On August 2, 2015, Typhoon Soudelor hit and caused extensive damage in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USCIS) issued a public service announcement on Friday, August 8, 2015 relating to certain immigration benefits or relief that may be available to affected individuals.
How can a natural disaster affect my immigration status?
There are many ways in which a natural disaster can affect your ability to maintain a lawful immigration status or obtain certain other immigration benefits in the U.S. For example, you may not be able to attend your residency interview at a U.S. Consulate because it is closed. You may not receive a request for additional evidence because the mail is unable to be delivered, which could result in a denial of your case. USCIS often denies an application if it does not receive a response to a request for evidence. If you are already lawfully present in the U.S., the U.S. government can extend your stay in the U.S. so you don’t have to return, to your disaster-stricken country for an additional period of time.
Occasionally, if USCIS and the President of the United States deem that the disaster is severe enough, they may grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is a type of temporary protection given to individuals who are already present in the U.S. and who are from countries experiencing issues that make it unsafe for them to return. TPS permits individuals to remain in the U.S. temporarily, work in the U.S., and to travel abroad during their TPS status. TPS may be granted for ongoing armed conflict like civil war or an environmental disaster, like a flood or hurricane. See our prior blog here for more information on TPS.
How can USCIS help individuals from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands?
USCIS has said that eligible individuals may request or apply for temporary relief measures, including:
- A change or extension of nonimmigrant status for an individual currently in the United States, even when the request is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired;
- Extension or re-parole of individuals previously granted parole by USCIS;
- Expedited adjudication of employment authorization applications; and
- Assistance to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) stranded overseas without immigration or travel documents, such as a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card). USCIS and the Department of State will coordinate on these matters when LPRs are stranded where there is no local USCIS office.
USCIS may also exercise its discretion to allow for filing delays resulting from the typhoon. This may include:
- Assistance to those who have not appeared for an interview or submitted required forms of evidence. You may show how the typhoon prevented you from appearing or submitting documents as required; or
- Assistance to those who have not been able to respond to a request for evidence (RFE) or notice of intent to deny (NOID). USCIS will extend the deadline for individuals to respond to RFEs or NOIDs by 30 days. This will apply to all RFEs and NOIDs with a deadline of August 2 through September 2, 2015. During this time, USCIS will not issue denials based on abandonment of an application or petition in the CNMI.
It is important to note that, as of today’s date, USCIS has not determined whether TPS will be available for individuals from CNMI.
If you think you may benefit – if USCIS authorizes assistance to individuals from CNMI, or have questions about TPS, please contact our office to schedule a consultation.