Immigration Agency Interviews in COVID-19 Times

If you are applying for certain immigration benefits, for example U.S. citizenship or a marriage-based green card, the last step of your immigration journey is an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Officer held at a local USCIS field office.  Needless to say, you should be well prepared for your interview and in many cases, it is recommended that you have an attorney accompany you to the interview.  These interviews are meant to be non-adversarial, with the goal of completing the adjudication of your immigration benefit application.  There are certain procedural requirements to be met, including regarding the interview environment, your right to privacy, and your right to counsel, which have recently been changed given the COVID pandemic to ensure the safety of the officers, the applicants, and the general public.  These changes bring up some strategic considerations for your preparation or legal representation at interview.

In today’s COVID times, the immigration interviews present new challenges, so here is a brief general summary of what you can expect.  The USCIS outlines the specific CDC mandated safety measures before you can even go to the interview. There are restrictions regarding who may accompany you, and if you have traveled outside the U.S. in the past 14 days immediately preceding the interview, you will not be allowed to proceed with the interview, which will be rescheduled.  Generally, you may not enter a USCIS facility, if you: (1) have any symptoms of COVID-19, including recently developed cough, fever, difficulty breathing, changes in smell or taste or fatigue (list is not all-inclusive); (2) have been in close contact with anyone known or suspected to have COVID-19 in the last 14 days; (3) have been instructed to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a health care provider, public health authority or government agency within the last 14 days; or (4) are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

Further, you may not enter the facility more than 15 minutes before your appointment (30 minutes for naturalization ceremonies), and you must wear face coverings that cover both the mouth and nose (masks with exhaust valves, neck gaiters or bandanas are not allowed). You will have to follow social distancing guidelines and may have to answer health screening questions before entering a facility.  The immigration agency also encourages bringing your own pens.  These are some of the general office requirements but you should check your interview appointment notice for any additional instructions, as the practice of each USCIS field office significantly vary.

If you are represented by counsel, the above rules apply equally to you as the applicant, and to your attorney.  You should also note that some field offices may conduct interviews at the window, which raises privacy concerns if the are other persons waiting in the area.  Other field offices conduct interviews via video, which may impact the ability of the officer to obtain accurate information during the interview and for the applicant to understand the officer, particularly if there are issues with audio or video quality.  Attorneys may raise concerns regarding those issues by citing the relevant agency guidance, but accommodations are entirely within the Officer’s discretion.

It is also possible that USCIS separates the petitioner and applicant due to new room occupancy limits.  This means that a USCIS interview may be conducted where the attorney and clients are in one room and the officer in another, connected via iPad.  In that situation, you should assume that information shared in that setting is not confidential even if it appears that the iPad is “off”. Due to COVID-19 limitations on room occupancy, some field offices are now limiting the number of persons in the room to three, which results in the separation of the petitioner and applicant if an attorney attends in person. In this scenario, you may have the choice of being separated, or have your attorney appear by telephone or video.  However, some USCIS officers may give you an option of proceeding without an attorney, and you should be well-prepared to insist on calling your attorney and refuse to waive counsel, unless your attorney and you have already decided that you can proceed with the interview on your own.

All of these practices vary at the local USCIS field offices and pose concerns, so it is important that you discuss the best plan of action for you and your case with your attorney.  If you do not have an immigration counsel, you may wish to secure one for the interview, or at least speak to one who can prepare you for the interview, as the attorney will likely be more familiar with the local office procedures and able to advise you.  Feel free to reach out to us, if you have any questions about your upcoming immigration interview, or any other immigration concerns.

Hiring and Immigration: Questions to Ask and Factors to Consider

Hiring season is fraught with questions and uncertainties; preparing employment applications;  interviewing, drafting offer letters….. What questions can be asked? What questions should be asked? These concerns are even more pronounced when it comes to immigration status, and immigration sponsorship.  Those tasked with the hiring process often ask,  whether it is legal to ask applicants about their immigration status, how to ask that question,  and even more important,  “Do we have to sponsor for immigration status if the applicant needs it?”

Read the full post here: 

H-1B Lottery Selection Criteria May Change to Salary-Based Process

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a new rule that transforms the  random cap H-1B selection process to one that prioritizes registrations and petitions based on the highest Department of Labor (DOL) prevailing wage level met by the offered salary. It is not clear yet whether the incoming Biden administration will implement this rule at all or with modifications. Learn more in our recent client alert.

