We know that many newcomers are struggling to navigate the next steps in their immigration journey during COVID-19 as governments around the world implement temporary travel and immigration restrictions.
While USCIS hasn’t released official guidance on how visa timelines and policies will change, we’re sharing updates on government statements and actions so that you can stay up-to-date on the latest developments.
If you have questions about recent developments, watch our recent webinar for more information from immigration experts.
COVID-19 Executive Order
On April 22nd, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration, "Suspending Entry of Immigrants During the Economic Recovery Following the COVID-19 Outbreak". This effects individuals who -
Outside of the United States on or after April 22nd
Do not hold a valid immigrant visa on April 22nd
Do not have have an
The major category of individuals who are banned from the United States, due to the executive order, are those seeking green cards though a family member of an American — a parent, an adult child or a sibling. There are exceptions to the executive order and can be found on the official White House proclamations site.
USCIS office closures and visa appointment changes
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)’s public-facing operations have temporarily shut down, but the agency continues to adjudicate paper-based applications. It is too early to tell what the impact of COVID-19 will be on USCIS processing times.
USCIS is closed to biometrics appointments, oath ceremonies for naturalization purposes, interviews for immigration benefits, InfoPass appointments until at least June 4th, 2020.
USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by the extended closure. Individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center once field offices are open to the public again. Please check to see if your field office has been reopened before reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.
If you’re an asylum seeker, USCIS asylum offices will send interview cancellation notices and automatically reschedule asylum interviews. When the interview is rescheduled, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date and location of the interview. When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the office closure.
More information available here
The National Visa Center of the U.S. Department of State
The National Visa Center of the U.S. Department of State—which processes immigrant visa applications and certain other visa applications before the file is transferred to the appropriate consular post—is operational. Note, however, that the center is operating with a reduced staff and will only entertain certain inquiries during this time.
More information is available here
Consular applications and extensions
If you are currently in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa due to expire in the next 6 months and would need to travel abroad to renew your status, consult an attorney to discuss options for filing an extension directly with USCIS.
The United States has limited all non-essential travel at the Canadian and Mexico border as of March 20, 2020. Essential trave includes, but is not limited to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the United States as well as travel for medical treatment, to attend school, for work in the United States, for cross-border trade, for military operations as well as government and diplomatic travel. Non-essential travel is described as travel for tourism, including but not limited to sightseeing, recreation, gambling, or attending cultural events.
The USCIS understands that natural catastrophes and other extreme situations can sometimes affect the processing of your USCIS application, petition, or immigration request. If you find yourself needing assistance on extensions and changes of status, employment authorizations, fee waivers, or e-Verifications, you can request such on the basis of a “Special Situation”. USCIS may take into consideration how the special situation prevented your departure.
If you are currently in the United States, certain kinds of financial and administrative relief is available in “special situations.” or extraordinary circumstances. Such relief includes, but is not limited to, applying for extension or change of status, fee waiver, employment authorization to work off-campus, as well as E-Verify for employers.
If a person satisfies USCIS’s expedite criteria, they may qualify for expedited adjudication of their application. The USCIS webpage on expedite requests is here
An expedited request of an application or petition can be used to decrease the processing time involved under normal circumstances. Expedited requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis to support individuals under extraordinary circumstances.
The criteria are:
Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
File the benefit request or the expedite request in a reasonable time frame, or
Respond to any requests for additional evidence in a reasonably timely manner;
Urgent humanitarian reasons;
Compelling U.S. government interests (such as urgent cases for the Department of Defense or DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
Clear USCIS error.
How to Apply for an Expedited Request
Confirm that you have a receipt number or notice. The USCIS Contact Center will not be able to refer the expedite request to the appropriate office without a receipt number.
You can request expedited processing by
contacting the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283
(TTY for the deaf, hard of hearing, or those having a speech disability: 1-800-767-1833) after you have obtained a receipt notice.
When you call to request expedited processing, the USCIS Contact Center creates and forwards a service request to the office with jurisdiction over your application or petition.
After receiving the service request, the reviewing office may request additional documentation to support expedited processing.
A decision on an expedite request is not an approval or a denial of the underlying benefit request. The expedite decision simply informs the requestor whether the request out of date order and issue a decision (approval or denial) faster than the normal processing time.
Visa- and form-specific updates
The H-1B lottery will still proceed normally for all visa applicants who registered by the March 20 deadline.
Form I-9: employment verification
Thousands of employers across the country have now shifted to remote work due to COVID-19. As such, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has temporarily halted the requirement that employers physically review employee identification and employment authorization documents when completing the Form I-9.
Employers who have shifted their normal, physical worksites to remote operations may inspect the Form I-9 Section 2 documents remotely and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2 of the Form I-9, when normal operations resume.” Examples of remote verification include reviewing documents provided “over video link, fax, or email, etc.” This change is in effect through the earlier of May 20, 2020, or three business days after the termination of the National Emergency Declaration.
The White House expressed an interest in increasing the number of immigrant investor green cards from 10,000 to 75,000 and decrease investment amounts to $450,000 and $900,000. Congress must approve this proposal in order for it to take effect.
Premium processing for I-129 and 1-140 petitions
On March 20, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
On March 23, 2020, House Democrats introduced a bill (H.R.6379 - Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act) that would automatically extend the status and work authorization of all nonimmigrants or DACA recipients for the same length as the original period
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Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a qualified legal professional.