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Immigration Update During COVID-19

April 13, 2020

In our recent Immigration Alerts, we discussed United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) closures and updates regarding labor condition posting notices in the context of nonimmigrant visa applications in light of the "new world" of telecommuting during the COVID-19 era. We also recently discussed travel restrictions to and from the United States.

Below are further updates that are worthwhile to relay to our readers at this time.

Canada and Mexico Travel Restrictions

Only essential travel is permitted across the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders. For the moment, the restriction on travel expires on April 20, 2020. It appears that U.S. citizens and green card holders, as well as those with valid visas or advance parole documents, may still enter the United States. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers possess broad discretion to bar travelers and question them regarding the purpose of their visit.

In-Person Appointments at USCIS District Offices and Application Support Centers

Both USCIS and the Application Support Centers which conduct the biometrics processing, required for certain immigration benefits, will remain closed through May 3, 2020. USCIS conducts in-person permanent residence interviews for family and employment-based immigrant applicants in addition to citizenship interviews. The agency stated that interviews will be automatically rescheduled when USCIS resumes operations. Application Support Centers that conduct biometrics appointments necessary to secure fingerprinting and photos for security clearances relating to benefit requests and have also announced closure through May 3, 2020.

USCIS Offers to Extend Certain Deadlines

USCIS announced further that it will extend its 60-day response deadlines for certain Requests For Evidence (RFE) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID) if the notice was issued between March 1, 2020, and May 1, 2020. USCIS will accept responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the original response deadline set out in the RFE or NOID. For the moment, USCIS has not permitted any exception regarding the filing of extensions of stay for nonimmigrant visa extension requests. USCIS also recently announced the suspension of its premium processing program - fast-tracking all eligible nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions - with no end date stated by the agency for the resumption of this fast track program. Premium processing has historically permitted swift job changes for qualified nonimmigrants to the benefit of U.S. employers and talented foreign nationals.

The U.S. Department of State

The U.S. Department of State announced that as of March 20, 2020, it will only offer in-person services at passport agencies or centers for customers with life or death emergencies and who require a passport for international travel within 72 hours. In addition to the standard documentation requirements, evidence of proof of life or death emergency must be documented and proof of international travel (i.e., reservation, ticket, itinerary) specific to the emergency must be furnished.

The Passport Office advises that one may still be eligible to apply for a passport renewal by mail, but no expedite requests will be honored and delays in passport issuance should be expected. The U.S. Department of State has stated that it prefers that the public submit a passport renewal request when it announces it will resume its operations. The website for the U.S. Department of State - Passport Office can be found here.

REAL ID Extended to October 1, 2021

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline within which one must obtain a state driver's license in order to comply with the requirements of the REAL ID Act. Focused on enhancing security standards, the Real ID Act was to be implemented on October 1, 2020, to allow travelers to travel domestically and for the purpose of entering federal facilities. The pushback for one full year evidences the flexibility the government is providing to a public which has been instructed to limit travel and stay in place.

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