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US Immigration Updates: Embassy Openings, Income Guideline, and More
Important Updates on Immigration Policies in the US
Use of Reconciliation Bill to Pass Immigration Laws
Democrats might be able to use a reconciliation bill to get some immigration laws passed. This is important because reconciliation bills only require 51 votes in the Senate rather than the 60 required votes for most bills. (If you remember, we now have 51 democratic votes with Vice President Harris in the Senate voting to break any ties).
Reconciliation bills are specifically for the budget and there are usually one or two voted on each session. This year as of April, there will be three reconciliation bills voted on, and they’ve already passed one. Now, there will be two more.
Third Budget-Reconciliation Bill
With the new decision from the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, Democrats can now do a third budget reconciliation bill, which means they can push through more ambitious measures as long as they are related to tax and spending. This is interesting because anything they put in the rule and vote on must be related to taxing and spending.
There is a possibility that some immigration measures could be related to tax and spending so it will be interesting to see if some of the leaders who are saying they want to help advance immigration reforms take advantage of this to do so.
USCIS Will No Longer Reject Certain Forms with Blank Spaces
USCIS has said that they will not reject certain forms if you leave spaces blank. During the Trump administration, a new policy was put into place and we were seeing applications being denied due to blank spaces.
What you needed to do was to write N/A on any spaces that weren’t applicable rather than leaving them blank. However, USCIS has said they will no longer follow this policy for certain forms (i.e. I-589, I-612, and I-918).
Frankly, it is still best to write N/A for any spaces that don’t apply to you. It was the policy of our office to do that for the applications we submitted for clients and we will continue to do that. Better to be safe than sorry, right? USCIS can still reject your application if you don’t answer all the questions that you should, or if you leave out important information.
On Immigration Reforms
Senate Discussion on Biden’s US Citizenship Act
Senator Durbin (Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Democrat) sat down on March 24, 2021, with Republicans and Democrats to discuss Biden’s US Citizenship Act.
Not much happened in that meeting except the Republicans said they would need to see better border protection and action at the border before they would be willing to vote on any immigration reform.
Let’s chat about this for a minute. Should immigration reform hinge on how we are dealing with our borders? If you’ve watched any of my videos in the past, I have talked about the need for immigration reform and better border protection. So I think they are both really important, but I don’t agree that if we don’t get our borders dealt with in a way that Republicans like, then we shouldn’t have any kind of immigration reform.
I know this happens a lot in politics. They say if you give me x, then I’ll vote yes for your bill. I hope that democrats can come up with a way to separate them because I don’t think we are going to have a solution for the border for a long time, and we really, really need immigration reform.
In saying that, it made me think of something that could be included in the reconciliation bill: get more money to the Department of State (DOS) and USCIS for workers to get applications processed more quickly and clear out the backlogs.
Vice President Harris Appointed as Border Immigration Czar
You’ve probably heard that Vice President Harris was appointed to handle the immigration crisis at the border.
Someone in her inner circle said, “The problem cannot be solved by one person or in four or eight years, as has been proven by the litany of past failures by people of goodwill and talent, but that’s not necessarily bad for her because any improvement over the status quo should be a win.”
Vice President Harris was one of the co-sponsors of the DREAM Act in 2017, so immigration has been something she has focused on in her career as a Senator. At the end of President Obama’s tenure, President Biden, when he was still Vice President, was also handed the same responsibility -handling immigration issues at the border. The current administration has said that there needs to be funding to help solve immigration issues overall as well.
It will be interesting to see how Vice President Harris will handle this very big role she’s been given.
USCIS Extends Flexibility for Responding to Agency Requests
USCIS announced that they have once again extended the time to reply to certain information requests due to COVID-19. This is kind of old news already because these extensions have started back in March 2020.
Usually, when you get something like a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny you have 84 days or 30 days to respond. Because of the pandemic, and the fact that the agencies where you need to gather requested information may be closed, USCIS has increased the required response time to an additional 60 days for those requests.
Should you wait that long to respond? No. Anytime you get a request like that, the processing of your application stops until the issue is resolved. So if you have the information, I recommend you respond as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind, this only applies to requests from USCIS that are dated from March 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. This has been extended several times so it may be extended again. If it does, we’ll be sure to let you know so make sure to visit our law firm’s page every now and then so you can stay updated about anything immigration-related.
