In this issue
- Dept. of State Issues New Guidance on Exceptions for Travelers From Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland
- USCIS Releases Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes in H-1B Registration
- President Biden Revokes Trump-Era Ban on Entry of Many Immigrants; State Dept. Issues Instructions on Exceptions to Nonimmigrant Ban
- March Visa Bulletin Shows Big Leap Forward for Chinese and Indian EB-1s
- USCIS Updates FAQ on H-1B Electronic Registration
- USCIS Extends Flexibilities for Certain F-1 Foreign Students Applying for OPT
- USCIS Reverts to 2008 Version of Naturalization Civics Test
- State Dept. Releases Update on Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services
- Premium Processing Service Now Available to Australian E-3 Petitioners
- "U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021" Unveiled by Biden Administration, Democrats
Dept. of State Issues New Guidance on Exceptions for Travelers From Schengen Area, United Kingdom, and Ireland
On March 2, 2021, the Department of State rescinded the previous national interest determination regarding categories of travelers eligible for exceptions under Presidential Proclamation (PP) 10143, issued on January 25, 2021. That proclamation barred the admission into the United States of individuals (other than U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and certain other classes of foreign nationals) who were physically present in the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa during the 14 days prior to seeking admission to the United States. Affected categories of exceptions included "certain technical experts and specialists, senior-level managers and executives, treaty traders and investors, professional athletes, and their dependents."
The Department also made a new national interest determination covering "certain travelers seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure. Travelers in these categories, as well as certain academics, students, and journalists, may qualify for national interest exceptions (NIEs) to PP 10143 related to the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
The Department said that no previously issued visas or NIEs will be revoked due to the new policy, and that qualified travelers who are applying for or have valid visas or ESTA authorization may travel to the United States even while PP 10143 remains in effect. The Department also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travelers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security.
USCIS Releases Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes in H-1B Registration
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released tips to avoid common mistakes when filing an H-1B electronic registration. The agency said the top two user errors were creating the wrong type of account and entering the same beneficiary more than once.
USCIS noted that a prospective petitioner may only have one registration submitted per beneficiary per fiscal year. Once the initial registration period has closed, if the prospective petitioner has more than one registration submitted for the same beneficiary, USCIS will remove all registrations submitted for that beneficiary by that prospective petitioner. "This does not prevent other prospective petitioners or their representatives from submitting registrations for that same beneficiary, but they too need to ensure that each prospective petitioner only has one registration submitted for the beneficiary," USCIS noted.
The agency said that those who submitted more than one registration for the same person while the initial registration period is still open can delete the extra submission(s) from their account until there is only one registration for the beneficiary. USCIS does not refund the $10 fee for a deleted duplicate registration.
If more than one registration was submitted by the same prospective petitioner for the same person and the initial registration period has closed, there is no way to correct this error.
The initial registration period closes after noon ET on March 25, 2021.
President Biden Revokes Trump-Era Ban on Entry of Many Immigrants; State Dept. Issues Instructions on Exceptions to Nonimmigrant Ban
On February 24, 2021, President Biden revoked former President Trump's proclamation issued in April 2020 that banned many immigrants from entering the United States.
Biden Proclamation Revoking Immigrant Ban
Included in the Trump administration's freeze on immigrant admissions were green cards for new immigrants and certain family members.
President Biden's proclamation states that the Trump-era ban, whose stated purpose was to prevent entry by those who presented a risk to the U.S. labor market during the coronavirus outbreak, does not advance the interests of the United States. "To the contrary, it harms the United States" and "harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world," the new proclamation states. It also "harms individuals who were selected to receive the opportunity to apply for, and those who have likewise received" fiscal year 2020 diversity visas.
The Biden proclamation orders the Departments of State, Labor, and Homeland Security to review any related regulations, orders, guidance, policies, or other agency actions and, as appropriate, issue revised guidance consistent with the new proclamation.
