On Monday the 22nd of June 2020, President Trump issued a new proclamation (known as Proclamation 10014, or the Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Present a Risk to the United States Labor Market During the Economic Recovery Following the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak) to temporarily suspend the entry of certain foreign workers into the United States. This proclamation halts the issuance of new work visas to aliens, excluding hundreds of thousands of foreigners from obtaining employment in the United States. Additionally, this proclamation extends the already-existing ban on green cards issued outside the U.S. until the end of the year. The previous 60-day ban on green cards issued abroad, imposed in April by the Trump Administration, was expected to expire this Monday.

This executive order is another step in the Trump Administration’s continuous effort to impede immigrants’ entry into the country, masquerading under the premise of freeing up jobs for American citizens, although many businesses and economists have spoken against such measures. The Trump Administration reported that up to 525,000 jobs would be freed for citizens because of this new visa ban.

H-1B visas, used by many tech companies to hire foreign workers with specialized knowledge and training, will be impacted by this executive order. Additionally, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, J-1 visas for cultural exchanges, and L-1 visas for managers/ employees of multinational corporations will also be restricted. Many technology companies will be heavily impacted by such a freeze on work visas.

Certain exemptions for food processing workers (which make up 15% of the H-2 visas) will be made. Moreover, many health care workers related to the coronavirus pandemic will also continue to receive green cards.

This new proclamation will prohibit American companies with global operations, or international companies with U.S. branches, to transfer foreign employees to the U.S. for extended periods of time. Additionally, such an order blocks the entry of spouses of foreigners who are hired by American companies in the United States.

While freezes on visas issued abroad will take effect immediately, other changes such as restrictions on asylum-seekers’ work permits will undergo a formal rule-making process during the following months. Interestingly, the Administration has proposed to reconfigure a new method of awarding H-1B visas, which are capped at 85,000 a year, so that they are awarded by highest salary, rather than by lottery. Already, companies such as Amazon, Google, and Twitter have spoken out against the Administration’s new restrictions.

Recently, the Trump Administrations suspended the approval of green card requests to immigrants abroad seeking residency in the United States. Last week, this administration temporarily halted the process of requests from green card applicants already living in the country. The agency argues that this hold on processing green card applications is due to the suspension of in-person services caused by precautions taken during the coronavirus pandemic. Its current priority, USCIS claims, is to resume naturalization ceremonies.   

A senior USCIS officer told CQ Roll Call that some field adjudicators stopped processing green card applications from noncitizens residing in the U.S. back in April. While there may still be a larger hold on I-845 adjustment of status cases, there remain certain exemptions that have been released through internal communication within the USCIS network. Such exemptions that allow for cases to continue include

1) Case already distributed to adjudicator (for instance, if your interview was rescheduled due to COVID)

2) Continuations

3) Case related to a medical provider 

4) National Benefits Center work on adjustments 

5) Older, pending cases 

6) Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF) I-485s

7) Identified national security concerns  

8) Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate cases 

9) ELIS beta cases 
10) Age outs

11) DV cases 

12) Mandamus and other litigation cases

13) Detailed immigrants 

14) Military families

The USCIS also will allow immigration officers to submit applications that concern an “emergent or sensitive matter” outside these exemptions to their supervisors for consideration. 

While most federal agencies receive funding from Congress, USCIS receives most of its funding from immigration application fees. Since March, when USCIS temporarily suspended in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, echoed by an overall decrease of human movement because of restricted international travel, USCIS has received an extremely low volume of immigration petitions and fees.   

As USCIS has experienced falling petition rates over the last two years, increased funding has been dedicated to vetting and enforcement by the Trump Administration. This shift reflects the administration’s immigration goals, which definitely have an unsustainable impact on USCIS’ finances. As the processing of green cards is being halted, we can predict that such restricted immigration will further constrain USCIS’ financial sustainability. While USCIS had a $790 million cash carryover at the end of fiscal 2017, it now faces a $1.5 billion deficit. 

End-of-Year Immigration Examinations Fee Account Carryover Balances, FY 2008-20

Source: Migration Policy Institute

Recently, USCIS urged Congress to provide $1.2 billion to address its severe budget shortfall. It is very likely that without this emergency infusion, USCIS will have to furlough up to 15,000 of its 18,700 employees. Such a measure will likely further slow down visa and green card processing in the near future. The agency claims that it will be able to pay back this requested $1.2 billion by imposing a 10 percent surcharge to USCIS application fees. This is important to note, because such a surcharge may act as a deterrent to future immigrants. 

