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.
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.
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.
ESTA/Visa Waiver visitors
Just like B-1/B-2 visitors, there are no restrictions aside from the geographic bans.
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.
USCIS continues to accept and process these applications, but the mandatory fingerprinting and in-person interviews are suspended for COVID.
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.
© 2021 Hill & Piibe, Immigration Attorneys