Immigration News

USCIS Announces Revised Procedures for Determining Visa Availability for Applicants Waiting to File for Adjustment of Status

USCIS, in coordination with Department of State (DOS), is revising the procedures for determining visa availability for applicants waiting to file for employment-based or family-sponsored preference adjustment of status. The revised process will better align with procedures DOS uses for foreign nationals who seek to become U.S. permanent residents by applying for immigrant visas at U.S. consulates and embassies abroad.

This revised process will enhance DOS’s ability to more accurately predict overall immigrant visa demand and determine the cut-off dates for visa issuance published in the Visa Bulletin. This will help ensure that the maximum number of immigrant visas are issued annually as intended by Congress, and minimize month-to-month fluctuations in Visa Bulletin final action dates.

The Visa Bulletin revisions implement November 2014 executive actions on immigration announced by President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson, as detailed in the White House report, Modernizing and Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st century, issued in July 2015.
What is Changing
Two charts per visa preference category will be posted in the DOS Visa Bulletin:

Application Final Action Dates (dates when visas may finally be issued); and
Dates for Filing Applications (earliest dates when applicants may be able to apply).

Each month, in coordination with DOS, USCIS will monitor visa numbers and post the relevant DOS Visa Bulletin chart. Applicants can use the charts to determine when to file their Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

To determine whether additional visas are available, USCIS will compare the number of visas available for the remainder of the fiscal year with:

Documentarily qualified visa applicants reported by DOS;
Pending adjustment of status applications reported by USCIS; and
Historical drop off rate (for example, denials, withdrawals, abandonments).

About the Visa Bulletin
DOS publishes current immigrant visa […]

DHS Announces Temporary Protected Status for Yemen

DHS Announces Temporary Protected Status Designation for Yemen
Release Date: September 03, 2015

WASHINGTON—Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced his decision to designate Yemen for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months due to the ongoing armed conflict within the country. Yemen is experiencing widespread conflict and a resulting severe humanitarian emergency, and requiring Yemeni nationals in the United States to return to Yemen would pose a serious threat to their personal safety. As a result of Yemen’s designation for TPS, eligible nationals of Yemen residing in the United States may apply for TPS with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Federal Register notice posted today provides details and procedures for applying for TPS.

The TPS designation for Yemen is effective September 3, 2015, and will be in effect through March 3, 2017. The designation means that, during the designated period, eligible nationals of Yemen (and people without nationality who last habitually resided in Yemen) who are approved for TPS will not be removed from the United States and may receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The 180-day TPS registration period begins today and runs through March 1, 2016.

To be eligible for TPS, applicants must demonstrate that they satisfy all eligibility criteria, including that they have been both “continuously physically present” and “continuously residing” in the United States since September 3, 2015. Applicants also undergo thorough security checks. Individuals with certain criminal records or who pose a threat to national security are not eligible for TPS. The eligibility requirements are fully described in the Federal Register notices and on the TPS Web page at

Applicants may request that USCIS waive any or all TPS-related fees based on inability to pay by filing Form I-912, Request for […]


Release Date: August 25, 2015

WASHINGTON—Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has extended Haiti’s designation for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for an additional 18 months. The extended designation is effective Jan. 23, 2016, through July 22, 2017.

Current TPS Haiti beneficiaries seeking to extend their TPS status must re-register during a 60-day period that runs from Aug. 25, 2015, through Oct. 26, 2015. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) encourages beneficiaries to re-register as soon as possible once the 60-day re-registration period begins. USCIS will not accept applications before Aug. 25, 2015.

The 18-month extension also allows TPS re-registrants to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Eligible TPS Haiti beneficiaries who re-register during the 60-day period and request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of July 22, 2017. USCIS recognizes that some re-registrants may not receive their new EADs until after their current EADs expire. Therefore, USCIS is automatically extending current TPS Haiti EADs bearing a Jan. 22, 2016, expiration date for an additional six months. These existing EADs are now valid through July 22, 2016.

Haiti was initially designated for TPS on Jan. 21, 2010, after a major earthquake devastated the country. Following consultations with other federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security has determined that current conditions in Haiti support extending the designation period for current TPS beneficiaries.

To re-register, current TPS beneficiaries must submit:

Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status (Re-registrants do not need to pay the Form I-821 application fee).
The biometric services fee (or a fee waiver request) if they are 14 years old or older.
Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, regardless of whether they want an EAD.
The Form I-765 application fee, or a fee waiver request, but only if […]

New DAPA and Expanded DACA Programs Placed on Hold by Court Order

On February 16, 2015, just two days before the new expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Expanded DACA) program was to begin, a U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting Expanded DACA, as well as the planned Deferred Action for Parents of American citizens and permanent residents (DAPA) program.  Announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014, the new DAPA program will permit qualified non-citizens who have been in the United States for at least 5 years, who do not have a serious criminal record, and who are parents of US citizens or permanent residents, to obtain employment authorization.  Similarly, the expanded DACA program will permit non-citizens who were brought to the United States prior to their 16th birthday, who have been in the United States since at least January 1, 2010, and who have graduated from high school, earned a GED, or are otherwise attending school, to obtain temporary employment authorization.  These programs will assist millions of hardworking people in the United States.

In opposition to these programs, 26 states, including Texas, sued the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to stop implementation of DAPA and Expanded DACA.  The preliminary injunction entered by the Court in Texas is NOT a final decision on whether the new programs are legal or within the President’s authority to initiate.  Rather, the Court decided that because of the importance of the issue and the potential cost to the State of Texas to issue driver’s licenses to beneficiaries of the program, DAPA and expanded DACA should not begin until after the Court decides the lawsuit.  In response, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will appeal the Court’s ruling.  So, for the moment, the […]

Why are Women and Children Detained after Fleeing Brutal Violence in Central America?

The rise of Transnational Criminal Organizations and powerful gangs across Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, coupled with weak, corrupt and ineffective governments in those three countries, has led to a nightmare scenario for women and children who are being murdered, raped and victimized on an unimaginable scale.  Desperate to find safety and refuge, women and children began fleeing in large numbers in the Spring of 2014, and many have come to the United States to seek protection – or in legal terms, Asylum.  In response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is attempting to discourage victims from leaving Central America by detaining women and children in large detention centers in the Southwest United States and then quickly deporting them back to Central America.

Throughout the summer and fall of last year volunteer immigration lawyers from across the country flocked to a remote makeshift detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to wage a legal battle against DHS to stop the mass deportation of refugees and help the women and children apply for asylum.  NELSON | SMITH, LLP sent one of its attorneys, partner, Philip Smith, to Artesia to help with the volunteer work. By December 2014, the volunteer lawyers had successfully helped hundreds of women and children escape deportation and gain their release from detention, and DHS quickly decided to close the detention camp in Artesia, New Mexico.  Sadly, the detention of women and children continues, and two giant detention facilities are being erected outside of San Antonio, Texas.

On February 4, 2015, the New York Times magazine decided to tell the story.  To learn more about this humanitarian crisis, please read:      The Shame of America’s Detention Camps


Expanded DACA Starts February 18, 2015

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been expanded by President Obama to allow Individuals with no lawful immigration status to receive deferred action and employment authorization for three years (up from two years), and allows qualifying individuals to be considered for DACA if they:

Entered the United States before the age of 16;
Have lived in the United States continuously since at least January 1, 2010, rather than the prior requirement of June 15, 2007;
Are of any age (removes the requirement to have been under 31 on June 15, 2012); and
Meet all of the other DACA guidelines.

USCIS will begin accepting applications for Expanded DACA on February 18, 2015 (Remember, USCIS will not accept requests for expanded DACA before that date.)

Expanded DACA is great news for those individuals who came to the country as children (under the age of 16) and were left out of the initial program merely because they were over the age of 31 on June 15, 2012.  The age limit has now been lifted!  Anyone, no matter their age, who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 — and meet all of the other requirements for DACA — may now qualify for deferred action for childhood arrivals.  Please keep in mind, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) has no affirmative start date – stay tuned!

Always speak to an experienced immigration attorney before applying for any immigration benefit.  At NELSON | SMITH, LLP, we often have clients who learn during their first consultation that they qualify for something even better than deferred action!

To learn more about the new Expanded DACA program, please click:  Expanded DACA

How Long Does it Take? USCIS Processing Times – as of January 2015

As immigration attorneys, one of the most common questions that we are asked is, “how long will it take?”  Apart from responding, “too long,” it is often exceedingly difficult for an attorney to predict how long it will take USCIS to adjudicate a particular application.  USCIS processing times vary widely based on a number of factors, including agency staffing and resource allocation, the aggregate numbers of applications received for processing, changing government priorities, and the legal and factual complexities of an individual application or petition. In order to provide some predictability to the process, USCIS periodically releases average processing times.

On January 20, 2015, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published information concerning average processing times for the most common types of immigrant and non-immigrant petitions and applications,which are adjudicated at the agency’s large regional service centers.  For the convenience of our readers, we are posting the most recent USCIS processing times reports here.  Please keep in mind — these are average processing times, and, in our experience, some petitions will be processed faster than these published times and others, unfortunately, will be slower.

EB-5 Processing Report

National Benefits Center Report

Vermont Service Center Report

Texas Service Center Report

Nebraska Service Center Report

California Service Center Report

Mexican Consulates in the United States will now issue Certified Copies of Birth Certificates

Beginning on January 15, 2015, all Mexican Consulates throughout the United States will issue certified copies of birth certificates to citizens of Mexico.  The cost to Mexican citizens to obtain a certified copy of his/her birth certificate will be $13.00.  The Mexican Consul announced that there will be no additional costs.  A citizen of Mexico will need to complete a short application and produce some type of official identification, like a Clave Unica de Registro de Poblacion (CURP).

Prior to January 15, 2015, in order to obtain a certified copy of a birth certificate issued in Mexico, a Mexican citizen would need to contact the local municipality in Mexico, which could sometimes be a long, slow and tedious process.  The issuance of certified copies of birth certificates by the Mexican Consulates located in the United States will be a tremendous service to Mexicans living here.  Often, for various immigration applications and services, a certified copy of the birth certificate is required.

To see the full announcement, please click:  Mexican Consulate birth certificates

Temporary Protected Status: Syria — Redesignated January 5, 2015

On January 5, 2015, USCIS extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for citizens of Syria through September 30, 2016, and – importantly – redesignated TPS eligibility for Syrians who have been physically present in the United States since January 5, 2015.  TPS status authorizes citizens from a designated country to remain in the United States and to receive employment authorization during the authorized time period.  Because of the ongoing war and security situation in Syria, USCIS determined it is not safe for Syrian citizens to attempt to return to that country at this time.

For Syrian citizens who already have TPS status, they are required to submit their renewal application between January 5, 2015 and March 6, 2015.  Current TPS holders from Syria who have employment authorization cards expiring in March 2015, will have their work authorization automatically extended until September 30, 2015, in order to give sufficient time to apply and receive the new employment authorization card.

For new TPS applications for citizens of Syria, the application must be submitted between January 5, 2015 and July 6, 2015.

For the USCIS official information about TPS for Syrians and the application requirements, please click:  Syria TPS

If you would like to discuss TPS status or have other questions for one of NELSON  SMITH,s immigration attorneys, please feel free to email us:


Why are so Many Children Fleeing Central America

On July 8, 2014, President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion dollars in emergency funding in an effort to address the overwhelming number of young, unaccompanied children arriving at the United States’ Southern border with Mexico.

These young children, numbering in the tens of thousands, are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, and are primarily fleeing drug cartels, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), endemic poverty and domestic violence.  Why now and why so many?  And what can United States immigration authorities do about it?  These are some of the difficult and complex questions which Congress, President Obama and Department of Homeland Security officials are trying to answer.

So far this fiscal year (October 1, 2013 – present), U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have detained over 50,000 unaccompanied minors at the border.  Of these, CBP says 29% of the children came from Guatemala, 24% of the children fled Honduras, 23% from Mexico, and 22% from El Salvador.  In other words, 97% of the unaccompanied children stopped at the border were from these four countries.

When children – or anyone else for that matter – arrives at the border and expresses a fear of returning to their home country, both U.S. and international law requires that they be screened to determine if they qualify for protection as refugees.  The primary definition of refugee comes from the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol.  According to U.S. law, a refugee is basically any person who is outside his/her home country and was either persecuted in the past or has a well founded fear of persecution in the future, on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

In addition […]