Tag Archives: DHS

Congress Pushes on DHS to Improve the USCIS Contact Center

On February 28, 2022, 47 members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary Mayorkas (Department of Homeland Security) and Director Jaddou (Citizenship and Immigration Services) urging them to make improvements to the USCIS Contact Center. The letter specifically mentions the barriers posed by the shift from InfoPass to InfoMod in conjunction with scheduling in-person appointments at field offices. They state that navigating the new three-tiered system has caused extensive wait times, unreasonable callback windows, and significant customer dissatisfaction.

Another grievance the letter refers to is the fact that members of an attorney’s legal staff are not allowed to receive updates through the new contact center; if not the beneficiary, only the attorney of record can raise an inquiry or speak to USCIS officers. The letter goes on to mention that as USCIS’ pending caseload has increased 85% from 2015 to 2020, improvements to the contact center will reduce the burden on the agency itself and improve overall customer satisfaction.

In summary, the letter asks for:

  1. Reinstating InfoPass or another online appointment self-scheduling system
  2. Providing accurate and accommodating callback windows
  3. Allowing law firm staff other than the attorney on record to make requests
  4. Making public the criteria for granting appointments through InfoMod
  5. Offering walk-in availability for urgent requests at local USCIS offices

Questions? Email info@challalaw.com

Information from AILA Doc. No. 22030300.

 

USCIS Announces H-1B Cap Registration Period

USCIS Announces H-1B Cap Registration Period

USCIS announced that the H-1B cap registration period will open on March 1, 2022 and will close on March 18, 2022. USCIS will make the selections by March 31, 2022. Selected registrations may apply for the H-1B, which allows the beneficiary to begin working on October 1, 2022, the start of the new fiscal year.

Challa Law Group will continue to offer a tiered approach to registration. Read more about which option is right for your company: Planning for the H-1B Cap Registration System.

From USCIS (January 29, 2022): 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced that the initial registration period for the fiscal year 2023 H-1B cap will open at noon Eastern on March 1 and run through noon Eastern on March 18, 2022. During this period, prospective petitioners and representatives will be able to complete and submit their registrations using our online H-1B registration system.

USCIS will assign a confirmation number to each registration submitted for the FY 2023 H-1B cap. This number is used solely to track registrations; you cannot use this number to track your case status in Case Status Online.

Prospective H-1B cap-subject petitioners or their representatives are required to use a myUSCIS online account to register each beneficiary electronically for the selection process and pay the associated $10 H-1B registration fee for each registration submitted on behalf of each beneficiary. Prospective petitioners submitting their own registrations (U.S. employers and U.S. agents, collectively known as “registrants”) will use a “registrant” account. Registrants will be able to create new accounts beginning at noon Eastern on Feb. 21.

Representatives may add clients to their accounts at any time, but both representatives and registrants must wait until March 1 to enter beneficiary information and submit the registration with the $10 fee. Prospective petitioners or their representatives will be able to submit registrations for multiple beneficiaries in a single online session. Through the account, they will be able to prepare, edit, and store draft registrations prior to final payment and submission of each registration.

If we receive enough registrations by March 18, we will randomly select registrations and send selection notifications via users’ myUSCIS online accounts. We intend to notify account holders by March 31.

An H-1B cap-subject petition, including a petition for a beneficiary who is eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may only be filed by a petitioner whose registration for the beneficiary named in the H-1B petition was selected in the H-1B registration process.

___________________________________________________

Connecting with Challa Law Group

Send your resume to info@challalaw.com to determine whether you may be a good candidate for a waiver of the labor market test!

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

DHS Expands STEM OPT Fields to Attract Global Talent

In order to maintain global competitiveness, the Department of Homeland Security has announced several policy guidance shifts to encourage those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to contribute to the U.S. economy. DHS announced 22 additional fields of study that now qualify for the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program going forward, which allows students to work in a field that is directly related to his or her degree. Related to that announcement, DHS also issued new guidance for how USCIS evaluates O-1A petitions for individuals of “extraordinary ability” in STEM fields, as well as how certain individuals may qualify for a National Interest Waiver (NIW) for employment-based permanent residence. This would allow certain noncitizens with advanced degrees or exceptional ability to petition for an employment-based category without obtaining certification from the Department of Labor. USCIS claims this will make it easier for individuals such as STEM graduates and entrepreneurs to obtain lawful permanent residence status.

From USCIS, 1/21/2022

DHS Expands Opportunities in U.S. for STEM Professionals: Department adds Twenty-Two New Fields of Study and Takes Additional Steps to Attract Critical STEM Talent

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today announced 22 new fields of study have been added to the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program to enhance the contributions of nonimmigrant students studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and support the growth of the U.S. economy and innovation.

“STEM innovation allows us to solve the complex challenges we face today and make a difference in how we secure and protect our country,” said Secretary Mayorkas.  “Through STEM education and training opportunities, DHS is expanding the number and diversity of students who excel in STEM education and contribute to the U.S. economy.”

The STEM OPT program permits F-1 students earning bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in certain STEM fields to remain in the United States for up to 36 months to work in their field of study.  Adding 22 fields of study will ensure the U.S. economy benefits from students earning degrees in the United States in competitive STEM fields.  Information on the new fields of study will be communicated to schools and students through a Federal Register notice.

DHS is also updating and issuing new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual guidance.  USCIS is updating guidance to clarify how certain STEM graduates and entrepreneurs can use the national interest waiver for employment-based immigrant visa classification as an advanced degree professional noncitizen or noncitizen of exceptional ability.

Certain noncitizens with an advanced degree or exceptional ability can self-petition for employment-based immigrant visa classification, without testing the labor market and obtaining certification from the Department of Labor, if USCIS determines the waiver of the labor market test to be in the national interest.  The updated guidance clarifies how to use the program, making it easier for noncitizens with needed skills, such as STEM graduates and entrepreneurs, to embark on a pathway to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

USCIS is also issuing a policy manual update related to O-1A nonimmigrant status for noncitizens of extraordinary ability in the fields of science, arts, education, business, or athletics.  This update explains how USCIS determines eligibility for O-1A petitioners and, for the first time, provides examples of evidence that might satisfy the criteria, including for individuals working in STEM fields.

The 22 new fields of study are bioenergy, general forestry, forest resources production and management, human-centered technology design, cloud computing, anthrozoology, climate science, earth systems science, economics and computer science, environmental geosciences, geobiology, geography and environmental studies, mathematical economics, mathematics and atmospheric and oceanic science, general data science, general data analytics, business analytics, data visualization, financial analytics, other data analytics, industrial and organizational psychology, and social sciences, research methodology, and quantitative methods.

Connecting with Challa Law Group

Send your resume to info@challalaw.com to determine whether you may be a good candidate for a waiver of the labor market test!

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

USCIS Selects Third Round of H-1B Registrations for FY 2022

From USCIS, 11/19/2021

USCIS Conducts Third Random Selection from Previously Submitted FY 2022 H-1B Cap Registrations

We recently determined that we needed to select additional registrations to reach the fiscal year (FY) 2022 H-1B numerical allocations, including the advanced degree exemption. On Nov. 19, we selected from among previously submitted electronic registrations using a random selection process. The petition filing period based on registrations selected on Nov. 19 will begin on Nov. 22, 2021, and close on Feb. 23, 2022. Individuals with selected registrations will have their myUSCIS accounts updated to include a selection notice, which includes details about when and where to file.

In July 2021, we conducted a second random selection from among properly submitted electronic registrations for the FY 2022 H-1B numerical allocations. The petition filing period based on registrations selected in July ended on Nov. 3, 2021.

We conducted an initial selection in March 2021. The initial filing period for those with selected registrations for FY 2022 was from April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021. Per regulation, we take into account historical data related to approvals, denials, revocations, and other relevant factors to calculate the number of registrations needed to meet the H-1B numerical allocations for a given fiscal year. Only those petitioners with selected registrations for FY 2022 are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions.

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.

_________________________________________________________

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

 

USCIS Issues Policy Guidance on Automatic EAD Extensions for Dependent Spouse (H-4, E, L)

USCIS Issues Policy Guidance on Automatic EAD Extensions for Dependent Spouse (H-4, E, L)

USCIS reached a settlement agreement as a result of recent litigation (Shergill, et al. v. Mayorkas) targeting the delayed processing times for EAD applications and extensions. Previously USCIS prohibited H-4 spouses from benefiting from automatic employment authorization extensions while their EAD applications were pending. Following the settlement agreement, USCIS released new guidance allowing H-4 spouses automatic EAD extensions and clarifying that L and E spouses will now enjoy automatic work authorization incident to status. The L and E dependent spouses will no longer have to apply for employment authorization unless they prefer to have the document for identity verification and other related purposes.

