What's New in the World of Immigration?

09/15/2021 - COVID-19 Vaccine Series Required for Immigration Medical Examinations

Effective Oct. 1, 2021, applicants subject to the immigration medical examination must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the civil surgeon can complete an immigration medical examination and sign Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record. This guidance applies prospectively to Form I-693 signed by civil surgeons on or after Oct. 1, 2021.

USCIS is updating its policy guidance in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Aug. 17 update to the Technical Instructions for Civil Surgeons. We are working on updating Form I-693 and the form instructions to incorporate this new requirement. Applicants must complete the COVID-19 vaccine series (one or two doses, depending on the vaccine) and provide documentation of vaccination to a USCIS-designated civil surgeon before completion of the immigration medical examination.

Background

In general, individuals applying to become a lawful permanent resident, and other applicants as deemed necessary, must undergo an immigration medical exam to show they are free from any conditions that would render them inadmissible under the health-related grounds. USCIS designates eligible physicians as civil surgeons to perform this immigration medical examination for applicants within the United States and to document the results of the immigration medical examination on Form I-693.

USCIS may grant a blanket waiver if a vaccine is:

--> Not age appropriate;

--> Contraindicated due to a medical condition;

--> Not routinely available in the state where the civil surgeon practices; or

--> Limited in supply and would cause significant delay for the applicant to receive the vaccination.

Individuals may also apply for waivers based on religious beliefs or moral convictions by submitting Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility.

08/29/2021 - Advocates frustrated with administration as green cards poised to expire

The clock is running out on more than 100,000 employment-based green cards that the Biden administration could — but likely won't — issue before the end of the fiscal year.

The green cards, or permanent residency permits, are available for the administration to dole out to eligible immigrants but will expire on Sept. 30.

President Biden's pro-immigrant rhetoric has contrasted with former President Trump's restrictionist stance. But thus far, the administration has shown no signs that it will expend political capital to assign the expiring green cards, frustrating immigration advocates. "It's a question of willingness. Are you going to be willing to take the risk on someone trying to stop you in court or not? And obviously they're not willing to risk litigation on behalf of this population," said David Bier, an immigration researcher at the Cato Institute.

Nearly 90 percent of the immigrants who would be eligible for the expiring tranche of green cards are Indian nationals currently on temporary work visas. They face decades-long wait times to receive permanent residency.

Those wait times are essentially baked into the immigration system, as country caps established in statute have combined with high demand for green cards from Indian nationals, many of whom are already in the United States under work visas such as the H-1B.

Advocates are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of adjudication and want United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — the agency that grants visas, permanent residency permits and naturalizations — to fast-track applications, making use of green cards that were left unclaimed because of the pandemic and Trump administration policies.

"There's two reasons there's far more green cards available this year for employment-based immigrants than in prior years, because so few family-based green cards were used last year, and any unused family-based green cards get added to the employment-based limit for the following year," said Bier.

"The second reason is that the government did almost nothing to increase the speed of adjudications in order to meet the increased demand," he added.

Under Biden, USCIS has made a series of changes to speed up and simplify green card applications, particularly for foreign nationals who seek to change their status from a work visa.

In practical terms, one of the most significant changes has been extending the validity of a medical examination from two to four years, a measure that especially helps Indian nationals stuck in the green card queue who must resubmit their visa and green card applications yearly.

USCIS also has new leadership under Ur Jaddou, who was confirmed by the Senate as director in early August.

Jaddou, in contrast to her predecessors under the Trump administration, has specific USCIS experience: She was the agency's chief counsel in the Obama administration and worked as a pro-immigrant advocate during the Trump years.

Still, USCIS is primarily fee-funded, and it's still recovering from a drop in receipts caused by fewer applications submitted during the pandemic, which, in turn, caused a hiring freeze that further slowed visa and green card processing.

The slowdowns have opened USCIS and other Biden immigration officials to criticism from defenders of various immigrant groups as frustration grows over visas and green cards that advocates say could be released.

"We have several cases that have continued against the Biden administration regarding unused visas," said Marisa Limón Garza, deputy director of Hope Border Institute.

Limón said that the Biden administration has continued Trump-era litigation and has been slow to issue visas under the Diversity Visa Program.

The Diversity Visa Program grants immigration benefits to citizens of countries that have historically low levels of immigration to the United States.

The Trump administration tried to draw down the program, which in large part benefits migrants from majority-Muslim and majority-Black countries. The move was broadly criticized by Democrats and immigrant advocates.

Limón said advocates won a court victory against the administration to issue more than 9,000 additional visas, including 921 for Afghan citizens, but the administration has yet to issue the documents.

"There is no reason why this administration who, number one, has promoted that they will take the steps that are necessary to make sure that our Afghan allies and refugees and asylum-seekers are evacuated from Afghanistan and, two, that they promote the diversity visa program should continue to stand in the way of a court order that would finally allow for some relief," said Limón.

04/08/2021 - Walled Off: How USCIS Has Closed Its Doors on Customers and Strayed from Its Statutory Customer Service Mission

Over the past four years, there has been a well-documented shift in USCIS’s priorities. While Congress established the agency through the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to focus on the effective and efficient administration of immigration benefits, it has in recent years sought to distance itself from its customer-oriented origins.

This shift in priority is evident in several changes that the agency has made to its services both on a national and local level, and in several policies enacted during the last four years that appear to have been designed to make it harder for USCIS customers to obtain benefits.

In making these changes, the agency effectively walled itself off from its customers, creating barriers to immigration benefits and timely and efficient customer service. This invisible wall has resulted in a significant decrease in customers’ ability to access meaningful assistance and informational updates from the agency. It has also reduced customers’ ability to provide much-needed feedback to USCIS regarding problematic case issues and other trends.

