Updates for April 3, 2023
USCIS Removes 60-Day Rule for Civil Surgeon Signatures on Form I-693
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on March 31, 2023, that it is removing the requirement that civil surgeons sign Form I-693, Report of Immigration Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, no more than 60 days before an individual applies for an underlying immigration benefit, including Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The requirement had been subject to a temporary waiver since December 9, 2021.
USCIS said that this policy update will allow it to adjudicate cases with immigration medical examinations that previously would have been considered invalid. Rather than issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) in the case of a Form I-693 signed more than 60 days before the filing of the I-485, but otherwise valid, USCIS can now accept I-693s for adjudicative purposes for up to two years after the date the civil surgeon signed the form.
SOURCES: ABIL Immigration Insider, April 3, 2022; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/uscis-removes-60-day-rule-for-civil-surgeon-signatures-on-form-i-693
Department of State to Raise Consular Fees
Effective May 30, 2023, a Department of State (DOS) final rule raises most consular service fees, although the fee increases are smaller than those proposed in the notice of proposed rulemaking due to revised projections for fiscal year (FY) 2022-2024 demand, DOS said.
Below are the adjustments that DOS will implement under the final rule:
· The application processing fee for non-petition-based nonimmigrant visas (NIVs) (except the E category) will increase from $160 to $185.
· The application processing fee for H, L, O, P, Q, and R category NIVs will increase from $190 to $205.
· The processing fee for Border Crossing Cards for Mexican citizens aged 15 and over will increase from $160 to $185.
· The fee for E-category NIVs will increase from $205 to $315.
· The fee for the exchange visitor waiver of the two-year residency requirement will stay at $120, instead of the proposed $510.
SOURCES: ABIL Immigration Insider, April 3, 2022; and https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-03-28/pdf/2023-06290.pdf
USCIS Updates Policy on Timeframes for Paper-Based Filings/Responses
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated policy guidance to address situations when the last day to file a benefit request or respond to a USCIS action falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or federal holiday. In these situations, effective immediately, USCIS will consider a filing or response submitted on paper timely if the agency receives it by the end of the next business day. While the receipt date for these cases will continue to reflect the date USCIS physically received the request, USCIS will consider the benefit request timely filed.
USCIS said it is pursuing several ways to increase flexibility related to filing deadlines, including this policy update. The update applies to all benefit requests or responses to a USCIS action that the agency receives on paper on or after March 29, 2023. The update does not affect electronic filings or responses submitted electronically, which USCIS considers received immediately upon submission. USCIS is not applying this policy retroactively.
SOURCES: ABIL Immigration Insider, April 3, 2022; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/uscis-updates-policy-on-time-frames-for-paper-based-filings-and-responses-ending-on-saturdays
New Filing Address Announced for Courier Delivery Services to USCIS Phoenix Lockbox
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has changed the filing location for courier delivery services to its Phoenix, Arizona, lockbox. The facility has moved to Tempe, Arizona, and the filing location for courier delivery services for UPS, FedEx, and DHL has also changed to Tempe. The filing location remains the same when using the U.S. Postal Service.
USCIS said it will forward any applications, petitions, or requests received in Phoenix via courier delivery services to Tempe between March 30 and April 28, 2023. After April 28, USCIS will not accept courier delivery at the previous address.
SOURCES: ABIL Immigration Insider, April 3, 2022; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/new-filing-address-for-courier-delivery-services-to-uscis-phoenix-lockbox
March 2023 Monthly Review
USCIS: H-1B Initial Electronic Registration Selection Process Completed
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received enough electronic registrations during the initial registration period to reach the fiscal year (FY) 2024 H-1B numerical allocations (H-1B cap), including the advanced degree exemption (master’s cap). USCIS has randomly selected from the registrations properly submitted to reach the cap and has 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, disputed, or otherwise invalid.
SOURCES: USCIS Newsroom, March 27, 2023: https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/fy-2024-h-1b-cap-season-updates
DOS: April Visa Bulletin Shows Worldwide EB-4 Backlog of 5+ Years; EB-2 Retrogression
According to the Department of State’s (DOS) Visa Bulletin for April 2023, the EB-4 category, which includes special immigrant religious workers, now has a worldwide backlog of 5+ years. Also, the EB-2 final action dates for the Rest of the World, India, Mexico, and the Philippines have retrogressed several months to keep the number use within the FY 2023 annual limit.
Previously, DOS was applying the per-country limit to the EB-4 subcategory, which made the “North Central American” (NCA) countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras oversubscribed, but preserved religious worker current priority dates for all other chargeability areas. DOS has now announced that it interprets the limit to apply to the family/employment-based system as a whole and not within each category, meaning that because the NCA countries are not oversubscribed in the total family/employment system, DOS cannot set a cutoff for them just in the EB-4 category.
DOS is no longer including a separate column covering applicants chargeable to El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras in the charts titled, “Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases” and “Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications,” for applicants who are seeking an immigrant visa in the EB-4 category. Final action and filing dates for applicants from these three countries are now provided in the column headed “All Chargeability Areas Except Those Listed.”
The Rest of the World, Mexico, and Philippines EB-2 final action dates were retrogressed to 01JUL22, and the India EB-2 final action date was retrogressed to 01JAN11. “This situation will be continually monitored, and any necessary adjustments will be made accordingly,” the bulletin states.
SOURCES: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 26, 2023; and https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Bulletins/visabulletin_April2023.pdf and https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-fourth-preference-eb-4
USCIS Ends Certain COVID-19 Flexibilities
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that certain flexibilities first introduced in March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic ended on March 23, 2023. USCIS previously notified the public that barring any changes presented by the pandemic, the extension of these flexibilities announced on January 24, 2023, would be the last.
USCIS said it “retains the discretion to provide certain flexibilities on a case-by-case basis upon request, for applicants or petitioners affected by an emergency or unforeseen circumstance, such as natural catastrophes (hurricanes, wildfires, severe weather, etc.), national emergencies (public health emergencies), or severe illness (including COVID).”
USCIS also noted that flexibilities regarding reproduced signatures first announced on March 20, 2020, became policy as announced on July 25, 2022.
SOURCES: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 26, 2023; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/uscis-announces-end-of-covid-related-flexibilities
USCIS Issues Policy Alert on Evidence for Employers’ Ability to Pay Proffered Wage
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy alert on March 15, 2023, on employers’ ability to pay the proffered wage to prospective beneficiaries of certain I-140 immigrant petitions. This is important in many employment-related green card petitions. USCIS said it is updating its guidance to discuss in more detail various types of evidence and explain how it reviews all evidence relevant to the employer’s financial strength and the significance of its business activities. Among other things, the new guidance explains that an employer must submit one of three forms of initial required evidence but may also include other types of relevant evidence.
USCIS explained that employers must submit annual reports, federal tax returns, or audited financial statements for each available year from the case’s priority date. If the employer has 100 or more workers, it may instead include a financial officer statement attesting to the petitioner’s ability to pay the proffered wage. An employer may also submit additional evidence, the agency said, such as profit and loss statements, bank account records, or personnel records. USCIS noted that many employers satisfy the ability to pay requirement by also submitting payroll records demonstrating that, during the relevant time period, they have been paying the employee at least the proffered wage indicated on the Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers (Form I-140).
SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 19, 2023; https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/policy-manual-updates/20230315-AbilityToPay.pdf
USCIS Announces Premium Processing, New Online Filing Procedures for Certain F-1 Students Seeking OPT or STEM OPT Extensions
On March 6, 2023, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the expansion of premium processing for certain F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 students seeking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT extensions who have a pending Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and wish to request a premium processing upgrade.
Online filing of Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, is now also available to F-1 students in these categories. USCIS continues to accept the latest paper version of this form by mail. Premium processing expansion for certain F-1 students will occur in phases, and students requesting premium processing should not file before these dates:
· Beginning March 6, USCIS now accepts Form I-907 requests, filed either via paper form or online, for certain F-1 students who already have a pending Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, if they are filing under one of the following categories:
– (c)(3)(A)—Pre-Completion OPT
– (c)(3)(B)—Post-Completion OPT
– (c)(3)(C)—24-Month Extension of OPT for STEM students.
· Beginning April 3, USCIS will accept Form I-907 requests, filed either via paper form or online, for F-1 students in the above categories when filed together with Form I-765.
SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 12, 2023; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/news-releases/uscis-announces-premium-processing-new-online-filing-procedures-for-certain-f-1-students-seeking-opt
Department of Homeland Security Extends Enforcement Date for REAL ID
On May 3, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published an interim final rule extending the REAL ID card-based enforcement deadline to May 3, 2023. A new final rule published on March 9, 2023, further extends the date for card-based enforcement of the REAL ID regulations to May 7, 2025. Beginning on that date, federal agencies cannot accept a state-issued driver’s license or identification card for official purposes unless it is REAL ID compliant and issued by a state that DHS has determined is in full compliance.
Current regulations also permit federal agencies to accept noncompliant driver’s licenses and identification cards for official purposes until May 2, 2023. The final rule also extends that date, authorizing federal agencies to continue to accept noncompliant driver’s licenses and identification cards for official purposes until May 6, 2025.
SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 12, 2023; and https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-03-09/pdf/2023-04496.pdf
USCIS Issues Guidance on Mobile and Remote Biometrics Collection
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance on March 7, 2023, to address mobile biometrics collection and the biometrics collection of benefit requestors in remote locations.