Changes in Income Requirement Guidelines for Sponsoring Family Members
Every year, there are new poverty guidelines put in place by Health and Human Services (HHS).
Who needs to know this and why do you need to know this for immigration?
If you are applying to sponsor someone to immigrate as a family member such as a spouse, parent, or child, you must file an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864). This form requires you to have and/or make enough money to financially support the immigrant, yourself, and your own family so that the immigrant won’t have to ask for public benefits from the U.S. government. If the immigrant applies and receives benefits, then the government can force you to pay back the cost of those benefits.
The sponsor is the person who filed an immigrant petition for the intending immigrant. Other terms that you may be familiar with are petitioner and beneficiary. You, a U.S. resident or LPR, are the petitioner and the immigrant is the beneficiary.
2021 HHS Poverty Guidelines for Affidavit of Support
So let’s talk about the poverty guidelines that USCIS will use to determine if you qualify to sponsor someone. If you are in Alaska or Hawaii – the amounts are different so you’ll need to review the amounts for those states if that is where you live. If you are in the armed forces, you need to earn 100% of the HHS Poverty Guideline. If you are not in the armed forces, you need to earn 125% of the HHS Poverty Guideline.
We will link to the table with the amounts you must earn based on how many dependents will be in your household (including the immigrant).
The math can be complicated depending on who lives in your household. If you need help with this, I recommend you speak to a qualified New Jersey immigration attorney. If you don’t make enough money there are options like getting a joint sponsor or you can also count ownership of belongings and income from other adults in your household. I did a Tip of the Week explaining this a few months ago and will link to that here. But again, if you have questions, speak with an immigration attorney. It would be disappointing to be denied for this issue when it could be fixed before you apply.
US Labour Department Seeks Public Input on Determining H-1B Wage Levels
Our office doesn’t handle many work-related visas. We mostly help people with family-based immigration, but we wanted to let you know that the Labor Department is seeking input on prevailing wages for H1B visas.
When someone applies for an H1B (an employer-sponsored visa) the employer must show that the prevailing wage will be paid to the employee. So they can’t get foreign workers to save money. Salary rates for specific visas are tightly regulated.
Previously, the Trump administration had sought to revise mandatory salaries. This change was supposed to go into effect on March 9, 2021, but has been delayed by the Biden administration until December 31, 2021.
Every year since 2014, the H1B category has filled in with applicants within just a few days of the lottery period opening. This year was no exception. If you want to apply for a visa through the H1B program, we recommend that you start early and be ready when it opens to get your name in the pool.
There are 8 other ways to get a visa/legal status, and if you’d like to find out if you qualify for one of those, please contact our law office. We are happy to review your situation and determine the best course for your immigration journey.
Update on Presidential Proclamation 10052
If you recall, this proclamation suspended the entry of H1B, H2B, J and L visa holders. It did not bar people from getting a visa, but it did keep them from entering the US. This proclamation has now expired. It was set to expire on March 31, 2021, and President Biden allowed this to expire rather than extend it.
If someone was approved for this visa and needs an interview for this visa, that still needs to take place. All of those who were scheduled for interviews but didn’t have one are supposed to be prioritized by their local embassy.
If you were previously refused entry due to this proclamation, you will need to reapply and submit a new fee. This seems unfair that you lost the fee that you paid, but it is what it is.
Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ)
I wanted to address one of the ways to get a visa known as SIJ or Special Immigrant Juvenile. We have recently had a number of people on our YouTube channel reach out to us and ask if they are eligible under this program though they do not live in the US.
SIJ or Special Immigrant Juvenile is one way to get a green card if you meet certain criteria.
I have a few videos on this topic and I think that is what prompted people to ask us if they might be eligible. Special Immigrant Juvenile status is something that people can apply for if they have been adjudicated (that means legally determined) to have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents.
Unfortunately, all of the people who asked if they qualify due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a child, live outside the United States and have never lived inside the US nor are either of their parents US citizens or green card holders.
