The ongoing pandemic has led to severe global socioeconomic disruption. Among the fields affected, Immigration law and procedure is one of the most influenced in different ways. Please find a summery of the latest changes to help you to quickly navigate through the current state of uncertainty.
ESTA HOLDERS: The US administration was forced to restrict traveling in and out of the United States including European countries except for U. S. citizens, green card holders, and immediate family members. Many European citizens travel under the Visa Waiver Program, which allows them to remain in the United States for a period of 90 days. As travel is restricted, many European citizens fear the worse because they cannot leave our territory and therefore potentially overstay their allotted time. The past few weeks, we have advised some of our clients to make appointments with USCIS local offices to ask for Advanced Parole. Given the closure of the USCIS offices the only alternative now is to report to Custom & Border Protection and request Satisfactory Departure. Please be aware that CPB is not required to grant the request and will decide on a case by case basis. Additionally, each CPB office handles requests differently and might have specific requirements to fulfill.
REVEWAL OF VISAS: Given the ongoing emergency many US Embassies throughout the world are currently operating at reduced staffing. As a result, the Consular Sections are closed for routine services and offer emergency services only. Many foreigners in the United States are employed under working visas. Some employers are wondering how they can protect their employee’ positions and how they can still keep them regardless of their expired visas. Some others are concerned with the ongoing economy and might have to terminate their employees’ visa if they are not able to pay. We have advised clients whose visas are about to expire to either file an extension within the United States where allowed or document the impossibility of travelling at this time. We also have reminded employers of the government funding which can also be used toward immigrant workers.
FILING WITH USCIS US CITIZENSHIP IMMIGRATION SERVICES.
USCIS announced it’s suspending its in-person services, including all interviews and naturalization ceremonies, to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. USCIS is responsible for administering the nation’s legal immigration system, including green cards, citizenship and asylum and refugee processing. The suspension could severely affect the lives of immigrants including the ones who might age out and could be denied immigration benefits. The suspension has been extended until at least April 7. It possible however to still file petitions with the agency.
COURT HEARINGS: The Justice Department closed most of the immigration courts, spread across the country, through May 1, and postponed all hearings of cases of immigrants who are not in detention. The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts, had previously made incremental changes, to the frustration of immigration judges, lawyers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors, who urged the administration to close courts for the safety of staff and immigrants. Many courts are allowing telephonic appearances but requirements can be different from court to court.
DETENTION CENTERS HEARINGS: Federal judges, ICE prosecutors and immigration advocates are together calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to shut down courts. They say both staff and detainees are at risk of contracting Covid-19 if the courts remain open. Reopening the courts forces people to make an impossible choice between complying with court requirements or public health. Attorneys are required to bring their own protection masks and other precautionary items. Unsanitary conditions could turn prisons into a haven for the virus, endangering not just inmates but also corrections officers and prison health-care workers as well as their families and communities.
UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS IN OUR COMMUNITY: Given the campaign of persecution established by the government through agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if an undocumented alien presents symptoms, it is very unlikely that will voluntarily report to health care centers for fear that their information will be shared with ICE. The agency, however, said in its memo to staffers that it will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, “except in the most extraordinary circumstances,” adding that individuals should not avoid seeking medical care over fears of enforcement.
The Covid-19 is new to everyone in the world. Doctors do not have a cure yet and are uncertain on how to treat it. Similarly, the Covid-19 is new to the government and us practitioners. We are uncertain of what will happen and how cases will be handled. Every day we are presented with new issues and regulations. As counselors of law, we must use common sense, stay informed, and strive to do what is best for our clients and community.