USCIS Suspending Appointments on January 19 and January 20

USCIS has announced that it will suspend all in-person services at local field offices, application support centers and asylum offices on January 19 and January 20. This is due to events surrounding the presidential inauguration. All federal agencies will be closed on Monday, January 18, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. USCIS will reschedule all naturalization ceremonies, interviews, and appointments set for January 19 and 20, and inform affected individuals. All applicants with biometric appointments scheduled for these days should receive a new appointment notice within three weeks.

Termination of COVID-19 Travel Bans: Brazil, Schengen Countries, UK, Ireland

On January 18, 2021, the Trump Administration issued a Proclamation terminating the COVID-19 entry bans for travelers entering from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and the European Schengen countries effective January 26, 2021. The restrictions however will remain in place for China and Iran due to their failure to cooperate and share accurate information with the United States regarding the spread of the virus. This proclamation was issued after the CDC’s determination to require COVID-19 testing for anyone entering the U.S. (see below).

However, after the release of the Proclamation, President-Elect Biden’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated that on the advice of their medical team, Biden did not intent to lift the restrictions on January 26. We will provide further updates as information develops with regard to these COVID travel bans.

Mandatory COVID-19 Testing for International Travelers

On January 12, 2021, the CDC released a statement expanding the negative COVID-19 test requirement to all air passengers entering the United States. Starting January 26, 2021, all airline passengers boarding flights to the U.S. from any foreign country will be permitted to board an aircraft only if they have received a negative COVID-19 test result within three calendar days prior to departure, or if they can provide documentation of recovery from COVID-19 and clearance for travel. Travelers must be in possession of:

  • A negative COVID-19 viral test result obtained within three calendar days of the flight’s departure (if arriving via a connecting flight, each connection must be less than 24 hours and booked as a single passenger record); or
  • “Documentation of Recovery,” meaning written or electronic documentation of a positive viral test result that occurred within the prior three months (90 days) confirming previous COVID infection, and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official stating that the passenger has been cleared for travel.
  • In addition, travelers must provide an attestation prior to boarding that the passenger has received a negative test or has recovered/been cleared for travel as detailed above. The airline will provide the attestation template, which may be incorporated into an online check-in process.

Travelers must produce written documentation (paper or electronic copy) of their lab test results to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Travelers who do not comply with this order will be refused boarding. Testing will apply to all travelers, including US citizens and permanent residents, with some exceptions for the flight crew.

Travelers must retain their testing and recovery documentation for potential review by the airline or a government authority. Airlines are required to retain passenger attestations for two years and to ensure that all passengers meet CDC requirements.

The CDC’s order expires on the earliest of the following: 1) the end of the COVID national public health emergency as determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services; 2) revision or rescission of the order by the CDC; or 3) December 31, 2021.

For a full text of CDC’s Order click here.

US-Mexico and US-Canada Land Ban Extended

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has extended the Trump Administration’s ban on “non-essential” travel across U.S. land borders and ferry travel with Canada and Mexico through February 21, 2021, according to a set of notifications to be published in the Federal Register.

The restrictions were due to expire on January 21. The initial ban on non-essential travel across the northern and southern borders began on March 21, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It has been extended several times in monthly increments. The policy may again be reviewed for possible extension in February depending on the status of the COVID-19 emergency. The restrictions do not affect air travel.

US Department of Labor New Wages

The Department of Labor (DOL) has revised and reissued a prevailing wage rule that lifts wages for H-1B, E-3, and H-1B1 nonimmigrant cases and for the PERM labor certification program. The new rule, which was published on January 14, 2021 in the Federal Register, comes after three federal district courts struck down an earlier fast-tracked version that was published and briefly implemented late last year.

The final rule contains significant prevailing wage increases for all wage levels, though the new minimums are not as high as initially sought by DOL. The rule also provides a multi-year transition period which is intended to give employers time to meet the wage increases and makes certain accommodations for H-1B workers who are pursuing employment-based permanent residence. Initial wage increases are set to begin on July 1, 2021. The DOL uses the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine prevailing wages in a wide array of occupations. The prevailing wage rate is defined as the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the geographic area of intended employment. The OES prevailing wage is subdivided into four tiers or wage levels, representing the range of skills from entry level (level 1) to experienced (level 4).

Under the revised rule, OES prevailing wage minimums will increase significantly for foreign workers at all four levels of skill and experience. For example, under current rules, the Skill Level I (entry level) wage minimum is set at the 17th percentile of the average wage for the occupation. When the new regulation takes effect, the entry-level minimum will increase to the 35th percentile – just above what is currently the minimum salary for Skill Level II.

Notwithstanding these wage increases, the regulation will permit employers to continue to use alternative wage sources instead of DOL prevailing wage data for LCAs and PERM applications; these sources are not subject to the DOL wage percentiles.

LPR Card Extension Validity Stickers to be Replaced by Revised Receipt Notices

Starting in January 2021, USCIS will replace the sticker that is currently issued to lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to extend the validity of their Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card with a revised Form I-797, Notice of Action for Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. LPRs file Form I-90s with USCIS to extend their validity of their LPR cards (green cards).

The revised I-797 Receipt Notice, together with an applicant’s LPR card, will serve as temporary evidence of lawful permanent resident status for 12 months from the expiration date on the face of the LPR card. This notice will be printed on secure paper and will serve as evidence of identity, employment authorization and authorization to return to the U.S. following temporary foreign travel when presented with an expired green card.

Applicants who have already been scheduled for a biometrics appointment will not receive a revised notice but should receive an extension sticker by the Application Support Center (ASC) at their biometrics appointment.

Starting in January, applicants who file Form I-90 to replace an expiring green card will receive the revised I-797 Receipt Notice in the mail approximately 7-10 days after USCIS accepts their application. These applicants will no longer receive a sticker from the ASC at their biometrics appointments.