Department of State COVID-Related Guidance on Student Visas
On March 9, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) instituted a temporary exemption regarding the online study policy for the 2020 spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted F and M students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining a full course of study to maintain their F-1 and M-1 nonimmigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency.
Thereafter, on July 6, 2020, SEVP announced that international students could not take a full online course load from schools operating entirely online and remain in lawful F-1 status in the United States. On July 14, 2020, as a result of litigation, DHS agreed to fully rescind the July 6, 2020 ICE guidance, July 7, 2020 Frequently Asked Questions and all implementing guidance, leaving the March 2020 Guidance as the status quo.
The current policy: Nonimmigrant students who were actively enrolled at a U.S. school on March 9, 2020 and are otherwise complying with the terms of their nonimmigrant status may comply with the March 2020 guidance and thereby be exempted to take online instruction. Nonimmigrant students in ‘new’ or ‘initial’ status after March 9 will not be able to enter the U.S. to enroll in a U.S. school as a nonimmigrant student for the fall term to pursue a full course of study that is 100% online. Additionally, designated school officials should not issue a Form I-20 to a nonimmigrant student in new or initial status who is outside of the U.S. and plans to take classes at an SEVP-certified educational institution fully online.
Contact Poarch Thompson Law if you have questions about how these policies affect your enrollment.
The Department of State issued recent Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are available on their website at: DOS Guidance for Students 2020 (FAQs). Check for updates to this policy. Content of the FAQs current through August 11, 2020 is included below:
1. Do students at universities doing hybrid virtual / in person programs need to obtain a new I-20 form?
Student visa applicants should bring their latest I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by their university to their visa interview. International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling, and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.
2. Do students who already have valid visas but are outside of the United States need a new visa before they attempt to travel to the United States?
No, students with valid visas do not need to apply for a new visa before traveling to the United States to resume their studies. However, students may still be subject to travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.
3. Will a student enrolling for the first time in Fall 2020 (i.e. the student was not enrolled as of March 9, 2020) qualify for a student visa if their coursework is 100% online?
Only students who have a valid I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility) issued by their university may qualify for an F or M student visa. Students and the schools that admit them should follow SEVP guidance. For questions about compliance with SEVP guidance and SEVIS, we refer you to ICE. Their website is here: https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus.
International students must obtain the appropriate visa before traveling, and may still be subject to visa processing and travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Students should check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate for information specific to their country.
4. Is global visa processing still suspended? How will students make it to campus on time for the fall semester if visa services are suspended in so many locations?
U.S. embassies and consulates recently began a phased resumption of routine visa services. The resumption of routine services is on a post-by-post basis, in accordance with the State Department’s Diplomacy Strong framework for safely returning our workforce to Department facilities.
Student visas are a high priority, and we will make every effort to assist student visa applicants in a timely fashion, while keeping our staff and customers safe.
Applicants with an urgent matter who need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided on their nearest embassy or consulate’s website to request an emergency appointment.
Practitioners nationally have reported significant delays in receiving receipt notices form USCIS service centers after properly filing applications. While the canceled check sent with the application may provide evidence of receipt and a possible file number, it is critical to be able to demonstrate when the application was mailed and received by using some form of return receipt or delivery confirmation.
Currently, the delays are affecting Form I-751, Petitions to Remove Conditions (filed two years after the green card issued in a marriage case in which the individuals were married less than two years at the time of adjudication) and Form I-589 for asylum.
Poarch Thompson Law will keep you updated on the latest developments in U.S. immigration law.
As we already published, USCIS published a Final Rule on August 3 significantly altering certain commonly used immigration applications
Key takeaways from the final rule include (but are not limited to):
Adjustment of Status – Family & Employment. The fees for adjustment of status, a commonly used application for family and employment based green cards, effectively doubled, because USCIS unbundled the fees for work authorization (I-765, effective October 2, the fee will be $550) and travel authorization (I-131, effective October 1, the fee will be $590) resulting in a total cost for the three applications of $2270, including biometrics. Previously, when bundled, the fee was $1225 (including previous biometrics fee of $85).
U Visa Adjustment of Status. Additionally, U Visa Adjustment applicants will pay a fee of $1680 including work authorization. If they require a waiver of unlawful presence, the waiver application will now be $1400.
Asylum Applications & Asylum Adjustment of Status. The final rule establishes a $50 filing fee for applications for asylum (Form I-589) which, if paid and asylum is granted, will result in a $50 reduction in the fee for adjustment of status (Form I-485).
Employment-Based Nonimmigrant Petitions. The new fee schedule creates separate fees and forms for each visa classification filed on Form I-129, with fees increasing as much as 75% for an L-1 petition. Fees that are expected to increase include:
|I-129 for H3 / E / TN / P / Q / R||$695||Increase of $235|
|I-129 for H1B Visas||$555||Increase of $95|
|I-129 for L Visas||$805||Increase of $345|
|I-129 for O Visas||$705||Increase of $245|
*These fees do not reflect changes where applicable to ACWIA / Fraud Prevention Fees.
