New COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement for Green Card Applicants

Effective October 1, 2021, by order of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),  USCIS and the U.S. Department of State will require individuals applying for permanent resident status to be vaccinated for COVID-19, with limited exceptions.  Refugees are also covered by the order.  Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination will be required along with the other vaccination requirements already in place in connection with green card applications.

Who is Impacted?

If the medical exam is completed before October 1, 2021, and the exam results are within the validity period (typically 2 years from completion with some exceptions), COVID-19 vaccination is not required.


Blanket waivers of the vaccination requirement are available if

  • The vaccination is not age appropriate.  This includes applicants younger than the lowest age limit for the approved COVID-19 vaccine formulations in use.
  • The vaccination is medically contraindicated.
  • The applicant does not have access to one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines in their country.

In all instances, the request for exemption must be documented.

Applicants may also apply for an individual waiver of the vaccine requirement on religious or moral grounds. USCIS will make the determination as to whether an individual waiver will be granted. If the wavier is denied and the individual is not vaccinated, the individual will be deemed inadmissible, and ineligible for lawful permanent resident status.

Proof of Vaccination and Associated Requirements

Approved COVID-19 vaccines  are those authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  or those  listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization.

Written documentation proving vaccination is required. This may include:

  • An official vaccination record.
  • A medical chart with physician entries pertaining to the vaccination.
  • Appropriate medical personnel attestation.

An individual’s personal attestation that they have been vaccinated is not sufficient.  Additionally, an individual may not be exempted from the vaccination requirement on the basis of testing that establishes immunity  or recovery from prior COVID-19 infection.

Finally, keep in mind that proof of vaccination does not exempt international travelers from the requirement to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding an international flight to the U.S.

For additional information about this emerging requirement, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email

USCIS Selects Additional  FY 2022 H-1B Cap Registrations: What Employers and Foreign Nationals Need to Know

USCIS conducted a second lottery for the fiscal year (FY) 2022 H-1B cap on July 28, 2021 and has notified employers that additional registrations have been selected.  Employers with selected registrations from the second lottery may file an H-1B petition for the beneficiary of a selected registration during the 90-day period running from  August 2, 2021 to November 3,  2021.

USCIS conducted its initial  H-1B cap lottery  in March 2021, and selected employers had a 90-day window during which to file H-1B cap petitions for selected beneficiaries.  The second lottery was conducted because the number of H-1B petitions ultimately submitted and  approved during the initial H-1B filing period (April 1, 2021 to June 30, 2021) were not sufficient to meet the annual statutory H-1B cap.   H-1B cap registrations that were not selected in the initial lottery remained in a reserve and the July lottery was conducted from this reserve. USCIS has not announced how many additional registrations were selected from the reserve.

What This Means for Employers and Foreign Nationals:

  • Employers with selected registrations will see updates in their myUSCIS accounts, including a selection notice and details of when and where to file the H-1B cap petition.
  • Only employers with selected registrations may file H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2022 and only for the beneficiary named in the applicable selected registration notice; no substitution of beneficiaries is permitted.
  • An H-1B cap-subject petition for a selected registration must be properly filed at the designated  service center and within the filing period(August 2, 2021 to November 3, 2021)  specified on the relevant registration selection notice.
  • Online filing is not available for H-1B petitions. Petitioners must file by paper and must include a printed copy of the applicable registration selection notice with the FY 2022 H-1B cap-subject petition.
  • Registration selection only indicates that employers are eligible to file H-1B cap-subject petitions; it does not signify that the petition will be approved.
  • Petitioners filing H-1B cap-subject petitions, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, must submit evidence and establish eligibility for approval based on existing statutory and regulatory requirements.

For more information, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email

State Department Extends Validity of National Interest Exceptions

The U.S. Department of State has extended the validity of National Interest Exceptions (NIEs) for travelers from China, Iran, India, Brazil, South Africa, the Schengen Area, Ireland and the United Kingdom whose admission to the U.S. is restricted by COVID-related regional travel bans.

Under the new policy, NIEs are now valid for multiple entries during the 12 month period following the date of approval. The policy applies retroactively to NIEs that were previously approved or granted in connection with a visa application. Previously NIEs were valid for one entry within 30 days of approval.

