1. January 2021 Visa Bulletin: Advancement in Most Employment-based Categories; No Movement in Family-based Categories
The U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) released the Visa Bulletin for January 2021, which shows advancement in most employment-based categories, and no movement in family-based categories. The cutoff dates for issuance of employment-based immigrant visas are as follows:
EB-1: China and India advanced 5 months to September 1, 2019. All other countries are current.
EB-2: China advanced 1 month to June 1, 2016; India advanced 1 week to October 8, 2009. All other countries are current.
EB-3 Professional and Skilled Workers: China advanced 1.5 months to December 15, 2017; India advanced 1 week to March 22, 2010. All other countries are current.
USCIS will accept adjustment of status applications for all employment-based cases and F2A Spouses and Minor Children of Green Card Holders based on the “Final Action Dates” charts, and all other family-based cases based on the “Dates for Filing” charts.
The January 2021 Visa Bulletin can be found here.
2. USCIS Extends Flexibility for Responding to Agency Requests
On December 18, 2020, USCIS announced that it is extending its flexibility for applicants and petitioners responding to a Request for Evidence (RFE), Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR), Notice of Intent to Terminate (NOIT) regional investment center, as well as filing date requirements for Notice of Appeal or Motion, etc., dated between March 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021, inclusive, USCIS will consider responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response date set forth in the notices.
3. USCIS Lockbox Receipt Notice Delays
On December 15, 2020, USCIS announced that its lockbox facilities have received a significant increase in filings in recent weeks, and facility capacity restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are causing significant delays for processing receipt notices for forms and applications filed with the USCIS Lockbox.
USCIS will normally mail receipt notices to the mailing address on the application within 30 days of receiving the applications.
4. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Reinstates Bar on Public Charge Rule for Almost 20 States
On December 2, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reinstated two lower court preliminary injunctions, barring DHS from enforcing the Public Charge rule in almost 20 states, including the States of California, Washington, the District of Columbia, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.
The Public Charge rule can still be enforced in all other states, where adjustment of status applications, and nonimmigrant visa extension and change of status applications, must be filed with Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency and documentation until further notice.
The I-944 is designed to collect extensive information and evidence involved in evaluating public charge inadmissibility: age, health, household size, financial resources, education, and skills.
Though the Ninth Circuit ruling temporarily bars the public charge rule in these states, it is expected that the government may appeal the decision and seek a speedy stay or reversal.
The Court Order can be found here.
5. Federal Court Blocks DHS and DOL Interim Final Rules
On December 1, 2020, a federal court blocked the DHS and DOL companion Interim Final Rules (IFRs) that targeted employment-based immigration, and particularly the H-1B program. In the opinion, the judge found that the Trump administration "failed to show there was good cause to dispense with the rational and thoughtful discourse that is provided by the APA’s notice and comment requirements." The court struck down these restrictions for failure to justify skipping key steps in the rule making process, and both IFRs are thus blocked.
The DHS IFR tightens H-1B eligibility standards and places new constraints on offsite placement of H-1B Workers, whereas the DOL IFR amends the regulations governing PERMs and LCAs to incorporate changes to the computation of prevailing wage levels, increasing prevailing wages for H-1B, E-3 and H-1B1 nonimmigrant cases, and the PERM Labor Certification program.
The Court Order can be found here.
6. USCIS Provides Updates on Application Support Centers
On December 29, 2020, USCIS announced that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has experienced delays in scheduling and rescheduling application support center (ASC) appointments to collect biometrics. Current processing times are affected by several variables including demand and capacity at individuals ASCs.
USCIS is scheduling approximately 10,400 appointments per day. As of mid-December, approximately 1.3 million applications are awaiting biometrics appointments. Applicants should continue to wait for an ASC appointment notice or a Form I-797, Notice of Action, from USCIS indicating that their previously collected biometrics may be reused.
7. Extension of Presidential Proclamations 10014 and 10052 to March 31, 2021
On December 31, 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation continuing Proclamations 10014 and 10052, which respectively suspended the entry of certain immigrant visa applicants and certain H-1B, L-1, H-2B and J-1 nonimmigrants (and their dependents) into the U.S. in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proclamations have been continued until March 31, 2021, and may be continued as necessary.
The Presidential Proclamation can be found here.
ALG SUCCESS STORIES
NIW Advanced Degree Petition Approved in 6 Months for Urban Rail Transit Engineering Planning Engineer
Ms. F is an outstanding engineer in urban rail transit engineering planning, who holds a Master of Engineering degree in Geotechnical Engineering. Because of her research on, and contributions to, rail transit engineering and urban planning that have significant impact on the economic growth and development of railroads and city mass transit systems, and that improve people’s everyday lives through relieving commuter congestion and their access to city centers, Ms. F is recognized as an Expert Urban Rail Transit Engineering Planning Engineer. Given Ms. F’s outstanding research skills that are essential and important for urban rail transit project technical and environmental consultations, which are widely beneficial to the growth and development of regions, cities, states, and the country as a whole, ALG filed and obtained NIW approval for her as a person whose admission to permanent residence and employment in the U.S. will be in the national interest of the nation.
To demonstrate: 1) Ms. F’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance; 2) Ms. F is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and 3) on balance, it would be beneficial to the U.S. to waive Ms. F’s job offer and labor certification requirements, ALG submitted evidence of her scholarly article publications that have over 250 citations; her leading role in a renowned technology-based engineering company that provides professional services for urban construction; her securement of several patents in the field that were applied in the construction of the urban rail transit in Beijing; the results of her work as a judge for urban rail engineering projects and as a reviewer of urban transit periodicals; and her numerous awards and honors in urban rail transit engineering planning.
Without a request for additional evidence, USCIS approved this NIW petition within 6 months. Note: Premium Processing is not available for NIW petitions.
OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS & UPDATES
Further Extension of Restrictions on US-Canada and US-Mexico Borders Until January 21, 2021
In order to limit the further spread of the coronavirus, on March 21, 2020, the U.S. reached agreements with both Canada and Mexico to limit all non-essential travel across borders. These joint initiatives were originally set to be in place for 30 days, subject to reevaluation and further extension in light of coronavirus pandemic developments. “Non-essential” travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.
On December 11, 2020, these measures were further extended until January 21, 2021, which marks the ninth extension since implementation. These restrictions do not apply to entry through U.S. airports.