The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many changes; the situation remains fluid thus currently the US Government has implemented the following:
Updated as of April 1, 2020
1. Changes to USCIS: All USCIS field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) will not provide in-person services until at least May 3, 2020. This includes interviews, naturalization ceremonies and biometric collection appointments. However, we will continue to provide emergency services during this time. If you have an emergency service request, please contact the USCIS Contact Center. USCIS field offices will send de-scheduling notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments impacted by this closure. We will send de-scheduling notices to naturalization applicants scheduled for naturalization ceremonies. All applicants will be rescheduled when USCIS resumes normal operations.
USCIS asylum offices will send interview cancellation notices and automatically reschedule asylum interviews. When the interview is rescheduled, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date and location of the interview.
USCIS will also automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the office closure. Those impacted will receive a new appointment letter in the mail. Individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments at the field office must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center once field offices are open to the public again. Please check to see if your field office has been reopened before reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.
As of March 20, 2020, USCIS will accept applications and documents with reproduced original signatures. This means that a document can be scanned, faxed, photocopied or similarly reproduced provided that the copy must be of an original document containing an original handwritten signature, unless otherwise specified. For forms that require an original “wet” signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency. This temporary change applies only signatures. All other form signatures should be followed when completing a form. Furthermore, individuals or entities that submit documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature must also retain copies original documents containing the “wet” signature. USCIS may, at any time, request the original documents, which if not produced, could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.
a. DHS Announces Limited Flexibility in Requirements Related to Form I-9 Compliance COVID-19 and the I-9 In-Person Inspection of Documents Requirement: Employers are required to verify a new employee's identity and legal authorization to work in the U.S. by reviewing original documents and completing Section 2 of the Form I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification) in person within three business days of the first day of employment. As many employers and their employees across the U.S. are telecommuting during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are finding it nearly impossible to comply with this rule.
In limited recognition of the dilemma many employers are facing, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on March 20, 2020 that the agency will temporarily suspend the in-person review of documents normally required to complete the Form I-9 for employers who have transitioned to a telecommuting policy for a 60-day period, or for three days following the end of the COVID-19 emergency, whichever date is earlier.
• Employers with any employees physically present at a worksite do not qualify for this exemption
• Physical review requirement is temporarily suspended, not eliminated
Employers reviewing copies of documents or via other remote applications should enter "COVID-19" as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 "Additional Information" field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume.
• On the date businesses return to normal, employees have 3 business days to present their original documents to their employer for physical review. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add "documents physically examined" with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 if the originally presented work authorization has been updated since remotely reviewed.
• Timing requirements for completion of the Form I-9 are still the same; Section 1 must still be completed by the employee on or before their first day of work, and Section 2 document review (even if remote) must be completed by the employer (or their authorized representative) within three business days of the start of employment.
Employers who have received a Notice of Intent to Fine (NOI) in March 2020 are also granted automatic 60-day extension to respond.
b. Flexibility for Answering Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny: b. Flexibility for Answering Requests for Evidence (RFE) Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID), Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) and Notice of Intent to Terminate (NOIT): For applicants and petitioners who receive an RFE, NOID, NOIR and NOIT dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response deadline set forth in the RFE or NOID or NOIR or NOIT will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken.
c. Biometrics Reuse: On March 30, 2020, USCIS announced that it will reuse previously submitted biometrics in order to proceeed valid Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, extension requests due to the temporary closure of Application Support Centers. Applicants who had an appointment scheduled with an ASC on or after March 18 closure or who filed an I-765 extension will have their application processed using previosuly submitted biometrics. This will remain in effect until ASCs resume normal operations.
2. Changes to Immigration Court: Access to courts is limited and all non-detained Master Calendar and Individual Hearings scheduled until at least May 3 have been rescheduled across the country.
a. Boston Immigration Court: Due to circumstances resulting from COVID-19, all Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) master calendar and merit hearings presently scheduled through May 3 will be rescheduled. Neither the MPP program nor any hearings will be cancelled.
b. Any individual with an MPP hearing date through May 3 should present themselves at their designated port of entry on their previously scheduled date to receive a tear sheet and hearing notice containing their new hearing dates. DHS and EOIR are deeply committed to ensuring that individuals ‘have their day in court’ while also ensuring the health and safety of aliens, our frontline officers, immigration court professionals, and our citizens.
3. Changes to Consular Offices: Many consulates are suspending non-emergency visa services. For any emergent travel needs, please refer to your consulate’s guidance regarding emergency visa appointments.
