USCIS and State Department Take Action to Improve Access to Immigration Benefits

Gibney Anthony & Flaherty, LLP

Early in its tenure, the Biden Administration issued an executive order directing the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to  identify barriers that impede access to immigration benefits and the fair and efficient adjudications of these benefits. This week the agencies have taken important steps in furtherance of this directive.

On April 27, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the benefits agency within DHS, announced policy guidance  instructing officers to give deference to prior agency determinations when adjudicating extension requests involving the same parties and same material facts unless the initial decision contained a material error.   In essence, USCIS is reverting to guidance that was in place from 2004 until it was rescinded by the Trump Administration in 2017.  According deference to prior approvals will help to restore predictability and fairness to adjudications, benefiting employer sponsors and foreign national applicants alike. The policy will also help USCIS to better allocate resources, improve operational efficiency, and eliminate backlogs  as it moves to streamline adjudication of benefit applications.

On April 26, the State Department issued updated National Interest Exemption (NIE)  guidance for travelers restricted from entering the U.S. due to  their presence in China, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland stemming from the COVID-related regional travel bans covered by  Presidential Proclamations (PPs) 9984, 9992, and 10143.    Students with valid visas intending to begin or continue an academic program commencing August 1, 2021 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel.  They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies with a valid visa.  Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate. If qualified for student visa, they will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel. Ideally this action will facilitate the admission of foreign students and also allow the consulates to reallocate resources to help clear backlogs in issuing immigrant and nonimmigrant visas stemming from COVID-19, consular closures and regional and visa category travel bans.

Gibney will continue to monitor agency action and provide updates as they become available.  

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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