The spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has resulted in an unprecedented disruption of routine and life in the United States. In this time of uncertainty, we want to provide some guidance and reassurance regarding how the present crisis affects U.S. immigration:
Will USCIS consider granting any leniency to those unable to meet certain filing deadlines because of COVID-19?
Most likely. While USCIS has closed its doors to all in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs), effective until at least April 7, they are still working on processing applications. Federal regulations and USCIS policy allow for individuals who fall out of status to apply for extension or reinstatement of status due to “special situations”, i.e. natural catastrophe or other extreme situation, such as the spread of a world pandemic. It is likely that anyone infected by, or otherwise prevented from filing, due to COVID-19 will still have their application considered by USCIS under the circumstances.
Are Anticipated Case Timelines Still Accurate?
Yes, but premium processing is currently unavailable. USCIS has announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to COVID-19. This includes new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for the fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap. Furthermore–all appointments for biometrics, interviews, and oath ceremonies, have been canceled and postponed. The timeline situation is evolving–we anticipate that April 1 may bring additional information concerning USCIS timelines going forward.
My Case Requires That I Undergo Consular Processing–Is that Still Available?
Depending on the specific country, consular processing may be difficult or impossible to complete at this time. Many U.S. consulates around the world–including consulates in Mexico, China, Philippines, Italy, South Korea, Russia, Haiti, Peru, and Germany, among others– are closed as a measure to slow the spread of COVID-19. While we are unable to schedule consular interview appointments at this time, we can still assist in preparing the necessary consular forms in anticipation of eventual reopening.
I have to travel abroad, am I allowed to reenter the United States?
It depends. At this time, travel restrictions and entry screening apply only to travelers arriving from some countries or regions with widespread ongoing spread of COVID-19. For specific guidance on country specifics, please visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travel Guidelines. For those traveling from Mexico or Canada, the United States has temporarily limited inbound land border crossings from Canada and Mexico to “essential travel” (i.e. those with work visas, student visas returning to school, permanent residents, among others) which will remain in effect through 11:59 pm on April 20, 2020. This action does not apply to air, rail, or sea travel at this time, but does apply to commuter rail and ferry travel.
I am on F-1 status and my sponsor is no longer able to support me due to this crisis. What can I do?
If you experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control, you may request employment authorization to work off-campus (if you meet certain regulatory requirements). 8 CFR §214.2(f)(9). We anticipate that USCIS will consider those infected with, or otherwise directly impacted by, COVID-19 as potentially eligible for employment authorization. To be eligible, an applicant’s Form I-20 must include the employment page completed by the Designated School Official, certifying eligibility for off-campus employment due to severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control. We can assist any F-1 visa holder in applying for employment authorization under this provision.
I am in Immigration Court–how is COVID-19 affecting those in removal proceedings?
All non-detained hearings scheduled through April 10, 2020, have been postponed. Regarding filings–effective March 26, Immigration Courts in Atlanta – Peachtree; Houston – Fessner; Los Angeles, Olive; Memphis; New York – Broadway, and; Sacramento will begin reopening for the limited purpose of accepting filings. All filings due during the closures and today are now due–due dates for future filings remain. In all courts, filings by the EOIR Courts & Appeals System (ECAS) or mail is preferred, and there is no requirement that documents be filed in person. All detained cases are proceeding as usual.
Wilner & O’Reilly remains cognizant of the fears and anxiety felt by all impacted by the spread of the Coronavirus, particularly regarding its effect on U.S. Immigration–and we are prepared to help. We can navigate you through these changes as you prepare your applications and make sure your processes move forward as worry-free as possible. We offer free consultations at our offices in Orange, Riverside, Pasadena, Fresno, Sacramento, and San Bruno, California; Salt Lake City and Orem, Utah; and Boise, Idaho.
ABOUT AUTHOR (S)
Jake Tuimaualuga – Associate Attorney
Jacob Iosefa Tuimaualuga (“Jake”) is an associate attorney at the Wilner & O’Reilly Salt Lake City Office. Mr. Tuimaualuga devotes his practice to employment-based transactional cases, including both nonimmigrant visas (i.e. J-1, H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, O-1, P1, etc.) and permanent residence applications (i.e. PERM, national interest waivers, EB-1, EB-2, etc.). Mr. Tuimaualuga earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. Prior to his employment at Wilner & O’Reilly, Mr. Tuimaualuga worked as a lead research assistant for Brigham Young University’s Community Legal Clinic handling plea negotiations, expungements, reductions, adjustments of status, and affirmative asylum applications for the indigent. Mr. Tuimaualuga also spent considerable time volunteering at the Timpanogos Legal Center in Provo, Utah assisting victims of domestic violence in divorce and child custody cases.
Richard Wilner – Founding Partner
Richard M. Wilner is a founding member of Wilner & O’Reilly, APLC and is Board Certified by the State Bar of California as a Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law. He is admitted to practice law in the State of California and before the U.S. District Courts for the Central, Northern and Southern Districts of California, the Northern District of Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court.Mr. Wilner has received the coveted Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, the highest legal and ethical rating that one can receive from one’s peers in the legal community. Similarly, he has been awarded the title of Super Lawyer from 2007 to the present. He is best known for his work in advising Fortune 500 companies, middle and small market businesses, entrepreneurs and foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in athletics, arts, and sciences in the complex area of U.S. Immigration and Nationality Law.