COVID-19 Chronicles – Immigration Options In These Times

Typically, in times of crisis and emergency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reduces enforcement efforts, and USCIS issues temporary relief measures. Given the xenophobia of the current administration, we cannot rely on them to support our recommendations to allow for automatic extension of work permits, releasing persons from ICE detention, grant a moratorium on deportations, and other common sense proposals.

Below, we discuss some options that may be available to intending immigrants and temporary visitors during these times:

  1. Some relief is already available to certain non-immigrants: If you’re on an E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, L-1, or O-1 visa and can no longer work because you or a loved one has fallen ill due to the coronavirus, you can file for a work permit based on compelling circumstances, which will be valid for a year. This would ensure that you don’t suddenly lose your immigration status and have to head back home in the middle of a pandemic. More details on that are here.
  2. Change of status and/or extension of status: Generally, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission (on the I-94) expires. If your non-immigrant status is expiring such as B-1/B-2 or another temporary visa, you may be eligible for an extension or change of status, which should allow you to extend your stay in the United States. USCIS has released guidance on this. This is not an option for all visa classes, so it is imperative to reach out to legal counsel to seek advice on the matter.
  3. Fear of returning home: If your status is expiring or has expired and if you fear persecution in your home country based on race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group such as sexual orientation, you may be eligible to apply for asylum. Again, it is imperative to speak to a lawyer to explore this option.
  4. Victims of crimes and labor trafficking in the United States: If you’ve been a victim of a crime in the United States and filed a police report, or if you have been defrauded in the course of employment, you may have a claim to a U or T visa. Again, it is imperative to speak to a lawyer to explore this option.
  5. Green card holders who are stuck abroad: As a lawful permanent resident, absences of more than 180 days to one year may create a presumption that you have abandoned your permanent resident status. This could lead to questioning at the border upon reentry to the United States. Therefore, you should carry evidence with you that you could not travel back to the United States due to the COVID-19 epidemic, as well as evidence that you have maintained ties to the United States, such as information about your U.S. assets, tax filings, and utility bills. Be prepared for questioning at the border, and be prepared to explain why you could not travel back to the U.S. in a timely manner. See the USCIS website page on maintaining your permanent resident status.
  6. Adjustment of status: Right now is a great time to explore whether you are eligible for adjustment of status through a family member or employer. Contrary to popular belief, USCIS continues to receive and process their applications.

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Image Credit: Kevin Walsh

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