The U.S. federal government has not had a uniform approach to closing its various immigration offices as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19), but each agency has responded in some way in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus and flatten the curve of infection. The following summarizes the steps each agency has taken to respond to this pandemic thus far.
On March 18, 2020, USCIS announced that it would be canceling all in-person services until April 7, 2020, but today extended this closure until at least May 3, 2020. The closure may extend further, if necessary. Individuals who were scheduled for the following between March 18, 2020 and May 3, 2020 will have these appointments automatically rescheduled at later time:
Individuals who had InfoPass appointments scheduled between March 18, 2020 and May 3, 2020 will have to reschedule their appointments on their own once the USCIS is open again.
Furthermore, USCIS will continue to conduct the following during this time:
+ In-person services necessary in emergency situations. Contact the USCIS at 1–800-375-5283 to determine if your emergency qualifies.
+ Application processing done at the USCIS Service Centers, meaning it will continue to accept, review and adjudicate all immigration benefits applications.
For more information, please visit the USCIS Covid-19 website: https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/uscis-response-coronavirus-2019-covid-19
EOIR, which oversees all deportation proceedings in the United States, has responded differently by court and depending on whether the case involves a detained or non-detained immigrant. As of right now, all deportation hearings scheduled through May 1, 2020 involving individuals who are not detained in immigration detention centers have been postponed and will be automatically rescheduled by the court.
With regard to individuals who are detained in immigration detention centers, the impact of Covid-19 varies by court. Some courts have closed completely, while other courts are proceeding with hearings as usual, with some modifications made to limit the number of individuals in the court. For example, here in Chicago, the immigration court continues to conduct hearings for detained individuals. For a full list of which immigration courts have closed and stopped conducting even detained hearings, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-operational-status-during-coronavirus-pandemic
DOS announced that all U.S. Embassies and U.S. Consulates abroad would cancel all routine immigrant (green card) and non-immigrant (e.g. B-2, H-1B, L-1, O-1, F-1, K-1, etc.) visa appointment as of March 18, 2020, and that they will “resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time.”
There appear to be very few exceptions, namely only for certain medical professionals. On March 26, 2020, DOS indicated that it was encouraging “medical professionals with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129 or I-140 with a current priority date, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19,” to request visa appointments at the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.
As of today, our office anticipates being closed to the public until at least April 30, 2020, pursuant to the State of Illinois shelter-in-place executive order. This may be extended further. Despite this, our work on your immigration cases has not stopped or even slowed down. We are all working remotely and able to take your consultations and calls, gather your documents electronically, and file your applications with the various government agencies involved, despite their closure to the public. All of the government agencies (USCIS, EOIR, and DOS) continue to accept, process and adjudicate your applications for immigration benefits. All of our staff is working remotely, and we because law firms are considered “essential” under the State of Illinois shelter-in-place executive order, we have a skeletal crew coming into the office each day to process our mail and file your applications. Your immigration cases is important to us and we appreciate your understanding of the modifications we have made in our business to adapt to this crisis and protect the health of our staff and our clients.
If you have any concerns about how the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic impacts your immigration case, please contact one of the attorneys at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.