State Department, Immigration Agencies Respond to Pandemic

March 20, 2020

The operations of government agencies that handle immigration and visa-related issues is changing day to day as officials cope with unprecedented staffing and logistical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This update, current as of noon on March 20, provides an outline of the limits on available services as well as special notifications, dispensations or waivers granted.

If you have concerns about your particular situation, please contact us at [email protected] We are available during our normal business hours throughout this crisis.

Please note that the COVID-19 situation is fluid and continues to evolve, sometimes on an hourly basis. We will continue to monitor developments and will update this page frequently.

Department of State: Suspension of Routine Visa Services

  • The Department of State has temporarily suspended routine visa services at all U.S. embassies and consulates. Embassies and consulates are cancelling 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. Services to U.S. citizens continue to be available.
  • Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees that have been paid in connection with immigrant or nonimmigrant visa appointments which are cancelled will remain valid for one year and may be used for a future visa future appointment in the country where it was purchased.
  • 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.
  • Visit the embassy’s individual website for additional information.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Closed to the Public – All Other Pperations Continue

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has suspended routine in-person services until at least April 1. Operations that do not involve contact with the public continue. USCIS will provide emergency services on a limited basis. To schedule an emergency appointment contact the USCIS Contact Center.
  • USCIS domestic field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. USCIS asylum offices will send interview cancellation notices and automatically reschedule asylum interviews. When the interview is rescheduled, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date, and location for the interview. When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule Application Support Center appointments due to the office closure.
  • Individuals who had InfoPass at the USCIS field office must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center, once field offices reopen to the public. Applicants do not need to contact USCIS regarding an upcoming appointment; applicants will automatically receive a new appointment letter in the mail (other than InfoPass appointments).
  • See USCIS Field Offices page to see if your field office has reopened before reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.

Premium Processing for All I-129 and I-140 Petitions Suspended

As of March 20, 2020, premium processing for all premium processing services for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions is immediately temporarily suspended until further notice.

No new requests for premium processing with be accepted from 3/20/30, but USCIS WILL process any petition previously accepted for Premium Processing Service, in accordance with the premium processing service criteria.

USCIS will not send original notices using pre-paid envelopes, even if provided.

This temporary suspension includes petitions filed for the following categories:

I-129:E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.

I-140:EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3.

This announcement expands upon and supersedes the previous announcement. USCIS will notify the public with a confirmed date for resuming premium processing.

Temporary Dispensations and/or Waivers: Extension of B-1/B-2 (or Visa Waiver) Status or J-1 Exchange Visitor Status

  • Individuals admitted under the VWP/ESTA program who find themselves unable to depart the U.S., before their current period of admission will end because of COVID-19 related issues who were admitted to the U.S. through John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY (JFK) and Newark Liberty International Airport, NJ (EWR) only can contact the Deferred Inspections office at JFK, starting Monday, March 16, 2020, Monday through Friday, 9 am to 4 pm ET, and request Satisfactory Departure (see below) for up to 30 days. Individuals or their attorneys will need to provide the affected individual’s name, date of birth (DOB) and passport information at the time of the request. It may be necessary to provide the original departure flight itinerary along with the new flight itinerary.
  • Satisfactory Departure may be requested if the individual’s period of stay will expire in 14 days or less from the day he or she contacts JFK Deferred Inspections. If their period of VWP/ESTA admission has expired, the decision to grant Satisfactory Departure will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

ALTERNATIVE: Apply for Satisfactory Departure from USCIS:

There is no provision under U.S. law to extend the stay of an alien admitted under the VWP. The only form of relief for an alien admitted under the VWP who is unable to depart timely due to emergent circumstances is the exercise of Satisfactory Departure. Ports of entry (including deferred inspection locations) may be contacted by VWP travelers already in the United States who are unable to depart the United States before their authorized period of admission ends.

Pursuant to Title 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 217.3(a), if an emergency prevents an alien admitted under the VWP from departing the United States within the period of authorized stay, a period of Satisfactory Departure may be granted not to exceed 30 days – provided that the request is made during the period of admission and the alien is still in status at the time of the request. If departure is made within the period of approved Satisfactory Departure, the alien is regarded as having made a timely departure without overstaying the allowed time. In emergent circumstances, requests for Satisfactory Departure may be granted if the alien is out of status but can prove the intent was to depart timely – authority to approve these cases is reserved for the Director, Field Operations, unless re-delegated locally.

Requests for Satisfactory Departure are generally adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, in extraordinary circumstances, CBP may adjudicate requests for Satisfactory Departure.

At this time, only Newark and JFK Airports have confirmed that CBP at these locations will adjudicate requests for Satisfactory Departure; individuals should contact their local airport (or the airport they entered though) to confirm whether that location will accept such a request. If not, individuals should submit an application to USCIS to request Satisfactory Departure to prevent a visa overstay, which can have long-term implications.

See USCIS’ Special Situations Information here: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations

Exchange Visitors

The Department of State’s Office of Academic Exchanges advises thatUSCIS’ retains the discretion to extend or change status, and in some cases provide student work authorization, for individuals who cannot depart the United States at the appropriate time due to extreme circumstances.

Flexibility of I-9 Requirements; DHS is expected to announce temporary flexibility of the I-9 requirements today, March 20, 2020, including deferring the physical presence requirement and permitting the review of remotely (e.g., over video link, fax or email, etc. but also requiring that employers retain copies of the documents). See our separate post on this here.

No Changes: H-1B Regulations (including DOL requirements for Notice and Posting), PERM Regulations and Other Visa and Status Requirements

If you are a foreign national in the U.S. pursuant to a visa, you should continue to make an effort to comply with all the requirements and restrictions of that visa classification. There is no suspension to this legal requirement. Any unauthorized employment or other status violations will render your visa invalid.

As always, you should be aware of your permissible period of admission by reviewing your I-94 record. Every foreign national who enters the U.S. pursuant to a nonimmigrant visa is issued one. The I-94 record, and, thus, the period of admission, rarely follows the same time period as a visa stamp. See https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/ to obtain a copy of your current I-94 record. Requests for extension of status, or change from one status to another, must continue to be made timely (i.e. before the expiration of current status).

Please contact a Fox Rothschild immigration attorney if you have questions or concerns about your specific situation.