As many know by now, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease COVID-19, is now a pandemic threatening populations worldwide. With respect to its effects on employment-based immigration, foreign students, and cross-border travel, the following are a few highlights of developments in the short term, as of press time:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended routine in-person services until at least April 1, 2020, to help slow the spread of COVID-19. USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. The agency said it will provide emergency services in limited situations. To schedule an emergency appointment, contact the USCIS Contact Center. USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies affected by this closure.
  • The stoppage includes visa interviews for H-2A Mexican temporary farmworkers at US consular posts in Mexico wanting to work in the United States. Some may be able to obtain interview waivers, but growers reportedly were told that H-2A visa applications for new workers would not be processed. This has raised concerns about potential effects on the U.S. produce supply.
  • USCIS is accepting all benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures for submissions dated March 21, 2020, and beyond.
  • The Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) said it continues to process and issue prevailing wage determinations and labor certifications. OFLC released frequently asked questions on March 20, 2020, including information about what is considered timely notice when a worker must be moved to a new worksite due to pandemic concerns.
  • E-Verify has extended the timeframe for taking action to resolve Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs) due to Social Security Administration office closures. E-Verify is also extending the timeframe to take action to resolve Department of Homeland Security TNCs “in limited circumstances when an employee cannot resolve a TNC due to public or private office closures. Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because the E-Verify case is in an interim case status, including while the employee’s case is in an extended interim case status.
  • The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) released guidance for stakeholders on March 13, 2020. The guidance notes that if a school must close temporarily with no online or other alternative learning procedures, the students “should remain in active status in SEVIS so long as the students intend to resume their course of study when classes resume.” If a school offers online instruction or another alternative upon closing temporarily, nonimmigrants should participate and remain in active status in SEVIS. Schools must notify SEVP of COVID-19-related procedural changes within 10 business days.
  • President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau closed the U.S.-Canada border as of March 18, 2020, to “non-essential traffic,” such as recreation and tourism, for an indefinite period. President Trump tweeted that “[t]rade will not be affected,” and workers who live on one side and work on the other are expected to continue traveling across the border for work.
  • Similarly, the United States and Mexico are limiting nonessential travel across the border, with exceptions.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it is temporarily “adjust[ing] its enforcement posture” as of March 18, 2020. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations will focus on “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” For those who do not fall into these categories, the agency said it will “exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the [pandemic] crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.” ICE said it will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities “except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.”
  • According to reports, immigration attorneys have sent multiple letters to the Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Labor, raising concerns about agency office closures and potential disruptions to the immigration system. Some are calling for a suspension of immigration compliance deadlines. Attorneys are also calling for the suspension of in-person immigration hearings and the use of telephone bond hearings for detainees.

The situation is rapidly evolving, and changes to the information above are possible. Contact your Miller Mayer immigration attorney for advice in specific situations.

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