U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to monitor the Coronavirus outbreak. The Nelson Mullins immigration team of attorneys has assembled some of the key developments so far.
Emergency Visa Interviews Allowed for Medical Professionals and Certain Business Persons (May 19, 2020)
Despite the worldwide suspension of routine visa services, U.S. consulates are allowing emergency visa services on a case-by-case basis. Executives and managers of international businesses and medical professionals are being allowed to apply for emergency visa appointment. Such emergency visa applications should be supported by documentation of need for such emergency appointments.
As of May 1, 2020
Employers now must use the new Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification Employers – dated October 21, 2019 – for all new hires and reverifications starting May 1, 2020.
USCIS also updated its Handbook for Employers, M-274, to include additional information and clarification on properly completing Form I-9. Employers can now inspect Form I-9 documents remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upcoming Executive Order to Suspend Immigration into the U.S. (as of April 21, 2020)
- President tweeted last night "In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!"
- The order is expected to temporarily halt the issuance of new green cards and work visas.
- No visas are being issued currently due to consulate closures.
- The new visa suspension is expected to be temporary for 120 days or so.
- No details are available until the actual Executive Order is issued, which is expected within a few days.
USCIS Announces Flexibility for RFE, Notices of Intent to Deny
- USCIS announced that it is adopting a measure to assist applicants and petitioners who are responding to requests for evidence (RFEs) and notices of intent to deny (NOIDs) dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020.
- For applicants and petitioners who receive an RFE or NOID during this period, any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response deadline set forth in the RFE or NOID will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken.
USCIS Temporary Office Closure Extended until at least April 7
USCIS Temporarily Closes Rome and Nairobi Offices to the Public (March 25, 2020)
- USCIS has temporarily closed its offices in Rome, Italy, and Nairobi, Kenya, to the public, due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In February, USCIS suspended offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, China.
- USCIS will provide further updates as the situation develops and will continue to follow CDC guidance. Please also visit the USCIS Coronavirus page for updates.
New DHS guideline on Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification
- Until May 19, 2020 or within 3 business days after the termination of the COVID-19 National Emergency , whichever comes first, administration of Form I-9 has some flexibility on the physical verification requirement.
- Employers can virtually inspect the eligibility documents (video, fax or email);
- Once normal operation resumes, obtain, inspect, and retain copies the documents within 3 days of returning to normal operation;
- Annotate on the “Additional Information Field” on Sections 2 or 3 of Form I-9 with “documents physically examined” and add date of inspection.
H-1B CAP REGISTRATION:
- The initial H-1B CAP Lottery registration for the fiscal year 2021 has closed on March 20.
- USCIS will randomly select the number of registrations that are needed to reach the FY 2021 H-1B numerical allocations and send selection notifications via users’ online accounts by March 31, 2020, that they are eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition.
- An H-1B CAP case selected for filing must be properly filed within 90 days.
- Land ports from Canada into the US closed until 11:59 PM EDT April 20, 2020.
- Talks on Mexican border travel restrictions are also ongoing.
SUSPENSION OF ROUTINE VISA SERVICES
- All routine visa interviews are canceled in most countries as of March 18, 2020.
- Check the website of the embassy or consulate for its current operating status.
- As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide urgent and emergency visa services, including urgent E-1/E-2 cases.
- For more information click here.
GLOBAL LEVEL 4 TRAVEL ADVISORY
- The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel. Many countries are implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.
- For more information click here.
PREMIUM PROCESSING SUSPENDED
- Effective March 20, 2020, USCIS will not accept any new requests for premium processing. USCIS will process any petition with a previously accepted Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, in accordance with the premium processing service criteria. However, they will not be able to send notices using pre-paid envelopes. They will only send batch-printed notices. Petitioners who have already filed a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, using the premium processing service and who receive no agency action on their case within the 15-calendar-day period will receive a refund.
- USCIS will notify the public with a confirmed date for resuming premium processing.
ORIGINAL SIGNATURES NOT REQUIRED
- USCIS announced that it will not require original signatures but will accept reproductions for submissions dated March 21, 2020, and beyond.