If you are an immigrant in the United States, or if you are a U.S.-based employer who hires immigrants, changes in immigration procedures due to the outbreak of COVID-19 may affect you and your family or business. You may require the help of a Las Vegas immigration attorney.
Travel into the United States is being aggressively restricted during the pandemic. Almost all immigration has stopped, and most immigration applications and hearings are on hold. Deportations to three different nations with high COVID-19 numbers have been stopped.
As of mid-April 2020, no one yet can say with certainty how long the temporary immigration changes – changes that are touching millions of lives – will stay in effect.
It’s highly likely that more change will take place over the next several weeks as immigration and enforcement agencies react to the changing situation and as more details about COVID-19 become available.
New Restrictions at the Mexican and Canadian Borders
Mexico and the U.S. announced new restrictions in March on nonessential travel over the Mexican-U.S. border. For now, travel across the border will be limited to persons who cross for employment, education, or medical purposes.
The Homeland Security Department has announced that during the pandemic, anyone who is discovered trying “to enter the U.S. without proper travel documentation” will be immediately repatriated or removed to his or her nation of origin.
Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 have also been established at the U.S.-Canada border. The two nations have stopped “nonessential” cross-border travel. President Trump said on Twitter that trade between the nations “will not be affected” by the restrictions on travel.
Immigration Enforcement Changes
ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) told Congress in March that during the pandemic, the agency will focus its enforcement efforts on individuals who are a potential public safety risk and who are eligible for detention “on criminal grounds.”
The agency also told Congress that enforcement will not take place at medical facilities except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Nevertheless, some activists have expressed concerns that enforcement activities will keep some immigrants from seeking COVID-19 treatment or testing.
ICE continues to deport immigrants, but removal flights to China, Italy, and South Korea are temporarily suspended. ICE has also temporarily cancelled social visitations to immigration detention centers.
Temporarily shutting down some of the immigration courts has been the Justice Department’s response to the pandemic. Immigration courts still in operation are hearing only cases involving immigrants currently in detention. All other hearings are postponed for now.
Travel Bans and other Travel Changes
Foreign nationals coming from Iran, China, and more than two dozen European nations are temporarily barred from entering the U.S. More countries may be included on that list in days and weeks to come, while other nations may soon be deleted from the list.
U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and their immediate relatives will undergo medical screenings when they return from any of the nations on the travel ban list.
Since so many foreign nationals are now barred from entering the U.S., employers in this country who rely on international workers may have to – at least for now – make some substantial changes in their recruitment and hiring arrangements.
How are In-Person Immigration Services Affected?
USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) is temporarily suspending virtually all of their in-person immigration services at USCIS offices and support centers. The agency has cancelled and is rescheduling personal appointments for anyone who is not in detention.
The U.S. Department of State, however, is giving its consular officers discretion to waive H-2 visa interviews for both returning applicants and first-time applicants. Those who didn’t need a waiver the first time they applied may not require a personal interview.
Giving consular officers the discretion to waive H-2 visa interviews “streamlines the application process and helps provide steady labor for the agriculture sector” during the pandemic, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on March 26th.
Changes Affecting Children and Employers
Children entering the U.S. without a guardian or parent are held at locations across the country until they are placed with sponsors. During the outbreak, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is refraining from placing these children at facilities in California and Washington State.
U.S.-based employers who hire foreign workers face some tough decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. H-1B employees who are terminated will have a sixty-day grace period to remain in the U.S. until they leave, find other employment, or change to another visa status.
What About I-9 Compliance?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, employers will not be required to review an employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence for the completion of Form I-9.
However, employers still must inspect identification and employment documents remotely (using video, fax, email, or another method) for the purposes of I-9 compliance. Employers should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for delaying the physical inspection of the documents.
Employers who use this option must offer written documentation of their remote hiring and telework policy for each employee. This burden rests solely with the employer.
Employers should monitor the DHS and ICE websites and news reports for additional updates. Having accurate, up-to-date information is essential. If you have unanswered questions, a good immigration lawyer can answer them.
Confused? You Are Not Alone
2020 is becoming a time of confusing and chaotic change for immigrants, immigrant families, and employers who hire immigrants in the U.S. More changes should be expected in the weeks to come as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves. If you feel confused, you are not the only one.
If you’re waiting for an immigration hearing or waiting to have any immigration-related application or request approved, your already-lengthy wait will almost certainly be extended now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, you will need patience.
Visa holders, applicants, their families, and their employers need to understand how the pandemic-related changes will impact them, how they can meet their legal challenges and obligations, and how to remain compliant with immigration laws during the pandemic.
If any of these COVID-19 pandemic-related changes to immigration procedures and regulations affect you, your family, or your employees, you are going to require personalized advice. You should discuss your circumstances promptly with the right Las Vegas immigration attorney.
The U.S. immigration system is known for being complex and frustrating, and the pandemic is increasing that complexity and confusion, but a good immigration lawyer can help by offering the immigration advice and services you need in these unusual times and circumstances.