As the United States responds to the COVID-19 crisis, U.S. immigration agencies are announcing sweeping changes that impact companies and their foreign national workforce. The following is a list of agency updates in response to the crisis:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Requests for Evidence and Notices of Intent to Deny: On March 27, 2020, USCIS announced that the agency will extend the deadlines for responding to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs). For RFEs and NOIDs dated between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2020, USCIS will accept responses submitted within 60 calendar days of the original deadline.
- Electronic copies of original signatures: On March 20, 2020, USCIS announced that the agency will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency. This means that a document may be scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced provided that the copy must be of an original document containing an original handwritten signature. Individuals or entities that submit documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature must also retain copies of the original documents containing the “wet” signature. USCIS may, at any time, request the original documents.
- Premium processing: On March 20, 2020, USCIS announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).
- Local office closures: As of March 18, 2020, USCIS has suspended all in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs). Local office services include interviews for adjustment of status, naturalization and asylum, and appointments for information and biometrics or fingerprinting. USCIS will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. This suspension of services will be effective until at least April 7. Following President Trump’s Sunday, March 29th announcement extending social distancing orders for an additional 30 days, we expect that local offices will continue to suspend services through the end of April and perhaps longer. Those who require emergency assistance are instructed to contact USCIS at 800-375-5283. For additional information about rescheduling appointments, please visit this link.
- Regional service centers: Processing of petitions and applications submitted by mail or courier to a USCIS lockbox or regional service center are not affected by the local office closures.
For more information, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)’s Response to COVID-19 page.
U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
- The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) remains fully operational during the federal government’s maximum telework flexibilities operating status – including the National Processing Centers (NPCs), PERM System, and Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG) System. OFLC continues to process and issue prevailing wage determinations and labor certifications that meet all statutory and regulatory requirements. However, DOL provides flexibility on certain PERM and LCA requirements due to COVID-19. See below.
- PERMs by email: On March 24, 2020, DOL announced that beginning March 25, and through June 30, 2020, the agency will issue Form ETA-9089, PERM labor certification documents by email. During this time period, USCIS may consider this printed Form ETA-9089, containing all signatures, as satisfying the requirement that petitioners provide evidence of an original labor certification issued by DOL when filing Form I-140 petitions with USCIS.
- Extended deadlines: On March 20, 2020, DOL published an FAQ that extended some deadlines for employers to respond to the agency’s requests, to post Labor Condition Applications (LCAs) at new worksites, and to file PERM applications beyond the normal 180-day recruitment window. Please speak with an HLP attorney to discuss how these exceptions may impact your company or sponsored employees.
For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s Coronavirus Resources page.
U.S. Department of State (DOS)
- Suspension of routine visa services: On March 20, 2020, DOS announced that the agency is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. 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 emergency and mission critical visa services. 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. Examples of an urgent matter include air and sea crew, and medical personnel, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
- COVID-19 country-specific information: DOS has provided a website for up-to-date information on the status of the outbreak in every country. These entries include WHO Global Health Advisory levels, quarantines in effect, border closures, travel restrictions, and contact information for assistance.
For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State (DOS)’s COVID-19 information page.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- Essential travel at land ports of entry: Two Federal Register notices published on March 24, 2020 announced the decision to temporarily allow entry to the United States through land ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada and U.S. Mexico borders for “essential travel” only. The restrictions will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 20, 2020. Following President Trump’s extension of social distancing directives on March 29th, we expect an extension of travel restrictions as well.
- Trusted Traveler enrollment: On March 18, 2020, CBP announced the agency will temporarily suspend operations at Trusted Traveler Program enrollment centers nationwide from March 19 until at least May 1, 2020. This temporary closure includes all public access Global Entry enrollment centers, NEXUS enrollment centers, SENTRI enrollment centers and FAST enrollment locations. Global Entry mobile enrollment events are also paused until further notice. Conditionally-approved Global Entry applicants will still be able to complete the enrollment process on arrival at participating airport during the suspension.
For more information on COVID-19-related travel restrictions, visit the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP)’s COVID-19 Updates and Announcements page.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
- Form I-9: On March 20, 2020, ICE announced that 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. For more information, see our March 24, 2020 Client Alert.
- International students: The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has issued the following guidance documents related to international students and SEVP-certified schools:
- Frequently Asked Questions for SEVP stakeholders about COVID-19. (Last updated March 27, 2020; refer to ICE.gov/COVID19 for the most up-to-date version of this FAQ);
- COVID-19: Scenarios for SEVP-certified Schools for Emergency Procedures (March 13, 2020);
- Broadcast Message: COVID-19 and Potential Procedural Adaptations for F and M Nonimmigrant Students (March 9, 2020); and
- Optional COVID-19 School Reporting Template that schools can use to report temporary procedural adaptations.
For more information, please visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s COVID-19 Guidance page.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us.