Last November, USCIS proposed fee increases; for instance, this includes an 83 percent increase in naturalization application fees from $640 to $1,170. As immigration continues to be restricted through expanding proclamations, such proposed fee increases are likely to occur in order for USCIS to continue running. Retroactively, this would likely decrease the types of foreign nationals who are capable of affording this steep increase. 

 

Today, the 18th of June, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump Administration’s efforts to end the DACA program. This program, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, protects over 700,000 individuals brought to the U.S. as children from deportation by shielding them and allows them to work. At least 27,000 of these DACA recipients are currently employed as healthcare workers, which are needed now more than ever to heal from the coronavirus pandemic.

With a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court labeled the termination of DACA as unconstitutional. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion, supported by the court’s four liberal members, to uphold the DACA program. The Chief Justice claimed that justifications to eradicate the program given by President Trump were inadequate. You can read more about the majority opinion here.

It is possible that the administration will try to provide other reasons to shut down the program in the coming months. Today, the justices did not decide that the Trump Administration’s repeal was a violation of the Construction or federal law. Rather, the majority impeded the repeal on the basis that the Administration did not adequately explain its rationale, which breaches the Administrative Procedure Act, a law from 1946 that ensures that the executive branch follows basic steps before changing its policies.

Since the Trump Administration published new proclamations restricting certain immigrants from entering the U.S. on April 22nd, further proclamations have been expected to be added to restrict the entry of nonimmigrant visa holders. On June 5th, 2020, the Whitehouse, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Homeland Security have agreed to some changes that will restrict merit-based immigration into the United States. Thus far, no final version of the order has been published (only a draft of the order has been leaked). The final details of the ban will likely be announced on June 15th.

This new visa ban will impede the entry of nonimmigrants with temporary visas, particularly visas of categories J-1 (temporary work visa for students and trainees), L-1 (visa for high-level executives transferring to the U.S.), H-2B (temporary nonagricultural work visa used by many in the food processing industry), and H-1B (most common high-skill work visa). It is likely that the ban will also obstruct the initial obtainment of these visas by nonimmigrants, and that other temporary visas will also be impacted.

The Trump Administration also reported that it would target the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which offers recent graduates of U.S. institutions the opportunity to work in the U.S. for a short period of time (typically one year for students, or three years for STEM students) after graduating. This new restriction would only allow for students graduating at the top 5%-15% of their classes to have this opportunity.

A very devastating change created by this ban would be to include a new additional $20,000 filing fee for H-1B visas that would be added to the pre-existing filing fee. This would automatically deter many employers from staffing their agencies with foreign national workers. However, note that this change has not yet been made, and it is doubtful that this is even legally permissible.

These new visa ban efforts, drafted by Jared Kudlow and Jared Kushner, seem to be a continuation of President Trump’s executive order in April that limited the issuance of green cards to foreign nationals abroad on the basis that this was a crucial step to protect American jobs during the economic crisis catalyzed by the coronavirus pandemic. Many experts doubt the validity of this justification.

Additionally, the U.S. nonimmigrant visa ban will likely last between 90 to 180 days, but there are certain exemptions related to the coronavirus pandemic that will permit an alien to enter the United States. Such exemptions will be made for aliens who are healthcare professionals, food supply workers, or medical researchers working in fields related to COVID-19. However, these exemptions are only valid if American employees have enacted additional recruitment efforts to hire American workers to fill these positions.

It is also important to note that a 120-day ban will likely apply after October 1st, 2020, which is when the H-1B cap-based petitions of the autumn will be approved. The implications of this are that even if companies have passed the lottery and submitted successful H-1B petitions after October 1st, their workers may still be prevented from entering the U.S. under this ban.

Many actors, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Thomas Donohue, have written letters to President Trump or spoken publicly against such a new visa ban, warning against the negative economic effects. Overall, if this ban is implemented completely, the implied changes will impact the 5% of the American workforce that rely on nonimmigrant visas, along with the companies that hire these nonimmigrants. It has been recommended by some experts that if you are currently outside the U.S. and have a valid H-1B/H-4 or an L-1 or L-2 visa, you should consider returning to the U.S. as soon as possible.

Before the end of June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver a ruling about the future of DACA. This ruling will have deep impacts for the 649,070 immigrants with DACA status across the country. It is suspected that the Supreme Court will favor the Trump Administration and rule to terminate the DACA program.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was created by President Obama in 2012 after considerable pressure from immigrant rights advocates. Since its conception, DACA was not intended to be a permanent solution, but rather, a “temporary stopgap measure,” as President Obama explained. The program helped individuals who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 and who were younger than 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012 (the date the program was announced). Individuals with DACA status have a two-year deferment from deportation, a Social security number, and the right to work legally in the U.S. This status is renewable every two years.