While the new guidance is effective immediately, the settlement agreement notes a maximum 120-day timeline for implementing the changes. USCIS will continue to issue E and L dependent spouses EADs upon filing Form I-765. Individuals may want to continue filing I-765 since EADs are acceptable for I-9 purposes as List A documents, demonstrating employment authorization and identity.

Under the new guidance, what is acceptable evidence of work authorization for I-9 purposes?

  • A document combination to include:
    • an unexpired Form I-94 indicating nonimmigrant status (H-4, E, or L)
    • Form I-797C (receipt notice) showing a timely-filed EAD renewal application stating “class requested” as “(a)(17),” “(a)(18),” or “(c)(26),” and
    • The facially expired EAD issued under the same category (that is, indicating Category A17, A18, or C26).

Note: DHS will modify Forms I-94 for L and E dependents to distinguish spouses from children. Only once those changes are made will the revised Form I-94 be acceptable as a List C document and EAD extensions will no longer be required for L and E dependent spouses. The evidence of employment authorization must have a notation indicating the individual is an E or L dependent spouse. Prior to that change taking place, L and E dependents should follow the same guidelines outlined above for EAD applicants.

My E or L EAD extension is still pending. Can I start working again?

    • E and L dependent spouses are employment authorized incident to status and therefore will no longer have to file Form I-765 once the I-94 has been updated, but may continue to file if they choose to receive an EAD.
    • However, the updated guidance states: “Therefore, until USCIS is able to issue alternative evidence of employment authorization for this group, they will likely continue to request an EAD through the Form I-765 process to meet Form I-9 requirements.”
    • To utilize the I-94 without an EAD as evidence of work authorization, the guidance from USCIS states that the I-94 must bear a notation indicating the individual is a qualifying E, or L spouse. CBP and USCIS could take up to 120 days to modify the I-94s.
    • Until that time, E and L spouses should follow the same guidelines as H spouses with EAD extensions pending.

My H-4 and H-4 EAD extension are still pending. Can I begin working again?

    • If the spouse filed an I-539 application to extend H-4 status concurrently with an EAD application, the H-4 spouse would only qualify for the auto-extension of the EAD if they have time remaining on their existing I-94.

CHALLA TIP: If the primary H-1B has already been approved and extended (perhaps after a premium upgrade), the H-4 dependent spouse can depart the country and then re-enter on the H-4 visa, using the H-1B approval notice to obtain an I-94 with longer validity. The individual would then be eligible for an automatic extension of up to 180 days or the earlier of the scenarios described below. Check out our Travel FAQs & New Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements before planning your trip.

When will the automatic extensions be valid? 

  • Automatic extensions for H-4, E, or L dependent spouses will be applicable if they properly file an application to renew their EAD before the expiration date (if applicable) and they have an unexpired I-94 showing their valid status.
  • The automatic extension will continue until the earlier of:
    • The end date on the Form I-94 showing valid status
    • The approval or denial of the EAD renewal application, or
    • 180 days from the date of expiration of the previous EAD

Wondering if you qualify for an automatic extension? Email us at info@challalaw.com with your questions.

__________________________________________________________________________

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

DHS Adds Countries to H-2A and H-2B Eligibility List

From DHS, 11/09/2021

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Department of State (DOS), has announced the lists of countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs in the next year. The notice listing the eligible countries will be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 10, 2021.

For the next year, the secretary of homeland security, with the concurrence of the secretary of state, has decided to:

  • Add Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Cyprus, the Dominican Republic (currently only eligible for  the H-2A program), Haiti, Mauritius, and Saint Lucia to the list of countries eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B programs; and
  • No longer designate Moldova as an eligible country for the H-2A visa program because it no longer meets the regulatory standards for that program. However, Moldova’s eligibility for the H-2A program remains effective until Jan. 18, 2022.

DHS maintains its authority to add countries to the eligible countries lists at any time, and to decide not to redesignate any country at the end of the one-year period following the date of publication of a country’s last designation in the Federal Register, should DHS and DOS determine that a country fails to meet the requirements for continued designation. Examples of factors that could result in the exclusion of a country or the removal of a country from the list include fraud, abuse, denial rates, overstay rates, human trafficking concerns, and other forms of noncompliance with the terms and conditions of the H-2 visa programs by nationals of that country that are contrary to U.S. interest.

