It will come as no surprise that as the entire country tries to adapt to the COVID-19 threat, there are multiple changes impacting immigration.
Visa appointments suspended at U.S. consulates worldwide
In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide urgent and emergency visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.
Services to U.S. citizens continue to be available. More information is available on each Embassy's website.
This does not affect the Visa Waiver Program.
Although all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are cancelled, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid and may be used for a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.
Applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the Embassy's website to request an emergency appointment.
Trusted Traveler Program Enrollment Centers Suspended Until At Least May 1, 2020.
USCIS field offices cancel appointments
All USCIS field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) will not provide in-person services until at least April 1. This includes interviews, naturalization ceremonies and biometric collection appointments.
USCIS field offices will send de-scheduling notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments impacted by this closure. USCIS will send de-scheduling notices to naturalization applicants scheduled for naturalization ceremonies. All applicants will be rescheduled when USCIS resumes normal operations.
USCIS will also automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the office closure. Those impacted will receive a new appointment letter in the mail.
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. 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, consistent with 8 CFR 103.7(e). USCIS will notify the public with a confirmed date for resuming premium processing.
USCIS will reject the I-907 and return the $1,440 filing fee for all petitions requesting premium processing that were mailed before March 20 but not yet accepted.
This temporary suspension includes petitions filed for the following categories:
* I-129: H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, TN-1 and TN-2.
* I-140: EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.
This includes new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap. USCIS previously announced the temporary suspension of premium processing for FY 2021 cap-subject petitions and tentative dates for resumption of premium processing service. This announcement expands upon and supersedes the previous announcement.
I-9 procedure modified for telework
Employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee's identity and employment authorization documents in the employee's physical presence. However, employers must inspect the Section 2 documents remotely (e.g., over video link, fax or email, etc.) and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2.
Employers also should enter "COVID-19" as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add "documents physically examined" with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate.
These provisions may be implemented by employers for a period of 60 days from 3/20/2020 OR within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first.
Employers who avail themselves of this option must provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee. This burden rests solely with the employers.
Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification, must report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add "documents physically examined" with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate.
U.S.-Canada border closed to non-essential travel
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States and Canada are temporarily restricting all non-essential travel across its borders for a period of at least 30 days starting 3/21/2020. Both countries are encouraging people to exercise caution by avoiding unnecessary contact with others. This collaborative and reciprocal measure is an extension of that prudent approach.
"Non-essential" travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature.
Original signatures no longer required on documents
Beginning 3/21/2020, the USCIS has indicated that it will accept scanned signatures on application and petition documents. Consequently, we will be able to email forms and letters to you for review. You will need to print the signature pages and sign and date them - preferably in blue ink. You will then be able to scan and email the signed pages back to our office. We will provide additional details when we next send you documents for review and signature.
Our office working remotely
Beginning 3/23/2020 all personnel in our office will be working remotely. Unless you have made other arrangements with a member of our staff, if you stop by the office to drop off signed documents, please place them in one of the pre-addressed UPS envelopes in the basket outside our door and drop them in the yellow and brown UPS box in the parking lot.
At least one member of our staff will stop by the office a couple of times each week to process the mail.
We are monitoring voicemail, so if you call the office, please leave a message and someone will contact you.
Thank you for your patience as we navigate these quickly changing circumstances.
Stay safe and healthy!