U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and COVID-19
USCIS has made several public announcements regarding COVID-19 measures:
- As of March 18, USCIS temporarily suspended routine in-person services through at least May 3. However, USCIS has been accepting online and paper-filed applications and petitions. The suspended services include Biometrics appointments, INFOPASS appointments, interviews and Naturalization ceremonies. See here for full release.
- USCIS announced that it adopted measures to assist applicants and petitioners who are responding to certain Requests for Evidence (RFE) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID). This alert clarifies that this flexibility also applies to certain Notices of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) and Notices of Intent to Terminate (NOIT) regional investment centers, as well as certain filing date requirements for Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion. This flexibility applies to an RFE, NOID, NOIR, NOIT or appealable decision within AAO jurisdiction and the issuance date listed on the request, notice or decision is between March 1, 2020 and May 1, 2020, inclusive. 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. See here for full release.
- USCIS announced flexibility in submitting requited signatures during COVID-19 national emergency . 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, unless otherwise specified. 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. This temporary change only applies to signatures. All other form instructions should be followed when completing a form. Individuals or entities that submit documents bearing an electronically reproduced original signature must also retain copies of the original documents containing the “wet” signature. USCIS may, at any time, request the original documents, which if not produced, could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit. CAVEAT: We just received a I-129 package with a denial because the signatures were not ORIGINAL. See here for full release.
- I have been getting many inquiries from clients asking whether they can apply for the CARES Act expanded unemployment benefits and the tax credit. This is especially confusing for clients as USCIS started its expansive public charge rules as of February 24, 2020. What used to be not considered as public benefits triggering inadmissibility in the past got included such as Medicaid, TANF, certain housing benefits. The rule does not include consideration of emergency medical assistance, disaster relief, national school lunch programs, foster care and adoption, student and mortgage loans, energy assistance, food pantries and homeless shelters and Head Start. In addition, CIS announced that the Public Charge rule does not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19. In addition, the rule does not restrict access to vaccines for children or adults to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases. Importantly, for purposes of a public charge inadmissibility determination, USCIS considers the receipt of public benefits as only one consideration among a number of factors and considerations in the totality of the alien’s circumstances over a period of time with no single factor being outcome determinative. To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid). Overall, I believe the one-time emergency benefits in the forms of expanded unemployment (insurance) and tax credits under Cares Act will be the type of public benefits under the Public Charge Rule. See here for full release.