Impact of Covid-19 on Immigration Cases and Petitions
By Reuben Seguritan
As of March 18, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended all operations to help slow the spread of Covid-19. USCIS announced that they are closed until May 3, 2020. All appointments for biometrics, interviews and naturalization oath takings were cancelled. These appointments will be rescheduled once the government lifts the order for everyone to stay home. New notices will be given out with a new time, date and location for interviews, biometrics capturing and oath takings. USCIS also said that they will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. This means that applicants and petitioners can still submit applications for immigration benefits and the supporting documents. The USCIS will send receipts for the applications and petitions. However, the USCIS will not send out appointment schedules because of the suspension of operations.
For persons who received a Request for Evidence (RFE), or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) which was dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, the USCIS will accept responses up to 60 days after the response date deadline in the RFE or NOID, as long as the USCIS has not taken any action on the case yet. Hence, the applicant should still submit the response within the deadline stated in the notice to avoid an adverse decision of the USCIS. If the USCIS makes a decision within the 60 days after the response date deadline, then that will be binding on the applicant even if it was announced that they have an additional 60 days from the response deadline date. On the other hand, for those who received a Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR), or Notice of Intent to Terminate also dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, the USCIS will accept responses up to 60 days after the response date deadline in the notice and it will not make a decision on the case before the said 60 days has lapsed.
Similarly, for those who submitted or will submit the Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion from an appealable decision dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, the USCIS will accept submissions up to 60 calendar days from the decision date and it will not take any action until after this period.
For applicants of an extension of their employment authorization who filed or will file I-765, the USCIS will automatically reuse the previous biometrics captured and decide whether to grant the extension. The USCIS will then mail its decision to the applicant.
As for immigration cases pending in court, the government has ordered that hearings until May 1, 2020 be postponed for defendants who are not detained. Affected persons should present themselves at their designated port of entry on their previously scheduled date to receive a tear sheet and hearing notice containing their new hearing dates. But for detained persons, the government has allowed that their cases proceed in immigration courts that are still open. However, immigration courts in New York City, Newark, Seattle, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Sacramento and Los Angeles have stopped all hearings, regardless of whether the defendant is detained or not.
Various organizations of judges and lawyers such as The National Association of Immigration Judges, a union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement trial attorneys, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, have called for the closure of all immigration courts in accordance with the suspension of hearings until May 1, 2020. The spread of covid-19 would continue among the judges, lawyers, employees and clients if immigration courts remain open and hearings are forced to proceed as scheduled. In fact a judge in Denver has tested positive for covid-19 but the immigration courts have remained open there. Lawyers have held teleconferences with their clients and other lawyers to minimize physical contact and comply with the social distancing rules of staying at least 6 feet away from other people. However, the spread of covid-19 would continue if immigration courts are required to be open for detained defendants.