COVID-19 IMPACT ON U.S. IMMIGRATION
The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease COVID-19, is a pandemic threatening populations worldwide. The following are a few highlights of new immigration-related developments in the short term:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has extended its suspension of routine in-person services until at least May 3, 2020. USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. The agency said it will provide emergency services in limited situations. To schedule an emergency appointment, contact the USCIS Contact Center.
All US Consulates and Embassies have essentially shut down until further notice. Both non-immigrant and immigrant visa appointments have been cancelled and will require the individual to reschedule at a future date. We can expect that once the quarantine has lifted, there will be an influx of appointment bookings and a subsequent backlog. Companies and foreign workers should look to strategize on what the future may look like to set themselves up for success come summer.
Effective March 20, 2020, USCIS will accept applications without original “wet ink” signatures. As the government wants to focus on ensuring social distancing is adhered to, the ability to submit applications with scanned, faxed, or photocopied signatures will be accepted for the duration of the national emergency.
The Canada / US Border has closed to all non-essential travel until further notice. To be able to enter the US, you must be:
Those deemed to enter for the national interest.
A US armed forces member, including their family, and
A specific non-immigrant visa holder, crew member, diplomat, or government official
An immediate relative of a US Citizen or Green Card holder
A US Lawful Permanent Resident
A US Citizen
Upon arrival into the US, travelers are required to enter through one of 13 designated airports where they will proceed through standard customs processing and enhanced screening for medical histories and temperature checks. All will be required to self-quarantine once they have reached their final destination, in accordance with the Center of Disease Control's (CDC) best practices.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is continuing to process work permit and green card applications, now at a slower pace. Effective March 20, 2020, premium processing (15 days processing) has been suspended for all I-129 and I-140 Forms. This suspension includes H-1B applications, cap-subject or not. Businesses and employers will need to re-strategize their workforce plans as standard processing usually takes months, and with the current circumstances, are undoubtedly going to increase.
The US is an obvious travel destination where many individuals are admitted under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) or the Visa Waiver Program. Many of these visitors are no longer able to depart the US, return home, and are essentially stuck. This leaves many of them at risk of overstaying their status. Customs Border and Protection is allowing visitors confined in the US to contact a deferred inspection office and request to extend their stay beyond the originally granted 90 days. In order to be successful, individuals may be required to provide their original departure flight itinerary and their new flight itinerary, if one exists.
For further information, here is a full timeline and list of U.S. immigration actions on COVID-19.