Many of the new policies and mobility restrictions surrounding the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are having a profound impact on U.S. immigration matters. However, we’d like to take a moment to reassure our clients and friends. Our team at McEntee Law has been consistently dealing with many immigration-related curve balls over the past few years. While this is our first pandemic, it’s not our first Travel Ban, and the skills we have fine-tuned over time will enable us to guide you through this extraordinarily difficult time.
Our team is all working remotely and we’re as responsive and available as ever before. Our commitment to providing top-notch immigration advice and representation has never been stronger. As a law firm founded and run by immigrants and many first generation Americans, we fully appreciate how stressful and uncertain these times are, not only for you but for your families and your employees/colleagues.
We are always here to answer questions and to advise you, so please contact us through any of our channels if you need assistance.
Please see below for an overview of how the Coronavirus outbreak is affecting immigration policies and immigrant workers and families here in the United States.
We would urge anyone affected by the below to contact an experienced U.S. immigration attorney. You can contact us here at McEntee Law Group by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling at +1-773-828-9544.
BREAKING NEWS: Premium Processing Suspended
Today, the USCIS announced that effective today it would be temporarily suspending premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 cases.
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.
It also includes cases that will be filed under the H-1B cap.
We are actively monitoring this and will update our clients when we get any further news on the resumption of premium processing. If you have questions on how this may impact your case, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
BREAKING NEWS: Flexibility of Original Signature Requirements
The USCIS also announced today that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 National Emergency, it will accept case filings with reproduced original signatures.
This means that a document may be scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced provided that the copy was of an original document containing an original handwritten signature (not e-signed), unless otherwise specified.
We are grateful to our bar association AILA for its advocacy efforts in this regard. This flexibility comes as a welcome relief for our clients and we sincerely appreciate USCIS’ common sense approach to relaxing the original signature requirement especially in light of all the mobility restrictions.
USCIS Office & Consular Closures
All USCIS Field Offices are closed to the public until at least April 1st 2020, with the sole exception of their emergency services. In very limited emergency situations, individuals may be able to schedule emergency appointments via USCIS’ Contact Center. All biometrics appointments have also been canceled.
Additionally, most if not all U.S. Embassies/Consulates have issued similar instruction. They will continue to offer emergency assistance to U.S. citizens abroad, and emergency visa processing will continue as normal, but almost all additional services have been cancelled indefinitely. If you require emergency assistance from a U.S. Consulate please refer to your local Consulate’s website for guidance. Here is a link for country specific information from the Department of State.
Individuals affected by both the USCIS Field Offices and U.S. Embassy/Consulate closures should expect to receive a rescheduled date for their interview/appointment. Do not panic if you have received a cancellation notice from either USCIS or your U.S. Embassy/Consulate. These interviews/appointments/biometrics will be rescheduled for a later date to be determined following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employment-Related Immigration Impact
Employers must be ready to act in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers have business continuity plans in place for atypical situations and, as the Coronavirus spreads globally, many companies are turning toward such plans in truly unprecedented times.
Given the likely USCIS processing delays due to the impact of COVID-19, employers may find that their employees’ continued permission to work could be interrupted. We would urge employers to do a thorough review of work authorization and upcoming expiration dates for foreign national employees.
Maintaining Lawful Immigrant Status
Employees here on employment-based visas, in co-operation with their sponsoring employer, must comply with the requirements of the specific status they hold. Maintenance of their lawful status includes things like leaving the country before the expiration of their status or timely submitting an extension to their nonimmigrant status before their current status expires.
As outlined above, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust regular immigration processing in to disarray. If an extension request is untimely filed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, an employer may be able to explain why the restoration of status ought to still be granted to their immigrant employee. Included immigration law is the provision for “extraordinary circumstances” and such a case may possibly be argued in the instance of an employees’ lawful immigrant status elapsing due to COVID-19.
Additionally, we are hoping that the federal immigration authorities announce relief measures in due course, just as they did in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. In the meantime, employers should endeavor to timely file extensions for employment-based visas to ensure ongoing immigration compliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted regular day-to-day business activity. For many of us, we are not in our daily offices and we are facing an extended period of remote work. Many employment-based visa categories contain place-of-work restrictions for example, H-1B visa holders face the most stringent restrictions.
If an immigrant employees’ work-site changes their employer may need to do one, more, or none of the following:
Limit the number of days the employee can spend at the new work-site
Post a notice at the new work-site
File a new LCA with the U.S. Department of Labor
File an amended petition with the USCIS
As each employer/employee relationship is as different from the next, and as each visa category stipulates different employment requirements, we would urge that those affected by this speak with their immigration attorney in order to ensure that they remain compliant with U.S. immigration law.
An undesirable consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak may be that the employer is forced to announce an unpaid work furlough for all employees. It should be noted that certain visa holders should not generally be furloughed without pay however there may be certain business circumstances where this is possible. We recommend discussing this with your immigration attorney to ensure compliance.
International Travel Restrictions
Currently, the President of the United States has issued three proclamations banning travel from China, Iran, and the vast majority of the continent of Europe in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. All non-essential border crossings with both Canada and Mexico are prohibited. The United States Department of State has also issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising ALL Americans to avoid international travel. We have included below pertinent information for those affected by any of the travel restrictions due to COVID-19.
30 counties are currently subject to travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. They include China, Iran, Europe’s Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. These travel restrictions apply to ALL nonimmigrants trying to enter the United States.
These travel restrictions do not apply to:
U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents
Spouses of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents
Parents or Legal Guardians of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents, providing that the child is unmarried and under the age of 21
Siblings of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents, providing both are unmarried and under the age of 21
Children who are under the legal custody of U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents
Other certain foreign government and health officials
Those not subject to the travel restrictions issued by the President, and traveling home from one of the affected countries stated above, should expect to be rerouted to one of thirteen airports – BOS, ORD, DFW, DTW, HNL, ATL, JFK, LAX, MIA, EWR, SFO, SEA, IAD. This is due to the fact that all individuals returning home from a travel restricted area need to subject themselves to enhanced DHS entry screening. These individuals will then be required to immediately self-quarantine following their arrival at their final destination.
If you’re a family member of a US citizen/green card holder and are trying to re-enter the U.S., please contact us for assistance.
Level 4 Travel Advisory
The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory urging all Americans to avoid any & all international travel due to the global health implications of COVID-19. Any American who is currently outside of the U.S. is advised to arrange for immediate return to the U.S.
Individuals Here on Visa Waiver Program/ESTA or as B-1/2 Visitors
Typically, individuals admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program are allowed to remain in the United States for a period of 90 days without any possibility of extending or changing their immigration status. However, those individuals who find themselves unable to depart the U.S. before their 90 day period of admission expires due to COVID-19 related issues may be eligible for an extension to their stay. It may be possible for us to request a “Period of Satisfactory Departure” for up to 30 days past their current period of admission. If the individual departs the U.S. within this period of Satisfactory Departure, the individual is regarded as having made a timely departure without having overstayed the conditions of their ESTA/VWP. Please contact us if you believe you may need to request this.
Additionally, those here on the B-1/2 visitor visa may look to extend this period. We would recommend that all extensions be prepared and filed in a timely fashion.
Finally, we’ve been getting a lot of calls from those here on Visa Waiver Program/B-1/2 visa with immediate US citizen relatives (spouse/fiancee/adult child etc.). If you find yourself in this situation and want to discuss if you have any other immigration options, please contact us.
Again for assistance with any of the above, you can contact us here at McEntee Law Group by emailing us at email@example.com or by calling at +1-773-828-9544.