There are some benefits to getting a green card as an SIJ:
- You don’t need to have entered the US legally
- You don’t need to meet the financial requirements that others applying for a green card do
- It is a relatively fast process
- You can often have the application fees waived
One of the biggest negatives of getting a green card through SIJ is that you cannot ever apply to sponsor your parent – even if it is not one who abused, neglected, or abandoned you – for a green card. In essence, USCIS sees you as having become an orphan.
We’ve also had a few people ask us when they will get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) after applying for SIJ. SIJ historically did not give you employment authorization. You have to wait until a visa is available and file for your Green Card. However, a recent court decision changed that. You can now apply for work EAD after you are approved for SIJ status.
SIJ is very complicated. Though we represent people throughout the world and in over 18 states on immigration matters, we only represent people for SIJ in New York and New Jersey. We recommend that you consult with a qualified immigration attorney in the state in which you live if you think you may qualify for SIJ. SIJ requires that you meet the state court requirements in order to be eligible.
National Visa Processing
Before we jump into specifics about embassies and consulates, let me mention what I know about NVC right now.
In 2020 the NVC processed 77,000 cases per month. 2,500 K1 visas were processed each month in 2020.
25% of the cases processed by NVC were represented by attorneys – that hopefully means those cases were done correctly and made it through the NVC faster.
As of January 25, 2021, NVC’s queue for family-sponsored cases that have a visa available and are being warehoused by NVC is 312,782 cases. There are 11,504 employment-sponsored cases and 3,905 EB5 Investor Visa cases that are pending.
NVC said that they will be forwarding all cases that are documented as qualified to the appropriate embassy or consulate that is open and are processing cases as long as the post has capacity.
That means NVC is not holding onto any cases for open embassies or consulates that can process cases. Posts (consulates/embassies) do NOT request applications from the NVC. NVC checks capacity and is sending them in the order they were documented as qualified as availability opens up at that post. Once they are sent to the embassy or consulate, it is up to that facility to process them based on their internal processes.
However, if an embassy is closed, NVC will hold onto the application until that embassy opens. That means you shouldn’t be contacting the individual embassy and asking them to get your application from NVC. We think following up with NVC is a smart idea if it hasn’t yet been sent to your local embassy or consulate.
- What if your application is over six months old?
You do NOT need to submit new applications unless requested by NVC.
- What if your local consulate or embassy is closed, should you submit your DS 260?
The short answer is yes. When the post resumes visa operations if your DS 260 has been submitted that will help your application to continue to be processed.
- What about if your local embassy was sent your application from NVC but then shut down due to covid. Will they send your application back to NVC?
No, they won’t. Embassy conditions change daily and they may be able to process it relatively fast.
So…what does this all really mean? Let me give you an example. Say there were three visa applications that need to go through one embassy submitted on the same day – let’s say November 1, 2020. 1 application is denied as not qualified, but the other two are documented as qualified on March 1, 2021.
The embassy was closed but reopened on March 15, 2021. NVC looks at the processing of all applications they had sent to that embassy before submitting others. Say they have a backlog of 25 cases that need to have interviews done, so even though those applications have been sent to that embassy, they will complete the interviews of the applications they have before NVC would send the other two new applications that were documented as qualified.
Once your application is sent by NVC and received at the embassy, that embassy would then schedule interviews for those documented qualified applications based on availability.
I know I mentioned in another video that visa application backlogs went from 75,000 in January 2020 to over 475,000 in January 2021.
I highly recommend if you are applying for a visa that you make sure you do it right. You are putting yourself in a long line of other applicants and doing it right the first time is going to help you move through that line faster. Hiring a qualified immigration attorney can help to ensure that it is done correctly and processed as quickly as possible.
What about expedited cases with the NVC?
Expedited cases are sent ahead of chronologically approved cases. So say in our example that of the two applications that are qualified, one is an expedited case. That one will be sent to the embassy immediately, even if it is out of order, while the other will be held until there is an opening at that embassy and there are no other applications ahead of it.
There is an expedited online email for NVC. DO NOT use the online inquiry form. If you submit an online inquiry form, it will delay the processing of your application.
NVC said that it takes about 4-6 weeks for your paper file to reach their office from USCIS. So if you’ve gotten an I-797 notice from USCIS that your case was approved, give it at least that amount of time before expecting NVC to have your file and start processing it.
