Clarity and Strength in Immigration Law

COVID-19 Immigration Updates – March 30, 2020

By Samantha Davis, Immigration lawyer in Richmond, Va

During the COVID-19 pandemic things are changing rapidly so we are receiving updates often, sometimes daily. We’ll be sending out newsletter updates more often than normal, but we want everyone to stay up to date and informed as we receive updates for how immigration related issues will be handled.

1. USCIS Temporary Office Closure Extended until at least April 7

The temporary suspension is extended, and USCIS offices will re-open on April 7 unless the public closures are extended further. This includes interviews, naturalization ceremonies and biometric collection appointments. However, USCIS will continue to provide emergency services during this time. USCIS field offices will send de-scheduling notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments impacted by the public closure. USCIS will also send de-scheduling notices to naturalization applicants scheduled for naturalization ceremonies. USCIS will reschedule all applicants when USCIS resumes normal operations.

2. Premium Processing Temporarily Suspended

USCIS announced the immediate and temporary suspension of premium processing service for all Form I-129 and I-140 petitions until further notice due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). USCIS will not accept any new requests for premium processing. Petitioners who have already filed a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, using the premium processing service and who receive no agency action on their case within the 15-calendar-day period will receive a refund, consistent with 8 CFR 103.7(e).

USCIS will reject the I-907 and return the $1,440 filing fee for all petitions requesting premium processing that were mailed before March 20 but not yet accepted. This includes new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions, including H-1B cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2021, petitions from previous fiscal years, and all H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap.

USCIS will notify the public with a confirmed date for resuming premium processing.

3. USCIS Flexibility in Submitting Required Signatures

USCIS announced that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 National Emergency it will accept all benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures, including the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, for submissions dated March 21, 2020, and beyond. This means that a document may be scanned, faxed, photocopied, or similarly reproduced provided that the copy must be of an original document containing an original handwritten signature. For forms that require an original “wet” signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency. E-signatures will still not be allowed.

4. DHS Flexibility with I-9 Compliance

Due to precautions being implemented by employers and employees related to physical proximity associated with COVID-19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will exercise discretion to defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. However, employers must inspect the Section 2 documents remotely (e.g., over video link, fax or email, etc.) and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2. Employers also should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume. Please see the announcement here for further instructions.

5. Certified 9089s for PERM will be Issued Electronically

OFLC announced that beginning March 25, 2020, through June 30, 2020, the Atlanta National Processing Center (NPC) will issue PERM labor certification documents, including the certified Form ETA-9089 and Final Determination letter, electronically to employers and their authorized attorneys or agents in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

USCIS may consider this printed Form ETA-9089, containing all signatures, as satisfying the requirement that petitioners provide evidence of an original labor certification issued by DOL.

6. USCIS Announces Flexibility for Requests for Evidence, Notices of Intent to Deny

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, USCIS announced today that it is adopting measures to minimize the immigration consequences associated with responding to requests for evidence (RFEs) and notices of intent to deny (NOIDs) dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020.

For applicants and petitioners who receive an RFE or NOID dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response deadline set forth in the RFE or NOID will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken.

7. US Department of State has suspended all routine visa services

The US Department of State posted this on March 20, 2020: “In response to worldwide challenges related to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Department of State is suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.”

8. USCIS will re-use biometrics for EAD applications

On March 30, 2020, USCIS announced that they will reuse previously submitted fingerprints for EAD extension applications (this would include  H-4 EAD extension applications). This policy will remain in effect until USCIS reopens the Application Support Centers (ASCs) for biometrics.

We are here to help you navigate the immigration maze with peace of mind and confidence. Contact Sumner Immigration Law to set a consultation to create your strategy today! We are immigration lawyers in Richmond, VA but we serve clients throughout the US and around the world. You can call us at 804-396-3412 or send us an email to info@sumnerimmigration.com. We look forward to hearing from you.