TBJ January 2022

2021: The Year in Review

Immigration Law

Written by Beatriz Hernandez

Immigration attorneys started 2021 facing extensive case backlogs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and following a year of U.S. embassy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, and immigration court closures and travel bans.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 ended with President Donald J. Trump extending into 2021 the suspension of entry of certain immigrants and nonimmigrants into the United States.1 The restriction of entry caused extensive backlogs at consular posts as visa interviews were not available. To date, the restriction has been lifted and consular posts have spent the last months of 2021 gradually phasing back to normal processing times. The U.S. Department of State outlined a tiered approach to prioritize cases based on their exceptional circumstances. The hope is that all consular posts return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic processing times.

Also this year, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation titled “A Proclamation on Advancing the Safe Resumption of Global Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic” that turned the attention to vaccination status rather than country restrictions.2 This led to a change in the medical exam requirements for immigrant visa applicants. As of October 1, 2021, all immigrant visa applicants are required to receive a full COVID-19 vaccine series as part of their medical exam prior to being issued a visa. There are blanket waivers for the COVID-19 vaccination that can be applied for under limited exceptions.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, litigation battle continued in 2021. The present state of DACA allows for current DACA holders to maintain their legal status and continue working with authorization in the United States. They may also apply to renew their status every two years and apply for permission to travel abroad. However, new, first-time DACA applications are not being approved. The new applications are being held at a stand-still as litigation continues.

Venezuela was designated for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, granting eligible Venezuelans TPS status for 18 months, effective March 9, 2021, through September 9, 2022.3 With TPS, eligible Venezuelans are allowed to legally remain in the United States and work with employment authorization.

A huge decision was made in Niz-Chavez v. Garland,4 where it was held that the notice to appear is invalid if it does not specify the date and time of the next immigration court hearing. This decision favors many immigrants before the immigration court as it expands their options for relief from deportation. Specifically, many immigrants that were not eligible for cancellation for removal due to the stop-time rule, and not having the sufficient accumulation of time to be eligible for relief, now may be able to request this relief before the court.

Given the climate in Afghanistan, a wave of Afghans entered the U.S. in 2021. While some arrived under the special immigrant visa or at the beginning stages of the immigrant visa process, many utilized humanitarian parole to enter the U.S.

Finally, the most recent news, finishing out the year, surrounded spouses of H-1B, E, and L visa holders experiencing long wait times to be authorized to work in the United States. Under a new case settlement, there will now be an automatic extension of employment authorization for qualifying H-4, E, and L nonimmigrant dependent spouses.

These are a few of the many highlights for immigration law in 2021.

1. 86 FR 417, Jan. 6, 2021.
2. 86 FR 59603, Oct. 28, 2021.
3. 86 FR 13574, Mar. 9, 2021.
4. 141 S. Ct. 1474 (2021).

BEATRIZ HERNANDEZ is a managing attorney at Jaime Barron law office in Dallas. She is the chair of the State Bar of Texas Immigration and Nationality Law Section. Hernandez is certified in immigration and nationality law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has over 10 years of experience representing individuals in all aspects of U.S. immigration and nationality law.


We use cookies to analyze our traffic and enhance functionality. More Information agree