USCIS said the guidance is intended for benefit requestors who may be unable to attend appointments at USCIS Application Support Centers (ASC) due to health or other issues, or because their physical location requires multiple modes of transportation or substantial travel times to reach an ASC, where USCIS generally collects biometrics. The policy provides for circumstances under which USCIS may conduct mobile biometrics collection for benefit requestors who reside in remote locations in relation to ASCs, and provides an alternative method to fingerprint collection, to include fingerprint cards and coordination with other agencies, for certain benefit requestors who live in locations so remote that USCIS mobile biometric services would not be practical, the agency said.
SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 12, 2023; and https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/policy-manual-updates/20230307-MobileBiometrics.pdf
DOS Issues Final Rule Updating Regulation on Signed Photos for Visa Processing
Effective April 5, 2023, the Department of State (DOS) is updating its regulation regarding visa applicants’ furnishing of signed photographs as required under Immigration and Nationality Act § 221(b). DOS said the updates reflect changes in technology, including the ability to upload digital photographs electronically as part of the online visa application process.
The final rule clarifies that immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants may upload digital photographs electronically as part of the online visa application process instead of submitting ink-signed photographs. The electronic signature on the DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, or the biometric signature for the DS-260, Online Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, will be “considered as signing the digital photograph and any paper photographs that may be otherwise submitted.” Additionally, the rule amends language concerning the nonimmigrant photograph to clarify that the submitted photograph must meet the specifications prescribed by DOS and deletes language allowing immigrant visa applicants to submit black-and-white photographs.
SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 5, 2023; and https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-03-06/pdf/2023-04405.pdf
USCIS Issues Guidance on Eligibility for O-1B Visa Classification
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance on March 3, 2023, effective immediately, clarifying how it evaluates evidence to determine eligibility for O-1B nonimmigrants of extraordinary ability in the arts and nonimmigrants of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.
The policy updates include a new chart in the USCIS Policy Manual’s appendix describing examples of evidence that may satisfy the O-1B evidentiary criteria, as well as considerations relevant to evaluating such evidence. The chart is also intended to assist petitioners in submitting appropriate evidence that may establish a beneficiary’s eligibility.
USCIS said the guidance also improves readability “to help adjudicators with predictable and transparent application of the O-1B evidentiary requirements, in support of consistent decisions and improvements in efficiency.”
The guidance in the Policy Manual “is controlling and supersedes any related prior guidance on the topic,” USCIS said.
SOURCE: ABIL Immigration Insider, March 5, 2023; and https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/uscis-issues-clarifying-guidance-on-eligibility-for-the-o-1b-visa-classification
USCIS Announces Premium Processing; New Online-Filing Procedures for Certain F-1 Students Seeking OPT or STEM OPT Extensions
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on March 6, 2023, the expansion of premium processing for certain F-1 students seeking Optional Practical Training (OPT) and F-1 students seeking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT extensions who have a pending Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and wish to request a premium processing upgrade. Online filing of Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, is now also available to F-1 students in these categories. USCIS continues to accept the latest paper version of this form by mail.
Premium processing expansion for certain F-1 students will occur in phases, and students requesting premium processing should not file before these dates:
· Beginning March 6, USCIS will accept Form I-907 requests, filed either via paper form or online, for certain F-1 students who already have a pending Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, if they are filing under one of the following categories:
o (c)(3)(A) – Pre-Completion OPT;
o (c)(3)(B) – Post-Completion OPT; and
o (c)(3)(C) – 24-Month Extension of OPT for STEM students.
· Beginning April 3, USCIS will accept Form I-907 requests, filed either via paper form or online, for F-1 students in the above categories when filed together with Form I-765.
USCIS will reject premium processing requests for a pending Form I-765 if received before March 6, and will reject any premium processing request for an initial or concurrently filed Form I-765 that is received before April 3. To file Form I-907 online, an applicant must first create a USCIS online account, which provides a convenient and secure method to submit forms, pay fees, and track the status of any pending USCIS immigration request throughout the adjudication process. There is no cost to set up a USCIS online account, which offers a variety of features, including the ability to communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox and respond to Requests for Evidence online.
Applicants who previously filed a paper Form I-765 and wish to file Form I-907 online to request premium processing should reference the USCIS Account Access Notice they received for the Online Access Code and details on how to link their paper-filed cases to their online account, or they will not be able to file Form I-907 online and will need file a paper Form I-907 with the Chicago lockbox. As previously announced, the expansion of premium processing is part of USCIS’ efforts to increase efficiency and reduce burdens on the overall immigration system and is being implemented in a phased approach.
The addition of online filing for Form I-907 brings the total number of forms available for online filing to 16. The Forms Available To File Online page has links to file all of these forms. USCIS continues to accept the latest paper versions of all forms by mail. More than 1.8 million applications, petitions, and requests were filed online in FY 2022, a 53% increase from the 1.2 million filed in FY 2021.
SOURCE: USCIS Newsroom, March 6, 2023; and : https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/news-releases/uscis-announces-premium-processing-new-online-filing-procedures-for-certain-f-1-students-seeking-opt