As governments and health organizations worldwide respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. visa and green card holders and sponsors should closely monitor impacts on travel restrictions and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Embassy services.
If you have specific questions, please reach out to us via email. We have experienced an influx of inquiries regarding travel and processing times, and we will get back with you as quickly as possible. Edit July 7, 2020: Last update, April 15. For the most up to date information, please see the FordMurray blog.
In the meantime, please review the following information, updated as quickly as possible with the latest information from USCIS and other resources.
COVID-19 Delays in Extension/Change of Status Filings
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said nonimmigrants may file extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS) applications in order to avoid unlawful presence in the United States. but the agency is not offering any special considerations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It its April 13 release, USCIS provides the following guidance to individuals who must unexpectedly remain in the United States due to COVID-19:
- 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 can consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances.
US Department of State Announces Suspension of Routine Visa Service
The U.S. Department of State announced suspension of all routine visa services at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. It has not indicated when visa processing will resume. The Department of State has indicated emergency appointments will be available on an “as needed” basis.
FordMurray recommends the following actions for our clients:
- Clients should be aware that individuals who have expiring or expired visas should not engage in international travel for the immediate future as they will be unable to obtain a new visa thereby barring their reentry to the United States for the foreseeable future.
- To avoid disruptions in business, companies and individuals should continue to adhere to “social distancing” requests and conduct business meetings, client meetings, and other meetings via teleconference or other video conferencing means.
Please contact your attorney for more information.
USCIS announces suspension of premium processing for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Effective March 20, 2020, USCIS will not accept any new requests for premium processing. USCIS will reject the I-907 and return the $1,440 filing fee for all petitions requesting premium processing that were mailed before March 20 but not yet accepted.
This temporary suspension includes petitions filed for the following categories:
- I-129: E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.
- I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.
This includes new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap. USCIS previously announced the temporary suspension of premium processing for FY 2021 cap-subject petitions and tentative dates for resumption of premium processing service. This announcement expands upon and supersedes the previous announcement.
US/Canadian and US/Mexico Border Closed to Nonessential Traffic
While those traveling for work or business are still allowed to cross, FordMurray attorneys advise that work visa holders to remain in the US unless travel to Canada and Mexico is absolutely necessary in order to avoid any complications with re-entering the US.
USCIS Field Office Closures
USCIS announced all routine in-person services will be suspended until at least April 1st in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This suspension will impact the following services:
- Field office appointments, including green card and naturalization interviews. USCIS domestic field offices will send notices with instructions to applicants and petitioners with scheduled interview appointments or naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. They will automatically be rescheduled once normal operations resume.
- Biometric appointments. When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule Application Support Center appointments due to the office closure. If you do not receive a new appointment notice by mail within 90 days, call 800-375-5283.
- Asylum interviews. 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 for the interview.
- Naturalization Ceremonies. USCIS will automatically reschedule your ceremony. You will receive a notice for your rescheduled ceremony by mail. If you do not receive a notice within 90 days, please reach out to the USCIS Contact Center.
Impacts to H-1B Lottery
As social distancing initiatives and shelter in place decrees take effect, employers could experience disruptions in H-1B petition process. Click here for up-to-date information on the FY-2021 H-1B lottery.
Travel restrictions are currently in place for foreign nationals who have traveled to Europe, China and Iran – this ban does not apply to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. At this time, FordMurray recommends that all U.S. visa holders remain in the United States until travel restrictions are lifted. For the most up to date information on travel restrictions, visit the U.S. Department of State travel alerts.
Consular processing delays
U.S. Embassies in foreign countries have begun canceling and postponing interviews. Use this link to find specific travel and consulate information by country.
COVID-19 Impacts on Student Visas and Online Education
While Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requirements typically limit online courses for foreign students, Immigration and Customs Enforcements announced it will allow college and universities to adapt curriculum and work study arrangements to respond to COVID-19 pandemic. Colleges and universities should document changes and be able to provide information to SEVP upon request. For the most up to date SEVP COVID-19 updates from ICE, click here.
Student Visas and Work Authorization
USCIS provides work extensions and change of status to student and exchange visitors based on unforeseen circumstances. For more information on updated work authorizations due to COVID-19, click here.
How to reschedule an appointment with USCIS due to illness
We are here for you.
FordMurray is committed to safeguarding the immigration status of our clients’ workforce as well as the status of our individual clients. We will continue to monitor and respond to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will do all in our power to protect the visa status of our clients and to work with the federal immigration agencies to make timely filings and advance our immigration cases.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to your contacts at FordMurray, with any questions you may have. Due to the high volume of queries at this time, email is the best way to reach us.