Updates on Consular Processing
On Dec. 8, 2020, CLINIC hosted a webinar with speakers from the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez (CDJ) and the National Visa Center (NVC). Responding to questions from CLINIC attorneys Charles Wheeler and Kristina Karpinski, the speakers addressed several key issues relating to the current status of consular processing and what to expect in the months ahead. A summary of the question and answer session appears below. Staffing
- The current staffing level varies from day to day. A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in El Paso, Texas, and Cd. Juarez has affected current consulate staffing levels.
- The NVC is currently operating with reduced staffing. Guidance from DOS headquarters will determine when staff may safely work onsite.
Current Scope of Operations
- CDJ has resumed limited routine processing of immigrant visa, or IV, cases beginning with spouses and children of U.S. citizens (IR-1 and IR-2) and applicants for fiancé(e) visas who had appointments in March and April that were cancelled. Visa applicants who fall within these categories and have not received a new appointment from CDJ within the next few weeks should contact the consulate. Parents of U.S. citizens (IR-5 category) are not being processed now because they are subject to the presidential proclamation.
- For K-1 visa applicants whose I-129 approval has expired (valid for only four months), CDJ will revalidate it at the rescheduled interview.
- Applicants who are unable to obtain a passport or police certificate in Mexico should attend the interview and explain the inability to obtain one or both documents. Consular officers have authority to waive passport requirement in limited circumstances.
- Nonimmigrant visa processing is mostly limited to cases with emergency circumstances. Other consulates in Mexico may have broader availability to process nonimmigrant visa applications.
- The CDJ website posts monthly updates on the status of current operations.
- The NVC is currently processing age-out and intercountry adoption cases, and cases not subject to presidential proclamations. Case scheduling also has to factor in the particular safety conditions at each post.
- Appointments are scheduled monthly, based on information from posts provided to NVC regarding number of appointments available.
COVID Safety Measures
- Current safety measures include screening of IV applicants; required use of masks; waiting room configurations to separate applicants into small socially distant pods; floor markings to help applicants maintain distance while waiting in line; and availability of hand sanitizer.
- Applicants should arrive at the scheduled appointment time to prevent crowding. Communications
- Communications with the consulate should be made through the CDJ website inquiry form page, which contains separate links for inquiries from the public and from practitioners. CDJ is currently not responding to general case status inquiries but will be resuming responding to broader case status questions in January. Currently, most inquiries receive a response within two business days.
- Individuals can contact the NVC by phone or by the Ask NVC online inquiry form. The current response time for online inquiries is now averaging three days. Expedite requests require a longer response time because the NVC has to wait for the post to respond
- Phone inquiries in English can be made Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to midnight. Spanish-speaking operators are available from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The shortest wait times are early and late in the day. The longest wait times are for calls made between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
- NVC case processing times are posted at nvc.state.gov/timeframes. This webpage records processing timeframes for case creation, case review, and responses to email inquiries.
- Contact CDJ with an expedite request if the case is already at the post. CDJ has been processing emergency cases throughout the COVID-19 period. A request must satisfy expedite criteria, which is posted on the CDJ website. These criteria include being the spouse or child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces; having a life-threatening medical emergency (applicant or petitioner); being an essential worker (applicant or petitioner); or being an at-risk minor without parents. The criteria for expedited processing is the same whether the request is made to the consulate or the NVC
- Practitioners should use the legal inquiry form to make the expedite request. Supporting documents cannot be attached to the form, but the consulate may respond to the expedite request with instructions for how to submit documents.
- Contact NVC with an expedite request if the case is still at NVC by emailing NVCexpedite@state.gov. The fact that USCIS granted expedited petition adjudication does not mean that case will be expedited for consular processing.
Plans for Expansion of Services
- After rescheduled IR-1, IR-2 and K visa cases are completed, CDJ plans to schedule other visa applicants with cancelled appointments, including parents of U.S. citizens, family preference applicants, and other groups who were subject to the presidential proclamation. CDJ then hopes to resume processing of IR-1, IR-2, fiancé(e) cases not yet scheduled.
- Derivative beneficiaries of principals who have already immigrated will need to contact CDJ to schedule an appointment. CDJ will post a website update once these cases can be scheduled.
Public Charge Inadmissibility
- The consulate is not requiring IV applicants to complete the DS-5540 since the Department of State is currently enjoined from implementing or enforcing its new public charge rule.
