USCIS Closes All Field Offices

Today, USCIS announced the closing of all field offices. As of yesterday, only field offices in the Bay Area were impacted. However, USCIS has expanded closures to include all field offices. It should be noted that USCIS regional centers currently remain open and will continue processing petitions for the time being.

 

The closure of field offices impacts Naturalization ceremonies, Adjustment of Status interviews, pushing back approvals of Lawful Permanent Residence and the issuance of corresponding green cards. Biometrics appointments are also affected, which will delay the issuance of EAD cards and Advance Parole documents for those applying for Adjustment of Status, and will push back approvals for H-4 spouses.

 

When normal operations resume, USCIS will affirmatively reschedule biometrics appointments. A new appointment letter will be sent by mail. Individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments must reschedule

 

As for the H-1B Cap, as long as Regional Centers remain open, USCIS should accept filings starting April 1st, although as we reported yesterday, USCIS has suspended premium processing on H-1B Cap filings.

 

This is a very fluid situation, so we will continue providing updates as they become available.

 

To receive the latest updates on this issue, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for H-1B Cap Petitions

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has temporarily suspended Premium Processing for fiscal year (FY) 2021 cap-subject H-1B petitions beginning April 1, 2020. The suspension is aimed at reducing processing times for all H-1B petitions.
Similar to last year, USCIS will resume Premium Processing for H-1B cap petitions in two phases:
  • First phase: No later than May 27, 2020, cap-subject petitions including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, requesting a change of status from F-1 status, will be eligible to upgrade to Premium Processing.
  • Second phase: No earlier than June 29, 2020, Premium Processing will resume for all other cap-subject petitions. USCIS will announce the exact date for resuming Premium Processing at a later time.
Premium Processing remains available to cap-exempt H-1B petitions such as extension of stay requests.
For questions on whether Premium Processing is available to your specific case, please contact your Graham Adair attorney. To receive the latest updates on this issue, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

Public Charge Rule – Updated USCIS Forms

New application forms have been released in conjunction with looming Public Charge Regulation implementation. USCIS will have broader authority to examine whether foreign nationals will become a public charge of the United States. Specifically, the form has added sections that ask whether the beneficiary has received, since obtaining the non-immigrant status, certain benefits such as cash assistance for income maintenance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program. If a beneficiary has received or is currently certified to receive any of the public benefits, specific information regarding each public benefit must be provided.

 

As reported previously, this regulation will cause increased information and documentation requirements, as well as more close examination of personal circumstances of beneficiaries. However, non-immigrants who are seeking an extension or a change of status will not be fully impacted by the rule. They will be required to satisfy a new public charge condition to be deemed eligible the associated immigration benefit they are seeking.

 

For adjustment of status applicants, the new regulation will cause cases to be reviewed under a “totality of the circumstances” test which will take into consideration each applicant’s factors such as age, household size, income, and education. Additionally, adjustment of status (green card) applicants will be required to submit a copy of their credit history and credit score, as well as detailed information about their health coverage. If an applicant has certain health issues, this can deem the applicant unable to care for himself, which can be a disqualifying factor for the applicant. Unfortunately, there is currently not a bright line test in regards to what specifically would disqualify someone. We will need to wait and see how USCIS adjudicates such matters as they come through. A new I-485 form will we be used by USCIS starting February 24.

 

The regulation will create new eligibility conditions for those seeking an extension or a change of status from within the United States. Such applicants will be required to disclose if they have ever received or are currently certified to receive certain public benefits on or after February 24, 2020. The foreign beneficiary must have received benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period to be negatively affected by the regulation.

 

Starting February 24th, non-immigrant changes or extensions of status will need to be filed on updated editions of Form 1-129, which will also include the public charge questions. These will encompass the non-immigrant worker statuses, including, H-1B, L-1, and O-1 status.

 

For questions about whether you might be impacted by the new rule, please contact the Graham Adair attorney overseeing your case, or contact us at info@grahamadair.com.

USCIS Implements New H-1B Registration Requirement

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Friday that it had completed a pilot program to test its new H-1B registration system. We previously reported, that USCIS has been pushing to implement this new process for the upcoming H-1B lottery season. Because of the new technology and potential for issues, USCIS had decided to not implement the registration requirement for the H-1B cap that was run earlier this year. However, USCIS determined that the testing phase was sufficiently successful for implementation in the upcoming FY2021 H-1B cap.

 

Therefore, companies seeking to file H-1B petitions in this year?s H-1B lottery must first pay the required fee and provide basic company information, as well as information about each beneficiary to be included in the electronic lottery.

