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COVID-19 And Its Impact On Immigration – Immigration Lawyer New York
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COVID-19 And Its Impact On Immigration

By Michael H. Markovitch, Esq. on April, 14, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 is triggering changes to U.S. immigration policies, procedures and enforcement.  Every day, we are receiving new guidelines from the federal government as to how this epidemic will affect immigrants and non-immigrants.  Please allow this article to give you the latest news but, realize that changes occur frequently and we will need to update accordingly.  In the meantime, stay safe.

 

ICE Operations

On March 18, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it was cutting back enforcement operations as a result of the pandemic. In a statement, the agency said it would focus on apprehending undocumented immigrants who pose a risk to public safety or whose detention is mandatory on criminal grounds.

An agency memo indicated it would not carry out “enforcement operations at or near health care facilities such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.”

But Acting ICE Director Ken Cuccinelli later appeared to modify the announcements, tweeting, “ICE will, as it has during other times of crisis, conduct enforcement operations that protect our communities and uphold our laws. … That does not mean that no other removable aliens will in fact be removed. But during the current public health situation, removals will be done in such a way as to minimize the exposure [to COVID-19] of our agents and of the removable aliens we are encountering.”

 

Immigration courts

Some U.S. immigration courts are still operating but with a reduced workload, despite pressure from immigration judges and others to close all courts.

 

In-Office USCIS Services Suspended

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for administering the nation's legal immigration system, including green cards, citizenship, and asylum and refugee processing, announced it was suspending its in-person services, including naturalization ceremonies and green card interviews.

“USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations,” the agency posted on its website.

 

On April 12, 2020, USCIS posted the following:

Stakeholder Message: COVID-19 Delays in Extension/Change of Status Filings

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognizes that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We continue to carefully analyze these issues and to leverage our existing resources and authorities to effectively address these challenges. DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of U.S. workers during this pandemic.


Generally, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires.  However, we recognize that nonimmigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorized period of stay due to COVID-19.  Should this occur, the following options are available to non-immigrants: 

Apply for an Extension.  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).  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and many of our forms are available for online filing.

If You File in a Timely Manner.  Nonimmigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence while the timely-filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending.  Where applicable, employment authorization with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time.

Flexibility for Late Applications. USCIS reminds petitioners and applicants that it may excuse a nonimmigrant’s failure to timely file an extension/change of status request if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.

Under current regulations, and as noted on our Special Situations page, if a petitioner or applicant files an extension of stay or change of status request (on Forms I-129 or I-539) after the authorized period of admission expires, USCIS may excuse the failure to timely file if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, such as those that may be caused by COVID-19. The length of delay must be commensurate with the circumstances. The petitioner or applicant must submit credible evidence to support their request, which USCIS will evaluate in its discretion on a case-by-case basis. These special situations have been used at various times in the past, including for natural disasters and similar crises.

Please see 8 CFR 214.1(c)(4) and 8 CFR 248.1(c) for additional information on late requests to extend or change status. In addition, please see our Form I-129 and Form I-539 pages for specific filing and eligibility requirements for extensions of stay and changes of status.

Flexibility for Visa Waiver Entrants. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) entrants are not eligible to extend their stay or change status. However, under current regulations, if an emergency (such as COVID-19) prevents the departure of a VWP entrant, USCIS in its discretion may grant a period of satisfactory departure for up to 30 days. Please see 8 CFR 217.3(a). For those VWP entrants already granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within this 30-day period because of COVID-19 related issues, USCIS has the authority to temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure.

For More Information

USCIS will provide further updates as the situation develops and will continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance. Please visit uscis.gov/coronavirus for the latest facts and other USCIS updates.

For further information or questions, you may have, please do not hesitate to contact The Law Offices of Michael H. Markovitch.

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