Updated April 9th, 2020
Various government offices including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Executive Office of Immigration Review (the network of immigration courts) each announced in the last week that certain in-person appointments and court hearings would be rescheduled in order to prevent people gathering and potentially spreading the Coronavirus. USCIS just sent out an announcement that it would extend these closures through May 3, 2020, and it may extend the closures longer if needed. If you’re thinking of applying for immigration benefits in the U.S., you might be wondering if you need to go to immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.
Do I Need to Go to a USCIS Interview or Biometrics Appointment During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
USCIS announced on March 18, 2020 that it would no longer conduct public-facing interviews until at least April 1, 2020. More recently, it extended that period until May 3, 2020. USCIS has clarified that permanent residence (green card) interviews and naturalization interviews and oath ceremonies will be rescheduled.
USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners impacted by this closure. Appointments scheduled during the office closures will automatically be rescheduled once normal operations resume. People who had InfoPass appointments scheduled during the field office closures must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center.
USCIS also clarified that Biometrics appointments that have been scheduled during times when USCIS offices are closed to the public will be postponed. When USCIS resumes normal operations again, rescheduled biometrics appointment notices will be sent. Once normal operations resume, if you do not get a rescheduled biometrics notice, USCIS directs you to call its national customer service center at 800-375-5283.
USCIS is still conducting review of applications and is accepting new applications. It’s important for everyone to understand that even though USCIS is postponing scheduled in-person interviews, the immigration service is still accepting applications and processing them. Work permits, travel documents, green cards, and notices about cases are still being issued.
Do I Still Have to Go To Immigration Court During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
On March 17th, 2020, the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) announced at the beginning of last week that hearings for all non-detained cases scheduled between now and April 10th, 2020 will be postponed. EOIR has since extended the postponement of non-detained cases through May 1, 2020. However, generally speaking, filing deadlines remain, and courts remain open to accept filings. So if you have a deadline to file documents in your case, your best practice is to respect that deadline and file your documents within the timeframe given. If you cannot do so, you should file any documents for your case as soon as possible with an explanation for the delay in filing.
For detained cases, hearings continue at this time. The EOIR’s informational page contains its latest updates, including its Tweets, which are typically how it firs
People whose hearings are scheduled between now and May 1st and will be conducted pursuant to the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), which is the Remain in Mexico program began during the Trump administration, will be postponed per a recent announcement. The EOIR web page notes that “neither the MPP program nor any hearings will be cancelled.” In other words, the program will continue and hearings will be rescheduled for later dates – not cancelled outright.
The EOIR also issued a memo noting among other things that parties appearing in the immigration court should seek to resolve matters without personal appearances wherever possible, such as through joint motions and stipulations. However, because this guidance is new, we do not yet know exactly how flexible ICE Legal will be regarding joint motions and stipulations.
USCIS Has Suspended Premium Processing
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on March 20, 2020 that it would immediately suspend premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic. Beginning March 20th, USCIS will not accept any new requests for premium processing and will return the Form I-907 and the $1,440 filing fee where these were sent but not yet accepted on March 20th or later.
The suspension of premium processing applies to I-129 petitions for E, H, L, O, P Q, R, and TN visas as well as I-140 employment-based petitions. USCIS has not yet announced when it might resume premium processing.
What Else Can We Expect from USCIS and EOIR?
We know that the measures announced thus far are temporary, and that in the future, USCIS, EOIR and other government agencies may extend closures, announce new measures, or reopen offices depending on what happens with the spread of the coronavirus through the U.S. We will continue to monitor announcements and updates as they are issued.
Do I Need to Go to Immigration During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Remember, even though USCIS has postponed public-facing operations such as interviews and biometrics appointments through at least April 7th, it is still processing applications for employment authorization documents, and other benefits applications that do not require interviews and will accept applications that involve interviews or biometrics appointments and process them up until appointments are required to continue.
If you need to file an immigration application or petition, you can still do so, and we’re fully operational during this time. Click the orange button below to schedule a phone or video consultation with one of our attorneys today: