Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this important video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected U.S. immigration law and what you should expect going forward.
COVID-19 Firm Update
In compliance with government directives, our office remains temporarily closed for any in person meetings with clients and prospective clients. However, our firm continues to be fully functional on a remote basis.
All meetings with current and future clients will take place via phone, Zoom, Facetime, or other remote conferencing medium. At this time, we are not scheduling in-person appointments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our focus remains the health and safety of our clients and our employees, while providing the highest quality of service.
If you are a prospective client, you may contact us by phone or schedule a video conference for a free discovery call to determine your immigration needs.
Our Message to Our Current Clients
Our Firm has been hard at work these last few weeks to avoid any disruptions in service as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, while at the same time acting responsibly to do our part to contain the spread of this virus.
To achieve business continuity, our office will be engaging an Alternate Work Schedule Program that will allow us to remain fully functional and continue our business with the use of remote working technology.
While most of the work performed by our team will take place on a remote basis, our staff members are prepared to file petitions at our San Diego office if needed. Designated staff members will be available to receive documents at our office where necessary.
For more information please read our COVID-19 statement here.
How is COVID-19 impacting immigration?
USCIS Office Closures
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic USCIS has announced the temporary suspension of in-person services at its field offices nationwide including Application Support Centers (ASCs) beginning March 18th. USCIS offices are expected to reopen to the public on April 7 unless the temporary closure is extended. Although offices will be closed to the public, employees will continue performing essential services that do not require face-to-face contact.
USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by the extended closure.
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 of the interview.
When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the office closure. New appointment letters will be sent by mail. Individuals with an InfoPass or other appointment must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center once field offices are open to the public again.
This means that interviews for adjustment of status, citizenship, removal of conditions, and asylum scheduled to take place between March 18 and April 6 will be re-scheduled.
Detained Aliens and Master Calendar Hearings
Our office is aware that master calendar hearings are being postponed and will be rescheduled due to the Coronavirus. In addition, we are aware that some detained aliens are being moved from one detention facility to another, often times without the knowledge of their attorneys, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
If you were scheduled to appear at a master calendar hearing, we advise you to wait to receive your reschedule notice in the mail. You may also contact the court directly or visit the court’s website for further updates.
Suspension of Routine Visa Services at Embassies and Consulates Worldwide
On March 20, the U.S. Department of State announced the temporary suspension of routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. As a result, embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020.
Embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services on a limited basis as resources allow. Overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, but no date has been provided at this time.
Services to U.S. Citizens will remain unaffected.
ICE Statement on COVID-19
For their part, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a statement informing the public that the agency will be temporarily adjusting its enforcement policies as of March 17, 2020, to focus enforcement and removal operations on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. For all other individuals, the agency will exercise their discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.
In addition, ICE will not be carrying out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
ICE has specifically stated that individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.
USCIS Announces Public Charge Rule Will Not Restrict Access to Medical Treatment or Preventative Services for COVID-19
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has issued a statement encouraging all individuals including aliens with COVID-19 symptoms to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services. USCIS has stated that “such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future Public Charge analysis.”
USCIS makes clear that “The Public Charge rule does not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19…” and “…does not restrict access to vaccines for children or adults to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases.”
As a reminder, “for purposes of a public charge inadmissibility determination, USCIS considers the receipt of public benefits as only one consideration among a number of factors and considerations in the totality of the alien’s circumstances over a period of time with no single factor being outcome determinative.”
USCIS has stated: “To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).”
Foreign Nationals Admitted to US through Visa Waiver Program
Due to the President’s recent travel restrictions to assuage the spread of COVID-19, many foreign nationals admitted to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program have not been able to depart the United States.
Beginning March 16, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will allow certain the opportunity to make a “Satisfactory Departure” request directly at a port of entry if, due to COVID-19 related travel issues, a traveler is unable to depart the United States before his or her period of admission expires.
Under Satisfactory Departure, a traveler may be granted 30 additional days if there is an emergency situation that prevents the individual from departing the United States within his or her period of authorized stay. As long as the traveler leaves within the 30-day window, he or she will not be considered to have violated U.S. immigration laws by overstaying.
Who is eligible?
Currently, CBP will only adjudicate requests made by travelers who were admitted to the United States pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) / Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) through John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) or Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU). Travelers can contact the Deferred Inspections office to request Satisfactory Departure for a period of up to 30 days.
At JFK and EWR, requests are limited to those whose VWP/ESTA period of admission will expire within 14 days. At RDU, requests are limited to those whose VWP/ESTA period of admission will expire within three days.
Travelers must provide their names, dates of birth, and passport information at the time of the request. They may also be asked to provide their flight itineraries showing their original flight information as well as their updated travel itineraries.
To contact your Deferred Inspection site click here.