August 25, 2020, announcements
USCIS and the State Department regularly send out updates on current policies and programs. This summary addresses one sent out by each agency on August 25, 2020.
1. State Department gives consulates power to waive visa interviews for visa RENEWALS.
The State Department is the office that supervises all US consulates and embassies around the world. It sets policy for all of those offices. Currently there are severe restrictions that govern visa appointments and issuances due to the various bans that the administration has enacted since the advent of COVID-19.
On August 25, however, the State Department issued a notice that it has temporarily expanded the ability of consular offices to waive in-person interviews for individuals applying to renew their nonimmigrant (i.e., temporary) work visas. It states that individuals whose visas expire within 24 months are eligible to seek the waiver. (The notice only makes sense if it means the visas have to have expired within the last 24 months; in fact, the website for the US consulate in Australia uses that specific terminology.) The applicant still must leave the US and apply while in the country where the consulate is located, and will have to attend a biometrics appointment while there, but by waiving the interview, consulates should expedite and streamline their procedures and should shorten the turnaround time required to issue the visa.
What still remain in place are the COVID-19 ban on international travelers from Schengen countries, China and Iran; the bans on issuance of certain new temporary work visas; and the ban on entry by a wide range of immigrants. There are exceptions to each of those bans, but they exceed the scope of this update.
2. USCIS announces threatened furlough off at least for now; predicts widespread delays
A few weeks ago USCIS announced that it was being forced to furlough some 13,000 employees on August 3; that date later changed to August 30. It claimed the furlough was necessary due primarily to serious decreases in filing fees, on which USCIS depends.
What USCIS failed to disclose in those earlier announcements were three things. First, case decisions have been greatly delayed by the issuance of massive Requests for Evidence (RFEs) in a huge number of cases. Second, USCIS instituted a policy requiring a full review of cases in which applicants are seeking to extend work visas, even though the employee, job title, job duties, work location, and employer are the same as those in one or more prior cases that USCIS already had approved (sometimes on multiple occasions going back as much as a decade or more). The RFEs significantly increase workloads for adjudicators, and the full review policy has duplicated time and effort dramatically. Both policies have created major demands on employee time, but with no increase in fees. Third, internally USCIS has projected a major surplus as of the end of this fiscal year (9/30/2020) of as much as $800 Million.
With that unspoken background, USCIS announced that it was cancelling the furlough, because it has instituted “unprecedented spending cuts” and has seen a “steady increase in fees.” Avoiding the furlough is a very good piece of news; the bad news is that the USCIS notice also predicts “operational impacts” that will include “longer case processing times, and increased adjudication time for aliens adjusting status or naturalizing.”
What this means as a practical matter remains to be seen, but the delays are nothing new, and they will only increase if USCIS continues to follow the “kneejerk RFE” and “full review” policies. Both policies are as anti-business as any policies issued in decades, and USCIS has no one to blame for its current predicament but itself and this administration.
These notices relate to business based immigration matters, and if Chapman Law Firm can assist your regarding either situation (or with any other business immigration issue), please contact us at (336) 334-0034 for a consultation.
However, Chapman Law Firm handles virtually every other kind of immigration matter, so please call us if you have any other immigration case that needs our expertise.
Chapman Law Firm
August 26, 2020