Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March has brought an unprecedented level of disruption to our lives. As always, the Panteva Law Group, LLC aims to keep our clients and community as informed as possible. The pandemic will increase delays for many immigration processes, and these delays could cause you to lose status if you cannot take certain precautionary measures. Here is a comprehensive list of immigration updates, as well as ways government agencies have responded to the pandemic.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has postponed all non-detained hearings scheduled through May 1, 2020. All Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) hearings through this date have been postponed as well. EOIR advises anyone with an MPP hearing scheduled through May 1st to go to their port of entry on the initial hearing date, where they will receive a notice with information about their rescheduled hearing.
The Chicago Immigration Court is still conducting detained hearings via videoconference. The filing window for this court is still open as well. However, EOIR urges individuals to only visit the court if in-person filing is absolutely necessary. People can file electronically or by mail, FedEx, or UPS.
To view the complete list of immigration courts and their current operational status, visit the EOIR’s COVID-19 response page.
USCIS Operational Adjustments
As of March 18th, USCIS suspended all in-person services through at least May 3rd. Staff will continue to conduct mission-critical operations, services that don’t involve contact with the public, and certain emergency services. To request an emergency appointment, visit the USCIS Contact Center.
Due to the in-person service suspension, all appointments with field offices, the Application Support Center, and asylum offices have been canceled. Depending on the type of appointment, it may be automatically rescheduled.
USCIS will reschedule the following appointments automatically:
- Naturalization oath ceremonies
- Biometrics appointments
- Interviews for immigration benefits (including asylum)
If you had an InfoPass appointment or you are a UK or Canada visa applicant, you will need to reschedule your appointment yourself. Otherwise, USCIS will reschedule appointments once normal operations resume. If you do not receive notice of your new appointment within 90 days, visit the USCIS Contact Center.
Fortunately, USCIS is relaxing deadlines for responses to:
- Requests for Evidence;
- Notices of Intent to Deny;
- Notices of Intent to Revoke; and
- Notices of Intent to Terminate.
If these notices were issued between March 1st and May 1st, USCIS will review responses up to 60 days after the responses’ original due dates. Additionally, if you are filing Form I-1290B (Notice of Appeal or Motion) in response to a decision issued between March 1st and May 1st, USCIS will consider your form up to 60 days after the original decision date.
ICE Enforcement Procedures
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is adjusting its enforcement procedures in response to COVID-19. As of March 18th, ICE is exclusively prioritizing public safety activities.
Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will mainly conduct enforcement actions (i.e. detainment) upon:
- Public safety risks
- Those subject to detention due to criminal activities
For all others, ERO will use its discretion to either delay enforcement or find alternatives to detention.
Additionally, ICE will not conduct enforcement actions at or near:
- Doctors’ offices
- Emergency rooms
- Urgent care facilities
- Accredited health clinics
According to ICE, Homeland Security Investigations will continue investigating matters that threaten public safety and national security (e.g. human trafficking, gangs, drug trafficking, terrorism, etc.)
Currently, the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada are closed. Additionally, the U.S. has implemented four COVID-19 related travel bans in the last three months.
These travel bans prevent immigrants and nonimmigrants from traveling to the U.S. from:
These bans do not apply to U.S. citizens, green card holders, certain immediate family members of citizens and green card holders, and several other groups of people. For a complete list of exceptions and additional details, visit the above links.
If you are applying for an exception to the travel restrictions, you should present this request to the embassy or consular post where you would file your visa application. The U.S. Department of State Visa Office has emphasized that it will rarely approve requests for exceptions. To apply for a visa and exception, you will also need to request an emergency appointment, which may be a significant challenge as well.
ESTA, VWP, and Satisfactory Departure Requests
If you came to the U.S. without a visa because you qualified for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the only way you can extend this 90-day period is by exercising Satisfactory Departure. Satisfactory Departure grants up to a 30-day extension to people who could not leave the U.S. on time due to emergent circumstances.
Unless you can prove your intent to depart on time, you must request Satisfactory Departure while you are still in status (i.e. before the end of your lawful period of stay). Many people will request Satisfactory Departure because canceled flights left them stranded at airports.
To request Satisfactory Departure, email email@example.com (Chicago’s Deferred Inspections office). You will need to provide your name, date of birth, passport information, and possibly your original and new departure flight itineraries.
If you are in the U.S. via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), you cannot extend this status. You can, however, request Satisfactory Departure or reapply while you are still in status.
Contact the Panteva Law Group, LLC for Additional Support
Navigating immigration law during this crisis may be extraordinarily challenging. We want to stand by your side and help you overcome unexpected challenges. If your immigration goals seem farther away than they once were, let us address your concerns and help you implement the urgent solution you need.
We will continue to provide updates as government agencies release more information, and we urge you to follow all guidelines from the CDC and public health organizations. In the meantime, get in touch with our firm by calling (312) 471-0014 or filling out our online contact form today.