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How coronavirus is impacting US Immigration

Updated: Apr 23, 2020  | Tags: USA Immigration, Border Security, COVID-19


With the coronavirus pandemic affecting many countries, it’s more essential than ever to keep an eye on the latest developments regarding USA immigration rules, visas, and ESTA.

In an update on March 30, USCIS announced that because of the temporary closure of Application Support Centers, biometrics previously submitted will be reused to validate the application for employment authorization, Form 1-765. This will apply to anyone who had scheduled an appointment on or after March 18, the date when the Application Support Centers closed. The new rule will apply until the Centers reopen.

USCIS has also taken measures to help petitioners and applicants responding to RFE (Requests for Evidence) and NOID (Notices of Intent to Deny). They also clarify that this temporary change applies also to NOIR (Notice of Intent to Revoke) and NOIT (Notice of Intent to Terminate) regional centers, and to some filing dates for Notice of Appeal or Motion, Form 1-290B. Enough electronic registrations have been received to meet the H-1B cap.

USCIS offices are scheduled to reopen on 7th April, unless the period of closure is extended. Applicants and petitioners will receive notifications of appointments and naturalization ceremonies that have been delayed. Asylum interviews will be rescheduled automatically.

USA limits travel across shared borders

Nonessential travel across the border between the US and Mexico has been limited to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. There are certain exceptions to the rule; these include travel for work or medical reasons or education. The US has also banned entry to migrants crossing the southern border illegally.

Last week, the US and Canada also closed their shared border except for essential travel as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread.

Working from home impacts employee status

As COVID-19 continues to spread, many businesses are requiring their employees to work from home. However, for employees who are E-3, H-1B, and H-1B1 visa holders, working from home may affect their legal status. These visas all require certified LCAs (Labor Condition Applications) on form ETA-9035, specific to their places of work. When the location of work change, the employer must post the LCA in at least two prominent positions at the new work location, for at least ten business days, excluding holidays and weekends. The new LCA must be within a reasonable commuting distance of the original LCA address. If the new LCA work location is outside a reasonable commuting distance, the longest period an employee with H-1B, H-1B1, and E-3 visa status may work there for no longer than 10 consecutive business days.

Are Trump administration immigration policies putting people at risk?

As the administration struggles to slow the spread of COVID-19, some critics claim its policies on immigration may well be making the crisis worse. The “public charge” rule has been seen as discouraging travelers from seeking treatment while Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy means that conditions along the southern border mean the virus is likely to spread rapidly there.

US immigration officials had previously restricted entry from certain countries, at first China, where the disease was first identified and later to Schengen area countries, the UK and Ireland.

Last month the “public charge” rule came into effect. This meant that health conditions would be deemed as being of concern to the US and would count against green card applications. At the end of March, USCIS made some changes to this ruling and now any immigrant to the US who is tested or treated for coronavirus will not be affected negatively.

USCIS is now encouraging all travelers, whether aliens or US citizens, who may be suffering from coronavirus symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and fever, to seek testing or treatment. Such preventive measures or treatment will not have a negative impact as part of any public charge analysis in the future.

What can travelers expect at US airports?

All airports and airlines are making changes in airport procedures in an attempt to reduce community transmission of coronavirus. With so many individuals coming into contact with escalator handrails, check-in screens, and furnishings, health and hygiene measures are being put into place. US airports are taking advice from the World Health Organization, the CDC and local public health officers to follow the best practice, with changes to the policy being made as new information is available.

From 12th March, travelers who have been in China, South Korea, Iran, and most European countries in the previous 14 days must self-isolate at home, practice social distancing and monitor themselves for symptoms. Individuals entering the US from all other countries are requested to limit social interactions and monitor their health for two weeks after their return. Travelers experiencing symptoms should inform the authorities prior to their arrival and seek medical advice.