On September 5th, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that DACA would begin phasing out, pushing for Congress to establish a replacement program. Since 2017, immigrants have been unable to apply for DACA and can only renew if they are already recipients. There are concerns that immigrants with DACA status will be unable to renew their statuses after June.

Even if the Supreme Court rules to terminate or pause DACA this June 2020, President Trump still has the authority to allow individuals with DACA status to continue receiving DACA benefits. It is possible that the President may allow for renewals to continue, even after June 2020, until a new permanent solution is established.

A recommendation to individuals with DACA status is to try renewing DACA statuses before the end of June, in case the ruling does establish termination. DACA renewals received earlier than 150 days and up to 365 days in advance may be accepted. At the end of March 2020, 23,020 DACA recipients with April, May, and June expirations were reported to have yet to apply for renewals of their protections. If DACA recipients lose their ability to renew protections, about 1 in 5 individuals with DACA statuses in the U.S. will lose their protections by November 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique period of time, and a termination of DACA will have deep impacts on the U.S.’s management of the pandemic. Today, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are considered to be essential workers, including 28,200 nurses, personal care aides, and medical assistants, according to the Center for American Progress. Can the U.S. afford to lose this medical support during this pandemic?

On a positive note, immigrant-rights advocates continue to push for a permanent solution in Congress that will benefit noncitizens. The HR-6 Act, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, would offer 2.5 million immigrants eligibility for protections and a pathway to citizenship. This is a bill that was passed by the House of Representatives, but has not yet been heard by the Senate. Perhaps, if DACA is paused or terminated, the HR-6 Act will gain more momentum.

On May 27th, USCIS announced that it will reopen some domestic offices and resume non-emergency public services on or after June 4th. As a response to the novel COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS had temporarily suspended routine in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers. USCIS has been following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. Now, USCIS lists individual office closures and amended hours on its website here.  USCIS Field Office in Portland Oregon is set to reopen on June 4th meaning green card and citizenship applicants and their Immigration Lawyers in Portland, Oregon should be ready for their interviews to be scheduled soon.

Please click here for more information regarding visits to USCIS facilities. You can also click here for updates regarding reopenings and modified hours of operation.

Note that USCIS requires that you do not visit an office if you experience any of the following:

  • Have any symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or difficulty breathing;
  • Have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days; or
  • Have been individually directed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider or public health official within the last 14 days.

If you need assistance with an emergency service at any time, call the USCIS Contact Center.

Rescheduling Interviews and Appointments

USCIS will reschedule green card and citizenship interviews and appointments for applicants and petitioners who previously had scheduled appointments. If you believe that you should have received a rescheduling notice, you may always contact the USCIS Contact Center.

During these interviews and appointments, visitors are limited to the applicant, one representative, one family member, and one individual providing disability accommodations. The applicant should arrange to have their interpreter available by phone. If you had other appointments, USCIS indicates that you should reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center once field offices are open to the public.

Once services begin to reopen, offices will limit the daily number of appointments and interviews in order to ensure social distancing, allow time for cleaning, and reduce waiting room occupancy. Appointment notices will include information on safety precautions that visitors of USCIS facilities must follow. USCIS will not penalize you if you reschedule due to illness—if you feel sick, follow the instructions on your appointment notice to reschedule your appointment for when you are healthy.

Reopening Asylum Offices

The interview process at asylum offices will be slightly modified to fit with social distancing guidelines. Asylum offices will conduct video-facilitated asylum interviews, with the applicants sitting in a room and the interviewing officer sitting in another room. Asylum offices will use all available technology, such as mobile devices provided by the agency, to ensure that the officer, applicant, interpreter, and representative are still able to fully participate in the interview while practicing social distancing.

For affirmative asylum interviews, applicants must bring all immediate family members listed as dependents on the application as well as an interpreter if the applicant does not speak or understand English. If the applicant is a minor, he or she can also have a representative, witness, individual providing disability accommodations, or “trusted adult” attend the interview.

For non-detained credible or reasonable fear interviews, family members listed on the interview notice must accompany the applicant to the interview. While representatives may attend these interviews, USCIS encourages these individuals to participate telephonically. USCIS can provide professional interpreters for these interviews as well.