As the agency transitions to work under a new administration, agency officials must take active measures to reduce and eliminate inefficient processes and policies and increase transparency at both the national and local levels.

04/01/2021 - 2022 H-1B Cap Season Update: H-1B Initial Electronic Registration Selection Process Completed

USCIS has released the following statement on 03/31/2021:

"USCIS has received enough electronic registrations during the initial registration period to reach the fiscal year (FY) 2022 H-1B numerical allocations (H-1B cap) including the advanced degree exemption (master’s cap). We randomly selected from among the registrations properly submitted to reach the cap. We have notified all prospective petitioners with selected registrations that they are eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition for the beneficiary named in the applicable selected registration.

Registrants’ online accounts will now show one of the following statuses for each registration (that is, for each beneficiary registered):

Submitted: The registration has been submitted and is eligible for selection. If the initial selection process has been completed, this registration remains eligible, unless subsequently invalidated, for selection in any subsequent selections for the fiscal year for which it was submitted.

Selected: Selected to file an H-1B cap petition. Denied: Multiple registrations were submitted by or on behalf of the same registrant for the same beneficiary. If denied as a duplicate registration, all registrations submitted by or on behalf of the same registrant for this beneficiary for the fiscal year are invalid.

Invalidated-Failed Payment: A registration was submitted but the payment method was declined, not reconciled, or otherwise invalid.

For more information, visit the H-1B Electronic Registration Process page.

FY 2022 H-1B Cap Petitions May Be Filed Starting April 1 2021.

H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2022, including those petitions eligible for the advanced degree exemption, may be filed with USCIS beginning April 1, 2021, if based on a valid, selected registration.

Only petitioners with selected registrations may file H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2022, and only for the beneficiary named in the applicable selected registration notice."

02/02/2021 - WHITE HOUSE FACT SHEET: President Biden Outlines Steps to Reform Our Immigration System by Keeping Families Together, Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration, and Streamlining the Legal Immigration System

Biden-Harris Administration Forms Family Reunification Task Force and Issues Executive Orders on Regional Migration and Legal Immigration

On January 20th, the Biden Harris Administration took the first steps in a broad, whole of government effort to finally reform our immigration system, including sending to Congress legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in and contributing to our country. Today, the Administration is announcing a series of additional actions it is taking to rebuild and strengthen our immigration system.

Today’s actions build on executive actions the President took his first day in office, including steps to preserve and fortify protections for Dreamers, end the Muslim and Africa ban, halt border wall construction and protect Liberian nationals living and working in our country. On day 1, the President also sent the United States Citizenship Act to Congress, which seeks to modernize our immigration system and smartly manage our borders, while addressing the root causes of migration.

President Biden’s strategy is centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair, safe and orderly immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people—both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations—to more fully contribute to our country. President Biden knows that new Americans fuel our economy, as innovators and job creators, working in every American industry, and contributing to our arts, culture, and government.

Today’s executive actions will:

Create a Task Force to Reunify Families. President Biden believes that families belong together. He has made clear that reversing the Trump Administration’s immigration policies that separated thousands of families at the border is a top priority. A key part of this effort is the creation of a task force to reunite families that remain separated. This task force will work across the U.S. government, with key stakeholders and representatives of impacted families, and with partners across the hemisphere to find parents and children separated by the Trump Administration. The task force will make recommendations to the President and federal agencies regarding steps that they can take to reunify families. Further, the task force will report regularly to the President and recommend steps to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. This Order also revokes the Trump Administration’s Executive Order that sought to justify separating children from their parents.

Develop a Strategy to Address Irregular Migration Across the Southern Border and Create a Humane Asylum System. The Trump Administration’s policies at the border have caused chaos, cruelty and confusion. Those policies have undermined the safety of our communities, penalized asylum seekers fleeing violence, and destabilized security across the Western hemisphere. Today, the Biden Harris Administration will begin to roll back the most damaging policies adopted by the prior administration, while taking effective action to manage migration across the region.

Specifically, the Biden Harris Administration will begin implementing a comprehensive three-part plan for safe, lawful, and orderly migration in the region. First, the Administration will address the underlying causes of migration through a strategy to confront the instability, violence, and economic insecurity that currently drives migrants from their homes. Second, the Administration will collaborate with regional partners, including foreign governments, international organizations, and nonprofits to shore up other countries’ capacity to provide protection and opportunities to asylum seekers and migrants closer to home. Finally, the Administration will ensure that Central American refugees and asylum seekers have access to legal avenues to the United States. The Secretary of Homeland Security is also directed to review the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. The situation at the border will not transform overnight, due in large part to the damage done over the last four years. But the President is committed to an approach that keeps our country safe, strong, and prosperous and that also aligns with our values. This Executive Order also directs a series of actions to restore the U.S. asylum system, including by rescinding and directing agency review of a host of Trump Administration proclamations, rules, and guidance documents that have effectively closed the U.S. border to asylum seekers.

Restore Faith in Our Legal Immigration System and Promote Integration of New Americans. President Biden believes that immigrants are essential to who we are as a nation and critical to our aspirations for the future. The prior administration enacted hundreds of policies that run counter to our history and undermine America’s character as a land of opportunity that is open and welcoming to all who come here seeking protection and opportunity. This Executive Order elevates the role of the White House in coordinating the federal government’s strategy to promote immigrant integration and inclusion, including re-establishing a Task Force on New Americans, and ensuring that our legal immigration system operates fairly and efficiently. The order requires agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom review of recent regulations, policies, and guidance that have set up barriers to our legal immigration system. It also rescinds President Trump’s memorandum requiring family sponsors to repay the government if relatives receive public benefits, instructs the agencies to review the public charge rule and related policies, and streamline the naturalization process.