In the last two weeks, our awareness of the Covid-19, or Coronavirus, has greatly increased. Private businesses and government offices are taking steps to avoid “community spread” of the virus – spreading the virus between individuals who are in close proximity to each other. Some immigrants may be wondering, will coronavirus affect my immigration case?
Immigration courts and USCIS offices are places where many people often gather in close quarters, but the government’s response to concerns about the risks of attending immigration court hearings and appointments has been uneven. Here’s what you need to know if you have an immigration application pending or a case in immigration court:
Do I have to go to Immigration Court during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
On the evening of March 17, 2020, the DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) tweeted an announcement that all hearings for non-detained individuals (both Master Calendar hearings and Individual hearings) scheduled from March 18, 2020 onward would be postponed. EOIR did not provide an anticipated end date to the postponement of its scheduled hearings, so we will continue to follow EOIR’s twitter account and website for further updates.
In the Houston area, this specifically means that Houston’s Immigration Court on South Gessner will be closed, and its courts at 1801 Smith St. and 1900 Smith St. will only hear detained docket cases. The Conroe court will continue to hear detained cases.
In other words, hearings for detained individuals are expected to proceed as scheduled. Hearings for non-detained individuals are being postponed (both master calendar and individual hearings).
The American Immigration Lawyers Association and others are pressing for ICE to release non-violent detainees on orders of supervision with ankle monitors or take other measures to lessen the threat of the community spread through detention centers. However, at present, no further announcements have been made.
Do I Still Need to Attend My Interview At USCIS during the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Late March 17th, USCIS announced that all appointments at USCIS offices from March 18th – April 1st will be postponed. The announcement states that appointments through “at least April 1st” will be postponed, so the Service has left open the possibility that its offices will remain closed to the public for a longer period to be determined at a later date.
This announcement applies to interviews at USCIS offices for green card applications, citizenship applications, and biometrics appointments at Application Support Centers. USCIS stated that its officers will continue to perform job duties that do not involve interfacing with the public, and that emergency appointments will be available for emergency situations. Anyone who needs an emergency appointment can schedule through the USCIS Contact Center. Infopass appointments scheduled while USCIS is closed to the public must also reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center.
Prior to this announcement, some local offices had already begun reaching out to benefits applicants to reschedule appointments and in some cases, notifying naturalization applications that scheduled naturalization oath ceremonies were now cancelled in order to avoid having large groups assembling at this time.
We will continue to monitor announcements by USCIS regarding the closing of its offices to the public.
What if I am supposed to travel into or out of the U.S. in the next month and cannot do so because of the Covid-19 pandemic?
For individuals seeking to travel into the United States, be aware of several new announcements:
1. Travel from Iran, China, and Europe Has Been Restricted
Travel from Iran, China, and many European countries is suspended with some exceptions for U.S. citizens, Permanent Residents (people who have “green cards”) and their spouses and children, and people with certain types of visas. See the DHS Fact Sheet here.
2. U.S. citizens, U.S. Permanent Residents (“Green card holders”) and their families will be subject to screening and possible quarantine
American citizens, legal permanent residents (people who have “green cards”), and their immediate families who are arriving from areas impacted by Coronavirus must travel through one of 13 airports where the Department of Homeland Security has established enhanced entry screening capabilities. All American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who are returning from the impacted area must self-quarantine for 14 days after their arrival.
3. Visa Services Are Being Limited or Suspended at Some U.S. Consulates
The Department of State announced on March 13, 2020 that some U.S. consulates have begun to reduce or temporarily suspend visa services. For information on visa operations as well as health services and recommendations from a specific country’s consulate, check the new site with links to information about each country’s consular operations.
What if I Can’t Leave the US Due to the Coronavirus but my Immigration Status is Expiring?
If you are in the U.S. based on an entry through the Visa Waiver Program (also commonly referred to by the “ESTA” portal name), you may be able to request Satisfactory Departure for to 30 additional days.
Satisfactory Departure is available where an emergency prevents a person admitted under the Visa Waiver Program from departing the United States within the period of authorized stay.
It must be requested while the 90-day VWP period is still in effect. (In emergencies, requests for Satisfactory Departure may be granted if the individual is already out of status but can prove the intent was to depart timely.) A period of approved Satisfactory Departure cannot exceed an additional 30 days. If granted, and departure is made within the period of approved Satisfactory Departure, the individual is regarded as having made a timely departure and is not considered to have overstayed their allowed time.
If you entered with a visa, and your I-94 is expiring, you should strongly consider an extension or change of status to allow you to temporarily remain in the U.S. If you timely file a change or extension of status, you are in a period of authorized stay while this application is pending.
Will Coronavirus Affect my Immigration Case?
If you still have concerns, please contact board-certified Kathryn N. Karam, or one of Karam Immigration Law‘s immigration lawyers in Houston Texas, as soon as possible.. Nothing is easy when we’re all dealing with a pandemic. We’re all working through changes to our work, travel, and the arrangements we previously made. Don’t wait to address your immigration issues – take action to address your immigration case today. Contact us, Karam Immigration law, an immigration law firm in Houston, by clicking this orange button below: