Immigration in the pandemic
One thing none of us foresaw was COVID. Not only did it impact everyone in the entire world, but immigration in the US has also been HUGELY impacted. Let’s talk about that before reviewing the predicted changes.
Initially, USCIS offices were shut down throughout the US for three months which slowed processing down substantially. We have seen case processing taking 2-3 times longer than before COVID happened, and it was slow before that time.
Add in that USCIS claimed they had fewer applications, and therefore less funding, so they threatened to stop working even after they reopened. While they have, for the time being, postponed furloughing employees they have said that operational reductions have impacted their day-to-day operations. This translates to “we’ll keep being slow and we may never speed up.”
Due to COVID, the Department of State suspended all routine visa services at all embassies and consulates starting in March 2020. Many remain closed throughout the world. Since the US borders with Mexico and Canada have closed to all “non-essential” travel, except for very limited situations, this has hampered those seeking asylum.
COVID spreading through detention facilities has been a nightmare for the people held in the facilities. Many immigration courts were closed and currently have limited processing. It is frustrating to many that some immigration courts demand in-person hearings for trials requiring anyone involved to be near others.
Andres Mejer joined a lawsuit with other New Jersey attorneys requesting that Executive Office Immigration Review(EOIR) courts in Newark, New Jersey conduct trials through video, which has worked well for other courts throughout the country. In response, EOIR is rolling out video trials throughout the country. It is not perfect, but we are thankful that the lawsuit has been successful.
Then we have the many people whom we have lost to this terrible disease. Unfortunately, many immigrants are in positions that are considered “essential” work and they can’t work from home. This means that they are exposed to COVID and, due to socio-economic circumstances, may have less access to good healthcare and be more likely to die.
Claiming COVID made it necessary, in April the Trump administration imposed a ban on people entering the US from certain countries through December 31, 2020. In June, this was extended to certain employment-based nonimmigrant visa categories.
Customs and Border Patrol started to “expel” people at the border without letting them seek asylum and claimed it was due to following CDC protocol. All MPP or Migrant Protection Protocol hearings have been suspended indefinitely. Both of those actions have impacted over 160,000 people seeking asylum at our borders and are seen by immigration advocates as probable violations of international and US law.
While Congress has passed several stimulus measures, including the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act for COVID they have, almost without exception, excluded immigrants from any benefits.
This means that the “essential workers” who are forced to work with the public every day and are therefore more likely to get COVID, have little to no relief if they do get sick and/or are out of work. The CARES Act had grants designed to help college students, but the US Dept. of Education worked to limit these to US citizens and a few non-citizens.
It is not unusual to have fee increases for USCIS. What was different about this increase and why did so many in the legal immigration community fight against it?
Fees increased in 2017. That was the first time they had increased in 13 years so there wasn’t much push-back or concern in the immigration community. Why is this one different? This was an increase within 3 years of the previous one.
Overall, it was a 23% increase in fees. That’s a big jump in a short time. It was a change to almost every type of application including asylum, which has traditionally been free.
It felt like a big slap in the face because USCIS processing times have not sped up at all. Denials have gone up. The number of visas available for each category has decreased. Most people see this to not make a better government agency but a backdoor way of decreasing immigration.
The fee changes were set to start on October 2, 2020. As with most of the new policies for immigration, courts have stopped them saying that the acting head of DHS – Chad Wolf – and USCIS Ken Cuccinelli – were not in their positions legitimately so any changes they make aren’t valid.
Will the Trump Administration be able to get these going before they leave office? No.
Will fees increase moving forward? Yes, of course.
As with any business, the cost of business increases. So that means you need to earn more. Hopefully, it will be a more reasonable increase proportionate to the need.
Yes, there is a new test. Anyone taking the test on or after December 1, 2020 must take the new version.
A quick recap of what was said, you must answer more questions correctly. 12 out of 20 rather than 6 out of 10. The questions aren’t as straightforward as they were. This will likely result in more denials, but it’s still too early to tell.
It is not unusual to get a new test – it usually happens every 10 years – and this one took 12 years. However, this test seems designed specifically to make the citizenship process harder, which is par for the course with this administration. Denials have increased with all applications with USCIS. Hopefully, that will change with the new President.
If you are worried there might be something in your past that disqualifies you – talk to an attorney. In the law office of Andres Mejer, we do a background check so that there isn’t a surprise. We don’t want you to waste your time or money if there is something in your past that disqualifies you, don’t file the application. Fix it first.
If you want to know more about this, go check out the 5 Big Changes video here. Here you can learn about the “look back” period, the crimes that can disqualify you, and how USCIS considers how you got your green card. USCIS will look at all of those when deciding if you will be approved to become a citizen.
Electronic Filings increased
USCIS has said they want more electronic filings and with COVID many people are doing that more. Our office still files most applications via snail mail. We send in too many pieces of evidence, and don’t trust USCIS enough, to do it all via electronic filing.
Maybe that will change with the new administration as well. If you hire an attorney, they will track the case for you so you don’t need to worry about it, though you can always check your status online.
For us, we hope that immigration joins other government agencies and goes completely electronic. Until then, we will continue using our present system.
Public Charge was a roller coaster this year. It was going to be applied in February, then USCIS said they wouldn’t apply because of COVID, then they said it would start being applied in July. Then judges throughout the country said that it wasn’t valid. Then it was. Then it was going to be applied by USCIS and applied retroactively back to February and finally, it was stopped completely.
This goes back to the head of DHS and USCIS not being in their positions legally.
As was said in previous videos, being able to financially support yourself has always been a requirement to enter the US as an immigrant. Everyone has been financially impacted by COVID. It should be considered for immigrants. Will it be? We will see.
Right now, it isn’t applicable, so if you feel that it’s a concern, submit any applications to USCIS ASAP. Don’t wait.
We knew at the beginning of this year that the Trump administration would continue to reduce asylum applications. In addition to closing the border and making people remain in Mexico while their applications are processing, a recent policy that went into effect on August 25, 2020 is that asylum applicants now must wait a year to apply for work authorization.
Before you used to be able to apply for work authorization within 180 days of applying for asylum. This means that you could work legally while your application was processed, which sometimes takes 3-5 years.
This new policy says that asylum seekers won’t be able to apply for work authorization until 365 days after they apply for asylum. How are asylum seekers supposed to live in the US for over a year without working? These are people who have left their homes due to fear or death or persecution so that means they most often are very poor without any belongings.
The Trump administration is hoping that they give up and leave the US. Will this policy stay in effect? We cannot be sure.
There are over 400 changes to immigration policy that this administration put into effect that the Biden administration may need to overturn. This administration continues, daily, to damage the immigration system. They know they won’t be in power come January 20, 2021, and they are doing everything they can to push their anti-immigrant agenda.
Everyone in the immigration legal community has a list of priorities they would prefer the new administration handle ASAP. It’s going to be exhausting to try to right the wrongs that were put in place to end legal immigration to the US.
Our law firm is 100% behind legal immigration. We hope that the US becomes the welcoming harbor for many that it was before the current administration took over.
Keep updated with the changes over at our website and over our Youtube channel.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Requirements
Several people ask about DACA requirements. Several videos have been made about this. Very quickly, to be eligible for DACA, you must:
- Have lived continuously in the US since June 15, 2017
- You were under age 31 as of June 15, 2012
- Were physically present in the US on June 15, 2012, and when you submit your DACA application
- You didn’t have a legal status on June 15, 2012
- Have come to the US before you were 16
- Have a GED or high school diploma or are currently in school, and
- You don’t have a criminal history. If you do have some history, we will talk with other immigration attorneys to see if you can still qualify.
- You must be 15 or older to apply for DACA unless you are in removal proceedings.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
Several people have asked us when VAWA will be reinstated. They suggest that no one can apply for a visa through VAWA because it hasn’t been reinstated since February 2019.
VAWA allows both men and women to obtain a visa and then a green card and citizenship if they are victims of domestic violence.
VAWA does not have an end date. When the news articles and other information say that it must be reinstated every 5 years by Congress, that is confusing. The bill continues to be valid and people can still apply for a visa under VAWA.
What happens when it is not reinstated by Congress there are funding and grant programs that are no longer available to many agencies who assist with VAWA processing.
The House of Representatives passed the VAWA reinstatement. Mitch McCconnell, as he has done with over 400 bills, has refused to allow this to be voted on in the Senate.
President Elect Biden has said he will make this a top priority in his first 100 days. He was the writer of and one of the main proponents of the bill when it was first passed.
Keep updated with the channel so you’ll be informed when this happens. If you are a victim of domestic violence and think you may be eligible for a visa under VAWA, please contact our office. That is one of our specialties and we will let you know if you are eligible and get you started on the right path to accomplishing your immigration goals.
If you need an immigration lawyer, call our office. If we can’t help you, we won’t take your money. We can’t help you if you don’t call us. Contact us today through Andres Mejer Law or call us at 888-421-9942.