One bit of good news is that if you have submitted a visa fee but your application has not yet been processed, the Department of State announced on April 1, 2021, that your visa fees will not need to be paid again through September 20, 2022. I hope it doesn’t take that long to process your application!
Which Embassies and Consulates are Open?
We are asked almost every day about specific openings for consulates and embassies. We reply to almost everyone that we cannot know information about each individual consulate or embassy daily.
Even when we have clients that go to them (we recently had several clients who went to Juarez, Mexico), because of COVID-19 they may close unexpectedly. We recommend contacting the local embassy for information. You should be able to see if they are open on their website as the State Department has told them to update their open information on their website.
We do have information about a few embassies, but this is only as good as the information we had as of April 2021:
- Islamabad – this is one of the most complicated embassies. They are open in a limited capacity as of April 2021. Right now, the only way to get an interview in Islamabad is to file for an expedited interview. This helps to bypass their very long waiting times. I do recommend that you have an immigration attorney help you with this process as you must make a legal argument as to why you qualify for expedited processing.
- Philippines – they are limited in what they can do due to country conditions. Expedited cases are working there. You only have one chance for an expedited case. They are not letting you apply more than once. I recommend that if you don’t hire an immigration attorney to file for an expedited process that you be very careful and make sure that your expedited application doesn’t have any reason for it to be rejected. If it is, you won’t get a chance to resubmit at this time because of the overwhelming number of applications they are getting.
- Brazil – is slowly starting to schedule interviews but is not fully re-opened. We found that expedited processing is being done here so if you need an interview here that may be the best option for you.
To remind everyone, there was a new Naturalization test that was put into effect as of December 1, 2020. This new test had 128 questions and required you to answer MORE questions though you still only needed to get 60% right.
However, that was changed by the Biden administration and anyone applying to become a citizen now will be tested on the 2008 test. There are 100 questions and you only need to answer 6 out of 10 correctly to pass. You can take the test twice if you don’t pass the first time.
Here are a few questions which you can review:
- Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
to print money
to declare war
to create an army
to make treaties
- Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?
provide schooling and education
provide protection (police)
provide safety (fire departments)
give a driver’s license
approve zoning and land use
- Who is the Governor of your state now?
Answers will vary. [District of Columbia residents should answer that D.C. does not have a Governor.]
- What is the capital of your state?*
Answers will vary. [District of Columbia residents should answer that D.C. is not a state and does not have a capital. Residents of U.S. territories should name the capital of the territory.]
- What are the two major political parties in the United States?*
Democratic and Republican
- What is the political party of the President now?
President Biden is a member of the Democratic party – if it is not 2021 I recommend you check the USCIS website to find out this information
- What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now?
Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the house when I recorded this video in April 2021
- There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote.
Describe one of them.
Citizens eighteen (18) and older (can vote).
You don’t have to pay (a poll tax) to vote.
Any citizen can vote. (Women and men can vote.)
A male citizen of any race (can vote).
- What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?*
serve on a jury
vote in a federal election
- Name one right only for United States citizens.
vote in a federal election
run for federal office
- What are two of the rights of everyone living in the United States?
freedom of expression
freedom of speech
freedom of assembly
freedom to petition the government
freedom of religion
the right to bear arms
- What do we show loyalty to when we say the Pledge of Allegiance?
the United States
- What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?
give up loyalty to other countries
defend the Constitution and laws of the United States
obey the laws of the United States serve in the U.S. military (if needed)
serve (do important work for) the nation (if needed)
be loyal to the United States
- How old do citizens have to be to vote for President?*
eighteen (18) and older
- What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?
join a political party
help with a campaign
join a civic group
join a community group
give an elected official your opinion on an issue
call Senators and Representatives
publicly support or oppose an issue or policy
run for office
write to a newspaper
- When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?*
- When must all men register for the Selective Service?
at age eighteen (18)
between eighteen (18) and twenty-six (26)
- What is one reason colonists came to America?
practice their religion
- Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived?
If you have immigration concerns, don’t hesitate to discuss your case with an immigration lawyer. Our experienced New Jersey immigration attorney at Andres Mejer Law can help you understand the immigration changes and assist you throughout your immigration process. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation!