oppenheim addressed EB-5 processing issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have already seen long processing times, even as the Visa Bulletin advances for previously backlogged countries like India.

Documentarily Qualified Cases Held at NVC

Oppenheim mentioned that a large number of Mainland China-born EB-5 investors were “not documentarily qualified.” This means that EB-5 cases never left the National Visa Center (NVC) and forwarded to the Consulate because NVC checklists or fee payments are outstanding. It was also noted that as a result of the pandemic and the temporary suspension of routine visa services at embassies and consulates, NVC paused shipments of cases. NVC will resume shipments at the request of the embassies and consulates as they assess local conditions and capabilities.

Some EB-5 investors are asked to provide civil documents that were previously uploaded to ASK NVC. You may avoid duplicate requests by uploading all documentation to NVC Electronic at one time. New applications or document requests may occur if a case goes into termination, such as when filing dates retrogress. Documentarily complete cases should restore to that state when the date becomes current again.

NVC Questions

Documents are to be submitted only through the NVC electronic portal. The Ask NVC electronic form is still available to accept questions, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic a statement cautions that NVC is working with reduced staff and requests that only urgent medical or humanitarian inquiries or necessary case updates for pending cases be submitted. Individuals with general questions such as case status and document lists are directed to log in to the Consular Electronic Application Center.

NVC Timelines

Many EB-5 applicants have waited 4-5 months for fee bills to be issued. Please note that a fee bill will not be issued until the case is current. After the visa bulletin is updated each month, the fee bills will be sent within a few days to those with current priority dates. If you receive a notice that NVC has received your case, you should notify the office of any dependents using the NVC Public Inquiry Form. While the current Form I-526 has a place to list derivatives, many EB-5 applicants filed using an older version of the form, requiring those individuals to add on dependents at a later stage.

Do you have questions about the EB-5 program? Contact us at info@challalaw.com to explore how your investment could earn you and your family green cards in the U.S.!

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August 2020 EB-5 Investor Updates

EB-5 Investor Updates

Processing Delays: 56%-67% Increase in Estimated Timelines, but the Visa Bulletin for India is CURRENT!

In May 2020, the estimated processing time frame for Form I-526 was 29.5-44.5 months but we saw an increase in the upper limit in June: the estimated time was 29.5 to 61 months for adjudication. In July there was another huge jump, showing processing times to be between 46 to 74.5 months, only allowing for case inquiries for cases filed before June 9, 2014.

The lower limit estimated processing time increased 56%, while the upper limit increased over 67% between June and August.


It is unclear whether this delay is due to the shift away from the FIFO or first-in, first out processing approach taken in March of this year. The agency switched to a visa availability approach to consider I-526 petitions where visas are immediately available or will be available soon. Currently the per-country cap established by Congress limits individuals from a single country to receiving no more than 7 percent of an employment-based visa allocation (unless the numbers would otherwise go unused).

Recent Regional Center EB-5 Approval Received in 28 Months


Some have predicted that USCIS was receiving many case inquiries and decided to move the receipt date for a case inquiry backward to “catch up” on processing. We recently had an EB-5 approval in June for a case that was filed in February of 2018 for an Indian citizen. It is unlikely USCIS is actually processing cases from 2014.

Children Nearing the Age of 21?

The Child Status Protection Act went into effect in 2002, allowing certain applicants to maintain their age for immigration purposes. If a parent files in the EB-5 category, the child may be able to take advantage of the permanent residence application. For the EB-5 category, a child’s age “freezes” on the date that the I-526 is filed and then begins counting again after the approval.

Email us at info@challalaw.com to get started on your family’s immigration journey!

Checking Case Processing Times

To check current processing times, go to https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/

Click on the Form dropdown box to select I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur. On the Field Office or Service Center dropdown menu, select Immigrant Investor Program Office, then click the Get processing time button.

Scroll down to see the estimated time range, as well as the receipt date for a case inquiry.

Your receipt number and receipt and priority dates can be found on your I-797 receipt notice.

Checking Your Case Status

To check on the status of your case, go to: https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do and enter your receipt number. Click on the Check Status button.

Visa Bulletin Progress: India is Current

Despite the processing delays, we have seen significant progress in the EB-5 category. Applicants from China are still subject to a long wait, with the priority date stuck in August of 2015. Similarly, Vietnam shows a priority date of July 22, 2017. We are finally seeing the EB-5 priority date for India as current.

Contact us at info@challalaw.com to discuss how to start your EB-5 green card process today!

Presidential Proclamation Update

The president’s recent proclamation suspending immigration for 60 days applies to individuals outside of the U.S. who receive green card approvals after the effective date of April 23, 2020. However, due to the importance of continued investment and job creation, the EB-5 program is specifically excluded from this order. The order also does not apply to individuals adjusting status from within the U.S. For complete details and exemptions, read our recent post on the Challa Law Group website.

Additional COVID-19 UpdatesU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and Application Support Centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). USCIS offices are open, but some consulates and embassies are operating on limited basis as conditions necessitate. Emergency services can still be requested.

Review some of the recent COVID-19 updates for employers and foreign workers:

RESUMING SEPTEMBER 16, 2020: Join us on Wednesdays for a live webinar at 12 PM ET for critical immigration updates

Visit our COVID-19 resource page for the latest updates or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or LinkedIn. You can also sign up for our mailing list.

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