What does this mean for travelers?

Travelers who have been  granted an NIE may be admitted to the U.S. pursuant to the NIE for a period of up to 12 months from the date of approval provided that the travel to the U.S. is consistent with the purpose for which the NIE was originally granted.  If required for the class of admission, the traveler must also have a valid visa along with the NIE.   Travelers without a valid visa will be required to apply for a new visa and a new NIE.

NIE qualifying criteria includes:

  • Providing vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the U.S.;
  • Journalism;
  • Travel due to extraordinary humanitarian circumstances; or
  • Travel to support national security or public health.

NIEs have become increasingly difficult to obtain as the U.S. consulates abroad have struggled to meet the demand for consular services due to COVID-related closures, staffing shortages, restrictive qualifying criteria, and backlogged visa and NIE applications. Extending the validity of NIEs, including that of previously issued NIEs, should help to relieve some of the demand for consular services while facilitating critical travel to the U.S.

Gibney is closely monitoring the impact of the new policy and will provide updates as they become available.  For additional information, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email




USCIS Issues Policies to Improve Immigration Services: What Employers and Foreign Nationals Need to Know

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced three new policy updates to the USCIS Policy Manual aimed at improving access to immigration benefits. The updated policies:

  • Clarify the criteria for expedited processing of benefit applications;
  • Address guidance regarding Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) issuance; and,
  • Increase the validity period for initial and renewal employment authorization documents (EADs) for certain noncitizens with pending adjustment of status applications.

These policy initiatives were taken pursuant to  Executive Order (E.O.) 14012, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” Issued by President Biden on February 2, 2021, the order directs federal agencies to identify strategies to eliminate barriers that impede access to immigration benefits.

What Employers and Foreign Nationals Need to Know

Expedited Processing

Applicants and petitioners may request that USCIS expedite the adjudication of immigration benefit requests even if premium processing is otherwise available for the application. USCIS reviews these requests on a case-by-case basis. The updated expedite policy clarifies the criteria and circumstances under which USCIS will generally consider expedite requests. It restores the ability of nonprofit organizations to request expedited processing if the beneficiary will further U.S. cultural and social interests. It also clarifies that expedited processing for noncitizens pending removal or in removal proceedings is coordinated between USCIS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny

The updated RFE and NOID guidance rescinds a Trump-era policy that permitted officers to deny certain benefit requests outright instead of first issuing an RFE or NOID.  The updated guidance instructs officers to issue a RFE or NOID when additional evidence could potentially demonstrate eligibility for an immigration benefit, rather than simply denying the benefit request. This practice helps to ensure that those requesting benefits  have an opportunity to correct simple mistakes or unintentional omissions. This was USCIS policy from 2013 until 2018, when it was rescinded by the Trump Administration. With this action, the 2013 guidance is restored.

Employment Authorization Documents


Updated policy guidance increases the validity period for initial and renewal Employment Authorization Document (EADs) from one year to two years for certain adjustment of status applicants. The goal is to significantly lessen the number of employment authorization applications filed with USCIS, allowing USCIS to shift limited resources to other priority areas.

Gibney welcomes these developments and will closely monitor their impact. We will continue to report on additional initiatives to improve and modernize the U.S. immigration system.  For additional information, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email

DHS Extends Form I-9 Flexibility for Remote Employees to August 31, 2021

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has extended a policy providing employers with flexibility in meeting certain Form I-9 Employment Verification requirements.  The policy, initially implemented in March 2020, relaxes the requirement to review Form I-9 identity and employment verification documents for remote workers “in-person” during the pandemic. The guidance, which was set to expire May 31, 2021, has now  been extended to August 31, 2021.

Who does the Policy Affect?

Form I-9 in-person inspection rules were relaxed for any U.S. employer who converted to a total remote working schedule for all employees due to COVID-19. The policy states that “if there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented at this time for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9.“ However, according to the policy, DHS will consider exceptions if newly-hired employees are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown protocols.

The current extension includes guidance for employees hired on or after June 1, 2021 working exclusively in a remote setting due to COVID-19-related precautions. Those employees are temporarily exempt from the physical inspection requirements associated with the Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) until they undertake non-remote employment on a regular, consistent, or predictable basis, or the extension of the flexibilities related to such requirements is terminated, whichever is earlier.

