Please note this memo was issued on May 22, 2020, and guidance may have changed by the time you read this. We will endeavor to issue updates as we receive them.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is issuing regular updates to its guidelines regarding immigration services in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Rooney Nimmo, associate, Abbey Docherty summarizes some of these guidelines below.
On Wednesday March 18th, 2020, USCIS suspended all routine in-person visa interviews and adjudications in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. USCIS plans to begin reopening offices on or after June 4th, subject to state and country-specific lockdown extensions. USCIS Service Center offices remain in operation and will continue to process visa applications and responses to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) as normal.
USCIS Expands Flexibility for Responding to Requests for Further Evidence (“RFE”) and Notices of Intent to Deny (“NOID”)
USCIS has issued guidance regarding response deadlines for various immigration application requests (including but not limited to RFE’s and NOID’s). Specifically, USCIS will now accept a response to an RFE or NOID which is received within sixty days after the response due date detailed in the request. Currently, this flexibility applies only to requests issued between March 1st, 2020, and May 1st, 2020.
While this guidance is a positive update for US visa applicants, absent unforeseen circumstances, we recommend that applicants make every attempt to meet the initial response deadline included in the USCIS notice. Please reach out to the Rooney Nimmo attorney dealing with your visa application if you have any questions or concerns regarding a response deadline.
Executive Order: Suspension of Green Card Applications
On April 23rd, 2020, President Trump signed an executive ordering suspending the entry of individuals seeking green cards in the US. This suspension applies to individuals who are (1) outside the US as of the date of the executive order and (2) do not currently hold a valid immigrant visa. The executive order is valid for 60 days unless further extended. It is expected that the Trump administration will extend this suspension, although no official orders have been issued yet.
This suspension and limitation on entry do not apply to:
- Any lawful permanent resident of the US (i.e. any individual who has already obtained a valid green card);
- Any alien seeking to enter the US on an immigrant visa as a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional; to perform medical research or other research intended to combat the spread of COVID-19; or to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees; and any spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old of any such alien who is accompanying or following to join the alien;
- Any alien applying for a visa to enter the United States pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program;
- Any alien who is the spouse of a United States citizen;
- Any alien who is under 21 years old and is the child of a United States citizen, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
- Any alien whose entry would further the 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;
- Any member of the United States Armed Forces and any spouse and children of a member of the United States Armed Forces;
- Any alien seeking to enter the United States pursuant to a Special Immigrant Visa in the SI or SQ classification, subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State may impose, and any spouse and children of any such individual; or
- Any alien whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.
We will endeavor to provide updates as and when any further orders are issued.
USCIS Begins Implementing New Interactive Voice Response Telephone System
Announced on May 18th, 2020, USCIS has introduced a new interactive voice response (IVR) telephone system for English and Spanish callers to the USCIS Contact Center. The new IVR system personalizes the caller’s experience by giving the caller the ability to speak to the system rather than selecting keypad options, receive links for forms and information by email or text, and provide real-time feedback through an optional survey.
The IVR system will be implemented in phases. Once fully operational, the system will increase efficiency for the USCIS Contact Center and improve customer experience by giving callers a greater range of self-service options. Please contact the Rooney Nimmo attorney dealing with your case if you have any questions regarding contacting USCIS.
Suspension of Premium Processing
On March 20th, 2020, USCIS temporarily suspended premium processing for all nonimmigrant and immigrant employment petitions until further notice. USCIS will continue processing any petition requesting premium processing filed prior to this announcement, provided the petition has been accepted and a Form I-797 receipt notice has been issued or received.
This suspension remains in place, and USCIS will issue further guidance regarding the resumption of premium processing at a later date.
Visa Renewals and Extensions
Generally, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires. However, as detailed in our previous immigration article, certain visa holders who are currently physically present in the US are automatically permitted to remain living and working for the same employer in the US for a period of up to 240 days after expiration of their visa or Form I-94 (whichever date is earlier), or until USCIS makes a decision on the petition, provided that the visa extension application was submitted prior to that expiration date.
Additionally, some nonimmigrants may unexpectedly remain in the US beyond their authorized period of stay due to COVID-19. Should this occur, the following options are available, most nonimmigrants can mitigate the immigration consequences of COVID-19 by timely filing an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS) without accruing unlawful presence. USCIS will also consider late applications on a case by case basis and will consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances.
Nonimmigrants currently in the US on an ESTA pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program are not eligible to extend their stay or change status. However, if an emergency such as COVID-19 prevents the departure of an ESTA holder, USCIS, in its discretion, may grant a period of satisfactory departure for up to 30 days.
If you have any concerns or if any of the above situations apply to you and you would like to discuss your options, please contact Abbey Docherty, Elannie Damianos, Allan Rooney, or Tim Davis, or call us on 212 545 8022.
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