 

The registration process will go from March 1 through March 20. The lottery selection process will then be run on those electronic registrations. Only those with selected registrations will be eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions. USCIS plans to continue running a separate lottery for those with advanced U.S. degrees as part of this registration system.

 

There are still many uncertainties with how this system will work, including the impact it will have on those individuals who need ?cap-gap? coverage to continue working. Graham Adair will be reviewing the potential H-1B cases for our clients and providing specific advice on H-1B cap strategy for this coming fiscal year.

 

In the coming days, USCIS will post additional instructions along with key dates. We will continue to provide updates as they become available. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates, please follow us on Twitter (@GrahamAdairLaw).

 

Amended Public Charge Rule Will Not Go Into Effect on October 15th

Earlier this afternoon, a federal judge in New York issued an injunction against the recently amended “public charge” rule. We discussed the amended public charge rule?a few weeks ago. People deemed to be a public charge may be prevented from applying for permanent residency. The amended rule altered the definition of “public charge” to include?an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period. Additionally, it was broadened to include many common services, such as public housing assistance, food stamps, supplemental income, and certain Medicaid costs.

The temporary injunction issued today will prevent the amended public charge rule from taking effect on Oct. 15.

The rule is being challenged in several federal courts by immigrants’ rights groups and more than a dozen state attorneys general.?While the public charge requirement has been a long-standing rule, it has not previously been defined this specifically.

As the rule continues working its way through the court system, we will continue to monitor it and provide updates. But for now, people filing for permanent residency will not be subjected to the newly amended public charge rule.

For more frequent updates,?please follow us on?Twitter?(@GrahamAdairLaw).

Plan to Terminate H-4 Work Permit Program Delayed, DHS Seeks to Put Lawsuit on Hold

A memo from the U.S. Department of Justice, dated 9/16/19, has indicated that anticipated changes to the visa program which has allowed H-4 visa holder spouses of H-1B workers to obtain Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) will not be issued until the spring of 2020 at the earliest. The plan to eliminate the work authorization for H1-B spouses was formally introduced in February of 2019, with a proposed rule from USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “Removing H-4 Dependent Spouses from the Class of Aliens Eligible for Employment Authorization.? The new regulations, currently under federal review, were initially expected to be published this year.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is?currently hearing a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the H-4 EAD rule. The suit was filed by anti-immigration group Save Jobs USA, arguing that the DHS had no authority to issue the initial H-4 EAD rule, which was introduced in 2015. DHS lawyers maintain that the suit should be put on hold due to the ongoing efforts by the administration to?rescind the program. According to the?memo??…DHS?s intention to proceed with publication of the H-4 EAD proposed rule remains unchanged. At this point, DHS has informed counsel that it believes the earliest possible publication date for that rule would be in spring 2020. Although that timeframe is aspirational, DHS believes that the September 27, 2019 oral argument should be removed from the calendar and postponed??

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.?If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates,?please follow us on?Twitter?(@GrahamAdairLaw).

 

USCIS Proposes New Rule on H-1B Registration Fee Requirement

On Wednesday September 4, 2019, USCIS published a?proposed rule?in the Federal Register that would require payment of a $10 fee from all petitioners filing a H-1B cap-subject petition. The rule would apply to each?registration submitted for the selection process, and is expected to be applicable to 2021 fiscal year cap filings. The 30-day public comment period is now open, with comments due 10/4/19 via mail or the Federal eRulemaking?Portal:?www.regulations.gov.

The new fee, which was excluded from the original January 2019?final rule?that introduced the new online registration requirement, is expected to result in a marginal increase in costs for selected selected petitioners, and a?cost savings for both unselected petitioners and the government. This is one in a series of steps toward implementing the new electronic registration system for H-1B filing. Details remain to be released about the new process,?which will be in place for the April 2020 H-1B filing season.

We will continue to monitor developments and share updates as more information becomes available.?If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your Graham Adair representative. For more frequent updates,?please follow us on?Twitter?(@GrahamAdairLaw).

USCIS and DHS Publish Final Rule on Public Charge Grounds for Inadmissibility

On Wednesday August 14, USCIS and DHS published in the Federal Register the new final rule amending the regulations by which DHS determines admissibility on ?public charge? grounds. Specifically, this is a change in the rule and a clarification of the definitions of what constitute a ?public charge? and ?public charge benefits.? The rule will go into effect at 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time on October 15, 2019, and cases filed prior to this date will be adjudicated based on the previous guidelines. The new rule will not affect currently pending cases. If any foreign nationals have received assistance from one of the programs designated below, they should advise our office at the initiation of any nonimmigrant or immigrant process so we can evaluate if the receipt will pose a problem.

The rule defines the term ?public charge? to mean an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).

The agency considers the following programs as grounds for inadmissibility:

  • Supplemental security income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • State general relief or general assistance
  • Medicaid programs covering institutionalization for long term care
  • Nonemergency Medicaid
  • Supplemental nutrition and assistance program (SNAP, formerly food stamps)
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based rental assistance
  • Public Housing

The rule will also affect those in nonimmigrant status if they have received any of the aforementioned public benefits above the designated threshold (12 months within any 36-month period). If they do receive such benefits, they will no longer be eligible for an extension or change of state.

The final rule does not include receipt or potential receipt of the following benefit programs as grounds for inadmissibility:

  • Emergency medical assistance
  • Disaster relief
  • National school lunch or school breakfast programs
  • Foster care and adoption
  • Head Start
  • Child Health Insurance Program including Medicaid for Aliens under 21
  • Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit
  • Public benefits received by individuals who are serving in active duty or in the Ready Reserve component of the U.S. armed forces, and their spouses and children
  • Public benefits received by certain international adoptees and children acquiring U.S. citizenship
  • Medicaid for pregnant women
  • Medicaid for school-based services (including services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

Benefits received by the applicant?s U.S. citizen children or other family members are not considered in determining whether the applicant is likely to become a public charge. The final rule also clarifies that DHS will only consider public benefits received directly by the applicant for the applicant?s own benefit, or where the applicant is a listed beneficiary of the public benefit. DHS will not consider public benefits received on behalf of another as a legal guardian or pursuant to a power of attorney for such a person.

USCIS will exercise its discretionary authority, in limited circumstances, to offer an otherwise inadmissible foreign national the opportunity to post a public charge bond. The final rule sets the minimum bond amount at $8,100; the actual bond amount will be dependent on the individual?s circumstances.

If a foreign national has received any of the public benefits listed above, we urge them to contact our office so that we can advise on the potential impact and the best possible course of action.

USCIS has Updated Policy Manual in Regard to Services Provided to Public

The?United?States?Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its?policy manual?regarding services to the public, including general administration of certain immigration benefits, online tools and providing up-to-date information.

Notable updates include revisions to ?case specific information,? ??expedited treatment? and ?service request procedures.? The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has issued a?13-page response?to the USCIS policy manual update.

In matters involving ?case specific information,? the AILA takes issue with some field offices requiring mobile devices to be shut off. These mobile devices often allow access to case specific information. See excerpt from the AILA regarding this matter below.

“USCIS might consider a general policy requiring that all electronic devices be switched to ?silent? or ?vibrate? when inside a facility and further establish criteria for permissible use of such devices?during interviews and appointments, such as accessing case specific information, conducting case related research, and responding to an urgent or emergency situation.? Sec. h paragraph 3.

USCIS currently has vague guidelines regarding “expedited treatment” matters. Section g. of AILA’s response would like USCIS to provide more specifics on scenarios where expedite requests will be granted. Not only would this provide clarity to applicants, but it would also cut down on requests, which in turn would save USCIS a lot of manpower in sifting through inordinate amounts of non-qualifying expedite requests.

In regard to matters involving ?service request procedures,? the AILA document provides requests to improve and expedite services provided by USCIS.

Graham Adair will continue to provide updates if and when additional changes are made.

USCIS Looks to Decrease N-400 and I-485 Processing Times

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will administer a nationwide policy to decrease discrepancies in Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) and Form I-485 (application to register for permanent residency or adjust immigrant status) processing times based on immigrant location.

USCIS has experienced an increase in processing times since the end of 2015, due to a large increase in forms during 2016 and 2017. Both years were projected to see a decrease in forms, however 2017 receipts were up 15.6% from 2016, and 2016 receipts were up 25.5% from 2015. The increased filings didn?t affect field offices equally, thus resulting in processing time discrepancies between field offices.

As a matter of reference, Nebraska Service Center Form I-485 processing times are 10-13 months compared to 15.5 to 49.5 months at the Texas Service Center. Most of the I-485?s are adjudicated in these two regional centers. The first number in both ranges is the median time it takes to complete cases and the second number is the time it takes to complete 93% of cases.

As caseloads are being shifted between field offices to reduce processing times, the USCIS could schedule applicants to appear for interviews at field offices outside of their usual jurisdiction. Applicants could also receive an interview appointment notice or other notices, such as Request for Evidence, from a field office out of their usual jurisdiction. These changes to caseload won?t affect where the applicants attend their biometrics appointments. USCIS will still direct applicants to the nearest application support center, and they should follow the instructions on any notices they receive from USCIS.

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