USCIS asylum offices will automatically reschedule asylum interviews that were cancelled due to the temporary closures. Asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with a new time, date, and location for their interviews after USCIS reschedules this interview. Asylum applicants will also receive information about safety precautions before attending interviews.

 

Naturalization Ceremonies during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

If your naturalization ceremony was postponed, USCIS will send notices to reschedule it. To limit the exposure of attendees, the ceremonies will likely be shorter. Rather than playing videos during these ceremonies (which previously occurred), attendees will receive a flyer with information and links directing them to the videos. During the shorter ceremony, only the legally-required portions will occur. Only the naturalization candidate and individuals providing assistance to disabled persons may attend these naturalization ceremonies.

 

Application Support Centers (ASC)

USCIS will automatically reschedule any necessary ASC appointment that was canceled and send a new appointment letter in the mail with specific safety requirements. With the exception of military members, individuals who appear at a date or time other than that listed on the ASC appointment notice will face processing delays.


Entering USCIS Facilities


According to the USCIS website, visitors may not enter a USCIS facility if they:

  • Have any symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or difficulty breathing;
  • Have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days; or
  • Have been individually directed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider or public health official within the last 14 days.
  • Visitors may not enter the facility more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment (30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies).
  • Hand sanitizer will be provided for visitors at entry points.
  • Members of the public must wear facial coverings that cover both the mouth and nose when entering facilities.
  • Visitors may be directed to briefly remove their face covering to confirm identity or take their photograph. There will be markings and physical barriers in the facility; visitors should pay close attention to these signs to ensure they follow social distancing guidelines.
  • Individuals are encouraged to bring their own black or blue ink pens.

Contact our Immigration Lawyers with any questions you may have about the reopening of USICS FIeld office here in Portland, Oregon.

Significance of HEROES Act on Immigrants in the United States

The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) as their “phase four” 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus and relief package. The HEROES Act, which House Representatives narrowly passed on May 15, 2020, by a 208 to 199 vote, includes a package of $3 trillion in tax cuts and spending to alleviate the negative health and financial impacts of the pandemic. This package also includes financial relief to state, local and tribal governments, an extension to enhanced unemployment benefits, debt collection relief, and direct cash payments to households.

This Act is unique to previous acts, as it addresses many of the faults of the previous bill that excluded immigrants. Six key provisions are included in the HEROES Act that will directly benefit immigrants and immigrant families who were neglected by the previous CARES act.

Cash Payments to Immigrants and their Families

The HEROES Act will provide stimulus money that was previously unavailable by the CARES Act. Direct payments will be issued in the amount of $1,200 for an individual, $2,400 for joint-filers, and $1,200 for up to three dependents with a maximum of $3,600. Undocumented immigrants would be also eligible for the first round of $1,200 checks sent out in April. Immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid will also have access to additional health care benefits.

Relief and Protections for Undocumented Essential Workers

According to the HEROES Act, undocumented immigrants working in essential fields such as health care will be temporary shielded from deportation, as their statuses will be “frozen” under deferred action. They will be able to apply for employment authorization throughout the pandemic. Moreover, unauthorized immigrants will be able to obtain work permits—and may hire these noncitizen immigrants without penalization.

Releasing Low Risk Immigrants from Detention

Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be required to re-evaluate the files of detained immigrants and release those who are not perceived to be a threat to society or who are not necessarily subject to mandatory detention. The HEROES Act pushes ICE to apply low-cost alternatives to detention for low-risk immigrants (such as the use of ankle bracelet monitors).

Additionally, the bill requires detention facilities to provide free and unlimited soap to detainees, as well as phone and video call accessibility to communicate with family and legal representatives.

Facilitating the Arrival and Stay of Medical Professionals 

The HEROES Act would speed up visa and green card processing for all foreign medical workers who seek to research or work in fields related to combatting COVID-19. Consulates and U.S. Embassies would be required to prioritize visa interviews for these workers. Emergency appointments would have to be appointed in-person or through a remote platform as a teleconference. Furthermore, foreign-national doctors who have completed their residency in the U.S. are eligible under the HEROES Act to receive permanent residency through an expedited process.
This Act also grants nurses, doctors, and medical researches more flexibility in regards to where they work, which will allow doctors to work where they are most needed without the restrictions under visa controls that previously existed. This means that rather than applying for a new visa, medical professionals with H-1B statuses can transfer between hospitals without re-applying for new H-1B visas.

Medical students are also impacted: they will be able to transfer rotations within their host institution, while also receiving compensation for their work during this pandemic. These students will be able to work outside of their approved program as long as their work relates to COVID-19.

