Visa Bulletin Changes

USCIS made big changes to the way they published the visa bulletin for October. This was big news. But the bigger news was that shortly after publishing the October visa bulletin, it was revised/reissued, effectively rolling back the dates of eligibility. It’s gotten so heated that a class action lawsuit has been filed. So let’s look at the facts that have lead us to this point.

As many of you may know, immigrant “green card” visa availability is backlogged for many family and employment-based categories, among others. As a result, the State Department publishes each month something called “the Visa Bulletin” which determines who may file the final application for their green card in the coming month. October is often the most anxiously awaited visa bulletin as that is the first month in the fiscal year and often contains important projections for the year ahead. As is common, the Visa Bulletin is published 2 or so weeks before it goes into effect.

On September 9 2015 the October visa bulletin was released with great fanfare. For the first time ever it added a new category which reflected the date on which an application could be filed, and this date was in many cases far in advance of the date on which the case could be adjudicated based on priority date. The result of this earlier filing date is that those applicants within this window could file and obtain interim benefits, including a work and travel permit as well as greater job mobility while their green card was pending.

This initiative is part of the President’s visa modernization efforts and was intended to not only benefit foreign nationals caught in lengthy immigration backlogs, but to allow the State Department to better predict future backlogs. Unfortunately, the great benefit it can have has been marred and greatly overshadowed by the fact that the October Visa Bulletin was thereafter “updated” on September 25 through the release of new Bulletin which rolled-back some of those filing dates.

The roll back has been attributed to further discussions and recalculations made by the government agencies involved trying to avert further problems in the future. It has been hard news on those whose priority dates are no longer current, especially considering that some percentage of them may have made significant efforts to prepare a case in anticipation of filing and obtaining interim benefits on October 1. As a result, the national immigration lawyers association of which I am a member, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has tried to have the earlier Visa Bulletin reinstated and some individual AILA members have also filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of those impacted.

The ramifications of the Revised Visa bulletin are upsetting. The would-be applicants and their lawyers acted in what many feel is justifiable reliance on the earlier visa bulletin only now to be thwarted. However, it is important to remember that this entire new two-date visa bulletin remains a significant benefit to many, not just in October, but in the future. It will provide greater job mobility and more interim benefits like work and travel permits earlier than they would have otherwise been available. Thus, in the big picture, it is still a win. We just need to get past this first hurdle to see it clearly. Check out the new visa bulletin structure, the October release/re-release, and more at
http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2016/visa-bulletin-for-october-2015.html
Stay tuned.

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Temporary Funding Secured for Important Immigration Programs

Three important immigration programs that were set to “sunset” or end on September 30, 2015, were part of the Continuing Appropriations Act that President Obama signed on 9/30/2015. These programs, including the Conrad 30 program for foreign physicians, Religious Worker programs, and the EB-5 investor program, have been extended and funded through December 11, 2015.

Diversity Visa (DV 2017) Now Open

Between October 1, 2015 and November 3, 2015 the US Department of State will accept electronic submissions for the DV-2017. Applicants must be from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. Those who are randomly selected may be eligible for one of 50,000 diversity visa green cards. There is no cost for the program, but requirements are rigid and it is critical to fill in your application accurately. See who is eligible and details on the application at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov.

Happy Fall!

Pardon our sabbatical, but it’s been a bit of slow summer for immigration news.

Overall, visa appointment delays at consulates worldwide early in the summer continued to delay cases as the consulates tried to catch up, this combined with reduced summer holiday staffing at many consulates and the desire of many foreign nationals in the US to travel and obtain a visa during the summer meant frustrations for many. This abated by summer’s end though and students and professors seeking to enter by September and H-1B workers coming for October seemed to not be too severely impacted.

Family detention facilities on the Southern border continued to make immigration headlines with their poor conditions, long waits, and limited access to counsel. Immigration attorneys from around the country, including several funded by my local New England chapter, travelled and provided much needed legal assistance during the summer.

It has also been sobering to see the headlines out of Europe on the vast numbers of people seeking refuge in the European Union. As many smaller and less economically advantaged countries there struggled to cope with this flood of displaced persons, it was a stark reminder that the United States’ struggles to formulate immigration policy in the face of large population displacements by politics and poverty are not unique.

Amidst these global issues, our government has struggled to find a middle ground which would allow them to fund necessary federal programs and avert a shutdown. Earlier this week a continuing resolution was signed by the President which will fund the government (including numerous immigration programs and departments) through mid-December. As Speaker Boehner departs, we all are anxious about what these funding negotiations will look like again come December. Stay tuned.

By far the biggest newsmaker going into the fall was what has now been termed the “visa bulletin debacle”. In attempts to assist foreign nationals waiting in lengthy visa bulletin lines, the government announced their intention to allow a large number of individuals to file applications early, only to “roll back” the eligibility dates after further recalculation. Further details on this “debacle” can be found in our separate post.

Keep tuned in for further updates as the fall progresses and thanks for reading!