The biggest fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, of course, is public health. But the pandemic has caused a variety of other disruptions in our social and financial lives. If you are in the middle of the immigration process, you might be rightfully concerned about whether the outcome of your application or status could hinge upon how USCIS operates in light of COVID-19.
Here are 4 major ways USCIS has responded to the pandemic.
1. Suspension of Appointments
As of March 18th, USCIS is no longer conducting in-person services in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Any appointments with Field Offices, Application Support Centers, and asylum offices will be canceled. Fortunately, USCIS will continue to perform all administrative services.
If you had an interview, naturalization ceremony, or any other appointment, USCIS will automatically reschedule it UNLESS:
- You had an InfoPass appointment (visit USCIS Contact Center to reschedule)
- You are a Canada or UK visa applicant (visit Canada's immigration site or the UK's immigration site to reschedule)
Otherwise, you will receive notice from USCIS within 90 days providing instructions and details about your new appointment. If you do not receive notice within 90 days, visit the USCIS Contact Center.
2. Suspension of Premium Processing
For many applications, petitioners could pay a $1,440 premium processing fee to receive a visa in 15 days—rather than several months or a year. H-1B employers have relied heavily upon this premium processing program to effectively fill positions and compete on a global scale.
As of March 20th, USCIS has suspended premium processing for I-129 and I-140 petitions to reduce the wait times for all applicants amidst the pandemic. If you sent a request for premium processing after March 20th, USCIS will return the application and fee. Visit here for current wait times for these cases.
3. Relaxed Signature Requirements
During the COVID-19 National Emergency, any applications dated March 21, 2020 and beyond will not require “wet” signatures. In other words, USCIS will accept all forms and documents with reproduced (photocopied/faxed/scanned) signatures. The copy must be of the original document with a handwritten signature, and you must keep all original documents in case USCIS requests them after the National Emergency. Theoretically, this flexibility will protect public health by preventing unnecessary human contact.
4. An Announcement About the Public Charge Rule
The new public charge rule allows officers to deny applications if they believe the applicant is or will become a public charge. Officers will largely determine this ineligibility based on the applicant’s receipt of (or application for) certain public benefits.
In response to this rule, many people hoping to extend their visa or obtain a green card have decided to forego benefits and even critical medical care. USCIS posted on alert on the public charge page urging all persons, regardless of immigration status, to seek treatment for COVID-19. Any testing, treatment, or preventative care for the coronavirus will not be counted against an applicant, even if they pay for it with a public benefit. Additionally, if an applicant uses benefits because the pandemic prevented them from going to work or school, USCIS advises them to explain this situation on their application.
Contact Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A. for Additional Information
USCIS will likely continue to adjust procedures as the COVID-19 situation develops. In the meantime, you can trust our firm to provide the latest updates and recommendations you need for a successful immigration case. We understand how much stress you may be experiencing at this time, and we are fully prepared to help you navigate these waters and overcome all legal obstacles.