4. Travel Restrictions:
a. Travel Bans
i. President Trump issued a proclamation on March 11, 2020 restricting travel to the U.S. for individuals who traveled to the Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland) in the last 14 days. This was later extended on March 14, 2020 to include the United Kingdom and Ireland. Please note that this ban is in addition to existing travel bans from Mainland China (January 31, 2020) and Iran (February 29, 2020). Note that as of March 17, 2020, the border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed to individuals.
ii. The following are exempt from the travel ban:
1. U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents;
2. Spouses of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents;
3. Parents or legal guardians of U.S. Citizens of Lawful Permanent Residents, provided that the child is unmarried and under the age of 21;
4. Siblings of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents, provided both are unmarried and under the age of 21;
5. Children who are under the legal custody of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents; and
6. Other certain foreign government and health officials
iii. Those exempt from the travel bans and are traveling to the U.S. will be redirected to one of 13 designated airports: JFK, ORD, SFO, SEA, HNL, LAX, ATL, IAD, EWR, DFW, DTW, BOS and MIA.
iv. The President has explained that on April 11, 2020, officials will reassess COVID-19 travel bans.
b. ESTA Cancellation for Individuals Attempting to Circumvent Travel Bans:
i. Travelers with valid ESTA who are subject to the travel bans and attempt to travel to the U.S. in violation of the travel ban will have their ESTA cancelled. Should ESTA be cancelled, applicants will be permitted to reapply in the future.
5. ESTA Extensions (Satisfactory Departure): Individuals admitted under VWP/ESTA through JFK or Newark Airports and are unable to depart the U.S. before their current period of admission will end, due to issues related to COVID-19, can contact the Deferred Inspections office at JFK Monday-Friday from 9 AM until 4 PM to request Satisfactory Departure for up to 30 days. Please note that this only applies to those individuals whose period of stay will expire in 14 days or less from the day he or she contacts Deferred Inspections. Individuals will need to provide a copy of the Biographic Passport page and a copy of the Admission Stamp to obtain a 30 days extension.
6. Immigration Customs Enforcement: requires that all legal visitors and medical staff to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) (disposable vinyl gloves, N-95 or surgical masks, and eye protection) while visiting any detention facility.
7. Custom Border Protection:
a. Northern Border: On Wednesday, March 20, the U.S. and Canada announced that the Northern Borders would be closed to “Non-Essential” traffic. Non-essential travel is currently defined as “travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.” In a statement issued on Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said: “The United States and Canada recognize it is critical we preserve supply chains between both countries. These supply chains ensure that food, fuel, and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border. Supply chains, including trucking, will not be impacted by this new measure. Americans and Canadians also cross the land border every day to do essential work or for other urgent or essential reasons, and that travel will not be impacted.”
This decision was implemented midnight, March 21, 2020; and both countries will review it on April 22, 2020.
According to the US Customs and Border Protection Notification of Temporary Travel Restrictions Applicable to Land Ports and Ferries published March 20, 2020 in 19 C.F.R. Chapter 1, (and as is evident from the title of the Notification) these US/Canada restrictions apply only at land ports of entry between both countries, not to air travel.
b. Essential Work in the United States: the March 20, 2020, notification states that travel of “Individuals traveling to work in the United States…” is considered “essential”. However, as of this writing, the CBP Committee has received mixed reports concerning business adjudications. Some CBP ports confirmed, on Friday, that they are for the moment, and unless directed otherwise, continuing to process L and TN applications. Others have indicated that they are waiting on guidance from CBP HQ, and another port denied an application indicating that the work was not essential. The committee will keep members apprised of any additional information or clarity provided on this issue.
c. General Precautions: CBP ports have asked that individuals who manifest illness not appear personally. Those who have travelled to any of the countries covered by the temporary COVID-19 related bans (China, Iran, 26 European countries), in the 14 days before their scheduled arrival in the United States will not be allowed admission.
d. Southern Border: Similar to the Northern Border, a joint U.S. and Mexico announcement was made on March 20, 2020, closing the Southern land border to non-essential travel. Reports indicate that the U.S.-Mexico agreement mirrors that of the U.S. Canada agreement. This policy took effect on 12:01 am (ET) March 21, 2020, for 30 days and may be extended further upon review.
e. CBP Detention Facilities: CBP has stated that people subject to the closure will not be held in congregate areas for processing by CBP and instead will immediately be turned away from ports of entry. Those encountered between ports of entry after crossing between ports of entry and being apprehended will similarly not be held in congregate areas for processing and instead, to the maximum extent feasible, will immediately be returned to their country of last transit.
Additionally, CBP will no longer detain individuals in holding facilities. It will be immediately returning individuals to the country of entry (Canada or Mexico). Where that return is not possible, CBP has indicated it will return individuals to their country of origin.
f. Check with the Particular Port of Entry: Please remember that things are also changing rapidly in the Southern Border. Thus, it is imperative that individuals confirm the state of affairs at a particular port of entry before they seek to enter or obtain a related benefit or service. This can be done by contacting a port directly https://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports, or by contacting our office.
We advise all clients with travel plans over the next three months to closely monitor travel restrictions as these restrictions have been changing with little-to-no notice. Immigration Solutions LLC will continue to provide developments as soon as they are announced.