Immigration and Coronavirus Update

Good news is hard to find these days. It is therefore encouraging to see that USCIS is opening up its Field Offices this week. Premium processing is back, too. Nevertheless, the U.S. land borders remain basically closed, and we have new travel bans for Brazil and certain students and researchers from China. Consulate appointments are still hard to find too.

Here are some brief updates from the world of immigration:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will open up its Field Offices once again on June 4th. The offices have been closed since March 18th. The agency has implemented a number of measures to limit the risk of coronavirus transmission. Interview and biometrics appointments are being rescheduled. More information on reopening can be found here.
  • USCIS also announced it is opening up the Premium Processing program once again in June. Premium processing allows certain employment-based petitioners to pay an additional fee of $1440 for the benefit of guaranteed 15-day initial adjudication. Employers rely on this program, as normal processing times vary widely. There are times when normal processing takes six months or more. The agency will open up the program in three stages over the coming weeks. Advance planning continues to be a must in all things immigration.
  • As of June 1st, the Department of State’s National Visa Center is reviewing cases submitted by February 14th.  The NVC is taking about a week to respond to inquiries, and is operating with limited staffing. The National Visa Center processes immigrant visa cases, which are then forwarded to the consulates around the world for final visa processing. Like all agencies, the NVC is adjusting to current circumstances. The NVC says it will not comment on the impact on the President’s Proclamation limiting immigrant visa processing for 60 days.
  • The Consulates around the world remain closed to routine services, but some Consulates are receiving applications by mail, waiving interviews, and making other adjustments. We’ve also seen Consulates make exceptions for certain essential workers. The Consulates are also available to address national interest waivers for key visitors and other visa applicants.
  • The President issued a Proclamation halting admission for certain Chinese foreign students and researchers, which took effect June 1st. The ban is based on a concern that Chinese students and researchers are transferring intellectual property to China’s military. Specifically:

“The entry into the United States as a nonimmigrant of any national of the PRC seeking to enter the United States pursuant to an F or J visa to study or conduct research in the United States, except for a student seeking to pursue undergraduate study, and who either receives funding from or who currently is employed by, studies at, or conducts research at or on behalf of, or has been employed by, studied at, or conducted research at or on behalf of, an entity in the PRC that implements or supports the PRC’s “military-civil fusion strategy” is hereby suspended and limited subject to section 2 of this proclamation. For the purposes of this proclamation, the term “military-civil fusion strategy” means actions by or at the behest of the PRC to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities.”

The Proclamation includes several exceptions, similar to those found in the recent coronavirus related travel bans (e.g. Schengen region, China, Iran, United Kingdom & Ireland restrictions). Some exceptions include lawful permanent residents, spouses of U.S. citizens/LPRs, students/researchers in fields not contributing to the PRC’s “military-civil fusion strategy,” and a general national interest exception.

“Section 1. Suspension and Limitation on Entry. The entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the Federative Republic of Brazil during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States is hereby suspended and limited subject to section 2 of this proclamation.”

As with the other bans, limited exceptions are specified, such as for lawful permanent residents, certain family members of U.S. citizens, crew members, and the catch-all national interest exception.

  • USCIS continues to close its international field offices, which have been of great value to our service members abroad, among others.  The Rome Field Office closed to the public at the end of May, and the London office will close at the end of July.
  • The U.S.-Canada land border closure was extended another month, until June 22nd, for non-essential travel. The border will continue to permit entry for essential workers, which includes persons with work authorization statuses. The border will adjudicate TN and L petitions, but extra scrutiny should be expected. Ordinary waiver processing continues to be at a standstill. Notably, it is still permissible to travel to the United States via air for nonessential travel. However, caution is warranted with all land border travel matters. The agency is still exercising its expedited removal authority.
  • CBP extended the temporary closure of Trusted Traveler Program enrollment centers until at least July 6, 2020, in relation to the pandemic. The closure applies to all public access Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST enrollment centers.

We continue to follow the latest immigration and border updates daily, and are happy to discuss. Wishing all well in these difficult times.