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2020 Recap: An Unpredictable Year In American Business Immigration

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By Laura Góes and Louanni Cesário

2020 was undoubtedly one of the most challenging years when it comes to immigration. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the everchanging worldwide scenario, new policies and proclamations were put in practice and change and innovation were constants in the U.S. business immigration field.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 48 policy changes were issued by the Trump Administration, affecting almost every facet of the U.S. immigration system. To better illustrate these changes, we present this “2020 RECAP”, a summary of the major policies and proclamations regarding U.S. Business Immigration in 2020:

1. PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATIONS SUSPENDING ENTRY OF ALIENS WHO WERE PHYSCALLY PRESENT IN CERTAIN COUNTRIES

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump signed five proclamations restricting travel to the United States of foreign nationals who were physically present in countries highly affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The first proclamation on this topic was implemented on January 31st, suspending entry of aliens who were physically present in China within the 14 days preceding entry. Throughout the first semester of 2020, four more proclamations were issued, adding Iran, the Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil to the “travel ban” list. As defined by the Presidential Proclamation 10041, these restrictions remain in effect and can only be terminated by the President.

For more information please see the full article on our website.

2. PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION SUSPENDING ENTRY OF ALIENS WHO PRESENT A RISK TO THE U.S. LABOR MARKET

Following the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump signed on April 22nd a Proclamation suspending entry into the United States of certain immigrants who present risk to the U.S. labor market during the economic recovery. Later, on June 22nd, the President signed Proclamation 10014, extending the previous suspension until December 31st and adding new restrictions regarding nonimmigrants. Accordingly, the entry of aliens in the categories H-1B, H-2B, J and L, their spouses and dependents are suspended until the end of 2020.

For more information regarding Proclamation 10014 and who is affected, please the full article on our website.

For frequently asked questions, please see the full article on our website.

3. SUSPENSION OF VISAS APPOINTMENTS

In March 2020, the Department of State temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates due to the COVID-19 pandemic – only applicants with urgent matters could request an emergency appointment. On July 14th, the U.S. Embassies and Consulates began a phase resumption of routine visas, taking in consideration each country’s COVID-19 outbreak scenario. In Brazil, the U.S. Embassy informs that they will resume all visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.

For more information, please see: https://br.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

4. ADMISSIBILITY OF DIGITAL AND ELETRONIC SIGNATURES

On April 3rd, the Department of Justice published a Policy Memorandum relaxing its signatures requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new policy allows attorneys to file documents in immigration courts with either wet, digital or electronic signatures and is applied to filings submitted electronically, by mail or in person.

For more information, please see: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1266411/download

5. SUSPENSION AND RESUMPTION OF PREMIUM PROCESSING

On March 20th, due to the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) temporarily suspended the premium processing services, that gives petitioners the possibility of having their petition processed within 15 days, for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions. On May 29th, USCIS announced that they would gradually resume premium processing, and, by now, the resumption is completed.

For more information, please see the full article on our website.

6. FLEXIBILITY ON RESPONDING TO AGENCY REQUESTS

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS announced on March 30 the 60-day flexibility for responding agency requests. Firstly, the flexibility applied only to Requests for Evidence (“RFE”) and Notices of Intent to Deny (“NOID”) dated between March 1st and May 1st, but was later extended to various USCIS requests dated until January 1st, 2021. Accordingly, USCIS will receive a response to certain requests and notices received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice before taking any action.

Please see below all documents who are subject to the flexibility:

  • Requests for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notices of Intent to Deny;
  • Notices of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notices of Intent to Rescind and Notices of Intent to Terminate regional investment centers;
  • Filing date requirements for Form N-336, Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the INA); or
  • Filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.

For more information, please see: https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-extends-flexibility-for-responding-to-agency-requests-1

7. INCREASMENT ON PREMIUM PROCESSING FEE

On October 16th, USCIS announced the incensement of the Premium Processing Fees. The increase is part of the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act and requires USCIS to establish and collect new Premium Processing fees and to use these additional funds for expansion purposes. The fee for H-1B, L-1 and some immigrant visas, were readjusted from US$ 1.440 to US$ 2.500, while the fees for H-2B and R-1 petitions increased from US$ 1.440 to US$ 1.500.

For more information, please see the full article on our website.

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