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The Impact of Coronavirus on Visa Approvals at the USCIS

Posted by Karen-Lee Pollak on Mar 23, 2020 3:37:23 PM

Corono VirusIn response to the Corona Virus Pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) is closed to the public effective March 20, 2020 until at least April 1, 2020. USCIS staff continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. All in-person appointments have been cancelled and will be rescheduled. These closures do not yet affect USCIS Service Centers, which process most immigration petitions and applications submitted to USCIS by mail.

The US Department of State has temporarily suspended visa services at most U.S. Embassies and Consulates including but not limited to those in Austria, Denmark, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, South Africa, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, effective March 20, 2020. Emergency appointments are still available.

All appointments for immigrant visas are cancelled and some Consulates state that they are closed at least until May 29, 2020.  The Department of State advises that it “will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. If you had an immigrant visa appointment scheduled March 26, 2020 – May 29, 2020, your visa appointment is cancelled. Do not attend your previously scheduled appointment.”

With respect to nonimmigrant visas, the Department of State has announced that it will not be issuing nonimmigrant visas until further notice. Emergency appointments will continue to be scheduled. This does not affect the Machine-Readable Visa (MRV) fee which will remain valid for a visa appointment within one year from date of payment.

The above suspension does not affect the Visa Waiver Program. However, any traveler with a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) who attempts to travel to the US from any restricted country will have the ESTA cancelled. ESTA is not a visa but a travel authorization issued to nationals of Visa Waiver Program Countries. It is valid for two years and must be applied for no less than 72 hours before travel. Travelers may be able to reapply in the future if the sole reason for the cancellation is the current travel ban. Visitors in the United States on a Visa Waiver Program who are stranded due to international COVID-19 travel restrictions may be able to apply for temporary extension of stay for up to 30 days.  At the time of writing this Blog, such extension only applies to travelers entering the United States at JFK Airport. 

The U.S. has also barred entry of foreigners from certain countries until further notice.  This travel ban does not to apply to US citizens and Permanent Residents and their immediate families returning to the United States. They will, however, be subjected to enhanced screening due to the COVID-19 upon return.

USCIS Suspension of Premium Processing for all I-129 and I-140.

On March 20, 2020, USCIS stated that it has suspended Premium Processing for all I-129 and I-140 Petitions, effective March 20, 2020. This includes new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap. USCIS previously announced the temporary suspension of premium processing for FY 2021 cap-subject petitions and tentative dates for resumption of premium processing service. This announcement expands upon and supersedes the previous announcement. 

Although USCIS states it has cancelled premium processing on all I129 Petitions, it specifically lists the following types of applications that are cancelled:  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.

Absent from this list is E3 Applications.  We will have to obtain further clarification from USCIS if E3 applications are exempt.

USCIS will process by premium processing, petitions received prior to March 20, 2020 requesting premium processing but noted that a Petitioner who filed an I-907 that is already received but no agency action has been taken within the 15-calendar period will receive a refund of the Premium Processing Fee.

USCIS Announces Flexibility in Submitting Required Original Signatures

USCIS has announced some flexibility with regards to original signatures in all benefit forms and documents dated March 21, 2020 onwards. Pursuant to the COVID-19 emergency announcement by President Trump, USCIS will be accepting electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the emergency, for forms that require an original “wet” signature in accordance with the instructions for the forms. It should be noted that this applies only to signatures and not instructions for completing a benefit form. According to the USCIS, “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, which if not produced, could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.” 

Obviously, the situation is extremely fluid. We will update you with any further information as soon as we receive it. 

To learn more, and have your corona virus questions regarding visa approvals clearly and fully answered, contact the Pollak PLLC team today at info@pollakimmigration.com or 214-307-5510.

We are here to help! To learn more about us visit our website at https://www.pollakimmigration.com/eb5-visa.

 

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