How Does The COVID-19 Pandemic Affect Immigrants and Nonimmigrants in the US?

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of American life. Businesses were forced to shut down, schools were closed, and students had to stay home. Many states ended the school year early in anticipation of a long period of response to this deadly pandemic. As of now, 94% of all Americans are under stay-at-home order and as a result the American life has changed in a way that has never been seen and experienced before. The U.S. immigration system, as any other government or private sector entity, has been affected by this pandemic and, as such, I have been contacted by many Arab immigrants and nonimmigrants in the community who, like all immigrant groups, have been left wondering about their immigration status.

To respond to this pandemic and deal with its effects, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) temporarily stopped in-person services to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Notices with instructions will be sent to applicants and petitioners with scheduled interview appointments or naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure.

For applicants and petitioners who have received a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response date set forth in the RFE or NOID will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken. That means that those who received such request or notice dated between March 1 and May 1 will have additional 60 days after the response date set forth in the RFE or NOID. A response received by USCIS within 60 calendar days after the response due date set forth in a Request for Evidence, Notice of Intent to Deny, Notice of Intent to Revoke, or Notice of Intent to Terminate will be considered before taking any action if such request or notice is issued and dated by USCIS between March 1 and May 1, 2020.

The USCIS has also provided guidance regarding the extensions of Employment Authorization documents. Applicants who had an appointment scheduled with an Application Support Center (ASC) after their closure on March 18 or who have filed a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, extension will have their application processed using previously submitted biometrics. Similarly, the USCIS has addressed the issue of Naturalization Oaths Ceremonies. USCIS will automatically reschedule the ceremony and will send a notice for the rescheduled ceremony by mail.

During natural catastrophes and other extreme situations, immigrants and nonimmigrants alike face uncertainties and find themselves in difficult situations. For example, some nonimmigrant workers, such as H1B or TN, for example, who lost their job due to the unprecedented shut down of the economy will find themselves out of status and they are usually required to depart the country to avoid being out of status. What can those workers who find themselves in this difficult situation do? Some categories of nonimmigrant workers can apply for an extension or change of status and the USCIS will have the discretion to review such request on a case by case basis to assess whether or not the special situation has prevented the timely departure of the applicant.

Also, Arab students currently studying in the United States might face severe economic hardship due this pandemic and the unprecedented shutdown of the economy. International students who experience severe economic hardship because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control, might be eligible to request employment authorization to work off-campus.

This pandemic is one that the globe has not faced in more than a hundred years. Immigrants and nonimmigrants currently present in the United States are feeling its severe burden. The immigration system has responded to address and clarify some of the difficulties. As this global pandemic continues to affect every aspect of our life, more guidelines are expected from the USCIS to clarify the uncertainties shadowing the life of both immigrants and nonimmigrants present in the United States.

Contact Brown Immigration Law today to schedule a free consultation with an attorney who can provide legal advice and guidance to you regarding your immigration questions.