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This Just Tweeted… US Immigration Updates based on COVID-19

Whether you saw it as a tweet or during a press conference over the weekend, President Trump announced that all social distancing must continue for Americans for at least another month, if not longer. While this isn’t the first or last update on COVID-19 precautions from the President, there has been plenty of mixed messaging on the immigration front. To help simplify the news, our team has put together a round-up of immigration related updates for US Citizens, permanent residents, non-immigrant workers, and visitors alike:

US Travel Restrictions

As we know, the Canada / US Border has closed to all non-essential travel until further notice. To be able to enter the US, you must be:

  • A US Citizen
  • A US Lawful Permanent Resident
  • An immediate relative of a US Citizen or Green Card holder
  • A specific non-immigrant visa holder, crew member, diplomat, or government official
  • A US armed forces member, including their family, and
  • Those deemed to enter for the national interest.

Upon arrival into the US, travelers are required to enter through one of 13 designated airports where they will proceed through standard customs processing and enhanced screening for medical histories and temperature checks. All will be required to self-quarantine once they have reached their final destination, in accordance with CDC best practices.

Restricting domestic travel may also become a nation-wide trend. On March 26, 2020 Governor Greg Abbott of Texas issued an Executive Order requiring anyone entering Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, or the City of New Orleans to self-quarantine. Not only will this mandatory self-quarantine restrict travel; we are all aware the airlines are struggling to continue operating. While there are few formal announcements restricting domestic US travel, the informal lack of travel may lead to the stoppage of domestic air travel all together. Stay tuned for more updates.

Extending Visitor Status

The US is an obvious travel destination where many individuals are admitted under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) or the Visa Waiver Program. Many of these visitors are no longer able to depart the US, return home, and are essentially stuck. This leaves many of them at risk of overstaying their status. Customs Border and Protection is allowing visitors confined in the US to contact a deferred inspection office and request to extend their stay beyond the originally granted 90 days. In order to be successful, individuals may be required to provide their original departure flight itinerary and their new flight itinerary if one exists.

If you are a Canadian in the US, you can read about options to stay in the US in our previous article: Key Cross-Border Points for Canadians to Consider at this Time.

Premium Processing Suspension

United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is continuing to process work permit and green card applications, albeit, at a slower pace. Effective March 20, 2020, premium processing (15 day processing) has been suspended for all I-129 and I-140 Forms. This suspension includes H-1B applications, cap-subject or not. Businesses and employers will need to re-strategize their workforce plans as standard processing usually takes months, and with the current circumstances, are undoubtedly going to increase.

Signature Flexibility  

Also effective March 20, 2020, USCIS will accept applications without original “wet ink” signatures. As the government wants to focus on ensuring social distancing is adhered to, the ability to submit applications with scanned, faxed, or photocopied signatures will be accepted for the duration of the national emergency. This change is unprecedented, but a welcomed adjustment for those still submitting applications for their businesses and employees.

Other Updates

All US Consulates and Embassies have essentially shut down until further notice. Both non-immigrant and immigrant visa appointments have been cancelled and will require the individual to reschedule at a future date.  We can expect that once the quarantine has lifted, there will be an influx of appointment bookings and a subsequent backlog. Company’s and foreign workers should look to strategize on what the future may look like to set themselves up for success come summer.

Additionally, all USCIS field offices have cancelled any and all interviews, nationalization ceremonies, biometrics appointments and other in-person services. This closure was initially scheduled to end April 1, 2020, however, as per the announcement this past weekend, the closures will remain in place to ensure the safety of employees, non-immigrants, immigrants and Americans alike.

On March 30, 2020, USCIS advised that officers will reuse previously submitted biometrics in order to process Applications for Employment Authorization (I-765) extensions due to the closure of Application Support Centers. This is in line with the previous announcement that any appointments scheduled on or after March 18, 2020 would continue to be processed using previously submitted biometrics. This policy will remain until the Centers are re-opened to the public.

Finally, USCIS announced additional measures allowing company’s petitioning for their employees an additional 60 calendar days to respond to any Requests for Evidence or Notices of Intent to Deny. This allows not only USCIS more time to adjudicate currently pending applications, but allows employers more time to gather documents remotely to submit their responses.

Please contact the Immigration team for more information on how this impacts US travel.