How Should Qualifying Employers Proceed?

Remote employees must complete Section 1 of Form I-9 and choose identity and work-authorization documents from List A/B/C. Within three (3) business days of hire, remote employers must inspect the employee’s documents over video link, email, fax, etc., and complete Section 2 of Form I-9. Employers must retain copies of any documents inspected remotely. Employers should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field.

After normal operations resume and employees return to the office, employers will have three (3) business days to physically examine the same documents previously reviewed electronically/remotely. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 Additional Information field on the Form I-9, or to Section 3, as appropriate.

Qualifying employers who use this option must be prepared to provide DHS with written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy. DHS reminds employers that, as a general matter for remote workers (even before the pandemic), a company may designate anyone to serve as an “authorized representative” of the company for completion of Section 2, including the in-person inspection of documents. Rather than relying on the temporary pandemic policy for a remote workforce, an employer may consider utilizing an authorized representative to inspect the employee’s documents in-person with three (3) days of hire, in accordance with pre-existing rules permitting the use of authorized representatives to perform this function. The employer is liable for any violations in connection with the form or the verification process, including any violations in connection with the form or the verification process.

Looking Ahead

Employers should anticipate that DHS will terminate the  flexibility to verify Form I-9 documents virtually  as pandemic restrictions are lifted.  Because employers who have availed themselves of the relaxed rules will have only three (3) business days to physically examine documents when normal operations resume,  employers may wish to designate agents to physically inspect documents now for those hired and verified remotely since March 2020.  Keep in mind, though, as noted above, that employers are liable for any violations or errors made by the designated authorized representative during the verification process.

Gibney is closely monitoring changes to employment eligibility verification policy and procedures and will provide updates as they become available. If you have questions regarding this alert or the Form I-9 process generally, please contact your Gibney representative or email

DOL Prevailing Wage Rule Postponed

The Department of Labor (DOL)  has further postponed the effective date of its prevailing wage final rule to November 14, 2022.   The final rule significantly increases prevailing wage requirements  for permanent resident and H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 nonimmigrant visa sponsorship.  Under the revised timeline, transition to the new, higher wage tiers will commence January 1, 2023.


The prevailing wage final  rule was published by the Trump Administration in January  2021, and was set to take effect on March 15, 2021.  Upon taking office, the Biden Administration  postponed the effective date of the rule for 60 days, until May 14, 2021, and solicited additional  public comments concerning the rule and the wage computation methodology.  With publication of the May 13, 2021 DOL notice, the effective date of the rule is further postponed to November 2022.

The rule revises the calculus to determine prevailing wage levels  for labor condition applications required for the H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 temporary visa programs, and prevailing wage determinations required for the PERM labor certification program. The rule would  significantly increase threshold wage requirements for employers across the four tiers of prevailing wages utilized by the Department of Labor in connection with these visa programs.

Looking Ahead

Employers can welcome the 18-month reprieve on implementation of restructured wage levels for labor condition applications and prevailing wage determinations.  In the interim, the Department of Labor will consider the rule’s legal and policy impact and will gather additional wage data.  Notably, an earlier interim final version of the  rule implemented  by the Trump Administration in October 2020 was  invalidated by a federal court as unlawful on procedural grounds. That rule had higher wage tiers than the current version.  Nonetheless, the current version of the rule is also the subject of legal challenges.  It is possible that the rule will be modified further before taking effect.

For additional information, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email





USCIS to Suspend Biometric Requirements for Certain E, H-4, and L-2 Applicants

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) intends to suspend collecting biometrics for individuals requesting E, H-4 and L-2 status on Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The policy, projected to take effect May 17, 2021, is expected to reduce adjudication backlogs and improve processing times for these applications, as well as for associated applications for Employment Authorization Documents  (EADs) filed on Form I-765.


In March 2019, USICS implemented a nationwide requirement for H-4 and L-2  applicants to attend an appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC) to submit biometrics, including fingerprints, photographs and digital signatures.  This requirement significantly delayed adjudication of these applications and associated applications for work authorization filed on Form I-765.  The problem was compounded by closure of ASC locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Though ASCs have reopened,  many operate at reduced levels due to ongoing health and safety protocols, and are dealing with unprecedented backlogs. USCIS reports that 123,000 H-4 and L-2 applications are pending adjudication, with an additional  57,500 applications for EADS backlogged.

