US Immigration In The Time of the Coronavirus
Written by David S. Rugendorf
Our lives have changed almost overnight, and the unimaginable has become the new normal. We find ourselves, our families and our workplaces in an unprecedented and ever evolving situation, with new government directives and restrictions appearing on an almost daily basis. With that in mind, we have a few general points to share with our clients and friends:
RECONSIDER TRAVEL PLANS – This should be obvious. Government travel restrictions are in place prohibiting entry into the United States of individuals who have recently been present in China and Europe (including the United Kingdom). Exceptions are currently being made for US citizens, permanent residents (“green card” holders) and their immediate families. Entries across our land borders are now severely curtailed. We do not expect the situation to return to normal any time soon – further restrictions may be imposed. Appointments to obtain visas at US embassies and consulates all over the world have been cancelled, or face lengthy postponements. Applicants should monitor their e-mails for notifications regarding cancellations and postponements. US airports have seen delays in immigration processing and crowding which have made social distancing impossible.
EXPECT IMMIGRATION APPOINTMENTS TO BE CANCELED – Appointments for biometrics, adjustment of status interviews, naturalization interviews, immigration court hearings and other immigration related appointments are being routinely canceled, as the USCIS and other agencies have closed all public functions and offices. We will notify our clients of any notices of cancellations or postponements we receive.
MONITOR EXPIRATIONS – Our clients should review the status of all employees on work-related visas, and monitor expirations of USCIS approval notices, I-94 forms and EAD cards. Please advise us soonest of any needed extensions. Where in the past we may have had our clients send their employees abroad for visa appointments at consulates after USCIS approvals, we are now filing in-country extensions for employees and their families. Given the likelihood that international travel and visa appointments will be unavailable for the immediate future, our goal is to help our clients keep their employees in legal, work authorized status as they remain in the United States, unable to travel.
NO PREMIUM PROCESSING – As of Friday, March 20, 2020, the USCIS has suspended premium processing for all cases. Where we were once able to expect a response to an expedited filing within 15 calendar days based on the payment of an additional government filing fee, this is no longer possible. Since all cases will be processed as standard processing, expect lengthy delays which may affect work authorization.
E-MAIL SIGNATURES OKAY FOR NOW — For public health reasons, the USCIS has announced it will allow photocopies of original forms to be submitted for the time being. This is a relaxation of their usual policy — “wet signatures” on forms have always been required. That said, we encourage clients who send us photocopied signatures to maintain original wet ink documents in case they are requested later.
RELIEF FROM DEADLINES – The USCIS has not yet announced its policy on relief for missed deadlines due to cancelled appointments, delays in case adjudications, etc. In past national emergencies, such as 9/11, Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, and other catastrophic events, the USCIS announced policies and procedures related to such missed deadlines. Until they do this time, assume all deadlines and expiration dates remain in place until we hear otherwise. If you have any questions related to any particular case, please let us know right away.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS – The grim realities of today will eventually make way for the brighter future of tomorrow. When that happens, USCIS, the US Departments of State and Labor will be incredibly busy with immigration caseloads as the economy reboots. Accordingly, this may be a good time to assess long-range immigration plans and priorities for your company and its employees.
We offer these points as general guidelines. Of course, details are critical, and we encourage you to contact us with all of your case specific questions. MSK Immigration remains open and ready to help its clients with all of their immigration needs during this public health crisis. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time. Until then, the best of health and safety to you, your families, your businesses, your employees and work colleagues.