Health Benefits for Immigrants Regardless of Status

The HEROES Act also allows for undocumented immigrants to obtain testing, and treatment, and vaccination (once available) related to COVID-19 without cost, even if the individual does not have health insurance. This extension was not available to immigrants under the CARES Act. The USCIS has already affirmed that treatment in relation to COVID-19 will not make an immigrant a public charge.

While this legislation was passed in the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that it will pass in the Republican-majority Senate or get signed by President Trump, as the White House recently issued a statement opposing the legislation. Even if this act does not directly pass, it is possible that certain provisions of the Act will reappear in the future, perhaps as a bipartisan stimulus and relief bill later in the summer.

Feel free to contact our Portland Immigration Lawyers in Portland, Oregon for answers to your questions at our email address: info@immigrationlawgroupllc.com or call us at (866) 691-9894.

USCIS Proposed Changes to Affidavit of Support  

 

USCIS has recently proposed significant changes to the Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) and other related forms I-864A and I0864EZ. The first proposed change is for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are sponsoring a foreign spouse or relative for green cards to disclose detailed bank account information to the federal government. This includes the banking institution’s name, the account number, routing number, and account holder names. Note that U.S. legislation does not authorize USCIS to collect such information.

 

As a reminder, the Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) is required for most immigrants seeking a green card in the U.S. based on marriage and family petitions in order to demonstrate that they will be financially supported and not become a public charge. This form is also sometimes required for immigrants seeking green cards based on employer sponsorship. Normally, sponsors must provide evidence of their income by submitting copies of their recent federal tax transcript or return, as well as any other financial statements or evidence of future outcome. The new USCIS proposal would change this process.

 

Almost a year ago on May 23rd, 2019, President Trump issued the Memorandum on Enforcing the Legal Responsibilities of Sponsors of Aliens. In the presidential memo, President Trump emphasized that individuals financially sponsoring alien green card applicants must completely fulfill their commitments under the law. In response to this memo, USCIS focused on better informing sponsors and household members on the implications of their financial obligations. For instance, language in these forms has been modified to ensure clarity regarding sponsor obligations and consequences if the sponsor’s responsibilities are not met. These are included in an extended “Sponsor’s Certification” section as well as a “Household Member’s Contract, Statement, and Certification.” Moreover, the draft of this new form informs sponsors of a civil penalty imposed by the USCIS if the sponsor does not inform the USCIS within 30 days of moving. Additionally, this new Affidavit of Support also asks sponsors to list people who not actively living with the sponsor (such as college students that are not living at home), which will consequently increase the income requirement as the household size increases.

 

Forms I-864 will also allow sponsors to provide information about previously submitted Affidavits and an optional submission of a credit report as evidence. USCIS is also proposing to require U.S. citizens and permanent legal resident sponsors to notarize forms I-864, I-864A, and I-864EZ by a notary public prior to submission to USCIS. These proposed changes will create a burden for sponsors. This may deter them from accepting to be sponsors, which will likely impede some individuals from immigrating.

Finally, the new form requires that the sponsor agree to allow the Social Security Administration (SSA) and other agencies to share information with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State. If the alien applicant applies for means-tested public benefits, the sponsor’s privacy can be waived to a greater extent. The new form is stricter in its warning that improperly completed forms, or forms missing proper evidence, may be denied.

 

No effective date has been published, and this will come with the final rule. USCIS accepted public comments for these revisions during a thirty-day period that ended on May 11, 2020. Because the comment period for the rule is closed, the state will now review public comments and publish a final rule within the coming months. Note that if passed, this proposal will only impact applications filed on or after the effective date of the rule.

Immigration Lawyer Portland

USCIS Relaxed Immigration Policies during Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic

On March 18th, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended in-person services in h­opes to slow the spread of COVID-19. USCIS plans to reopen offices on or after June 4th, 2020, unless there is an extension in public closures. USCIS continues to process green cards, work permits, asylum applications, and other paper-based requests. To adapt to new limited circumstances informed by COVID-19, USCIS has recently been flexible in certain immigration policies in order to avoid service delays and disruptions for the benefit of applicants and petitioners. Listed below are new relaxed policies and immigration flexibilities implemented by USCIS to accommodate for constraints caused by the pandemic.

Waiving Green Card Interviews
While family and employment-based green card applicants typically attend in-person interviews at USCIS field offices before their green cards are approved, these interviews have been canceled until at least June 3rd. However, there are wide reports that USCIS has relaxed this green card interview requirement for employment-based green card applicants during this pandemic as a means of avoiding dense delays in the future.

