As published in the Immigration Daily on June 1, 2021

New students from China to be admitted, and guidance for distance learning:

Under the regional COVID ban on China, foreign students from China have been generally barred unless able to show that they have been in a non-banned country for 14 days before entry into the US. That policy changed on  April 26, 2021, with the Department of State announcement that National Interest Exceptions (NIE’s) would be given to all students including those from China with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic program starting August 1, 2021 or later, and that they would not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel; that they may enter the US no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies. Students seeking to apply for new visas who are found to be otherwise qualified will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel. In other related news, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent a message to all SEVIS users on 4/26/21 that it is extending the guidance in March 2020 for the 2021-22 academic year. That guidance allowed schools and students to engage in distance learning in excess of regulatory limits and applied to nonimmigrant students actively enrolled at a US school on March 9, 2020, who were otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status. They can count online classes toward a full course of study in excess of regulatory limits.

EOIR re-openings:

News from The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) that non-detained cases will begin to be heard in a number of immigration courts that were previously closed including New York City on July 6, which is a Tuesday since July 5 is the official day for holiday as Independence Day falls on Sunday. The notice says that all immigration courts will be holding limited hearings, applying relevant federal best practices relating to communicable disease. In the recent past, hearing notices for non-detained in closed courts could generally be put aside as EOIR announced postponement dates past the calendar dates for hearings. Now affected attorneys and respondents must pay more attention to the notices of hearing.

H-1B registrations for 2021 an all-time high:

News from the DealBook newsletter in The New York Times on May 10, 2021, revealed that H-1B registrations for this year reached approximately 308,000 applicants for the 85,000 allotted slots. This is a record high as 2019 produced approximately 201,000 applicants and 2020 275,000. It also means that organizations had about a 1 in 4 chance of having their candidates selected. So if you as the lawyer or petitioning organization were puzzled as to why more of your applicants were not selected, that is the reason. The remedy would apparently be to allocate more H-1B numbers, especially as it has been shown that most H-1B beneficiaries do not take away available jobs from US workers (see Innova Solutions v. Baran, No. 19-16849 (9th Cir. 2020)), but such will not likely be happening in a Biden administration attuned to the cries of labor unions and the general lack of sympathy in Congress. The best solution for organizations not interested in off-shoring professional type H-IB work would probably be to not rely on getting new blood every year and to incentivize their current H-1B staff to remain through such means as sponsoring them for permanent residence and giving occasional raises consistent with performance along with other perks and accommodations.

SSA no match letters nixed:

Good news is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will no longer be sending out no match letters to employers which caused them to be the subject of investigation and to fire employees who could not quickly document their immigration status. In a recent notice, SSA laid out the history that it began mailing no match letters in March 2019 to employers identified as having at least one name and combination submitted on W-2s that did not match SSA records, and that “At present, we are discontinuing EDCOR [Educational Correspondence to Employers] letters to focus on making it a better, easier, more convenient experience for employers to report wages electronically.” To ICE, receipt of the notification created an affirmative duty to investigate the discrepancy and that failure to act was constructive knowledge of unauthorized employment. The no match letter policy was further criticized for the inaccuracy of SSA records.

Entrepreneur parole program returns:

More good news that Biden is bringing back the entrepreneur parole program – what some people mistakenly called the EB-6 program and that the past USCIS head L. Francis Cissna boasted to Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa in April 2018 that USCIS had not approved any parole requests by that time. The program was first introduced in January 2017 in regulatory form to take effect in July 2017, but disfavored by the Trump Administration and DHS moved in a 2018 notice of proposed rulemaking to remove it entirely, yet the removal was never completed. Current Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud said that “Immigrants in the United States have a long history of entrepreneurship, hard work, and creativity, and their contributions to this nation are incredibly valuable. The international entrepreneur parole program goes hand-in-hand with our nation’s spirit of welcoming entrepreneurship and USCIS encourages those who are eligible to take advantage of the program.” Under the rule, DHS may use its parole authority to grant a period of authorized stay to foreign entrepreneurs who demonstrate that their presence in the US would provide a significant public benefit through their business venture and that they merit a favorable exercise of discretion. Entrepreneurs granted parole would be eligible to work only for their start-up businesses. Dependent family members would also be eligible for parole, but not work privileges. The parole can be granted for up to three entrepreneurs per startup entity.

