FAQs: Immigration-Related COVID-19

In March 13, 2020
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Due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we are facing a global pandemic and today’s national emergency announcement may have raised questions about the status of immigration processes and the status of your case. At Lal Legal, we are monitoring developments closely and updating clients as needed as to how this impacts their cases. More information on the novel coronavirus can be found here including how to protect yourself from it.

Below are some updates we have related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those seeking entry into the United States, seeking to adjust their status, and on other immigration-related matters.

Bookmark this blog, and see the articles below for further information:

Firm Policies

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter in place order for the Bay Area, Lal Legal has instituted remote work from home policies until further notice. While no one at the office has exhibited symptoms, we want to be safe and take precautionary measures to ensure public safety and welfare. As such, all appointments and consults will be held via phone and/or video conferencing, moving forward and until further notice. 

Please be assured that if you have a pending immigration matter with the office, we are continuing to work on your case remotely and able to provide any new updates, as they arise. We are checking the mail at the offices weekly, and working on responding to any correspondence received from any and all federal agencies. We are also still mailing responses to any correspondence received on your cases on a weekly basis.

If we are at the filing stage, please note that documents requiring original signatures should be printed, signed in ink, scanned and emailed to us at the address provided to you by the attorney. All other documents can and should be sent via email to the staff member working on the case or uploaded to a cloud service and shared with the attorney or staff member working on your case.

Public Charge Rule

In February 2020, USCIS implemented an expanded and nefarious public charge rule that penalizes certain intending immigrants who have ever sought public benefits.

USCIS has clarified that the public charge rule does not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19.  In addition, the rule does not restrict access to vaccines for children or adults to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases.

For those persons who do receive certain cash and non-cash public benefits or who cannot attend school or work will be allowed to supplement their applications with this information. Please refer to USCIS for more information on this matter.

USCIS Appointments

USCIS has cancelled all face-to-face interviews at field offices and application support centers until after June 4, 2020 and will send reschedule notices to anyone who was scheduled for an interview or fingerprints. Please note that service centers continue to be open and processing cases unless explicitly stated otherwise. You can check for the status of local USCIS Field Office closures at this link.

USCIS has also extended timelines to respond to various notices. USCIS will consider a response received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set forth in the following requests or notices before taking any action if such request or notice was issued by USCIS between March 1 and July 1, 2020, inclusive: 

  • Request for Evidence;
  • Continuations to Request Evidence (N-14);
  • Notice of Intent to Deny;
  • Notice of Intent to Revoke;
  • Notice of Intent to Rescind; and
  • Notice of Intent to Terminate.
  • Request for a Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings (Under Section 336 of the INA)

In addition, USCIS will consider a Notice of Appeal or Motion filed on Form I-290B if filed 60 calendar days from the issuance of a decision by USCIS, if such decision is was issued between March 1 and July 1, 2020, inclusive. See USCIS alert for more information.

USCIS has also indicated that it will accept scanned signatures on all documents submitted while the pandemic is ongoing.

For those unable to provide fingerprints for work permit renewals because application support centers are closed, USCIS has indicated that it will try to recapture biometrics from previously filed requests so as to not delay the issuance of work permits.

If you have an appointment when offices are reopened, USCIS has stressed that if you become ill for any reason, regardless of whether you were exposed to COVID-19, you can and should reschedule your appointment without penalty. 

Please follow the instructions on your appointment notice to reschedule your appointment or interview if you:

  • Have traveled internationally to any country outside the U.S. within 14 days of your appointment;
  • Believe that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 (even if you have not travelled internationally); or
  • Are experiencing flu-like symptoms (such as a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat or fever).

Naturalization Ceremonies

USCIS has cancelled all oath ceremonies nationwide. These will be rescheduled once things are up and running again after June 4, 2020. Our office will be monitoring for local ceremony updates.

Immigration Court

After facing relentless pressure from both judges and lawyers, the EOIR announced that immigration courts will not hold Master or Individual hearings for non-detained cases starting March 18, 2020 through to and including June 12, 2020. An updated list of court closures is here.

However, courts continue to be open for detained individuals, and for accepting filings from attorneys.

EOIR has also implemented an electronic filing system for attorneys and respondents.

EOIR typically provides updates on court closures as needed on Twitter. We will update impacted clients individually as needed.

ICE Detention

At this time, ICE is suspending “social visitation” at all of its detention facilities across the US to prevent any transmission of coronavirus. Legal visits will still be allowed but family members are no longer allowed to visit immigrants who are detained. We are continuing to monitor this situation, and requesting that ICE release all detainees, and reschedule all ICE check-ins. 

State Department and Consular Processing

In response to the concerns brought on by the spread of COVID-19, certain consular posts have begun alerting applicants of reduced or temporarily suspended visa services. The Department of State has compiled a list of embassy websites for country-specific information concerning COVID-19. This page provides links to the COVID-19 dedicated page for each nation’s embassy which includes information concerning health services, recommendations, and in some cases, information concerning a reduction or temporary suspension of visa services. 

As such, if you have a visa appointment abroad in the next month, it may have been cancelled. The State Department has announced that countries between a Level 2 and Level 4 travel advisory will no longer have visa services. Please do not leave to process visas for these countries as you will be struck abroad. Please check with the local consulate and your attorney for more information. 

Further, the United States is suspending J-1 visa programs for the next 60 days. The US Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs says the decision will be reviewed after the initial period, with a further 30-day suspension possible.

Traveling

Traveling abroad at this time is highly not recommended even if you have authorization to travel. 

President Trump has issued a temporary travel ban on certain immigrant visas, which you can read about here.

President Trump has issued various proclamations suspending the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of individuals who were physically present within the Schengen Area, Iran, and the People’s Republic of China during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States, subject to certain exceptions. The travel restrictions continue to be in place at this time. 

VP Pence has also extended the travel ban to the U.K. and Ireland, going into effect on March 16th, 2020. We expect more travel bans in the coming days.

These travel ban proclamations are not supposed to apply to U.S. citizens, or to the following persons:

  1. a lawful permanent resident of the United States
  2. a spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  3. a parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  4. a sibling of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, provided that both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  5. a child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  6. a non-citizen traveling at the invitation of the United States Government for a purpose related to containment or mitigation of the virus;
  7. C (transit) or D (air or sea crewmember) nonimmigrants
  8. seeking entry into or transiting the United States pursuant to an A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (as a foreign government official or immediate family member of an official), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6 visa;
  9. a non-citizen whose entry would not pose a significant risk of introducing, transmitting, or spreading the virus, as determined by the CDC Director, or his designee;
  10. a non-citizen whose entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees based on a recommendation of the Attorney General or his designee; or
  11. a non-citizen whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees.

The State Department also has a page up to address questions from U.S. citizen travelers entering the United States or who may be struck abroad at the moment.

If you are a lawful permanent resident stuck abroad at this time, you have 180 days from when you left to come back to the United States without raising questions about your status. If you stay outside the country for more than a year, you would be presumed to have abandoned your status under current rules and regulations. As such, please contact us if this is the case so we can support your efforts to return to the United States without loss of status. 

You can find additional information and updates on the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

We will do our best to keep you informed for further updates. You can follow developing news on our social media.

Stay safe, and please reach out if there is anything we can do to assist you professionally or personally. 

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post is meant to be construed as legal advice. This news is current as of 03/31/2020, but information herein is subject to change. Please check in with your attorney as to if and how the information above pertains to your individual case.

Image Credit: nursingschoolsnearme.com

Immigration Attorney

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