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COVID-19 Immigration System Closings and Changes

COVID-19-related U.S. Immigration Service Suspensions and Operational Changes

U.S. immigration services have been suspended and modified to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is significant because this will make the already slow immigration process even slower.

USCIS suspends in-person services

Beginning March 18th, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended in-person services at its application support centers (ASC), field offices, and asylum offices, in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19. This shutdown will continue until June 4, at which point USCIS will begin to reopen its offices to the public The USCIS will be handling appointments in the following ways:

  • Field offices will notify applications and petitioners of previously scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by office closures.
  • Asylum offices will notify application of interview cancellations and will automatically reschedule interviews. Upon rescheduling of interviews, applications will be notified of the new date, time, and location.
  • Once the USCIS’ normal operations resume, the USCIS will automatically reschedule appoints at closed ASCs.
  • Individuals with Infopass appointments must contact the USCIS Contact Center to reschedule once field offices reopen.

Despite these restrictions, the USCIS shall continue to provide a few emergency services through their contact center. Please contact them as soon as possible if you have any inquiries.

Suspension of USCIS Premium Processing

USCIS premium process service for Form I-140 and I-129 petitions is suspended until further notice. Although premium processing is suspended, petitioners can still file a request to expedite their petition. However, petitioners must be sure that they meet the criteria for expediting a petition. Requests to expedite are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

USCIS International Office Closures

All but three (San Salvador, Guatemala City, and New Delhi) of USCIS’ international offices are either closed or temporarily closed.

What does this mean?

The suspension of in-person services means further delays in the immigration process. Future American citizens will have to wait longer to be able to take the citizenship oath. Asylum seekers will have to wait longer to know of what their fate in the United States may be. The closings of most international offices will especially affect those who are not already in the United States. They will have to wait longer to enter the country with proper documents. Please keep yourself posted on USCIS updates and make sure to contact them about any questions you may have.

The Status of Immigration Courts

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, has imposed operational changes that attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. These changes include the following:

  • Non-detention hearings scheduled through May 15 are postponed.
  • Postponed cases may not be updated because of changes in operation. If a new hearing notice is issued, the information will be updated.
  • Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) hearing postponements are extended through June 1st. Previously scheduled hearings will be postponed. If you have an MPP hearing date through June 1st, visit your designated port of entry. You shall receive a tear sheet and hearing notice providing your rescheduled hearing date.
  • The EIOR established temporarily emails for the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and immigration courts. This was done to facilitate e-filing.

Court openings and closures

As of April 13th these following immigration courts are closed. However, you can still submit filings intended for these courts to another one. You may also submit filings via email.

  • Florence, AZ. Filings can be submitted to the Phoenix, AZ court
  • Louisville, KY. Filings can be submitted to the Memphis, TN court
  • New Orleans, LA. Filings can be submitted to the Oakdale, LA court
  • Otay Mesa, CA. Filings can be submitted to the San Diego, CA court

The following 19 courts are fully open:

  • Adelanto, CA;
  • Batavia, NY
  • Detroit, MI
  • Elizabeth, NJ
  • Eloy, AZ
  • El Paso, TX (Service Processing Center)
  • Falls Church, VA (Immigration Adjudication Center)
  • Fishkill, NY
  • Fort Worth, TX
  • LaSalle, LA
  • Oakdale, LA
  • Otero, NM
  • Pearsall, TX
  • Port Isabel, TX
  • Stewart, GA
  • Tacoma, WA
  • Tucson, AZ
  • Ulster, NY
  • York, PA.

The remaining immigration courts are partially open for filings and detention-related hearings.

What does this mean?

These closings and partial openings will impact the already difficult immigration process. Individuals waiting to hear of their immigration station will wait even longer. If you are trying to submit filings, you should file via email if you can. Please contact your local immigration court as soon as possible.

Suspension of routine visa services at all US embassies and consulates

Since March 20th, routine visa services in all U.S. embassies and consulates have been suspended by the Department of State. Routine visa appointments, both immigrant and nonimmigration, are cancelled. However, they note that embassies and consulates shall continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. The Department of State reported that embassies will resume visa services soon, but do not have a specific date as of right now.

What does this mean?

This means that individuals attempting to obtain a visa will have to wait even longer to get authorization to enter the United States. The lack of a time table puts into question how long it will take for routine visa services to resume.

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