Note that no formal policy has been released by USCIS confirming that the interview requirement will be waived, but this appears to have been occurring as many employment-based green card applicants with canceled interviews have had their green card statuses approved. Because no formal statement has been released yet by USCIS, as of May 7th, there is no guarantee that this will be the case for all employment-based green card applicants, however, it seems that as long as all other documentation is present, USCIS will adjudicate permanent residence applications.

While some marriage-based green card applicants have also been approved without interviews, it is likely that the interview process will not be waived, because of the importance in screening cases for fraud. Note that this waiving of appointments does not apply to citizenship applications.

Reusing Previous Biometrics 

For extensions of benefits like work permits, USCIS will reuse biometrics (that is, required submission of fingerprints and a digital photo) collected during previous applications. Often, however, USCIS will issue original work permits without any new collection of biometrics, reusing previously-collected biometrics collected on other occasions, such as upon entry to the United States.

EAD Renewal Application Flexibilities 

In resonance with other biometric-related measures taken by USCIS to reduce delays in adjudication, USCIS announced flexibility for Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) renewal applications by reusing prior biometrics for renewal applicants.

Relaxed “Wet” Signature Requirement  

USCIS has announced that it will temporarily accept filings with electronically-reproduced copies of original signatures instead of normally required “wet” signatures for all benefit forms and documents dated March 21 and beyond from both attorneys and applicants. USCIS has stated that it is safer for clients and attorneys to avoid in-person meetings. So long as an original document contains an original handwritten signature, it can be scanned, faxed, photocopied or similarly reproduced. USCIS may request copies of such original documents in the future, so employers are advised to retain copies. Note that USCIS does not allow any electronic signatures on its forms or petitions, so the petitioner or applicant must have access to a printer and a scanner to reproduce a signed paper form for USCIS filing. USCIS forms are protected from alteration, so even if the petitioner or applicant attempts to do so, they cannot be electronically signed.

Extensions of Certain Deadlines

USCIS has also extended the time by which applicants are able to respond to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, and NOIT if the notice was issued between March 1st and May 1st by a period of 60 days following the date of issuance.

Flexibility in the Visa Waiver Program
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many foreign nationals who were in the U.S. have been stranded and unable to leave. Normally, most individuals can visit the U.S. for a 90-day period without a visa according to the Visa Waiver Program. However, many of these foreign national travelers in the U.S. have overstayed their 90-day stays due to flight cancellations and the recent Presidential Proclamations that restrict entry from the Schengen Area countries, the U.K, and Ireland. CBP and USCIS are assisting travelers to obtain a supplementary 30-day extension called “Satisfactory Departure.” These foreign national individuals may request this extension from the USCIS by contacting the USCIS Contact Center.

Otherwise, such foreign nationals may request “Satisfactory Departure” by contacting the Deferred Inspection unit of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the international airport where they entered the country or the international airport closest to their current location. These extension processes are crucial for visitors who have overstayed their 90-day periods, because an overstay of this period completely will prevent visitors from utilizing the Visa Waiver Program in the future.

Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) Impacts on Immigrant Applicants 

Recent measures taken by the United States government, in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), have disrupted immigration services and proceedings. Here is a brief overview of commonly asked questions regarding how this pandemic will affect noncitizens, particularly green card and naturalization applicants.

 

Impact on Interviews and Appointments

Since March 18th, USCIS has temporarily suspended routine in-person services through at least May 3 in efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. USCIS provides emergency services for very limited situations; in order to schedule an emergency appointment, contact the USCIS Contact Center. USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve any physical contact.

Please note that you can create an account with the USCIS Online Portal in order to view your current application case status, your case history, the next steps for service requests, and you can receive case updates by text or email. Sign up here. Doing this will allow you to stay up-to-date on your application.

 

Q: Is my interview still scheduled?

USCIS offices will send notices with instructions to applicants and petitioners with scheduled interview appointments impacted by this closure. Once normal operations are able to be resumed, they will automatically be rescheduled.

If you have yet to hear from your consulate office, call your consulate office. You can check the USCIS Field Offices page to see if your field office has reopened before reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.

 

Q: What should I do if my interview is cancelled for my adjustment of status application?

Wait for USCIS to contact you with further instructions. Signing up with the USCIS Online Portal will allow you to get immediate access to information regarding rescheduling.

 

Q: What if I had an InfoPass appointment?
If you had an InfoPass appointment with a Field Office, you must reschedule your appointment through the USCIS Contact Center.

 

Q: Because USCIS offices are closed, what will happen to my biometrics appointment and how will this impact my application? 

USCIS has temporarily suspended all biometrics appointments. When USCIS resumes normal operations, your biometrics appointment will be automatically rescheduled within 90 days. You can call 800-375-5283 if you do not receive this rescheduled appointment.

 

Q: Because USCIS offices are closed, what will happen to my asylum appointment?

If you have an asylum application pending with USCIS, your case status can be checked online (you will need the receipt number mailed to you after you filed your application). If you need to contact your local asylum office, you can use the Asylum Office Locator.

Q: Because USCIS offices are closed, when will I be able to reschedule my naturalization ceremony?
USCIS will automatically reschedule your ceremony. A notice for your scheduled ceremony should be received by mail. If, in the next 90 days, you have not received this notice, reach out to USCIS Contact Center.

 

Q: If I am out of the country, am I able to switch consulate offices for an interview?

Call the National Visa Center (NVC). Switching consulate offices depends upon the circumstances.

 

Impact on Processing times

Q: How will the processing time of the application be impacted if my application is submitted? If my green card or naturalization application is submitted now, how will the processing time of the application be impacted?

All visa processing times are dependent upon the spread of COVID-19. If USCIS has informed you about rescheduling your biometrics or interview appointment, please follow the instructions in the sent document. All USCIS-related domestic delays can be kept track of here.

 

Note that all applications turned into USCIS are still being processed at their respective lockbox, but this process is taking longer than usual given the circumstances. Work and travel permits cannot be processed without a biometrics notice. Depending on how long the closures remain, this will add to the 5-8 months processing times for a work and travel permit, and to the 11- to 14-month processing time for a green card.

 

Travel-Related Questions

Q: If I am overstaying my visa due to travel restrictions or limited flights, how will this impact my application? 

Under usual circumstances, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires. However, USCIS recognizes that nonimmigrants may unexpectedly remain in the U.S. beyond their authorized period of stay. USCIS notes the following:

  • Apply for an Extension: Most nonimmigrants can file an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS) to avoid the immigration consequences of COVID-19.
  • File in a Timely Manner: if a nonimmigrant’s timely-filed EOS or COS application is pending, he or she will generally not accrue an unlawful presence.
  • New Flexibility for Late Applications: USCIS may excuse a nonimmigrant’s failure to timely file an extension/change of status request if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances. Under current regulations and as noted on our Special Situations page, if a petitioner or applicant files an extension of stay or change of status request (on Forms I-129 or I-539) after the authorized period of admission expires, USCIS may excuse the failure to timely file if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, such as those that may be caused by COVID-19. The length of delay must be commensurate with the circumstances. The petitioner or applicant must submit credible evidence to support their request, which USCIS will evaluate in its discretion on a case-by-case basis. These special situations have been used at various times in the past, including for natural disasters and similar crises.
  • New Flexibility for Visa Waiver Entrants: Visa Waiver Program (VWP) entrants are not eligible to extend their stay or change status. However, under current regulations, if an emergency (such as COVID-19) prevents the departure of a VWP entrant, USCIS in its discretion may grant up to 30 days to allow for satisfactory departure. Please see 8 CFR 217.3(a). For those VWP entrants already granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within this 30-day period because of COVID-19 related issues, USCIS has the authority to temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure. To request satisfactory departure from USCIS, a VWP entrant should call the USCIS Contact Center.
  • If you would like additional information on late requests to extend or change status, you can look over 8 CFR 214.1(c)(4) and 8 CFR 248.1(c). In addition, please see Form I-129 and Form I-539 pages for specific filing and eligibility requirements for extensions and changes of status.

Q: How can I get passport photographs if there is a stay-at-home order? 

The State Department has this tool to help you crop a photograph of yourself that will satisfy the passport photo requirement. There are many websites online (such as this one) that also mail your photographs to your home address.

 

Impact on USCIS Requests
Q: What approaches are USCIS taking to increase flexibility? 

On March 27, 2020, USCIS announced that it would allow an extra 60 days for a timely response to all Requests for Evidence (RFE) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID) dated between March 1, 2020, and May 1, 2020. This flexibility also applies to certain Notices of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) and Notices of Intent to Terminate (NOIT) regional investment centers, and certain filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion. USCIS will not issue new RFEs or NOIDs to account for the extended period of time. Rather, it will not take any action on the RFE or NOID until more than 60 days beyond the deadline.

 

When to Apply?

Q: If I have yet to submit my application, will my I-130 be impacted?