DOS Instructions on Exceptions to Nonimmigrant Ban
The new Biden proclamation did not lift a Trump-era ban on certain H-1B, H-2B, L-1, and J-1 temporary work visas, set to expire on March 31, 2021. It is unclear whether the Biden administration plans to revoke that ban before it expires. In the meantime, the Department of State announced on February 24, 2021, that those who believe they may qualify for a national interest or other exception should "follow the instructions on the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website regarding procedures necessary to request an emergency appointment and should provide specific details as to why they believe they may qualify for an exception."
March Visa Bulletin Shows Big Leap Forward for Chinese and Indian EB-1s
The Department of State's Visa Bulletin for March 2021 shows a seven-month leap forward for Chinese and Indian green card applicants in the employment-based first preference category, with a final action date of August 1, 2020, for both countries. In February, immigrant visas were available for those with priority dates earlier than January 1, 2020.
The March bulletin also includes information on diversity category cut-offs for April and instructions on reporting address changes for overseas cases.
USCIS Updates FAQ on H-1B Electronic Registration
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services updated its frequently asked questions (FAQ) on the H-1B registration process, which opens at noon ET on March 9, 2021, and runs through noon ET March 25, 2021. USCIS also announced that employers and their representatives can create H-1B Registrant Accounts beginning at noon ET on March 2, 2021.
USCIS Extends Flexibilities for Certain F-1 Foreign Students Applying for OPT
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced flexibilities for certain foreign students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) whose receipt notices for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, are delayed. The flexibilities apply only to applications received on or after October 1, 2020, through May 1, 2021.
To allow F-1 students to complete their full periods of requested OPT (up to 12 months), the 14-month period within which they must complete OPT will start from the date of approval of the I-765 for applications for post-completion OPT. Beginning on February 26, 2021, USCIS is approving applications for post-completion OPT with validity dates reflecting the same amount of time as originally recommended by the designated school official on Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
USCIS also said that F-1 students requesting post-completion OPT who receive I-765 approval for less than the full amount of OPT time requested (not to exceed 12 months) due to the requirement that the OPT be completed within 14 months of the program end date may request a correction of the employment authorization document due to USCIS error.
USCIS is also accepting certain refiled I-765s for OPT and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) OPT as filed on the original date until May 31, 2021.
USCIS Reverts to 2008 Version of Naturalization Civics Test
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has reverted to the 2008 version of the naturalization civics test beginning March 1, 2021. USCIS said it determined that the "development process, content, testing procedures, and implementation schedule" for the Trump-era revision implemented on December 1, 2020, "may inadvertently create potential barriers to the naturalization process."
Those who filed naturalization applications on or after December 1, 2020, and before March 1, 2021, "likely have been studying for the 2020 test," USCIS noted. The agency will offer such applicants the option to take either the 2020 or the 2008 civics test.?There will be a transition period where both tests are offered. The 2020 test will be phased out on April 19, 2021, for initial test-takers. Applicants filing on or after March 1, 2021, will take the 2008 civics test, USCIS said.
State Dept. Releases Update on Phased Resumption of Routine Visa Services
On February 24, 2021, the Department of State (DOS) released the latest update on phased resumption of routine visa services.
Among other things, the update notes that as a result of the pandemic, many visa applicants have paid the visa application processing fee but are still waiting to schedule a visa appointment. DOS said it is "working diligently to restore all routine visa operations as quickly and safely as possible." In the meantime, DOS has extended the validity of machine-readable visa (MRV) fees until September 30, 2022, "to allow all applicants who were unable to schedule a visa appointment due to the suspension of routine consular operations an opportunity to schedule and/or attend a visa appointment with the fee they already paid."
Premium Processing Service Now Available to Australian E-3 Petitioners
Petitioners filing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, requesting a change or extension of status to E-3 classification now have the option to request premium processing service for their petition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced. The E-3 classification applies only to nationals of Australia coming to the United States to perform services in a specialty occupation.
