Within immigration, there are multiple governmental entities that we work with to represent our clients’ interests and objectives. Just as the pandemic has had an effect on the way we live our everyday lives, there are many areas, including the few discussed below, where we have seen a substantial impact on how the immigration process is working and, accordingly, on the individuals and companies who are navigating that process.
ISSUANCE OF RECEIPT NOTICES
Within the United States Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administers the country’s naturalization and benefit-based immigration system. This agency thus adjudicates our clients’ petitions and applications for a benefit. While some filings can be submitted online, the typical requirement is to submit documents in paper form. For those, Atom Law Group uses a shipping service that provides a confirmation of delivery and the Agency process is to issue a formal receipt notice officially acknowledging the filing. Prior to COVID, it was customary for the receipt notice to be provided in a one-to-two-week timeframe. During COVID, however, we have seen that timeframe jump to up to two months.
This is highly problematic. If a person’s status expires without having taken appropriate action with immigration, such as filing for an extension, change, or adjustment of status, that person becomes out of status and no longer authorized to be in the country. However, if a good faith filing is made with USCIS prior to the expiration of status, then the client is in a period of stay authorized by the Attorney General and authorized to be in the U.S. during the adjudication of the case. Without receiving the official receipt notice, there is no certainty that the filing was accepted by USCIS for adjudication and that the person remains authorized to be in the country. Therefore, such delays in issuing receipt notices have caused additional stress and uncertainty for clients even though they followed the regulations and timely filed.
IN-PERSON SERVICES RELATED TO USCIS FILINGS
Another issue has been the inability to complete immigration interviews in-person at the District Offices or to complete required biometric screening at Application Support Centers. Initially, both were completely halted due to pandemic-related closures. Without these facilities open and able to serve clients, work authorization and other benefits were delayed. While USCIS has resumed biometric collection and in-person interviews with certain procedural changes per COVID, case processing remains delayed.
If clients apply for a green card and the process is delayed because in-person interviews cannot be completed, they are forced to rely on their current status, which may or may not be feasible as it nears expiration.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE VISAS
The Department of State operates American consulates and embassies in foreign countries, and staff has largely been recalled to the United States due to the pandemic. This has had both personal and business impact for our clients.
For instance, we submitted a petition on behalf of a client whose wife is abroad and became pregnant, with the intention that she would be able to deliver here in the United States. For their family, the suspension of visa services at the consulate resulted in prolonged family separation. The baby was born abroad, and although the baby is a U.S. citizen and could enter the country, the family remains separated as the wife cannot emigrate to the U.S. until she can get a consular interview and be granted an immigrant visa.
In another example, we have a corporate client whose employee was granted an extension of their status in the United States. The government agencies have already agreed that the position and role are absolutely crucial to the American employer and cannot be filled otherwise. In normal circumstances, the employee who needed to return to their home country would be able follow the very routine practice of getting the visa from the consulate. But due to the suspension of services, they cannot get the visa appointment and hence the needed visa to come back to their employer in the United States. The company is very negatively impacted, and we see a ripple effect as the company provides services that are integral to the medical field and the economy.
DISRUPTION AND PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
The pandemic impact on consumer-facing and retail businesses have been easy to observe in our everyday personal lives, but the policies and process disruptions in immigration also have impacts that are widely felt as businesses and families try to navigate tremendous uncertainty.
So how do we advise clients to proceed?
- Enter – or continue – the process now. Applications and petitions are processed in the order they are submitted so proceed but have an understanding of the changing circumstances.
- Stay informed. We provide regular updates to our clients to ensure they are updated on policy, process and procedures for each governmental entity relevant to their specific case. For instance, the Department of State announced a phased resumption of consular and visa services late last fall, but those services are specific to each individual post. We continually monitor developments for our clients.
- Evaluate international travel carefully. It is extremely important to understand the implications of timing and the potential consequences for any travel. We offer our clients professional guidance to help develop a plan and a plan B.
The team at Atom Law Group has helped over 1,000 clients successfully navigate the United States immigration process. Please contact us today if you would like a consultation.