Changes to the U.S. Immigration System During COVID-19 Pandemic
The term “social distance” is a term we are seeing everywhere now. Most of us have never experienced what we are experiencing now in the world and understandably many are scared, anxious, and nervous. I cannot think of one industry that has not been affected by this. Below is a summary of how our U.S. immigration agencies, systems, and procedures have been impacted. This is a rapidly changing situation so I will continue to monitor it.
As of March 18, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has put a hold on routine in-person services at least until May 3, 2020, to help slow the spread. These in-person services include fingerprint appointments (biometrics), all types of interviews, Infopass appointments, and oath ceremonies. Any appointments scheduled during that time period have been canceled and will be rescheduled for a later time. However, USCIS staff will continue to perform tasks that do not involve contact with the public. Please see the USCIS announcement here. USCIS is still accepting and processing applications, so if you are eligible for an immigration benefit, you can still apply and USCIS will accept the filing for processing.
All U.S. immigration courts (aka EOIR) have postponed hearings for non-detained cases. This means that if a person has removal proceedings pending against him/her, but they are not in the custody of ICE, those court hearings are being postponed and will be rescheduled for another time. ICE is also dialing back its enforcement operations during this time, suspending some deportation flights, rescheduling in-person check-ins, and temporarily ending social visitation in its detention facilities.
The U.S. Department of State has issued a level 4 do not travel warning and to avoid all international travel. Many U.S. Consulates have suspended all visa interview services. The U.S. and Canada have agreed on suspending “nonessential” travel between the countries. The U.S. is expected to announce on Friday, March 20, restrictions on travel between the countries. The U.S. has also banned most travel from Europe to the U.S. for 30 days. However, these travel restrictions will not apply to U.S. citizens or green card holders, but those individuals may have to undergo additional screening.
Even though the news is filled with less than happy headlines these days, it’s important to find gratitude. Now is a good time to do things you have put off or to spend time with or reconnect with family and friends you haven’t been the best about staying in touch with (while also practicing social distance, of course). Stay safe and healthy. This will pass.