Just this week, President Trump declared via twitter at 10:06pm Monday night, that he would be suspending all immigration into the US. This fiat will presumably be implemented through an Executive Order--which as of now, has yet to be released-so there are naturally many unresolved questions. At this point, no one (arguably even staffers within the Administration) knows the extent or breadth of the forthcoming order, ie., whether it will provide "carve outs" (or exceptions) for certain classes such as medical and agricultural workers, or whether it will impose a blanket bar on all foreign nationals including but not limited to spouses, children and siblings of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. It is conceivable that all non-US citizens, including green card holders may come under the scope of the interdiction. Litigation will likely ensue once the order is put out and the issue will be whether President Trump is within his powers to declare such a moratorium on immigration, which is statutorily provided for in the Immigration and Nationality Act. At issue will be the President's power under INA 212(f), which provides, in part:
While there is still no formal policy granting automatic extensions of time to tourists who remain stranded inside the US due to Covid-19, USCIS recently clarified that it will, on a case-by-case basis, entertain extension requests even if not timely filed. As we wrote about earlier, visitors here on tourist visas whose periods of stay are due to expire-but who cannot depart due to conditions caused by Covid-19 (such as canceled flights or illness)-need to file for extensions on Form I-539 as early as possible.
Despite mass closures of businesses and organizations around the nation, many government agencies remain open and operational. Fortunately, USCIS is one of them. To be clear, previously scheduled in-person appointments at all USCIS offices remain canceled through May 3, 2020. However, USCIS is still processing cases and applications despite the moratorium on public interviews. What this essentially means is that applicants who were intending on filing for status extensions, especially if time sensitive, should by all means considering doing so. As of this writing, there is still no formal policy granting forbearance or automatic extensions to those whose authorized periods of stay are due to expire, even if an individual desires to leave in good faith but cannot (ie., flight canceled or the person or close relative sick with corona symotoms). If a person overstays on his/her visitor's visa, not only will the visa be automatically canceled but the person will begin accruing unlawful presence, which can potentially bar future entry into the US. Similarly, those whose conditional permanent residence are due to expire also need to apply within the ninety-day timeframe. Conditional permanent residents should not assume that they will be given extra leeway or time in which to file the remove conditions. If the I-751 is not timely filed, a conditional permanent resident's status will be revoked and he/she will, at some point, be referred to immigration court proceedings. (Fortunately, with respect to Requests for Evidences and Notices of Intent to Deny, USCIS has announced that applicants will be given extensions in which to file responses for notices received between March 1, 2020 to May 1, 2020.)
The COVID-19 crisis has unquestionably affected all aspects of our society, resulting in shutdowns across the country and closures of important government agencies including but not limited to many immigration courts and USCIS offices. We have been receiving frantic phone calls from individuals who are here on non-immigrant visitor's visas as well as ESTA. They are understandably concerned what their options are if they are not able to safely depart to their countries and end up staying past their authorized period of stay.
In light of the COVID-19 public health crisis, all USCIS field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) have discontinued in-person services until April 1, 2020. This includes interviews of all kinds, from naturalization examinations to applications for adjustment of status; citizenship oath ceremonies; and even fingerprint or biometric appointments. If you currently have an interview scheduled for this month, you should be receiving a letter from USCIS descheduling it in light of this new policy. Obviously, any interviews that have been canceled will, at some point, be rescheduled for a different date and time, but it may be some time before individuals receive notices of their new interviews. Additionally, no one knows how long this crisis will last and how government-ordered (federal, state, and local) restrictions and closures will impact operations.