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U.S. immigration policy and COVID-19

(Updated June 20, 2020).

Yesterday I was asked to do a podcast interview about the Supreme Court’s new DACA decision, and on other things that have changed in immigration since COVID-19. So much has happened in the past few months it has been virtually impossible to keep up. So I thought I would take a moment to do a high-level roundup of where we stand with the most impactful things that have happened in U.S. immigration since COVID-19.

Here’s a summary of topics:

Most USCIS Field Offices are reopening, but cases are backlogged.

USCIS handles all petitions filed by U.S. family members and employers of immigrants, as well as applications by immigrants who are already present in the U.S.

  • Most USCIS field offices opened for non-emergency work as of June 4, 2020, but some remain closed.
  • Since the Trump Administration implemented now requires that almost all applicants face in-person interviews, it means almost no applications were approved during three months of office closure, leaving a large backlog of cases.
  • “Behind the scenes” case processing continues at Service Centers, but cases will get delayed if USCIS moves forward with plans to furlough thousands of workers.
  • USCIS has been accepting all application and petition types during COVID-19, but some case approvals are subject to the travel bans discussed below.

Most non-emergency visa issuance by the State Department remains on hold.

The Department of State (DOS) is responsible for issuing visas from U.S. consular posts aboard, and provides services to overseas U.S. citizens.

  • Routine visa interviews were suspended worldwide on March 20, 2020.
  • On June 20, 2020, we learned that Trump is poised to suspend H-1B, L-1 and other temporary work visas for the remainder of 2020.

Tump’s COVID-19 Travel Ban remains in effect.

On April 22, 2020, the Trump Administration announced a 60-day moratorium on virtually all immigration. A summary is available here. Under this Travel Ban, foreign nationals who did not already have a U.S. visa or green card were not allowed to enter the U.S. As a practical point, this had little effect, since U.S. consulates were already closed and not issuing visas anyway. The ban is set to expire June 22, 2020, but will likely be continued, and again, consulates are closed anyway.

U.S. land borders remain closed to non-essential travel; travel from specific countries is banned.

  • The U.S./Canada land border remains closed to non-essential travel.
  • Same with the U.S./Mexico border.
  • Under a March 11, 2020, Presidential proclamation, travel from China and Iran was banned.
  • The same proclamation barred from most European countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom

USCIS made it easier for temporary farmworkers to remain in valid status.

On April 20, 2020, USCIS announced a new rule that essentially makes it easier for agricultural workers to keep temporary workers whom they are currently employing. Effectively, the employers can re-petition for workers they are already employing.

Litigation continues to challenge the unsafe detention of deportation detainees.

On April 7, 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced measures to selectively release detainees to help safeguard their health from COVID-19. Advocates have found there efforts woefully inadequate, and a number of habeas corpus lawsuits have been filed, demanding the release of certain detainees.

DACA is now back in effect and new applications can be filed.

On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court re-instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Commentary available here. This decision had nothing to do with the COVID crisis, but is huge news for the hundreds of thousands of DACA holders, and thousands of other youth who may now be able to apply under the program.

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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. My sister in laws green card interview has been delayed due to Covid, it was originally scheduled in April and she is still awaiting reschedule. She has an F-1 visa for a graduate program that ends in December 2020. She would like to take all final classes online next semester for safety reasons. With the new announcement that international students could be deported if not taking in person classes, Does her pending green card status allow her to take classes online rather than in-person? Thank you so much for your work.

    1. Hi, Rachel ~
      Yeah, this is a total mess. The administration is saying that online classes aren’t sufficient for F-1s. Then you combine that with a prior administration rule that says F-1s are automatically out of status if they stop complying with all F-1 rules. (It used to be that there had to be an actual finding on that issue by a government officer… now it just magically happens). So yes, if you switched to online classes you could theoretically face deportation, but more to the point you would start accruing unlawful presence. One option I’ve been talking to colleagues about is changing status temporarily to B-2 visitor, but you can’t study in that status and COS applications will take forever.
      It’s a bad situation.

  2. We are located in Tacoma Washington. We filed for our son’s visa to come here from the Philippines. It was a logistical nightmare with the volcano hitting. And then the pandemic coming down so we opted not to fly him at that time because it was too dangerous. We didn’t expect the pandemic would be here still and now his Visa is about to expire. We’ve tried contacting the consulate and they’ve provided little to no help only suggesting that we get on a sweeper flight. The problem is, he can’t go on the sweeper fly alone. And notice for the sweeper flights only happens a few days prior to the departure.

    Our two children are stranded in the Philippines. One child is a dual citizen the other just has a Visa.

    we honestly don’t know what to do. Can the Visa be extended?

    1. Hi, David,
      Yes, you need to work with the Immigrant Visa sector of the Manila consulate to request an extension. They are closed for routine processing at the moment but you should still do your best to get your request in. Their online communications department is actually really good compared to other consulates.

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