USCIS said that an Australian national who is outside the United States may apply for an E-3 nonimmigrant visa directly through the Department of State or, in the case of an individual already in the United States, by filing Form I-129 with USCIS.
"U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021" Unveiled by Biden Administration, Democrats
The Biden administration and Democratic sponsors in the Senate and House of Representatives have put forth a sweeping new immigration reform bill, the 353-page "U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021." The bill states its purpose as providing an earned path to citizenship, addressing the root causes of migration, responsibly managing the southern border, reforming the immigrant visa system, and other goals. The bill does not emphasize enforcement.
The bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by striking the term "alien" and replacing it with "noncitizen." The term "alien" has been in use for centuries, but some find it demeaning. According to reports, Tracy Renaud, who is serving as acting director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recently sent a memorandum to agency staff encouraging them to avoid use of the terms "alien" and "illegal alien" and instead to use "more inclusive language in the agency's outreach efforts, internal documents and in overall communication with stakeholders, partners and the general public," including "noncitizen" and "undocumented noncitizen" or "undocumented individual."
It is likely that the bill will not pass intact, but smaller targeted pieces could be moved forward and supported separately. Another avenue being suggested for implementation is via the budget reconciliation process.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of selected highlights of the proposed legislation. The bill would:
- Establish an "earned path to citizenship" for "eligible entrants" (and their spouses and children) that provides for an initial period of authorized admission as a "lawful prospective immigrant," valid for six years and extendable. Qualifying individuals would also receive a work permit and travel authorization. A lawful prospective immigrant could become eligible for permanent residence after at least five years of prospective status. Prospective applicants would need to have been in the United States before 2021.
- Raise to 170,000 (from 140,000) the annual number of employment-based immigrants, and add unused employment-based green cards to the maximum. (Derivatives of employment-based immigrants will not count against numerical caps.)
- Provide permanent residence, without numerical limits, to international students with PhDs in science, technology, engineering, and math fields from U.S. universities.
- Provide for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status for noncitizens who entered the United States as children (e.g., "Dreamers" under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program).
- Provide permanent residence to those who have had an approved immigrant petition for 10 years.
- Provide for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status for agricultural workers who have performed agricultural labor or services during the immediately preceding five-year period for at least 2,300 hours or 400 work days.
- Provide for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status for certain nationals of countries designated for temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure.
- Increase diversity green cards from 55,000 to 80,000 each year. (Derivatives of DV immigrants will not count against numerical caps.)
- Eliminate employment-based per-country levels.
- Increase immigrant visas for "other workers."
- Provide for the establishment of a procedure to temporarily limit admission of certain immigrants in geographic areas or labor market sectors that are experiencing high levels of unemployment.
- Establish a pilot program for up to five years to admit annually up to 10,000 "admissible immigrants whose employment is essential to the economic development strategies of the cities or counties in which they will live or work."
- Consider prioritizing nonimmigrant visas (including H-1B) based on the wages offered by employers.
- Allow work authorization for H-4 nonimmigrant spouses and children of H-1B nonimmigrants.
- Provide for expediting legitimate trade and travel at ports of entry.
- Authorize employment for asylum applicants who are not detained and whose applications have not been determined to be frivolous.
- Establish an employment authorization commission to make recommendations on policies to verify the eligibility of noncitizens for employment in the United States.
- Conduct a study on factors affecting employment opportunities for immigrants and refugees with professional credentials obtained in foreign countries.
The bill also includes provisions to address "migration needs by strengthening regional humanitarian responses for refugees and asylum seekers in the Western Hemisphere and [strengthen] repatriation initiatives, promote "immigrant and refugee integration," address immigration court backlogs, and expand programs to address the "root causes of migration" and "responsibly [manage] the southern border."
"Joe Biden's Administration Orders Immigration Officials to Remove 'Alien' and 'Illegal Alien' From Official Communications and Use 'Noncitizen' Instead to Avoid 'Dehumanizing Language,' " Daily Mail, Feb. 16, 2021
Government Agency Links
Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers: