In these quickly evolving times, there is a constant flow of emails and announcements that are coming from all directions. In order to provide a single source for current updates as to major processing changes and announcements impacting U.S. immigration, we are providing a weekly review.
This first edition will cover March to date. All information is subject to change as the management of the COVID-19 pandemic continues. With that, here are some of the big alerts that have happened since March 1:
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced flexibility in submitting required signatures during the COVID-19 national emergency. USCIS will accept all benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures, including the Form I-129 (petition for nonimmigrant worker), for submissions dated March 21, 2020, and beyond. This is subject to some restrictions.
- On March 20, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) issued guidance regarding handling and processing of matters associated with PERM Labor Certifications and H workers as may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. OFLC remains operational and advised that employers must continue to meet statutory and regulatory requirements to qualify for certification. The FAQs do, however, provide information as to notice requirements and deadline extensions for responses and filings.
- On March 20, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that the Department of Homeland Security will exercise discretion to defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. This flexibility does not apply to all employers, and if qualifying employers rely on this provision, then certain steps must be taken to ensure compliance.
- The fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021) H-1B cap lottery registration period closed as of noon EDT on March 20, 2020.
- USCIS announced the suspension of premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 petitions, effective on March 20, 2020. Cases that have been submitted previously, using the premium processing service and who receive no agency action on their case within the 15-calendar-day period, will receive a refund, consistent with 8 CFR 103.7(e). The forms I-907 and premium processing fees for cases submitted using premium processing, but not yet accepted as of March 20, will be rejected and returned.
- USCIS is temporarily closing offices to the public from March 18 to at least April 1. This closure impacts all in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and application support centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This suspension of services will be effective until at least April 1. In the meantime, USCIS will provide limited emergency services.
- Starting on March 17, most U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have suspended processing of non-immigrant and immigrant visas and canceled appointments through at least the end of March and many through mid-April. Emergency appointments are available on a limited basis and in accordance with the guidelines of the particular embassy or consulate.
- The U.S., Canada, and Mexico have closed their borders to all “non-essential” traffic and President Donald Trump has extended travel suspension from certain European countries.
For more information, please contact us or your regular Parker Poe contact. You can also find the firm's additional alerts related to COVID-19 here.