What Can I Do For My Immigration Prospects Right Now During COVID?

What Can I Do For My Immi…

By Susan E. Hill, May 18, 2020

COVID-19 has disrupted everyday life across the globe, and people are anticipating that the disruptions will be in place for some time to come. So how will this development impact an immigration case and what can you do? It depends on your immigration status and whether you are already inside the U.S.

The good news: USCIS is open

USCIS is open and processing paperwork, but has suspended in-person interviews, fingerprinting and Infopass appointments. If your case falls under USCIS jurisdiction, it will still be worked on, until it reaches the point where fingerprinting or an interview is necessary. Once fingerprinting and interviews are re-instated, it is highly likely there will be a backlog for these services. So file now and get your place in line.

First, the banned geographic areas: China, Iran, Schengen Europe, and UK/Ireland; also, Canada/Mexico for tourists only

China, Iran, the Schengen area of Europe, and UK/Ireland are specifically singled out—no person who has been in these areas within 14 days of trying to enter the U.S. will be allowed in. There are many exceptions to those banned. Additionally, for Canada and Mexico, non-essential travel is banned until May 21, 2020—this means tourists and non-working visitors from those two countries. Presumably the bans will be lifted when DHS believes these areas no longer pose a health risk.

  • If you are affected by these bans, keep your travel plans flexible and, if relevant, gather documents to prove what country you were in, and on what date(s).

Temporary employment visas

Right now, consulates around the world are closed for visa appointments, meaning no new visas or “renewals” for people outside the U.S. Even when the consulates re-open, it seems likely there will be long delays for a non-emergency visa appointment of any kind. Moreover, in President Trump’s order from April 22, 2020, he demands review of all employment visa categories to determine if these visas should be granted in the future.

  • If you are outside the U.S., you or your employer can still file the underlying I-129 with USCIS; it is open and processing those. The Premium Processing expedite option has been suspended, so plan on waiting several months for an answer or be ready to upgrade when it becomes available again. Get your case “in the pipeline” to ensure a visa will be waiting for you.
  • If you are inside the U.S., and you qualify, you can file an I-129 to extend or change your stay/status. If you are filing late due to COVID circumstances, USCIS will consider this excuse on a case-by-case basis.

B-1 and B-2 visa visitors

Aside from the geographic bans above, there are no restrictions on B visa travel. As stated above, consulates are closed to new visa applications. But if you already have a visa you may use it to enter.

  • If you are already here and your I-94 is expiring you should immediately file to extend your stay. If you are filing late due to COVID circumstances, USCIS will consider this excuse on a case-by-case basis.

ESTA/Visa Waiver visitors

Just like B-1/B-2 visitors, there are no restrictions aside from the geographic bans.

  • If you are here with ESTA and it is expiring, the ESTA “extension” process is different, and far more limited. See here for more information.

Family and employment green cards

USCIS continues to accept and process new applications for green cards, and you should file soon as you can to get in line for fingerprinting and a green card interview. This applies even if the interview will take place outside the U.S. at a consulate.

  • Get your application on file now
  • If you are Adjusting Status inside the U.S., it’s a matter of waiting for fingerprinting/interview appointments
  • If you are outside the U.S., President Trump has suspended issuance of green cards until June 22, 2020, with exceptions for certain immediate relatives, health care workers, and more. See here for more information.

Naturalization/citizenship

USCIS continues to accept and process these applications, but the mandatory fingerprinting and in-person interviews are suspended for COVID.

  • File now to get in line for when those interviews are re-instated, and make sure you maintain the required physical presence in the U.S.

Most other benefits and court cases

USCIS is processing all other cases, but the Immigration Courts are closed for hearings. However, the Courts are still requiring that supporting documents be filed by their deadlines at the Court window or online. For all cases, you can experience COVID-related delays if you need to request a criminal record or a police report; many jurisdictions are not processing these during COVID.

Categories: Immigration News

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