Application for Employment Authorization. For initial applications or renewals, USCIS will increase in fee from $410 to $550. For asylum applicants for work authorization, TPS applicants, and applicants for certain benefits from EOIR, USCIS will also charge a $30 fee for biometrics.
Naturalization. The filing fee for a Form N-400 will increase 83% from to $640 to $1,170. The final rule eliminates the reduced Form N-400 fee option for certain applicants.
Premium Processing. The final rule lengthens the time frame for USCIS to take an adjudicative action on petitions filed with a request for premium processing from 15 calendar days to 15 business days.
Fee Waivers. The availability of fee waivers has been significantly limited by USCIS. We will be contacting those clients who will be affected by this rule directly.
Poarch Thompson advises that clients act quickly to complete pending matters to ensure that their filings can be submitted prior to the fee increase on October 2, 2020.
On August 3, 2020, USCIS published a Final Rule altering the USCIS fee schedule by a weighted average increase of 20 percent, including adding a new fee for asylum applications, establishing multiple fees for nonimmigrant worker petitions, and limiting the number of beneficiaries for certain forms. The rule also removes certain fee exemptions, changes fee waiver requirements, alters premium processing time limits, and modifies certain intercountry adoption processing.
Poarch Thompson advises that clients act quickly to complete pending matters to ensure that their filings can be submitted prior to the fee increase on October 2, 2020.
Additionally, USCIS will post new and revised forms online 30 days before the new rule goes into effect. These forms include:
USCIS will accept both new and previous versions of the forms for a 60 day grace period as long as payment of the new, correct fees accompanies the forms.
|Immigration Form||Current Fee||New Fee||Change ($)|
|I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card (online filing)||$455||$405||-$50|
|I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card (paper filing)||$455||$415||-$40|
|I-102 Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document||$445||$485||$40|
|I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant worker||$460||N/A||N/A|
|I-129CW, I-129E&TN, and I-129MISC||$460||$695||$235|
|I-129H2A – Named Beneficiaries||$460||$850||$390|
|I-129H2B – Named Beneficiaries||$460||$715||$255|
|I-129H2A – Unnamed Beneficiaries||$460||$415||-$45|
|I-129H2B – Unnamed Beneficiaries||$460||$385||-$75|
|I-129F Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)||$535||$510||-$25|
|I-130 Petition for Alien Relative (online filing)||$535||$550||$15|
|I-130 Petition for Alien Relative (paper filing)||$535||$560||$25|
|I-131 Application for Travel Document||$575||$590||$15|
|I-131 Refugee Travel Document for an individual age 16 or older||$135||$145||$10|
|I-131 Refugee Travel Document for a child under the age of 16||$105||$115||$10|
|I-131A Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation)||$575||$1,010||$435|
|I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker||$700||$555||-$145|
|I-191 Application for Relief Under Former Section 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)||$930||$790||-$140|
|I-192 Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant (CBP)||$585||$1,400||$815|
|I-192 Application for Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant (USCIS)||$930||$1,400||$470|
|I-193 Application for Waiver of Passport and/or Visa||$585||$2,790||$2,205|
|I-212 Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission into the U.S. After Deportation or Removal||$930||$1,050||$120|
|I-290B Notice of Appeal or Motion||$675||$700||$25|
|I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant||$435||$450||$15|
|I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status||$1,140||$1,130||-$10|
|I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (certain applicants under the age of 14 years)||$750||$1,130||$380|
|I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor||$3,675||$4,010||$335|
|I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (online filing)||$370||$390||$20|
|I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (paper filing)||$370||$400||$30|
|I-589 Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal||$0||$50||$50|
|I-600/600A Adoption Petitions and Applications||$775||$805||$30|
|I-600A Supplement 3 Request for Action on Approved Form I-600A||N/A||$400||N/A|
|I-601 Application for Waiver of Ground of Excludability||$930||$1,010||$80|
|I-601A Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver||$630||$960||$330|
|I-612 Application for Waiver of the Foreign Residence Requirement (Under Section 212(e) of the INA, as Amended)||$930||$515||-$415|
|I-687 Application for Status as a Temporary Resident||$1,130||$1,130||$0|
|I-690 Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility||$715||$765||$50|
|I-694 Notice of Appeal of Decision||$890||$715||-$175|
|I-698 Application to Adjust Status from Temporary to Permanent Resident (Under Section 245A of the INA)||$1,670||$1,615||-$55|
|I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence||$595||$760||$165|
|I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (Non-DACA)||$410||$550||$140|
|I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (DACA only)||$410||$410||$0|
|I-800/800A Adoption Petitions and Applications||$775||$805||$30|
|I-800A Supplement 3 Request for Action on Approved Form I-800A||$385||$400||$15|
|I-817 Application for Family Unity Benefits||$600||$590||-$10|
|I-824 Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition||$465||$495||$30|
|I-829 Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions||$3,750||$3,900||$150|
|I-881 Application for Suspension of Deportation||$285||$1,810||$1,525|
|I-881 Application for Special Rule Cancellation of Removal||$570||$1,810||$1,240|
|I-910 Application for Civil Surgeon Designation||$785||$635||-$150|
|I-924 Application For Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program||$17,795||$17,795||$0|
|I-924A Annual Certification of Regional Center||$3,035||$4,465||$1,430|
|I-929 Petition for Qualifying Family Member of a U-1 Nonimmigran||$230||$1,485||$1,255|
|N-300 Application to File Declaration of Intention||$270||$1,305||$1,035|
|N-336 Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (online filing)||$700||$1,725||$1,025|
|N-336 Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (paper filing)||$700||$1,735||$1,035|
|N-400 Application for Naturalization (online filing)||$640||$1,160||$520|
|N-400 Application for Naturalization (paper filing)||$640||$1,170||$530|
|N-400 Application for Naturalization (paper filing)||$320||$1,170||$850|
|N-470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes||$355||$1,585||$1,230|
|N-565 Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document (online filing)||$555||$535||-$20|
|N-565 Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document (paper filing)||$555||$545||-$10|
|N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship (online filing)||$1,170||$990||-$180|
|N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship (paper filing)||$1,170||$1,000||-$170|
|N-600K Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate (online filing)||$1,170||$935||-$235|
|N-600K Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate (paper filing)||$1,170||$945||-$225|
|USCIS Immigrant Fee||$220||$190||-$30|
|Biometric Services (Non-DACA)||$85||$30||-$55|
|Biometric Services (DACA only)||$85||$85||$0|
|G-1041 Genealogy Index Search Request (online filing)||$65||$160||$95|
|G-1041 Genealogy Index Search Request (paper filing)||$65||$170||$105|
|G-1041A Genealogy Records Request (online filing)||$65||$255||$190|
|G-1041A Genealogy Records Request (paper filing)||$65||$265||$200|
The Migration Policy Institute recently issued a report on how the anticipated USCIS furlough of more the 70% of its workers, scheduled to commence August 30, 2020, will impact current immigration processing. (See Impending USCIS Furloughs Will Contribute to Historic Drop in US Immigration Levels).
The Background. Late in July, USCIS agreed to postpone the furloughs of more than 13,000 USCIS employees from August 3 until August 31. The $1.2 billion emergency funding request made by USCIS to Congress in May 2020 was to sustain the agency through the end of the calendar year (December 2020), not just the fiscal year (October 2020). USCIS based their request on the extremely low receipts they received at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and assumed that receipts would remain steady at that low rate through the end of the fiscal year. However, their calculations were wrong and receipts have been higher than predicted. While the agency may have surplus for the fiscal year, they anticipate a shortfall for the calendar year of around 8%.
Anticipated Impact. The anticipated agency furloughs will increase current COVID delays and effectively halt U.S. immigration, negatively impacting families, U.S. businesses, educational institutions, medical facilities, and churches.
The furlough would effectively shut USCIS down, resulting in even more egregious delays in naturalization filings, immigrant visa filings, non-immigrant visa filings, changes of status applications, and other benefits.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, “for each month the USCIS furlough lasts, 75,000 applications for various immigration benefits will not be processed.” Migration Information Source (Migration Policy Institute): Impending USCIS Furloughs Will Contribute to a Historic Drop in U.S. Immigration Levels – July 28, 2020.
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On July 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York enjoined the government from enforcing, applying, implementing, or treating as effective, the USCIS Final Rule on Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds (84 FR 41292, 8/14/19) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same injunction applies to the Department of State’s revision of the Foreign Affairs Manual (see DOS Interim Final Rule on Visa Ineligibility on Public Charge Grounds (84 FR 54996, 10/11/19)
The court also issued a separate order granting an injunction that enjoins the government from implementing, or taking any actions to enforce or apply, the 2018 FAM Revisions, the DOS Interim Final Rule on Visa Ineligibility on Public Charge Grounds (84 FR 54996, 10/11/19), or the President’s October 4, 2019 Proclamation, Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the United States Healthcare System in Order to Protect the Availability of Healthcare Benefits for Americans (84 FR 53991, 10/9/19) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On July 31, 2020, USCIS acknowledged that as long as the July 29,2020, SDNY decision is in effect, “USCIS will apply the 1999 public charge guidance that was in place before the Public Charge Rule was implemented on Feb. 24, 2020.”
This change applies to any application or petition for extension of nonimmigrant stay or change of nonimmigrant status on or after July 29, 2020, consistent with regulations in place before the Public Charge Rule was implemented.
The court’s injunctions are nationwide.
USCIS will not consider any information provided by an applicant or petitioner that relates to the Public Charge Rule, including information provided on the Form I-944, or information on the receipt of public benefits in Part 5 on Form I-539, Part 3 on Form I-539A or Part 6 on Form I-129. Applicants and petitioners whose applications or petitions are postmarked on or after July 29, 2020, should not include the Form I-944 or provide information about the receipt of public benefits on Form I-485, Form I-129, or Form I-539/I-539A.