Proposed Student Visa Rules end Duration of Status, Require Extension Applications


On September 25, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency with jurisdiction over F-1 foreign student visa holders, published new proposed regulations that would end the long time U.S. practice of issuing “Duration of Status”  to F-1 students. Instead, F-1 visa holders would be limited to 2 or 4 year visa terms depending upon their country of origin, and be required to reapply for F-1 Status through USCIS to obtain extensions, or to leave the United States and apply for an extension .  The proposed regulations were immediately criticized by the higher education community. The rules were called ill-conceived, misguided, unnecessary, and a burden to an industry that has already seen a steady decline in international student admissions. Read the full blog post here.

Universities Weigh Impact of Latest Travel Ban on Certain Chinese Graduate Students and Post Docs

The White House has issued a new travel ban blocking Chinese nationals associated with entities that are part of China’s “military-civil fusion” strategy from obtaining graduate level Student (F) or Exchange Visitor (J) visas. The ban went into effect on June 1 and has no end date.  The ban specifically references those visa applicants who are currently outside the United States, but does not exclude the possibility that the estimated 3000 Chinese nationals, already studying in the U.S. who meet the criteria of the executive order, could have their existing visas revoked.  Read Valentine’s full post on the Duane Morris Education Law Blog, UpdateED.

Is President Trump Going to Suspend U.S. Legal Immigration in Response to the COVID19 Pandemic?

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and to protect jobs for U.S. workers, President Trump announced at a Tuesday press conference (April 21, 2020) that he would sign an Executive Order temporarily suspending certain individuals seeking permanent resident (green card)  status into the United States.  The President is expected to sign the suspension order this week and its scope will be limited only to green card applicants.

Contrary to earlier reports, the immigration suspension order will not apply to individuals entering the U.S. on a temporary work or other visa.  The immigration suspension will not apply to essential immigrant workers, such as those working in the healthcare sector who are seeking permanent resident status and to their family members. Beyond that, the scope of the suspension and which specific agencies and programs will be affected are not known. The immigration suspension order will be in effect for 60 days but may be extended.

As noted, as of the time of this writing, there are solely reports about the draft Executive Order, but the actual suspension order has not yet been issued. We are closely monitoring the situation and will provide more information as soon as it is available.

 

COVID-19 Immigration Agency Suspensions and Cancellations 3/29/2020 Update

The Duane Morris Immigration Team is dedicated to providing the most up to date information and zealous advocacy on behalf of our clients during the COVID-19 emergency.  Below we have compiled information from various U.S. agencies on all aspects of travel, USCIS appointments, ICE activities and Removal Proceedings. This post will be updated as changes develop. Duane Morris has developed a COVID-19 Strategy Team which is providing regular updates on all business and employment related matters impacted by the COVID -19 pandemic. A second webinar on Business Continuity Planning for a Pandemic will be held on Wednesday, March 18. To register, click here.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Immigration Agency Suspensions and Cancellations 3/29/2020 Update”

Australia Announces Unprecedented Travel Ban for Citizens and Permanent Residents in the wake of Covid-19

The Australian government has announced on March 25, 2020 that a travel ban has been introduced   which will prevent Australian citizens and permanent residents from departing Australia, except in exceptional circumstances. This is in addition to the recently announced entry bans applicable to any non-Australian citizens or permanent residents who have not been granted prior permission to enter Australia on exceptional circumstance grounds. Continue reading “Australia Announces Unprecedented Travel Ban for Citizens and Permanent Residents in the wake of Covid-19”

USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for all I-129s and I-140s

USCIS announced at 2:19 PM on 3/20/2020 that Premium Processing services for I-129 (E-1, E-2, H-1B, H-2B, H-3, L-1A, L-1B, LZ, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S, Q-1, R-1, TN-1 and TN-2.) and I-140 (EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3) is suspended temporarily.  Like many of us, USCIS service center operations have gone remote, so it is impossible for the agency to keep up with the demand for premium processing of applications. Continue reading “USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for all I-129s and I-140s”

Obama Eases Travel and Trade Restrictions with Cuba

The Obama administration announced wide-ranging changes to loosen travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba. The new rules allow American companies to open locations and hire workers in Cuba. U.S. companies will be allowed to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba. Additionally, the new rules will expand telecommunications services, facilitate financial transactions between the two countries, remove limits on the amount of money that can be brought to Cuba, and allow “certain persons” to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba.  Read more about the Details of the Changes in this Blog Post by Jose Aquino, Esq.  of the Duane Morris Cuba Practice Group.

Most travel restrictions for US citizens remain in place, but according to the announcement, additional close relatives will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for certain additional activities. Information about visa requirements and travel restrictions may be found here.

Check back often for updates on this rapidly evolving situation.