The federal government made clear this week it still expects temporary workers and others in the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas to use the usual federal channels to comply with immigration laws, including with respect to deadlines applicable to amendments, extensions, or changes in status, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Federal agencies also provided important clarifications related to remote work and visas for medical professionals. Below you’ll find more detail on those announcements and others from the past week impacting business immigration:
- On April 13, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped short of announcing what many businesses have been asking for – a clearer promise of relief related to nonimmigrant petitions and visa processing, including for temporary workers. USCIS essentially reiterated that it will consider using its discretion but expects nonimmigrants to file in a timely manner for extensions or changes in status. Please note that despite this announcement, USCIS has suspended premium processing for all I-129 nonimmigrant and I-140 immigrant petitions, extending the processing time for many of these cases by several months. We have also experienced delays in the issuance of receipt notices for several case types. We continue to recommend that employers review any immigration filing needs well in advance of expiration dates and consult with counsel to accommodate processing delays and adverse consequences.
- On April 13, USCIS also announced that businesses should expect delays related to cap-subject H-1B petitions for temporary professional workers. Those employers who have H-1B petitions accepted in the fiscal year 2021 lottery will experience processing delays as a result of the fact that USCIS will delay data entry and receipt notice generation for these cases. USCIS says it is “mindful” of sensitive expirations and start dates and will “strive to process these petitions as efficiently as possible.”
- On April 9, the U.S. Department of Labor released round three of its COVID-19 FAQs to clarify a few points impacting both H-1B workers and H-2A (temporary agricultural worker) processing. The H-1B clarification is very helpful to those employers whose normal business operations may be situated at the borders of various metropolitan statistical areas or state lines, but who may have H-1B workers temporarily working remotely due to the current pandemic. However, the Labor Department also reminded employers of the need to comply with current regulations with respect to both (1) the short-term placement rules that may be applicable in circumstances where an H-1B worker is working temporarily outside of the original area of intended employment as well as (2) the notice requirements and flexibility that may be applicable where an H-1B worker is working within the original area of intended employment but temporarily at a different work site.
- On April 8, the U.S. Department of State updated information regarding visa issuance to medical professionals. The State Department confirmed that despite delays and closures, the U.S. consulates are still accepting and processing emergency and mission critical visa services, resources permitting and subject to local government restrictions. Those medical professionals who have an approved U.S. nonimmigrant or immigrant visa petition or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program – especially medical professionals who are working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19 – are advised to request an emergency visa appointment at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Information regarding scheduling an emergency appointment is available on the State Department’s website.
As many companies continue to confront difficult choices with respect to ongoing business needs and employment, please remember that any changes to the employment terms and conditions of your foreign workforce could have additional consequences on their legal status in the United States.
For more information, please contact us or your regular Parker Poe contact. You can find the firm's additional COVID-19 alerts here.