- An immigrant visa applicant who was found inadmissible under the now-enjoined new public charge inadmissibility rules can request reconsideration of the public charge finding based on the current rules.
- Immigrant visa applicants should come to their interviews prepared with updated financial documents, a copy of all affidavits of support submitted, and ready to explain their plans for life in the United States and how they will support themselves.
- The current FAM guidance on public charge inadmissibility includes information on the injunction and directs officers to apply the guidance that was in effect before Oct. 19, 2019.
- Widows and IR children who will derive citizenship upon immigrating should not be receiving a prompt to submit an affidavit of support. Where an applicant is exempt from the affidavit of support requirement because of having earned 40 quarters of social security earnings, contact the NVC to identify this issue.
- Where an I-864 is not required, no affidavit of support bill should be issued. Contact the NVC using the online inquiry form if an affidavit of support bill is issued in error.
- Household members contributing to the household income do not need to have legal status. CEAC has not been updated to remove the request for proof of household member status. Applicants can upload a letter of explanation instead of proof of household member status.
- New affidavits of support can be added in CEAC after a case has been forwarded to the consulate. To do this, the applicant should select the Affidavit of Support and Financial Evidence tab in CEAC, select “Add a Document,” and then select Form I-864 from the document type drop-down menu. The updated completed form and any financial evidence will be visible in CEAC to the consular officer.
- The NVC does not adjudicate visa eligibility and will not hold off on forwarding a case to the consulate if the applicant declines to follow an NVC suggestion to submit a new affidavit of support or obtain a joint sponsor.
- Termination of registration under INA § 203(g) is linked to failure to take action within one year of a visa refusal under 221(g). A visa refusal based on a finding of inadmissibility under 212(a) will not trigger petition termination.
- Visa applicants with 221(g) visa refusals issued prior to consulate closings and reduced operations may have been unable to respond to the refusal due to circumstances outside of their control. In this situation, the applicant can contact the consulate to request reinstatement.
- Cases are not terminated under INA § 203(g) if the visa applicant has had any type of contact with the consulate regarding his or her case.
- CDJ has not been sending any termination letters while on reduced operations. The consulate will renew termination of cases once routine processing commences.
- Any annual contact with the NVC by the immigrant visa applicant will prevent the case from going into termination. Contact includes paying fees, logging in to CEAC, and calls or online inquiries. A pending I-601A also prevents a case from entering into the termination process. Because USCIS notifies the NVC about pending I-601A cases, applicants do not need to separately inform the NVC about the pending waiver.
- If a case is reinstated after termination proceedings have commenced, the applicant will need to pay a new visa fee.
Other Practice Tips
- Individuals with immigrant visas that expired may request revalidation of the visa. A new visa fee is required. Review 9 FAM 504.6-5(B) for the list of circumstances when a second visa fee is not required.
- Machine-readable visa (MRV) fees will be valid until Dec. 31, 2021, for individuals who were unable to travel due to COVID-19.
- Generally, a new IV fee is required after a case has been pending for more than one year, unless the case has been pending with another government agency.
- USCIS should notify the consulate when a waiver is approved. Unless the IV applicant needs to return to the consulate to extend the validity of the oath, the consulate can resume processing visa issuance without the applicant’s presence.
- New medical examinations are required where the immigrant visa case is pending for more than six months.
- Tax transcripts are preferred but not required.
- Visa applicants will receive a notification through CEAC if missing required documents.
- Applicants should consult the Department of State reciprocity table to determine what documents are considered available in each country.
- A smartphone can be used to scan documents. Check nvc.state.gov/scanning for tips on scanning documents.
- If a required document is unavailable, upload a letter to CEAC in place of the document to explain that the document is not available. The NVC will then forward the case to the consulate. It is up to the consulate to decide whether the document is needed for case adjudication.
- Attorneys need to submit a G-28 through Ask NVC to be recognized as counsel. NVC will alert their software experts that there is currently no way for a representative to identify as an accredited representative when logging in to CEAC. Until this issue is resolved, accredited representatives should be listed as third-party agents.
- Corrections to the DS-260 can be made by contacting NVC if the case has not yet been sent to the post. Use the online inquiry form to ask for the DS-260 to be reopened.
- Transfers of approved I-130 petitions from USCIS to NVC is taking about six weeks, except for ELIS cases, which are transferred in a matter of hours.