While processing times will increase, USCIS offices still accept I-130 applications.

 

Q: When should I submit my marriage-based green card application?

USCIS still accepts marriage-based green card applications.

 

Impact on Health Care

Q: How will being diagnosed with COVID-19 impact my green card or naturalization application? 

Care received at the emergency room, at a community health clinic, or at a free clinic does not trigger the Public Charge rule. USCIS issued a recent statement clarifying that any treatment or preventative service related to COVID-19 will not negatively affect any individual as part of a Public-Charge analysis.

 

Q: How will getting tested for COVID-19 impact my green card or naturalization application under the Public Charge rule?

You will not be impacted. Getting tested for seeking treatment for COVID-19 would not count against a would-be immigrant under the Public Charge rule. Accessing discounted care at hospitals, clinics, or other facilities will not be listed as a Public Benefit. Here is a list of government benefits that are considered during a Public Charge assessment.

 

Q: If I am receiving unemployment benefits, will my green card or naturalization application be negatively impacted under the Public Charge rule? 

Unemployment insurance is not included in the government’s list of categories of benefits that make someone a potential public charge. If you do rely on additional government benefits that are included on the government’s list, it is recommended that you attach a letter of explanation to your future application to note how the coronavirus pandemic affected your ability to work and conduct your usual activities.

 

Impacts of Relief Bill on Visa Applicants

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act states that immigrants are excluded from the stimulus payments, with one exception. Green-card holders are the only exception and will receive stimulus payments if they qualify. Otherwise, immigrants (including immigrants who are in the U.S. on work visas and pay taxes) are not eligible for the payments. Additionally, American citizens who are married to immigrants without Social Security numbers will not receive stimulus checks as part of the government’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

 

Impacts on International Students

Q: If I am an international student with an F-1 visa, but want to leave the U.S. for longer than five months, will this violate my F-1 status?

Current F-1 regulations state that a student may reenter the U.S. only after a temporary absence no longer than five months.

The DHS Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is issuing updated guidance, confirming that international students with an active status will not be subject to this five-month rule. The only exception is for students enrolled in full-time study abroad programs.

 

Q: Will my SEVIS record be negatively impacted if I am doing remote learning abroad?

Your F-1 record will not be impacted during the temporary COVID-19 accommodation period, because you will be taking online courses as a student.

 

Q: I am an F-1 student who has been experiencing severe economic hardships because of the pandemic. What can I do?

F-1 students who are experiencing economic hardships because of unexpected circumstances, such as the pandemic, can request employment authorization to work off-campus by filing Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and Form I-20, along with any additional supporting materials. For more, click here. 

 

Such students would be eligible to apply for off-campus employment authorization if they are:

  • A citizen of a country specified in a Federal Register notice;
  • Have been lawfully present in the United States for the period indicated in the Federal Register notice;
  • Have reported on time to their Designated School Official and been enrolled in a Student and Exchange Visitor Program-certified school since the special situation;
  • Currently maintaining F-1 status; and
  • Experiencing severe economic hardship.

USCIS may also discretionarily authorize special student relief and suspend certain requirements that would normally be mandatory for individuals from certain parts of the world that the secretary of Homeland Security identifies as experiencing emergency circumstances.

 

Impact on H-2A Workers

Q: How will the recent temporary changes to H-2A requirements impact me, if I am a foreign worker in the U.S. with a valid H-2A status?

The DHS and USCIS have published a temporary final amendment on some H-2A requirements so that U.S. agricultural employers may avoid disruptions in lawful agricultural-related employment, to protect the nation’s food supply chain, and to decrease the effects of COVID-19 on national public health. Under this temporary rule, foreign workers in the U.S. with H-2A status can be employed by H-2A petitioners with valid temporary labor certification immediately after USCIS receives the H-2A petition.

Q: I am an H-2A worker but am nearing my three-year maximum allowable period of stay in the United States. However, I cannot leave due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19. What should I do?

USCIS is temporarily amending its regulations to allow H-2A workers to stay beyond the three-year maximum period. These temporary changes will support lawful employment of foreign temporary and seasonal agriculture workers during the COVID-19.

Note: only once this petition in approved and published in the Federal Register, H-2A workers will be able to stay in the U.S. for a period of time validated by the Temporary Labor Certification. If DHS determines that future circumstances illustrate a continued need for changes to H-2A regulation, DHS will issue a new temporary final rule in the Federal Register to amend the termination date.

If you have questions about how these new changes may affect your case, please contact us on our website, by email at info@immigrationlawgroupllc.com or give us a call at (866) 691-9894.