The landscape of U.S. immigration policies has undergone significant changes in recent times, impacting families seeking to navigate the complex system.
In this article, we will explore some of the key updates and modifications in immigration policies that directly affect families. It is important to stay informed about these changes to understand the options and opportunities available.
Family-based immigration is a process that enables U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor certain family members. This allows said family member to lawfully enter the country and eventually become permanent residents of the United States.
The most recent changes have focused on reducing backlogs, streamlining processes, and promoting family reunification. However, there are some changes that occur that also create obstacles for applicants. Some of the changes affecting family-based immigration include:
RETROGRESSION IN THE VISA BULLETIN: The Visa Bulletin is a crucial monthly publication released by the US Department of State that provides information on the availability of immigrant visas for foreign nationals seeking to immigrate to the United States. It helps determine an individual's eligibility to apply for a green card based on their priority date (date of filing). This system exists because Congress sets limits on the number of immigrant visas that can be issued each year. When the demand exceeds the supply of visas in a particular category or country a backlog (wait time) occurs. A visa retrogression occurs when the cut-off dates that determine visa availability move backward instead of forward, thereby leading to further delays or temporary suspension of visa issuance. The retrogression has currently impacted India the most. More information on this is here and here.
EXPEDITED ADJUDICATION: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has implemented measures to reduce processing times for family-sponsored applications. In addition to USCIS establishing new internal cycle time goals in March 2022, they also have procedures to expedite adjudication. USCIS reviews each expedited request individually and may require additional documents to support your request. They have the sole discretion to decide whether to accommodate your request.
Immigrant Visa interviews conducted by the Department of State may also be expedited due to emergencies assessed on a case-by-case basis. If the case is still at the National Visa Center (NVC), a request for an expedited appointment may be made by writing the NVC directly via their Public Inquiry Form.
If the case is at the U.S. Embassy overseas, a request for an expedited appointment may be made by completing the Embassy’s Immigrant Visa Contact Form or by completing the Embassy’s unique instructions for submitting an expedited request.
NEW SERVICE CENTER: USCIS has opened a new service center called the Humanitarian, Adjustment, Removing Conditions, and Travel Documents (HART) Service Center. It is the sixth service center within the Service Center Operations directorate and the first to focus on humanitarian and other workload cases. HART aims to improve the quality and efficiency of processing humanitarian cases, benefiting vulnerable noncitizens.
The center will initially operate as a hybrid service center with virtual capabilities, eventually transitioning to a fully virtual center without a physical location. This change is a response to feedback from stakeholders and community groups, with a focus on enhancing service and collaboration.
INTERVIEW WAIVERS: To eliminate some of the backlog and long adjudication times, the government has waived in-person interviews for certain applicants. Some of the applicants who may have an interview waived are as follows:
NON-IMMIGRANT VISAS: In December 2022, the Secretary of State, in agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, extended the authority for consular officers to waive the in-person interview requirement for specific nonimmigrant visa categories. This extension is in effect until December 31, 2023.
Under these authorities, consular officers have the discretion to waive the visa interview for certain H-2 (temporary workers), F, M, and academic J visa applicants (students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists), and certain temporary workers with approved individual petitions (H-1, H-3, H-4, L, O, P, and Q visa applicants) who meet certain conditions. These conditions include applying for a visa in their country of nationality or residence and meeting specific eligibility criteria.
CONDITIONAL RESIDENTS: Additionally, the USCIS announced a new policy that adopts a risk-based approach for waiving interviews for conditional permanent residents (CPRs) who are applying to remove the conditions on their permanent resident status. This update aims to improve efficiency, reduce processing times, and better allocate USCIS resources. Under the new policy, officers can waive the interview if they find sufficient evidence of a genuine marriage, no indication of fraud, no complex issues to resolve, and no criminal history that would make the CPR removable.
CPRs receive conditional status based on a marriage less than two years old and must file a Form I-751 to remove the conditions within 90 days before the two-year anniversary. For more information, visit the USCIS website or social media accounts.
MARRIAGE-BASED ADJUSTMENT STATUS: USCIS is currently approving Adjustment of Status Applications filed on the basis of a bona fide marriage to a U.S. citizen or law permanent resident without scheduling an interview in most cases. Typically, an applicant for Adjustment of Status based on marriage and his or her spouse must appear before an immigration officer for a scheduled interview.
During the interview, officers review the application for Adjustment of Status and ask the spouses various questions to assess eligibility. Following a successful interview, a green card would be approved and issued. That has been the process for many years. However, most recently, the green card has been approved without an interview in most cases.
The interview being waived in this context is believed to be an attempt to improve the processing times and resulting backlogs and improve efficiency in cases where fraud or ineligibility is not detected. You can learn more about how you can improve the chances of having your marriage-based green card waived here.
Changes to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
The DACA program, which provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for individuals who arrived in the U.S. as children, has experienced updates that impact eligible family members. Key changes include:
Expansion of DACA Program: The Biden administration has proposed expanding the DACA program to provide relief to a broader range of individuals. This includes those who arrived in the U.S. as children but did not meet the previous age and arrival date requirements. Under Biden's plan, DACA recipients, who are primarily high school graduates from their home countries, will have the opportunity to enroll in a health plan through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act.
The DACA program was initially implemented in 2012 as an executive order by the Obama administration to provide relief to undocumented young adults, often referred to as Dreamers, allowing them to work and study in the U.S. without the fear of deportation.
However, the program faced legal challenges during the Trump administration, and new registrations were halted in July 2021 due to an ongoing lawsuit filed by Texas and other Republican-led states.
Removal of Travel Restrictions: DACA recipients are now allowed to travel outside the United States. It must be for educational, authorized work, or humanitarian purposes through a process called Advance Parole.
New Process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans: The U.S. government has made changes to the review process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans seeking advance travel authorization. Up to 30,000 noncitizens per month may be granted parole on a case-by-case basis under these processes. Starting from May 17, 2023, a new review process will be implemented.
Under the updated process, there will be a random selection of approximately half of the monthly total of Forms I-134A, the Online Request to be a Supporter, and the Declaration of Financial Support, for review, regardless of the filing date. The other half of the forms will be reviewed based on the submission date, following a first-in, first-out approach. This ensures that all beneficiaries of Form I-134A have a fair and equal chance to move forward in the process and seek advance travel authorization.
Pathways for Undocumented Parents of U.S. Citizen Children
Efforts have been made to address the immigration status of undocumented parents who have U.S. citizen children. Although no comprehensive legislation has been passed, some initiatives offer potential relief:
Consideration of Prosecutorial Discretion: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued guidance instructing enforcement officials to exercise discretion in cases involving parents or guardians of minor children, focusing on individuals who pose a national security or public safety threat.
By implementing this guidance, ICE aims to balance enforcement actions with humanitarian concerns, recognizing the potential impact on families and children. It acknowledges that detaining or removing parents or guardians can have significant consequences for the well-being and stability of minor children.
Under this guidance, enforcement officials will take into account various factors, including national security and public safety risks, when making decisions regarding the initiation, continuation, or termination of enforcement actions. This approach enables ICE to prioritize cases that present significant concerns while allowing for discretion and flexibility in cases involving parents or guardians of minor children.
It is important to note that while this guidance emphasizes prosecutorial discretion, it does not guarantee a specific outcome in individual cases.
Enforcement Priorities: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has outlined revised enforcement priorities, emphasizing the importance of considering the impact of immigration enforcement actions on families, including those with U.S. citizen children.
Family Reunification Efforts
The U.S. government has taken steps to address family separations and promote reunification:
Task Force on Family Reunification: In response to family separations at the border, a task force has been established to facilitate the identification, reunification, and support of families affected by the previous administration's policies.
To ensure success when undergoing any legal immigration process It is crucial to consult with an immigration attorney or a reputable immigration organization for personalized guidance based on individual circumstances.
We can provide up-to-date information on current policies, eligibility criteria, and potential options for family-based immigration.
Remember, immigration policies are subject to change constantly. It is essential to stay informed and seek professional advice to navigate properly the legal immigration system and understand the best path for your situation. Let the specialists handle that and keep up to date with everything.
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