COVID-19 and its effects on immigration
IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2020 - 12:00am

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with “stay-at-home,” “shelter in place,” quarantines, travel bans, etc., there has been a profound effect on immigration. Here are some of the restrictions, limitations, and changes at the present time. This is not an exhaustive list, and is subject to change literally on a daily basis:

1. The Department of State (DOS) is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all US embassies. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. Interviews will be rescheduled as soon as possible, but no specific date can be provided at this time.

2. The US embassy in Manila, Philippines noted that as of March 16, 2020, they have stopped processing routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visas due to the Philippine government’s announcement of an enhanced community quarantine for Luzon. Applicants will be advised of any new interview dates.

3. There are US travel bans imposed for China, Europe, UK, etc., and airlines have suspended international flights. Therefore, even if visas were issued, people would have a very difficult time entering the US.

4. ICE is temporarily adjusting its enforcement priorities, and will focus on apprehending and deporting those who pose a public safety risk and are “subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” In other words, ICE will go back to the Obama administration’s policy of going after only those who pose a risk to society.

5. Immigration courts are canceling and will later reschedule hearings for those who are not being detained.  They are also closing some courthouses.

6. USCIS has suspended in-person services, including all interviews and naturalization ceremonies.

7. ICE is rescheduling in-person check-ins of immigrants who are not in detention to “minimize the impact” of  COVID-19.

8. USCIS will accept photocopies of signatures on many petitions and applications, as opposed to original, “wet ink” signatures.

Let us also hope USCIS will not be serving requests for evidence (RFEs), denials, etc. during this pandemic, where people are supposed to respond within a certain time limit, especially when people are confined to their homes, with limited ability to gather documents and prepare decent responses. In addition, if a person should miss a deadline because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in certain circumstances there could still be relief available based on “extraordinary circumstances.”

For my part, my office is still open and operational in order to serve our clients and community. While we are all operating from our homes, all of our staff members are equipped with technology and tools to continue to call clients, work on cases, and keep clients informed at all times. Consultations are still done by phone. This is a testimony to our commitment in serving our clients, and we are prepared to do so no matter what. 

This is a very difficult time for all of us, requiring virtually an overnight retooling in the way we operate. But we are up to the challenge, and we will continue to keep you informed of any further developments.”

WEBSITE: www.gurfinkel.com

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