The H-2A and H-2B visa programs allow U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural and nonagricultural jobs, respectively. Typically, USCIS approves H-2A and H-2B petitions only for nationals of countries that the secretary of homeland security has designated as eligible to participate in the programs. However, USCIS may approve H-2A and H-2B petitions, including those that were pending as of the date of the Federal Register notice, for nationals of countries not on the list on a case-by-case basis only if doing so is determined to be in the interest of the United States.

Effective Nov. 10, nationals of the following countries are eligible to receive H-2A and H-2B visas:

Andorra Fiji Malta Saint Lucia
Argentina Finland Mauritius San Marino
Australia France Mexico Serbia
Austria Germany Moldova* Singapore
Barbados Greece Monaco Slovakia
Belgium Grenada Mongolia** Slovenia
Bosnia and Herzegovina Guatemala Montenegro Solomon Islands
Brazil Haiti Mozambique South Africa
Brunei Honduras Nauru South Korea
Bulgaria Hungary The Netherlands Spain
Canada Iceland New Zealand St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Chile Ireland Nicaragua Sweden
Colombia Israel North Macedonia Switzerland
Costa Rica Italy Norway Taiwan***
Croatia Jamaica Panama Thailand
Republic of Cyprus Japan Papua New Guinea Timor-Leste
Czech Republic Kiribati Paraguay* Turkey
Denmark Latvia Peru Tuvalu
Dominican Republic Liechtenstein Philippines** Ukraine
Ecuador Lithuania Poland United Kingdom
El Salvador Luxembourg Portugal Uruguay
Estonia Madagascar Romania Vanuatu

*Moldova and Paraguay are eligible to participate in the H-2A program but they are not eligible to participate in the H-2B program. Moldova’s eligibility for the H-2A program remains effective until Jan. 18, 2022.

**Mongolia and the Philippines are eligible to participate in the H-2B program but are not eligible to participate in the H-2A program.

***Regarding all references to “country” or “countries” in this document, it should be noted that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-8, Section 4(b)(1), provides that “[w]henever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with respect to Taiwan.” 22 U.S.C. § 3303(b)(1). Accordingly, all references to “country” or “countries” in the regulations governing whether nationals of a country are eligible for H-2 program participation, 8 CFR 214.2(h)(5)(i)(F)(1)(i) and 8 CFR 214.2(h)(6)(i)(E)(1), are read to include Taiwan. This is consistent with the United States’ one-China policy, under which the United States has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan since 1979.

This notice does not affect the status of H-2 beneficiaries who currently are in the United States unless they apply to extend their stay in H-2 status on the basis of a petition filed on or after the date of publication of the Federal Register notice. Similarly, this notice would not affect the eligibility of an H-2 beneficiary to apply for an H-2 visa and/or seek admission to the United States based on an H-2 petition approved prior to the date of publication of the Federal Register notice. It does apply to nonimmigrants changing status in the United States to H-2A or H-2B. Each country’s designation is valid from Nov. 10, 2021, until Nov. 9, 2021.

For more information on these programs, see the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers and H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers pages on the USCIS website.

________________________________________________________________________________

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

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.

_________________________________________________

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

Market Analyst H-1B Denied? You May Be Able to Appeal 

Market Analyst H-1B Denied? You May Be Able to Appeal 

From USCIS, 10/28/2021

USCIS reached a settlement agreement (PDF, 268.06 KB) [PDF] in the case of MadKudu Inc., et al. v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, et al., No. 20-cv-2653 (N.D. Cal.). On Oct. 19, 2021, the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, San Jose Division, granted final approval of the settlement agreement. This agreement outlines new, overarching guidance for adjudicating pending or future H-1B petitions for market research analysts.

Additionally, the agreement allows class members to submit a Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion, to request that certain denied Forms I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, seeking H-1B classification for a market research analyst be reopened and adjudicated per the terms of the settlement agreement. No fee will be charged for such a request. Class members have until April 26, 2022 to submit a Form I-290B.

Class members eligible to submit a Form I-290B are those that:

  • Filed a Form I-129 H-1B petition between Jan. 1, 2019 and Oct. 19, 2021, for a market research analyst.
  • USCIS denied the petition based on a finding that the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) entry for a market research analyst did not establish that the occupation is a specialty occupation, and thus did not satisfy 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(1).
  • If not for this finding, the petition would have been approved.
  • There is any amount of time remaining on the period specified in the certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) originally submitted with the underlying Form I-129 at the time that the Form I-290B is filed.

