In this issue
- President Biden Suspends Entry of Noncitizens/Non-LPRs Traveling From India; U.S. Mission in India Announces Limits on Visa Services
- State Dept. Announces Global National Interest Exceptions to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
- USCIS Reverses Trump Policy, Instructs Adjudicators to Resume Granting Deference to Prior Determinations in Petition Validity Extension Requests
- State Dept. Announces Tiered Immigrant Visa Prioritization
- SSA Ends "No-Match" Letters
- President Biden Orders CBP, ICE to Change Terminology
- State Dept. Updates Travel Advisories Due to Ongoing Pandemic
- F-1 Students Seeking OPT Can Now File Form I-765 Online
- State Dept. Releases FAQ on Immigrant Visa Backlog and Consular Processing
- State Dept. Updates Visa Services Guidance, Policy on National Interest Exceptions for Regional COVID Proclamations
- OFLC Announces New Application for Prevailing Wage Determination
- CBP Reminds Carriers of LPR Boarding Policy
President Biden Suspends Entry of Noncitizens/Non-LPRs Traveling From India; U.S. Mission in India Announces Limits on Visa Services
President Biden has issued a proclamation suspending the entry of non-U.S. citizens who were physically present within India during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States, with some exceptions. The proclamation takes effect May 4, 2021, and will remain in effect until terminated by the President.
The proclamation states that India "is experiencing widespread, ongoing person-to-person transmission of the virus" that causes COVID-19 and its variants. The proclamation cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has concluded that proactive measures are required to protect U.S. "public health from travelers entering the United States from that jurisdiction."
The ban on entry does not apply to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs), noncitizen nationals of the United States, noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens or LPRs, noncitizen members of the U.S. armed forces, noncitizens whose entry is in the national interest; noncitizens traveling at the invitation of the U.S. government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the coronavirus, and several other categories.
The White House has alerted U.S. airlines and Congress. Also, the U.S. embassy and consulates in India announced significant temporary limitations on visa and other services.
State Dept. Announces Global National Interest Exceptions to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
On April 27, 2021, the Department of State (DOS) announced national interest exceptions to all regional travel restrictions currently in effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DOS said that students seeking to start studies in the fall, certain academics, journalists, and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support in countries affected by a geographic COVID-19 restriction may now qualify for a national interest exception. This includes qualified applicants who have been in Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa.
DOS also said that the pandemic "continues to limit the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process," and that visa applicants should check the website of their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for the latest information about visa appointment availability.
USCIS Reverses Trump Policy, Instructs Adjudicators to Resume Granting Deference to Prior Determinations in Petition Validity Extension Requests
Effective immediately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated its policy guidance on April 27, 2021, to generally restore its 2004 instructions directing officers to defer to prior determinations of eligibility when adjudicating petition extensions involving the same parties and facts as the initial petition. USCIS had rescinded the 2004 guidance in 2017.
The updated policy clarifies that USCIS will once again give deference unless there was a material error, material change in circumstances or eligibility, or new material information that adversely impacts the petitioner's, applicant's, or beneficiary's eligibility. The updated policy also affirms that USCIS "considers, but does not defer to, previous eligibility determinations on petitions or applications made by other U.S. government agencies," and that "officers make determinations on the evidence of record in the petition or application under adjudication."
State Dept. Announces Tiered Immigrant Visa Prioritization
On April 30, 2021, the Department of State (DOS) announced a tiered prioritization approach to "triage" immigrant visa applications in light of reduced operating capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main categories of immigrant visas in priority order are:
- Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government)
- Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas
- Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
- Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas
SSA Ends "No-Match" Letters
According to reports, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has ended the practice of sending employers "no-match" letters, called Employer Correction Request Notices. SSA said it will instead work to make it "better, easier and more convenient" for employers to report and correct wages electronically. The letters, which inform employers when W-2 information doesn’t match SSA’s records, were discontinued in 2012 but resurrected in March 2019.
Advocates had asked the agency to eliminate the letters, which they said caused problems such as workers losing their jobs due to mistakes in the database.
President Biden Orders CBP, ICE to Change Terminology
According to reports, under orders of the Biden administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued memoranda to their employees to stop using certain terms and replace them with others.
- "alien"—use "noncitizen" or "migrant"
- "alienage—use "noncitizenship"
- "illegal alien"—use "undocumented noncitizen," "undocumented individual," or "migrant"
- "unaccompanied alien children"—use "noncitizen unaccompanied children"
- "assimilation"— use "integration" or "civic integration"
- "immigrant assimilation"— use "immigrant integration"
State Dept. Updates Travel Advisories Due to Ongoing Pandemic
The Department of State expanded its travel advisories to warn U.S. citizens not to travel to many areas due to ongoing "unprecedented risks" posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department is warning travelers against going to "approximately 80% of countries worldwide."
F-1 Students Seeking OPT Can Now File Form I-765 Online
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on April 12, 2021, that F-1 students seeking optional practical training (OPT) can now file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, online if they are filing under one of these categories:
- (c)(3)(A), Pre-Completion OPT
- (c)(3)(B), Post-Completion OPT
- (c)(3)(C), 24-Month Extension of OPT for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students
USCIS emphasized that the option to file Form I-765 online is only available to F-1 students filing Form I-765 for OPT, noting that "[i]f an applicant submits Form I-765 online to request employment authorization on or after April 15, but is eligible for a different employment authorization category, USCIS will deny the application and retain the fee. As USCIS continues to transition to paperless operations, the agency will work to expand online filing for Form I-765 to additional categories."
To submit a form online, an individual must first create a USCIS online account at myaccount.uscis.gov. The free account allows people to submit forms, pay fees, track the status of their case, communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox, and respond to requests for additional evidence. USCIS continues to accept the latest paper versions of forms by mail.
State Dept. Releases FAQ on Immigrant Visa Backlog and Consular Processing
On April 13, 2021, the Department of State released frequently asked questions (FAQ) on the immigrant visa backlog and consular processing. The FAQ notes that the immigrant visa interview backlog has developed "because of limitations in staffing and other COVID-related operational constraints preventing us from processing the same volume of applicants as pre-pandemic." In addition, the FAQ cites previous presidential proclamations that "restricted visa processing for many immigrants for nearly a year." The Department said it would take time to process the cases affected by these travel restrictions.
The Department said it is committed to decreasing the backlog by "prioritizing certain visas, creating efficiencies in the visa process, and utilizing all available resources until our task is accomplished." Applicants should check the website of their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for updates on currently available visa services, the FAQ states. Virtual interviews are not available because current regulations "require all immigrant visa applicants to appear in person before a consular officer," the FAQ states.
State Dept. Updates Visa Services Guidance, Policy on National Interest Exceptions for Regional COVID Proclamations
The Department of State recently released several updates on visa services and national interest exception policy for regional COVID proclamations:
Visa Services Guidance
Referring to continued restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, the Department announced on April 6, 2021, that U.S. embassies and consulates that process nonimmigrant visa applications "are prioritizing travelers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission-critical categories of travelers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and workers who are essential to the American food supply), followed by students, exchange visitors, and some temporary employment visas."
With respect to visa services, for consular sections that have the capacity, "the processing of immigrant and [fiancé(e)] visas, particularly for immediate relatives and other family-sponsored applicants, is our highest priority. U.S. Embassies and Consulates are also prioritizing the processing of immigrant visa cases previously refused under the rescinded Presidential Proclamations 9645 and 9983," the Department said.
The Department noted that as a result of the pandemic, appointment capacity continues to be reduced, which "has created a significant backlog of both immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants awaiting a visa interview." The Department said it is working to reduce the backlog.
National Interest Exceptions
The Department announced on April 8, 2021, that the travel of immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots and aircrew traveling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery, or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the "geographic" COVID Presidential Proclamations (9984, 9992, and 10143).
The Department noted that these proclamations "restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in the People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federative Republic of Brazil, or Republic of South Africa."
OFLC Announces New Application for Prevailing Wage Determination
The Department of Labor's Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) revised its Form ETA-9141, Application for Prevailing Wage Determination, for use beginning May 3, 2021.
As of 8 a.m. on May 3, 2021, OFLC will only accept prevailing wage applications submitted using the new form. OFLC will reject, without further review, prevailing wage paper applications submitted using the current version of the form. A stakeholder webinar will be held on April 27, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET (2 hours).
Read OFLC announcement (scroll down to announcement on April 2, 2021)
CBP Reminds Carriers of LPR Boarding Policy
U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued guidance on March 5, 2021, for its Carrier Liaison Program on the current policy for boarding of lawful permanent residents (LPRs):
Unexpired Valid Permanent Resident Card
- Passengers with a valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card (PRC or "green card") may be boarded without any additional documentation.
Re-Entry Permit (I-327): Valid and Unexpired
- Passengers with valid, unexpired re-entry permit are permitted to board without additional documentation.
- The document must be the original re-entry permit. Copies are not accepted.
Expired Permanent Resident Cards: Ten-year validity
- Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) with an expired I-551 may be boarded without penalty, provided the card was issued with a 10-year expiration date.
Expired Permanent Resident Cards: Containing Extension Sticker/Form I-797
- Starting in January 2021, the sticker that is currently issued to LPRs to extend the validity of their PRC (placed on the back of the card) has been discontinued.
- The revised I-797 receipt notice, together with an applicant’s PRC, will serve as temporary evidence of lawful permanent resident status for 12 months from the expiration date on the front of the green card.
- PRCs that contain the extension sticker will remain valid until the expiration date.
- The document must be the original I-797 permit. Copies are not accepted.
Expired Conditional Resident: Two-year validity
- A Conditional Resident with an expired PRC (with a two-year expiration date) may be boarded if also in possession of a Notice of Action (Form I-797).
- The Notice of Action extends the validity of the card for a specified length of time, generally 18 months.
- Do not board the traveler if they are not in possession of Form I-797.
SB-1 Visas: Valid and Unexpired
- Travelers in possession of a valid, unexpired SB-1 visa in their passport may be boarded without additional documentation.
The guidance notes that "[a]irlines should not be determining admissibility of a [traveler] outside the parameters.
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: