Most recent legal updates:
USCIS has announced fee increases for many applications, that will go into effect on Oct 2, 2020. Click here current prices and the increased fees: https://www.aila.org/infonet/final-rule-altering-uscis-fee-schedule
-The Public Charge Rule has been suspended. As of July 29, 2020 applicants for green cards and temporary visas do NOT need to provide information about use of public benefits or detailed financial information. Form I-944 does not have to be submitted for green card applicants, and the public charge sections on Forms I-129 and I-539 do not have to be completed.
The court found that the new rule was deterring some immigrants from seeking treatment and testing for COVID19, which poses a public health risk. The public charge rule, which went info effect on Feb 24, 2020 required green card applicants and certain non-immigrant visa applicants to provide detailed financial information to determine whether or not they are likely to become a "public charge" in the US, requiring U.S. taxpayers to subsidize housing, medical, or other expenses. Receipt of certain federal benefits, including the use of Medicaid for healthcare, are considered negative factors in this determination. Because the court ruling is brand new, we will have to wait and see how exactly it is implemented by USCIS and the US Dept of State.
- Student visas will be available to international students for the fall semester even for online only learning. Though there was an announcement on July 6 that student visas would not be issued for online learning, on July 14 the order was rescinded according to major news sources.
- Student visa holders who are in Europe, the UK, and Ireland are no longer subject to the travel ban that is in effect for Schengen Zone countries, UK, Ireland, Brazil, Iran and China. So students who are in Europe, UK and Ireland and already have valid visas will be allowed to enter the US directly.
Students with valid visas who are physically present in China, Brazil or Iran will still be subject to the travel restriction. Since March, students from these countries have been required to spend 14 days in a country not subject to any US travel restrictions prior to re-entering the U.S.
- H Specialty Occupation, L Intracompany Transferees & certain J Exchange Visitor visas are not being issued at consulates through Dec. 31, 2020, though an exception has recently been made for au pairs seeking J visas. If you are currently inside the US, then you may be eligible to change your status to H, L or J, or extend your H, L or J status, but you will not be able to have an H, L or J visa issued at a consulate through Dec. 31, 2020. If you have an approved I-129 for a H or L visa, consider looking into the O-1 visa, which is not subject to restrictions.
**Note that the restriction on J visas for au pairs has since been lifted:
- Employment based green cards and certain family-based green cards are also not being issued at US consulates through the end of the year. However, green cards are still being issued to those applying for adjustment of status within the U.S.
- National Interest Exemptions must be obtained by anyone seeking to have any of the restricted visa types issued during these suspensions. National Interest Exemption applications must explain why the applicant's presence in the US is in the national interest of the U.S., including job creation or working in a field that is critical to the local or national economy or wellbeing (food chain, medical, etc)
- The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Trump Administration must reinstate the DACA program. The Court found that the Administration's rescission of DACA was "arbitrary and capricious" under the Administrative Procedures Act; or in other words, that the Trump Administration did not provide a good enough reason for trying to cancel the DACA program. The court order does not prevent the Trump Administration from trying again in the future. Though the court stated that the DACA program must be restored to its original status, the Administration has defied Supreme Court and refuses to accept new applications.
- Furlough of USCIS employees. On July 3, USCIS reportedly issued notices to 13,000 workers, which comprises 75% of the USCIS work force. The notices indicated that if USCIS did not receive $1.2b in federal funding, the workers would be laid off on August 3. The layoff date has since been pushed back to August 30.
Recap of Important Issues Affecting Foreign Professional Workers:
-There is a Travel Ban in effect for those present in Schengen Zone countries, UK, Ireland, Brazil, China and Iran. Temporary visa holders who are physically present in those countries are not allowed to travel directly to the U.S. They must pass through a third country for 14 days or more before returning to the U.S. US citizens, green card holders, spouses and children under 21 of US citizens and green card holders, and now students in Europe, UK and Ireland with valid F-1 visas are also exempt from this rule.
- US Consulates around the world are still closed, though many are scheduling appointments for September and October. Many appointments that have been scheduled prior to September are being cancelled and rescheduled for later in the year. Some appointments are reported to be moving forward.
- Biometrics has reopened, so work permits, travel documents and applications for adjustment of status should move forward.
- Citizenship Interviews have resumed in some locations.
- B1/B2 Visas & ESTA: As of August 3, 2020 the US government has not announced any automatic extension of authorized stay for any visa holders or visitors. If your B1/B2 or ESTA status will be expiring soon and you cannot safely depart the US, then please consider extending your status. This will allow you to remain in legal immigration status in the U.S. and avoid the possible cancellation of your ESTA or B1/B2 visa.
Customs and Border Protection has set forth procedures for those here on ESTA to extend their authorized stay in the US by 30 days on a case by case basis. ESTA extension requires applicants to show that they do have a ticket to depart the U.S.
RFE/NOID Deadlines Extended: For anyone who was issued a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) that is due between March 1, 2020 and September 1, 2020, USCIS has automatically extended the deadline to respond by 60 days.
Original Signatures Not Required: USCIS is accepting scanned and photocopied signatures in lieu of original signatures.
Extensions of Employment Authorization Documents: Renewals of Employment Authorization will be extended using previously submitted biometrics until normal operations resume.
Flexibility of I-9 Requirements: DHS announced temporary flexibility of the I-9 requirements on March 20, 2020, including deferring the physical presence requirement and permitting the review remotely (i.e. over video link, fax or email, etc. but require that employers retain copies of the documents.)
We will continue to update this page about the impact of coronavirus on people at all stages of the immigration process, and we are here to answer any of your questions.
For important information about how to prepare and protect yourself please check www.coronavirus.gov for updates from the federal government, the CDC and FEMA.