COVID-19 has created major upheavals that have greatly impacted the United States including the immigration landscape. Here are the current immigration changes that you need to know about:
1. Travel is restricted.
A U.S. citizen or a permanent resident who’s outside of the U.S. can still return to the United States regardless of the country they’re coming from. If you don’t have a visa or green card and if you’ve been to one of the listed countries within the last 14 days, you will not currently be able to enter the United States. The list includes China, Iran, the UK and Ireland, and the entire Schengen area of Europe.
2. ESTA can be extended through a Satisfactory Departure.
People on ESTA who are only allowed to stay in the U.S. for 90 days can request for a Satisfactory Departure so they can extend their stay.
3. USCIS has closed all its public-facing offices.
Geen card interviews, citizenship interviews, and biometrics appointments have all been canceled for the near future.
4. There are measures to take if you’re working from home to make sure your visas stay complaint.
Make sure that extensions are being processed in a timely way. If you choose to work from home moving forward, you can get H-1Bs and other types of visas and list the home as a worksite in the future.
5. Premium processing has been canceled for the foreseeable future.
There will be no premium processing for people with H-1Bs in the lottery happening this Spring. There’s an additional temporary suspension of premium processing for all I-129 and I-140 petitions.
6. It’s okay to get coronavirus prevention and treatment if you think you have it and this will not affect your green card in the future.
If you’re an immigrant and you need some assistance to get through this time, there are a number of things you can take advantage of including workers comp, employment benefits, tax-related cash benefits, emergency medical assistance, social security benefits. Those are not counted towards the public charge rule.
7. The H-1B lottery is still on.
8. It’s okay to use photocopies and scans of wet-ink signatures in your forms.
You’re allowed to print out an application or petition at home. Sign it, scan it, and email it over to your immigration lawyer. Make sure you have the wet ink original in your records in case they’re requesting it.
9. It’s okay to hire new people and inspect their documents remotely.
If your company is working from home for shelter in place, you are not required to review the new hire’s employment authorization documents in each other’s physical presence. You can view their documents on a video call or they can email you a photograph of them taken with their mobile phone. Once normal operations resume, you need to make the second step of revisiting all of your I-9s from this time period.
10. There is a thing called Special Situations if you need to rely on it.
USCIS has dubbed COVID-19 a special situation equivalent to a natural disaster like a hurricane, a flood, or any other emergency. If you currently have any issues making it difficult or impossible for you to meet your application deadlines, you are able to request an extension.
For more information and resources on the recent immigration changes, check out Immigration Law for Tech Startups podcast. If you’d like to listen, head over to Episode 10: Top COVID-19 Immigration Changes.