Class members whose eligible Form I-129 was denied may submit their Form I-290B (without fee) on or before April 26, 2022, to have their reopening request and, if eligibility is established, their underlying I-129 H-1B petition adjudicated per the terms of the settlement agreement.

USCIS will make a decision on all eligible, timely-filed reopening requests within 90 days of receipt of the physical file at the adjudicating office. USCIS will attempt to prioritize reopening requests for petitions with LCAs expiring less than 90 days after the Form I-290B is properly filed with USCIS.

If USCIS determines that the underlying petition is not eligible for this reopening process, in accordance with the bullets above (for example, you are not a class member eligible to submit a Form I-290B under the settlement agreement), we will reject the Form I-290B.

Filing Instructions 

All Forms I-290B must be submitted to the Nebraska Service Center, on or before April 26, 2022, at the addresses below.

USPS FedEx, UPS, and DHL Deliveries
USCIS Nebraska Service Center
Attn: Madkudu Project
P.O. Box 87129
Lincoln, NE 68701
USCIS Nebraska Service Center
Attn: Madkudu Project
850 ‘S’ Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

When submitting Form I-290B, you should:

  1. Include a cover sheet to clearly identify that the Form I-290B is filed by a claimed member of the class.
  2. Indicate on the cover sheet and Form I-290B the name of the office (name of the Service Center or Administrative Appeals Office (AAO)) that made the last adverse decision.
  3. Demonstrate class membership by submitting a copy of USCIS’ denial of the underlying H-1B petition (if you appealed to, and had your appeal dismissed by the AAO, you should submit a copy of the AAO decision instead of, or in addition to, the service center denial). The denial of the original H-1B petition should show that:
    • The petition was filed on or after Jan. 1, 2019, through Oct. 19, 2021, (for cases in which the denial does not include the filing date of the petition, you should submit a copy of USCIS’ receipt notice for the petition).
    • USCIS found that the job fell within the market research analyst occupation;
    • USCIS considered the OOH entry for market research analysts;
    • USCIS found that the market research analyst occupation was not a specialty occupation under the first regulatory criterion at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A)(1); and
    • The sole basis for the denial was that the position was not within a specialty occupation.
  4. Demonstrate (for example, by submitting a copy of the LCA filed with the denied petition) that there is any amount of time remaining on the period specified in the certified LCA at the time that the I-290B is filed.
  5. State in the reopening request that you request reopening.
  6. Provide a receipt number for the underlying Form I-129 petition.
  7. Confirm that the offer of employment as stated in the underlying Form I-129 petition remains valid.
  8. Indicate if you want a new start and/or end date for the validity period (as long as the new date(s) falls within the period in the certified LCA previously submitted with the petition).

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

USCIS to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Refugee and Immigrant Applicants

USCIS to Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Refugee and Immigrant Applicants

The CDC, together with USCIS, will require COVID-19 vaccinations for refugee and immigrant applicants starting on October 1, 2021. The Department of Health & Human Services issued an alert for physicians to note the designation of COVID-19 as a Class A Inadmissible Condition. The alert stated that the U.S. Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) has now recommended the vaccination for the general U.S. population and therefore it now meets the vaccination criteria for refugee or immigrant applicants.

The notice also advises:

  • If a COVID-19 vaccine listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO) or licensed or authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is available to the applicant in the country where the medical examination is conducted, the eligible applicant must complete the COVID-19 vaccine series.
  • Applicants who are too young to receive the vaccine, have a medical contraindication to the vaccine, or who do not have access to one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines in their country will not be required to receive the vaccine.
  • Individuals may apply for an individual waiver based on religious or moral convictions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
    (USCIS).

Question: I’ve already taken my medical exam and sent it to USCIS, but my I-485 is still pending. Will I have to get another exam? 

The alert states that this policy goes into effect for individuals receiving their medical examinations from a Civil Surgeon or Panel Physician on or after October 1, 2021. Medical exams that are completed prior to this date are not required to demonstrate proof of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Question: I need to provide updated medicals but USCIS hasn’t issued an RFE yet or my priority date is not yet current. Should I get the vaccine? 

Whether you are choosing to interfile your medicals or wait for an RFE, you may want to consider getting the vaccine so that both doses (if applicable) can be completed by the time your priority date is current or when USCIS requests medicals in an RFE. You should check with your healthcare provider before taking or refraining from taking any medical actions.

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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

 

 

Department of State Visa Backlog Update

Only have a few minutes? Here are the key takeaways:

  • In January of 2020, the NVC backlog was at 80,000. Fifteen months later, the current number of applicants that are ready for interviews is 481,965.
  • DOS is prioritizing family unification with four priority tiers:

    Tier 1
    are family-based immediate relative visas and adoption-based visas, as well as age-out cases and certain special immigrant visas.
    Tier 2 is going to be other immediate relative visas for spouses, fiancés, parents, and returning resident visas.
    Tier 3 is family preference visas, other special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US government
    Tier 4 includes all other immigrant visas, including employment-preference visas and diversity visas.
  • Fiance visas are part of a National Interest Exemption and are not subject to geographical travel restrictions.
  • The Diversity Visa is a fiscal year program, so as regulations currently stand, all visas must be issued or approved by September 30, 2021 or else they cannot be utilized.
  • DOS is urging patience as consular posts continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

Summary of Q & A with Department of State’s Neal Vermillion

Neal Vermillion is a division chief in the Visa Office of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. His division is the Office of Field Operations, which provides guidance to consular sections, embassies, and consulates around the world. He has served for the DOS since the early 2000s all over the world in different field offices and consulates. He is glad to have the opportunity to talk and answer questions about the unprecedented situation with the visa backlog.

 This event is intended to address issues of general interest related to the content of the visa backlog. Questions and answers have been paraphrased and should not be interpreted as verbatim quotes.

Neal would like to go over the recent history of the backlog as a primer before beginning his Q&A:

Overseas immigrant visa processing has been shut down due to the pandemic for the past year, which has affected the immigrant visa backlogs in an interesting way. Last spring, President Trump signed Presidential Proclamation 10014, which prevented the issuance of many immigrant visas. There are still many geographic proclamations in effect which have been issued to protect the health and security of Americans. Proclamations are in effect which cover 33 countries. These issues have all contributed to the creation of an unprecedented backlog. Getting out of the backlog is an ongoing process, although it will be hindered by the ongoing nature of the pandemic.

The reopening process has been hampered by slow vaccination rates outside of the United States, where the pandemic remains a much more serious problem. Neal would like the listeners to know that the Department of State is aware of the problems that visa applicants face and is committed to providing relief and decreasing the Immigrant Visa backlogs.

What is the DOS doing to decrease the visa backlogs worldwide? 

We are fully committed to reducing that backlog, and honestly keeping people informed is part of that effort, which is part of why we’re doing this. I also want to highlight that we have started posting in the last month and will update monthly on our travel.state.gov the stats of the immigrant visa backlog. The National Visa Center – the current number of applicants that are ready for interviews is 481,965 – this is up from January’s figure of 408,255. For comparison, in our last normal month of processing, back in January of 2020, almost fifteen months ago, we had a backlog of 80,000 then. That number will fluctuate over time, and it does not change in a linear way.

In terms of what we’re doing, we’re throwing all available resources that we can at the backlog and we’re telling our overseas consular sections and our embassies and consulates overseas that, after services to US citizens, processing of immigrant visas and fiancé visas is our number one priority. Please understand we are continuing to deal with circumstances on the ground, and our ongoing response to the backlog will depend on these circumstances. We are trying to process these applicants as quickly and safely as possible.

How are IV applicants being prioritized?

We have an article on travel.state.gov from our newsroom that details this, but I’ll answer here as well. Basically, we have many immigrant visa categories. We have relatives, we have employment visas, we have family visas, we have diversity visas.

We don’t want to prioritize any of these categories, however, during the pandemic, we’ve been forced to make difficult decisions on how our consular sections should prioritize different visas. As we develop a framework for prioritization, the principle that underlies our plan is the prioritization of family reunification. It’s a clear priority of the US government, it is a clear priority in the INA, it is specifically our prioritization guidance that we have given publicly as well as to our consular sections. Our guidance relies on a clear direction from Congress that requires the adoption of policy that prioritizes family reunification.

We’ve given our divided immigrant visa work into four priority tiers. We have directed consular sections where it is possible to schedule appointments within all four priority tiers. The majority of the applications that a section will process if they are able to are going to be within the first two tiers.

Tier 1 are family-based immediate relative visas and adoption-based visas, as well as age-out cases and certain special immigrant visas.

Tier 2 is going to be other immediate relative visas for spouses, fiancés, parents, and returning resident visas.

Tier 3 is family preference visas, other special immigrant visas for certain employees of the US government

Tier 4 includes all other immigrant visas, including employment-preference visas and diversity visas.

As mentioned, we’re going to try and do as much as we can for each of those tiers. Some consular stations are processing some cases from each of these tiers.

Will DV 2021 selectees be able to get an interview before the September 30, 2021 deadline?

Diversity visas are a hot topic; we’ve gotten this question before.

The good news is that Presidential Proclamation 10014 has been rescinded, so for the first half of this fiscal year, we were unable to process diversity visas due to that proclamation. As I’m sure people who are interested in diversity visas know, that program is specific to each fiscal year. I can tell you that our colleagues that are responsible for this program, which is the Consular Center, has begun to schedule and process documentarily qualified visas. We truly value the diversity visa program and are going to do what we can.

That said, this pandemic is unpredictable. We’ve seen spikes in the past month in South Asia and in other places. It’s impossible to forecast how many DVs we will issue this year. It is very likely that we will not be able to issue all of the diversity visas this year. 55,000 is the maximum we are able to issue each year.

Obviously last year we weren’t able to get as close to that ceiling as we like. We are committed to doing as much as possible. As has been mentioned earlier, we have local conditions and restrictions that have forced us to prioritize. We are going to do as much as we can before the end of the fiscal year, but it will not be near the 55,000 allowed by the statute.

Will DV 2020 selectees who were not interviewed prior to September 2020 be interviewed?

I understand the frustrations of the selectees from last fiscal year. It’s kind of the opposite of what happened this year, where we processed smoothly for the first half of the year and then were interrupted by COVID.

To go back to what I said earlier, the diversity visa program is a fiscal year-specific program. Applicants who were refused because of that proclamation last year cannot be interviewed. The terms of these programs – the fact that it is specific to fiscal year is outlined in the statute. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

If you did win and were selected for DV 2020, you can enter future DV lotteries.

That’s a great point, and I know many many people apply for the program year after year after year, and after fifteen years they finally get it. There are no guarantees, of course, it is a selection process.

Why can’t immigrant visa applicants be interviewed virtually?

Good question. Obviously, we’re doing Zoom and YouTube here, technology has changed quite a bit. I’ll give you a straightforward answer – maybe not the most welcome answer – immigrant visa applicants are required by statute to be interviewed in person. As a consular officer who has worked in the field, there are some benefits I should talk about with this process:

National security is our top priority when we adjudicate these applications. Each prospective traveler undergoes extensive screenings. Part of that is that our officers not only look at the visa application, but they also talk to the applicant to make an informed decision about whether the person is eligible or whether there are any national security concerns.

Can you talk about K-1 visas specifically and where they are on the priority list?

K-1 visas are a priority, as I mentioned earlier, we have four tiers of immigrant visa priority, and that the majority of consular sections will be focusing on the first two tiers. Fiancé visas are in that tier as well, along with spousal visas and immediate relative visas in our tier 2. They are a focus. Depending on the post, the backlogs in these cases may be longer than others.

You mentioned for fiancée visas specifically that the geographic proclamations no longer affect those visas?

That is correct. That’s worth reinforcing, since just last month. There is a National Interest Exception. There is a blanket declaration from the Secretary of State that these are a National Interest Exception.

How long does it take to process a current EB I-485 application?

I can’t really get into that, because I’m not an expert. There are so many areas that influence processing time. As many of you know, most immigrant visa applications start with a petition filed with USCIS, and that’s an area I can’t really get into. USCIS I’m sure is facing their own resource constraints, their own pandemic restraints.

Most of our immigrant visa cases get routed through the National Visa Center, which also has its own processing. It takes time, and sometimes people submit documentation that’s not complete, and it takes time to go back and get that documentation, so – public service announcement, please make sure your application is documentarily complete before sending.

At the end, if you have cases sitting in the National Visa Center that we are able to schedule, it comes down to individual posts. I’m not even able to answer that question directly. On the positive sign, we don’t have a proclamation preventing us from processing cases directly, and many of our posts have started resuming services. As of a week or two ago, there were a dozen posts that were not doing immigrant visas. Some were COVID related, such as the spike in South Asia for example, and some were not COVID related, such as Burma and Russia, for example.

Do you know about the status of the KCC backlog processing Diversity Visas? It’s been months.

The KCC, I talked with my colleagues there, and my advice is to just be patient. They are processing as much as they can in the order in which the cases are received. For those of you who are waiting for scheduling, please wait until you are contacted by your particular embassy or consulate. I’ve seen other questions about KCC, and their leadership has reminded me to tell you that if you’re used to calling KCC, they had to send the entire staff home due to the pandemic spike last fall. They used to accept phone calls, they don’t anymore. It’s best to get in touch with KCC via email, although their email system is also backlogged. They are doing their best, please be patient. KCC will get to them, and I encourage you not to send a second or third or fourth follow up. We’re trying to get as many DVs scheduled as we can.

Why are there zero interviews scheduled except for a few expedite cases in the F2 category?

Again, I’m not sure if I can get into each specific category because there are so many factors. Certain posts are able to schedule interviews, depending on their local restrictions. I understand you had on my colleague Charlie Oppenheim who can provide more details on when numbers are available for scheduling, and when they can be called “current.” It really comes down to the particular circumstances in that country.

To get back to the tiers, family preference immigrant visas are in the third priority tier. We are trying to process some, for posts that have backlogs, their emphasis will be on processing fiancés and immediate relatives.

For the Tier 1 category of visa preference, do applicants receive their interview appointment without waiting for the first and the fifteenth of the given months or will the 2NL be sent with no wait time?

This goes back to where we have a multi-step process to talk about. What the NVC does is one thing. The case might be ready to be processed pretty quickly, but a certain consular section or embassy or consulate may not be ready to accept those cases. Many consular posts have determined that they are not planning to accept new cases from the national visa center for the next several months. They will work through those and other high-priority cases before scheduling anything new.

If I have an I-485 AOS done in OCT 2020 for an EB-3, can we request our medicals now before a request is made by USCIS?

I would just follow the directions that are given by the NVC and USCIS. The answer to that is probably gonna be a no, just because the medicals come later in the process. You can tell from this conversation that a lot of my discussion is going to be general. I’m not able to talk about any individual case.

Are there any plans to increase staff?

Good question. I’m not the resources guy, so I wouldn’t be the person to ask about that. I’d love to have more staff, but this is not purely a staffing issue. If the world were perfect, Congress would now where to put its resources for staffing – first of all, staffing takes a significant amount of time with training and all that, but the important points that in many of these backlog cases, the backlog is coming from those other factors I’ve talked about – the Presidential Proclamations, the fact that we’ve had to shut down, and the closures at consulates and embassies. It’s going to be a non-linear process, but we will get there as quickly and safely as we can.

Do embassies prioritize medical professionals such as nurses under the EB-3 category?

Good questions. EB-3 is an employment preference category, which would put in priority tier 4. We recognize the importance of medical professionals, our posts are doing their best to process as many as they can, but there are certain exceptions, but at this time all employment-based preferences are in the lowest tier of priority. It really depends on your consular section.

Is It possible to maintain or go back to regular capacity by providing a COVID test less than 72 hours before an appointment?

That’s a really good question, and I applaud the creative thinking, but, unfortunately, each consular section is operating in a different locality. We need to follow the local guidelines for shutdowns and social distancing while also following CDC guidelines for operations.

Why would consulates not book IR-1 or CR-1 interviews?

IR-1s are immediate relatives, so without knowing the specific circumstances of the consulate that you’re talking about, I can’t comment on why interviews are not being scheduled. Again – patience, patience, patience. In that particular locale, the list is probably long, and circumstances are probably preventing the processing of immediate relatives, and they’re working through it as fast as they can.

Have you actually ordered all embassies to resume IV processing? What are you doing to ensure that posts are following orders?

No, posts have not been ordered to resume IV processing. Let me review the guidance that we’re talking about: We need to prioritize the health and safety of our applicants and our staff, and about the people who come into contact with those people. We cannot order a consular section overseas to proceed if it is unsafe to do so. What I can say though is that, as they are safe to reopen, consulates must follow the prioritization guidelines I mentioned earlier. Please be patient. It’s not an easy situation for any of us.

Connecting with Challa Law Group

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

Don’t miss out on the immigration news! You can sign up for our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also join our Telegram community.

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