Update on USCIS, DOS, SEVP and Covid-19

This is just an update on what is and is not happening with USCIS, DOS and SEVP during the Covid-19 pandemic. First, it is important to remember that things are changing so current USCIS policy may change very soon. To keep updated with current policies, you can go to the USCIS homepage at http://www.uscis.gov.

USCIS

Field Offices:

All USCIS field offices are closed to the public. This means that no biometrics appointments or interviews are being made at this time. This is in force through at least May 3, 2020 (we do not yet know if USCIS will extend this or not).

However, USCIS has made two important concessions during this period. First, they are allowing offices to reuse old biometrics for those who have applied to renew their EAD and AP status (Employment Authorization Documents and Advanced Parole). Second, USCIS has extended the time allowed to respond to Requests for Evidence (RFEs), Notices of Intent to Deny, Notices of Intent to Revoke, as well as the time to appeal decisions (this applies to all such notices with an issuance date listed on the request, notice or decision is between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2020, inclusive.). USCIS policy now states:

Any response to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, or NOIT received within 60 calendar days after the response due date set in the request or notice will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken. Any Form I-290B received up to 60 calendar days from the date of the decision will be considered by USCIS before it takes any action.

Service Centers:

USCIS service centers are open and adjudicating cases. Currently all service centers are open. However, it should be noted that some centers have closed temporarily in the past when a suspected case of Covid-19 has appeared in one of the employees. However, they have reopened the service centers within days.

Any applications that require biometrics appointments or interviews are on hold, however as the field offices are closed to the public (as are the biometrics centers). The only exception are EAD and AP applications for those who have had biometrics in the past. USCIS has issued a policy allowing those applications to go forward based upon the previous biometrics.

As stated above, USCIS has automatically extended the time to respond to requests for evidence, etc. for an additional 60 days after the due date.

Overseas Offices

Currently overseas offices are being closed on an as needed basis. Offices in Rome and Nairobi are currently closed, other offices are open if the Embassy itself is open. However, as most embassies are closed to the Public, so to are the USCIS offices at such embassies. They will continue to work and adjudicate cases as they can as long as in person interviews are not needed.

Department of State

Embassies

The Department of State has suspended routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services at all Embassies and Consulates until further notice (No specific date was given). Here is a copy of their announcement:

A. Suspension of Routine Visa Services.

– In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily 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.

– In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily 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.

This does not affect the Visa Waiver Program. See https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/faq?focusedTopic=Schengen%20Travel%20Proclamation for more information.

– Although all routine immigrant and nonimmigrant visa appointments are cancelled, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee is valid and may be used for a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased within one year of the date of payment.

We are aware of the importance of the H-2 program to the economy and food security of the United States and intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible.  For further information about the H-2 program, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/important-announcement-on-h2-visas.html

– Applicants with an urgent matter and need to travel immediately should follow the guidance provided at the Embassy’s website to request an emergency appointment. Examples of an urgent matter include air and sea crew, and medical personnel, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19.

J-1 Program

DOS has extended (automatically) the end date for certain J-1 non-immigrants in the United States. According to their memo DOS:

will now push a two-month extension to program end dates in SEVIS on active records with a program end date between April 1 – May 31, 2020 in order to provide exchange visitors the opportunity to complete either their educational or training programs, or continue to finalize travel plans to return home.”

Please remember this ONLY applies to programs with end dates between April 1 and May 31, 2020.

ICE AND SEVP (F-1 and M-1)

Here is a Link to SEVP policies for students at schools that have closed/moved to online coursework.

In summary, they have loosened rules in this regard to protect the status of those on F-1 and M-1 visas in the US whose schools have closed or are now just offering online classes. SEVP has stated that, under the circumstances outlines in the linked document, the status of such students will remain current and active as long as the procedures are followed. We urge you to review their guidance carefully if you are in such a situation.

As more changes are made we will update you as soon as possible.

Please remember, as always, this blog does not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer instead of a blog. Thank you.


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