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TECHNEWS · Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What you should know about coming or bringing global workers to the U.S.

The Trump administration continues to restrict legal immigration during the COVID-19 crisis. Still, immigration is possible.

Despite the Trump administration’s threats to suspend immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic, coming to the U.S. or bringing in workers from abroad still remains possible. And some small changes adopted during the crisis have even made the immigration process a bit more flexible. 

So far, most of the immigration policy changes come with an end date, although that date remains fluid in most cases. It is my hope that travel restrictions will be lifted soon and cross-border travel will return to normal in the near future.  We're starting to see some signs of non-emergency visa processing beginning to occur at select U.S. consulates in different cities around the world.

Consular Processing

President Trump prompted a wave of fear last month when he announced in a late-night tweet that he would temporarily suspend all immigration to the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. The policy proclamation that Trump eventually issued turned out to be far less drastic.

Nonetheless, it halted all employment and family-based green cards issued to candidates living outside the U.S. for 60 days. The Migration Policy Institute estimates 26,000 individuals will be blocked from getting green cards for each month the order remains in effect. There are exceptions.  Exempt individuals include:
  • The spouses and dependent children of American citizens.
  • Physicians, nurses, or other healthcare professionals coming to the U.S. to perform COVID-19-related research or work.
  • Applying for an EB-5 investor green card.
  • Those who have skills or knowledge that is in the national interest.
  • Individuals who are important in assisting U.S. law enforcement.
  • Asylum seekers.
Iraqi or Afghan nationals who have worked for the U.S. government and qualify for special green cards. This green card moratorium remains in effect until at least June 22 —and will likely be extended.

In practice, the proclamation had virtually no effect since routine visa and green card processing had already been halted at all consulates around the world in March due to COVID-19 concerns. Right now, consulates are only processing emergency visas—meaning for a life-or-death situation.

Processing Within U.S.

More immigration restrictions are on the horizon. In the same proclamation issued last month, Trump called on the Secretaries of Labor, Homeland Security, and State to review temporary visa programs and recommend changes that would stimulate the U.S. economy and prioritize the hiring of U.S. workers.

Offering a glimpse into what the Trump administration might consider, four Republican senators recently wrote a letter to Trump, urging him to immediately stop issuing new work visas, such as the H-1B for specialty occupation workers and H-2B for non-agricultural seasonal workers, and end the OPT (Optional Practical Training) and EB-5 green card programs. OPT allows foreign graduates of American universities to remain in the U.S. to work in their field of study.

Since closing all of its offices to the public on March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to process applications and petitions and perform other duties that do not require public contact. For now, USCIS is processing:
  • H-1B petitions from this year’s lottery.
  • Applications for adjustment of status from a temporary visa to a green card within the U.S.
  • Non-immigrant visa renewals within the U.S.
  • The initial green card application from employers within the U.S.
  • Applications for change of status from one nonimmigrant visa to another within the U.S.
The USCIS office closures meant individuals who were scheduled to be interviewed as the final step in their green card process were in a holding pattern. USCIS states its offices will reopen on June 4, unless the public closures are extended.

Travel Restrictions

Travel restrictions to the U.S. due to COVID-19 concerns remain in effect for anyone who has been in any of the following countries within the last 14 days:
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Iran
  • The 26 European countries of the Schengen Area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland
  • The U.K. and Ireland
It remains unclear when these restrictions will be lifted. Even when the coronavirus-related travel restrictions are lifted, citizens of Iran are still prohibited from traveling to the U.S. under the Trump administration’s 2017 travel ban.  We hope that these restrictions will be lifted soon.

Unique Flexibility

Due to the pandemic, USCIS is accepting reproduced signatures on all immigration forms. This is the first time since first being exposed to immigration law through my dad’s practice in the 1990s that I’ve ever seen an exception made to wet-ink signatures on forms.

Moreover, immigration officials may give individuals more leeway if they miss a deadline due to COVID-19. Immigration officials consider COVID-19 a “special situation,” like hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. That means if a COVID-19-related issue makes it difficult or impossible to meet application deadlines, you can request an extension along with the reason for needing one.

However, be aware that so far USCIS has refused a request from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) for a blanket suspension of all immigrant deadlines and visa expirations during the pandemic. AILA filed a lawsuit in April in federal court trying to change that by calling for the immediate suspension of deadlines and expirations.

With all of this, it’s important to keep in mind that the policy changes made in response to the coronavirus and the resulting economic crisis are temporary. Only Congress has the authority to end immigration. Any attempt to make these immigration restrictions permanent is sure to be met with legal challenges.

Sophie Alcorn,

Article courtesy of Sophie Alcorn, founder of Alcorn Immigration Law,  2020 Top Immigration Law Firm for Startups in California. Sophie has been recognized as is one of the 10 best immigration lawyers in California, writes for TechCrunch, and hosts the podcast Immigration Law for Tech Startups

Ph.Credit: Airam Dato-on on Unsplash

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