How is COVID-19 Going to Affect My Immigration Case?
A question I keep getting from current and prospective clients is, “how is the pandemic going to affect my case,” or “how is corona virus affecting immigration right now?” I would need to be able to predict the future to be able to truly answer these questions. If I could predict the future that well, I would probably never need to work ever again. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most unprecedented events of the past 100 years. Every aspect of society has had to learn how to deal with the numerous challenges the pandemic has presented. United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), a governmental agency already understaffed and under budgeted, is no exception.
When it comes to how the pandemic will affect immigration, the best guess is that it will delay cases. It is too soon, however, to tell how long the pandemic will delay immigration cases. When this first started, USCIS told people that although the field offices would mostly be closed to non-employees, they would still receive and process cases. From my own experience representing clients, this appears to be true. That being said, since the field offices were closed from mid-late March until July, no finger-printing appointments or interviews were done in that time. These parts of the immigration process are crucial for moving cases forward. Many cases that would have had those important steps already taken care of have certainly been delayed. USCIS has recently said that they would resume interviews and biometrics appointments after mid-July. That being said, it is highly probable that all of the cases that had been put on hold will push back any new cases filed after them.
I, along with all of my colleagues, desperately hope that pending and new cases will only be delayed by approximately three months, the amount of time the offices were closed. Unfortunately, the recent news that USCIS is asking the United States Congress for $1.2 Billion dollars to be able to continue operating, and will furlough approximately 75% of their staff, does not inspire much hope. Prior to the pandemic and the change in how family-based immigration cases are reviewed in late February (regarding the public charge policy), the Tampa field office was actually processing cases quicker than most, processing family-based green card cases in around 8-9 months and naturalization applications in 4-5 months. I hope that this will remain to be the case.
The other aspect of all of this is the Executive Order signed by President Trump in late April of 2020, suspending most individuals abroad from seeking immigrant visas for 60 days. This order does not affect certain classifications of individuals, most notably spouses and minors of United States citizens and health care professionals. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that the order will block approximately 52,000 individuals from receiving green cards in the first 60 days. They have already extended it by an additional 60 days. Although this executive order legally prevented individuals from obtaining legal permanent resident status, commonly known as a green card, it is tough to say the effect this has truly had, considering that for the past three months all of the United States embassies and consulates were closed and most of the world could not travel regardless. The longer the government decides to extend this order, now that the world and travel is starting to open up, it will certainly impact many individuals who would otherwise be able to receive their legal residence at this time.
On July 6, 2020, the government stated that all individuals with student visas will need to leave the country if their program will be completely online in the fall. As one can imagine, making such a decision during a global health pandemic, where many schools are choosing to be fully online, is going to present immense problems for thousands of visiting students. This is especially worrying when one thinks of the countless graduate and PhD students currently studying epidemiology and disease prevention in this country, who may have to leave in the middle of conducting research that is incredibly useful in these uncertain times. Thankfully, the administration reversed their position on this, and visiting students are safe for now.
Nobody, not even the United States government, can be sure how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the immigration process. The one thing that everyone can be sure of is that it will delay cases. Right now, a single mistake in your application can be even more catastrophic than it previously was, causing huge issues, and even potentially preventing you or a loved one from being able to request certain immigration benefits. Immigration applications and cases are incredibly complicated, and have become even more complicated in the past couple of years. Now, more than ever, it is incredibly important that you seek the assistance of a lawyer who specializes in immigration to make sure your case gets handled properly.