At this moment in time, physically entering the U.S. may be more challenging than ever before due to border closures and global travel restrictions. The government has also adjusted internal operations, which may delay your immigration process.
Staying on top of these changes, however, is a powerful way to prepare for new challenges. As always, The Sekou Clarke Law Group is here to serve as your dedicated advocate. We are fully prepared to help clients through this crisis, and we look forward to addressing any concern you have about how the pandemic could impact your case.
In the meantime, we will continue to publish tips, updates, and information about navigating immigration law during this global crisis. The following is a brief overview of new policies, operation procedures, and application requirements agencies have implemented in response to COVID-19.
Navigating Closed Borders and Travel Restrictions
The borders separating the U.S. from Canada and Mexico have closed, allowing only essential travel between the nations. Since January 31st, the U.S. has also issued proclamations restricting travel from China, Iran, the Schengen Area (26 European states), and the UK/Ireland.
Fortunately, these restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens/lawful permanent residents (LPRs) or their:
- Parents/legal guardians (if the U.S. citizens/LPRs are unmarried andunder 21)
- Siblings (if both the siblings and U.S. citizens/LPRs are unmarried and under 21)
- Children, foster children, or wards
- Prospective adoptees entering the U.S. with IR-4 or IH-4 visas
For a full list of travelers who are exempt from these restrictions, visit the proclamations linked above. If you need to enter the U.S. but these restrictions prevent you from doing so, we can carefully assess your situation to see if there is anything we can do to help you accomplish your goal.
Reduced Enforcement Actions
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now focusing solely on matters of public safety, and officers will only detain individuals who pose risks to the public or have committed crimes.
If you are in urgent need of healthcare or medical treatment, both our firm and the federal government urge you to visit a doctor—no matter your immigration status. In fact, even if ICE believes you have committed a crime or immigration violation, officers legally cannot detain you near:
- Doctors’ offices
- Urgent care facilities
- Emergency rooms
- Health clinics
Fortunately, your immigration goals will not require you to sacrifice your health. If you are still concerned about your safety or wellbeing at this time, we urge you to get in contact with our team as soon as possible.
Temporary Office Closures & Suspension of Immigration Services
Because the Department of State has suspended routine services, all immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments at U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been canceled. The Department of State will, however, continue services for U.S. citizens, the Visa Waiver Program, emergency matters, and as many H-2 cases as possible.
USCIS has suspended all in-person services as well, which will affect:
- Interviews for immigration benefits
- Naturalization oath ceremonies
- Biometric appointments
- InfoPass appointments
With the exception of InfoPass appointments and appointments for UK or Canadian visa applicants, all of the above will be automatically rescheduled. If you don’t receive notice of your rescheduled appointment within 90 days, visit the USCIS Contact Center.
USCIS has also suspended the premium processing program for all I-129 and I-140 forms. This program allows those who pay $1,440 fees to receive decisions in 15 days (rather than several months or a year). If your employment matter depended on this shortened time frame, our firm can help you submit an expedite request or find an alternate method of accomplishing your goals.
Fortunately, USCIS will continue with administrative work that does not require contact with the public, as well as emergency matters. Many applicants will also benefit from USCIS’s decision to relax signature requirements, allowing individuals to submit electronically reproduced signatures rather than “wet” signatures. This protocol adjustment will last for the duration of the National Emergency.
Additionally, USCIS is extending deadlines for responses to certain notices. If you receive a Request for Evidence or a Notice of Intent to Deny/Revoke/Terminate between March 1st and May 1st of 2020, you can send your response up to 60 days after your response was originally due. You may also benefit from a 30-day extension of the deadline to file a Notice of Appeal or Motion (Form I-290B).
If your matter is an emergency, visit your Embassy’s website or the USCIS Contact Center to request an emergency appointment. We can help you submit this request and all necessary evidence in order to give you the highest possible chance of success.
Come to The Sekou Clarke Law Group for Personalized Guidance
As of April 2nd, the State of Florida is on lockdown. The Governor’s executive order directs all Floridians to travel outside of their homes only for essential activities. The CDC and the federal government recommend social distancing, masks or cloth face covers, handwashing and disinfecting, and other preventative measures. Following these guidelines will help you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.
In the meantime, The Sekou Clarke Law Group is here to help you with any immigration matter you have. You may not be able to predict exactly how COVID-19 will affect your immigration case, but our team can help you effectively navigate this uncertain terrain. While many businesses are closing down, we are doubling efforts to serve our clients during this global crisis.
We are currently offering virtual consultations to provide the services you need without risking your health. To schedule yours, call (407) 269-8774 or contact us online today.
Our Florida & New York immigration lawyers are ready to help you!