Applicants would have to demonstrate that they possess a substantial ownership interest in a startup entity created within the past five years in the US that has substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation; have a central and active role in the start of entities such that they are well-positioned to substantially assist with the growth and success of the business; and that they will provide a significant public benefit in the US based on their role as an entrepreneur of the start-up entity by showing either that the start-up entity has received a significant investment of capital from certain qualified US investors with established records of successful investments; or the start-up entity has received significant awards or grants for economic development, research and development, or job creation (or other types of grants rewards typically given to start-up entities) from federal, state, or local government entities that regularly provide such awards or grants to start-up entities; or they partially meet either or both of the previous two requirements and provide additional reliable and compelling evidence of the start-up entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation. An entrepreneur qualifying through investment by qualified US investors must have received $250,000 within the 18 month period prior to filing the application for parole; if through government entities $100,000 in grants or awards; and if only partially satisfying one of the two above conditions, can provide other reliable and compelling evidence of the start-up entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

Expanded biometric rule nixed:

There was an announcement on Friday, May 7, 2021, that USCIS is withdrawing the proposed rule that would have everybody take biometrics and even enhanced biometrics including eye scans and some DNA tests for not only applicants, but for petitioners and those who are providing affidavits of support. The notice from USCIS said that the rule “would have expanded department authorities and requirements for collecting biometrics by removing age restrictions; requiring submission of biometrics for every applicant, petitioner, sponsor, beneficiary, or other individual filing for or associated with any immigration or naturalization benefit or request unless DHS waives or exempts the biometrics requirement…”

Biden backup plan for legalization:

It appears that the Democrats are considering pushing through a revised immigration package through budget reconciliation if they cannot get the 60 votes in the Senate. Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. In the Senate, reconciliation bills are not subject to filibuster and the scope of amendments is limited, giving this process real advantages for enacting controversial budget and tax measures. The Congressional Budget Act permits using reconciliation for legislation that changes spending, revenues, and the federal debt limit. This backup plan would legalize about 8 million or fewer undocumented immigrants according to The New York Times reporting on May 4, 2021. They would include legal status to Dreamers, those granted TPS, and close to 1 million farmworkers. Nancy Pelosi last month endorsed the idea of using reconciliation citing the “budget impacts of immigration in our country”, and Sen. Patty Murphy of Washington, the number three Democrat came out in favor of this approach. Reconciliation requires agreement by the parliamentarian, Elizabeth McDonough, that the policy change would have a budgetary impact that is more than merely incidental. Researchers have found past precedents in which changes to immigration policy were allowed as part of a budget reconciliation package, and they are tallying up the budgetary effects of the immigration proposals which total in the tens of billions. Republicans are of course not agreeing to anything on immigration saying that Biden needs to fix what is happening at the border before anyone can do anything meaningful on immigration. The contemplated moved by Democrats is dicey, but if successful would accomplish many of Mr. Biden’s immigration goals.

Tips in dealing with the NVC:

The below are a couple of pointers from the Department of State from the AILA Virtual Spring Conference on 4/16/21.

  • To expedite interviews for emergency cases, make the request through the When NVC receives the request, it will reach out to the post where consular officers will determine if the case qualifies. The cases must be current, at the NVC, and the case parties must have good articulated reasons for the request. Requesters should receive an automated request answer and timeframe for response. Repeated inquiry can slow down the process.
  • What do you do when documents are not available or unobtainable? At the NVC, click “document unavailable” with an explanation in the upload space provided to send the case to the documentarily completed stage. The party should be able to later upload the document to CEAC.