Agency Action

In response to lawsuits stemming from the delays, and recognition of the significant  backlogs and ensuing hardships created, USCIS is deploying additional officers to adjudicate  I-539 applications for H-4 and L-2 status and implementing the policy to suspend temporarily  biometrics requirements  for individuals requesting an extension of stay in, of change of status to, H-4, L-2, E-1, E-2 and E-3 nonimmigrant status.

The new policy is expected to begin May 17, 2021, and remain in effect for two years, to May 17, 2023, subject to extension or revocation by the USCIS Director.

The policy will apply only to I-539 Applications for H-4, L-2, E-1, E-2, and E-3 status pending as of the effective date of the policy that have not yet been issued  a biometric appointment notice, and new applications received by USCIS after the effective date of the policy.  If an applicant has received a biometrics appointment for a pending application, failure to attend the biometrics appointment may result in denial of the application. USCIS will also retain discretion to require biometrics for any case for identity verification and other screening purposes.

For additional information, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email


Biden Administration Issues Travel Ban for India

On April 30, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a proclamation imposing restrictions on the admission of travelers from India.  The ban will take effect at 12:01 am eastern daylight time on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.  Impacted travelers include nonimmigrant foreign nationals who have been physically present in India at any point during the 14 day period prior to arrival in the U.S.


The entry restrictions do not apply to:

  • US citizens;
  • US lawful permanent residents;
  • Noncitizen nationals of the US;
  • Noncitizens who are the spouses of US citizens or lawful permanent residents;
  • Noncitizens who are the parents or legal guardians of US citizens or lawful permanent residents under the age of 21;
  • Noncitizens who are the siblings of  US citizens or lawful permanent residents under the age of 21;
  • Noncitizens  who are the children, foster children, or wards of  US citizens or lawful permanent residents, or who are prospective adoptees;
  • Noncitizens traveling  at the invitation of the US government for purposes related to virus mitigation; and,
  • Certain other travelers classified as nonimmigrant crew members, foreign government officials, and diplomats, etc.

Keep in mind that under existing policy, all international travelers, including those exempted from travel bans,  are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of recovery from COVID prior to traveling to the U.S.


The ban will remain in effect until terminated by the President.


The restriction comes at the recommendation of the CDC after the surge of COVID-19 cases in India in recent weeks and a  Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory issued by the Department of State last week.

If you have any questions about this alert, please contact your Gibney representative or email

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

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.   For additional information, please contact your designated Gibney representative or email


USCIS Expands Online Filing to  F-1 Students Seeking OPT Work Authorization

Today U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that F-1 students applying for work authorization in connection with optional practical training (OPT) may now file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization online.   The online filing option will allow eligible students to file forms in a more user-friendly manner and help to increase efficiencies for adjudicators.

Certain foreign students in the U.S. are eligible for OPT in connection with their studies, and may apply for temporary employment authorization to work in positions related to their major area of study. Eligible students may apply for up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before or after completing their academic studies.  F-1 students who are awarded science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for an additional 24 months of post-completion OPT.

What to Expect

  • F-1 Students are eligible to file online if they fall within one of the following categories:
    • Pre-Completion OPT;
    • Post-Completion OPT;
    • 24-Month Extension of OPT for STEM graduates.
  • The online filing option is only available to F-1 students filing Form I-765 for OPT. If an applicant submits Form I-765 online to request employment authorization on or after April 15 based on eligibility for employment authorization in another category, USCIS will deny the application and retain the fee.
  • To file online, applicants must create a USCIS online account. This allows applicants to submit forms, pay fees, track case status, communicate with USCIS through a secure inbox and respond to Requests for Evidence.
  • Filing online is not required. USCIS will continue to accept the latest paper version of Form I-765 by mail.

USCIS processes Form I-765 applications on a first-in, first-out basis.  Applications submitted online will not be prioritized over paper filings; however, filing online will mean that the application is receipted and placed in the adjudication queue more quickly.

USCIS is working to expand online filing for Form I-765 to additional categories as part of a transition to paperless operations. USCIS currently has 11 forms that can be filed online.

Please contact your Gibney representative for additional information or email