Immigration Processes Altered As a Result of COVID-19 Pandemic
Just as with all other aspects of society, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how the U.S. immigration system operates in profound ways.
USCIS, the agency that conducts interviews for permanent residence and naturalization, has suspended interviews and operations involving contact with the public until at least April 7. Emergency appointments are available for limited situations. The agency will automatically reschedule in-person appointments when it resumes normal activities. USCIS continues to adjudicate visa petitions filed by mail at its Service Centers across the country. In the same vein, the U.S. Department of State has suspended routine visa services in most countries.
DHS (Department of Homeland Security) is permitting employers taking physical proximity precautions to exercise discretion to defer the physical presence requirements associated with I-9 document verification. Employers must still inspect these documents remotely within 3 business days of hire. Employers should note COVID-19 as the reason for the delay and must re-inspect the physical documents and annotate the I-9 once normal operations resume.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has indicated special relief called Satisfactory Departure may be available for travelers who entered the United States via ESTA/Visa Waiver Program who cannot leave the United States by their required departure date due to travel restrictions or COVID-19 health restriction (i.e. required quarantine). Procedures for making a Satisfactory Departure request vary depending on where it is presented.
While the U.S./Mexican and U.S./Canadian borders have been closed to “non-essential” travel, business travel is still permitted.
For more information about these immigration topics or any other concerns, please contact Karen Gabriel Moss or Brad Ortman.